XX — Venerable Grand Master
of all Symbolic Lodges;
or Master ad Vitam

Revised by Albert Pike

Contents List:

Masonry and Philosophy
Masonic Degeneracy
Masonic Reform
Practical Instruction
Degree Hierarchy
The Class of Instructors
The Class of Directors of the Work
The Class of Architects
The Class of Knights

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See also:

Degree XX — Questions

Masonry and Philosophy

The true Mason, my brother, is a practical Philosopher who, under religious emblems in all ages adopted by wisdom, builds the moral edifice of knowledge upon plans traced by nature and reason. He ought to find, in the symmetrical relation of all the parts of this rational edifice, the principle and rule of all his duties and the source of all his pleasures. He improves his moral nature, becomes a better man, and finds in the reunion of virtuous men, assembled with pure views, the means of multiplying his acts of beneficence. Masonry and Philosophy, without being one and the same thing, have the same object and propose to themselves the same end: the worship of the Great Architect of the Universe, acquaintance and familiarity with the wonders of nature, and the happiness of humanity attained by the constant practice of all the virtues.

Masonic Degeneracy

As Grand Master of all Symbolic Lodges, it is your especial duty to aid in restoring Masonry to its primitive purity. You have become an instructor. Masonry long wandered in error. Instead of improving, it degenerated from its primitive simplicity and retrograded towards a system which, distorted by stupidity and ignorance and so, unable to construct a beautiful machine, made a complicated one. Less than two hundred years ago, its organisation was simple and altogether moral; its emblems, allegories, and ceremonies easy to be understood; and their purpose and object readily to be seen. It was then confined to a very small number of degrees. Its constitutions were like those of a Society of Essenes, written in the first century of our era. There could be seen the primitive Christianity organised into Masonry, the school of Pythagoras without incongruities or absurdities; a Masonry simple and significant, in which it was not necessary to torture the mind to discover reasonable interpretations; a Masonry at once religious and philosophical, worthy of a good citizen and an enlightened philanthropist.

Innovators and inventors overturned that primitive simplicity. Ignorance engaged in the work of making degrees; trifles and gewgaws and pretended mysteries, absurd or hideous, usurped the place of Masonic Truth. The picture of a horrid vengeance, the poniard and the bloody head, appeared in the peaceful temple of Masonry without sufficient explanation of their symbolic meaning. Oaths out of all proportion with their object shocked the candidate and compelled him to perform acts which, if real, would have been abominable; but, being mere chimeras, were preposterous and excited only laughter and contempt. Eight hundred degrees of one kind and another were invented: Infidelity, Hermeticism, Jesuitry were taught under the mask of Masonry. The rituals, even of the respectable degrees, copied and multiplied by ignorant men, became nonsensical and trivial, and the words so corrupted that it has hitherto been found impossible to recover many of them at all. Candidates were made to degrade themselves and to submit to insults not tolerable to a man of spirit and honour.

Hence it was that practically the largest portion of the degrees claimed by the Ancient and Accepted Rite and the Rites of Perfection and Misraim fell into disuse, were merely communicated, and their rituals became jejune and insignificant. These rites resembled those old palaces and baronial castles the different parts of which, built at different periods remote from one another upon plans and according to tastes that greatly varied, formed a discordant and incongruous whole. Judaism and chivalry, superstition and philosophy, philanthropy and insane hatred and longing for vengeance, a pure morality and unjust and illegal revenge, were found strangely mated and standing hand in hand within the Temples of Peace and Concord: and the whole system was one grotesque commingling of incongruous things, of contrasts and contradictions, of shocking and fantastic extravagances, of parts repugnant to good taste, and fine conceptions overlaid with and disfigured by absurdities engendered by ignorance, fanaticism, and a senseless mysticism.

An empty and sterile pomp, impossible indeed to be carried out, and to which no meaning whatever was attached, with far-fetched explanations that were either so many stupid platitudes or themselves needed an interpreter; lofty titles, arbitrarily assumed, and to which the inventors had not condescended to attach any explanation that should acquit them of the folly of assuming temporal rank, power, and titles of nobility, made the world laugh and the Initiate feel ashamed.

Masonic Reform

Some of these titles we retain: but they have with us meanings entirely consistent with that Spirit of Equality which is the foundation and peremptory law of its being of all Masonry. The Knight, with us, is he who devotes his hand, his heart, his brain to the Science of Masonry, and professes himself the sworn soldier of Truth; the Prince is he who aims to be Chief (Princeps), first, leader, among his equals, in virtue and good deeds; the Sovereign is he who, one of an Order whose members are all Sovereigns, is supreme only because the law and constitutions are so, which he administers, and by which he, like every other brother, is governed. The titles Puissant, Potent, Wise, and Venerable indicate that power of Virtue, Intelligence, and Wisdom which those ought to strive to attain who are placed in high office by the suffrages of their brethren; and all our other titles and designations have an esoteric meaning consistent with modesty and equality which those who receive them should fully understand. As Master of a Lodge, it is your duty to instruct your Brethren that they are all so many constant lessons, teaching the lofty qualifications which are required of those who claim them, and not merely idle gewgaws worn in ridiculous imitation of the times when the Nobles and Priests were masters and the People slaves; and that, in all true Masonry, the Knight, the Pontiff, the Prince, and the Sovereign are but the first among their equals; and the cordon, the clothing, and the jewel but symbols and emblems of the virtues required of all good Masons.

The Mason kneels, no longer to present his petition for admittance or to receive the answer, no longer to a man as his superior who is but his brother, but to God, to Whom he appeals for the rectitude of his intentions and Whose aid he asks to enable him to keep his vows. No one is degraded by bending his knee to God at the altar or to receive the honour of Knighthood as Bayard [1473-1524, French soldier knighted after the Battle of Fornovo (1495). - Ed.] and Du Guesclin [Bertrand du Guesclin, 1320-1380, French military leader during the early part of the Hundred Years' War against England (1337-1453). - Ed.] knelt. To kneel for other purposes, Masonry does not require. God gave to man a head to be borne erect, a port upright and majestic. We assemble in our Temples to cherish and inculcate sentiments that conform to that loftiness of bearing which the just and upright man is entitled to maintain, and we do not require those who desire to be admitted among us ignominiously to bow the head. We respect man because we respect ourselves, that he may conceive a lofty idea of his dignity as a human being, free and independent. If modesty is a virtue, humility and obsequiousness to man are base; for there is a noble pride which is the most real and solid basis of virtue. Man should humble himself before the Infinite God, but not before his erring and imperfect brother.

As Master of a Lodge, you will therefore be exceedingly careful that no Candidate, in any degree, be required to submit to any degradation whatever, as has been too much the custom in some of the degrees: and take it as a certain and inflexible rule to which there is no exception that Masonry requires of no man anything to which a Knight and Gentleman cannot honourably submit without feeling outraged or humiliated.

The Supreme Council for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States at length undertook the indispensable and long delayed task of revising and reforming the work and rituals of the thirty degrees under the jurisdiction. Retaining the essentials of the degrees and all the means by which the members recognise one another, it has sought out and developed the leading idea of each degree, rejected the puerilities and absurdities with which many of them were disfigured, and made of them a connected system of moral, religious, and philosophical instruction. Sectarian of no creed, it has yet thought it not improper to use the old allegories, based on occurrences detailed in the Hebrew and Christian books, and drawn from the Ancient Mysteries of Egypt, Persia, Greece, India, the Druids, and the Essenes, as vehicles to communicate the Great Masonic Truths — as it has used the legends of the Crusades and the ceremonies of the Orders of Knighthood.

It retains none of the revolting and odious representations of a criminal and wicked vengeance. It has not allowed Masonry to play the assassin to avenge the death of Hiram Abi, Charles the First, or Jacques De Molay and the Templars. The Ancient and Accepted Rite of Masonry has now become what Masonry at first was meant to be: a Teacher of Great Truths, inspired by an upright and enlightened reason, a firm and constant wisdom, and an affectionate and liberal philanthropy.

It is no longer a system over the composition and arrangement of which want of reflection, chance, ignorance, and perhaps still more ignoble motives presided; a system unsuited to our habits, our manners, our ideas, or the world-wide philanthropy and universal toleration of Masonry; or to bodies small in number, whose revenues should be devoted to the relief of the unfortunate and not to empty show: no longer a vicious aggregate of degrees, shocking by its anachronisms and contradictions, powerless to disseminate light, information, and moral and philosophical ideas.

Practical Instruction

As Master, you will teach those who are under you and to whom you will owe your office that the decorations of many of the degrees are to be dispensed with whenever the expense would interfere with the duties of charity, relief, and benevolence, and to be indulged in only by wealthy bodies that will thereby do no wrong to those entitled to their assistance. The essentials of all the degrees may be procured at slight expense; and it is at the option of every Brother to procure or not to procure as he pleases the dress, decorations and jewels of any degree other than the 14th, 18th, 30th and 32nd.

We teach the truth of none of the legends we recite. They are to us but parables and allegories involving and enveloping Masonic instruction and vehicles of useful and interesting information. They represent the different phases of the human mind, its efforts and struggles to comprehend nature, God, the government of the Universe, the permitted existence of sorrow and evil. To teach us wisdom and the folly of endeavouring to explain to ourselves that which we are not capable of understanding, we reproduce the speculations of the Philosophers, the Kabbalists, the Mystagogues, and the Gnostics. Every one being at liberty to apply our symbols and emblems as he thinks most consistent with truth and reason and with his own faith, we give them such an interpretation only as may be accepted by all. Our degrees may be conferred in France or Turkey; at Peking, Ispahan, Rome or Geneva; on Plymouth Rock, in the City of Penn, or in Catholic Louisiana; upon the subject of an absolute government or the citizen of a Free State; upon Sectarian or Theist. To honour the Deity, to regard all men as our Brethren, as children equally dear to Him of the Supreme Creator of the Universe, and to make himself useful to society and himself by his labour, are its teachings to the initiates in all the degrees.

Preacher of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality, it desires them to be attained by making men fit to receive them and by the moral power of an intelligent and enlightened People. It lays no plots or conspiracies. It hatches no premature revolutions; it encourages no people to revolt against the constituted authorities but, recognising the great truth that freedom follows fitness for freedom as the corollary follows the axiom, it strives to prepare men to govern themselves.

Where domestic slavery exists, it recognises it as an institution allowed by God for purposes of infinite wisdom and benevolence, and which He will remove in His own good time as He gave Liberty to the Israelites enslaved four hundred years in Egypt, to the slave of Imperial Rome and the Helots of Sparta, to the Peasants of France, and the thralls and serfs of Saxon and Norman England; and as He will give it to the serfs of Russia, the Coolies of India, and the Peons of Mexico. It inculcates upon the Master care and kindness for the slave whom God has placed in his power and under his protection; and whose unfitness to be free and certain annihilation if he were liberated create an irresistible necessity for keeping him in bondage. It teaches him humanity and the alleviation of the condition of his slave, and moderate correction and gentle discipline as it teaches them to the master of the apprentice; and as it teaches to the employers of other men in mines, manufactories and workshops consideration and humanity for those who depend upon their labour for their bread and to whom want of employment is starvation and overwork is fever, consumption, and death.

As Master of a Lodge, you are to inculcate these duties on your brethren. Teach the employed to be honest, punctual, and faithful, as well as respectful and obedient to all proper orders: but also teach the employer that every man or woman who desires to work has a right to have work to do; and that they, and those who from sickness or feebleness, loss of limb or bodily vigour, old age or infancy, are not able to work, have a right to be fed, clothed, and sheltered from the inclement elements: that he commits an awful sin against Masonry and in the sight of God if he closes his workshops or factories, or ceases to work his mines, when they do not yield him what he regards as sufficient profit and so dismisses his workmen and workwomen to starve; or when he reduces the wages of man or woman to so low a standard that they and their families cannot be clothed and fed and comfortably housed; or by overwork must give him their blood and life in exchange for the pittance of their wages: and that his duty as a Mason and Brother peremptorily requires him to continue to employ those who else will be pinched with hunger and cold, or resort to theft and vice: and to pay them fair wages, though it may reduce or annul his profits or even eat into his capital: for God has but loaned him his wealth and made him His almoner and agent to invest it.

Degree Hierarchy

The Degrees of which the Supreme Council of the South has jurisdiction are divided into seven classes.

The 1st Class is composed of the three Symbolic Degrees which the Supreme Council, for the sake of peace and harmony, has for the present relinquished to the Grand Lodges of the York Rite, reserving always the right to retake them at pleasure; but in the meantime commencing with the Fourth Degree, and requiring those who receive it to have first obtained the three first in a York Lodge, and to be in good standing as a York Mason. Still it has established the rituals of those degrees to its own work and system, and requires them to be referred to continually for explanation, and permits and indeed recommends that they be regularly conferred before the Fourth on those who have already received them in the York Rite, especially since the creation almost within our own times of the Mark Master and Royal Arch Degrees.

The 2nd Class includes the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Degrees. The 1st Class is that of the Builders, the second being the 1st Class of the Capitular Order, is that of Instructors.

The 3rd Class includes the 9th, 10th, and 11th Degrees. It is the second of the Capitular Order, and the Class of Directors of the Work.

The 4th Class includes the 12th, 13th, and 14th Degrees. It is the third of the Capitular Order and the Class of Architects.

The 5th Class includes the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th Degrees. It is the fourth and last of the Capitular Order, and the Class of Knights.

The 6th Class includes the Degrees from the 19th to the 27th, inclusive. It is the 1st Class of the Areopagus, and is styled the Class of Pontiffs.

The 7th and last Class includes the Degrees from the 28th to the 33rd, inclusive. It is the 2nd Class of the Areopagus, and is styled the Class of the Grand Elect.

Except as mere symbols of the moral virtues and intellectual qualities, the tools and implements of Masonry belong exclusively to the three first degrees. They also, however, serve to remind the Mason who has advanced further that his new rank is based upon the humble labours of the Symbolic Degrees, as they are improperly termed, inasmuch as all the Degrees are symbolic.

Thus the initiates are inspired with a just idea of Masonry, to wit, that it is essentially WORK, both teaching and practising LABOUR; and that it is altogether emblematic. Three kinds of work are necessary to the preservation and protection of man and society: manual labour, specially belonging to the three blue degrees; labour in arms, symbolised by the intermediate Knightly Degrees; and intellectual labour, belonging particularly to higher Masonry.

We have preserved and multiplied such emblems as have a true and profound meaning. We reject many of the old and senseless explanations. We have not reduced Masonry to a cold metaphysics that exiles everything belonging to the domain of the imagination. The ignorant, and those half-wise in reality but over-wise in their own conceit, may assail our symbols with sarcasm; but they are nevertheless ingenious veils that cover the Truth, respected by all who know the means by which the heart of man is reached and his feelings enlisted. The Great Moralists often had recourse to allegories in order to instruct men without repelling them. But we have been careful not to allow our emblems to be so obscure as to require far-fetched and forced interpretation. In our days, and in the enlightened land in which we live, we do not need to wrap ourselves in veils so strange and impenetrable as to prevent or hinder instruction instead of furthering it, or to induce the suspicion that we have concealed meanings which we communicate only to the most reliable adepts.

The Class of Instructors

The leading ideas in the Second Class, or that of Instructors, are:

The Class of Directors of the Work

The leading ideas in the Third Class, or that of Directors of the Work, are:

The Class of Architects

The leading ideas in the Fourth Class, or that of Architects, are:

The Class of Knights

The leading ideas in the Fifth Class, or that of Knights, are:


The Duties of the Class of Instructors are, particularly, to perfect the younger Masons in the words, signs, tokens, and other work of the degrees they have received; to explain to them the meaning of the different emblems; and to expound the moral instruction which they convey. And upon their report of proficiency alone can their pupils be allowed to advance and receive an increase of wages.

The Directors of the Work are to report to the Chapters upon the regularity, activity and proper direction of the work of bodies in the lower degrees, and what is needed to be enacted for their prosperity and usefulness. In the Symbolic Lodges, they are particularly charged to stimulate the zeal of the workmen; to induce them to engage in new labours and enterprises for the good of Masonry, their country, and mankind; and to give them fraternal advice when they fall short of their duty or, in cases that require it, to invoke against them the rigour of Masonic law.

The Architects should be selected from none but Brothers well instructed in Symbolic Masonry, zealous, and capable of discoursing upon that Masonry, illustrating it, and discussing the simple questions of moral philosophy. And one of them, at every communication, should be prepared with a lecture communicating useful knowledge or giving good advice to the Brethren.

The Knights wear the sword. They are bound to prevent and repair, as far as may be in their power, all injustice, both in the world and in Masonry, to protect the weak and to bring oppressors to justice. Their works and lectures must be in this spirit. They should inquire whether Masonry fulfils, as far as it ought and can, its principal purpose, which is to succour the unfortunate. That it may do so, they should prepare propositions to be offered in the Symbolic Lodges calculated to attain that end, to put an end to abuses, and prevent or correct negligence. Those in the Symbolic Lodges who have attained the rank of Knight are most fit to be appointed Almoners, and charged to ascertain and make known who need and are entitled to the charity of the Order.

In the Sixth Class those only should be received who have sufficient reading and information to discuss the great questions of philosophy. From them the Orators of the Lodges should be selected as well as those of the Councils and Chapters. They are charged to suggest such measures as are necessary to make Masonry entirely faithful to the spirit of the institution, both as to its charitable purposes and the diffusion of light and knowledge such as are needed to correct abuses that have crept in and offences against the rules and general spirit of the Order, and such as will tend to make it, as it was meant to be, the great Teacher of Mankind.

As Master of a Lodge, Council, or Chapter, it will be your duty to impress upon the minds of your Brethren these views of the general plan and separate parts of the Ancient and Accepted Rite; of its spirit and design; of its harmony and regularity; of the duties of the officers and members; and of the particular lessons intended to be taught by each degree.

Especially you are not to allow any assembly of the body over which you may preside to close without recalling to the mind of the Brethren the Masonic virtues and duties which are represented upon the Tracing Board of this Degree. That is an imperative duty. Forget not that more than three thousand years ago, Zoroaster said: Be good, be kind, be humane and charitable; love your fellows; console the afflicted; pardon those who have done you wrong. Neither forget that more than two thousand three hundred years ago, Confucius repeated, also quoting the language of those who had lived before himself: Love thy neighbour as thyself; do not do to others what you would not wish should be done to yourself; forgive injuries; forgive your enemy, be reconciled to him, invoke God in his behalf.

Let not the morality of your Lodge be inferior to that of the Persian or Chinese Philosopher.

Urge upon your Brethren the teaching and the unostentatious practice of the morality of the Lodge, without regard to times, places, religions, or peoples.

Urge them:

Such, my Brother, are some of the duties of that office which you have sought to be qualified to exercise. May you perform them well, and in so doing gain honour for yourself and advance the great cause of Masonry, Humanity, and Progress.