Way of the Hermit

21st Degree: Prussian Knight (or Noachite)

September 04, 2022 Dr. David Brown & Gene Lawson Season 1 Episode 22
Way of the Hermit
21st Degree: Prussian Knight (or Noachite)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, we discuss the 21st Degree - “Prussian Knight” 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:

Images and Diagrams:


  • Introduction (01:14)
  • The Degree Ritual (01:40)
  • Purpose of the Degree (10:34)
  • Morals and Dogma (13:45)
  • Speak Evil of No One; Guard Over Yourself (16:12)
  • Pantheism and Atheism Condemned (18:22)
  • Be Satisfied That God is Real (21:18)
  • The Noachites (22:54)
  • The Tower of Babel (24:08)
  • Moon Lodges (25:58)
  • Jewel of the Degree (28:11)
  • The Degree Apron (30:06)
  • Conclusions (31:56)


Introduction (01:14)

Gene: Hello Dave.

David: Hey Gene. How’s it goin’?

Gene: Just enjoyin’ my coffee. Ahh.

David: It sounds like you really are. As always, 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 last Degree Ritual was a return to Masonry’s “primitive purity”. Gene, what is the Degree Ritual like this time?

The Degree Ritual (01:40)

Gene: It’s really dark and strange.

David: What do you mean?

Gene: I’d describe it as ““The Star Chamber” meets “Eyes Wide Shut” world.

David: Hmm. OK.

Gene: Alright… that’s an exaggeration, but it is pretty bizarre.

David: How so?

Gene: The ritual is supposed to take place on a full moon night and the only light allowed is moonlight, so it’s literally dark. The ritualists are all dressed in black with yellow gloves and wearing masks.

David: That is strange. What’s the meaning of all of this weirdness?

Gene: Pike’s reworking of this ritual bases it on the secret medieval German tribunal called the Vehmgericht, or “Holy Vehm”.

David: What is that?

Gene: Here’s a quote from “Ritual - Monitor and Guide” that describes it - “In medieval Germany the Holy Roman emperors were unable to effectively control their lands and feudal Warfare brought increasing disorder. To help control this lawlessness there emerged in Westphalia near the end of the 12th century an extra-legal but efficient criminal tribunal called Vehmgericht. Combining old traditions with new legal forms (and)… operating where ordinary territorial justice failed, they became increasingly secret after the 14th century. They operated in so-called “holy bands” which were sworn to secrecy on pain of death.”

David: That’s an interesting turn of phrase there, “extra-legal but efficient criminal tribunal”. That’s a “Star Chamber” then.

Gene: It may be the archetypal “Star Chamber”. They also held initiation rituals and used secret language and signs.

David: This actually sounds like what some people believe Masonry is like… people sitting around in black robes deciding people’s fates.

Gene: Well, the Vehmgericht actually did some of that. Their membership was made up of Knights, Princes and other nobility. But they weren’t supposed to supersede the established authorities or laws. They were where you took allegations of abuses of power.

David: So, they were really were only supposed to intervene in cases where the justice system had failed because of the corruption of people in authority.

Gene: Exactly. They were basically an appeal of last resort. Here’s another quote - “Accusations were made mysteriously, often by nailing a notice up to a tree, and failure to appear for trial was punished by death. The possible trial verdicts were death, banishment or acquittal.”

David: Wow. So you said that these tribunals started at the end of the 12th century?

Gene: Yes, but they were most powerful in the 15th century.

David: In theory that all sounds good, you know - oversight of power and justice, but it seems like that group would have the same problems. And if they did, they would need oversight. What do you do… create another group to watch over them?

Gene: Yeah. “Who’s watching the Watchmen”.

David: Yeah.

Gene: No, that’s exactly what happened. Here’s a quote from “A Bridge To Light” - “Such power placed in human hands without the protecting check of publicity and responsibility could not long exist without misuse. In the great development and extension of the association, it could not be avoided but that unworthy individuals should be received as members who used the power coincided to them for the sole satisfaction of their revengeful and baser passions.”

David: So they started in the 12th century and were most powerful in the 15th. When did they cease to be?

Gene: They mostly disappeared in the 16th century, but they actually lingered into the 1800’s. The Vehmgericht were officially abolished by the King of Westphalia in 1811.

David: That’s very interesting. You said that the incorporation of the Vehmgericht was due to a reworking of this ritual by Pike. What was the earlier ritual like?

Gene: The old ritual was about the building of the Tower of Babel. There’s a quote by Mackey in “Ritual - Monitor and Guide” that says that formerly, this degree was misplaced. “It is, as an unfitting link, an unsightly Interruption of the chain of legendary symbolism substituting Noah for Solomon and Peleg for Hiram Abiff.”

David: So is that why this degree was also called “Noachite”?

Gene: Yes, after the Patriarch Noah. The Noachites are actually a sect of Judaism that hold that Noah laid down the first laws of God, which they live by.

David: What were those first laws?

Gene: There were “Seven Laws”. Believe in and don’t blaspheme God. Don’t commit murder. Don’t engage in unlawful sex. Don’t steal. Don’t eat the flesh torn from a live animal. And establish a legal system to enforce the laws.

David: So what does Noah have to do with the “Tower of Babel”?

Gene: After the deluge, God made a covenant with Noah which was to obey the “Seven Laws” and God promised not to destroy the world again with water. And the rainbow was the symbol of that Covenant.

David: And then after the flood, people started building the “Tower of Babel”.

Gene: They did. And the legend of this Degree was that a descendant of Noah named Peleg or Phaleg, was the leader of the effort to build the “Tower of Babel” in order to have a place that might survive another flood.

David: Well, that puts a different spin on why the “Tower of Babel” was destroyed.

Gene: What do you mean?

David: The story I had heard before was that they were building a Tower to reach into Heaven, but this story says that they were building a Tower to survive the next flood… when God had already promised that there wouldn’t be one if they’d obey the laws.

Gene: Oh, Ok. They’re showing a lack of faith by working on a “Plan B”.

David: Right. So Noah, the rainbow and the Tower of Babel are from the Degree Ritual before Pike’s revisions and the current Ritual uses the secret tribunal, the Vehmgericht.

Gene: Right. And in the Ritual, you as the candidate play the part of someone called “Adolf the Saxon” who is said to be “a brother and Adept of the Rosy Cross” and you’ve been brought before the tribunal to plead your case.

David: What is your case?

Gene: Basically that while you were away on a Crusade defending the Holy Lands, you’ve been swindled out of your land by Count Reinfred and a Bishop of Vienna. In the Ritual, Adolf the Saxon says that “I returned to find my inheritance shared between the Count and the church, one-half to each, and all appeal has been denied me to this I pledge my Knightly word.”

David: So the Count and a Bishop are being accused of abusing their power in order to steal your land.

Gene: Correct. And, a complication here is that the Count, who you are accusing, sits as one of the Freischoffen, which is what the judges of the Vehmgericht are called.

David: Oh wow.

Gene: Yeah, the accused is one of the judges. But I think that’s to reinforce that the tribunal is not above the law. Anyway, the first thing they do is swear you in, and the oath you take contains the last remaining link to the old degree mythology, so I’ll read it - “Do you agree and promise that you will be just and righteous, and in all things strive to emulate that patriarch from whom we take the name of Noachites: who alone, with his family, was found worthy to be saved, when God destroyed mankind with the deluge?”

David: That links back to Noah. What about the “Tower of Babel”?

Gene: The oath continues with - “Do you promise that you will be humble and contrite before the deity; and ever bear in mind the fate of Phaleg and his followers, who endeavored to build a tower whereby they might climb beyond the reach of another Deluge, and defy the omnipotence of God?”

David: It’s very interesting how the Ritual incorporates the old mythology.

Gene: It is.

David: So, you’re sworn in and the trial commences. Does the Count deny that he has abused his power?

Gene: He does. But after swearing before the tribunal that his claim to the land was valid, it’s shown that the document that proved his ownership was forged. “A Bridge to Light” says that “The Count represents the type not to be emulated; he is most bold, knowing his own guilt, denying it before God and throughout the trial in which it was believed God would judge between guilt and innocence. The Mason is to be the opposite; humble and modest, trusting in God. Though evil may prosper for a time, its downfall is certain. Those under its sway are counseled to have patience and faith.”

David: And so in the Ritual, justice prevails.

Gene: Yes.

David: So what is the purpose of the Degree? What are we supposed to get out of it?

Purpose of the Degree (10:34)

Gene: Well, exoterically, or on the outside, it illustrates what happens to all man-made institutions. How can you ensure justice when the Judges themselves might be corrupt? The Vehmgericht was a system for judging the Judges. Here’s a quote from “Bridge to Light” - “In this degree you are to be devoted to the cause of everyone who has been wronged by the great or oppressed by the powerful, those unjustly accused, those who have suffered from bribery, or corrupt judges...”

David: And the Degree Ritual starts off with this quote - “A free and independent Judiciary is indispensable to Human Progress”.

Gene: So this Degree shows a system that has checks in place for even when the Judges and those in power are corrupt. They’re still called to account.

David: Alright, that’s the exoteric reading. What’s a deeper reading?

Gene: That there’s a higher justice. In yourself, and in the world, but it operates in darkness.

David: So faith that there is ultimate justice, even if you don’t always see it.

Gene: Exactly. “You’ve got to have faith”.... in “God’s Will” or “Divine Providence”. Faith that, ultimately, there is justice in the world.

David: Right. So the members of the tribunal are Prussian Knights?

Gene: Yes, and you’re instructed on what it means to be a Prussian Knight. You’re told that “You shall not have honor as a Knight, unless you (have) earned it... Know that laziness is degrading, and inactivity shameful. Be ever alert, seeking opportunities to win honor by doing good deeds. Be loyal in word and deed. Keep your promises. Aid widows and orphans, and God will reward you… liberate yourself from the illusion that the accumulation of wealth is the purpose of life. Let not your tongue make mischief between other men, by speaking flattery or gossip.”

David: Ok, so anything else that you want to say about the Degree before we begin looking at the Degree Lecture?

Gene: There was one more thing. I’ll read a quote to lead into the point I want to make.

David: OK.

Gene: “They meet only on the nights of the full moon; and allow no other light than hers; because such was the ancient custom of the order, derived from the mysteries of Ceres and the old worship of Isis. In the Heavenly Host they admire the work of the Supreme Creator, and the universal laws of harmony and motion, the two first laws that emanated from God.”

David: What did you want to point out about that?

Gene: Just that it mentions being out under the stars, and that the ritual is linked to the mysteries of Ceres and Isis.

David: Also, the apron of the Degree also has Harpocrates on it with a finger to his lips, which is the Egyptian hieroglyph for “child” but it’s interpreted as meaning keeping silent. The rites of Ceres and Isis were not to be revealed to the uninitiated on pain of death.

Gene: That’s true. So anyway, “there’s something leaving a scratch mark on the surface of my mind” that there’s something deeper there. The Degree Ritual is all about secret rites under the light of the moon. It’s pointing at something, but we’ll come back to it.

Morals and Dogma (13:45)

David: We will. The Degree Lecture this time draws heavily from the “Resolves, Divine, Moral and Political, of Owen Felltham”, which I’ve linked in the “Show Notes”. Gene, where do you want to start with the Degree Lecture?

Gene: Well, the Lecture starts off by saying “You are especially charged in this Degree to be modest and humble, not vain-glorious nor filled with self-conceit. Be not wiser in your own opinion than the Deity, nor find fault with His works, nor endeavor to improve upon what He has done. Be modest also in your intercourse with your fellows, and slow to entertain evil thoughts of them, and reluctant to ascribe to them evil intentions.”

David: That quote continues with “A thousand presses, flooding the country with their evanescent leaves, are busily and incessantly engaged in maligning the motives and conduct of men and parties, and in making one man think worse of another; while, alas, scarcely one is found that ever, even accidentally, labors to make man think better of his Fellow. Slander and calumny were never so insolently licentious in any country as they are this day in ours. The most retiring disposition, the most unobtrusive demeanor, is no shield against their poisoned arrows.”

Gene: That is funny when you remember he’s talking about the 1870’s. We’ve come a long way baby!

David: We sure have. I’m going to pour fuel on that fire with another related quote.

Gene: Just do it.

David: OK. “The evil is wide-spread and universal. No man, no woman, no household, is sacred or safe from this new Inquisition. No act is so pure or so praiseworthy, that the unscrupulous vender of lies who lives by pandering to a corrupt and morbid public appetite will not proclaim it as a crime…. Journalism pries into the interior of private houses, gloats over the details of domestic tragedies of sin and shame, and deliberately invents and industriously circulates the most unmitigated and baseless falsehoods.”

Gene: That’s uncanny. But we’re told that - “We need not enlarge upon these evils. They are apparent to all and lamented over by all, and it is the duty of a Mason to do all in his power to lessen, if not to remove them… There is no obligation resting on us to trumpet forth our disapproval of every wrongful or injudicious or improper act that every other man commits.”

Speak Evil of No One; Guard Over Yourself (16:12)

David: So “See no evil. Speak no evil.”

Gene: Well, you probably should keep your eyes open to see it. But we’re told here to keep our negative opinions of people to ourselves. Here’s a quote - “One ought, in truth, to write or speak against no other one in this world. Each man in it has enough to do, to watch and keep guard over himself.”

David: And another quote says - “Very generally, the censure bestowed upon men's acts, by those who have appointed and commissioned themselves Keepers of the Public Morals, is undeserved.”

Gene: It’s pure arrogance and the Lecture says that “Arrogance is a weed that ever grows on a dunghill… There is no arrogance so great as the proclaiming of other men's errors and faults.”

David: And it also says that the people who pass judgment on others most easily are the least self-reflective - “it is from where there is no judgment, that the heaviest judgment comes; for self-examination would make all judgments charitable.”

Gene: So, in a nutshell, if you’re talking about someone, you’re supposed to focus on the positive, and leave it to someone else to list all the negative, because everyone has both.

David: That’s so true. And that theme of arrogance being the root problem continues in another quote that says - “the Mason should be humble and modest toward the Grand Architect of the Universe, and not impugn His Wisdom, nor set up his own imperfect sense of Right against His Providence and dispensations, nor attempt too rashly to explore the Mysteries of God's Infinite Essence and inscrutable plans, and of that Great Nature which we are not made capable to understand.”

Gene: That ties back to the “Tower of Babel” as being built out of arrogance. They thought they could outwit God.

David: Right. The Tower was a hedge against Divine Providence, which is doomed to failure because Divine Providence is inevitable by definition. And that’s what’s symbolized by the Tower’s destruction.

Gene: Just feeling the need to build the Tower in the first place, shows a lack of faith in God or trust in Providence.

Pantheism and Atheism Condemned (18:22)

David: And the next section deals with that. It discusses Atheism and Pantheism. Not believing in God or believing in more than one God. The section is called “Pantheism and Atheism Condemned”. So, that’s saying that there is at least one God, but not more than one.

Gene: “There can be only one.”

David: That’s right Sean. Monotheism is the formula being put forward. It says “Let him steer away from all those vain philosophies, which endeavor to account for all that is, without admitting that there is a God, separate and apart from the Universe which is his work: which erect Universal Nature into a God, and worship it alone: which annihilate Spirit, and believe no testimony except that of the bodily senses: which, by logical formulas and dextrous collocation of words, make the actual, living, guiding, and protecting God fade into the dim mistiness of a mere abstraction and unreality, itself a mere logical formula.”

Gene: The real issue is trying to put God in a box. You can’t do that and you have to take that into account at all times… in your own thinking. You know, just to keep a check on your own judgment.

David: Which extends to thinking that we know better than God about how the world should be run.

Gene: Which leads to my last quote in this section which says - “Nor let him have any alliance with those theorists who… are wiser than Heaven; (and) know the aims and purposes of the Deity, and can see a short and more direct means of attaining them, than it pleases Him to employ: who would have no discords in the great harmony of the Universe… but equal distribution of property, no subjection of one man to the will of another, no compulsory labor, and still no starvation, nor destitution, nor pauperism.”

David: That’s a statement deserving of some study.

Gene: Yeah. Tell me about it. But it’s just saying that any utopia you can imagine, most likely doesn’t materialize like you expect.

David: People ruin everything.

Gene: Unfortunately that’s true. And again, it ties back to the legend of the “Tower of Babel”. Being arrogant enough to think that you know better than God. Not accepting the way things are, but trying to bend them to your will.

David: But isn’t that just what we do… bend nature to our will.

Gene: Up to a point, yes… but “there’s a line in the sand there dude and across that line, you do not cross!

David: Yeah, I hear you Walter. But it just makes me think that you don’t know where that line is until you step over it and get smited.

Gene: I think that’s a pretty good statement of how the world works.

David: True.

Gene: We’re supposed to just accept that and be satisfied with that.

Be Satisfied That God is Real (21:18)

David: The next section is “Be Satisfied That God is Real”. The first quote I have there is “Let him not spend his life, as they do, in building a new Tower of Babel; in attempting to change that which is fixed by the inflexible law of God's enactment: but let him, yielding to the Superior Wisdom of Providence, (be) content to believe that the march of events is rightly ordered by an Infinite Wisdom, and leads, though we cannot see it, to a great and perfect result,--let him be satisfied to follow the path pointed out by that Providence, and to labor for the good of the human race.”

Gene: That means getting in tune with Divine Providence, aligning yourself to it so that you aren’t trying to sail against the trade winds, so to speak. The last quote I have from this Lecture is - “let him build no Tower of Babel, under the belief that by ascending he will mount so high that God will disappear or be superseded by a great monstrous aggregate of material forces, or mere glittering, logical formula; but, evermore, standing humbly and reverently upon the earth and looking with awe and confidence toward Heaven, let him be satisfied that there is a real God; a person, not a formula; a Father and a protector, who loves, and sympathizes… and that the eternal ways by which He rules the world are infinitely wise, no matter how far they may be above the feeble comprehension and limited vision of man.”

David: OK, that’s it for the Degree Lecture. It was short this time.

Gene: It was. And the Degree Ritual was, too. But it had some interesting symbols.

The Noachites (22:54)

David: It did. And let’s talk a bit about the symbols of the Degree. Where do you want to start?

Gene: What about Noah and the Noachites? Do you see a link between the Degree before Pike’s revisions that talked about Noah and the “Seven Laws” and the new Degree and the “Holy Vehm” tribunal?

David: Well, I’d say it’s the 7th Law of the Noachites that says to establish a fair judicial system. You can’t do that if there are abuses and that’s what the tribunal was supposed to address.

Gene: That’s a good point. Another thing is that the “Seven Laws” are a prototype for the “Ten Commandments”, later revealed to Moses. But you might say that Noah is “laying down the law” really for the first time… and by that I mean writing them down. God’s words written in stone, metaphorically, or I guess according to myth, literally.

David: Right. The first written laws which form a covenant that God puts his stamp on with the rainbow.

Gene: Which makes me think of the Norse “Rainbow Bridge” and Pontiff which means “bridge builder”.

David: And this is the bridge period between the pre-diluvian and the post-diluvian world, before and after the flood. New rules for a new world.

The Tower of Babel (24:08)

Gene: But then they start building the “Tower of Babel”. Which we said represents the lack of faith, or lack of willingness to accept the “Seven Laws”, coupled with arrogance. This isn’t really addressed directly in this Degree, but what do you think the confusion of languages represented? You know, in the Bible it says that people couldn’t understand each other anymore after the “Tower of Babel” was destroyed.

David: It seems like the anti-Pentecost.

Gene: What do you mean by that?

David: At Pentecost, the disciples “spoke in tongues” and could understand all the languages, so basically a reversal of how God smote people at the Tower.

Gene: But what do you think that confusion and the Pentecostal reversal of confusion of languages symbolize?

David: I think it’s the same thing Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when he says “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

Gene: “A Scanner Darkly.”

David: Right. It’s Language that clouds our vision. It is the way we manipulate the world… thoughts and plans that get carried out in action. We talked about this in the last degree when we discussed Thoth as the inventor of writing. But the point here is, that once you have language, you can think and plan and transmit information, which are great… but you can also lie and deceive.

Gene: Yes. And also overreach. You know, by imagining you can bend reality in ways that aren’t feasible.

David: Which means being either ignorant of the way things are, or arrogant and ignoring reality.

Gene: Keeping yourself in the dark, or refusing to be self-reflective, which the Lecture says leads to the sort of arrogance that caused the destruction of the “Tower of Babel”.

Moon Lodges (25:58)

David: Which brings us full circle. Speaking of being in the dark, another theme of the Degree was how dark it was, the ritual being only lit by the light of the full moon. What did you see in that?

Gene: I mean the first thing is just that the Vehmgericht were basically a vigilante group. So they’re doing dark things in the dark, out of the light of scrutiny. They’re serving up dark justice to those that deserve it. But I started thinking about the timing of the Masonic meetings and whether they were related to the moon phases and that led me down a rabbit hole.

David: Where to?

Gene: Well, first to the so called “Moon Lodges”.

David: What’s a “Moon Lodge”?

Gene: It’s a Lodge that times their meetings to coincide, or to be close to the full moon.

David: Why do they do that?

Gene: The stated reason is basically a lack of electricity. It’s bright outside on a full moon.

David: That makes sense for a time before electricity, but there’s also lore about the day of the full moon being significant energetically.

Gene: Could be. But anyway, at the turn of the century there were about 3000 “Moon Lodges in the U.S. but by the 1950’s there were only about 500, and now there are supposedly only about 129.

David: That’s very interesting. Was that the end of your rabbit hole?

Gene: No, actually it wasn’t.

David: Oh really.

Gene: It forked and the other thing I found through the black magic of Google was a bit more “Stanley Kubrick”-ish.

David: OK. I’m sitting down. Hit me.

Gene: There’s a Masonic Lodge on the Moon.

David: Hmm. I’m thinking about the movie “Iron Sky” right now.

Gene: No, I’m being serious.

David: OK.

Gene: Tranquility Lodge number 2000 is chartered by the Grand Lodge of Texas and its address is the “Sea of Tranquility” on the Moon.

David: Hey - “Tranquility Base Here. The Eagle has landed.”

Gene: Right! It’s from the intro. That’s cool.

David: So how do you join the real “Moon Lodge”?

Gene: There’s an online application form, but you have to live in Texas.

David: Ah man!

Gene: Yeah, I know. I thought the same thing.

Jewel of the Degree (28:11)

David: Ah, that’s too bad. So what about the Jewel of the Degree? It’s silver with an arm and sword and the words, “Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum” - “Let there be justice, though the Heavens fall”.

Gene: That’s a very famous quote. It’s used in lots of movies and books.

David: Like where?

Gene: Wikipedia says that it’s used in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart Darkness”, in the movie JFK, in “Better Call Saul”, in the Amazon series “The Boys” and the old TV series “Hawaii Five-O”.  And… not telling my age, but I actually remember that episode where McGarrett said it.

David: That’s weird that you would remember that. Anyway, the phrase which appears on the Jewel, basically means “justice at all cost”. That’s the idea that ties together the legends of the Vehmgericht and the Noachites. The 7th Law of the Noachites commanded the establishment of a system of justice. Did you want to say anything else about the Jewel?

Gene: I noticed that there was an alternate Jewel that was gold instead of silver. It was in the shape of a triangle, with an arrow pointing downward. That made me think of the way the Vehmgericht signify that they’ve meted out justice.

David: How was that?

Gene: By sticking a dagger in the ground near the body.

David: Ooh… yeah. I’m sure it does denote that. The thing I noticed about both forms of the Jewel was that they both show representations of right triangles, with the shape formed by the arm and sword. and the two right triangles formed by the arrow bisecting the triangle in the second form of the Jewel.

Gene: What did that make you think of?

David: Just the link back to the previous degree where we discussed the 47th Proposition of Euclid and the Pythagorean Theorem. I think the Jewels are calling back to that knowledge as foundational for this degree. Like you said last time, you have to square yourself before you can judge others.

The Degree Apron (30:06)

Gene: Right. Or your judgment will be off. The Degree Apron also shows the arm and sword so it has a right triangle on it, too. It also has a representation of Harpocrates… and I thought that was a strange representation.

David: What do you mean?

Gene: I’ve never seen him represented as winged… but anyway, he’s a winged child holding a key in one hand and his finger to his lips in a gesture of silence.

David: As I said before, that posture is actually the shape of the Egyptian hieroglyph for “child” but it’s also obviously a gesture of hushing your own mouth, too.

Gene: Right, obviously. Also, this degree was called “The Masonic Key” at some time in the past. And Harpocrates is holding a key. Is that another one of those things where the Degree absorbs the symbols of its previous incarnations?

David: Maybe so, but what about just silence, the way it was treated in this Degree?

Gene: Well, silence was referred to in two very different ways in this Degree. On the one hand, you had the silent judgment of the “Holy Vehm” tribunal, and on the other, we were lectured to keep silent about the faults of others.

David: Yeah, I noticed that, too. Have you ever heard the phrase “sub-rosa”?

Gene: Yes, it means to keep something under wraps or secret. Right?

David: Right. But it comes from a story about Aphrodite sending Harpocrates a rose in exchange for him keeping her indiscretions secret. So, Harpocrates is the “God of Secrets” and the rose has come to symbolize silence, and was sometimes suspended from the ceiling of meeting places. So, the meetings took place “sub-rosa”,  or “under the rose” implying that what’s said there, is supposed to remain secret.

Gene: So… “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Conclusions (31:56)

David: Exactly. So what was your takeaway from the Degree?

Gene: Well, it was “Judge not, that ye be judged” again, but a phrase that keeps tickling my brain was “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only the Shadow knows.”

David: What does that say to you?

Gene: That there is something deep inside us that wants to see wrongs be righted. And because it’s subconscious, we don’t normally see how it operates, only its judgments. The dagger that it sticks in our mind, if you will… especially when the judgment is about yourself. 

David: And, as we discussed earlier, self-reflection is a hedge against arrogance.

Gene: Yeah, but it made me think of the way your own mind can torment you with “You’re guilty! You’re guilty!” So there’s two sides to it. You can focus on the negative and the evil, in yourself or in others, or… and this was a question I had - are you just supposed to kick it into neutral and think - I don’t need to worry about evil in the world, because ultimately, they’ll get what’s comin’ to them?

David: That’s a good question. I think the point is that you have to do both. Be self-reflective, but don’t cross the line in the sand into just beating yourself up all the time. Try to do good in the world, but understand that you can fix everything, and even if you could, maybe the way you would try to fix it might even make things worse. The way I see it, it’s a life-long balancing act.

Gene: It’s the Pillars of Mercy and Severity again, with you as the Middle Pillar trying to maintain equilibrium. What about you, what’s your takeaway?

David: Like you, I was thinking of the tribunal as something at work in us. And since it’s in everyone, you see it acting in the world as a whole, like an egregore. So, it’s the reason that you’re supposed to be lenient in your judgment, because it ends up being the yardstick you’re defining for yourself, too.

Gene: Yeah, that’s Matthew 7:2 - “... with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

David: Exactly. And the way I think it operates is that if you judge harshly, that causes resentment and that’s a burden you have to carry with you. And the more of those you accumulate, the more baggage you have to deal with.

Gene: And that’s a good way to think of it, like a weight you’re carrying around but can’t see. But it affects your thoughts, your feelings, and your behavior.

David: You know, if you think about it, resentment is like a mind cancer. It grows and feeds on itself… and saps your energy, that could be used for something positive. But the interesting part, and the part that pertains to this Degree, is that the harsh judgment you make, which is the “crime”, if you want to call it that, carries its own punishment. 

Gene: Yeah. That’s cool.

David: Do you have anything else?

Gene: No, that’s all I’ve got.

David: Alright. What are we doing next time?

Gene: In our next episode, we discuss the 22nd Degree - Knight Royal Axe.

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.

The Degree Ritual
Purpose of the Degree
Morals and Dogma
Speak Evil of No One; Guard Over Yourself
Pantheism and Atheism Condemned
Be Satisfied That God is Real
The Noachites
The Tower of Babel
Moon Lodges
Jewel of the Degree
The Degree Apron