Saturday, February 25, 2012

'Grand College of Rites 2012'

Hard to believe it has been two weeks since Masonic Week, but time flies. I think that's why a certain depiction of the hourglass shows the icon of time as having wings. Anyway, before more time slips away and I forget what happened, I'd better get on with the coverage of Masonic Week 2012.

I must begin with the annual meeting of the Grand College of Rites, not only because it's at least a decade-long tradition of mine to extol on-line this interesting little band of brothers, but also because Aaron was dogging me yesterday for pictures. It's the least I can do, so let it never be said I don't do the least I can do.

Collectanea is the annual publication of the Grand College of Rites. It contains rituals, jurisprudence, and other literature of rites that are dormant or otherwise unknown to Masons in America. The new book is out. Volume 21, Part 2 continues the archiving of highly unusual German rituals. (Read about Part 1 here.) Its title is Rituals of the Flaming Star: German Esoteric Bricolage from Der Signatstern and Other Sources.

Grand Archivist Arturo de Hoyos, the researcher, editor, and translator behind each edition of Collectanea, describes this text:

The following Masonic rituals have been translated from a 20th century German typescript formerly in the possession of Frederic Mellinger (1890-1970). Mellinger was a pre-World War I associate of Rudolph Steiner and later a disciple of Aleister Crowley. After the latter's death, Mellinger had extensive contact with Hermann Metzger, the leader of the Ordo Illuminatorum, a Swiss confederation of Masonic, Gnostic, and Rosicrucian orders under Metzger's direction. The rituals are composed as a bricolage of sources, the primary one being Der Signatstern... a 16-volume work published in Berlin, 1803-21 (and in) 1866 in parts, in three editions; its first five volumes contain important documents which are, however, thrown in unordered disorder. These parts contain the posthumous Masonic papers of the Minister von Wollner; it was arranged and verified by Friedrich L. Schroder, whence all belonged and from whence taken.

We lack any certain information on the dating and the authorship of these adaptations from Der Signatstern and other Masonic rituals. It is likely that the texts have been edited by more than one hand and they may have been employed or intended for use in more than one esoteric group. The choice of 'Minerval' and the symbolism of the owl in the Neophyte degree are taken directly from the historic Order of the Illuminati. The references to the 'Mizraim-service' point to the influence of Rudolph Steiner, who had a co-Masonic group by this name....

There are also a multiplicity of references in the texts to the fraternal ventures of the German Masonic bricoleur Theodor Reuss. Among his numerous endeavors, Reuss was co-founder with Leopold Engel of a late 19th century German revival of the Order of the Illuminati, an associate with Steiner in the German Section of the Theosophical Society, an English Freemason and Masonic Rosicrucian, and the founder of the co-Masonic Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). Crowley's claim that 'Reuss was in the habit of initiating people with the merest skeleton rituals boiled down from those of Continental Masonry' is a fair description of the following texts. Although Crowley attempted in 1921 to usurp control of the OTO from Reuss and rewrote a majority of the rituals to fit within his new religion of Thelema, Reuss firmly rejected Crowley's leadership and innovations....

And these rituals in Collectanea themselves? Skeletal rituals of Continental co-Masonry is a good way to put it.

The Minerval Degree is recognizable to those who know Scottish Rite Craft work. It's not synonymous in content because it is a bare bones ritual, but it certainly is congruent in theme and style. I suppose it is called Minerval because the candidate (male or female) aspires specifically to search for Truth (as opposed to enlightenment), so there is the logical fit with the Roman goddess of wisdom. There is a Dark Chamber, as in the Chamber of Reflection, outside the temple (not lodge) itself. I don't want to give away too much, but I cannot resist sharing this one detail: Imparted in a charge from the presiding officer to the candidate, and reiterated in the obligation, is this demand, one that is most foreign to mainstream Anglo-American Masonry.

You will, in fact, be asked to consecrate yourself, and your present and future private, social, civic and state influences and powers, to the service of our Order; to use them only to the advantage of, and never to the detriment of, the Order.

Considering this ritual's origins, it is not hard to understand that those initiated into this order were not your neighborhood plumbers and shoe salesmen. German Masonry of this period was reserved to the titled and influential.

Following is another First Degree, that of Apprentice of the Veritas Mystica Maxima Freemasonic Lodge. And a lodge it is, unlike in the previous ritual. Herein is a Worshipful Master and Wardens, and ritual language that is very similar to what was predominant in England and America at that time. In fact, these sayings are entirely recognizable to your ear today. But overall, this ritual is more akin to Scottish Rite or Continental Masonry in most of its content. Upon the lodge's Opening, all the brethren invoke unmistakable Kabbalist prayer. Where Anglo-American rituals allude to Kabbalah fundamentals (if that indeed is what happens), there is nothing oblique about this ritual's intention, going as far as to employ certain Hebrew terms.

Also odd is how the candidate, while required to divest himself of clothing and be attired in a new way, is allowed to retain any jewelry he/she might have. I suppose this is another accommodation of royal, noble, ecclesiastical, and other titled personages, with their signets of office, seeking admission.

This ritual is not quite skeletal. There is meat on the bone and marrow within. Before the candidate undertakes a ritual journey, the Worshipful Master says to him:

Man is blind from the cradle to the grave, and however fervent may be his ardent desire for the Light of Truth, yet he is unable to find it, whether by his own efforts or with the assistance of friends. We belong to a community that has, from antiquity, devoted itself to this Light, and whosoever joins with us must enter upon the journey to seek this Light. Thrice must you travel from morning until evening and again until evening; and that you may not stumble, a Sister or Brother who has gone this way before you will conduct you.

During the first leg of this journey, the element of water is introduced in a rite of purification. "This is the way to self-awareness," says the Senior Warden. "Man believes he knows himself, but your restriction  demonstrates that you are blind and captive in self-deception."

Then, while traveling south, where the element fire awaits the candidate, the Junior Warden says "This is the way to self-control. The fires of passion blaze around you and threaten your corruption. Whoever emerges unhurt from this fire is near the Light!"

And finally, headed east, the element of air is applied, at which time the Senior Warden says "Hail to the air! This is the way to Truth! Be true to yourself, O Seeker, or you will fall into an abyss from which there is no escape!"

I can only imagine it in the original German.

The journey is not all. Before being brought to light, the candidate takes a certain libation to simulate the bitterness of life. The obligation, taken on the Gospel of Saint John, is free of admonishment of temporal penalty, and instead warns that the soul may "wander aimlessly without peace in space for time immeasurable" should the vow be broken.

It's beautiful material. What follows is an Opening of a Chapter of Rose-Croix, heavily Christian,  and a truncated Knight of the Rose-Croix Degree. The initiate is a Scottish Chief Master and Knight of Saint Andrew, indicating a different sequence of degree progression from what Scottish Rite Masons know, but the AASR Knight of Rose Croix will have no difficulty following this ritual. Where the archangel Raphael is mentioned insufficiently once in the current AASR-NMJ Rose Croix Degree, here he is properly ritualized as the candidate's conductor. I think it is okay to say Raphael is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek Hermes, Roman Mercury, and Egyptian Thoth: messenger of the gods.

And indeed the word of the degree, while the same spelling as our AASR degree's, has an entirely different true meaning that reorients our attention to the element fire, and recalls to our minds the "occult science after the manner of Hermes."

And finally, this edition of Collectanea offers the VIIº of the Grand Council of the Mystic Templar Magus of Light: Companion of the Graal and Theoretical Rosicrucian of the Brothers of Light of the Seven Churches in Asia.

Spoken to the candidate following his obligation:

Beloved Brother of Light! In this degree you cease to be a Mason. Now commences your course and study as an esoteric Rosicrucian. You are a Companion of the Graal, a Magus of Light and now receive the first instructions concerning the true purpose of the Rosicrucian and mystic symbols and hieroglyphics....

In presenting the work to the Fellows assembled, R.I. de Hoyos remarked that in preparing this edition of Collectanea, he received assistance from a brother officer for the first time. I didn't catch who that is, but I take it as a sign that good people are being appointed to the officer line.


Other highlights of our meeting.

Outgoing Grand Chancellor Martin P. Starr, left, asks Fellows Gary Ford
and Sean Graystone to take a bow, upon receiving the Knight Grand Cross.

M.I. Martin P. Starr, our retiring Grand Chancellor, delivered his allocution, recapping the events and concerns of the past year. Along the way he invited Sean Graystone and Gary Ford to the altar to receive  the Knight Grand Cross. Congratulations brethren!

The GCR is looking to incorporate to attain tax-exempt status as an educational foundation, in part to make it easier to receive bequests.

If I heard correctly, 2011 ended with the GCR having 1,256 Fellows on the rolls. If I may say so myself, I take a little pride in that number, having used a number of Masonic on-line forums over the years (long before this blog and the GCR's website existed) to encourage brethren to seek membership, and to encourage their patience when, in the old days, some time would elapse between initiating contact and receiving a reply. I always say it is the best $15 you can spend in Freemasonry. Collectanea is a treasure every year and, admit it, you want to tell your buddies in lodge that you're a Fellow in the Grand College of Rites.

In finance matters, I think Grand Treasurer Gary Hermann said there is $117,000 in the bank. That is a stunning sum, all things considered. Legend says a cache of GCR literature and records are being held, I think, in California, without an easy way to recover them. I say cut a check and buy those papers back, if in fact their true disposition is known.

Past Grand Chancellor Reese Harrison displays a vintage Grand Chancellor
jewel recently discovered, which will be the model used for all future jewels.

David L. Hargett, Jr. is the new Most Illustrious Grand Chancellor
of the Grand College of Rites of the United States of America.
He is the tenth native of North Carolina to attain the office.

Past Grand Chancellor (2007) Reese Harrison introduced and installed our new M.I. Grand Chancellor, David L. Hargett, Jr., dubbing him "the Indiana Jones of North Carolina Masonry" for his relentless search for knowledge.

R.I. Aaron Shoemaker, Grand Mareschal, takes to the podium to deliver his report
as the GCR's webmaster. He does notice you guys aren't visiting the
website's History and Story of the Innovators pages, so check 'em out.

M.I. Starr greets our Past Grand Chancellors in the East.

Part of the sizable New Jersey contingent at Masonic Week. From left:
Richard, Mohamad, Michael, and John.

This and the entire Masonic Week program will relocate in 2013 to the Hyatt Regency in Reston, Virginia. Hope to see you there.


E C Ballard said...

If there is one group in all of North American Freemasonry that captures my imagination and attention, it is the Grand College of Rites. As a dedicated researcher of Ritual, I simply can't get enough of it. Many thanks. - Eoghan

Sheihan said...

While the apprentice was immediately recognizable as coming from Steiner's Misraim service (an esoteric & certainly co-masonic work that ensures a balance of the male and female energies), that seventh degree is taken from the Fratres Lucis, which was not co-Masonic, though a certain Countess familiar to many in the GCR, later transmitted a line that has occasionally been used in that context. BTW~ I took Art's reference to being helped by a brother in the line to be a reference to his friend, our companion Martin Starr, the junior Past Grand Chancellor.

KSigMason said...

A fantastic post my Brother. I turned in my petition last month and can't wait to be counted among all the Fellows of the GCR.

I am passing this post on.

-Bro. Barry

Olafur said...

I turned in my petition about 2 years ago and I have not received any response or reply to my emails. Shall I send in new petiton?

Olafur Magnusson

Magpie Mason said...

Olafur, I suggest contacting GCR through its website.