The Scottish Rite as expressed in its Degrees with their accompanying lectures and instructions, is an advanced course in Freemasonry. It is best defined as a liberal education.
It is a lesson in geography. Almost every country of Europe is visited in the dramatic presentations of Masonic history and tradition. Biblical lands appear frequently in a panorama of scenes and events. Africa, too, shares the spotlight. Travel broadens the mind, and in a fashion constitutes an education.
The Scottish Rite degrees are also a course in history. The degrees span from medieval chivalry. to Biblical events and scenes that share the masonic history. Scenes also reach as far back as ancient Egypt showing the wisdom taken from the Egyptians oldest book, the Book of the Dead.
It is a broad and varied view of philosophy thru ought the ages. The thoughts of the greatest thinkers from every age are expressed, showing profound principles in words and sometimes in symbols that convey a most deep meaning. Sometimes these scenes are shown in dramatic form, and sometimes with the simplest of staging, one man, one candidate, one specific message. The messages presented are all grounded in common sense, intended in the end to show the indomitable it is the spirit of man that rises above the material in him, in the world about him, and stands forth as the one thing that is of divine dignity and infinite worth.
The Scottish Rite is a journey into the realm of religions, past and present, not for the purpose to find criticism or condemnation, but to hopefully show the candidate the common ground of all faiths, the deepest thought and aspiration of all who believe in and search to answer those great questions of “Who am I?” and “What am I here to do?” even deeper questions of “Is there something greater than myself?”. !!!!! However much men may differ in the way in which they may clothe their God with qualities and attributes of their own making and choosing, they all think together of the one God of infinite wisdom and love, who has breathed into man something of His own spirit and made him capable of entering into and enjoying the life which is immortal. Tolerance thus becomes sympathetic appreciation and not mere endurance of differences of opinion.
It is, not to prolong the list, a practical course in ethics, or, perhaps better, a course in practical ethics and morals. Life is seen and viewed and approached and lived and judged from the moral or ethical point of view. Life’s ills & inequalities and injustices are seen and weighed with sole reference to their moral quality, their spiritual value. Social and industrial and political and ecclesiastical evils, and other exhibits of human weakness are dramatically exposed and condemned. A new and better world rises before the awakened imagination a world in which every man becomes a real brother, and the new law, the Law of Love, begins its reign on earth.
It is indeed an excursion into life, especially life as it may be and will become, if we will but take to heart the high principles and profound ideals which the Scottish Rite Degrees so beautifully and effectively present.
Relation to Blue Lodge Masonry
The Scottish Rite is based upon Blue Lodge Masonry and in this country it does not confer the first three degrees. This is recognized as the unquestioned prerogative of the Grand Lodge. The Scottish Rite confers the degrees from the fourth to the thirty-third inclusive.
Many questions raised by the Blue Lodge Masons, but left unanswered, are answered in the Scottish Rite. Largely, it bears the same relation to Craft Masonry that the University does to earlier grades in education. At all times it recognizes the supreme authority in Masonry of the Grand Lodge and the Grand Master. It teaches that there is no rank higher than that of Master Mason, and no Masonic symbol more significant than the Master’s Apron, but it elaborates and emphasizes the great principles enshrined in Craft Masonry.
When a Master Mason advances to the higher degrees of the Rite, it does not detract but adds to his interest in everything for which the Blue Lodge stands. It deepens his appreciation of it, and motivates him to more active participation in its affairs. He cannot fail to see the intimate relation between the two, and far from losing interest or diminishing his appreciation, he actually gains in both, or should. The Scottish Rite aids, supplements and reinforces the Blue Lodge in every way. As organizations these bodies are mutually dependent and strengthen each other with reciprocity.
The Scottish Rite is a rite of enlightenment. Its purpose is to spread the light of Masonic truth by revealing and explaining matters concealed or only hinted at in Craft Masonry. Knowledge is power and the Scottish Rite seeks to arm its votaries with moral and spiritual understanding.
The Scottish Rite and Individual Decisions
Scottish Rite Freemasonry challenges no man’s political creed, leaving that to his country and himself; it does not interfere with any man’s religious opinion, leaving that a matter between his God and his conscience, and yet it does seek to impress by most sublime and beautiful lessons, enforced by the most profound reasoning the almighty power of truth, appealing to the highest and purest sentiments of the human soul for the enforcement of its principles. Ignorance, tyranny and fanaticism are its foes. Liberty, equality, and fraternity are its watch words.
Ritual and Reality
If we listen attentively and observe carefully we will discover something elevating and inspiring in the conferral of the degrees of Masonry, something that will enrich our lives. To grasp the great lessons of Masonry, we should always approach the source of learning in a spirit of humility and reverence. What the Ritual said to us when we were initiated in Masonry, it continues to say, and there is always the likelihood that we will receive that which may have escaped our heart and mind in previous conferrals.
The entire pattern of Masonry, which encompasses virtually every philosophic and moral teaching, is not a thing separated from life. It directs us to the realization of life. Every step in the Ritual has its counterpart in the world about us. The Ritual of Masonry speaks to the individual. It reaches out for the best in man. It tells us that all learning must be used in the service of God and man. It points out that the seeker of truth must be properly prepared.
In many ways the Ritual of Masonry tells us that character is the very substance of being. Without it man has nothing. With it he has that which is immortal.
But why are these teachings communicated through Ritual rather than a lecture or some other means?
Ritual is the oldest, and one of the most effective means of teaching known. The pattern and flow of the ritualized response facilitates learning. Ritual is so fundamental to us that it is one of the few things “wired in” the brain at birth.
Ritual in a sense opens a channel for learning and helps us grasp not only the surface meanings but the deeper meanings of the lessons we see.
Let us study the degrees of Masonry with the consciousness that as we learn the Ritual we learn how to live.
Signs, Signals, Symbols and Allegory
Because symbols and allegory form such an important part of the Scottish Rite, a few works of review may be helpful.
General Semanticists (scientists concerned with the ways in which meanings are transmitted) divide behavior into signals, signs and symbols.
A signal is a communication so basic that it appears to be “wired in” the structure of the brain rather than being learned. Most animal communication takes that form, whether it is the mating dance of a peacock or the danger signal of the white-tail deer. Very little human behavior is signal, since very little human behavior is instinctive. Stopping when someone we are approaching holds out an arm toward us, with the palm of the hand facing us, may be an example.
Sign behavior is learned rather than instinctive, but once learned it does not require thought, and we react appropriately without conscious thinking. Examples would be a stop sign, a flashing red light, the sound of a siren, or skull and crossbones on a bottle of liquid. Symbols, on the other hand, work ONLY if we consciously think about them, and they “work better” (become richer and more meaningful) the more we think about them.
Usually, a symbol is only very generally related to the thoughts it invokes. There is nothing about a triangle, for example, which inherently suggests God. It is only when the intellect operates upon the symbol, considers that its three equal sides might relate to a Being Who is Three in One, and explores what that might mean or suggest, that the Triangle equates with Divinity.
The Scottish Rite, as is true of all Masonry, makes heavy use of symbols. As we are frequently warned, “the symbol conceals, it does not reveal.” Masonry dates from the time when “thought control” was common in society. Certain ideas were forbidden, and it was damnation to think them and a rather messy death to utter them aloud.
And so, many of the ideas were encoded in symbols, rich in meaning to those who understood-silly or meaningless to those who did not. The early Christians use of fish as a symbol is a classic example of communicating by drawing that which it was unwise to communicate more directly.
The symbols of the Scottish Rite do not easily yield their meanings and there may be many meanings to any symbol. Only after thought and reflection do they fulfill their function and begin to trigger ideas in the mind.
To illustrate this point, let us consider one of the most familiar of all Scottish Rite symbols, the double-headed eagle.
The double-headed eagle was probably first accepted by Freemasonry as a symbol in the year 1758. In that year the body called Council of Emperors of the East and West was established in Paris. The double-headed eagle was adopted to symbolize the double jurisdiction of the Council-one which looked both to the East and to the West.
The symbol is an ancient one, however, and not Masonic in its origins. The earliest appearance so far discovered was in the ancient kingdom of Lagash in the Middle-East long before the rise of Babylon. There it was known as the “storm bird” and was the special symbol of the kings of Lagash. It is later to be found among the rock carvings in an ancient Hittite cemetery. Over the centuries, the double-headed eagle has been used as a symbol by many nations.
In general, its symbolic meaning in the Scottish Rite is that of duality contained in or resolving itself in unity. Thus, among many other things, it reminds us that man, while only one being, is composed of both body and spirit, that he is both temporary and eternal; that both good and evil exist in the world and that we must ever foster good while opposing evil. It reminds us also that knowledge comes both from study and from insight; that we have obligations both to ourselves and to others, and that both faith and reason are necessary.
So, in the Scottish Rite, as in earlier symbolism, it has many applications, but all center about the same idea.
1. The present, which must learn from the past and look to the future.
2. Man, who is both spiritual and animal.
3. Eternity, which is the product of both life and death.
4. That we have obligations both to ourselves and to others.
5. That creation is the result of both imagination and power.
6. Knowledge comes both from study and from sudden insight of inspiration.
How then are we to use symbols in our thinking? Let’s use the Eagle to illustrate the process.
Again, we must work with it; let the mind dwell on it. Perhaps the “eternal dialogue” in our brain might go something like this:
What could it suggest, these two heads on one body? Two as part of one thing. Duality as part of unity. Perhaps even two opposites as part of one thing. What things have that double nature? Well, the Scottish Rite draws its teaching from both the Mysteries of the East and those of the West. We are told that man is both beast and soul, both animal and spiritual. Any object is defined in space by light and shadow that’s another example of two opposites defining or giving form to one thing.
And then, why an eagle-why not a cat or bull or a mouse? What do I know about eagles? Well, they are symbols of freedom. They are royal birds-only the king can hunt with an eagle. They fly high; the ancients believed they carried the souls of the dead to heaven. They are famous for their keen sight and powerful wings. They look down on the world and see it clearly, but rise above it.
With thought, the symbols become a richer and richer source of ideas and insights.
Finally, we should briefly consider allegory.
Allegory might be thought of as symbols in words. It is a story told to make a point. Always the “real” story is something other than appears on the surface. These are old in the human experience, so old we cannot find a culture without them. Many children’s stories are allegories. Indeed, any story that has a moral is probably an allegory. We treasure them so much that the fables or allegories of the ancient Greek slave, Aesop, have come down to us.
The story of Hiram, the building of Solomon’s Temple, and the rebuilding of the Temple are primary and important allegories in Masonry. It’s important to remember that they are allegories, and not intended as history, lest one miss the point. The child who assumes that the story of Little Red Riding Hood has nothing to teach him or her because the child’s grandmother lives in a condo in Florida and not a cottage in the woods, or who believe that Goldilocks is nothing more than a treatise on the feeding habits of bears has lost an important chance to learn. And the Mason.
Learning By Degrees
It is an ancient form of learning, this process of progressive initiation by Degrees. Caves in Greece were used as sites for initiations as were the pyramids in Egypt. Caves were used in ancient Persia, and both mazes and mounds were used by the Druids in England and Ireland. Recently, an initiation labyrinth has been discovered atop one of the highest mountains in Peru, dating from far before the Inca civilization.
You will not be subjected to the months of preparation and physical trial typical of the ancient Mysteries-although it may not hurt to reflect that your ancient Brethren so valued the same information you will receive (while sitting in a padded chair) that they received it, in some cases, while suspended over a pit of fire.
The Degrees of the Scottish Rite are plays, drama in the oldest sense of the work, in which good and evil, insight and ignorance struggle against each other. They are progressive-each building on what has gone before. The characters represent qualities and types more than individuals as we typically think of them now. The lessons they present are as true now as when they were first written down in the mists of antiquity.
WARNING 1: Receiving the degrees is an active, not a passive process. It’s true that you will be sitting in the auditorium rather than moving about the stage, but your participation is no less active for that. If you simply sit there and watch the Degree as you would a television program, you will almost certainly not benefit from it. Rather, the mind must be turned on. Watch the Degrees actively, thinking all the while. Ask yourself such questions as: Why is the king doing what he’s doing? Why are the colors red and white used in this Degree? What does the character represent? The Degrees are not entertainment; they are as much a form of work as were your English or math or physics textbooks in school.
WARNING 2: Never take things at face value. The Degrees are allegories, collections of symbols and stories strung together to make a point or to teach a lesson-usually several lessons at once. The young child who simply sees the story of the boy who cried wolf as an entertaining yarn has missed the point. Like that story, the Degrees carry messages which are “under” the plot line, and those messages are the point.
WARNING 3: If messages seem to be contradictory, they may be. The Degrees will explore the real questions and answers that men have supplied throughout the ages. Those questions do not always have the same answers. For example, the 15° will suggest that one must never break one’s word, no matter what. The 27° will suggest that sometime, for the good of others, one must fail to keep a vow. Both may be right, both may be wrong. The Scottish Rite does not provide answers, it gives guidance in understanding questions. Men of good faith can disagree.
WARNING 4: Don’t expect to get it all the first time. You will see questions raised which form the study of a lifetime. It simply is not possible to “get everything out of” a degree the first time you see it, any more than you could get everything out of a text book on a casual reading. They are too rich and full for that. But that’s what makes them rewarding!
WARNING 5: Don’t get discouraged. It is easy to feel as if there is so much you will never manage to understand it all, much less master it. That may be true. Many Scottish Rite Masons who have made the study of the Rite their major pastime for many years constantly find new meanings and interpretations, and eagerly share those with others. But the beauty of the Degrees is that they will benefit a man even if he only grasps a little of them at first. Insight comes with thought. Don’t be discouraged. The beauty and wealth of the teachings will sustain you.
The lessons of the Scottish Rite are taken, for the most part, from Antiquity. But the applications of these lessons are as contemporary as tomorrow. The fact is, the conflicts, the choices, decisions, and the ethical dilemmas men face, and the ideals on how we should live, do not change in their basics, even if they change in their circumstances.
At the beginning of the information for each Degree is a brief discussion of the Degree and some of the contemporary questions which might arise in a Brother’s life today.