In this episode, we discuss the 15th Degree - “Knight of the East” as we continue our exploration of "Morals & Dogma: The Annotated Edition". It is highly recommended that you read the chapter in order to fully follow our discussion.
"Morals and Dogma" is available from these sites:
Gene: Hello Dave.
David: Hello Gene.
Gene: You ready to go?
David: I think so. But before we get started, I want to remind everyone that Show Notes, Chapter Markers and a Transcript of this and all episodes are available on our website - WayOfTheHermit.com.
The Chapter of Rose Croix (01:28)
David: The last degree of “Perfect Elu” was the capstone “Ineffable Degree” of the “Lodge of Perfection”. This degree is the first of the “Second Temple” degrees… right?
Gene: Yes. The 15th through the 18th degrees make up the “Chapter of Rose Croix”. And “Rose Croix” means “Rose Cross”.
David: And what is the goal of these degrees?
Gene: The “Ritual - Monitor and Guide” says that the “Chapter of Rose Croix” “presents Faith, Hope, and Charity as sure guides to our actions, and as the safest paths through adversity. We are instructed to follow them in their highest form of human expression: as compassion, and the Law of Love. By this means we will arrive at a solution to one of the great enigmas of Nature and the manifested world.”
David: OK. What is the “great enigma” that these degrees are supposed to answer for us?
Gene: It says that the “Secret of the Reconciliation of Opposites” is revealed in the 18th Degree.
David: So that secret is revealed in the last degree of the “Chapter Rose Croix”. What about this degree? What does it teach?
Gene: This degree is supposed to teach us how to “make advantage out of adversity”.
David: Very good. “A Bridge To Light” says that - “We have now reached the portal of a new allegory with an even more elaborate symbolism than previous degrees, for here we begin the Masonic allegory of the “Second Temple”. The people of Israel, having followed Solomon into the worship of lesser Gods, find themselves abandoned by the Lord.” Gene, what is the mythological setting of this degree?
Mythological Setting (03:08)
Gene: The Temple is destroyed and looted and the Israelites are taken as captives and slaves to Babylon. The “Babylonian Captivity” lasts for 70 years. Then a “Perfect Elu” named Zerubbabel travels to Babylon to make a plea to the Persian King Cyrus to free the Israelites and allow them to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. Zerubbabel appears before King Cyrus, who is also known as the “King of Kings”, with his hands and his neck bound with three chains of triangular links. King Cyrus recognizes him as an “Adept of the Mysteries” and agrees to his request if he will reveal the secrets of the Order of the “Perfect Elu”. Zerubbabel refuses. King Cyrus then shows him the “Ark of the Covenant” and the other treasures looted from the Temple as an even greater temptation. He again refuses saying “I cannot sacrifice my honor. I keep the Holy Fire.”
David: Hmm. That’s interesting. Cyrus recognizes Zerubbabel as an Adept. So, King Cyrus is an Adept, too?
Gene: Yes. Zerubbabel knows that King Cyrus is a “Mithraic Initiate”, a “Son of Light” who knows the “True Word” and believes in the “One True God”. So he reminds King Cyrus of his vows to Mithra and the promises that he made long ago to free the Israelites. King Cyrus is an honorable man, so he frees Zerubbabel and gives him a purple robe, but doesn’t agree to free the other Israelites.
David: What changes his mind?
Gene: That night King Cyrus had a dream of a lion that was about to spring upon him and devour him. He also saw Nebuchadnzzar and Belshazzar, Kings of Babylon, prostrate, eating grass and in chains. He looks up and sees luminous clouds and a bright glory above them with the “True Name of God”. An eagle flies out of the clouds and tells King Cyrus to free the Jews or he will lose his crown. Zerubbabel interprets the dream, saying that the voice was Jehovah who had given him “dominion over the East” but now demands he free the captives, return the holy vessels and help them rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.
Gene: King Cyrus agrees and literally writes the decrees in stones set up throughout the kingdom. He then appoints Zerubbabel Governor of Judea and gives him back his sword saying that he knows that Zerubbabel will only use it for just causes.
David: That’s why this degree is also called “Knight of the Sword” or “Knight of the Eagle” from his dream.
Gene: Right. He also gives him a signet ring as a symbol of his authority and a collar which designates him as a “Prince of Persia”. On their journey west to Jerusalem, Zerubbabel and his men are attacked by robbers at a bridge. In the scuffle, Zerubbabel loses the collar that King Cyras has given him. He looks under the bridge and sees human limbs and heads floating in the water.
Gene: When he makes it back to Jerusalem, he creates the degree “Knight of the East” whose duty it is to defend the weak, shield the innocent and protect the poor. And… that’s the mythological setting of this degree.
David: I know the Degree mythology overlaps with historical events, so when were the events of this degree supposed to have taken place?
Gene: King Cyrus allowed the rebuilding of the Temple in 539 BC and construction began two years later in 537 BC.
David: Alright. Anything else before we start into the “Morals and Dogma” Lecture?
Gene: Yes. One more thing. It says, “The construction of the second temple is begun in this degree, but not finished. Its reconstruction symbolizes the restitution of the “Primitive Truth” to man.
David: So the “Chapter Rose Croix” is supposed to restore “Primitive Truth” and reveal the “Secret of the Reconciliation of Opposites”.
David: Then let’s begin the work.
Gene: Alright let’s do it.
Morals and Dogma (07:15)
David: Where do you want to start in the Lecture?
Gene: I like how it starts out, “This Degree, like all others in Masonry, is symbolic. Based upon historical truth and authentic traditions, it is still an allegory.” So, once again, we’re not telling stories of truth. You’re supposed to look at what it points to. It’s symbolism. It’s allegory.
David: That's a good reminder to not take things for just what they appear on the surface.
Gene: Dig a little deeper in the well.
David: Always. So what about the major theme of this Degree - the destruction and rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple? What does that symbolize to you?
Gene: It’s a good example of the cycle of life. You know, life is not static. It is building and destruction. The old temple is destroyed and you must rebuild again. That’s the way the Universe works. And you have to forge ahead with your work in one hand and your sword in the other to build and guard against destruction again.
David: That’s a really good summary.
Gene: What do you think about it?
David: I was thinking in terms of Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis. You can see the “Lodge of Perfection” degrees as putting forward a Thesis about the nature of Divinity.
David: This Degree then shows the opposition of the world to that kind of proposition. And the remainder of the “Chapter Rose Croix” promises the Synthesis, which is the reconciliation of those opposites.
Gene: That makes sense.
David: So the stated goal of this Degree is to “make advantage out of adversity”. How are we supposed to do that?
Gene: Here’s a quote from this section, “The leading lesson of this Degree is Fidelity to obligation, … and Perseverance under difficulties and discouragement. Masonry… does not sail with the trade-winds, upon a smooth sea, with a steady free breeze, fair for a welcoming harbor; but it meets and must overcome many opposing currents, baffling winds, and dead calms.”
David: That’s a perfect analogy for the “making advantage of adversity”… learning to trim your sails to catch the prevailing winds.
David: I’ve got a quote that speaks to the opposition you encounter when you put start living from a spiritual center, “The first lesson which one learns, who engages in any great work of reform or beneficence, is, that men are essentially careless, lukewarm, and indifferent as to everything that does not concern their own personal and immediate welfare… The enthusiast, who imagines that he can inspire with his own enthusiasm the multitude that eddies around him, or even the few who have associated themselves with him as co-workers, is grievously mistaken; and most often the conviction of his own mistake is followed by discouragement and disgust.”
Gene: Wow. This is humanity. No one looks beyond their own nose.
David: That’s mostly true. One thing for sure though, is that if you have some sort of awakening or a true spiritual experience, you should not expect that those around you will be excited for you or even understand the passion that those experiences bring out in you.
Gene: Passion is a frightening thing to see in others if you can’t feel it in yourself.
David: True, but it’s not only that. Why should everyone get all excited about your realizations? It could be life changing for you, but you just shouldn’t have expectations of support and understanding for something that. If it’s that fundamental to your understanding of God, or yourself, or the nature of reality, then as we’ve said, that’s an intimately personal realization.
Gene: That is a salient point. Just because something is sacred to you and lights you up like a lightbulb, doesn’t mean that other people will see it the same way. They’re not you.
David: That’s the reason for some of the admonitions of the mysteries to “Keep Silent” or as Matthew 7:6 says, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”
Gene: To know, to will, to dare and to keep silent. You have to have discretion if you choose to share your esoteric secrets with others.
David: Right… to protect your own Inner Sanctum. This theme of the need to protect yourself against outside influences continues in the next section.
What Does Duty Require? (11:31)
Gene: “What Does Duty Require?”
David: What’s the first thing you have in this section?
Gene: The first thing I have is a quote, “There were many such at the rebuilding of the Temple. There were the prophets of evil and misfortune - the lukewarm, the indifferent and the apathetic; those who stood by and sneered; and those who thought that they did God service enough if they now and then faintly applauded.”
David: There again, you can’t listen to the voice of the crowd or you’ll get distracted or discouraged. You have to listen inside and just keep plugging away at what you feel is your duty.
Gene: Exactly. I have another quote.
Gene: “Let us still remember that the only question for us to ask, as true… Masons, is, what does duty require; and not what will be the result and our reward if we do our duty. Work on with the Sword in one hand, and the Trowel in the other!”
David: That’s an important symbol of this Degree. As the Israelites were rebuilding the Temple, they had to be ready for an attack at any time. And that image comes from the Bible right?
Gene: Yes. Nehemiah 4:17-18: “...Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked.”
David: I think the sword there is symbolic of protection against external threats but also the ability to cut through obstacles like Alexander cutting the “Gordian Knot”, or even severing ties with people or internal weaknesses that hinder you, like what is symbolized by Buddhist imagery of multi-armed deities with swords.
Gene: It’s also very symbolic of the ongoing process. Creation and destruction go hand in hand. Or “Solve” and “Coagula”... the basic premises of Alchemy.
David: “Solve” means dissolve or break down and “Coagula” means to recombine or build up. With the goal of the “Chapter Rose Croix” being unification of the opposites, the Chapter has Alchemical symbolism throughout.
Gene: It does very subtly in this chapter hint at the “Alchemical Process”.
David: Indeed. Anything else in this section?
Gene: No, let’s move on.
What Masonry Teaches About God? (13:45)
David: OK. The next section is “What Masonry Teaches About God”. Do you want to start us off with a quote?
Gene: Alright. “Without a belief in Him, life is miserable, the world is dark… the intellectual tie to nature is broken, … and the mind, like a star struck from its sphere, wanders through the infinite desert of its conceptions, without attraction, tendency, destiny, or end.”
David: What does that mean to you?
Gene: That goes back to the last Chapter of what you found. Without that stone of the sacred, you’re adrift. Everything is meaningless.
David: And I think we all get confused sometimes and think that for something to have meaning that… that means that things have to work out nicely for me.
Gene: Yeah, that it’s working out for me instead of the plan is bigger than you. Nature is bigger than you. The Universe is bigger than you. It’s the Stoicism of accepting your tiny part in a giant Universe and being OK with it. It’s holding up the mirror and facing reality. You’re a human being. You’re a spirit trapped in flesh.
David: You might even say crucified. Do you have any more quotes from this section?
Gene: There was one on down there… “Not more vainly would we attempt to make the mountain sink to the level of the valley, the waves of the angry sea turn back from its shores and cease to thunder upon the beach, the stars to halt in their swift courses, than to change any one law of our own nature.”
David: That seems like it’s saying that you can’t change yourself, but I think it’s talking about the bigger picture of “Divine Providence”. That quote continues with “... this is not the dictate of an arbitrary will, nor of some stern and impracticable law; but it is part of the great firm law of harmony that binds the Universe together: not the mere enactment of arbitrary will; but the dictate of Infinite Wisdom.” And this “Universal Harmony” is what is referred to as “God’s Works” in the title of the last section.
God's Works Are Good (15:45)
Gene: “God’s Works Are Good”.
David: Do you have a quote from here?
Gene: Yes. “When… we then know that the love of God is … beyond all thought and imagination… and that the only reason why we do not understand it, is that it is too glorious for us to understand.” And when I see the word “glorious”, I put in “incomprehensible” or “too vast to comprehend”.
David: But this section promises that we can comprehend more, given more Light. It says, “Then we shall see, what now we can only believe. The cloud will be lifted up, the gate of mystery… passed, and the full light shine forever; the light of which that of the Lodge is a symbol.”
David: Do you have anything else in this section?
Gene: I’ve got one more quote - “...the only true happiness is to learn, to advance, and to improve; which could not happen unless we had commenced with error, ignorance, and imperfection. We must pass through the darkness, to reach the light.”
Symbols of the Degree (16:44)
David: That’s a good quote to end our discussion of the Lecture. Let’s talk for a bit about the symbols of this Degree. The “Ritual - Monitor & Guide” says that “The great purpose of all the Hebrew initiates was to rebuild the Holy House and to restore the worship of the true God, in his temple on the Holy Hill… You know one symbolic meaning of the Temple. It and its rebuilding have another, which you may perhaps know hereafter. In this degree, Masonry presents itself as the “Royal and Sacerdotal” art, and the East and the West are in communication. You are surrounded by a new symbolism, and you must define its meaning for yourself.” Let’s start with the primary symbol of the Degree, the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple. We’ve touched on this already, but how would you summarize what this symbol means?
Gene: As we’ve already said, Masonic work is a cyclical process. Another quote says, “Perfection is not a static state but an ongoing process - a process of gradual and cyclical progression towards greater perfection. This process requires unceasing work, effort and vigilance on the part of every individual lest he stray, for whatever reason, from the Truth and what is right.”
David: But we found the “True Name of God”. Shouldn’t we be done. People have started religions on less than that. You know?
David: Why are there 18 more degrees?
Gene: In the last Degree, just because you’ve found “The Sacred”... it’s not a static and done deal. There’s things that oppose you externally and internally.
David: And that opposition is symbolized in many ways in this Degree. It’s symbolized by the chains of triangular links that Zerubbabel was bound with, and the chains on the Babylonian Kings in Cyrus’ dream.
Gene: The chains are within and the chains are without. And as we found in the lesser degrees, you can be a captive to your own passions… your own lack of judgment. So part of the symbolism of the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other… you’ve got to cut through your own limitations and your own captivity of your own mind.
David: That’s a good point. We hold ourselves captive through fear, superstition, and sometimes cowardice really. You know, not wanting to rock the boat or upset family or friends. But in this Degree we’re called on to accept responsibility for freeing ourselves and to not expect others to help with this… because they won’t. Actually, they can’t.
David: You have to do that for yourself or it just doesn’t happen. What about the number symbolism of the 70 years that they were held in Babylon? 70 is 7 times 10.
Gene: And 7 is symbolic of manifestation and 10 is perfection or completion.
David: So 70 would be the amount of time to complete the manifestation of something. In this case, I would say the trying or tempering of the Jewish people in order to synthesize the antithesis represented by the destruction of the Temple.
Gene: That makes sense.
Liberty of Passage (19:51)
David: Let’s move on to the next symbol, the bridge where Zerubbabel fought off the robbers. This bridge was described as having three arches with the letters “L.D.P” over the arches. What do the letters “L.D.P” symbolize?
Gene: Here’s another quote from the “Ritual - Monitor & Guide”, “The initials, it is said in the old French rituals, are the words “liberte de passer”, or “liberty of passage”: but they also have a concealed meaning, as they are the initials of the phrase “liberte de penser” meaning “freedom of thought” or “freedom of conscience”; for the free mind is an indispensable qualification of the true Free Mason: freedom from intellectual serfdom; freedom from vapid ignorance; freedom from all that oppresses the aspirations of the human spirit.”
David: So one meaning is “liberty of passage” and the other is “freedom of thought or conscience”.
Gene: Or the two of them together means “liberty by steps or degrees”. It explained that in “Bridge to Light”.
David: “Liberty by degrees” is a good summary of the Scottish Rite. To “free your mind” is a more difficult task than most people realize and it also scares people to see someone trying to do it.
Gene: When others sense something different about you, it can attract the worst kind of attention. It’s like that old Japanese proverb, “The nail that sticks up, gets hammered down”. It’s from the time where liberty of thought or thinking for oneself was… well, it’s always been frowned upon…
Gene: … but it was dangerous. And could have a real cost to it.
David: And here’s a quote that supports that - “Our Brethren anciently concealed the meaning of their symbols, and the purposes and intents of their organizations when those symbols were deemed treasonable by tyrants and death was the penalty for belonging to a dreaded order. To freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, political and religious liberty, the Knights of the East of old were devoted.” That’s all I have about the symbolism of the bridge. Are you ready to move on?
Gene: Yeah… well, other than the water strewn with body parts.
David: Oh. That’s right. Underneath the bridge, Zerubbabel saw limbs and heads floating in the river. What do you think those body parts symbolize?
Gene: Along the way you have to let go of parts of yourself that are erroneous to the work. And like you’ve said before, you do have to chop off things that are tying you down or are getting in the way of your spiritual progress. And also, the idea of a “Holy Man” or a shaman to be torn apart, rendered limb from limb and reassembled in new and interesting ways. Or literally rebuilding your Temple because you’ve been torn asunder.
David: Man, that is a great description of the shamanic experience and its relevance to this Degree. I’ve got one more quote here about the bridge, “The eagle is the symbol of Liberty as the bridge spanning the stream is a symbol of the passage of an individual or a people from Slavery to Freedom, from servitude and subjugation to independence and nationality, from spiritual bondage to spiritual Liberty.”
From Mars to Jupiter (23:07)
Gene: So… what did you think about the Eagle that flew from the clouds and spoke to King Cyrus in his dream?
David: You mean besides “Steve Miller Band”?
David: Well, the eagle is associated with Zeus in Greek mythology and with his counterpart Jupiter in Roman mythology. And when King Cyrus gives Zerubbabel his sword back, he also gives him a purple robe, which is the color associated with the sphere of Zeus and Jupiter. And then King Cyrus tells Zerubbabel - “You are worthy to ascend from the sphere of Mars to that of Jupiter, for you are just.”
Gene: So when you take on Jupiter, what do you take on? What is the essence of that?
David: In Kabbalah, the sphere of Mars is Geburah and the sphere of Jupiter is Chesed. So, he’s acknowledging Zerubbabel’s ascension to a higher degree and that he’s shown his worthiness as a spiritual warrior by not trying to take what he wants by force, but by appealing to King Cyrus as a fellow initiate and a believer in the “One True God”. Cyrus was a Mithraic initiate. Right?
Gene: Mithra… yeah.
David: Which was a little strange at first because you expect King Cyrus to be the villain of the story, but he’s not.
David: But what that brought up to me was that we’ve said that Masonry is tolerant of all religious beliefs, but does that mean that all religions are equally true?
Gene: That’s a good question. If you examine it through a Masonic lens, if the core of the religion is “love your neighbor as yourself” and try to help your fellow humans, then it aligns… yes. If it strays from that purpose, then no.
David: That’s a good point. I would also add that we discussed in the last degree how every religion is necessarily a mixture of truth and falsehood to make it accessible to the human mind and also to the general level of intelligence and understanding of people. So the relative truth of a religion is the amount of falsehood that it contains.
Gene: Right. That sneaks in more Alchemy to this one of the constant distillation of truth.
Reconciliation of Opposites (25:19)
David: Truth and falsehood are one set of opposites that we have to learn to reconcile within ourselves and in the world. Another quote from the “Ritual - Monitor & Guide” says, “Confronted with the reality of polarity, or opposition in all things, we are forced to seek a solution in apparent enigmas. We must ask, Why are there opposites? Can they be reconciled? And if so, how?” Let’s take the first of those questions - “Why are there opposites?”
Gene: If there were no opposites, there would be no difference between anything. How would you know dark from light, good from evil, this from that?
David: That’s true. Without opposites, or differences in qualities, nothing could exist. It is our ability to distinguish one thing from another that creates the world we inhabit. How then can opposites be reconciled?
Gene: Consciousness is what distinguishes everything. The double edged sword. Your ability to discern.
David: And that is the key to the reconciliation of opposites. It’s an alchemical process on your own mind.
Gene: That’s the point of the work isn’t it.
David: Yes. So, how is this reconciliation accomplished?
Gene: You have to find what’s called the “middle path”. I’ve got another quote.
Gene: “Great swords are made by repeatedly punching their blades into the extremes of Hot and Cold. By analogy, here we here learn a lesson that foreshadows the reconciliation of opposites: we are taught to make advantage of adversity. This reconciliation is one of the secrets of the 18th degree.” Now having said that, and knowing a little about knife making, you don’t repeatedly go hot and cold. That makes the blade brittle. You do have to heat it repeatedly, but you don’t plunge it into cold. You let it cool down on its own before you reheat it. It helps align the molecules and make a stronger blade.
David: The analogy there relates to the adversity the Israelites faced in the story of this Degree. Adversity tempers us and makes us stronger. We need adversity.
Gene: Or to quote from one of our favorite movies, “You help me make sense of the Devil.”
David: Exactly. You have to be tried in the fire to become pure.
Trying Gold (27:39)
Gene: That brings up the testing of gold and what that means.
David: There was a quote, again from “Ritual - Monitor & Guide” that said, “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried…”. How do you try gold?
Gene: If you heat a gold that is mixed heavily with other metals, it will grow darker, but the purer gold it is the more it glows brightly. I’ve also got a Bible passage.
Gene: Proverbs 17:3 - “The crucible is for silver and the furnace is for gold and the Lord tests hearts.”
David: Wow. That’s really apropos to this degree. Your mind is the crucible and the world is the furnace.
Gene: And here’s one more. I Peter 4:12 - “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you as though something strange were happening to you.”
David: That’s a good quote because some people think whenever something bad happens that it’s punishment or “dark forces” at work but it’s actually just part of the process of purification.
The Triple Triangle (28:48)
David: The last symbol is the Triple Triangle with crossed swords that appears on the Jewel of the Degree. The crossed swords are obviously the opposing forces that we’ve been discussing. What do you think the three triangles inside each other represent?
Gene: Mind, body, spirit.
David: Right. It’s a symbol of Us. Our bodies and the physical world. Divinity or the spiritual world. And our mind or consciousness that hangs suspended between those worlds. The part of us that reasons, feels, imagines and suffers.
David: More generally, it’s a symbol for everything that exists. As we’ve discussed before, everything can be thought of as being composed of three parts. Two parts in seeming opposition and a part that unites them.
Gene: Yeah. Always three.
David: Anything else on the triangles?
Gene: No. That’s all I’ve got.
David: OK, that’s it for the symbols. How would you summarize the Degree?
Gene: I think this quote sums it up.
Gene: “This degree opens upon the ruins of the Temple of perfection that you have believed so secure in the previous degree. It is in ruin, and must be built again. This teaches that there is a great Law of Ebb and Flow in nature. The full moon begins to wane the moment it reaches fullness. By example, nature teaches us that Perfection is not a static state, but an ongoing process – a process of gradual and cyclical progression towards greater Perfection.“
David: That’s a good summary. I’ve got one more thing. And this is just what the Degree said to me. Human consciousness, like everything else, has evolved and is still evolving. That’s what it does. We suffer because our consciousness is in an in-between phase but it’s evolving toward a consciousness that can reconcile our concepts of Divinity with the physical world. The symbols of Masonry are intended to speed that process along and act as guideposts for the journey.
Gene: That’s really good. That talks in a language which I get. That’s part of “the hole” that we’ve talked about before. That deep uneasy feeling that things are not quite… right.
David: Yes. That’s it for me. Are you done?
Gene: Yeah. I’m done.
David: OK. What are we doing next time?
Gene: In our next episode, we discuss the 16th Degree - Prince of Jerusalem.
David: So… I’m David.
Gene: And I’m Gene.
David: Join us next time as we continue our exploration of “Morals and Dogma: The Annotated Edition”.
Gene: As we walk the Way of the Hermit.