In this episode, we discuss the 23rd Degree - “Chief of the Tabernacle” 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.
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Gene: Hello David.
David: Hey Gene. How are you today?
Gene: I’m feeling a touch mysterious.
David: OK. Well, I think that’s good… but anyway, 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. Gene, what’s the Degree Ritual like this time?
Degree Ritual (01:38)
Gene: We move back to the time of Moses and the Biblical Exodus and are told that we “are to be consecrated to the service of the children of light, and shown the Tabernacle in the wilderness, which… is a symbol of the Universe. In the eyes of the ancients, man was considered a microcosm, or a reflection of the universe; hence the Hermetic dictum, “As Above So Below.” We draw upon it allegorically to represent the establishment of a rebuilt mind and character according to the plan as laid out on the “Trestle Board of Life” by God.”
David: So the Tabernacle is a reflection of the Universe and you are a microcosm of the Universe.
Gene: Ergo, by studying the symbolism of the “Tabernacle in the Wilderness” we can see a plan for how to align ourselves… our own Temple… with the same Light. And this Degree is called “Chief of the Tabernacle”.
David: So it’s saying that we are an embodiment of the plan of the Tabernacle that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. So, what is the Tabernacle?
Gene: It’s basically “Solomon’s Temple” on wheels.
David: OK… I’m trying to picture that.
Gene: Well, not literally wheels, but it was mobile. They had to tear it down, move it and set it up again. I mean, in a way, it had to be like a traveling show, because they supposedly kept it moving it around for forty years. But anyway, the Ritual says that “The Tabernacle is a tent, a temporary dwelling place for the spirit of God, represented by the Ark. When the Tabernacle was ordered built by God, he promised a permanent dwelling place would eventually be made.”
David: So, how does the “Ritual of the Degree” use this symbolism?
Gene: In this Degree, the Lodges were called “Courts”. So the Court that is putting on the Degree is decorated to represent an encampment of the Twelve Tribes in the desert near Sinai. Each of the Tribes is represented by a standard with specific colors and emblems. These are arranged in a circle around the Court. The standards of Judah, Ephraim, Dan and Reuben are in the four quarters and their emblems are the fixed signs of the zodiac - Leo the Lion, Taurus the Bull, Scorpio as Eagle, and Aquarius the Man.
David: Those are the faces of the Cherubim and the “Living Creatures” from John and Ezekiel’s visions.
Gene: And the encampment of the Tribes is one of the “wheels within wheels”... the “Wheel of Animals”.
David: The Zodiac.
Gene: Yes. Our word zodiac derives from “zōdiacus”, which is the Latinized form of the ancient Greek “zōdiakòs kýklos” which means "cycle or circle of little animals". Those are the constellations that lie along the ecliptic, which is the apparent “highway” in the sky that the planets move through. Why do you think those constellations are symbolized mostly by animals?
David: Because they’re associated with different times of the year and the natural forces associated with those times. For example the amount of, and the angles of Light.
Gene: Yeah, and that points to the real influence that the Zodiac has on human life. We’re alive. We are still beings of nature.
David: That’s right. So that’s the Encampment around the Tabernacle.
Gene: Yes, and the Tabernacle itself is in the center of the Court. In the Bible, there’s another enclosure around the Outer Court, but in the Degree Ritual there is just the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle furniture. One other thing is that the curtains covering the inside of the tent are “embroidered with cherubim, or animals with the bodies of lions, the feet of oxen, the faces of men, and the wings of eagles.”
David: The cherubim are emblems of the four Tribes combined into a sphinx. And since they’re associated with the seasons of the year, that’s also like an embodiment of time.
Gene: The living cosmos, or the “Body of God” if you will.
David: Right. So what is the furniture of the Tabernacle?
Gene: The “Altar of Sacrifice” is outside the Tent and the “Laver of Brass” between it and the Tent. Then inside, on one side is the “Table of the Shewbread”, or the “Table of the Presence”, and on the other side, the seven-branched candlestick, the Menorah. In front of the veil of the Sanctum Sanctorum is the “Altar of Incense”. Beyond the veil, is the cube-shaped “Holy of Holies”, which contains the “Ark of the Covenant”. On the Altar is a square and compasses and a poignard.
David: What is that?
Gene: It’s a cross-hilted dagger or short sword. It’s characterized as having a triangular or square blade, so it’s a close range stabbing weapon.
David: Well, good to know. So the “Tabernacle in the Wilderness” is the setting of the Ritual. Who are the officers?
Gene: The presiding officer represents Aaron and is called “Venerable High Priest”. The Wardens are called “Excellent Priests” and the officers are called “Levites”.
David: I know this is a loaded question but… what are the outfits like?
Gene: Oh man! It is. Lot’s of symbolism in every detail of the priest’s costumes… which I’d rather not repeat in their entirety, but I will point out a couple of things. The Priests wear a kind of apron called an “ephod”, that goes over your head like a tunic, is sleeveless, and reaches down to your knees. Then the High Priest has a Breastplate attached to his ephod. It has twelve precious stones in four rows of three, engraved with the names of the twelve tribes. It also doubles as a pouch for Urim and Thummin.
David: What are Urim and Thummin?
Gene: That’s a great question, because no one knows for sure. The best guess is that they were an oracular device of some kind, used to contact God and answer questions… possibly yes or no questions?
David: So, is it like a coin… heads or tails?
Gene: That’s actually one theory. The Ritual says that Urim and Thummin are sapphires or blue stones decorated with images of Re and Thmel, Light and Truth, in a sitting posture, each holding a tau cross… which I guess means an ankh.
David: And by Thmel, I think Pike means Themis, or the Greek equivalent Maat. So you have Ra as Light, and Maat as Truth. But anyway, what happens in the Ritual?
Gene: You, as the Candidate, play the part of Eliasaph, who is a descendant of Levi and therefore, entitled to apply for initiation into the priesthood.
David: The operative word there being “apply”.
Gene: Exactly. Because you’re given a warning - “My brother, you have heard of the awful punishment visited by God upon those who meddled with holy things. Take heed that you do not do likewise, for God said that no stranger shall offer incense before the Lord. You must approach our Mysteries with clean hands, a pure heart, and a sincere desire to serve your fellow man, and thus God… As I sever from your head this lock of hair, so must you divest yourself of every selfish and impure feeling. You must devote yourself hereafter to the service of God, and the welfare, happiness, and Improvement of mankind.”
David: Just think about that statement though. “Divest yourself of every selfish and impure feeling?”
Gene: I know. But that’s what it says is the cost of this Degree. It’s what you have to sacrifice at the Altar. And you're warned that if you haven’t done that, you should not approach the “Holy Mysteries” lest you be smited.
Gene: And it backs that up with the story about a guy named Korah from Numbers Chapter 16. He and some supporters revolted against the Levite priesthood. That ended with the Earth swallowing up some of them, and a fire consuming the two hundred and fifty who dared offer incense in the Tabernacle without purifying themselves.
David: What is that supposed to teach?
Gene: The Ritual says “It teaches you how insignificant is man, and how he must always humble himself in the presence of that great being who knows his most secret thoughts. But the secret of the Lord is within them that fear Him, and He will show them his Covenant.”
David: So, is it saying that fear is the necessary attitude with which to approach sacred things?
Gene: Probably a better word would be awe, or deep respect.
David: As opposed to thinking “What’s the worst that could happen?” or “What… me worry?”
Gene: Yeah.. that’s probably what Korah thought… right before he got turned into smoldering ash!
David: Yeah, that’s true.
Gene: It makes me think of what it would be like to be a High Priest, going into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.
David: Why do you think about that?
Gene: Well, you’re all decked out. All eyes are on you… and right before you part the veil, a dude comes up and starts tying a rope around your leg… which they actually did.
David: Why did they tie a rope around the Priest’s leg?
Gene: Because, if you are not quote-unquote pure, and therefore, not fit to offer sacrifice… that’s how they dragged your corpse out!
David: Ooh… Ok. So… understatement alert… stern warnings about the dangers ahead… but, what’s the purpose of the Degree? What are you supposed to get out of it?
Purpose of the Degree (11:10)
Gene: The Ritual asks - “Why do you travel from the East to the West by way of the South?”, and the answer is “We follow the example of the sun and its beneficent course… Arise and shine for the light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you… It is the fountain of light, and an emblem of the kind beneficence of the Deity. Let this Candidate now rise, and purify himself… to be prepared to shine among men, blessing all, and returning good for evil.”
David: There’s light symbolism all over that quote. It talks about the candidate shining and becoming a source of light. That makes me think of halos and how the Bible said Moses’ face was shining when he came down from Mount Sinai.
Gene: And it says a “fountain of light”, which made me think of kundalini. Another quote says - “Light is the gift of God to all men. Be henceforth a Son of Light! God is one; single, eternal and unchanging. In Him there is no darkness at all.”
David: Alright. Anything else before we discuss the Degree Lecture?
Gene: One more thing, it’s a summary from the “Ritual - Monitor and Guide” that precedes the Ritual. It says - “This degree is intimately connected with, and is preliminary to, that which immediately follows, called Prince of the Tabernacle. The form of the Tabernacle is distinctly defined, and the old sacredotal ceremonies of the ancient temples described and portrayed, with useful explanation and instruction. Unholy sacrilege and presumptuous interference with sacred ceremonies are forbidden and punished; and only those with hearts divested of all in purity, are commended in the performance of holy rites.”
Morals and Dogma (13:04)
David: That’s a good summary of the Degree. What’s the first thing you have from the Degree Lecture?
Gene: My first quote from the Lecture is - “Among most of the Ancient Nations there was, in addition to their public worship, a private one styled the Mysteries; to which those only were admitted who had been prepared by certain ceremonies called initiations.” The Lecture mentions initiatic traditions in Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the British Isles involving Isis, Orpheus, Dionysus, Ceres and Mithras all based around the symbolism of the cycles of death and rebirth seen in nature.
David: My summary of the Lecture would be that it discusses the Initiatic or Mystery Traditions and tells what they were, where they came from, what was said about them and the dangers of approaching them when you aren’t properly prepared. Gene, will you start us off, what is the Mystery Tradition?
Gene: Well, it’s something that used to actually bring people together in a way that the Church is supposed to do, but in my experience, never quite succeeds at doing. And to be clear, I’m not talking about a Church picnic to socialize… I mean a community spiritual event. More like a “Tent Revival”, but with a real shared spiritual experience.
David: So, what was the shared experience?
Gene: “Plato said that the object of the Mysteries was to re-establish the soul in its primitive purity, and in that state of perfection which it had lost.” That’s a tall order.
David: It is. The quote I have is - “Proclus held that initiation elevated the soul, from a material, sensual, and purely human life, to a communion and celestial intercourse with the Gods; and that a variety of things, forms, and species were shown Initiates, representing the first generation of the Gods.”
Gene: Yeah, Pike quotes many famous people telling, but not telling the secret behind the Mysteries.
David: What do you think was the secret?
Gene: Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you… no, no wait a minute… they’d have to kill me for revealing it!
David: Right. No one’s talking. But it sounds like, from the dodgy statements people make, that somehow the Mysteries provided proof of the existence of God, an explanation of nature and the Universe and proof of life after death.
Gene: Or they were very good at fooling some very intelligent people into believing that they were provided proof.
Gene: I could see a logical explanation sufficing for God, nature and the Universe… I mean that’s what the Degrees have tried to do so far, but proving life after death would seem to require an actual experience… like maybe an out of body experience.
David: Well, some of the books referenced in De Hoyos’ footnotes put forth that notion, and we’ll talk more about that in a bit, but let’s get back to what the Mysteries are. They were divided into Lesser and Greater Mysteries.
Gene: Right. Everyone, or almost everyone, was admitted to the Lesser Mysteries. But if you wanted to participate in those, you had to submit to a period of preparation and purification which Pike said was 3-4 years, but basically, not everyone was allowed to partake of the Greater Mysteries. The quote for that is “The initiated are few, though many bear the thyrus.”
David: The thyrus was a staff with a pine cone on the end that was carried in the Dionysian Mysteries… and the origins of the rods carried by the Stewards.
Symbols Taught Before Books and Letters (16:49)
Gene: Which also makes me think of the Rod of Aaron. But yes, pine cones are just one of the nature symbols used in the Mysteries which hold Nature up as the ultimate emblem of Divinity. Here’s a quote - “Nature is as free from dogmatism as from tyranny; and the earliest instructors of mankind not only adopted her lessons, but as far as possible adhered to her method of imparting them… The Mysteries were a sacred drama, exhibiting some legend significant of Nature's change, of the visible Universe in which divinity is revealed… few explanations were given to the spectators, who were left… to make inferences for themselves.”
The Mysteries Unveiled the Purpose of Existence (17:30)
David: That’s because they taught with symbols… and symbols can mean very different things to different people.
Gene: Right. But again it’s stressed that you have to do the examining. No one can do it for you. It says “Unlike the religion of books or creeds, these mystic shows and performances were not the reading of a lecture, but the opening of a problem… No better means could be devised to rouse a dormant intellect, than those impressive exhibitions, which… invited it to seek, compare, and judge.”
Masonry, Like the Mysteries, Uses Symbolism to Teach (18:03)
David: And that process of seeking, comparing and judging is the teaching… not the symbols, but the process that it forces you to do to tease out those meanings. It changes the way you think.
Gene: That makes sense. Here’s another quote. “Masonry still follows the ancient manner of teaching. Her symbols are the instruction she gives; and the lectures are but often partial and insufficient one-sided endeavors to interpret those symbols. (If you) would become an accomplished Mason, (you) must not be content merely to hear or even to understand the lectures, but must… study, interpret, and develop the symbols for (yourself).”
David: And that’s what we’re trying to show an example of with this podcast.
Imagery of the Mysteries (18:49)
David: So the Lecture says that the main concept behind the Mysteries of Dionysus and Persephone, Isis and Horus, Orpheus and Jesus, is spiritual rebirth via an ecstatic experience. Here’s a quote - “The votary, elevated beyond the sphere of (their) ordinary faculties, and unable to account for the agitation which overpowered (them), seemed to become divine in proportion as (they) ceased to be human; to be a daimon or god. Already, in (their) imagination, the initiated… numbered (themselves) among the beatified. They alone enjoyed the true life, the Sun's true lustre, while they hymned (to) their God beneath the mystic groves of a mimic Elysium, and were really renovated or regenerated (through) the genial influence of their dances.”
Gene: What do you think that means?
David: Well, it sounds like a Rave… but, you know, as an aside, there is a theory that the “kykeon”, the sacred drink of the Eleusinian Mysteries, incorporated a psychedelic. Which De Hoyos talks about a little bit in the footnotes.
Gene: Yeah, that’s been speculated for a while, but if that’s the case, why do you think they would keep it a secret?
David: I mean, if it was part of their technology, then I think of the Sherry Turkle quote - “Technology isn’t good or bad… it’s powerful.”
Gene: “And complicated.” Set and setting. So… anyway… the Lecture says "They whom Proserpina guides in her mysteries… (those) who imbibe her instruction and spiritual nourishment, rest from their labors and know strife no more. Happy (are) they who witness and comprehend these sacred ceremonies! They are made to know the meaning of the riddle of existence by observing its aim and termination as appointed by Zeus… and obtain sweet hopes to console them at their death."
The Development of the Initiatic Rites (20:47)
David: The beginning and end of existence… the Alpha and Omega? That’s the Presence that appeared to John in his vision. Which would add support to the idea that the book Revelation actually does reveal the Mysteries… just not in a way that you’d get unless you’d had the experience.
Gene: Well, whatever they taught or demonstrated, it made believers out of most of the important thinkers of antiquity. The Lecture says that “Whatever pictures later… Christian writers may draw of the Mysteries, they must… have been of the highest importance; because both the most virtuous as well as the most learned and philosophic of the ancients speak of them in the loftiest terms. That they ultimately became degraded from their high estate, and corrupted, we know.”
David: How did they become corrupted?
Gene: By losing their sense of sacredness. Pike says that the rites got more complicated and initiation became restricted to the favored few, which eventually became the Priesthood.
The Role of the Priesthood (21:51)
David: Here’s his description from the Lecture. He says - “The Priesthood, that select and exclusive class, in Egypt, India, Phoenicia, Judea and Greece as well as in Britain and Rome, and wherever else the Mysteries were known, made use of them to build wider and higher the fabric of their own power. The purity of no religion continues long. Rank and dignities succeed to the primitive simplicity. Unprincipled, vain, insolent, corrupt, and venal men put on God's livery to serve the Devil withal; and luxury, vice, intolerance, and pride depose frugality, virtue, gentleness, and humility, and change the altar where they should be servants, to a throne on which they reign.”
Initiatic Process (22:34)
Gene: Now there’s the Albert Pike we know and love!
David: Yeah… Pike doesn’t like power being usurped like that. The idea is that you have to learn to act as your own High Priest.
Gene: True, but the idea that goes along with that is that you have to prepare yourself for that responsibility. The Lecture talks about the initiation ceremony and how there was often a lengthy period of several years during which you basically had to do what you were told in order to prove yourself. And also prove that you could keep a secret.
David: I think anyone interested in the Mysteries needs to keep in mind how much time, effort and sacrifice some people in the past put into their spiritual lives. But it should at least be clear that you can’t go to some of those places that they went without similar effort and training.
Gene: It would be like saying that tomorrow you’re going to swim the English Channel without training. Spoiler alert - you are going to drown!
Progress of the Mysteries (23:42)
David: Right. So you have to be initiated into the Mysteries by someone, but that begs the question - who was the first initiator? The answer is that there is a common story across many cultures, of a person or a being who kick-starts humanity and is the originator of the Mysteries.
Gene: Well… “Ancient Astronaut Theorists” say that it’s an alien.
David: Yeah, but they say everything is aliens. Anyway, this figure is known as Thoth to the Egyptians, Enoch and later Metatron to the Jews, Hermes to the Greeks, Idris to the Moslems, the Lecture says that “The Deity… infused into him the sciences and the arts, in order that he might instruct the whole world.” Thoth-Hermes is credited with inventing writing, speech, astronomy, time keeping, religious festivals, even religion or worship… and also all forms of technology, math, medicine, music, etc.
Gene: He’s like the “Chuck Norris” of antiquity.
David: Right. He can do everything! And another quote says that “Among the sciences taught by Hermes, there were secrets which he communicated to the Initiates only upon condition that they should bind themselves, by a terrible oath, never to divulge them... on pain of death. This secret was styled the Sacerdotal Art, and included alchemy, astrology, magic, (and) the science of spirits... He gave them the key to the Hieroglyphics of all these secret sciences, which were regarded as sacred, and kept concealed in the most secret places of the Temple.”
Gene: The “most secret places of the Temple”... the “Holy of Holies”?
David: Yes. I think it’s talking about the key being Ark and its contents. But the teachings about those mysteries, because they’re symbolic, and perhaps even meant to talk around something that they didn’t want to reveal to just everyone, the stories about those objects were not even meant to be taken literally.
Gene: Which leads to those stories being inevitably misunderstood and/or feared.
David: And those misunderstandings, and the rise of the Priesthood, led to the end of the era of the Mysteries.
Gene: Right. The Mystery religions of the West were effectively extinguished by the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. They destroyed their temples, desecrated their sacred objects and persecuted the adherents. The Lecture says that by 528 AD, the Priests of the Mystery cults were dispersed and spread their doctrines, and also their own misunderstandings, over the whole earth.
Pythagorean Mysteries (26:10)
David: The Grecian Mysteries, as established by Pythagoras, Pike says “taught the immortality of the soul, the Omnipotence of God, and the necessity of personal holiness to qualify… for admission into the Society of the Gods.” The Pythagoreans imposed a preparation period on initiates that involved five years of abstinence, silence and obedience.
Gene: I think most people today would have a real problem going five days… but we all still want the trophy. Anyway, Pike points out that Pythagoras used arithmetic, grammar, rhetoric and logic to teach and to prove the existence of God, and that these teachings form the basis of the Fellowcraft Degree.
Mysteries of the Druids and Goths (26:54)
David: Pike also discusses the “Druidic Mysteries”, or I should say, he quotes from George Oliver’s “History of Initiation”, which is one of the primary sources for this Chapter.
Gene: Yeah, the Lecture discusses the use by the Druids of groupings of stones as places of worship and initiation, and also how the Solstices and Equinoxes were celebrated with festivals in the mystery religions of the British Isles and also by the Nordic countries which he called the “Gothic Mysteries”.
David: And the Equinoxes and Solstices also were times when initiations were held.
Gene: Which makes sense because the candidate is usually associated with the Sun. He also names some of the primary symbols of the Mysteries as the circle, the cross, the serpent and the egg. All of which, if you think about it, have a connection to the solar cycle.
The Egyptian Priesthood (27:44)
David: Indeed. And the last of the Mysteries discussed in the Lecture are the “Egyptian Mysteries”… which, if I understood De Hoyos’ footnotes, he doesn’t believe ever existed.
Gene: I read them that way, too. I’m not sure what’s up with that exactly.
David: Me either, but there was an Egyptian Priesthood and my assumption is that there was training involved so…
Gene: Yeah, I think he may just be saying that most of this is speculation… but it’s almost like forgetting that these are symbols. The legend isn’t necessarily, and in most cases isn’t historical, or at least it can’t be proven to be historical. They have to be judged on their usefulness.
David: Right. So the legend of the Degree says that Joseph was made Prime Minister of Egypt after he interpreted the Pharaoh’s dream. He was also given an Egyptian name and married the daughter of a Priest of Amon-Ra and then initiated into the “Egyptian Mysteries”.
Gene: It tells a similar story about Moses, the adopted son of the Pharaoh's daughter. He also was given an Egyptian name, married the daughter of a Priest and Josephus and others say that he became a Priest of Heliopolis before the Exodus.
David: So, Pike is saying that “Egyptian Mysteries” passed on through Moses to the Greeks, the Romans, the early Christians and Gnostics, and form the basis of the “Masonic Mysteries”... if you want to call it that.
Gene: He is, but… and this is a quote… it is those original teachings “corrupted and disfigured by time and ignorance, (that) appear in many of our Degrees.”
David: Hmm. Did you have anything else in the Lecture that you wanted to discuss?
Gene: Uh… one more quote to end on - “Such, my Brother, is the doctrine of the first Degree of the Mysteries, or that of Chief of the Tabernacle, to which you have now been admitted, and the moral lesson of which is, devotion to the service of God, and disinterested zeal and constant endeavor for the welfare of men. You have here received only hints of the true objects and purposes of the Mysteries. Hereafter, if you are permitted to advance, you will arrive at a more complete understanding of them and of the sublime doctrines which they teach. Be content, therefore, with that which you have seen and heard and await patiently the advent of the greater light.”
The Encampment (30:13)
David: Alright. Let’s talk about the symbols of the degree. Let’s start with the encampment of the Tribes around the Tabernacle. We’ve already talked about it as symbolizing the Zodiac.
Gene: One thing I found interesting was that in the last Degree, they were studying the heavens in the Workshop of the Ritual. Here the Ritual takes the design and Earths it, so to speak. It’s a scale model of the Universe.
The Tabernacle (30:37)
David: It is. And that design has three levels.
Gene: Right. There’s the Encampment, then the Tabernacle, and then within the Tabernacle is the “Holy of Holies”. Outside the Tabernacle is the “Altar of Sacrifice” and the “Laver of Brass”.
David: What do those symbolize?
Gene: The Altar and the Basin symbolize the preparation and purification of a Priest, who is allowed inside the Tabernacle. On the inside of the tent, on the North or right side, is a table with the loaves of the “Bread of the Presence” and on the South side is the Seven-Branched candlestick, the Menorah. The Menorah represents the wheel of the Solar System, or wheel within the Zodiac wheel.
David: And also, the orbits of the planets are themselves wheels within wheels.
Gene: That’s true. They are.
David: And at the front of the Tabernacle in front of the veil of the “Holy of Holies”, is the “Altar of Incense”. A censer with a hand-shaped handle is the Jewel of this Degree. This is because what happens at the “Altar of Incense” is the crux of the Mystery of this Degree. The question is - should you be allowed to make your own offering… or said another way, should you be allowed to approach the “Sacred Mysteries”?
Gene: And the Degree shows both sides. In the Degree Ritual, God smites Korah and his followers for questioning the authority of the Levite Priesthood. But then Pike rails against the way the Priesthood destroyed the ancient Mystery Traditions by asserting authority over the rites.
David: The point of the story of Korah’s rebellion was that they wanted to offer incense to God for themselves, they didn’t want the Priesthood in their way. But they got punished because they weren't prepared to approach the sacred. They weren’t pure enough.
Gene: So what’s with the sacrificial dagger on the altar? That’s pretty ominous.
David: I think it’s meant to be. I’ll pull a quote from “Wickerman” and say “And now, for our more dreadful sacrifice…”
Gene: Ah… so, you’re the sacrifice.
David: Yes. You might say that what Korah and his followers didn’t “understand the true nature of sacrifice.” As we discussed earlier, in this Degree, you have to take an oath that all of your actions will be selfless.
Gene: So, you might say that your old self, your egoic self, has to die for a Chief of the Tabernacle to be reborn.
The Holy of Holies (33:04)
David: That’s a good way to put it. Esoterically, the Encampment is your body and the physical world, the Tabernacle is your mind and will, and the “Holy of Holies” is your personal and/or collective unconscious. It’s a place that you can’t just demand access to, it has to be granted.
Gene: And only the High Priest, on one day out of the year, Yom Kippur, was allowed to enter the Sanctum Sanctorum which contained the most holy relic of the mysteries, the “Ark of the Covenant”.
David: I noticed in the last Degree it said that the Ark was made from the Cedars of Lebanon, but in this Degree, and in the Bible, it says it was made of Acacia wood. Masonic Legend says that Acacia marked the grave of Master Hiram and it’s also said to be the wood of the “Crown of Thorns” so it’s symbolic of rebirth. But it also ties back into our earlier discussion, since some species of Acacia root have psychoactive properties.
Gene: The Ark contains the Manna, too. Another interesting substance.
David: Hmm. Manna. “What is it?”
Gene: I actually know that’s a joke because the word “manna” literally means “what is it”. Manna is a mystery.
David: It sure is. I also thought about how the two Cherubs on the Ark resemble the Scottish Rite double-headed eagle. The “Greater Key of Solomon” identified the Cherubs as Metatron and Sandalphon. Those are the angels of the first and last Sephirah, or you might say, the Alpha and Omega. Those are the two ends of the “Tree of Life", the highest and the lowest... like two poles of a battery.
David: But then I started thinking about how the Ark melted everyone in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.
Gene: Which is another good example of being smited for defiling the Mysteries.
David: True that. Are you ready to wrap things up?
Gene: I am.
David: So what would be your summary of the Degree?
Gene: Well, you know how I like songs and lyrics.
David: I do.
Gene: Well, this time my summary would be two songs. “Wheel in the Sky” by Journey and “Presence of the Lord” by Eric Clapton.
Gene: “Wheel in the Sky” is obvious. The astronomical studies and “Round Table” of the last degree became the Encampment and the Tabernacle of this Degree, which are the “wheels within wheels” which we can observe in the sky.
David: What about the Clapton song?
Gene: Well, the “Presence of the Lord” was supposed to manifest between the two Cherubs on the “Mercy Seat” of the Ark. And I thought these lines from the song, in a sense, described the Degree:
“I have finally found a way to live
Just like I never could before
I know that I don't have much to give
But I can open any door
I have finally found a place to live
In the presence of the Lord”
David: What does that mean to you?
Gene: To open the door, or in this case the Veil into the “Presence of the Lord”, meaning your personal “Holy of Holies” requires the supreme sacrifice… your selfish nature. All of it. If you hold anything back, you’ll get smited.
David: That’s good.
Gene: What about you? What’s your summary?
David: I had a few quotes I wanted to share.
David: My first quote is from the “The Sungod’s Journey through the Netherworld” which says - “Timor Dei initium sapientiae” meaning “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”, (that’s Proverbs 1:7)... is the most apt motto for all who have embarked on the dangerous journey… into the realm of the collective unconscious, which normally does not happen by one’s own will but by fate. This transition cannot be accomplished on one’s own and certainly not with a heroic attitude. It rather requires the psychic forces of the inner self… that remains instinctively connected to and focused on the enlivening images of the unconscious.”
Gene: The archetypes.
David: Yes. And in “Mysterium Conjuntionus” Jung says that archetypes are not only enlivening, but potentially dangerous. He says that the unconscious is not so much dangerous in itself “as because there are cases of latent psychosis which need only a slight stimulus to break out in all their catastrophic manifestations.”
Gene: And that’s what I’ve been referring to as being smited.
David: That’s right. And my last quote is again from “The Sungod's Journey through the Netherworld” which says - “Whoever is touched by a process that takes place in the depths of the collective unconscious has to subordinate his or her own will and knowledge to an inner truth and law that far transcend ego-consciousness. It is the law of the night, the earth, and the snake, and whoever obeys it is indeed in possession of a great mystery.”
Gene: What is the mystery of the snake?
David: It mentions the snake there, because it’s symbolic of new life. You have to shed that old skin and become what you really are… beyond your ego-centered self. You can look at and ponder the wheels in the sky with a sense of awe, but this Degree calls our attention to the fact that we are a microcosm of all that… made according to the same plan, or said another way, “in the image of God”. Whatever force, or formula unfolded and created time and space, also unfolded into us, and consciousness. So the question posed by the Degree is, do you really want to know yourself?
Gene: And, perhaps more importantly… if you do… “you (now) know the price.”
David: The price is the thing you love most in this world… yourself.
Gene: Because that’s really the veil that stands between you and your Sanctum Santorum.
David: It is… and that’s a good place to end. Gene, what are we doing next time?
Gene: In the next episode, we discuss the 24th Degree - Prince of the Tabernacle.