In this episode, we discuss the 3rd Degree - "Master Mason" from "Morals & Dogma: The Annotated Edition". Transcripts, Chapter Markers and Show Notes for all episodes are available from our website - WayOfTheHermit.com.
It is highly recommended that you read the chapter in order to fully follow our discussion. "Morals and Dogma" is available from these sites:
Gene: Hello Dave.
David: Hey Gene.
David: And we’re live.
Gene: I wouldn't go that far.
David: Go as far as what?
Gene: Saying we're live.
David: No we're not live. We're somewhere between the worlds, I guess.
David: Before we get started with our discussion of the third chapter of “Morals & Dogma”, I wanted to encourage everyone to read and ponder the chapter. I also wanted to remind everyone that an outline, show notes and chapter markers are available from our website WayOfTheHermit.com.
David: So Gene, what's your thoughts on this chapter?
Gene: Well, I was going to say this chapter was truly an initiation because it damn near killed me!
David: Why do you say that?
Gene: Oh my Lord! It seemed like that Pike was listing every bad piece of human nature that exists on the planet and just kept pounding. I’m an emotional reader David, I get into what I'm reading and it just put me in a foul, foul mood.
David: Because you were seeing too much of his words in the news?
Gene: It seemed to relate all too well to modern times and modern situations and it didn't put me in a bright shiny place.
David: Pike was pretty negative about the politics and popular culture of his day… and there were many resonances to today.
Gene: Yeah. It was a real “Debbie Downer” first few chapters. Then he’s got a small 3 paragraphs going, “You know you need to hold your head up and keep on going!” and I was like “Really?”
David: You’re just gonna stick that in here with all this negative? Right?
Gene: It made it hard for me to go through. I mean when I do the readings I usually go through and read it front to back one time. Then I let it sit a little bit and I'll go back and I'll look at the individual pieces and parts a second time. Then the third or fourth time I'll start going back and make you my notes. It made it really hard to go back and go through it again and again.
David: I had some of those same feelings, too. I also thought it was interesting that much of the chapter came from Eliphas Levi’s “History of Magic”.
Gene: I thought that was very interesting as well.
David: I'm going to get us started here with a quote unless you have any other introductory remarks about the chapter.
Gene: No. I’ll bitch more later. Go ahead.
David: And I may join you in that a little bit later. The first quote I’ve got from the book ties us back into symbolism. Here’s the quote: “All religious expression is symbolism; since we can describe only what we see, and the true objects of religion are THE SEEN. The earliest instruments of education were symbols; and they and all other religious forms differed and still differ according to external circumstances and imagery, and according to differences of knowledge and mental cultivation.” This ties back in with their discussion in previous episodes about the importance of symbolism.
Gene: All language is symbolic. Religion and philosophy became disputes about the meaning of words. That’s from the book. Any words to describe are loaded. They’re not the thing. They’re just the signpost pointing to the thing.
David: And that's a problem - confusing the thing that’s symbolized with the symbol itself.
Gene: It's the map not the territory.
David: But if we can't symbolize something we can't talk about it or even think about it. Pike actually says directly God is a symbol in this chapter.. which some people might take that to mean that God isn't real.
Gene: We cannot see or express the realness of God. All we have are our symbols. When we say God that is not God. That is just our word for whatever that is.
David: That would be idolatry. Mistaking the symbol for the thing that it's supposed to symbolize.
Gene: Right. Just because you can say God does not mean that you grok God. Thank you Robert Heinlein.
David: The idea that God is a symbol that ties back in with our discussions previously about everything that we can conceive of is a reflection of the thing.
Gene: Correct. All we have is our filter system of our brain and our organs.
David: There was another section in this chapter where Pike equated God with Being. Therefore, if you accept that God is equivalent to Being, then the statement “God doesn't exist” is absurd.
Gene: Yeah. I thought that was good, too.
David: And you really have to think about that.
Gene: Not, “I am what I am” but “I am”.
David: Right. So if you just accept that, if that's what you let that word, that symbol, refer to, the “I am”, Being - then the whole argument of whether or not God exists is an absurd argument.
Gene: Indeed it is.
David: That's the same idea that comes from the philosophy of Parmenides. It's basically that there really is only one thing. That we move within that, but that's not our experience of life and therefore it doesn't seem like that's true. Before we leave the subject of symbols, I think you said you had one more quote from Pike Gene?
Gene: He stated that “Nature is the great Teacher of man; for it is the Revelation of God… (Nature) presents its symbols to us, and adds nothing by way of explanation.”
Popular Culture and Politics (7:11)
David: Yeah that's a good quote. OK. Let’s go back and talk a little about the “Dark Side” of this chapter. There are some disturbing word choices and some passages in this chapter that definitely could be taken out of context, or perhaps in some cases in context, and used to justify something we might judge to be wrong. But, where I’d like to focus is on Pike’s judgments about politics, politicians and the populace that still ring true today.
Gene: Before you start, that goes back to when he was talking about “modern man wonders at the mysteries of existence”. Man has not changed. The circumstances and the times have changed, but man’s nature and makeup has not.
David: And that is a key point and why the myths seem to play themselves out again and again in popular culture and politics. Here’s a quote that I thought summed up (in very stodgy language), the pervasive mindset of people throughout all time (I think). OK, here’s the quote, “Reverence for greatness dies out, and is succeeded by base envy of greatness. Every man is in the way of many, either in the path to popularity or wealth. There is a general feeling of satisfaction when a great statesman is displaced, or a general, who has been for his brief hour the popular idol, is unfortunate and sinks from his high estate. It becomes a misfortune, if not a crime, to be above the popular level.”
Gene: “Time respects no person. What we lift up must fall.” John Cougar Mellencamp.
David: Oh! Ok. I was going, “Wait a minute. I don’t remember that from the chapter!”
Gene: This is my Cliff Note that I’ve boiled it down to.
Gene: “Grim view of man's nature. Period.”.
David: That sums up much of the quotes that I have written down from that section. The one section though that I thought I did have to say something about where he was talking about revenge. Becoming God's agent of revenge.
Gene: “Justice and Punishment” I think was the chapter’s name.
David: I mean I know a lot of that chapter was meant to be cautionary but you could take sections of that, as you could take sections everywhere in this book, really out of context. I've got another quote here.
Gene: Go right ahead.
David: OK, here it is. “On the contrary, a time always comes to a Republic… when those most prominent in the lead of affairs are men without reputation, statesmanship, ability, or information, the mere hacks of party, owing their places to trickery and want of qualification, with none of the qualities of head or heart that make great and wise men, and, at the same time, filled with all the narrow conceptions and bitter intolerance of political bigotry. These die; and the world is none the wiser for what they have said and done. Their names sink in the bottomless pit of oblivion; but their acts of folly or knavery curse the body politic and at last prove its ruin.”
Gene: Welcome to America! Ha, ha ha!
David: Do you think that Pike thinks that the world is going to get better by following this philosophy that’s outlined in this book? Is it going to change mankind for the better? Does he believe that or is it just a better way for a person to live? What do you think?
Gene: Bottom line I think he actually believes that it can be changed, but he does not look away from the grimness that is human nature. I've got a quote on page 174. It says, “Unbelief is a dangerous credulity”. That’s where it finally turned for me, where I finally came through the darkness and started climbing my way back. It rumbled something in the back of my head and I remembered one of my favorite quotes from a little book called “Dune”. It’s a little bit wordy but let me read it to you.
Gene: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to its path. Where the fear is gone, there will be nothing. Only I remain.”
David: What was the link between this chapter and that quote?
Gene: The word “fear” with “darkness”. You can't turn away from the darkness. You've got to face the worst part of humanity in yourself and work through it. It sums up the attitude and the nature that you have to cultivate of taking it head-on.
David: So you just see what he's doing in this chapter is facing things head on, not necessarily being pessimistic and saying this is the way things are always going to be, it's just this is human nature.
Gene: Maybe. It's my own personal take and what I feel.
David: Hmmm. So, it’s better to know, even when it’s bad, than to turn away.
David: Okay. And by not looking away, this could somehow make a better society, too?
Gene: Yeah. One person at a time and hopefully with a brotherhood of similar minded people .
Philosophical Problems (13:00)
David: That’s a very interesting take on the material. OK. Let’s take a look at the philosophical problems referenced in this chapter - The 47th Problem of Euclid (perhaps better known as the “Pythagorean Theorem”), the Squaring of the Circle and the Philosopher’s Stone. The Pythagorean Theorem summarizes the relationships between the sides of all right triangles… that is all triangles that contain a 90 degree angle. This is, in a sense, the spiritualizing of the geometry of the physical tools of the plumb, level and square because it captures their essence in a formula. Here again Pike again uses the triangle to talk about the mediating function.
Gene: Active, passive and then the product. The father, the mother and the son and how that plays out in everything. The way you think. The way nature operates.
David: That’s right. The 47th Problem of Euclid has applications in construction, navigation, astronomy and actually in any field where the data being analyzed or symbolized by a right triangle.
Gene: It's an astute observation that continues to play out because it’s a part of nature. It’s like the Golden Mean. It's just there.
David: The German astronomer Kepler said “Geometry has two great treasures: one is the theorem of Pythagoras, the other is the division of a line into mean and extreme ratios, that is Phi, the Golden Mean. The first may be compared to a measure of gold, the second to a precious jewel.”
Gene: It's one of those little things that keeps on giving.
David: It does. OK, we’re going to move on to the next philosophical problem, The Squaring of the Circle. Gene, what do you think of when you think of Squaring the Circle?
Gene: Other than it makes me think about wrestling but that's just from watching it as a child and hearing that term over and over.
David: Oh, “The Squared Circle”?
Gene: Yeah. But what does that mean in our terms Dave?
David: Geometrically, it’s the problem of trying to create a square with the same area as a given circle. Philosophically, it’s the problem of trying to live the spiritual (represented by the circle) through the physical (represented by the square). Squaring the Circle could be seen as fitting the round peg of our True Self into the square hole of our circumstances.
Gene: That’s very cool.
David: Pike also mentioned the Philosopher’s Stone which comes from the Alchemical tradition.
Gene: Right. It’s the Secret Marriage or the Chemical Marriage. To go all Rosecrutian on you.
David: Right. That’s how it’s supposed to be created but it is said to have the power to turn lead into gold. And that can be seen as an analogy of the theurgic process where you’re trying to recreate yourself.
Gene: Turn the crap that is you into gold.
The Ancient Mysteries (16:12)
David: And speaking of the “crap that is us”, that leads to our next topic - The Fall of Man.
Gene: We talked about it previously. The Fall of Man is essentially us being born into this world.
David: In “The Way of the Craftsman”, MacNulty says that the “coats of skin” referred to in Genesis 3:21 are our bodies that we obtain at birth. Adam and Eve are given their “coats of skin” just prior to being expelled from Eden. So, that’s the mythology of the Fall, esoterically or psychologically, how would you define The Fall?
Gene: That moment of realization that, “That is not me”. When you first get separate thinking. That's where the divide begins and essentially that's our fall. We spend the rest of our lives trying to get back to that feeling of one, of all, of God. But because we're in this material world we are forever separated. It's not a fall as in we did something wrong, so much as being born… if that in itself was wrong.
David: To make another analogy to Genesis, it’s only after Eve hears a second voice in her head that the trouble begins.
Gene: Whispers in your ear…
David: But as long as you only hear one voice, there can’t be any free will or free choice because there wouldn’t be anything to choose from.
Gene: When you say though, in my head I'm thinking back, “Can I remember that moment in myself?” and have no, of course I can't.
David: But we have all lived through the creation of our own microcosmic world. For a while we’re seemingly at one with nature, but then, right around the time we start learning language, things change. We start to see the world differently.
Gene: When you first realize that things are separate from yourself. That mom is not me.
David: And that separateness allows for Free Will. Again, using the analogy of the Point in the Circle, it’s the withdrawal of Divinity to allow for a separation that’s needed to allow choice but is also problematic because the choices might be out of synch with the natural order of things. That’s where the book discusses Lucifer as a symbol for the power of Liberty, which could be used for good or evil. In that context, the Devil might represent Free Will used improperly.
Gene: The point that the Devil is the inverse of God. It's for contrast. It's the black and the white. Without one of the other there would be no world as we know it.
David: The world is an interplay of light and darkness which brings us to our next topic, Light.
Gene: I need more of it.
David: “So say we all.” Masonry is often called a search for “more light”.
Gene: Again studying nature, it's the natural point of life, energy.
David: Physically, life depends on light. Esoterically, more light means to become more aware, not just of the physical world, but of the microcosmic world inside us. To wrap up this section, we have to talk about that amazing ancient hieroglyph containing Masonic symbols.
Gene: That was totally cool! I’ve never seen that before.
David: I’ve never seen it either, but it seems to prove the antiquity of Masonic rites.
Gene: It does. Well… until you read the footnotes.
David: Right, because it’s pure fiction.
Gene: It's pure and simple out-of-cloth, made-up, cut-and-pasted together to create a mythology, which Pike has no problem doing large and small. I understand on a high intellectual level of you're trying just to tell a story… but on the other hand, are we truth seekers or myth makers?
David: That seems to be an instance where Pike obviously crossed the line.
Gene: As we've discussed, a lot of the book is cut and paste from other places. De Hoyas pointed out that he would lift things whole cloth, change them slightly and use them as his own quote. Again, that was the style of the times.
Hiram Abiff (21:06)
David: Yeah. Let’s move on to our next topic, the legendary Grand Master of King Solomon’s Temple, Hiram Abiff. He did quite a bit of discussion of the etymology of, or supposed etymology of Hiram Abiff. Did you have anything to say about that?
Gene: Nothing. I just screamed. I really did. It’s just…
Gene: Again, the style of the time which.. I read every word, and promptly tried to forget most of it.
David: I didn't get much out of that except, he was trying to do what they do in the Zohar. He was trying to do a Kabbalistic exercise with it, but…
Gene: In my humble opinion he did it very badly.
David: I agree. And we’ll leave the discussion of the etymology of the name Hiram Abiff at that. Let’s talk a little bit about the Masonic Legend of Hiram because we need that background to discuss the Tracing Board of this degree. Who was Hiram Abiff?
Gene: Essentially Hiram is the mythological, or real figure, depending on your point of view, that was the Master Craftsman for Solomon's Temple.
David: That’s right. The Legend of Hiram says that when the Temple is almost finished, Hiram is accosted by three ruffians who demand that he give them the secret word of a Master Mason. When he refuses, they kill and bury him. Later, Hiram’s decomposing body is discovered and he is miraculously raised from the grave.
Gene: To me it's a very loaded thing because there are many Christian people who think Masons are non-Christian because of certain things and the whole history of Hiram being resurrected from the dead…
David: Yeah, it can be easily misunderstood. Hiram’s death and resurrection are symbols, like everything else we’ve been discussing here. In this case those things symbolize a process of individuation and then sacrifice in the service of a higher calling. What’s been called at other times the “The Dark Night of the Soul”. I’ve got a quote here that speaks to that experience. It’s from “Freemasonry: A Journey through Ritual and Symbol” page 30. It says, “The individual finds himself in his ordinary life in a situation of great difficulty, but one for which he has been trained and with which he should be able to cope. As he works with the situation, his abilities fail one by one. His analysis of the situation, seemingly correct, produce no useful answers; his actions carried through on the basis of long experience, produce no beneficial result. Outside help is not available to him because his psychological situation prevents him from opening himself to those who could help him. Each time he turns to one of his carefully developed and trusted capabilities it betrays him. The means of escape from the situation permits itself, but he rejects it because it involves the violation of some moral principle which he is committed to uphold. Instead he perseveres; the external circumstances worsen; and his situation continues to deteriorate. At last he turns to the “East”, to the place in his being which experience has taught him is the source of unfailing help in time of desperate need. And it kills him.”
Gene: That's the story of Hiram. It’s one of initiation. I don't know if we can talk about this on the podcast before but to be initiated is to die a little, or big, death. The part of you that you knew before has to die for the new part to be reborn.
David: Right. Here’s another quote from “Freemasonry: A Journey through Ritual and Symbol”. “The ritual of the Third Degree, as it is conducted in the Lodge, simply describes the process of this “death of the Self” in dramatic form; and in that way, the ritual provides a sort of introduction to the subject. The actual event can occur only in people who are psychologically mature. Only a person who has assumed responsibility for his life, experienced the emergence of the self, developed his own will, and is prepared to surrender it to the Deity is “entitled to demand that last and greatest trial by which alone he can be admitted to the secrets of the Master Mason degree”.
Gene: That is true initiation. You have to give up everything. “John Barleycorn Must Die”.
David: Right. One more quote, this time from “The Way of the Craftsman” page 190. That last quote ended with “you can get the secrets of the Master Mason”. OK, so what are the secrets of a Master Mason? Here’s the quote: “The actual secrets, that is, the body of information known to people who have become consciously aware of their indwelling Spirit by making the transition we are about to consider, cannot be communicated between individuals in any conventional way.” They’re truths you discover about yourself. That's the secrets that you're entitled to.
Gene: To see yourself clearly instead of through a “Scanner Darkly.”
David: And part of this initiation process, you're supposed to go 3 levels deep. You know each of these represents one of the worlds of Kabbalah. The physical body, the ego-self and the true self, which is what we're talking about surrendering here. Those are three of the four worlds of Kabbalah. Do you want to say something about the four worlds?
Gene: The theory of the four worlds is, working from the top down, from the Godhead down, Atziluth is the first world. It’s the world of Emanation. The second world is Briah, which is Creation. The third is Yetzirah, which is Formation. And the bottom world we live in is Asiah which is the world of Making.
David: One of the kind of Kabbalistic keys is that the word that’s used in the Bible, either “formed” or “made” refers to a specific world.
David: I think of those four worlds in terms of like, for example, making a house. You know at the top you have the idea “I want to build a house”. In the world of Briah, the Creative world you decide what are the qualities of that house. In Yetzirah then you make a blueprint. You make the plan for how you're going to actually build the house. And then at Assiah you build the house. So you have a physical object. So everything travels down those four worlds. But with the four worlds that's where we encounter the Tree of Life diagram.
Gene: The ten Sephiroth or the ten spheres. Each one is a stopping point along the way from the creator to the created. Theoretically as it comes down, it can travel back up. In other words that's how you approach God.
David: When I first started studying the Kabbalah, and the Tree of Life with our mutual friend Leslie Duncan, I guess one of the first exercises I was shown was how to draw the Tree.
Gene: And what did you use to draw the tree Dave?
David: Compasses and a straight edge, which represented the four worlds and where those intersected that's where the Sephirah go. So the basic outline for the geometry of the Tree itself is four interlocking circles which represent the four worlds.
David: It ties back in with our number symbolism, too because the word “Sephiroth” means number. We went over the ten numbers last time. Those are the basic esoteric associations with those Sephirah. One thing that I realized going through the Scottish Rite ceremonies was the tetractys and its relationship to the Tree of Life. I haven't thought about it that much, but it's the same symbol.
Gene: Yeah it is. That's the Greek Kabbalah.
David: It is. It makes you wonder which came first. I've always thought that the Tree came first but everything written down about Kabbalah is after Pythagoras and Plato.
Gene: It’ll never be known because the Kabbalah for generations was from mouth to ear.
David: Right. You weren’t supposed to write it down.
Gene: It's not written down until, correct me if I'm wrong, somewhere in the 1400’s or so.
David: I think Sepher Yetzirah is maybe 3rd century but it doesn't actually show the diagram for the Tree. It still leaves it open. It talks about it in terms of numbers but not really the geometric shape. All of the associations and esoteric teaching is in there but the key itself isn't shown in there.
Gene: It's one of those things that are lost to antiquity. It doesn't matter when. You look at it and you know it lines up. It doesn't matter which came first, the chicken or the egg… I mean we’re still having fried chicken and scrambled eggs for breakfast tomorrow. So…
David: Anything else you want to say about Kabbalah, Tree of Life, Tetractys… any of that?
Gene: No, no.
Master Mason Tracing Board (30:40)
David: Ok. I’m going to give a quick tour of the Tracing Board of the Master Mason Degree. The main image is a coffin inside a rectangle which represents a grave. Some sources said that this “Oblong Square” was actually a Golden Rectangle. It’s also supposedly the approximate dimensions of a Lodge. That this is the layout of a Lodge.
Gene: You know I’m delighted but not surprised at this point.
David: Yeah me, too. It’s interesting that that quote from earlier from Kepler mentioned the Golden Rectangle and the 47th problem of Euclid as the two jewels of geometry and they both appear in this degree. Another cool thing was the orientation of the Tracing Board. The cardinal directions are shown and they are reversed from the orientation of the First Degree Tracing Board. We’ve talked extensively about how the Lodge is a mirror image of Solomon’s Temple in previous episodes. Well, it seems it is until you are raised and then your orientation gets reversed.
Gene: That is cool.
David: The coffin is decorated with symbols. At the top are the symbols of the Master Mason’s degree. The first one is called a skirret, the second is the compasses and the third is the pencil. A skirret is like a chalk line. You stretch it out and snap it. One of the things from “Way of the Craftsman” was that you were supposed to note that in the EA degree those were tools of action, the hammer and the rule, and chisel sometimes. At the Fellow Craft those were tools of measurement and judgment, the level, the plumb, the square. These are tools of design. The skirret to show where lines are going to be drawn. Same with the compass except with circles. Then the pencil is actually where thought becomes words. Where thought becomes something physical.
Gene: Language solidified.
David: At the point of the pencil. I thought that was cool, that’s where the spiritual becomes physical. Continuing on with the symbols of the Master Mason Tracing Board, below the working tools are some Masonic Cipher Script characters, possibly reversed, a skull and crossbones, three number 5’s, a representation of King Solomon’s Porch with some Hebrew letters over the archway and the working tools of the lower degrees. Another thing I noticed was how the coffin was bookended at the top by the Compass and the bottom by the Square. It’s a perfect Masonic hieroglyph. The last symbol is the sprig of Acacia which appears above the coffin and is usually taken to symbolize immortality. My good friend P.D. Newman offers a very different explanation in his book, “Alchemically Stoned: The Psychedelic Secret of Freemasonry” (and I highly recommend that book) but here we’ll just stick to the textbook symbolism of death and rebirth.
Gene: Or if you look at it inversely, a little death.
David: Uh huh. That's all I've got on the Tracing Board. Have you got anything else to say about the Tracing Board?
Gene: No. Not at this time.
Concluding Remarks (34:12)
David: And that’s all I had. So Gene, would you say you enjoyed this chapter?
Gene: I survived this chapter Dave.
David: You wouldn't say you enjoyed it?
Gene: Long pause… I did not enjoy it. It was pain. It was suffering but I learned from it.
David: Why was it so painful to you?
Gene: I’m a sensitive soul Dave. OK? I see the good and I see the bad and sometimes the bad stays much longer than it’s invited to.
David: You felt like that darkness descended upon you once you started reading this chapter?
Gene: Yeah. It did. It was hard to get through but I found my inner Stoic hiding in a corner and it's like, “Yah! Deal with it bud!”.
David: You slapped him around a little bit and he got in the line. Right?
Gene: He slapped me around and you know, things got better.
David: Alrighty then. So I think that's where we'll stop for now. Gene, you want to set us up for next time?
Gene: In our next episode we’ll begin looking at the Scottish Rite system and the first of its advanced degrees - The Secret Master.
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