Dist. Piers A. Vaughan, 32°, PSP, PMWM, MSA
Valley of New York
The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction suffers a peculiar handicap to continuity, in that the Rose-Croix Degrees, like a Siamese twin in the hands of a doctor, have been summarily sliced into two. We have the Council of Princes and the Rose-Croix. The four Degrees, from the 15th to the 18th, are so joined together in teaching and spirit that it is almost unimaginable how they could have become separated.
These four degrees teach the life and works of Christian Rosenkreutz, the symbolic Master of the Rose-Croix movement of the 17th and 18th Centuries. Profoundly influential, the manifestos which covered the legendary life and teachings of this avatar drew upon the currents of the Renaissance and the increasing pull away from the ecclesiastical tyranny of the 15th and 16th Centuries, one might almost wonder if the 15th – 18th numbers assigned to these four Degrees reflect the centuries they represent in macrocosm.
The 15th Degree reflects the early life of the leader of the Rose-Croix ,who is described as being raised in poverty and servitude following the early demise of his parents, in a monastery, until he realizes his calling and agrees to accompany an elder Brother to Jerusalem. This is symbolized in the Degree by Zerubbabel receiving his calling at the mystical age of 40, and his setting forth to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. The 16th Degree sees the trials and tribulations undergone as the noble few seek to raise the edifice in the face of danger and vexation, just as Christian Rosenkreutz suffered the loss of his companion, and pushed forward to Jerusalem alone, to work on building his spiritual Temple. The 17th Degree – as was – followed the tradition of Rosenkreutz seeking knowledge form the East and the West, in Damcar (Damascus), Alexandria, and Fez, before retuning in the 18th Degree to found the Invisible College, or Chapter of Rose-Croix, in which the gentle and educated members practiced healing of the sick, and that gratis. This used to be seen in the beautiful and inspiring Knight of the East and West, which was a perfect prelude to the 18th Degree, in which the significance of the number 7 was revealed by Revelation. Sadly this Degree is no more – another victim of ‘progress’.
Today you will experience the 14th Degree, a profound starting point to this series of Degrees. I want to give you one or two things to look out for, because this is truly a story which functions on two levels.
You will learn how one among the Jews enduring captivity in Babylon for ‘three score years and ten’, or 70 years – a number fraught with symbolism in the Old Testament, a prince of the people by the name of Zerubbabel, or ‘Truth’, has a revelation or an epiphany at the age of 40 (another symbolic number – think of the 40 days of the Flood, or the 40 days of temptation of Jesus of Nazareth) came to realize his mission in life was to lead his people back to Jerusalem, there to rebuilt the Temple to God. He pleads his case before a most enlightened monarch, Cyrus, who realizes that all worship the One True Living God (a particularly poignant concept given the wars being fought over the ruins of Babylon in Iraq even now between rival factions who are nevertheless all ‘People of the Book’). To determine if Zerubbabel has the stamina and leadership qualities to bring his people across the desert, through the wild lands, and finally to retake their country from the brigands and ne’er-do-wells who now inhabit it, he tests Zerubbabel three times – by Air, Earth and Fire – or Word, Gold and Immolation. Zerubbabel passes the tests and is permitted to leave. Note that trials by Water is missing, as this will come later, but not in this story.
What do I mean by Air? The first trial is the simplest in appearance, but the most insidious of all. Zerubbabel simply has to breathe, to aspirate, if you will, the Master Masons’ word, and the other tests will not be applied. He only has to whisper it and he will be spared. But he does not, and he is exposed to the temptations of the flesh: not in terms of lust and avarice, but of pride, that most devious of sins. Nobody would ever know – he would be a hero to his people. And yet…he would be a whited sepulcher, noble without but corrupt within. Hardly a suitable stone for the edifice of the spiritual temple! He refuses, and now he faces purification by fire. Truth is purified, and now he is worthy to lead his people. Mysteriously, he is now offered the gold once more and this time he accepts it. What can this mean?
We have just witnessed spiritual alchemy. This is the essential point of this degree. Eugenius Philalethes, in his Open Entrance to the Closed Palace of the King, says: “Gold, then, is the one true principle of purification. But our gold is twofold; one kind is mature and fixed, the yellow Latten, and its heart or center is pure fire, whereby it is kept from destruction, and only purged in the fire.” We see that the gold must be subjected to fire to become purified. The gold referred to is the spiritual nature of man, which must undergo purification to become refined and acceptable to God. He says further, that: “We are told by the Sages that corporal gold is dead…”. So was the gold shown to Zerubbabel in the Treasure Apartments of the palace. “Remove the impurities, look upon the face of the King's Son; open your treasury, give to him gold”. So what was this gold which the would-be builder rejected, only to accept after facing fire?
“The Sages say that common gold is dead, while theirs is living”. Ah, now we begin to see! The gold that Zerubbabel beheld in the Treasury was dead. It was but lumps of gilded metal, tempting to the base seeker of wealth, but meaningless to him who seeks the spiritual. Once Zerubbabel, or ‘Truth’ is purified in elemental fire, he is now offered the ‘living gold’. This is not pieces of gold to enrich him, but living gold, fashioned to the service of God. He now perceives the true worth of this ‘living gold’ which has passed through the furnace of the athanor, and is now fit to be used in the service of God. Zerubbabel freely accept the gift of living, or transmuted gold, for through his own transmutation he now recognizes the truth of the gold he sees. For it has been transmuted with him into physical vessels for the service in the Temple, just as he is…
And finally, and interesting stage direction: “Daniel throws his arm about Zerubbabel’s shoulders and places his right hand on his head. then he raises it to Heaven and dropping it makes the sign of Delta.”
What is this Delta? It is a triangle. In the ritual reenactment we had Daniel trace an upward-pointing triangle over Zerubbabel’s head. Why? It is the ancient elemental sign of fire….