In this episode, we discuss the 17th Degree - “Knight of the East and West” 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. How’s it going?
Gene: It’s going good. Are you ready to combine the East and the West.
David: I hope so, but before we get started, as always 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 mythological backdrop of the last two degrees overlapped the historical time period of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, the “Babylonian Captivity”, the return to Jerusalem and the building of the Second Temple. That’s why the 15th and 16th Degrees are called the “Historical Degrees”. This Degree, and the next, are called the “Philosophical Degrees” of the “Chapter of Rose Croix”. Gene, would you start us off by telling us a little bit about the Ritual of the Degree?
Mythological Setting (02:04)
Gene: Sure. Here’s a summary of the Degree Ritual from “Ritual - Monitor & Guide” - “In the first section of this degree you will witness a confrontation between King Herod II and John the Baptist, which results in the shameful murder of the latter. This tale, borrowed from the New Testament, has much to teach us. In one regard here it represents the man who, having achieved rank, allows his pride and sin, and folly to prevent him from achieving his spiritual aspirations… (and) he succumbs to the weakness of the basest character, ultimately, to his own condemnation.”
David: And a quote it gives there to summarize that part comes from Matthew 16:26 that says, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” So what happens in the second section of the Degree Ritual?
Gene: “The second section borrows symbolism from St John's apocalyptic vision of the end of time.”
David: Yeah… and I think that’s a key phrase, “the end of time”. Anyway, “A Bridge to Light” points out that the word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek word meaning “revelation” and that apocalyptic books are meant to reveal esoteric knowledge to initiates.
Gene: “He that hath an ear let him hear.”
David: But what are we really talking about here? What is the underlying meaning we’re looking for in a book like Revelation?
Gene: There’s the exoteric meaning that people try to relate to the world, but as you know, those interpretations can get pretty convoluted. And… not that there isn’t any truth in looking at it that way, but it’s not Truth with the capital ‘T’. The meat, if you will, is an esoteric meaning. What it says about you… and about the world… and about reality.
David: So what’s supposed to open your eyes or your ears to this hidden truth?
Gene: Esoteric traditions say that you have to possess a key that unveils the inner meaning and that only initiates are given the key.
David: OK, well… at the risk of jump-starting the Apocalypse… drum roll please… Gene… what do you think is the key to unlock the seals of the book of Revelation and reveal its inner meaning?
Gene: I think the Chapter is saying that the Kabbalah is the key that unlocks the esoteric meaning of Revelation.
David: Yeah, I agree and I think Pike is making the case for a Gnostic Kabbalah as the key. But before we get into that, what’s the stated purpose of this Degree?
Purpose of the Degree (04:35)
Gene: The “Ritual - Monitor & Guide” says that the “The Word is again lost, and, figuratively, the third Temple - in the heart of man - is to be built and dedicated to the God of Truth.” It also says that the secrets revealed in this degree cannot be fully understood until the entire mystery is revealed in the next degree, which is the last degree of the “Chapter of Rose Croix”.
David: In the 15th Degree we learned how to turn adversity to our advantage. And in the last degree, we were told how to view work and relationships as opportunities for spiritual growth. You can see both of those as a unification of apparent opposites. And as you just said, the next degree is supposed to reveal the complete “Secret of the Reconciliation of Opposites”, so what apparent opposites does this Degree discuss?
Gene: Well, from the title of the degree - “Knight of the East and West” you can see at least one meaning. It’s about uniting the religious doctrines of the East and West to find a higher truth. Here’s a quote, again from the “Ritual - Monitor & Guide”, “When the Knights and Princes united to conquer the Holy Land, they took an oath to spend, if necessary, the last drop of their blood to establish the true religion of the Most High God.”
David: And that phrase “Most High God” seems to relate to the vow we made in the 14th Degree to pursue the highest ideal of God that we’re capable of understanding.
Gene: Yeah, exactly. In this Degree you’re really supposed to start “walking the walk”. Start living like you really believe what you learned in the 14th Degree. Here’s another quote - “You're instructed that your life must mirror your spirituality, and that the knowledge of the “Name of God”, revealed to you in the 13th and 14th degrees must be applied knowledge; for once one realizes the truth one must live in Conformity with it.”
David: Also, in the 14th Degree, we were told not to settle for the limited view of Divinity that our mind was currently capable of, but to continue to seek higher realizations of divinity.
David: We raised this question earlier about “how does a finite mind approach something outside of time and space”? Now, we’re supposed to actually try to approach the infinite. How do we go about doing that?
Gene: By degrees. In steps or by climbing the rungs of a ladder… or the limbs of a Tree… the Tree of Life.
David: And the “Tree of Life” is the name of the primary diagram of Kabbalah which is actually our destination in the Degree Lecture. So let’s get started with the Chapter. Gene, do you want to start us off?
Morals and Dogma (07:22)
Gene: As usual, I like the way the Chapter starts off. Here’s the first paragraph - “This is the first of the Philosophical Degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite; and the beginning of a course of instruction which will fully unveil to you the heart and inner mysteries of Masonry. Do not despair because you have often seemed on the point of attaining the inmost light, and have as often been disappointed. In all time, truth has been hidden under symbols, and often under a succession of allegories: where veil after veil had to be penetrated before the true Light was reached, and the essential truth stood revealed. The Human Light is but an imperfect reflection of a ray of the Infinite and Divine.”
David: And that reflection we see has been influenced by many religious practices and philosophies. The first quote I have says, “We are about to approach those ancient Religions which once ruled the minds of men… those old, strange, mysterious creeds and faiths, shrouded in the mists of antiquity… and forms of strange, wild, startling beauty mingled in the vast throngs of figures with shapes monstrous, grotesque, and hideous.” So why is it that we see those things in other religions?
Gene: That’s because we don’t usually understand what we’re looking at… what it symbolizes.
David: Right. But it’s not just other religions, it’s the symbols in our own religion. The Ritual of this Degree uses the symbols in Revelation which are super creepy if you just look at them on a surface level. For example here’s Revelation 13:2 - “And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.”
Gene: That sounds pretty monstrous.
David: It really does. Until you know that it’s talking about the star Thuban in the constellation “Draco, The Dragon” that was the pole star from 3942 to 1793 BC. Its power was that all the other stars appeared to revolve around it, before it was displaced by another pole star in a process called the “Precession of the Equinoxes”. But knowing that just takes all the fun out of speculating about what it might mean doesn’t it.
Gene: Yeah exactly.
David: That quote and others like it in the book of Revelation are referring to cosmic events, some that operate on very large timescales. A full cycle in the “Precession of the Equinoxes” is about 26,000 years. From a human perspective, that’s a long time, but on the timescale of the universe, it’s a miniscule amount of time. Our perspective of time is limited. It needs to be greatly expanded to get a comprehension of what reality really is. And that idea has been around for a long time, long before the book of Revelation was written . The next part of the Degree Lecture discusses how ideas from many different religious traditions became the esoteric philosophy of Gnosticism.
A Survey of Ancient Religions (10:41)
Gene: The first section is “A Survey of Ancient Religions” which starts out with - “At the time when John the Baptist made his appearance in the desert, near the shores of the Dead Sea, all the old philosophical and religious systems were approximating toward each other… the intermingling of different nations, which resulted from the wars of Alexander in three-quarters of the globe, the doctrines of Greece, of Egypt, of Persia, and of India, met and intermingled everywhere. All the barriers that had formerly kept the nations apart, were thrown down; and while the People of the West readily connected their faith with those of the East, those of the Orient hastened to learn the traditions of Rome and the legends of Athens.”
David: And much of the Degree Lecture is devoted to how elements of those beliefs were synthesized with existing Jewish beliefs to form Gnosticism.
Gene: And the Gnostic beliefs are part of the key to understanding Revelation?
David: I think that’s what Pike is making the case for, here’s another quote from the section - “The writings of the Apostles… in addressing themselves to mankind in general, enunciated only the articles of the vulgar faith; but transmitted the mysteries of knowledge to superior minds, to the Elect,-- mysteries handed down from generation to generation in esoteric traditions; and to this science of the mysteries they gave the name of Gnosis.” The Chapter goes into quite a bit of detail on Egyptian and Zoroastrian mythology and also the history of how various cultures were brought into contact. As always, it’s good to read the Chapter in addition to the podcast, so if you want more detail this time, it’s in there.
Gene: Yes. There’s a tremendous amount of information in each one of these sections, how do you want to cover it?
David: Let’s just do a quick overview of the influences that Pike covered in the Chapter. You want to start off with Moses?
Timeline of Religious Influences (12:41)
Gene: That sounds like a good place to start. Moses supposedly lived around 1400 BC and the story says that he was adopted by the daughter of the Pharaoh and learned religion from Egyptian Priests and Hierophants. Egyptian religious hieroglyphics date back to at least 3000 BC, so these Egyptian teachings, whatever they were, are the supposed roots of the Western Mystery Tradition.
David: To jump ahead a little bit, Solomon’s Temple was built around 957 and destroyed in 587 BC. Then the “Babylonian Captivity” lasted until 537 and the Second Temple was completed in 516 BC.
Gene: And their contact with the Persian empire during their captivity exposed them to the Eastern religions and philosophical ideas. The Lecture also mentions the influence of Pythagoras and Plato on Gnosticism. Both of them were said to have received education in Egypt, too.
David: Right. And just to put them on the timescale, Pythagoras was alive during the building of the Second Temple and Plato lived from 424 to 348 BC. The time that we’re really interested in in this Degree is the time of the writing of Revelation, so let’s jump ahead to that time. There were a few other groups that Pike discusses that included the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. Who are the Essenes?
Gene: Well, John the Baptist was said to be one. They’re aesthetics who live apart from others because “their lives are supposed to mirror their spirituality.”
David: That sounds like a prototype for later Christian monasticism.
David: So what were some of their other practices?
Gene: They maintain a restricted diet, don’t drink alcohol or sacrifice animals and they take vows of poverty and celibacy and hold “all things in common”. They’re healers and expect that a Messiah will come and heal the world.
David: Alright. So who were the Pharisees and Sadducees?
Gene: The Pharisees and Sadducees were two sects active at the time of the Second Temple. The Pharisees followed the written “Mosaic Law” and also honored the “Oral Tradition” and the wisdom literature. On the other hand, the Sadducees followed only the written laws but were generally more in favor of incorporating Greek ideas than the Pharisees.
David: Alright. That’s a quick timeline of religious and philosophical influences leading up to around the beginning of the common era and the writing of the book of Revelation. Let’s talk now about how all of these influences merged into the Gnosticism of Philo of Alexandria.
Gene: I have a quote to start off.
Gene: “The Gnostics derived their leading doctrines and ideas from Plato and Philo, the Zend Avesta and the Kabbalah, and the Sacred books of Egypt and India; and thus introduced into… Christianity the cosmological and theosophical speculations, which had formed the larger portion of the ancient religions of the Orient, joined to those of the Egyptian, Greek, and Jewish doctrines.”
David: And I’ve got a quote here, too. It says, “Philo represents the apex of Jewish-Hellenistic syncretism. His work attempts to combine Plato and Moses into one philosophical system. His ethics were strongly influenced by Pythagoreanism and Stoicism… (He) regards the Bible as the source not only of religious revelation, but also of philosophic truth; for he claimed that Greek philosophers' ideas had already been laid out in the Bible… Philo's allegorical interpretation of scripture… interprets the characters of the Bible as aspects of the human being, and the stories of the Bible as episodes from universal human experience.” We’ve talked before about the different ways a text can be interpreted. In the Jewish Tradition, there are at least four ways.
Gene: Those being literal, moral, allegorical and mystical.
David: And the mystical interpretation is what we’ve also been calling the “esoteric interpretation”... and that’s the one we’re always trying to get at.
Gene: Exactly. And I also wanted to say that Pike mentioned Aristobulus as someone that Philo pulled some of his ideas from. He lived about 150 years before Philo, but he was also trying to fuse together ideas from Hebrew and Greek traditions.
David: Alright, that’s some background on Gnosticism. Let’s talk about what the Lecture has to say about its core tenets.
The One True God (17:18)
Gene: I’d say the first one of those core tenets is the same as what was revealed in the 14th Degree, that behind everything we see, there’s the “One True God” who’s omnipresent and eternal and the source of everything. Here’s a quote - “To Philo, the Supreme Being was the Primitive Light, or the Archetype of Light, Whence the rays emanate that illuminate Souls. He was also the Soul of the Universe, and… his Powers and Virtues fill and penetrate all… He is without beginning, and lives in the prototype of Time.”
David: Hmm. He “lives in the prototype of Time”? What do you think that means?
Gene: That the Source is outside of space and time.
David: But that raises a question - how does an infinity source of power, outside of space and time, interact with this world?
Gene: That’s a good question. It reminds me of the old adage of “you cannot look upon the face of God and live”... but maybe by using the principle of a step-down transformer of lessening the energy into a more palatable way to receive it.
David: And in Gnosticism that stepping-down of the Light is referred to as “emanation”.
Gene: Right. The Lecture says “Behold… the light which emanates from an immense centre of Light, that spreads everywhere its benevolent rays; so do the spirits of Light emanate from the Divine Light. Behold, all the springs which nourish, embellish, fertilize, and purify the Earth; they emanate from one and the same ocean; so from the bosom of the Divinity emanate so many streams, which form and fill the universe of intelligences.”
David: Those emanated intelligences are also considered “spiritual beings”. How do you make sense of that?
Gene: Well, first off, spiritual just means not material. Out in the world, the emanations, whatever you want to call them, angels, elementals or whatever, they’re all just names and symbols for some aspect of “Divine Providence''... like the laws of physics of light and music. They’re what manifest those eternal laws in time and space. The Chapter also said that those “spiritual beings” incur a “progressive degeneration” the farther away from the source they are. What does that mean to you?
David: It means that each emanation is different than the one before it, so each one represents more and more distinctions from the source, which is complete Unity. So each successive emanation is more divided, with more apparent opposites.
Gene: Right, but the point of the degree is learning that yes, they can be broken up but it can be reversed and put back together to One.
David: Exactly. By uniting apparent opposites in each emanation from the bottom up, we can climb up to higher conceptions of Divinity. But the Lecture reminds us again, that we’re talking about philosophical ideas, so the description of this process must rely on allegories and symbols.
Allegorical Reading of Scriptures (20:26)
Gene: Yeah… and here’s a quote from the Chapter about that - “The writings of the Essenes were full of mysticism, parables, enigmas, and allegories. They believed in the esoteric and exoteric meanings of the Scriptures; and, as we have already said, they had a warrant for that in the Scriptures themselves. They found it in the Old Testament, as the Gnostics found it in the New. The Christian writers, and even Christ himself, recognized it as a truth, that all Scripture had an inner and an outer meaning.”
David: That’s a good quote. I’ve got one more for this section, but it’s a long one.
Gene: OK. Go for it.
David: “Aristobulus declared that all the facts and details of the Jewish Scriptures were so many allegories, concealing the most profound meanings, and that Plato had borrowed from them all his finest ideas. Philo, who lived a century after him, following the same theory,
endeavored to show that the Hebrew writings, by their system of allegories, were the true
source of all religious and philosophical doctrines. According to him, the literal meaning is
for the vulgar alone. Whoever has meditated on philosophy, purified himself by virtue, and
raised himself by contemplation, to God and the intellectual world, and received their
inspiration, pierces the gross envelope of the letter, discovers a wholly different order of
things, and is initiated into mysteries, of which the elementary or literal instruction offers
but an imperfect image. A historical fact, a figure, a word, a letter, a number, a rite, a
custom, the parable or vision of a prophet, veils the most profound truths; and he who has
the key of science will interpret all according to the light he possesses.” Anything else in this section?
Gene: One more quote about that - "Let men of narrow minds withdraw with closed ears. We transmit the divine mysteries to those who have received the sacred initiation, to those who practise true piety, and who are not enslaved by the empty trappings of words or the preconceived opinions of” others.
Personified Attributes of Deity (22:39)
David: So with that in mind, let’s talk about some of the names and symbols for emanations discussed in the Lecture. Let’s start with symbols for the Unified Source of everything.
Gene: According to Pike and his sources, a similar concept is recognized in many philosophies. Some of the names mentioned were “Amun” in Egyptian, “The Ancient of Days” or “Ain Soph” in Kabbalah, “The King of Light” or “Ahura Mazda” in Zoroastrianism, and the “Pleroma” or the “Unknown Father” in Gnosticism.
David: And in most of the philosophies that are discussed in this Chapter, there’s a “first born” of the “Unknown Father” that is the primary focus of the creative energies in space and time.
Logos - The Creative Word (23:24)
Gene: That “first born” is called “Adam Kadmon” in Kabbalah. It’s Osiris as Horus in some Egyptian myths and Thoth in others. It’s Jesus Christ in Christianity. It’s also called “Nous” in Gnosticism which means “rational mind”.
David: It’s also called the Logos.
Gene: Correct. That’s the “Logos” or the “Word” that the Gospel of John describes. It says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
David: That force is called “Spenta Mainyu” in Zoroastrian. “Spenta” means “bounteous” or “creative”, and “Mainyu” means “mind” or “spirit”. So Spenta Mainyu is the “bounteous spirit” or the “creative mind” through which Ahura Mazda acts.
Gene: The Lecture says that the Logos is the “World of Ideas by means whereof God has created visible things.”
David: So the Logos is the focal point of the creative forces. In other words, the leader of forces of Light.
Contending Forces (24:43)
Gene: Yes, but as we know, all created things cast a shadow.
David: And that’s the next concept we need to discuss, the forces that oppose and obstruct the creative process are personified, too.
Gene: “Could it be Satan?”
David: Well… actually it is. “Satan” means “adversary” so that’s the name for the destructive or chaotic forces that oppose “God’s Will” in Christianity. In Zoroastrianism, that force is called “Ahriman” or “Angra Mainyu” which means “adversarial spirit”.
Gene: Set plays that role in the Egyptian myths opposing Osiris and Horus and in some of the Gnostic myths, it’s the Demiurge.
David: One thing I found interesting when researching the Zoroastrian influence was that the name “angra mainyu” as used in the hymns, isn’t a proper name. It just refers to the conglomeration of all the “spirits” or “thoughts” that oppose the creative ideal.
Gene: What does that say to you?
David: That the destructive forces are in a sense an illusion. They’re real in that they are obstacles to things not in sync with “Natural Law” but that’s all. In that sense, they’re still working according to “God’s Will” or “Divine Providence” or whatever you want to call it.
Gene: Again, “you make sense of the Devil”.
The Kabbalah (26:02)
David: It does, because as we discussed in the 16th Degree, adversity has a purpose which is to test and sharpen. The last topic in the Chapter is the Kabbalah which is a very important topic, but also a vast one. It is, as Gene pointed out earlier, a key to understanding some esoteric writings so if you are really serious about digging deeper, try to at least learn some of the basics. The primary source texts are the “Sepher Yetzirah” and the “Zohar” but those are definitely not beginner books. Gene, where would you suggest someone new to Kabbalah start?
Gene: Well, one of the first books that I ever read on it… a very well written and small book called “A Garden of Pomegranates” by Israel Regardie. It's a very good introductory book to the concepts and ideas
David: My first Kabbalah book was Dion Fortune’s “Mystical Qabalah”.
Gene: Yeah. That’s a good one, too.
David: I’ll link these books in the Show Notes. Any other books you want to recommend?
Gene: Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi. Anything by Halevi is a good read.
David: I agree and would add Aryeh Kaplan and Gershom Scholem to the authors list. So where do we start learning Kabbalah?
Gene: The basic concepts… the layout of the “Tree of Life” and the paths that go in between them and what they mean.
David: OK. Explain what you mean by “Tree of Life”.
Gene: Basically, it’s the Jewish blueprint of the working of the Universe. How everything works. It’s kind of a universal tool to view the world, the Universe and yourself through. It has ten numbered spheres called “sephirah” connected by lines. The first sphere, numbered one, represents unity and is the source of light. It’s called Kether which means “crown”. The other spheres are progressive emanations from the Kether. In order, the rest of the Sephiroth are Chokmah “wisdom”, Binah - “understanding”, Chesed “mercy”, Geburah “severity”, Tiphareth “beauty or harmony”, Netzach “victory”, Hod “splendor”, Yesod “foundation” and Malkuth “kingdom”. Kether is the source of light and Malkuth is the physical world.
David: Those ten emanations in the “Tree of Life” that Gene just listed correspond to the ten dots in the Tetractys which is the Greek depiction of Emanation. The ten are often divided into two groups - the first three and the lower seven. The upper three are considered conceptual while the lower seven are how the concept manifests. For example, light can be divided into three primary colors but it physically manifests as the combination of the seven colors as you can see in a prism or a rainbow.
Gene: Or the seven notes in the musical scale. You can see the significance of the number seven throughout nature.
David: Which is why seven is such a significant number in esoteric books like the book of Revelation. The key there is the association of the symbols in the book with the lower seven sephirah of the “Tree of Life”.
Gene: The lower seven are associated with the “Seven Ancient Planets” and the “Seven Churches” and “Seven Candlesticks” and “Seven Stars” and all of other sevens in the book of Revelation and the Degree Ritual.
David: And that is the key to unlocking a deeper reading of the symbols of Revelation and this Degree. In that Light, let’s talk about the symbols of the Degree. Let’s first take a look at the Tracing Board.
The Tracing Board (29:40)
Gene: The Tracing Board of the degree is a heptagon with the initials of the names of the seven lower sephirah at the corners.“In the center of the heptagon is the figure of a man in a long white robe, with a golden girdle around his waist, and long snow-white hair and beard.” There is a halo around his head and he holds in his right hand seven stars. Rays of light come out of his eyes and in his mouth is a two-edged sword. Around him are seven golden candlesticks, over them are the initials of the Seven Churches mentioned in Revelation.
David: That image is from Revelation Chapter 1.
Gene: The alpha and omega.
David: Exactly. He tells John, “I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore… and hold the keys of heaven and hell”. He then reveals that the mystery is that the candlesticks are the seven churches and that the stars are the spirits of the churches.
Gene: And spirits would be emanations and/or Sephiroth.
David: The initials of the seven Sephirah that the stars correspond to are arranged around the perimeter of the tracing board, but the stars are not equivalent to the Sephirah.
Gene: Why is that?
David: The Sephirah are aspects of God or “Divine Providence”. The stars are the spiritual embodiment of those aspects that are then combined into the Word that’s being delivered to John in his vision.
Gene: That makes sense. I can see it because the sword in the mouth could be representative of the Word.
David: Exactly. And John is supposed to receive the Word and transmit it in the physical world as letters to the churches. The intent of the letters is to ignite the enthusiasm of the churches but symbolically, that’s the flames of the candlesticks.
David: There’s an astronomical interpretation for the Tracing Board, too.
Gene: The seven could be the seven circumpolar stars of Ursa Major.
David: Right. And the “Ancient One” on his throne is the Pole Star and all the heavens revolve around him. Then the candlesticks would be our solar system and the sword would be what the Theosophists call the “Solar Logos”, the organizing principle of our solar system, which is the Sun.
David: OK. Let’s move on and talk about the Degree Ritual. Gene, how's the room set up for the ritual?
The Degree Ritual (32:04)
Gene: The room is seven-sided and decorated with symbols from Revelation. There’s a central platform with seven steps and supported by four winged oxen with the heads of a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle. Around the altar are seven candlesticks and around the platform are 24 chairs or thrones.
David: There’s also an empty violet-colored armchair and footstool in front of the altar. I think maybe that’s for the “Old Man” from the Tracing Board.
David: But anyway, what do think the chairs symbolize?
Gene: Twenty-four hours in the day. So it’s the daily cycle of the sun.
David: And with the sun as a measuring device, it’s the twenty-four inch gauge. What do you think the four beasts symbolize?
Gene: They’re symbols of the zodiac. Leo, Taurus, Aquarius, and Scorpio. The fixed signs. They’re the anchor points of the seasons.
David: The seasons and the cycle of the year are represented there, but it’s the perspective it represents that’s important. The platform as a whole is a blueprint for building the Third Temple.
Gene: What do you mean?
David: That the Third Temple is built in Time. John, and Ezekiel before him, are both told to measure the Temple. The Sun is the measuring device and John sees his vision from the perspective of the Sun. The bounds of the Temple, are the extremes of the Sun’s apparent movement on the horizon at the Summer and Winter Solstices. This Temple is the whole Earth, for all time.
Gene: It reminded me of the symbol of the two lines with a circle with a dot in between.
David: And the circle with a dot is the symbol of the Sun. So there you have the Sun and the two lines marking the Solstices, which are the boundaries of the Temple. That’s also a blueprint.
Gene: Yeah. There’s a lot packed into it. You’ve got the circle of the year and also in the second degree, we talked about how the two lines were the two Saints John.
David: The two Saints John are the pillars of the temple. And their stories are brought together in this degree. So we just did the astrological interpretation of the Ritual, what about a more personal interpretation?
Gene: Folding it back into Kabbalah, you've got the left and right pillar in the center pillar being you… the point of synthesis.
David: And just as the Sun bounces between the two pillars of the Temple, we’re constantly doing a balancing act between our internal pillars of Mercy and Severity.
Gene: Yeah, unbalanced severity is cruelty and unbalanced mercy is weakness.
David: Exactly. So let’s finish out the symbols of the Degree ritual. What’s on top of the seven-stepped platform?
Gene: On top of the platform is a square altar and on it are a silver basin of perfumed water, a gold dish with coals and incense, and a book sealed with seven seals. What do those symbols bring to your mind?
David: Well, the water and incense were shown on the Tracing Board and are used during the Ritual to initiate the Candidate as an Essene.
Gene: Baptism by water and fire.
David: Yes. And the book of seven seals on the altar is the supposed mystery, but it’s you.
Gene: Why is that?
David: It’s part of becoming an Essene. You’re told that “your life must mirror your spirituality”. So, you have to sacrifice yourself. And that process is described in the last symbol we’re going to discuss, the Jewel of the Degree.
The Jewel of the Degree (35:34)
Gene: The jewel is half gold and half silver and resembles the Tracing Board in that it’s also seven-sided with initials of the seven lower sephiroth in Samaritan at the corners. In the center there is a lamb laying on the book sealed with seven seals. The seals have the same initials of the sephiroth in Roman letters. On the reverse side are two crossed swords with their hilts in an equally balanced scale.
David: So, what is the book?
Gene: Well, I know the book is supposed to mean the book of Revelation. What does that mean to you - the book of “revelation”? What is it revealing?
David: Well… as we talked about at the beginning, you have to know the key, which is the Kabbalah… but using that, it shows how to approach concepts of Unity and Divinity and how to unify yourself, in a step-by-step way. Each seal is associated with a Sephirah, which is an emanation from Unity. So, each one represents an illusion of separateness that needs to be overcome.
Gene: Flesh that out a little bit.
David: OK. You can think of the seals as aspects of you, so think about one of the seals as like, your heart, your emotional life. To open your heart means you have to stop seeing yourself as separate from everyone else. But to overcome all the duality there, you’d need to come to believe that what you do to others you ARE doing to yourself.
Gene: Oh. I understand what you’re saying. Are you living with an open heart or are you just pretending?
David: Right. So, what does the lamb symbolize?
Gene: The Lamb represents the Lamb of God, which is Jesus, which is the Logos, the “New Covenant”.
David: Yeah. The one who’s One with God and therefore, worthy to open the book. So we’re being told to be like the Lamb.
Gene: Exactly. To achieve a balance within yourself. To build Adam Kadmon in yourself.
David: And in Revelation, Jesus is that primordial man. He is the pattern. His Word opens the seals because in Christian scriptures, He is the Logos, the Word of God.
Gene: That makes sense.
David: Each seal is an enigma that Jesus answers in the Gospels with phrases like “turn the other cheek”, or “love your enemies as yourself.” Those are keys to overcoming various forms of duality. OK. What about the reverse side of the Jewel? It depicts two crossed swords in the pans of a balance in equilibrium.
Gene: Yeah, that’s what we strive for, to relate it back to other degrees - to use your judgment, the scales, to find the middle way, to find the middle path.
David: Alright. Let’s wrap things up. What are your takeaways for this Degree?
Gene: It’s to raise your consciousness beyond your little bubble. It’s to make you think cosmically. You’re trying to model the universe and become one with it. And at the top of the ladder is unity. Eventually, there can be only One.
David: That’s a great summary. I’ve got one more thing. I kept thinking about the similarity between John and Enoch’s trips into the heavens. Both of them were in some sense identified with the Sun. That’s the same motif as the Egyptian “Books of the Dead”, where the deceased, or the Initiate is identified with the Sun and its journey under the Earth at night where they face the spirits that oppose the Light. But they eventually overcome the adversarial forces and are resurrected to eternal life with the rising Sun.
Gene: So Saint John’s Revelation is a Gnostic “Book of the Dead”?
David: It’s got my vote. Any words of wisdom to end on?
Gene: The end of time is the beginning of eternity.
David: That works for me. What are we doing next time?
Gene: In the next episode we discuss the 18th Degree - Knight of Rose Croix.
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.