So, all went well last night. I got to wear a microphone and everything! (Oh, is that a Masonic secret? No? OK.) The upstairs of the Scottish Rite Temple is soooooo cooool. It is like a very old theater, with costume closets and makeup chairs that look like they date from the turn of the last century! And old wood everywhere. I am so looking forward to participating in putting on the degrees in the future!
But for the moment, I’ve passed the hurdle of being dubbed Knight Kadosh, which is interpreted to mean Knight of the Kadosh, or Knight of the Temple, meaning the Temple of Solomon. This is the Knights Templar degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction in the U.S.A. and the brothers did an excellent job putting it on. It was thrilling to kneel in the center of that sacred space and be dubbed a knight. Well, this was the second time, actually, as I was also dubbed a Prussian Knight in an earlier degree where I got to be principal candidate.
I have long been interested in the historical Knights Templar and their reputation, both chivalric and sinister. Secret societies have a irresistible magnetism, though, of course, one might not be so happy to stumble into one for real. But chivalry, without all the militarism and killing, has always fascinated me. I studied it a good deal as an undergraduate and my researches formed the basis for the military culture of the Rhûzamedi in my first novel (still, alas, in revision) Marzanx. Indeed, the whole society of Marzanx and its subject planetary systems constitutes a secret society. Hence the subtitle of the story, “The Hidden Kingdom.” Hidden in the middle of the Red Nebula.
But I digress.
The chivary of Masonic knighthood is not, of course, the old military chivalry of the Middle Ages. A knight today is one called to an order of chivalry and expected to exemplify certain virtues and precepts. In the case of the Knight Kadosh it is to give of oneself, to sacrifice one’s pride, selfishness, and ambition in order to help others, not only within the order, as a loyal member of its organization, but outside of the order. The Templars of old were dedicated to helping pilgrims on the path to the Holy Land. As a druid, I interpret this symbolically as a calling to help pilgrims on their path to understanding of the land as holy. Not the literal Jerusalem or Palestine, but the Jerusalem, as William Blake used the image.
Blake was a visionary poet of the early 19th century who illustrated his poems and printed them himself with a method of copperplate printing he invented. He was a total artist. Trained in architecture, I think he must have been part of the current of Masonic ideas in his time. He is often numbered among the Romantic poets, those English poets who set themselves against the excessive masculine rationalism of the Enlightenment and embraced the human imagination as a power at least as profound (if not moreso) than the human faculty of Reason. Blake’s visionary poems are epics of the soul, dramatizing the splitting of the whole human psyche into parts. It is the Reason (personified as the godlike Urizen) who causes the breaking apart of the whole Man, the Giant Albion. Blake is a consummate allegorist and mythologizer, who understood how to weave a symbolic picture in such a way that it was not a simple allegory but a complex one, a myth. We are forced to work to interpret Blake. The meanings are not simply spelled out through a code, as earlier medieval allegories were.
Jerusalem, in Blake’s mythos is the “emanation” of Albion, something like Albion’s soul or “anima” in Jungian terms. His female or feminine half, which is split off from him and lost to him because of the usurpation of Urizen. So, in my druidical interpretation of the Templar legend, I would say that Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple are both allegorical images for the architecture of the soul. To be a knight of the Temple is to be dedicated to protecting and guiding those who are daring to make the journey to wholeness, to rebuild the temple of psyche that has been torn apart, not by any literal despot or war, but by the very growth of the human species, our evolution.
We have reached a place of wisdom now where we may — standing upon the shoulders of giants — glimpse the road travelled by our ancient ancestors. They were pilgrims in their own right, traveling upon the level of time and evolving our unique species. This evolution was most remarkable in the way our human brains changed, which is also to say, our souls. The psyche, or soul, is the inward life of the mind and heart. Our feelings and thoughts, and their relationship to expression in words, discourses of various kinds, including songs and poems, and other forms of expression through art — dance, painting, drawing, acting, sculpture, pottery, architecture.
Architecture serves as a symbol itself. The building of the temple or the celestial city of God is the building of ourselves and we must understand not only how to shape rough stones and lay mortar, but also we must understand the geometry and architecture of the psyche. Yes, the geometry and architecture of nature too, but our own psyche as part of nature — perhaps unavoidably the most important part to us. For the mind is the instrument through which we view nature. We can make the pilgrimage toward this new place by escaping from the ego, from language, and its literalism. Only through symbols and the free working of the imagination can we find the pilgrim’s road and truly grow in understanding of ourselves and our fellow human brothers and sisters.
This is the genius of Masonry. The Fraternity is often condemned on the grounds that is is based on “false” history and “forged” documents, on “legends” and on ridiculous pomp and ritual. It is rejected too as “false religion” because it refuses to admit that it is a religion of any sort. Those who conisder it dangerous because it is “false religion” completely miss the point. It isn’t religion. Masonry has been designed to employ ritual and symbolism, some of it borrowed from major religions not to “imitate” or set itself up as some sort of truer religion, but rather to point out the methods of religions and keeping them out of religious institutions to free the minds of its brothers to approach symbols and rituals in a new light.
Masonry, and druidry for that matter, both do this. They use implausible legends to jostle the stubborn mind, to dethrone the Ego that is based on Reason and selfishness and literal thinking. The ego is, by its very nature, inmeshed in language. “Ego” in Latin is the first person pronoun. The ego, psychologically speaking, is that part of the Self that speaks and says “I”. The evolution of a speaking ego at the center of our consciousness has served humankind well in many ways, but it is only a stage along the pilgrim’s path to higher understanding. For the ego is fragile and will defend itself to the death, assuming the bad habits of a tyrant over the rest of one’s psyche.
Pride, greed, sloth, lust, envy, gluttony, anger — all are sins of the ego. They are ways that the ego puts itself first and indulges in fantasies of its own importance and power. This ego is Blake’s Urizen, setting itself up as a God, imagining that it creates the world through its endless talking. (Keeping a blog might be added to the seven deadly sins.) But the ego does not have to split away from the whole Self, as Carl Jung taught us. Ego can be integrated into the whole and the speaking self realize that words aren’t everything.
It may sound as if I am making Ego sound rather sophisticated and educated with all those words. But that has little to do with it. One can have an overweening ego with a small vocabulary. Those persons who seem unable to talk without spewing a stream of “swear words” as we mistakenly call them. We used to call them “oaths” but that isn’t really what is going on these days. The F-word and all the other impolite words that ornament people’s conversation are power words, they are the ego’s expression of its belief that it can magically control an external world through words.
Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your point of view), magic doesn’t work this way. Words alone do not control the world or change it. Words can be used as weapons to harm others or tools to create good things, but that isn’t what we mean by magic words. Magic words are tools that are employed by the deeper or higher aspects of the Self, not merely the ego. And that is where so many would-be magical practitioners fail. They try to work from their ego rather than learning to escape its tyrannical hold on the personality.
This is why some of the wisest writers on magic emphasize the need to contact one’s Higher Self, sometimes poetically called one’s Holy Guardian Angel. Some of the magicians who worked for years to manifest their Higher Self seem only to have inflated their egos. Jung warns against ego-inflation. The ego is like a balloon, or a Microsoft program in your computer: it will expand to take up as much space as it can. It is a defense mechanism. Ego, fearful of being annihilated if it abdicates its rational control over the psyche and the body, puffs itself up by identifying itself with an archetype — Mother, Father, God, Wise Old Man, Wise Old Woman, Dragon, Shadow, Changeling. Doesn’t really matter which archetype. If the ego identifies itself with one it will blow up like a balloon and feel powerful and invincible and become, on the whole, insufferable to everyone else.
Obviously, identifying one’s ego with the Knight of the Temple archetype would be a mistake too. We today are not literal knights from the Middle Ages or storybook romances. But the knightly image can reside in our psyche as part of its repertoire, part of its dramatis personae. And out of this part of our psyche, we can improve ourselves as we wish, seeking virtue rather than vice, and becoming chivalric in all the best senses of that ideal – courteous, humble, helpful, courageous, willing to devote our lives and fortunes to the quest for understanding. And the Quest is, we should remember, something far beyond ourselves. It is the evolution of the species itself, the evolution of soul, we might even say the evolution of Being.
It seems appropriate somehow that I will be completing the final two degrees of the Scottish Rite as the Sun settles at its most southerly position and then stops in its pilgrimage at the solstice. Its southerly journey ended, Sol will begin his slow return northward to give us Spring and rebirth once more. But my masonic quest will end and its next stage begin in the bleak midwinter, that time of meditation and celebration, when we honor the Sun and express our faith in its motions. The movement of the Sun through the seasons is a symbol of fidelity. We honor it as a sign that we can trust the Great Architect, the Creator and Author of the Universe.
And so I must now go bake some fish for dinner.