MASONIC SYSTEMS OF ALCHEMICAL DEGREES AND, THIRDLY, THE RITE OF MIZRAIM by A. E. Waite book 5
THERE was a time in the High Grade movement when each particular interest, concern and school of thought which drifted into the Masonic encampment was represented by a specific Rite or group of Grades ; it attracted those who responded to its appeal ; it was not in competition with any other kindred interest ; and the motley crowd of all these brothers in Ritual dwelt together in harmony. The great Rites and the great collections incorporated from there and here, but for some reason, which it is a little difficult to assign, they did not annex, as a rule, anything from a few special proprietors already in possession of their field. The COUNCIL OF EMPERORS, the cossais systems, the ingarnerings of Philosophical Rites and of Mother Lodges so-called, drew all things into their archives, excepting, however, generally the things that were of Alchemy, the things of Magic and Kabalism. The RITE OF PASQUALLY suffered no depredation; no one borrowed from Egyptian Magic ; the ILLUMINATI OF AVIGNON performed their mysteries in peace, apart from serious encroachment.
The instinct of the period recognized two domains, in which, however, all was common property ; no one could expect to produce a Grade illustrating or extending some historical or symbolical period under the Old Alliance and claim to hold copyright, so to speak, because this kind of thing was thought much too important in the catholic side of the subject. It was the same with the Chivalrous Grades ; to whomsoever it was given to produce a new Knightly Degree, it was made evident that he had entered into the liberties of all Masonry ; it was no sin on his part to reflect, to borrow, to adapt, and he extended apparently or was at least supposed to extend the same license towards all who came after. Baron Tschoudy or another might institute a Knighthood of the Sun and might incorporate it into a system of his own, but before long it was taken over in other directions, where it seemed to fall, reasonably or not, into a totally different sequence. He was content, no doubt, on his part, and his debtors were content on theirs. There came, however, another time when it was deemed desirable to constitute encyclopaedic Rites, containing whatsoever had entered into the Masonic field, to say nothing of supplementary inventions.
Thus were produced the RITE OF MIZRAIM and soon after the RITE OF MEMPHIS. Mizraim is de omnibus rebus and Memphis de qulbusdam allls. They would not have been encyclopaedic containing all things and supplements to all thingshad they left out (a) Magic, (b) Alchemy and (c] Kabalism. Avignon, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Lyons, Paris, did not offer sufficient materials for their purpose, and there was consequently a spur to invention ; the inventions and the borrowings from all quarters were classified into great series, some of which I will proceed to codify briefly. The ninth class in the RITE OF MIZRAIM, and the tenth class also in that Rite, is more or less alchemical in its character, but the supreme power of the Order, as represented by its Absolute Grand Sovereign and the goth and last Degree, must have been ruled by the sovereign unreason, if I may venture to assume that the Heads of the Rite were responsible for the mode of classification. The Hermetic system may be taken to begin with the Grade of Chaos Discreet. To understand this title, it must be remembered that the first matter of the Stone in Alchemy is sometimes represented in the terminology of the old literature as unformed and chaotic, like the matter of the world before it was brought into order. The next Grade was called Chaos the Second, or Wise, and involves the suggestion that a cosmos had begun to be produced in the vessel of the philosophers.
Perhaps in the mind of the Rite the vessel represented the Candidate, though it is rather by implication than expression, and to exemplify his cosmic condition he is made in the 5ist Grade a Knight of the Sun, in which he is permitted to forget that he has become a Delator of Alchemy. We have met with this fantasia already in another system, but here his experience with Brother Truth, and encompassed by Cherubim and Sylphs, is prefatory to a greater dignity, for he becomes in the next Grade a Sovereign Commander of the Stars. We have heard of this also at a distance, but not that the Candidate re-enters therein the occult sphere of Alchemy and is made acquainted with a new interpretation of the Craft Legend, which may be summarised under the following heads : (a) The Master Builder represents the First Matter of the Wise ; (b] that Matter must pass through the stage of putrefaction, and hence the death of the Builder ; (c) after putrefaction it becomes the source of life and is ripe for reproduction ; (d) this truth is symbolised by the sepulchre of the Master ; (e) the Master of the Lodge represents the First Matter when it is in the stage of putrefaction, and he is therefore the Builder, also in that stage ; (f) it is evident at this point that the interpretation has blundered in respect of its own canons, but a public explanation of the reason cannot be given ; (g) according to the truth of the symbolism, the Master or President of the Lodge typifies the Builder in a far different and higher state ; (h) let those who have passed through the Grades of Craft Masonry recall the experience of the Candidate towards the term of all, and they may see a certain light ; (/) recurring to the discourse itself, the ornaments of the Lodge include a Pentagram, in which the word Force is emblazoned, and this word signifies the First Matter in the Black Stage, which again is that of putrefaction ; (k) another symbol is the Moon, inscribed with the word Wisdom, signifying the Matter at the White or the first purified state ; (/) a third symbol is the Sun, inscribed with the word Beauty, and this is the Matter at the Red Stage, which is the source of all good things.
It remains only to say that if a Mason acquainted with a few of the Books of Alchemy will remember the attributions of certain inferior Masonic lights, he will see how and why this interpretation has gone astray quite naturally. It is, for those who can appreciate it, a very curious instance of the fact that Masonic symbolism cannot be transferred to another plane of ideas until it has been suffered to assume a corresponding change in its vestures. I know exactly how they should reappear when they have passed through the tingeing process of Alchemy, and it is not after this manner. The maker of the Grade was not therefore one of the Hermetic Masters, though I admit that he has produced a curious and at first sight colorable artifice.
There is another form of the Grade which offers several variations from that which I have been so far following. Having been clothed in a black garment and hoodwinked, the Candidate is laid upon an embroidered carpet which represents a tomb and passes symbolically through the state of alchemical putrefaction. He represents the body of the Master, and is in fine raised for the purpose of taking the obligation. It is obvious that a very curious symbolism could be developed along these lines, but it is of course missed by the Ritual. The Catechism says that the First Matter is a crude stone, which is the germ of the seven metals, and it is nurtured by the fire of heaven. This Matter is unknown. The President of the Lodge is in red vestments because such is the color attributed to the powder of projection. The apron is black, white and red, for so must the crude stone of the Candidate pass through three stages, in correspondence with these colors, to arrive at wisdom.
It is beyond my province to suggest after what manner the person who suffered the experience which I have thus outlined was held to command the stars, but it is at least certain (a) that if he brought no alchemical knowledge to the Temple in this Grade, he derived none therefrom, and (b) that if he possessed any it was not increased by the ordeal. These Degrees did not therefore carry the philosophical research to a definite term, and the RITE OF MIZRAIM thoughtfully recurred to first principles. It remembered that the metals which
Alchemy seeks to transmute are liable to be found in the mines, and it therefore instituted four Grades, classified as the Key of Masonry, being (a) Miner, who brings up the necessary materials from the bowels of the earth ; (b) Washer, who, by the hypothesis, separates the foreign substances ; (c] ‘Blower, who purges the matter by fire ; (d) Caster, who moulds the purified matter of the Wise. In this manner the Candidate who has passed with success through these searching tests is held qualified to become a True Mason Adept, which he does in the next Degree. It will not prove surprising herein that he has ceased to reckon his age, the fact notwithstanding that, according to Baron Tschoudy, from the moment he sets his hand to the work the philosopher does not age.
The discourse puts forward, with native modesty, the claim that the science of the Grade is the most ancient and primal knowledge, of which the source is in Nature itself, or more accurately it is Nature made perfect by art as established on the ground of experience. The adepts of this science have existed in all ages, and if there are those at the present day who lay waste their substance, their toil and their time in vain, it is because they forget that Sigillum Natures et artis simplicitas est and have gone aside from the straight path. This expatiation is only an enfeebled reflection of recurring complaints and counsels in alchemical literature. So also is that which follows, being a reference to the scorn and the ridicule to which the errors of such uninstructed enthusiasts have brought an honorable and sublime subject. It has come about in this manner that the audacity of hostile criticism has relegated Hermetic Science to the rank of fabulous invention and popular superstition. The Candidate is recommended to leave the children of darkness and haters of holy light to their proper vanity and folly, and to share, on his own part, the advantages reserved for those who are Sons of the Doctrine. This notwithstanding, it does not appear that he enters into the substantial enjoyment of any hidden treasure, for Hermetic Masonry, according to the mind of the Grade, is built upon three pillars the faith which goes before work and constitutes its condition ; the hope which carries it forward ; and the charity which should follow its success. It is no part of my province to reduce the theological virtues from their high estate, but the True Mason Adept^ who has mined and washed, who has blown also and cast, is now justified by the terms of the symbolism in expecting a formula of transmutation to recompense the faith and hope of eight and fifty Grades, and I conceive that his sense of charity must have been raised from the plane of a theological virtue to that of a counsel of perfection, should he feel that he has received his reward.
The Lodge or the Temple is then, so to speak, called off, that one who has suffered so much may receive a few titles of honour, such as Sovereign of Sovereigns. It is not till the and Grade in the eleventh class that he is made a Knight of the Rainbow’, or Perfect Alchemical Master.
Although J. M. Ragon detested the High Degrees, it is evident that he had always a certain tolerance and even a favourable leaning towards the RITE OF MIZRAIM. In respect of the present Grade, he describes it in his curious terminology as phllosophale et philosophique, and explains that the hues of the rainbow are assumed by the matter of the alchemists when it is approaching the stage of perfection. I therefore consulted an old codex of the Ritual in the expectation of finding at least some shadow of the Hermetic work ; but it is only the old vanity of a purely ethical Degree and, though longer than most of its class, it has no greater mysteries than vapid discourse on the religion of Nature, the love of virtue, charity and courage. In the Catechism there is a legendary account of Noah. Perhaps this is why Ragon says that it has been marred by a biblical presentation.
So culminates, so passes and so dissolves in clouds the Hermetic Masonry of this particular Rite, which seems in the palmary sense to have existed for the pretended communication not only of that which it did not possess but which it could not even simulate.
There is believed to have been a detached Grade under the name of Knight of the Rainbow, so it is difficult and unnecessary to say whether that of Mizraim was annexed by Marc Bedarride, who was one of the founders of the Rite, or is a novelty under an identical title.