The Masonic Pageant
The 29 Masonic Degrees of the Scottish Rite
Table of Contents
Overview of The Masonic Pageant:
Expanded Table of Contents
Chapter 1. The Lodge of Perfection
4° Master Traveler
A degree in name only. As a general introduction to the Scottish Rite, it is basically a play-within-a-play that introduces the candidate to several of the degrees that follow. In 2010 it was made into an awkward, amateurish video that was intended to be shown to the candidates. The reception in the Rite was so negative that most valleys chose to put on the original stage play with live actors, as before. I understand the video is now being remade in a more professional manner.
5° Perfect Master
Two brothers (priests-in-training, the oldest sons of Moses’ brother, Aaron) throw naphtha on Moses’ altar and disappear in a ball of fire. Background History: Who was Moses and where did he come from? Who were the Hebrews and where did they come from? A summary of what is known from archeological information about the early wanderings of the tribes that came to be known as “Hebrews” and Moses’ attempts to weld them into an effective fighting force. Speculation on the origin of Moses’ god Yahweh and how he differed from the other gods of the ancient Middle East. I also include speculation as what really may have happened to the two impetuous young priests.
6° Master of the Brazen Serpent
Moses faces a mutiny and is saved by a nest of poisonous desert vipers. The mutineers are killed but many other innocent people are also bitten. Moses has his metal-smiths whip up a bronze snake idol on a pole and displays it to the people as an antidote to the snake venom. And it works! Background History: The relationship of the wandering Hebrew tribes to the Egyptian Empire and its religions, particularly the therapeutic snake-cults of certain Egyptian goddesses. The fate of Moses’ snake idol over 500 years later in Jerusalem at the hands of “Good King” Hezekia.
7° Provost and Judge
Phoenician stone-cutters of 1000 B.C., who are working on Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, are portrayed in the degree’s drama as Hebrews and modern Grand Lodge Freemasons (they were neither). An expert stone-cutter makes a beautiful keystone. One of his inept fellow workers steals the keystone and tries to pass it off as his own work. The theft is revealed by means of a secret identification code. Historical Background: A non-Scriptural tale (that is, a Bible-based story that’s not actually in the Bible, written by Masons to provide a story for the degree). There is no real history involved.
8° Intendant of the Building
The dying David names Solomon as his successor. A quarrel between Solomon and his jealous older brother, Adonijah, erupts. Adonijah, thinking he can take the throne by force, attempts a coup d’etat. With the help of the prophet Nathan, David reinforces his choice of Solomon and Adonijah wisely capitulates. Historical Background: Was Solomon really the pious monotheist that today’s Masons revere? The Book of Kings describes him as a bloody-handed despot and a womanizer. I tell about a new social class in Israel, seen in this degree for the first time: the people we call the Prophets. The Auditory Prophets and the Guild Prophets are described and distinguished from each other.
9° Master of the Temple
Solomon calls an ecumenical council at the dedication of the Temple. Priests of every god and goddess in the Mediterranean region are represented. A riot breaks out when an atheist starts to blaspheme Yahweh. The archangel Ariel saves the day. Another non-Scriptural play. Historical Background: The Quest for God through the ages, an essay on the evolution of religious consciousness through the ages. I identify all of the gods and goddesses worshipped by the citizens of Solomon’s Israel (and by Solomon himself), circa 1000 B.C. I speculate on the possible influence of invading Indo-European barbarians on the pre-Exilic Hebrew’s early conceptions of Yahweh, continue with a defense of sacred prostitutes and end by identifying the relatively unknown archangel, Ariel.
10° Master Elect
The Palace Guards in front of Solomon’s temple have a falling out. Some of them mock the aged Solomon’s taste for young foreign princesses. Others take up for the king. Later, Yahweh gives Solomon some bad news. Non-Scriptual.
Historical Background: I speculate on which ethnic groups the Temples guards may have belonged to.
11° Sublime Master Elected
Corrupt tax collectors working in Solomon’s government are found out and get their just desserts. Based on a degree written for the Southern Jurisdiction by Albert Pike (a famous Scottish Rite Mason and former Confederate general) after the Civil War. The story, I believe, shows the influence of Pike’s reaction to the mishandling of Reconstruction following Lincoln’s assassination. Non-Scriptural. Historical Background: Solomon’s government and the origin of rabbis.
12° Master of Mercy
Joseph and his brothers in Egypt. The same story we heard when we were kids. Historical Background: Up-to-date information on the Joseph legend and where it may fit in with genuine history.
13° Master of the Ninth Arch
Solomon’s workmen break into the underground temple of the legendary antediluvian prophet Enoch. They find an unknown name engraved on a golden plaque and present it to Solomon for his inspection. As usual, Solomon figures it all out. Historical Background: Everything that is known or conjectured about Enoch and his underground temple. Why the legends of Enoch, used in 17th-century Masonic rituals, were discarded in favor of the present ritualistic emphasis on Solomon and his chief engineer, Hiram Abiff. Masonic theories of Atlantis and the Great Flood. Earlier, now extinct, versions of the Masonic Legend and why they became extinct.
14° Grand Elect Mason
The ceremonial degree of the Lodge of Perfection. Everybody in the class gets the 14th degree but nobody gets a gold ring to keep.
Chapter 2. The Council of Princes of Jerusalem
Historical Introduction: A summary of the events leading to the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylonia and the building of Zerubbabel’s Temple, the Second Temple of Jewish history.
15° Knight of the East
In Babylon, the emperor Cyrus has a bad dream and his court gets nervous. The Hebrew prophet Daniel interprets the dream to mean Cyrus should let the Jews go back to Jerusalem. Cyrus complies and everybody relaxes. Historical Background: The history of Israel and Judah, two new countries made from the splitting up of Israel. I describe the Assyrian methods of waging war and their punishment of forced relocation of conquered peoples. How the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel got lost. The origin of the Samaritans and why they couldn’t get along with the Jews. I detail the running quarrel between the prophet Jeremiah and King Zedekiah that ended with the sack of Jerusalem. Then I tell of Nebuzaraden’s siege of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile. The section ends with the story of Zoroastrianism.
16° Prince of Jerusalem
At his court in Babylon, Darius – Cyrus’ successor – is holding a debate over the respective powers of wine, women and himself (the king). The Hebrew governor, Zerubbabel, shows up from Jerusalem and wins the debate with an unlikely answer. He persuades Darius to let the Jews rebuild their temple in peace, an earlier promise of Cyrus that Darius had reneged on. Historical Background: We review a brief history of the Persian Empire. In Jerusalem, there are clashes between the hayseed Samaritans and the sophisticated urban Jews returning from Babylon. The polytheistic Hebrew captives in Babylon become monotheistic Jews and adopt several rituals to differentiate themselves from their captors. The prophet known only as Second Isaiah and his new version of Yahweh, the One True God we know today.
Chapter 3. The Chapter of Rose Croix
17° Knight of the East and West
Herod the Great puts up a giant bronze Roman eagle over the entrance to the Temple. Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes debate about what should be done. The Pharisees tear the eagle down and run away. This will turn out to be a big mistake. Herod appears and condemns everybody (including his own son) to death, and then dies himself. Background History: The life of Herod and his ascension to the throne. Where the Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes came from and what they stood for. The Gospels, Hillel and the basic teaching of Jesus.
18° Knight of the Rose Croix of H.R.D.M.
The ceremonial degree of the Chapter of Rose Croix. The candidate is taken from the Old Testament, through the scene of the Crucifixion (The Chamber of the Mystic Rose), and into the New Testament. Background History: Possible origins of the Rose Croix degree as a branch of Rosicrucianism. I detail the degree’s original anti-Semitism, finally omitted in America but not, apparently, in the U.K. I end with a description of the horrific child-sacrifices once made in Jerusalem to the Phoenician god Moloch.
Chapter 4. The Consistory
19° Brothers of the Trail (Oregon Trail degree)
The first of the Scottish Rite’s so-called “Americana” degrees. This enigmatic story that is now being used as a Masonic degree has recently replaced a more esoteric degree (see the public play that follows). Background History: I tell the story of the Oregon Trail, Manifest Destiny, and the Indian Wars. Included is the history of cholera, the chief terror of the Trail, and its eventual eradication.
Interlude: Grand Pontiff, a Public Play
The original 19th degree in its complete form, now available to be shown to general audiences. I have included this in the book to give non-Masons the flavor of a real, uncensored Masonic degree. It’s a retelling of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces” theme: The hero descends into the underworld (the land of the dead) to bring back a boon to mankind. He chats with the spirits of famous dead philosophers and brings a gift back to the land of the living. Background History: Secret societies in this world and the next are discussed, as well as the bodhisattvas and Shangri-La.
20° Master ad Vitam (George Washington degree)
Another “Americana” degree. Benedict Arnold returns to America from exile in England and tries to convince a lodge of Masons, chaired by Washington himself, that he should be forgiven for his treachery and allowed to return to his native land. Background History: The life and military career of Major General Benedict Arnold. Arnold’s many battles, both with the British and with the Continental Congress, as well as his downfall in Philadelphia, are related. An American tragedy in time of war.
21° Patriarch Noachite
The story of a medieval kangaroo court and a trial by ordeal in the moonlight. An old degree but the connection to Masonry is unclear (to me, at least). Background History: The story of the extinct Noachite degree, Masonry’s original exhumation myth. How the Biblical nonentity Hiram Abif became so important to Masons. History of the marauding bands of renegade vigilante knights who belonged to a secret society they called the Vehmgeright.
22° Prince of Libanus
The “Lumberjack Degree.” A degree that, until 2012, was sung like an operetta. A group of carpenters and woodworkers are interrupted in their work when a new candidate seeks admission. Recently the degree has been made into a video in which the script is spoken, not sung. The local was changed from the hills of Lebanon to a forest on the Pacific Northwest and the new version has not been well received. I have recently heard that a new video of the degree will be released in which the script will once again be sung but the local will be a German beer hall! We’re all looking forward to that.
23° Knight of Valor (Four Chaplains)
This degree tells the story of the Four Immortal Chaplains who gave their lives to save servicemen on a torpedoed troop ship during WW II. Background History: The story of their bravery and sacrifice that night in the north Atlantic.
24° Brother of the Forest (American Indian)
After the French and Indian War, a Cherokee Indian petitions a Blue Lodge for membership. The degree deals with racial prejudice and bigotry, but ignores an elephant in the room; an African elephant. Background History: Indians, Africans and prejudice. The story of Prince Hall (African American) Freemasonry.
25° Master of Achievement (Benjamin Franklin)
Ben Franklin is celebrating his 82nd birthday and his friends and admirers gather to congratulate him on his many achievements. Background History: Franklin’s life, real religious beliefs and achievements.
26° Friend and Brother Eternal (Gettysburg)
This degree is about the Masonic friendship between Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead and Union General Winfield S. Hancock, a friendship that even the most vicious war in American history could not extinguish. Background History: The story of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, one of the most important battles in American history, ending in the bloody fiasco known as Pickett’s Charge.
27° Knight of Jerusalem
A very biased story of the Emperor Frederick II and Pope Honorius. The Pope tries to convince Frederick to lead yet another crusade. A spurious document (which may never have existed but for which several men were burned alive) called The Three Imposters plays a part. Background History: Politics, crusades and religion in the 13th-century Europe. The scroll called “The Three Imposters” and the real story of the Christianization of Northern Europe.
28° Knight of the Sun
A meeting of 17th-century Rosicrucians, made up of men of different faiths, called for the purpose of inducting new members. They must choose at least one of four candidates. A Pope, a Rabbi, several ministers and a king are present. They decide on a young man named Elias Ashmole. Background History: The men of the Enlightenment and the history of the horrific Thirty Years War, one of the bloodiest interludes in European history. A brief bio of Elias Ashmole, one of the first Freemasons known to history.
29° Knight of St. Andrew
A romanticized fiction of the Battle of Nicopolis (1396) in which the victorious Sultan Bajazet graciously welcomes several French knights whom he has defeated that afternoon. He is so charmed by their bravery that he joins their imaginary secret society, The Knights of St. Andrew. Background History: The real events of the Battle of Nicopolis and its aftermath. The reason why so much of Eastern Europe became Moslem.
30° Grand Inspector
A preposterous medieval courtroom trial around the year 1320 with a plot worthy of a silent movie. Tons of dull dialogue in pseudo-medieval legal jargon. A character out of Scott’s Ivanhoe (?) appears and saves the day.
31° Knight Aspirant
Constans, a naive young man who wishes to become a knight, must endure a long nighttime vigil filled with temptation. He resists every temptation except a fatal one – to go into battle. Background History: The history and story of knighthood. The training and life of a typical knight. The Middle Ages in all their splendor and squalor are presented.
32° Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret
The ceremonial degree of the Consistory. Constans appears once more and becomes a Prince of the Royal Secret. Background History: The militaristic bias of the Scottish Rite. After the Civil War was over and it was safe, every man wanted to be seen in uniform. Especially Masons. That’s why we have all those funny titles.
- Frank on Introduction
- Nanci J Davids on Introduction
- Obdulia O Erno on Introduction
- Keith B Lucore on 29th Degree
- Del Z Didion on Introduction
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