In this episode, we discuss the 24th Degree - “Prince 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 Dave.
David: Hello Gene. How are you today?
Gene: Enjoying the change in weather.
David: Me, too. At the time of this recording, we’re about two weeks past the Autumnal Equinox. So, it’s really starting to cool off here in Tennessee.
Gene: It is. Which means it’s football time!
David: For some people. 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. The last degree was an introduction to the Lesser Mysteries and this Degree is said to be the first degree of the Greater Mysteries.
Gene: That’s right. The last degree was “Chief of the Tabernacle” and this degree is “Prince of the Tabernacle”. Next week is the beginning of Sukkot, which is a Jewish harvest festival, but… and this is why I wanted to mention it… it’s also called the “Feast of Tabernacles.” Just interesting timing.
Ritual of the Degree (02:11)
David: That is interesting. So Gene, what is the Degree Ritual like this time?
Gene: As in the last Degree, a Lodge putting on the Degree is called a “Court” and it consists of two apartments. The first apartment is called “The Vestibule” and is furnished like a Master Mason’s Lodge except, instead of a bound Bible, there is a parchment roll to represent the “Book of the Law” on top of the “Book of Constitutions”. There’s also a Samaritan or ancient Hebrew yod suspended in the east, instead of the G.
David: What happens in this first apartment?
Gene: You change clothes there.
Gene: I know… it seems odd, but that’s what it says… “the brethren change clothes there.”
David: OK. So… what’s the second apartment like?
Gene: It’s furnished like the Court in the last degree, with the banners of the encampment, the Tabernacle and its furniture. But on the Table of Shewbread is a silver container of perfumed oil and suspended in the East is a Pentagram with the Greek letters alpha and omega inscribed within it.
David: What are the costumes like this time?
Gene: All the participants wear tunics and the Sash and Jewel of the Degree, and all except the three main officers also wear the Degree Apron. The Sash is light green trimmed with gold on which are printed a winged globe, a scarab and a butterfly. A small silver censer is suspended from the Sash. The Jewel of the Degree is the Phoenician letter aleph suspended from a violet-colored ribbon. Painted in the middle of the Apron is a gold Arabian Tent, and on the flap is a violet myrtle tree.
David: Anything else about the costumes?
Gene: One more thing, the presiding officer, called the “Honored Leader”, wears a blue silk tunic with a collar decorated with gold rays and stars. Around his turban is a purple band embroidered with gold stars, and on the front, an upward pointing triangle.
David: So what are you taught during the Ritual?
Gene: The Ritual starts off by introducing three very interesting symbols - the Lamp of Trismegistus, the Cloak of Apollonius and the Staff of the Patriarchs.
David: The names of those remind me of the three “Deathly Hallows” from Harry Potter.
Gene: Yeah, that’s funny. I hadn’t thought of that. I did think of Apollon-IA, you know this, being a Prince degree.
Gene: But anyway, it says “The initiate is the one who possesses the Lamp of Trismegistus, the Cloak of Apollonius, and the Staff of the Patriarchs. The lamp is reason, by which light (they) traverse the fields of science; the cloak is liberty, or self–control, the full and entire possession of one’s self, which defends (them) against the blind forces of instinct; and the staff is faith, the profound conviction of spiritual truths.”
David: So are there any other major symbols discussed in the Ritual?
Gene: Yes, the Sphinx. Which is associated with four elemental teachings - “to know, to will, to dare and to keep silent”. “To know” is Air. Aquarius. The face of a Man. “To will” is Fire. Leo. The body of a Lion. “To dare” is Water. Scorpio. The wings of an Eagle. And “To be silent” is Taurus. The feet of oxen.
David: What does the Ritual say about those teachings?
Gene: It says that they are the four components of the “Power of the Magi”. “To know” is to have “an intellect enlightened by study”. “To will” means to possess “a will that nothing can conquer”. “To dare” means to have “an audacity which nothing checks”. And “To keep silent” means to have “discretion that nothing can corrupt or intoxicate”. (The Initiate) knows the weaknesses of the human heart; dares to make use of them in (their) work and (are) silent as to (their) plans.”
David: That text from the “Ritual of the Degree” is lifted verbatim from Eliphas Levi’s “Dogma and Ritual of High Magic”, as are most of the teachings from the Degree Ritual… including the three magical items we just discussed.
Gene: Interesting. We’ve said this in previous episodes, but I’ll repeat it here, much of the Scottish Rite material comes from Levi… especially the esoteric material.
David: That’s true. So, what else is the Candidate told in the Degree Ritual?
Gene: You’re also told that the Persian Magi knew the “secret of the mystery of existence and of the relative necessity of evil”.
David: And what is that secret?
Gene: What we’ve discussed in the previous degrees. That there are two forces, symbolized by Light and Dark, seemingly in conflict… in the world… and in us. And that evil is the necessary result of having free will. Because our application of Will is the fulcrum point where we can always tip the scale toward the Light or the Dark.
David: And as in the last degree, we get some dire warnings about defiling the “Sacred Mysteries”.
Gene: Right. This time we’re told a story from the Biblical book of Leviticus chapter 10 about two sons of Aaron, High Priest of Israel, who dared to offer up what it called “strange fire to the Lord”.
David: What does that mean?
Gene: They wanted to offer incense to God, but only the High Priest, in this case their dad, was supposed to do that. That was mistake number one. But they were also supposed to pray and then wait for God to send fire down and light the offering. But they got impatient and lit it themselves, hence their “strange fire”.
David: So what happened?
Gene: Fire rained down from Heaven and killed them. Which echoes the story of Korah from the last degree.
David: Right. So, the Ritual talks about the similarities between “Mystery Traditions” from around the world.
Gene: It does. It tells parts of the stories of Isis, Osiris and Set, Ishvara, Ahriman and Ahura Mazda, Atys and Cybele, Thammuz, Dionysus, Atys, Orpheus and Balder. And it talks about how similar the stories are from different cultures and how that is the basis of the Mysteries.
David: Yeah, De Hoyos points out in the footnotes that those similarities are often exaggerated by Pike and other authors of that time.
Gene: What I’d say though is that, yes… the claims Pike makes about the similarity between all of these traditions is probably exaggerated, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they do all share a common theme - the natural cycle. And that’s not because someone went around the world and told them all…
David: You mean… it wasn’t aliens?
Gene: Not aliens. They had a shared experience they were basing it on - Nature. Here’s a quote - “The myths of the ancient world are… explanations intending to account for the cycle of vegetation. The coming of winter elicited many metaphors, such as… that the power of darkness has prevailed over the prince of light. The earth mourns, and is wrinkled with frost. The leaves drop from the trees; snow shrouds the mountains and cold winds sweep over the shuddering skies. All nature laments and we share a common sorrow. During those times, prayers were offered for the return of light and the re–ascension of the sun… (and then) the sun turns back from the south, and darkness flees before him.”
David: And the Ritual says that the culminating idea is “Now, as ever, out of death springs life, out of darkness ever comes the light, and to evil, in eternal circle, good succeeds.”
Gene: Light wins because life goes on. It says “(In this Degree) you will be introduced to the great principle of rhythm, and the great cycle of Birth, Death, and Regeneration, or Resurrection as a theme known the world over in many cultures and times… from death and darkness does the Light eventually rise reborn as the Phoenix from its ashes.”
Purpose of the Degree (10:19)
David: OK. So, what is the purpose of the Degree?
Gene: The “Ritual - Monitor and Guide” says that “This Degree illustrates the common features of some of the world’s major religions… binding all mankind as one family, is the search for Divine Truth… However (people) may differ in their private beliefs, there can be but One True Origin of all Things…. One True Creator. This fact alone makes (us) all Brothers (and Sisters).”
David: That’s a beautiful notion. What else are we taught in this Degree?
Gene: We’re taught that “The soul, a spark of the Universal Soul, imprisoned in the body, becomes sordid with the body’s imperfections; and must be purified before it can return and mingle again with the Universal Source. No sin… will go unpunished, and after death the soul will feel the consequences of its sins and errors here. You are also taught how constant is the struggle… between the Divine will, implanted in every (one) by God, and the natural will, prone to vice and error, and caused by the frailty of the flesh…. (which) makes of every human soul… a battlefield.”
David: OK. Anything else about the Purpose of the Degree?
Gene: Just that the Degree, and in general, “The Mysteries”, appear to tell a story about how we get detached from the Natural order. It tells how we “fall” through the seven spheres of the Planets to Earth. And then it describes the “Stairway to Heaven”, and how the Soul makes its way back to the “Throne of God”. Now, that’s a generalization…. but that’s the basic cosmology.
Morals and Dogma (11:54)
David: Very good. So where do you want to start with the Degree Lecture?
Gene: Well, Pike tries to relate all the traditions to the “Mysteries of Eleusis”, so that’s probably a good place to start.
Mysteries of Eleusis (12:06)
David: OK. The Lecture says that those Mysteries began in 15th century B.C. and they were divided into two rites called the Lesser and Greater Mysteries. The Lesser Mysteries were celebrated around the Vernal or Spring Equinox and the Greater Mysteries at the Autumnal Equinox.
Gene: And… not coincidentally, those are the times of our Scottish Rite Reunions. Ours are two or three weekends… Pike says it took four to five years… but Wikipedia says a year and a half. So, I think that it’s likely they went through the Lesser Mysteries in the Spring and then prepared until Fall of the following year for their initiation into the Greater Mysteries.
David: The Greater Mysteries were a ten-day event which involved fasting, a fourteen mile procession along the “Sacred Way” from Athen to Eleusis and then an all-night vigil during which the Initiates drank the sacred drink, the kykeon. As we’ve said, exactly what took place is still a mystery, but it’s widely speculated that the sacred rites involved three parts: a reenactment of the Demeter and Perseophone myth, the revealing of the sacred objects by the Hierophant and a Lecture on the things they’d been shown.
Gene: Actually, the word “Hierophant” comes from a combination of Greek words that mean “to show” or “to reveal the Holy things”. And those who’ve been shown the sacred objects and had the Mystery revealed are called Epoptes, which means “Seer” or “one who has seen.”
David: Or one whose eyes have been opened to the Mysteries.
Gene: Right. The Initiated Seers were supposed to have said - "I have fasted, I have drunk the kykeon, I have taken from the box and after working it, I have put it back in the open basket.”
David: And like most things said about the Mysteries, you can’t make much out of that statement, but the Lecture says that - “Initiation was considered to be a mystical death… and the perfect Epopt was then said to be regenerated, new-born, restored to a renovated existence of life, light, and purity; and placed under the Divine Protection.”
Gene: That sounds like what Christians would call “being born again”. The Lecture maintains that mystical death and rebirth were the core of the Mystery Traditions. Here’s a quote - “the Mysteries… celebrated the mystical death and restoration to life of some divine or heroic personage: (although) the details of the legend and the mode of the death varied in the different Countries where the Mysteries were practised.” There’s a section in the Lecture that describes the “Phrygian Mysteries” that says that it basically reenacted the Osiris myth, with the candidate being sealed in a box and undergoing a death and rebirth ordeal.
David: Again, that makes you wonder what Initiates were actually put through or what they experienced. I mean, did they just watch a reenactment while they were in a suggestable state, or were they actually put through an ordeal that reenacted the central myth?
Gene: Whatever it was, it was intense, or really the word “epic” isn’t an overreach in this case. The Lecture says that “the great mysteries of nature… anticipated by the ancients, whose profoundest thoughts are to be looked for, not in their philosophies, but in their symbols, by which they endeavored to express… the great circle of phenomena - Birth, Life, Death… and New Life out of Death… and new life out of death: to them the greatest of mysteries.”
David: Isn’t it strange that we are part of Nature, but it takes all of this pomp and circumstance to remind us of that fact?
Gene: What do you mean by that?
David: It just seems weird that we have to watch that sequence being played out and explained to us in order to step into and realize that “This is your life”. You know? The Lecture says that “Human ceremonies are indeed but imperfect symbols… Life is a mirror which reflects only to deceive, a tissue perpetually interrupted and broken, an urn forever fed, yet never full. All initiation is but (an introduction) to the great change of death.”
Gene: And another quote says that all rites are really just preparation for that event. It says “Baptism, anointing, embalming... burial or (cremation), are preparatory symbols… pointing out the mental change which ought to precede the renewal of existence. Death is the true initiation, to which sleep is the introductory or minor mystery.”
David: Yeah, if you think about it, you experience a death and resurrection of self-consciousness every day when you go to sleep and wake up.
Lingam and Yoni (16:43)
Gene: It’s a cycle or a circulation, to refer back to alchemy. The Lecture says “Death is the inseparable antecedent of life; the seed dies in order to produce the plant, and earth itself is rent asunder and dies at the birth of Dionysus. Hence the significance of the phallus, or of its inoffensive substitute, the obelisk, rising as an emblem of resurrection.”
David: We see reflections of that symbolism in folk traditions, like the maypole scene in “Wickerman”.
Gene: Yes, and the Lecture discusses the use in antiquity of the Lingam and Yoni as symbols of “generation and production”... which was really, if you think about it… the crux of the Mysteries, the interplay of the active and passive principles in Nature and in us.
David: That’s true. The Lecture says that “the Active and Passive Principles of the Universe, were commonly symbolized by the generative parts of man and woman; to which, in remote ages, no idea of indecency was attached… (and) as such, appeared in the Mysteries.”
Gene: We’ve joked a few times about what’s in the “Sacred Box”, but there’s evidence that the sacred items may have had sexual connotations. Which makes sense, but that runs counter to our modern sense of sacredness. But while we’re on the subject, what did you think about the use of the term “Sacred Orgies” to refer to the Mysteries.
David: Yeah, I saw that in some of the material Pike quoted. I looked into it and that phrase is used… but only once in the “Hymn to Demeter” to refer to the “Eleusinian Mysteries”, and it might refer to sex, but it could also have referred to frenzied dancing or just the religious ecstasy experienced by the Initiates. The word “orgia” was also used in the 2nd Century AD to refer to Christian rites, but over time it’s been given other connotations… possibly by Christian authors to denigrate the Mysteries.
Gene: But there were festivals that included actual orgies back in the day.
The Sacred Marriage (18:41)
David: Yes, but as we’ve said, we don’t really know what went on at Eleusis, but what we do know is that the male and female polarities, and what those represent, were key elements of the Mysteries. The Lecture quotes Proclus as saying that the ceremonies began with the Initiates “invoking the two great causes of nature, the Heavens and the Earth… addressing to each a prayer…. because they saw in them the Father and Mother of all generations. The concourse of these two agents of the Universe was termed in theological language a marriage.”
Gene: That’s the sacred marriage whose fruit is the whole of nature. The union of the “Active Force of the universal generation of all living things” and the Passive Force which is Mother Earth, the formative principle. But the Lecture says that “The Christian Fathers contented themselves with reviling and ridiculing the use of these emblems.”
David: But really, the feeling of shame about that basic part of our nature goes back to the beginning… to the stories of Eden… and fig leaves.
Gene: And Masonic Aprons. I mean, exoterically you could say it’s for modesty but, then they sometimes have like… obelisks on them.
David: Yeah… there’s obviously more going on there than just what it looks like on the surface. I think it’s a nod to the force in nature, and in us, that has to be channeled or else it becomes chaotic. So we’ve mentioned obelisks as an obvious symbol of the generative force. What symbolizes the other force?
Gene: The Passive or Formative force was symbolized by the Earth itself, a pool of water or a cave, or really any flat circular shape. But, combined, or wed, if you will, those two are like the 1’s and 0’s that everything is composed of.
Sic Mundus Creatus Est (20:29)
David: And the Ancient Mystery Tradition tried to mirror that in their Rites. The Lecture says that - “the whole system of the Universe was displayed in all its parts to the eyes of the Initiate; and the symbolic cave which represented it was adorned and clothed with all the attributes of that Universe.”
Gene: And they personified the forces of the Universe. Another quote says “To this world so organized, endowed with a double force, active and passive, divided between light and darkness, moved by a living and intelligent Force, governed by Genii or Angels who preside over its different parts, and whose nature and character are more lofty or low in proportion as they possess a greater or less portion of dark matter…”
David: Yeah, I noticed that term “dark matter”.
Gene: It made me think of how gold is refined, which we talked about in the 15th Degree. That you have to purify yourself from that darkness… and that’s what the preparations and “Rites of Purification” are about. The metaphor is that those Earthly things weigh you down.
David: Weigh you down spiritually.
Gene: Right. You’re carrying it around in your head… and in your heart… your Soul, if you will. Another quote says - “The Soul, a simple substance, when unconnected with matter, a ray or particle of the Divine Fire, whose home is in Heaven, ever turns toward that home, while united with the body, and struggles to return thither.” When a human soul “descends, it acts against its nature in doing so, urged by an inconsiderate desire of the intelligence, a perfidious love for matter which causes it to descend, to know what passes here below, where good and evil are in conflict.”
David: What does “perfidious” mean?
Gene: It means “faithless” or “treacherous”. It’s actually a nice word choice to lead you to think about the story in Genesis. Eve and then Adam’s “treacherous desire”, if you want to call it that, for the “Knowledge of Good & Evil”. They trusted the snake.
David: But in the context of the Mysteries, what is that really talking about?
Gene: Well, again… I’m just interpreting the Lecture… but it says that our Soul, or ultimately “The Logos” wanted Knowledge of the material world… and by Knowledge, I mean in the so-called “Biblical Sense”, meaning actual experience of it. So we’re talking about embodiment.
David: But embodiment means that you’ll ultimately die… just not this very instant maybe. Tricky snake! But I mean that’s the catch, right?
Gene: Yes, because when Force is united with Form that’s the beginning, but the end is implied in the beginning. The Alpha and the Omega or Malkuth is in Kether as the Kabbalists say.
Death as Transmutation (23:24)
David: Yeah, that’s true. Everything that’s born dies… but the Lecture says that Death is really a transmutation, that there’s a part of us that isn’t born and doesn’t die, which it calls the Soul. It says that “its natural home (is) in the highest regions of the Universe, whence it descended to illuminate, give form and movement to, vivify, animate, and carry with itself the baser matter; and whither it unceasingly tends to reascend, when and as soon as it can free itself from its connection with that matter.” And… if you’ve ever been present when someone dies, you can feel it leave… and what’s left behind is a husk… a shell.
Gene: Like a butterfly leaving a cocoon. And the butterfly is one of the emblems on the “Cordon of the Degree”.
David: And the other emblems on the Cordon, the scarab and the winged globe, have the same connotation. Ascent of the individual and of the world.
Gene: Yes. Another quote says that “This was the doctrine of Pythagoras, who learned it when he received the Egyptian Mysteries: and… Virgil makes the spirit of Anchises teach it to Æneas: (that) all the expiations and lustrations used in the Mysteries were but symbols of those intellectual ones by which the soul was to be purged of its vice-spots and stains, and freed of the incumbrance of its earthly prison, so that it might rise unimpeded to the source from which it came.”
Transmigration & Past Lives (24:51)
David: The idea is that the life force wants to rise again, to fuel new life. The Lecture even touches briefly on the idea of “Transmigration of Souls”. It says that “It (was) taught in the Mysteries, either by way of allegory… or perhaps only at a later day, as an actual reality, that the souls of the vicious dead passed into the bodies of those animals to whose nature their vices had most affinity.”
Gene: One other idea that is touched on is “Past Lives”. It cites Cicero as saying the Mysteries also taught that the soul could be weighed down by actions in previous incarnations.
Heavenly Drama (25:28)
David: But reincarnation or not, the idea is that it’s the sum total of your baggage that delays or blocks our return flight, so to speak. But then you also have to find your way back.
Gene: Yes, and the geography of that flight through the Heavens is reflected in all the astronomical references and symbolism of the Rites. Again, “as above, so below”, the cycles of the Heavens have very real reflections on Earth.
David: And in the Heavens, the most dramatic objects are the Sun by day and at night, the Moon, the stars, and the “Wandering Stars”, the planets.
Gene: Those celestial bodies are the gods enacting their dramas on a Heavenly stage. The Lecture says that the Mysteries were an Earthly reflection of them “which represented the loss by the Sun of (its) vivifying and generative power, when (it) reached the Autumnal Equinox and descended toward the region of darkness and Winter.”
David: We’ve talked in previous episodes about the apparent position of the Sun on the horizon throughout the year.
Gene: Right. The Sun sweeps to the North, which in the Northern Hemisphere is Spring and Summer, and then travels back along the horizon to its southernmost point at the Winter Solstice, which is where it makes its lowest arc in the sky.
David: And on the Winter Solstice, the Sun appears to hang at the same point on the horizon for about three days. The Lecture says that “the candidate invariably represented the Sun, descending Southward toward the reign of the Evil Principle, Ahriman, Shiva, or Typhon (darkness and winter); there figuratively to be slain, and after a few days to rise again from the dead, and commence to ascend… Northward.”
The Myth of Osiris (27:08)
Gene: It’s the story of the battle of the light and the dark and the ultimate victory of Life. In Egyptian cosmology, Horus is the reborn or rejuvenated Sun. Osiris is the Moon. And Isis is the who imposes her will and makes everything happen… with help from Thoth, of course.
David: And Pike equates Typhon with Set, Osiris’ brother. In Egyptian mythology, Set kills Osiris by sealing him in an ark and throwing it in the Nile. The ark eventually washes up on the river bank and an acacia tree grows around it, which is cut down and used as a pillar. That’s why Osiris is sometimes referred to as “The One in the Tree” or “He Who Comes Forth from the Acacia”.
Gene: So, Set overcomes Osiris at the Autumnal Equinox. Then he hangs inside the acacia tree, or in the sky at the Winter Solstice.
David: Yes, then Isis extracts him from the acacia, but Set steals his body and cuts it into fifteen pieces and scatters them all over Egypt. Isis tries to gather up all the pieces so that, with the help of Thoth, she can magically reanimate him and conceive a child to exact revenge on Set. But Set threw the most important piece, at least as it relates to conception, in the Nile where it was eaten by a crocodile. So there are only fourteen pieces of Osiris to find.
Gene: Which again, points to the possibility that some of the sacred relics displayed by the Hierophants had sexual connotations. But why were there fourteen parts?
David: Fourteen is significant because it's the number of days in each half of the lunar cycle. The moon is dismembered into fourteen pieces when it’s waning and those pieces are reassembled when it’s waxing.
Gene: Which perhaps points to the significance of the full Moon. And one more thing… the Lecture says that “Typhon… slew him when the sun was in the sign of the Scorpion… but, you know, that confused me, because Scorpio is a fixed sign, not a cardinal sign.
David: It did me, too at first. But in another quote where Pike is relating the banners of the “Twelve Tribes” to the Zodiac, he says that they relate to the constellations as they were 2500 years before our time. So, he’s talking about the previous precessional age when the Equinoxes and Solstices were marked by stars Aldebarán, Regulus, Antares and Fomalhaut.
Gene: Which are the brightest stars in Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. Another quote says “Plutarch adds, that at the time when Osiris was slain, the moon was at its full; and therefore it was in the sign opposite the Scorpion, that is, the Bull, the sign of the Vernal Equinox.” Which De Hoyos says is wrong because there’s no way to tell which sign the Moon is in based on where the Sun is.
David: But there actually is. If you know which sign the Sun is in and you know the Moon phase, then you know which sign the Moon’s in. That’s basic astronomy or really, or really just geometry. But what I found intriguing is that Plutarch is quoted as saying that the Mysteries were established to commemorate those events and their Rites are timed around the full Moon following the Equinoxes.
Gene: The date of Easter is still calculated that way. I don’t know… those are times when it feels like the veil between the worlds is thin. And the time of the Greater Mysteries is… right now actually. We’re recording this podcast just a few days before the first full Moon following the Autumnal Equinox.
Gate of Souls (30:51)
David: We are. And the Lecture says that “The equinoxes were the gates through which souls passed to and fro, between the hemisphere of light and that or darkness. The Milky Way was also represented, passing near each of these gates: and it was, in the old theology, termed the pathway of souls. It is, according to Pythagoras, vast troops of souls that form that luminous belt.”
Gene: And another quote says that - “by virtue and piety and good deeds, the soul was enabled at length to free itself from the body, and ascend along the path of the Milky Way, by the gate of Capricorn and by the seven spheres, to the place whence… it had descended.”
David: I’ve got a quote from “The Spiritual Science of the Stars” that talks about the location of that final gate… or gates. It says - “Whether they are a direct connection between this world and the other or merely allow the soul to pass from the Zodiac to the Galaxy on its Journey, these Crossings can be precisely located. They are the two points where the Milky Way and the ecliptic cross, the northern gate being between the constellations of Gemini and Taurus and the southern gate between Sagittarius and Scorpio. To pass through these gates… they must stand open, that is to say, they must rise above the horizon immediately before sunrise.”
Gene: So those are the crossroads, where Heaven - the galactic plane and Earth - the ecliptic cross.
David: Right. And the idea is that you can’t cross over unless the gate is open. Think about the timing of the Mysteries in terms of when the gates are open. The Sun would be in one of those gates and the Moon would be in the other on the night of the full Moon following the Equinox.
The Mystic Egg (32:39)
Gene: Now I’m starting to imagine the Universe as this gigantic machine of wheels within wheels opening up these drawbridges into Watchtowers in the Heavens.
David: But the ancients didn’t see the Universe as a machine, but as a living being, with a Soul, and its emblem was an egg, which housed the “Soul of the World” which infused all things. And in keeping with the Persian Magi theme of the Degree, it says that the Mysteries symbolized the forces of nature as “genii”, which composed a hierarchy of intermediaries of Divine Providence.
Gene: In Christian theology, they would be angels and demons.
Gene: The Lecture says that “The theory of Genii, or Powers of Nature, and its Forces, personified… was intimately connected with the Ancient Mysteries… The administration of the Universe by… Genii, to whom it is confided, and by whom good and evil are dispensed in the world, was a consequence of this dogma…. and thus the Genii or angels differed in character like men, some being good and some evil; some Celestial Gods, Archangels, Angels, and some Infernal Gods, Demons and fallen Angels.”
Rites of Purification (33:53)
David: And in terms of the mythology of the Degree, those symbolize the forces or circumstances that either help or impede us in eliminating the “Dark Matter” from our Soul.
Gene: That’s the reason for the purifications by water, air and then fire. Esoterically that symbolizes washing away the things that pollute the body… your Temple. Then after that’s squared away, purification by incense symbolizes clearing out of mental attachments and impressions that keep us weighted down. And finally, as we talked about in the 14th Degree, fire is how you try gold. It’s the final elemental purification.
David: So, those are the elemental purifications. Then you have to get past the planetary gates. In the 17th Degree, we discussed how the planets represent different forces in us. So one way to think about it would be that you’re symbolically held in each planet's orbit until you balance the force that that planet represents.
Gene: And that Equilibrium is symbolized as being allowed to pass through its gate. It’s like in Egyptian “Book of Gates” where you have to know the names of the gatekeepers in order to pass through.
David: To know the names of each of the seven planetary gods is to have power over each of those energies. It’s the same symbolic balancing act that was symbolized by the “Seven Seals” which we also discussed in the 17th Degree. The payoff here is to make it to the “Throne of God” and the central fire from which it was said that “all souls have emanated and to which shall all return.”
Gene: And I think that’s a nice place to end our discussion of the Degree Lecture… on our return to the source.
David: I agree. So what were your takeaways this time?
Gene: Well, this Degree made me think of Hunter S. Thompson and Buckminster Fuller.
David: OK. That seems pretty random to me, but I’m sure it makes sense to you.
Gene: It does. The Hunter S. Thompson quote “Buy the ticket. Take the ride.” is for me a very tongue in cheek way of describing birth, life and death. In which is wrapped up, our “fall”, our birth into this “world of pain”, our struggles through life to make our mark on the world or even just to get by, and then we die. The end is in the beginning. It’s our story as seed and fruit.
David: That’s good. What made you think of Buckminster Fuller?
Gene: Architecture. The building of the Temple. And here in this Degree, we are Prince of the Tabernacle. That seems to say we’re not just proficient, or even masters of the craft, but royalty. Which is how I think of Bucky. He wanted his designs to be strong, balanced, sustainable and most of all to eliminate everything that wasn’t necessary to fulfill the function for which it was designed. He said that he saw through the illusion of the forms of the material world and created his designs based on what was real - the energy that would be embodied in the form.
David: And what does that say to you?
Gene: That we should do the same. We should ask ourselves, what is the force that I want to embody in this world and then eliminate everything that’s not necessary to that Temple. That, according to Bucky Fuller’s principles, would give the best chance of creating something that we can keep in Equilibrium and also sustain in the face of adversity.
David: That’s cool.
Gene: What about you? What did it make you think about?
David: I think that the biggest thing for me was a realization of the myth that Pike is weaving with large sections lifted from other authors and some creative manipulations as well.
Gene: What is the myth you think he’s telling?
David: That Masonry is the spiritual descendant of the “Ancient Mysteries”. The “Seven Seals” to be opened in the “Gnostic Mysteries”, which Pike equated with Masonry in the 17th Degree, are here symbolized by a passage through “Seven Gates”. It’s the same mystery.
Gene: It is.
David: And I also liked the Cordon of the Degree which was like a miniature tracing board of the lessons of the Mysteries.
Gene: OK. It has a butterfly, a scarab and a winged globe on it.
David: Right. The butterfly, which we talked about, represents a transformation, a rebirth into a life form that wants to ascend. The scarab is a symbol of a dung beetle which would roll excrement into balls and lay its eggs inside so that newborn beetles have to literally crawl out of… well, it…
Gene: It happens. But seriously, that’s a great symbol for the struggles of life. You have to pull yourself out of the crap and leave it behind.
David: And washing or burning away that “dark matter” is the purification process that we’ve talked about in the last two degrees.
David: The last symbol on the Cordon is the winged globe that symbolizes a time when all Souls ascend.
Gene: Which in Kabbalah is called “Tikkun Olam”, the rectification of the world… when all of the living shards of flame return to the central fire.
David: And that seems like a good place to end. Do you have anything else?
Gene: One last thing. I just wanted to point out that we just passed the Autumnal Equinox… in real-time and in the degrees. So… darkness is coming.
Gene: The Degrees get darker.
David: Alright. What are we doing next time?