The Scottish Rite of Prince Hall Masonry, is sometimes called, "The University of Freemasonry," and well it should be, for the train of thought is as high over the preceding degrees as a university is over kindergarten. Yet, it is mostly looked upon as a house to cause its members for those that seek deeper meanings of their Freemasonry, and it remains a higher degree for those that have gotten their 32nd and 33rd degrees without benefit of 'working their way in' to the Sanctum Sanctorum. It is a pity, but, it is a fact.
All of Freemasonry deals with the search of man for the ultimate knowledge of the Creator; it is no simple journey, yet, it is not the complex organization that we, in our finite minds, make it out to be. Because of our limited love for God and fellowman, we sometimes fail to grasp the true meanings of the lessons gleaned from the teachings of Freemasonry. One would just have to 'come home' to ingest the deeper and truer meanings of the divine lessons that reach out for adepts of the Order, telling them that the so-called secrets are not secrets at all, merely, the sum total of the ultimate truth, which is the Will of God.
In the Blue Lodge, we are taught Morality, Intellect and Spirituality, in the Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason, respectively. In our study of Morality, we discern that the only 'true' sense of morality comes from the Author and Creator of all good and perfect gifts, giving them to us in dribbles, lest we forget to give Him the honor and the glory. It seems that as we approach the threshold of greatness, we depend less and less on the giver of these gifts. In our Lodges today, the will to learn seems to be non-existent, yet, the Lodge continues to draw and drop men to and from its rolls. It is not that the Lodge's lessons are any less richer than eons ago; it is not that the fellowship is any less than during the days of glory, when the numbers were great and lessons well-learned. It is simply a lack of D and C in the individual's life itself, Dedication and Commitment to the Order. The gift of learning and discernment is lacking in the make-up of the finite mind, if for one minute, one thinks he is in a 'higher degree' and consequently, one does not have to deal with lesser mortals. He needs to come home to basic Masonry.
Is the order archaic? No, and the methods are not either; time is just not the friend we make it to be in this day and time. When the Lodge was in its hey-day, it was one of the three things that made up a great triumvate in the African-American community, with the Church and the School, and with all three being institutions of learning when they are on their J-O-B. Today, all three are in the same predicament, lack of dedicated and committed members. As one suffers, so do the others, for the three are intractably connected because of like-curriculums of Morality, Intellect and Spirituality. That is why, in the Prince Hall Masonic Family, and all the Masonic Houses, should have some special connections with the several churches and schools in their communities, for the three, in the African-American neighborhoods have been born in controversy, and nurtured in discrimination.
Anti-Masonic writers, lecturers, preachers, etc., have a field day with Freemasonry, not because of the truths they are supposed to be sharing with their audiences, but, mainly because of the words and actions of a few Masons that did not make the grade of "Master Mason," nor did they slow down and learn the basics before they went on to the 'higher' degrees. With the lack of training in the "M-I-S" (Morality, Intellect and Spirituality), by using them as a prefix, it shows that the individual is guilty of not learning M-I-S, and has to fall in the category of the MIS-understanding, MIS-informed, and consequently, when viewed by those of the non-Masonic world, he becomes MIS-understood. I viewed a TV exposÚ of Freemasonry on the John Ankerberg Show, with a so-called "Born Again Christian" who was a Master of a Lodge supposedly exposing the 'secrets' of Masonic Initiation, because he had seen the light and discovered that Freemasonry is Satanic, or a cult at best. The brother covered all bases of the M-I-S's, and was a Past Master in ritualism. Poor Soul! What happened to his Christianity BEFORE he even joined the Lodge?
Tune in periodically and you will see a lot of so-called exposÚs of Freemasonry, and I have personally seen an exodus of members in my Masonic District because of it. Poor souls! Turn to the website and there will be a lot of so-called Masonic secrets exposed via the computer by experts that have never been initiated, passed and raised, but their expertise came from other people of the same ill. Truth is not always found in the written word of others, that may think they are 'God-inspired' yet fall short of declaring His truths to His people. However, because it is in writing, or on television and the Internet, it must be true. So, one quote leads to another and another. Poor souls! What ever happened to "Love thy God, and Love thy neighbor?"
The 'star' of the Ankerberg show was another one of those experts that depended on what he had read, and was a 32nd degree Mason (Member?), as he was introduced to the assumed millions of viewers. Did the number of his degrees make him an expert? No! No more than the experts that gleaned their information from what other anti-Masonic Writers had written. The dear brother showed his vast amount of ignorance when he was asked what was the final authority, and he answered, "The ritual." Poor soul! Any Freemason worth his salt should have lowered his head in shame, for here was a man, supposedly a student at least, of the University of Freemasonry, the Scottish Rite, overlooking the VSL, which is upon the altar in every House of Freemasonry, with the great lessons of the degrees gleaned from the scriptures so exposed to view.
It would be ludicrous to assume that the poor soul, if indeed he was a Mason, more especially a Scottish Rite Mason, had followed up on the scriptures of the 32nd degree, or any other degree for that matter. Yet, our intelligence was grossly insulted by extreme lack of knowledge, all the while being touted as a 32nd degree Mason. No doubt, Mr. Ankerberg sold lots of tapes and books behind the telecast, for, as humans, we seek out the negatives, in ignorance, those things that we simply do not like and/or certainly, do not understand. The Prince Hall Masons, 99 44/100 percent of the Christian Religion, use the Holy Bible, and the interpretation of the degrees of Freemasonry are taught and garnered from a Christian standpoint. Therefore, when we seriously think of Hiram Abif, our thoughts and training go toward Jesus, the Christ. 'Poor Soul' should have known that! However, it is most doubtful that Poor Soul has ever tried, or have been taught, the deeper meanings of the lessons of the Scottish Rite, and like a lot of 32nd and 33rd degree Masons, know little about the Blue Lodge. How do you study university material without knowledge of basics found in the lesser institutions of learning? Many "Poor Souls" try. By studying from a Christian point of view, and growing in your own religion, one can understand the mystical trappings of the "Holy Grail," the Legend of Atlantis, as well as the deeper meanings of the Koran, the Vedas as well as Buddah and Zoroaster. The Kaabala would be non-existent if any Mason did not, at least study the basics.
One thing I would like to make clear: I do not expect anyone to accept these words as gospel, but I will try and prick your appetite and hopefully, it will cause you to seek out answers of the mysteries of Freemasonry in general and Scottish Rite Masonry in particular. Freemasonry is as you see it, and no matter how many books and treatises are written, the human mind cannot absorb what it does not believe. If one believes that Freemasonry is more than the baubles we wear, more than the fancy titles we have, more than the buildings we occupy, then, this paper will come under the scrutiny that an adept Mason will give. It will, hopefully, give you an idea of who your neighbor is.
Too often, Freemasonry is looked upon as the secretive order some writers paint it, and consequently, the finite mind takes as gospel what he reads, passes it along, sometimes in writing, and then, many converts to his ideas are gained. Possibly, a movement starts to form, and before you know it, the many basic ideas of the Fraternity of Freemasonry are twisted and turned many ways before someone comes along and searches for the ultimate truth. This is my way of sharing what I believe to be a way towards that truth, and that is to search the scriptures, match them with the ritual references and travel, North, South, East and West in search of the ultimate. There can be only one secret in Freemasonry, and that is the relationship you have established with the Creator. All else is known by many, thereby, erasing any vestige of secrecy.
All the baubles, signs and symbols merely start you on a journey, much like the ritual, for I have seen many Masons try to lecture on the ritual only, and leave more questions unanswered than the Order intended. All lectures that go deeper than the status quo, always wind up teaching religious lessons, rather than ritualistic babblings. The number in those audiences are few and far in between, for like a goat, the finite mind rebels against the knowledge that it must die, while the lamb, the innocent, readily steps up to be killed. Yet, in this life, the physical must give way to the spiritual, the mind we have, if it isn't geared to the M-I-S, must die, and a new mind inherits a new hunger and desire, and heads toward another plane that leads to, if there is, in reality, an afterlife, which I firmly believe to be. To go any further in Freemasonry, beyond the missing word of the Blue Lodge, to discover the so-called real word of the Capitular degrees, the Scottish and Chivalric degrees, into the Shrine degree and not find any answers, would mean that the whole system of Freemasonry has been a farce to that individual (s). Poor soul!
However, Freemasonry is not a farce! In my mind it is not, never was and never will be. Its members may be, but not the system itself. It has always been, and always will be, gauged, not by its greatest thinkers and adepts, but by the 'Poor Souls' that depend on physical items to give them purpose and truths. Freemasonry is not the cult some would make it to be, nor does it prepare its members for devil-worshipping, but gives to them certain truths that they may be armed against the everyday adversities of the mind that will surely come. The Square and Compasses would stand for naught, if the mind is not enriched to learn of the Creator and love Him and His creatures, as explained by the Master, not the one of the Lodge, but the Master of Life, Himself.
For be it from me, to try and make excuses for those Poor Souls that cannot understand, or will not understand, or even seek understanding, 'for they have their own reward.' I am not here to look down on any one that have sought and did not find, the Word of a Master Mason, but I do ask a question: "Are you satisfied?" If you are, then you need not go any further than this paper, for in them, you will find no reason for a 'lack of appetite.' But, if you are hungry, seek out the correlation between the two points of the Compasses and the Two-headed Eagle! If your spiritual stomach growls because of lack of nourishment, ask why the same two-headed eagle in the Consistory, is crowned in the Supreme Council.
Members of other religions must seek out their own legend of Hiram Abif, and compare the two points and the two-headed eagle with the focal points of their own religious beliefs. Above all, look at the applications of the religious principles that guide their relationships in their everyday lives, and see if they measure up to "Loving God and loving your fellowman." If they don't, they may have missed the boat anyway, for it is not the religion, but the application thereof. The major thrusts should be these two points, and not what religion one should follow. Thus, is the same with Freemasonry, Love God, Love Neighbor!
Howard L. Woods, Arkansas