In this episode, we discuss the 4th Degree - "Secret Master" 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. How are you?
Gene: I'm not too bad.
David: Before we get started here I wanted to remind everyone, as always, that a transcript, show notes and chapter markers for each episode are available from our website WayOfTheHermit.com. So the elephant in the room is that this chapter was only seven pages long.
Gene: Short but in Pike terms anyway, very concise.
David: Gene and I discussed how to handle the varying lengths of the chapters. One option was to discuss several degrees in one podcast, which is basically the way it was presented to us at the reunions. The other option is, and the one we decided to take was to look at each degree in detail and keep the episodes to one per degree. So, to supplement the material in “Morals and Dogma”, we are also looking at two other books, the “Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide” and “A Bridge to Light”. I’ve linked to both of these books in the Show Notes.
Gene: I would highly, highly recommend both of them to supplement your readings of “Morals and Dogma”.
David: After working with those books on this degree, I'll have to say that they complement each other really well.
Gene: Strangely or not, it's a perfect trifecta of information.
David: Do you want to give a short description of those books?
Gene: To me basically, “A Bridge to Light”, is… I'm not trying to cheapen it any way, but it's kind of the “Cliff Notes” for Pike and the rituals. It actually gives very short statements to tell you the theme and the main ideas that come with it.
David: It is a great summary.
Gene: It's very informative.
David: What about the “Scottish Rite Ritual - Monitor and Guide”?
Gene: Oh man. If the first one is the “Cliff Notes”, this one is the expanded and explained edition. As usual, De Hoyas has done a wonderful job.
David: The “Ritual - Monitor and Guide” describes everything about each of the degrees in the Scottish Rite.
Gene: All the symbols. All paraphrenalia. Everything in explicit and wonderful detail. It's got some background, history, and has a page to set up the mythological space it takes place in.
David: So do you want to tell us where in that mythological space we are in this degree?
Gene: That’s fine. Let me read it to you. “This grade is chronologically arranged originating with King Solomon immediately after the assassination of Hiram the Builder and at the time the Temple was but partially constructed. The King of Israel selected seven of the most worthy expert brethren, Master Masons, and appointed them to special guardians of the Sanctum Sanctorum and of the sacred furniture of that most holy place. They were called “Secret Masters” and in due time they were advanced to higher grades and thus vacancies were created. Others were selected to fill their places.
David: That seems to be the origin story of the seven primary officers of the lodge. I know that quote keeps going on but I'm going to skip to the end there where it says that “this degree provides a beautiful introduction to the Ineffable Degrees”. You want to tell us what the Ineffable Degrees are?
Scottish Rite Degree System (04:41)
Gene: Now that we're actually into the Scottish Rite system, it's broken down. The rites are gathered together into what's called bodies. Each body has a different theme and different teachings. There’s four bodies. The first and is the 4th degree through the 14th and it's called “The Lodge of Perfection”. Then the 15th through the 18th degrees is called the “Chapter of the Rose Croix”. Then the 19th through the 30th is called the “Council of the Knights Kadosh”. Then the 31st and 32nd is called the “Consistory of Masters of the Royal Secret”.
David: I saw also that they did talk about the 33rd degree there at the end of that. They called it “Scottish Rite Honors” and there was a special 32nd and three different levels, or whatever you want to call it, of the 33rd degree. To get back to the structure you were talking about, this degree is the first of the so-called “Ineffable Degrees” in the first of the bodies that you talked about, “The Lodge of Perfection.”
Gene: Well, not to give anything away, but the Lodge of Perfection or the Ineffable Degrees is about the search for the “Lost Word”.
David: That idea of the “Quest for the Lost Word” and all the comparisons in the readings to knighthood made me think of lines from one of my favorite movies. I'd like to kick off our Quest for the Lost Word in the Lodge of Perfection with this scene where Arthur sends his knights on the Grail Quest from the movie “Excalibur”.
Arthur (Excalibur): We must find what was lost. The Grail. Only the Grail can restore leaf and flower. Search the land… the labyrinths of the forest… to the edge of within…
David: Look within.
Arthur (Excalibur): Only the Grail can redeem us. Search… seek…
Perceval (Excalibur): Where do we look for it?
Arthur (Excalibur): Portents… signs… follow…
David: Masonic allegories?
Gawain (Excalibur): The King has spoken. I will ride forth in the name of that Quest.
Perceval (Excalibur): We will find this Grail or die!
David: Made me think about following these allegories and this chain of symbols. It is a quest and a search. You know Arthur says “to the edge of within.” You’re looking outwardly. You’re doing things in the world, but you’re really looking inside.
Gene: It portrays a very romantic idea. The romance of being a knight. That deep longing to be a strong and true man. Gives you that kind of storybook feeling about “The Hero's Journey”. Which, in essence, both the third degree and the rest of the degrees in the Scottish Rite, it literally is (nod to Joseph Campbell) the story of a Hero's Journey.
Chapter 4 of Morals and Dogma (08:12)
David: It truly is. I'm going to come back to some of the other themes that I saw from the movie “Excalibur” later, but let's move on into chapter four of “Morals and Dogma”. Pike started off the chapter again with a discussion of symbols.
Gene: Yeah. Always symbols.
David: In the first section which is called “Craft Degrees - An introduction to Masonic Philosophy”, on the first page of that section, Pike says that in the Ancient Teachings, symbols were used “not to reveal but to conceal”. It made me think of Valentin Tomberg in his “Meditations on the Tarot”, refers to symbols used in the context of instruction as “arcana”, because they have the capacity to conceal and reveal.
Gene: I had that quote marked as well, but it was used in the terms of - it did conceal for the majority but revealed for the few.
David: The initiates.
Gene: Yes. The initiates.
David: Also, in that first section he starts to address the fact that people may be disappointed with the revelations they’ve received in the first three degrees.
Gene: When I read that, that kind of struck me. I was like… interesting.
David: Well, if you're not really putting these into the context of what they can mean in your life and to yourself then… Well, here's a quote that comes from the next section called “The True Mason is Active”. This is him referring back to the first three degrees. He says you get “... a few rudimentary lessons in architecture, a few universally admitted maxims of morality, a few unimportant traditions, whose real meaning is unknown or misunderstood. That will no longer satisfy the earnest inquirer after Masonic truth. Let whoso is content with these, seek to climb no higher.”
Gene: That’s a theme that I’ve caught from him before of “every man must find his level”. One thing he says at the end of the first chapter, that the first three degrees are but the first step through the door. The rest depends on your level of secrecy, obedience and fidelity. Here’s another quote from the book, it’s kind of a long one but bear with me, “He who desires to understand the harmonious and the beautiful proportions of Freemasonry must read, study, reflect, digest, and discriminate. The true Mason is an ardent seeker after knowledge; and he knows that both books and antique symbols of Masonry are vessels which come down to us full-freighted with the intellectual riches of the past.”
David: That ties back in with things you've stressed in the past about having to dig in and struggle to find the underlying meaning of things. I’ve got another quote that relates to that from page 183 it says, “Imagine not that you will become indeed a Mason by learning what is commonly called the "work," or even by becoming familiar with our traditions. Masonry has a history, a literature, a philosophy. Its allegories and traditions will teach you much; but much is to be sought elsewhere. The streams of learning that now flow full and broad must be followed to their heads in the springs that well up in the remote past, and you will there find the origin and meaning of Masonry.”
Gene: The gist that I got from this paragraph was, to be a “True Mason” one must follow the rivers to their source. Read. Study. Reflect. Digest and Discriminate.
David: Discrimination is the key there. In Pike’s day, the problem was finding information. That helps explain his accumulating and compiling of information from different sources. Today with the Internet and the Web, finding information isn't the problem. Our problem is learning to discriminate between sources. For example, with Pike, we dismissed his use of gematria last time because we have more resources to see that that's flawed now.
Gene: Well… true, but any man in any age, you can only go so far as your resources allow you. These days our resources are essentially infinite and unlimited. But they are limited by our ability to discern.
David: That's true, but we've talked about how we live in a reflection of the world through what our mind creates…
Gene: Mirror image.
David: Well, we now live through the cell phone screen and social media reflections that we create. So, it's a reflection of a reflection of reality.
Gene: If it didn't happen online it didn't really happen! In modern life, I feel like we live in the age of the “Hollow Man”. It would be what some would say would be an inauthentic life. Everything is external. No matter how pretty of a picture we paint for ourselves, and what we portray to others, it can never, ever sate the inner hunger for meaning and acceptance. Just a sad comment on the times we live in.
David: Damn Gene, that’s a pretty grim assessment. You sound like Pike. As you said last time, times and technologies change but people on the whole don't. I think that's where you and Pike agree.
David: Let's move on into the next section which is called, “Knowledge and Wisdom Ennoble the Soul”. Do you have a quote from that Gene?
Gene: Just the opening of the chapter.
David: OK. Let's hear it.
Gene: “Knowledge is the most genuine and real of human treasures; for it is Light, as Ignorance is Darkness.” Boom.
David: Yeah that's good. I also had a quote that I thought summed up the section for me. He says to influence the world and by extension for your life to have meaning is what human beings aspire to. Here's the quote “That our influences shall survive us, and be living forces when we are in our graves; and not merely that our names shall be remembered; but rather that our works shall be read, our acts spoken of, our names recollected and. mentioned when we are dead, as evidences that those influences live and rule, sway and control some portion of mankind and of the world, this is the aspiration of the human soul.”
Gene: Back again to “The Butterfly Effect”. When you say or do something, you have no idea the ramifications of your actions. You do the work for the work's sake. You do not expect earthly rewards for the work. The work is its own reward.
David: And as we said, you may not see the results of that labor, or it may not happen until after you're gone.
Gene: Sow the seeds of wisdom as you're able because it is the right thing to do. I’m starting to sound like a Southern Baptist preacher here.
David: That’s OK. You have anything else from that section?
Gene: I'm good.
David: OK. The next selection is “Wisdom is Better Than Strength”.
Gene: To me the essence of it was strength has its moment in time, but wisdom endures.
David: I agree. I think that is a good summary of that section.
Gene: Empires crumble and fall. Ideas endure.
David: That's true but for some reason I thought of the Philip K Dick quote, “Reality is that which when you stop believing in it doesn't go away.” The next section is “Duty is the Object of Masonry”.
Gene: Right off the bat the first sentence is also the most striking one. For obedience to the Law does not mean submission to tyranny.”
David: This section and the next one which I think we'll just talk about together, which is called “Obedience to the Law”, pose some interesting questions. Foremost of which is, what does he mean when he says “The Law”? How did you make sense out of that?
Gene: In distilling it down for myself I drew up this little diagram. On the left side is “God's Law”, “Natural Law”, however you want to say it. On the right is the “Law of the Land, and the person in the middle is a Mason.
David: And by “Mason” there you really mean everyone… even though most people aren't aware that they’re in that position and have the responsibility for that decision. It’s you, me, everybody.
Gene: “Stuck In The Middle With You.”
David: Right. We're all having to make those moral decisions all the time with insufficient information about the consequences of our actions even.
Gene: And you must take into account what's true in your heart and what's the “Law of the Land”. You must obey the “Law of the Land”, but in avoiding tyrants you must be aware, awake and discriminate between what is good, what is bad, what is lawful, what is unlawful and make the decision.
David: Which puts the onus back on you to do what's right in your heart. It’s ultimately a question of conscience. Which leads to a question of what Pike actually means when he says “obedience to the Law”. Here’s a quote that highlights that question. “In this Degree, my Brother, you are especially to learn the duty of obedience to that law. There is one true and original law… This law cannot be abrogated or diminished, or its sanctions affected, by any law of man…. No man can disobey it without flying, as it were, from his own bosom, and repudiating his nature.” So reading that I thought what “Law” is that?! It says “no man can disobey it without repudiating his own nature”. It can't be “abrogated or diminished”. What would you say?
Gene: The law of your own true nature.
David: Right. You can't disobey it. It's the law that you feel in your own heart.
Gene: So Dave I have a question for you. Where were you first made a Mason?
David: Right! And I think the significance of that is that you are supposed to be consciously aware of that process whereas most people aren't.
David: The law that you feel inside yourself you can't run from it. You can't run from yourself.
Gene: “To thine own self be true”, otherwise suffer the guilt and the consequences.
David: It made me think about the “Weighing of the Heart” in the Book of the Dead…
David: … and how you really feel about what you've done.
Gene: Everybody has regrets. What do you carry with you? What is your burden?
David: Yes. How much of it have you not really either eliminated from your life or integrated?
Gene: Forgiven in yourself or forgiven in others.
David: So the esoteric message here might be that “God's Law”, “Natural Law”, and your nature - are one and the same.
Gene: That would be the truest interpretation, yes.
David: So the “Masonic Labor” here would be to connect with and understand that Law.
Gene: That's one of the things that’s emphasized is whatever religion you come from, whatever is your book, you should be studying it and working on your heart. You must develop that side as well as developing the rational side. That helps develop that sense of “God's Law”, or whatever name you use.
David: OK, let's move on into the next section which is called “Breast to Breast”, which is about secrecy. At least on the surface it appears that Pike intends this secrecy to keep someone from being able to impersonate a Mason.
Gene: That was the stated, I took a different take on it. I asked myself, “At this point, why secrecy?”
David: Right. Just taking the “Ritual - Monitor and Guide” as an example, it's all out there.
Gene: Everything is out there. The only secret is what it means to you. I thought about it a bit and secrecy, in Masonry terms, it's a character-building exercise, a discipline and a trust. You learn to trust your brother.
David: That trust is important if you see Masonic labor as deep psychological or spiritual work. That to me is where the real Brotherhood of Masonry is supposed to kick in. To have someone you can talk to who you can trust not to repeat things you’ve told them in confidence.
Gene: It teaches you discretion. There's things that can be told and there's things that shouldn't be told. There's some things you should keep to yourself.
David: OK. The next section is called “Be True and Faithful”. You want to start us off?
Gene: I'll read a quote from “Be True and Faithful”. “Give not your word lightly… the word of a Mason, like the word of a knight in the times of chivalry, once given it must be sacred; and the
judgment of his brothers, upon him who violates his pledge, should be stern…” The thought that came to me was “death before dishonor”.
David: That's what Hiram says.
David: To get personal for a just a second, honesty and fidelity is an area that I have regrets about. I haven't always been honest or true to people in the past, so anything I say here sounds somewhat hypocritical to myself, if you know what I mean.
Gene: This plays right into what we were talking about in the last chapter. What weight are you carrying? Like I said earlier on “charity starts at home”. You must first be merciful and forgiving of yourself before you can ever begin to be merciful and forgiving of others.
David: Yeah, but sometimes it seems like that's harder to do for yourself. Anyway, I’d like to end our discussion of Truth with another clip from the movie “Excalibur”.
Arthur (Excalibur): Which is the greatest quality of knighthood? Courage? Passion? Loyalty? Humility? What do you say Merlin?
Merlin (Excalibur): Hmm? Ah… ah… ah… the greatest… um… Well, they blend, like the metals we mix to make a good sword.
Arthur (Excalibur): No poetry. Just a straight answer. Which is it?
Merlin (Excalibur): All right then, Truth. That’s it! Yes! It must be Truth. Above all. When a man lies he murders some part of the world. You should know that!
Scottish Rite Ritual - Monitor and Guide (23:29)
David: That's really it for the chapter in “Morals and Dogma.” Let's talk just briefly about what the “Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide” had to say about this degree. It says that in this degree, the initiate is given an ivory key which symbolizes the “true understanding of Freemasonry”, and is also the “Key to the Mysteries”. It says that the initiate can use this key to regulate their life and conduct. Pretty boring stuff, huh?
Gene: But no, it goes on the theme that the whole system of Masonry tells you how to live a well-live life and a balanced life.
David: And that's the only purpose of any of this. That’s it.
Gene: Masonry is for power over yourself.
David: Right. Not world domination.
Gene: Not changing the weather.
David: We talked about that in the first episode. This is all it is. So if that doesn't seem like a big enough task, then I feel sorry for the people around you. If you really start focusing on the ways you can improve yourself you won't have time to criticize other people. I find it pretty exhausting just to deal with myself.
Gene: It is exhausting.
David: OK. Anything else in the “Ritual - Monitor and Guide”?
Gene: Yeah. Your comment about the “Knights of the Grail” reminded me of this quote, “But we lament not only the death of a friend and a benefactor, but also the loss of the Master’s Word, of which we are deprived by his death. We, as Secret Masters, must henceforth seek it, until it is recovered.”
A Bridge to Light (25:14)
David: OK. Let's finish up with a short discussion of the last book that we've included “A Bridge to Light.” It's called a “Handbook for Initiates”. I think we were given this book when we were going through the Scottish Rite at the Reunion.
Gene: It was handed to us after the first ritual.
David: On the opening page of “A Bridge To Light”, it points out that the word “dogma” in the context of “Morals and Dogma” simply means “doctrine” or “teaching”. It says that Pike’s “Morals and Dogma” is part of Masonic teaching but should not be considered a sacred text and that (this is a quote) “everyone is entirely free to reject or dissent from whatever herein seem to him to be untrue or unsound. It is only required of him that he shall weigh what is taught and give it a fair hearing and unprejudiced judgment.”
Gene: Use at your own discretion dear listeners…
Gene: … and readers.
David: You talked about this earlier but “A Bridge To Light” talks about the mythological setting of the Lodge of The Secret Masters.
Gene: In the Lodge of the the Secret Masters, it represents the gathering of the Princes of Israel upon Hiram’s death. A quote that relates to that, ”Duty and its importance in Scottish Rite Masonry are stressed in the ceremony. The duties of a Scottish Rite Masons are not to be performed in the hope or expectation of earthly rewards or honors but in the simple expectation of personal satisfaction. These duties form the path which leads to the object of the Masonic Quest, the True Word.”
David: What do you think about that?
Gene: It's very much the Grail imagery. It's hard to think of it in any other terms than that, having grown up on the “Legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table”.
David: So, the Grail, “The Lost Word” - these are symbols for what? What are we looking for?
Gene: The master password which Hiram would not give…
David: But at the level of being equivalent to the Grail, what does that symbolize?
Gene: Supposedly, the true name of God, but it is a word which cannot be spoken… so “riddle me that Batman!”
David: It can’t be spoken because it’s a symbol for the thing that brings us back our lost wholeness. We’ve talked about this before in relation to “The Fall” into incarnation and the “primal wound”.
Gene: Right. And the healing of that wound is the Word.
David: And to possess that word would mean?
Gene: To not be empty evermore.
Perceval (Excalibur): Drink from the chalice and you will be reborn and the land with you.
Arthur (Excalibur): Perceval. I didn’t know how empty was my soul, until it was filled.
Concluding Remarks (28:09)
David: When I first joined the Masons I had that feeling that I was a knight. Did you?
Gene: It wasn't quite that. I picture myself as more of a seeker. I want to know it all. I want to cram it all in my head and hold it with a “loving embrace. Fire all my guns at once and explode into space.”
David: Yeah. Alright. I think we're done. I’d like to end by pointing out a quote on page 186 of “Morals and Dogma” that sounded like Gene channeling Pike. It says, “if you will advance, gird up your loins for the struggle for the way is long and toilsome…”.
Gene: That struck me because I did not come up with “the night is dark and the path is long”... I just kind of laughed when I read that. I was like, “OK. Maybe that was a pretty good statement.”
David: I think it's a cool tagline. Anyway, you want set us up for next time Gene?