Dist. Piers A. Vaughan 32°, MSA
AASR Valley of New York
The Mason who takes the 14° Degree of the Scottish Rite completes a circle. Actually, it is more like a spiral, because he ends up in the same place he started when he first knocked on the door of the Lodge seeking Light; but at a higher level. The symbol of this Degree, the ring, is therefore an appropriate emblem, for it is a circle of gold, a ring of eternity. In this paper I want to touch on a couple of the many symbols used in the 14° Degree, which also have parallels in the York Rite, particularly the Holy Royal Arch. These are the ring and the cubic stone or altar stone, upon which are discovered certain signs and symbols, representing the sigil and the Ineffable Name of God.
Masonry is a journey – every Degree we pass though involves a journey, a movement forward along the perfect path which leads us to grater knowledge and understanding. It is a Pilgrim’s Progress. As we progress we make our daily advancement in Masonic knowledge, and grow in our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to our fellow man. For in the greater scheme of things the first fourteen Degrees are about self-knowledge; which is a critical prerequisite to our understanding of God. To know God we must first know ourselves.
To understand this journey, we must first arm ourselves with some knowledge. This is the language of symbols, by which we can look beneath the surface which is presented to us, and perceive the hidden meaning beneath.
But first, let me introduce my little friend. Do you know who he is? His name is Thoth, and the Greeks knew him by the name Hermes Trismegistus, or Thrice Great Hermes. He was the Egyptian God of learning. Many books are attributed to him. One in particular, a picture books which claims to contain all human knowledge, we will look at later. I like to think of Thoth as the ‘little god’ of Masonry,. He is the archetype of learning and wisdom, those very attributes for which we strive.
Given that all of the symbolism is based upon the Old Testament, the first book I would recommend anyone seeking further light in Masonry to read is the Old Testament. This is not merely an exhortation to be godly. It is an important step to understanding the
Degrees themselves, since all of them are based on stories from the Holy Bible. When the Degrees were written everyone had a good working knowledge of the biblical stories, so the symbolism and meaning behind the ritual allegories would have been immediately grasped by the Brethren present. Sadly, this is not the case nowadays, and for many, the rituals recall no memories.
As well as the Sacred Writings themselves, the Hebrews had a number of commentaries intended to interpret those writings. One such system of philosophy – which focused upon a mystical interpretation particularly of the first five books called the Pentateuch – is called the Kabbalah. The Kabbalah treats of the creation of the Universe, and particularly of Man, in a series of stunning and evocative images. One of the most famous of these is the Tree of Life, a series of ten universal attributes (called Sephiroth) arranged in a particular manner, and which trace the act of creation from God to Man. For a Mason these ten Sephiroth may be arranged upon a diagram of a Temple, which is appropriate.
Note that the three top Sephiroth form a triangle, which we call God. God is perfect unity, but in Genesis we are told ‘male and female created He them’. Thus God created duality from his perfection. Light and Dark, Peace and War, Male and Female, Master and Servant, Richness and Poverty, White and Black, Good and Evil. Many religions depict God as a trinity: the Hindus, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Norse and Christians among others.
When we first joined a Lodge we were prepared in darkness – in our case a ‘convenient room adjoining the Lodge’. In some forms of Masonry this is taken to an extreme, and the Candidate is placed in a “Chamber of Reflection”, a small claustrophobic cabinet painted in black with emblems of mortality contained therein, and the light of a single candle. This represents the womb, from which the Candidate will be born into Masonic Light. As a Candidate, symbolically naked and blind, with a cable tow (an umbilical cord which linked you to your former existence…) you then knocked on the door of the Lodge. You were admitted and placed between the two pillars of J and B, which are Mercy and Severity. Here, unconsciously and blindfolded, you stood at the very place it will take all your Masonic career to return to. For that first fleeting moment you are the Middle Pillar, the Pillar of Beauty. From now on all the learning, all the work on smoothing the rough ashlar to make of yourself the perfect cube, the smooth ashlar the holy altar worthy of God, t this time unveiled and without a blindfold: armed with the knowledge we have learned in our long journey to the 14° Degree. It is no coincidence that one of the titles of the 14° Degree is Perfect Elect Mason. Finally understanding self, having made of himself the perfect ashlar, man may once more stand between these two pillars, this time fully conscious and without veil or blindfold. He has made of himself the Middle Pillar, the Middle Way, the straight way to God. He has returned to his original station, but at an exalted, perfected level.
So we make our journey and at the end of our long journey we arrive at (complete) the perfect cube, which is now worthy to bear the imprint of God. This imprint is a curious device – a circle containing a triangle containing a dot. What does it mean?
Well, the dot is not a dot at all. It is a ‘Yod’. Yod is the ninth letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. This alphabet was said to be the language of the Angels, and written in fire.
All the letters of this Fire Language, this Angelic language are created out of Yods. The last letter on the right, “Shin”, for example, is made of three elongated Yods upon a base.
The Yod looks like a flame. It also looks like a seed, or sperm. And indeed it is, for it gives rise to all the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. This seed, or thought of God, gave birth to the entire universe, which is often depicted as a full circle, or a serpent biting its tail. The Yod begins the world through the Word of God, the Logos. And the universe shall end with fire. Thus, the Yod in the circle is the Alpha and the Omega of us all.
The Yod is emanated from God, who was represented by a triangle in many, many religions and philosophies. The triangle represented God in Egypt, the Sacred Delta of Pythagoras was the earthly representation of God to the Greeks. Many religions see God as having three natures, Omni[potent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, or again as three being in one: the Ineffable and the male and female, or Strong and Wise attributes. The triangle is in eternal contention, it is a dynamic diagram, two contending sides constantly united by the third.
Yod is also the first letter of the name of God, in Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh, known to us as Jehovah, or Jahweh. So the ring is an appropriate reflection of the ineffable name of God. The ring itself is the circle, and the triangle of God contains both the initial of His name and the seed of Creation and all Potentiality.
By the way, isn’t it interesting that God has a sigil! For that is what it is. Magical traditions tells us that all angels (or demons) may be summoned if one has three things: their true name, their seal or sigil, and a triangle of manifestation, for the triangle represents another plane of existence into which they can manifest. God gave Moses his true name, and there is a theory that Moses only received the laws later – that the stones upon which God wrote with His finger on both sides was in fact his seal. Finally, here we have the triangle into which God could manifest, when summoned by the High Priest once a year.
As an aside, let us return to Thoth. The picture book attributed to him is? The Tarot, or Book ‘T’ as the Rosicrucians named it. Now, Yod is the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and to some people corresponds with the ninth card of the picture cards in the Tarot deck. This is the Hermit.*
Finally, the Cubic Stone upon which the Ineffable name and sigil of God rests. It has served its purpose. The Mason has indeed turned the rough ashlar into the cubic stone. We now know that the cubic stone carries the name of God. In a way, the 1st to the 14th Degrees in Scottish Rite masonry represent sub-degrees of one greater Degree, and now the Perfect Mason is elected to rise up to the next level. Now balanced between the Pillars, himself the Middle Pillar, he leaves the Temple realm and comes full circle. The seed returns to the womb. The Man enters the crypt. In his next incarnation he will have no further use for a physical Temple, for he has learned that it is within him.
Now at the next level the cubic stone, which only permitted man to view its exterior in prior degrees, will open to reveal its inner nature.
Let us open the cube, and catch a glimpse of what lies within. This symbolism we find in the 18th Degree, the pivotal Degree of the Scottish Rite System. The symbolism of that Degree is, of course, a whole other paper!
So wear your 14° ring with pride, for its simple device contains all the secrets of the Universe!
*Reproduced with kind permission from the New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot by Sandra Tabatha Cicero, Llewellyn Pub., ISBN 0-87542-138-5.
A talk delivered to the Valley of New York
Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction
Dist. Piers A. Vaughan, 32°, MSA