I have enrolled in the College of the Consistory at Guthrie Scottish Rite in Guthrie, OK. Because I live in Massachusetts, I am taking their correspondence course, a five-year course in the Scottish Rite degrees, Southern Jurisdiction (SJ) version. I belong to the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ), and we've taken more liberties with altering the degrees than our Southern brothers have. I don't know what Albert Pike (who never had any formal authority over NMJ degree work) would think of our current Master Traveler degree (4°, which in the SJ is called Secret Master), but I think our version of the Chief of the Tabernacle degree (23°) is very moving, even though no Tabernacle is ever mentioned in it, and it does not possess the esotericism of the SJ version.
I am grateful that Guthrie Scottish Rite have allowed me to cross jurisdictions to take this class. I am studying a copy of Albert Pike's Magnum Opus, and Dr. Rex Hutchen's book, A Bridge to Light, is on order from the Scottish Rite Headquarters, SJ. This has been a fascinating read thus far. I envy the brothers who got to experience the degree work that Pike describes, and I wonder what kind of Valley would have the budget to hold degrees faithful to Pike's vision. In each degree there are different costumes and sets, and they take place in rooms of different shapes and sizes. The Knight, or Sovereign Prince of Rose Croix, of Heredon degree (18°) takes place in four rooms, and the description of the degree work extends over thirty pages, including two pages of Statues and Regulations of Sovereign Chapters of Knights of the Rose ✠. It would take a Scottish Rite Temple with many different lodge rooms, a vastly well-stocked costume and prop room, and a line of officers in each body who were astonishingly good at ritual to pull off what Pike describes.
It's clear that his version parallels the York Rite more closely in the first three bodies of Scottish Rite, with Lodge of Perfection paralleling the Royal Arch Chapter, the Chapter of Rose Croix paralleling the Commandery of the Knights Templar, and the Council of Kadosh paralleling the Council of Royal and Select Masters, with the Consistory providing a synthesis and culmination of the preceding degrees. Please forgive me if I'm mistaken in observing these parallels.
It is so refreshing to have the whole structure explained to me, and to have in-depth instruction in each of the individual degrees. I feel a bit sheepish being called a Sublime Prince after one day of degree work, and I want nothing more than to feel like I deserve without suspicion the degrees I've earned. How can I call myself a Grand Elect Mason when I'm not proficient in the tokens, grips and passes of the preceding degrees?
Maybe in future, if there is enough demand for it, the NMJ will create something similar. I would love to see a Traditional Observance (TO) Scottish Rite Freemasonry emerge, where the Lodge of Perfection actually sits as a tyled lodge, with the officers in their proper chairs, and the other bodies behaving similarly. The current structure is very popular, and provides many brothers with what they want from the Rite, and I would be hesitant to rob them of what brings them meaning and joy. Instead, I see TO Scottish Rite as a smaller group within our Valley who meet to study and perform the degrees in more depth, in a smaller setting.
Scottish Rite became, and remains popular because of the theatrical nature of the degree work, and I would never consider eliminating or diminishing that component of the work. But in a class of 150 candidates, your chance of being an exemplar is nil. I would be willing to pay extra to take the slower path. Imagine if one tenth of the candidates were like me. Fifteen of us would take the degrees one at a time, not in an auditorium but in a tyled lodge room. We would pay suitable degree fees per degree for the privilege, and have a Festive Board afterwards. Later, we would have a Lodge of Instruction, and have to exemplify the degree to move on to the next one, maybe even having to write a paper on each degree to demonstrate our understanding of the lessons learned. We would meet with each other and with the officers of the body whose degree we were working in, and learn the degree in depth. This would take officers deeply committed to this work to accomplish, but imagine how rewarding the experience would be. Imagine what the Rite would be if even a tenth of us were going through this process.
Right now, we have one-day classes that are exciting and fulfilling. We have great rehearsal dinners, and have a lot of fun performing the degrees. It is entirely sufficient for most of us, and should remain as is as long as that continues to be the case. But there should be a deeper layer underneath for those of us who seek the Light inherent in these degrees. The Light should be the core of the Scottish Rite, not the fringe. There should be no prejudice in favor of TO Scottish Rite Masons over the others, and no privilege coming from taking the slow route other than the education received. This work should not invalidate the fast-track route, or make brothers who choose the easier way feel that they are lesser Scottish Rite Masons for their choices.
In the status quo, the majority of Scottish Rite Masons in my Valley do not participate in Scottish Rite after they receive the Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret degree (32°), except perhaps to visit sometimes when other one-day classes take place. They pay their dues year after year just for the honor of putting "32°" after their name. They are the financial engine fueling what we do. They are pure revenue without cost, and I worry that such a revenue stream may prove untenable over time, especially during economic hardship. I would imagine that many of them will be dismissed for non-payment of dues over the next year or two, unable to justify in hard times paying into something they don't participate in. TO Scottish Rite Freemasonry will not fix that.
Two things will fix that. One, the idea basic to psychology that men value more what they invest more in; and two, a strong impression that they have joined something of value, that is willing to invest as much in them as they are in it. If it takes time and effort to earn the degrees, a brother will keep coming back to further his progress, and once he has reached the summit, he will value his accomplishment more than if it were easily handed to him, and he will stay devoted to the body that challenged him again and again before he gained his mastery. If the esprit de corps of the Scottish Rite is obvious to every witness, others will want to join such a body. If upon receiving the Master Traveler degree (4°), the Lodge of Perfection welcomes him with overwhelming hospitality, and if upon receiving the first degree in each subsequent body, he is shown similar hospitality, so that by the time he becomes a Sublime Prince (32°), he is revered with honor by other Scottish Rite Masons, and welcomed into an exclusive fold, he will cherish his degrees and titles. This is present in Pike's vision as described in the Magnum Opus, where there is special protocol for welcoming a Knight of the Rose ✠, or a Sublime Prince into a lodge. Men respond to such things. Make the degrees feel important to a man, and they will be important to him. Remember, that's what outsiders already think the Scottish Rite is. How many of you have been told by non-masons that someone is a 32° mason, as if that were a crowning accomplishment? What if it were?