Friday, December 26, 2008

The Temple and its Sacred Altars

The Most Excellent Master, or Sixth Degree in the American York Rite, celebrates the Completion of King Solomon's Temple.  Four things are set in place in this degree.  The cap-stone is placed into one of the principal arches of the Temple, completing the building. The ark is safely seated within the Holy of Holies, and, after King Solomon offers the dedicatory prayer, fire descends upon the Altar of Sacrifice and the Shekhinah also appears. The lecture of the degree talks to us specifically about building our own inner or spiritual Temple, and draws our attention back to the progress we have made in the preceeding degrees.

Let us review the various Degrees and observe how the Altar of Freemasonry represents the various Altars of King Solomon's Temple as we progress through the degrees.

We are taught that Entered Apprentice Masons hold their meetings on the ground floor of King Solomon's Temple. The ground floor is the Courtyard, where the Altar of Sacrifice is located. It was upon this Altar that the Sacred Fire from Heaven descended and consumed the Sacrifice at the dedication of Solomon's Temple.  Once burning, the Fire from the Altar of Sacrifice is never extinguished.  It is carried into the Holy Place and used to light the Lampstand and its coals are used to kindle the Incense Altar, and is carried by the priests in censers whenever the Tabernacle must be moved.  It is the manifest presence of that Eternal Flame which never goes out, the Aur Ein Sof (Light Without End) of the Kabbalists, universally depicted over the Master's Chair in Freemasonry as the letter G.

Fellow Craft Masons hold their meetings in the Middle Chamber of King Solomon's Temple.  In the Middle Chamber we find the Incense Altar, where incense burns both day and night before the veil, and prayers ascend like smoke up over the veil into the Sanctum Sanctorum or Holy of Holies.  We also find the Seven-branched Lampstand here, and the Table of Shew-bread which are symbolized by the Wages of a Fellowcraft Masons, corn(wheat), wine and oil, and which, in the Temple, provided sustenance for the priests.

Master Masons hold their meetings in the Sanctum Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies.  Here we find an "Altar" called the Ark of the Covenant, which is a small chest or coffer, made of Acacia wood, and overlaid inside and outside with gold, into which were placed the tablets of the Law (both the broken and the unbroken sets), a pot of Manna, and Aaron's Rod which budded and blossomed with almonds.  A copy of the Torah was also kept within the Holy of Holies, next to or possibly upon the Ark.  The Jewish High Priest, standing before this Ark, or Altar, would offer prayer for his own sins and the sins of his people, and this was also where, according to Masonic legend, Hiram Abiff offered his prayers each day during the building of the Temple.

Upon the lid of the Ark (called the Mercy Seat) rested two additional Cherubim, made of the same piece of beaten gold as the Mercy Seat, facing inward, with their wings covering over and supporting the Ark.  The Holy Writings describe the Cherubim as having four faces, those of a Lion, an Ox, a Man and an Eagle, with one face towards each direction. These same creatures were also depicted on the standards of the four principal tribes of Israel, as described in the Royal Arch, or Seventh Degree, and when the Israelites were traveling in the wilderness for forty years, in their Encampment, it was these very same four tribes, Judah, Ephraim, Rueben, and Dan, who respectively camped directly to the East, West, South, and North of the Tabernacle.

Through a study of the Volume of Sacred Law, particularly Leviticus chapter 16, and also of the Talmud, we may learn a great deal about the ceremonies in which the High Priest engaged. He would enter the Holy of Holies on only one day of the year, Yom Kippur, and upon entering, he would pass beneath the Wings of the Cherubim. The Cherubim referred to are the large ones which stretched from one wall of this chamber to the other, touching the tips of their wings together in the midst of the room, as described in the Royal Master, or Eighth Degree.  After entering, the High Priest would place a golden censer filled with coals and incense upon the floor before the Ark of the Covenant, and retreat outside the room, where he would offer a prayer before the vail with hands uplifted before YHWH.  It was on this occasion, during this prayer, that he was permitted to speak aloud the Great and Sacred Name of Deity, and upon offering this prayer, the Shekhinah or Divine Presence would descend and rest above the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  He would then re-enter the Holy of Holies, and indirectly behold the Shekhinah through the hazy cloud of smoke which had emanated from the his Golden Censer and filled the room. This smoke was so thick that he was required to use his hands to block the smoke from entering his nostrils.  As also described in the Royal Master degree, as well as in the Sacred Writings, the Bath-Kol (Literally, "Daughter of Voice," in Hebrew), or Voice of God Unseen issued forth from between the wings of the Cherubim and was heard by the High Priest.

You've probably heard the analogy that our body is a Temple, a house for the Spirit of God to dwell in, or that we are to construct "a spiritual building, pure and spotless, fit for the habitation of him who dwelleth only with the good."

What follows is speculative, and is intended to stimulate your own thoughts on this subject:  I want to compare the events of the Most Excellent Master degree to both the physical and spiritual aspects of the human body and see if the completion of the Temple can be represented there in the same manner.  I will begin by suggesting that our Heart (or possibly, our Heart and Stomach) represents the Altar of Sacrifice.  Physically, the heart is the center of our body's blood system, and blood is the primary ritual element of the sacrifices which were performed in the Temple.  The blood from the sacrificial animals was placed upon the horns of the Altar of Sacrifice, and was also carried into the Holy Place and placed upon the horns of the Incense Altar.  Scriptures frequently relate Fire to the heart.  Psalm 39:3, for example, reads "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue."  Jeremiah 20:8-9 reads "For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But [his word] was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay."  Luke 24:32 says, "And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?"

As I mentioned, some of the blood was carried in to the Incense Altar, and the Psalm also said, "then spake I with my tongue."  Our throat has an Incense Altar within it, consisting of the tongue and also the larynx, or voicebox, by which we create speech and offer prayers. The throat is also where air enters our body, like the smoke ascending up from the incense altar and over the vail.  If our voice sends forth the prayer, and afterwards we pass through the vail into the Sanctum Sanctorum of our head where we stand in waiting for an answer to our prayer, would not the daughter of voice, the Bath-Kol, be that still small voice (see 1 Kings 19:11-13) of God, speaking directly to our mind. Would not the greater Cherubim reaching across the room be the eyes, whose optic nerves, like wings, meet in the middle of the Holy of Holies, and would not the lesser Cherubim upon the Ark, be our ears, whose canals lead inward, covering over and supporting the mercy seat?  The Bath-Kol is the Voice of God which issues forth from between the wings of these Cherubim and enters our thoughts as divine inspiration.  Perhaps the smoke of our Golden censer, is the temporary closing of our eyes and ears to outside sensory distractions so that we can listen for the Bath-Kol.  Perhaps, like the High Priest, we may invoke the True Word (not the Royal Arch Word, but that which it represents), and summon the Shekhinah to appear in our Holy of Holies to give us direction.  This direction is not identical to our own thoughts, but is added unto them, mixing with them.  Neither is it identical to that wisdom which descended to rest upon Solomon in the Past Master, or Fifth Degree, represented by King Solomon's Crown or the Top Hat of the Master.  But before we are to hear the Bath-Kol, we must ensure that the building is Completed, that the Keystone is set into the Principal Arch of the Temple, that the Ark is Safely Seated, and that there is a Fire burning upon the Altar of our Heart.  Remember, the Fire upon the Altar of our Heart should be continually burning, and the Incense should be offered both day and night, but the Shekhinah is only manifest when invoked by use of the Great and Sacred Name.

So, what do the Keystone and the Principal Arch represent in our bodily Temple?  How can we prepare our inner Temple for this event?   And, why must this event transpire before we are permitted to travel into foreign countries, or to go into that undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns, the privilege finally bestowed upon the craftsmen at the dedication of the Temple?

Please divert all comments on this article to the copy posted on the Reames Chapter #28 R.A.M. Website.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Can a Non-Christian Feel Comfortable as a Knight Templar

"Can a non-Christian feel comfortable as a member of the Knights Templar?"

I struggled with this question for a long time.  I couldn't get enough straight and frank answers out of members.  So, finally I decided that I probably wouldn't join, and that I would read the ritual to determine if my decision was correct for me. I read the 1971 edition of the ritual put out by the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the U.S.A. (It wasn't hard to obtain a copy.)

Disclaimer: I'm not saying I'm not a Christian, but my beliefs about Jesus are extremely far off the beaten path. Also, I apologize in advance if I have offended or made uncomfortable any Knight Templar by writing this post.

So, below I will outline the aspects of the first two Orders: The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, and The Mediterranean Pass and Order of Malta, that I would flag as religiously "sensitive" and which might even be considered offensive to some people.

I believe all of these points need to be considered by non-Christians who are considering joining the Order, (and in my experience, the Sir Knights I have met are more than happy to admit non-Christians if they are willing to defend the Christian faith) and I hope that posting my findings here makes it so others won't find it necessary to go to the extreme that I have by reading the ritual in order to determine whether they would feel comfortable in the Order.

I will endeavor to do this without revealing any R.C. or Malta secrets.  I haven't examined the Order of the Temple yet in the same way, but I intend to do so soon and will post my findings at that time.


The Red Cross is almost fully acceptable from a Non-Christian point of view.  It continues the setting and symbols which were already present in Royal Arch Masonry. The only offense I detect is a line contained in the Lecture, which reads, "As Judaism was a preparation for Christianity, so let the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross be a preparation for the Christian Order of the Temple." This line, in my reading of it, diminishes Judaism to a footnote or stepping stone upon which to build something greater. This is not a good thing to say or think, since Judaism is a wide-spread, living religion, even today, and even has many adherants among the Craft.

There is one other line that might be slightly offensive to those who self-identify as Pagans, "The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross is not a Pagan rite nor is it a mere social observance. It is an Order founded upon Truth, and is a proper preparation for the solemnities of the Order of the Temple."


The Meditarranean Pass or Knight of St. Paul and the Order of Malta present many challenges to the non-Christian Mason. I will attempt to enumerate them here:

  • Several references are made to "fallen man" or man's sinful nature.
  • Prayers are offered to "Immanuel."
  • Several references are made to "Jesus Christ, our Lord"
  • The candidate is made to take on the identity of St. Paul at least in allegory, for a short period.
  • The New Testament is the only book prescribed to be open on the Altar.
  • Without going into specifics, the Obligation would require a Knight of Malta to treat another Knight who has been unfaithful to his Knights of Malta Obligation in ways that I would consider contradictory to his prior obligation as a Royal Arch Mason. In other words, there is a possibility that upholding the Malta obligation would cause someone to violate their Royal Arch obligation.
  • Candidate is encouraged to wear a certain Cross continually.
  • Phrases such as "My Lord and My God" and "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" are used in reference to Jesus.
  • The officers repeatedly speak of their belief in the resurrection and ascension of "our Saviour" in reference to Jesus.
  • The candidate is asked, "My brother, is it still your wish to join our Order, and fight against all opposers of the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?"
  • There is a very mild form of flaggelation used in order to create empathy with Jesus's own suffering.
  • The candidate is asked, "My Brother, do you believe that the Savior died on the Cross for the remission of sin?"
  • The Prior says, "in the name of our Holy Religion," implying that all present are of the same religion, and that it is "Holy."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Lesser Lights as Archetypes

I've been doing quite a bit of study about Masonic Officers today, including the Symbolic Lodge, the Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, the Council of Cryptic Masons, and the Commandery of Knights Templar.  My study of the Commandery was particularly difficult to undertake since I am not a member of that order, and had to rely on intense study of various writings to glean the names, duties, and positions of the officers.

I've come up with a theory, or a method of comprehending the officers in all these orders.

My theory is that there are only three archetypal officers, represented by the three principal officers:  The Worshipful Master, Senior, and Junior Wardens.

We are told that anciently, Master Mason Lodges consisted of three members only and held their meetings in the Holy of Holies.  In modern Lodges, it is typically deemed impossible to open with only three officers, and in my jurisdiction, at least, it is constitutionally prohibited.  We need at least five to form a quorum to open for business. Nonetheless, there probably was a time in the history of the craft when a lodge of three only would have opened.  I have tried to envision how this would work, and with the help of the other York Rite bodies, the Council of Cryptic Masons, in particular, I believe I see how this would have been done.

I have named the archetypal purpose of the three officers: "Master," "Guardian," and "Guide."

In a Symbolic Lodge, each of the principal officers has many of their duties delegated to subordinate officers:

The Worshipful Master fulfills the "Master" archetype.  His duty is delegated to the Lecturer or Orator, as well as the Chaplain, the Secretary, and the Treasurer.   I would like to call attention to the letter "G" displayed above the Master's chair in most lodges.  This letter should symbolize the source for him to receive instruction and orders that he conveys to the brethren so that they may perform their labor.  The Master gives the Apron to each new Entered Apprentice, presents us with Working Tools and teaches us their uses, and gives us Masonic instruction as we progress.

The Senior Warden fulfills the "Guardian" archetype.  His duty is delegated to the Junior Deacon or Inner Guard and the Tyler.  He is the officer which the Master consults with during the process of "purging the Lodge," a procedure which ensures that only Masons of the appropriate rank are present prior to opening.  In the Council of Cryptic Masons, the officer seated in the West is actually called the "Captain of the Guard" and when the Master issues orders for the room to be secured, the orders pass through the Captain of the Guard to the "Steward" (who functions exactly like the Junior Deacon or Inner Guard and is stationed at the same place, inside the door.)  This process of relaying instructions more clearly demonstrates the delegation which I am sure at one time was also present in the Symbolic Degrees (and may be still present in some jurisdictions.)

The Junior Warden fulfills the "Guide" archetype.  His duty is delegated to the Senior Deacon and to the Stewards or Junior Deacon (whichever of these officers is responsible for preparing candidates and bringing them to the door of the Lodge, in your particular jurisdiction.)   In the Council of Cryptic Masons, the officer seated in the South is called the "Conductor of the Council" and his duties are equivalent to those of the Senior Deacon, including that of opening and closing the VSL.  He may be assisted by a Marshal in some jurisdictions.  I will point out that the VSL is a symbol that we are specifically told should be the "guide" of our faith.  It is therefore a fitting symbol to be in the care of the officer whose duty it is to be our Guide.  In the Symbolic Lodge, the Junior Warden rarely acts as a guide directly, but he is the one who gives us directions from the Master, calls the craft from Labor to Refreshment and superintends us under his immediate care.  It is important to note the distinction between the "Master" and the "Guide" archetype.  The Master gives us instructions for our labors.  But the Guide actually walks with us on our journey, and often speaks in our behalf, and can often give an answer "for us" even if we "have it not."

Now, with this understanding, you should be able to think about how a Lodge would have opened with only three officers:

The "Master" would ask the "Guardian" to secure and purge the lodge, and then quiz him as to the particulars of the Master Mason degree, and as to the duties of the officers.  The Master would then issue the Order to open Lodge.  The "Guardian" would inform the "Guide" of the Master's intention, and the "Guide" would call upon the other craftsmen (if any) to look to the East.  The "Master" would lead them in the secret work, after which, the battery would be given.  Finally, the "Master" would offer prayer, after which he would declare the Lodge opened, and ask the "Guide" to attend the altar and display the Lights.  The "Master" would proceed with business, keeping a thorough record of all transactions.

To close Lodge, the "Master" would quiz the "Guardian"as to the duties of the officers, and then issue the Order to close Lodge.  The "Guardian" would inform the "Guide" of the Master's intention, and the "Guide" would call upon the other craftsmen (if any) to look to the East.  The "Master" would lead them in the secret work, after which, the battery would be given.  Finally, the "Master" would offer prayer, after which he would declare the Lodge closed, and ask the "Guide" to attend the altar and close the Lights.

In Royal Arch, Cryptic Masons, and Knights Templar, the executive powers of the Principal Officers is consolidated into a governing Council which is seated in the East, while many physical duties of these officers are delegated to others:

In the Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, the Excellent  High Priest delegates some of his executive and instructive administrative duties to the King and Scribe, who all fulfill the "Master" archetype together (with the Treasurer and Secretary.)  The Captain of the Host, the Royal Arch Captain, the Three Masters of the Veils, and the Sentinel are delegates of the "Guardian" archetype, while the Principal Sojourner is a delegate of the "Guide" archetype.

In the Council of Royal and Select Masters (or Cryptic Masons), the Illustrious Master and Deputy Master fulfill the "Master" archetype together.  The Principal Conductor of the Work still fulfills aspects of the "Guide" archetype by proclaiming the time for refreshment and labor, but most of the "Guide" duties are delegated to the Conductor of the Council (and sometimes to a Marshal).  The Captain of the Guard, the Steward, and Sentinel are delegates of the "Guardian" archetype.

In the Commandery of Knights Templar, the Eminent Commander, the Generalissimo, and the Captain General form the administrative operations of the "Master" archetype together.   The Prelate forms an additional layer of the "Master" archetype and is said to "preside over the Royal Arch Council" which equates him to the Excellent High Priest of the Chapter.  The duties of the "Senior Warden" and "Junior Warden" correspond with those of Cryptic Masonry's "Captain of the Guard" ("Guardian" archetype) and "Conductor of the Council" ("Guide" archetype), and in following the Excellent High Priest analogy, they would correlate with the positions of King and Scribe in the Royal Arch.  The Warder, the Guards, and the Sentinel are also extensions of the "Guardian" archetype.  I'm not aware enough of the duties of the Standard Bearer and Sword Bearer to comment on how they correlate to these archetypes.

As a closing thought, the Master, Guardian, and Guide archetypes might extend far beyond the structure of Masonry into other realms.  They can be found in nearly every fairytale or fantasy story, as well as in theology and religion:  A Christian Mason, for example, might find that these archetypes can be applied to the Father (Master), Son (Guard), and Holy Ghost (Guide).

I hope you found this subject interesting!