The present text stems from the collective reflection of nine
Brothers from the Sources research
Areopagus. It is the result of several months of patient dialog, lively
discussion and rigorous debate.
Week after week, seven projects were elaborated, criticized,
amended, perfected and rewritten. The text below is worth what it’s
worth, but is proposed by its contributors in all sincerity. It is not a
creed, a catechism, or a declaration of principle, and is still less the
official expression of the Supreme Council of the Grand College of
Rites. On the occasion of the bicentennial of our Jurisdiction, its sole
ambition is to contribute to the debate about the (possible)
significance of the AASR today.
Felix qui potuit rerum
"Don’t throw a stone into the well from which you once drank…" (Talmud, Baba Kama, 92b)
Is it possible to summarize the essence of the Ancient
and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR) in a « brief and pertinent »
text, when about 30 000 works (and countless articles) have already been
written on the subject ?
Yet such is the ambition of the present work. Its aim
is to rival, nolens volens, the accomplishment of Polish
author Witold Gombrowicz who managed to present the whole history of
modern philosophy, from Kant to Sartre, in his Philosophy in Six Lessons
and a Quarter.
We are not at all sure of having reached our goal.
Scottish Freemasons often practice the AASR as Molière’s
practiced prose; so in all prudence and modesty we
will simply parody Montesquieu by asking “How can one be Scottish?” in
the year of True Light 6004
Naturally, rigor would have us begin with the
narcissistic question : "What is the AASR
?", and its follow-up : "What is the use of Scotticism ?"
In order to keep the debate open, we shall each
reflect on the following question :
"What does the AASR say ?"
Our first finding : the AASR is "universal" de facto. To
be more precise, wherever Masonry exists the AASR is present – in
Symbolic Lodges, high grade workshops, or both. The importance of the
AASR obviously varies from one country to another, but globally it is by
far the most widely practiced high grade rite in the world. Incidentally,
was forcefully reaffirmed in the Final Declaration of the 16th
Meeting of Scottish Jurisdictions (Paris, 18-20 May 2001) which
emphasized «the vocation of
universality, solidarity and independence of Scotticism, which is
celebrating its bicentennial this year; its Rite, the most widely
practiced on the planet at present, promotes an encouraging harmony
It should be noted that the AASR is also one of the
three most commonly used systems in Blue Masonry, together with the York
and Emulation rites, and that French Freemasons of all persuasions have
practiced the AASR more than any other rite since the 1990s.
Both conceptually and emotionally,
the AASR appears to be the most malleable of all rites – a quality
which is partly due to its genesis, practice, and history. It’s a «catch-all»
kind of system resembling an "assembly" of degrees (or "families"
of grades), with a culture of dynamic syncretism. This is the
consequence of three parallel processes :
- The formation throughout the 18th century
of a vast corpus in the "encyclopedic" spirit of the age (everything
"good" had to be included),
heralding an approach that can be described as anthropological;
- The refusal to integrate overly radical ideologies,
resulting in a good-natured tolerance which renders it antinomic to any
attempt at « dogmatization », even though certain
Anglo-Saxon and northern European Supreme Councils, at odds with the
original spirit of Charleston, have their own ( particularly Christian)
- The cohabitation, juxtaposition and even synthesis
of various (sometimes conflicting) trends : hermetism, rationality,
illuminism, the Lumières, « primitive » Christianity,
kabbalah, Greco-Latin philosophy, borrowings from the Far East, the
Ancient and Modern rites.
These factors gave the AASR some of its characteristic
features: adaptability to all climates and philosophical
latitudinarianism. The AASR thus lends itself to a vast range of
interpretations, speculations and reflections, in a spirit of tolerance.
Nevertheless, over the two centuries that the AASR has
existed, it has become clear (to parody the Gospel of John) that
there are many mansions in the house of the Great (Scottish) Architect
of the Universe:
a) Some Supreme Councils, as indicated above, have
interpreted the AASR in a strictly Christian sense. Their postulants (especially
from the Rose-Croix Grade onwards) must profess the Trinitarian
Christian faith; this excludes not only unbelievers, agnostics,
polytheists and adherents of non-Christian religions but also deists,
Christian theists, Unitarians and the faithful of various communities on
the fringes of Protestantism.
b) On the other hand, the majority of today’s
Supreme Councils have remained more or less true to the
latitudinarianism of the first Supreme Council (founded in 1801),
although during the 20th century a majority of jurisdictions
"recognized" by Charleston formulated certain regulating
principles, notably during the International Conference organized in
Baranquilla (Colombia, February 1970) by Supreme Councils who declared
themselves "regular". Conversely, a new open-mindedness has
been demonstrated over the last ten years or so in the « Scottish »
community of North America – as illustrated by the Charleston Supreme
Council’s attitude towards France’s liberal «Scottish» Freemasonry.
c) In Latin Europe and Spanish-speaking America, two
other "interpretations" came to light. In the late 19th
century, in reaction against the positivism that had begun to dominate
part of southern European and French-speaking Freemasonry, the
fallacious idea emerged that the AASR was richer in symbolism than other
rites. The Oswald Wirth school (1860-1943) and its review Le Symbolisme (1912) undertook
to reread the AASR from an occultist perspective, even though this meant
banishing traditional forms which did not suit their interpretation.
d) Finally, also in the late 19th century,
various French-speaking jurisdictions, true to the original spirit of
Charleston, the Convention of Lausanne (1875) and "liberal"
Freemasonry, adopted an agnostic interpretation of the Rite. These
included the French Grand College of Rites, and the jurisdictions
present at the Scottish Congress inaugurated in Brussels in 1976.
This is an oversimplification of these four
trends, which take an "ideal-typical" (Weberian) perspective,
and are an inadequate reflection of the complex reality of the AASR. No
doubt it is difficult to fully identify with any one or other.
Having said that, the spirit of the AASR is open to
question : Is it obsolete ? Is it a rite like any other ? Does the
fact that it is two centuries «old» oblige us to handle it with care ?
Can the AASR evolve? Is it adaptable ? Can it, should it be rewritten
and updated for the 21st century ? It has flourished for two
centuries because of its extraordinary malleability and open-mindedness.
But in our day and age, fundamental scientific knowledge has progressed
enormously, demonstrating the unity of the universe, the link between
the infinitely large and the infinitely small in the field of physics,
and the extraordinary interdependence of phenomena in all the diversity
and complexity of their manifestations. Can the AASR integrate, absorb
and digest these essential discoveries ? How can they be introduced
into the Scottish corpus ? Would it be appropriate to do so ?
Before developing this reflection we should
specify that, although the AASR is the Masonic language we practice, we
are concerned first and foremost with Masonry itself, which we hold to
be a "spiritual and social
body", a method for being (and for being on earth),
an inspirational discipline, a school of thought, a form of brainstorming or of
litotes, a cathartic method (through ritual practice), hermeneutics,
ethics, morals, wisdom and, finally, a "(pneumatic) spiritual society which
produces an egregore and a democratic society which produces social
Nothing can replace the individual practice of Masonic initiation.
In Regalia, one must therefore dare to affirm "the
foundation stones of Masonry" :
- the discipline of silence in an oriented place ;
- benevolent listening to others, in due form ;
- refusal of direct dialogue ;
- "the art of litotes : suggesting a
maximum by saying a minimum" ;
- "the art of
syncope : not dotting the i’s…"
These original corner stones, specific to Masonry,
must fit with the universal stones of tolerance, universalism,
solidarity, justice and fraternity, values shared by all men of good
However, we refuse to turn Freemasonry into a "meta-method"
which can deal with all manner of problems, or into a panacea for all
ills. The 21st century is already here, but it has yet to be
invented…. we cannot expect Masonry (still less the AASR) to provide
recipes, ready-made formulas, cut and dried analyses, pseudo-secrets,
exclusive procedures or mysterious methods to do the inventing for us.
It is too easy to retain of the Lost Word only the thoughts that match
our own. That is where dogmatism begins.
Above all, it would be a fine thing if Freemasonry,
Scottish or otherwise, could form humble workers capable of tackling
such an exalting task.
With this concern in mind, our investigation will
focus on Scottish specificity within a Masonic hermeneutics.
A/ The AASR today, or how to
comprehend the changes of our times.
Is the AASR the Masonic mode best suited to
By and large, Scotticism, a touch "Spinozian", induces three
categories of knowledge. The first corresponds to sensory perception and
experience, but the degrees of Perfection (which lead us towards
cautious and discerning relativism) remind us that our senses mislead
us, that opinions are diverse and contradictory, and that human
experience is relative. The second category is "pure"
reason, which might be a legitimate foundation for every
"construction"; yet the 20th century can be
described as that of the crisis of "Reason". Indeed, this
period has challenged the three pillars of "modern" thinking :
the idea of a (hidden or apparent) "universal order", the
notion of the separation of causes and the primacy of "absolute
There remains a third kind of approach – a sort of
global, intuitive perception acquired after a long progression, which
helps us conceive of things in their unity and which, mutatis mutandis,
resembles initiation and the symbolic cognitive method. Yet this kind of
knowledge, in the nature of an intimate spiritual experience, is
emotional rather than rational; it can be compared to that developed by
the Arab thinker Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Malik Ibn Tufayl (1100-1181) in The Self-Taught
Philosopher, which tells the story of Hayy ibn Yaqdhân,
alone on a desert island in the Indian Ocean. This philosophical novel
provides the reader with an « initiatory » account in seven
stages which leads the « seeker », The Philosopher without a
perception through the senses to the «supreme
illumination». This is also the spirit of Gotthold Lessing’s Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise, 1779),
a philosophical play about the idea of tolerance
expressed through the parable of the three rings and
the Gerspräche für Freimaurer (Masonic
Dialogues, 1780). It features, too, in Goethe’s works Wilhelm Meister (1794-1796), Faust (which
has constantly been reworked), The green snake,
various poems such as Symbolum (1814) and the
autobiographical tale Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and truth, 1811-1814),
all of which are stamped with the “Scottish” Masonic ideal in three
respects : Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty.
It is also the spirit of the AASR, capable of leading
to a Stoic art of living with certain degrees of perfection, of refuting
the illusion of worldly pseudo-happiness with the Knight of the
Rose-Croix, of expressing the spiritual quest in a secularized form at
the 28th degree, or of expressing an evolutionist,
encyclopedic and dialectic approach, as suggested by the ladder of the
In our world, there is an imperious necessity to find
a thought system (or systems) and/or method which can hunt out the
potential errors of certainty, separation and "logic" without
falling into the erring ways of uncertainty and the "incorrectly
Where do we stand on the mosaic pavement ? Perhaps
being oneself – existing – means first and foremost learning to
discover errors, falsities and misinterpretations, to denounce
illusions, chimeras and superstitions, and to avoid digression, erring
and confusion. It means asserting the primacy of the critical mind, it
means believing in the indefinitely progressive nature of knowledge : «Two things fill the
mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and
the more steadily we reflect on them : the starry sky above and the
moral law within».
So what matters is to find an approach that consists
of constantly coming and going between these two poles.
Hence the need for a dialog between arts, letters, all
the human and the so-called «exact» sciences, in order to give greater
coherence to the way we understand the world. Modernity is characterized
by the explosion and fragmentation of knowledge and skills, together
with the growing complexity of reality and the omnipresence of
But how can we appropriate scientific knowledge that
is ever greater and more dispersed, and combine it with knowledge
acquired from other sources ? Such are the pillars of today’s great
Masonic project, a modern-day venture that can only be understood and
elaborated through the archetypal human being, considered as the axis mundi (axis
of the world).
Since we can no longer be universal (unlike Pico della
Mirandola), we have to establish a new "organization of thought" or a project for a
University of all knowledge.
This has always been one of the (at least implicit) characteristics of
the AASR "philosophy".
Isn’t this complexity
(defined as what both links and divides)
identical, nolens volens, to the "mechanics" of
the AASR’s construction? Provided one interprets the AASR
anthropologically, this very complexity renders it capable of
comprehending the world.
Today’s world is also characterized by "globalization"
(which one may challenge, wholly or partly), by an unprecedented
technical and scientific revolution, a society of networks and a
transformation of habits, cultures, fashions and daily life.
In the face of this Promethean hope and need, where
should we place our response and our action? Somewhere between Marx’s
prophecies ("Men make history, but not in circumstances of their
own choosing") and François Ascher’s ironies ("These events are
beyond our control, let’s pretend we have organized them") ? Masonic
action is situated at another level.
The idea is not to transform Freemasonry into a club (still
less a political intermediary), but to help Masons propose a philosophy
of life, so that everyone – at his own level, with his own tools,
faith and hope – can be a living stone in the Temple of humanity and
can take part in the vast construction (at every level from the human
micro-cell to humanity in its entirety) of the will to live together and
of living together.
This project presupposes that each person builds his
inner Temple, within his Workshops. This task must be planned, enriched
and matured in the accustomed form so that, when the Mason is of age, it
can contribute to the universal construction. The idea is not to
appropriate (or even seek out) recurrent issues from the profane world,
to yield to the siren song of popularity ratings, but rather to draw
from the bosom of Masonry with its customs, legends and rites (notably
the AASR) the very substance which can and must (for the benefit of all)
be taken outside the Temple in order to «spice up» the fare. The
Knight of the Rose Croix must feed the hungry. Every Mason, Scottish or
otherwise, should try to be the salt of the earth: «But if the salt have
lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted ? ».
If we are in darkness – the darkness referred to in
the Gospel of John – we may curse the night (to no
avail) or dream of the flames of Revolution. But we can also believe in
a dawn (faith) which will inevitably arrive (hope), and, while waiting,
light a candle, no matter how humble (charity). The AASR can be one of
the many lights that guide mankind on this quest. We repeat that this
requires the anthropological dimension of the AASR to be analyzed,
understood and used. “Scottish” Masons are modern, because the AASR
is an archetypal rite: it is of today, as it is of yesterday and of
tomorrow. Its thirty-three degrees encompass eternal and ubiquitous
values. It is neither a small-scale model of a world nor a syncretic
ideology of an age, but a utopian project (therefore something to be
hoped for and attempted) for structuring human groups – an art of
living together. By integrating the anthropological structures of the Scottish Temple into
his inner Temple, each
Mason can contribute his stone to the construction of humanity .
Between universalism (The Temple of Humanity) and
the right to difference (You are my Brother, but I accept your difference), how
can we live together in the Holy Empire ? How can we
define a new cultural democracy capable of associating respect for
otherness and tolerance, policies of preferential treatment and
universal values ? Should we begin with sense, in order to reconstruct
social ties? After the breakdown of family models, what modes will we
find to be (as François de Singly so aptly coined it) "free
How can we define work in the 21st
century ? With most people’s current experience – no work,
unsatisfying work, disappointing work or work which has lost its sacred
character – can we hope that tomorrow will bring “autonomous” (outside
the realm of necessity) work for all by reducing the individual’s
"heteronomous" work (dictated by society’s requirements) ?
Will free time (for whom ? how ?) be the symbolic change of the Holy Empire (kadosh) ?
Have we (in the « North », needless to say) attained the
leisure civilization? How could the “symbolic” (but assertive) heirs
to the operative Masons disregard this question ? How
can a Mason and a Knight envisage these data within his symbolic field ?
Should we glorify leisure instead of work ?
We should be wary of this
pseudo-modern reinterpretation, the scourge of today’s Masonic
structures. In Masonry, words have specific meanings. Masonry does not
honor work in the usual sense of the term, but great works, the “Œuvre”.
It is not enough to possess a watch (even a Swiss one); we must take as
much time as is necessary. In the Lodge it is not GMT that counts, but
time as it is authentically experienced. Masons work outside profane
time and space, in a different temporality and spatiality.
this labor requires clarity. The Masonic path leads from the
construction of the inner to the outer Temple. In order to progress from
our partially decoded («enlightened») singular to a comprehensible
universal and a hope of Order, we should first decipher the Chaos, sound
and fury within ourselves. A “fairer” society does not necessarily
make an individual “better” and “more enlightened”. One can only
accede to knowledge of oneself, of others, of the world and of the
Wholly Other by exploring one’s inner self, by working the rough
stone, by giving relevance to V.I.T.R.I.O.L (Visitate Interiora
Terrae, Rectificandoque, Invenies Occultam Lapidem = Visit the interior of
the Earth, and by rectifying [by knowing the world], you will find the hidden
stone [your inner temple =
Freemasonry in general, and the AASR in particular, reveal to the
individual what he cannot discover alone, but what he is capable of
receiving from himself (according to Socratic maieutics). Collectively,
Masonry (through the intermediary of the various structures) can only
express general orientations regarding generous universal values. Every
Mason is free within his heart of hearts. In the profane world, he
thinks and acts “freely”, as he sees fit :
«Do what you have to,
come what may».
B/ « Scottish »
hermeneutics, or in favor of an alternative to "metanarratives"
Freemasonry is also a "metanarrative". When
analyzed anthropologically, the AASR is one of its most significant
versions. But the Masonic narrative poses more questions than it
provides answers. The fact is that the Masonic myths are «true false
narratives», albeit truer than ill-understood reality. Freemasonry is
therefore more of a hermeneutics than a globalizing ideology. Through
its myths, rites and grades, it refers to the origins, development and
blossoming of thought. It both interprets today’s world and lets
itself be interpreted by it. Masonry prepares for the future without
claiming to «reveal» it. Within the art of hermeneutics (tekhnê hermeneutikê),
perhaps the AASR is one of the most pertinent forms of Masonic
interpretation of the observable phenomena of reality.
The AASR invites us to "understand and act"
as suggested by the Ritual of Kadosh. But if the Masonic field is that
of symbolic decoding, Freemasonry is also an art of living, a "meditation"
that can help us accept the "here and now". The encyclopedism
of the AASR enables us to link it with Epicureanism, Platonism, Stoicism,
the Christian tradition, gnostic trends, Jewish and Muslim mysticism,
oriental philosophies, the humanism of the Renaissance, the spirit
of the Reformation, Cartesianism, the legacy of Newton, the Lumières,
and many more besides. Yet we should be wary of substituting only
literature or, even worse, pseudo-encyclopedism, narrow positivism and
blinkered scientism, for Anderson’s project structured around the
liberal arts and practices, customs and techniques attributed to the
builders of the Temple of Solomon (Old Charges). The
strength of Masonry lies in its symbolic tools.
So the AASR can help us learn to live and thus to die,
to enjoy life and thus to suffer, to be, to be with and
to be within, i.e. to have the strength, lucidity and
hope to distinguish between the changeable and the permanent, to
perceive "the things that depend on us and those that do not"
(as indicated by the Manual of Epictetus –
actually written by Arrian – whose "philosophy" is largely
apparent in the grade of Secret Master). At stake with the AASR is as
much the construction of an ideal city as the edification of the inner
Temple, thus of the self : "I am who I am. I am what I am. I am".
The AASR might then be one of the Masonic tools for this deconstruction/construction
of the ego. This is perhaps the essence of "Masonic humanism"
and the spirit of the AASR.
One can also see in it great hope in mankind’s
consubstantial quality, although the 20th century has amply
demonstrated that Homo so-called sapiens,
individually or collectively, is capable of the worst.
One can also put forward the idea that humanism is a
notion which should reflect on the legitimacy of the rules that govern
the desire to live together. Humanism must affirm not only the
individual’s dignity and the principle of autonomy, but also the
preservation and reinforcement of social ties and values that go beyond
individuals. This is upheld by a certain humanist tradition from
Rabelais and Montaigne to Ricoeur, from Maimonides to Levinas, from Ibn
Rûshd Averroës to Ibn Khaldun,
and which is also expressed (in all modesty) by Scotticism.
Although the AASR remains an authentically Masonic
method, hermeneutics and
anamnesis (a recollection of the past and/or pathos brought to a
conscious level), it can help contemporary societies to better express
their questioning. There are four main tracks open to whoever has
already built his own path in his head :
the departure from clericalized religions,
the secularization and/or metamorphosis of beliefs must allow for the
emergence of a veritable secular spirituality capable of opposing the
resurgence of new « sectarian » religious forms and
outbreaks of fanaticism. If we avoid making it
worldly or pseudo-esoteric, Masonry
can propose a universal mode of reliance (religare).
The notion of shared, diffuse, interactive
power should be incarnated in a political, cultural, social and economic
democracy founded on equal rights and duties, and in « fairer and
more enlightened » societies from the family to the global
The elimination of illiteracy from the
world and the invention of appropriate transmission of knowledge should
make for equal opportunities for all. Masons, Scottish or otherwise,
take a certain pleasure in the fact that "intellectual
leaders" have tended to disappear over the last three decades. An
eclectic attitude to knowledge is emerging, along with prudence and
diversity of approaches and the rejection of a single model to explain
reality. Reading, deciphering, understanding, acting from within oneself
towards the exterior, remain fundamental Masonic principles.
Will the 21st century be that
of morality ? No matter, the Mason must find his inspiration and
insist on the message of the Presbyterian minister Anderson: that men of
high moral values, who might otherwise never have met, should be united
through Freemasonry. Having said that, we should not be afraid to
reconsider the great classical questions : What are the natural
foundations of morality ? and of its social origins ? Is there a
universal morality ? How can we define Good and Evil ?
great permanent themes, practical questions arise in relation to recent
discoveries, the most important of which is bioethical reflection.
Practical ethical issues now arise in new areas such as economics,
business, leisure, and culture. Command of the new techniques,
especially those of life technology, should help mankind signify the
wish to define and construct the conditions for a new way of living
together. A vast domain of responsible behavior opens up to the Masons
– or, to be more precise, Masons should use the tools they have always
had to work on mankind’s eternal questions, here and now.
Every Freemason should join this
battle as he sees fit, in accordance with his principles and
convictions, not forgetting that other Brothers can take up the fight in
different but equally legitimate ways. The universal Republic of Masons
should be a model for (rather than a copy of) profane political
constructions. Masonry adheres to the project of a center of the Union,
and the AASR’s universality should constantly remind Scottish Masons
of this. Masonry cannot become the spokesman for any one philosophy,
group or association, no matter how eminent in the profane world.
Moreover, although the various structures, secular associations, must
observe authentically democratic practices, the profound «nature» of
the Order and the Lodge is fraternal isonomy (such perfect equality/equivalence
among Brethren that they become «interchangeable» - which is true
equality - rendering electoral competitions and suchlike useless). In
its jurisdictions, the AASR demonstrates that Masons are (should be) «equivalent»,
even though the initiatory progression is differentiated and graded.
There is no contradiction. The AASR is an «elective brotherhood».
C/ THE QUEST FOR MEANING.
being a Mason mean, above all, looking for meaning (even though this
quest can easily acquire prescriptive connotations)? We presume that
Freemasonry – notably through the AASR – encompasses the four
Kantian questions :
What can I know ? (philosophy)
What should I do ? (ethics)
What may I hope for ? (political philosophy)
What is man ? (philosophical anthropology).
Mason, referring to Kant (though without idolatry) means believing in
the notion of practical reason which does not wait in vain for the
progress of knowledge to define Duty (an essential theme of the degrees
of Perfection). It is a safeguard against the illusions of scientism,
« stupid » subjectivism and simplistic relativism.
a Mason means rediscovering and enriching (not parodying) this fourfold
a Mason means attempting to make a constant social requirement of this
quest for meaning.
the AASR is well understood, it can provide a perspective and a context
(further to Kantian analysis) for the above-mentioned questioning :
In philosophy, being a Mason means
working to enrich the humanism that opposing forces sought to dismiss
throughout the last century.
In ethics, despite our previous
presuppositions, we have to admit that Kantian universal morality is
partly obsolete. Being a Mason, therefore, means accepting that there
are no absolute criteria for defining an ethic or
In political philosophy, being a
Mason means thinking out (but especially experiencing for oneself) both
the permanent and the recent conditions of life in society.
Finally, being a Mason in the 21st
century, means bringing the anthropological structures of the Masonic
imagination to life and making them pertinent:
«The construction of the Temple
begins within oneself and leads outwards».
response to these various questions, the thirty-three degrees of the
AASR seem to say (implicitly or explicitly) that one should search not
for meaning but for the errors to be avoided. Is the world as we see it?
As we "re-construct" it ?
is always produced, constructed, relative, random and provisional. The
AASR emulates Nathan the Wise who
preferred the impulse that leads us to seek the truth to the notion of
"absolute truth". Freemasonry – child of the Enlightenment
and illuminism, of gnosis and the cogito, of positivism and esotericism,
of Christianity and Stoic atheism, of Protestant latitudinarianism and
Newtonian physics – and the AASR – born of Franco-American
adventurers – appear to provide no definite answers to our essential,
existential questions. The Widow and her Scottish offspring (now grown
up) doubt everything, even doubt itself (and beware of Masonic dogmatism
and clericalism when this is not so!). Yet it is impossible for a Master
Mason (and a fortiori for a
Scottish Knight), to avoid these questions, unless they simply endure
existence (that of rough stone). Meaning is both «orient-ation»
and signification (intentional expression). We do not attain meaning
intentionally; it steals into our minds as if through incidence.
the quest for collective and personal meaning cannot dispose of
individualism, avatar of modernity. Indeed, in the tradition of the
Renaissance and the Enlightenment, this is not a question of egoism but
of finding and constructing one’s inner self. Nowadays, however,
personal choices seem to have supplanted structural constraints and
collective destinies. We must combat the hedonistic, egoistic, autistic,
self-congratulating individual in favor of the autonomous subject who
takes an active role in his own life but whose goal remains collective
solidarity, while reminding each and everyone that rights and duties go
contemporary individualism does not necessarily mean withdrawing into
oneself. It can lead to active involvement in the world. It refers to
the theory of "self-government" developed since Greco-Latin
philosophy. It features in various degrees of Perfection (Intimate
Secretary, Provost and Judge). The AASR is in line with the emergence of
an altruistic individualism, born in the West. The Opus Magnum is to
make a human being – in the fullest sense of the term – out of a
from that, we should get away from identity conflicts through (and for)
self-discovery. Psychoanalysis has put an end to the unified notion of
the ego, and
the Cartesian cogito is now considerably weakened (as
demonstrated by Antonio Damazio).
Yet everyone feels the need to give his existence unity, which Ricoeur
calls "the narrative identity".
This is one of the objectives of initiation :
«And so long as you have
not grasped it
This : die and become !
You will only be a gloomy guest
On this dark earth…»
Thus, on the long
initiatory path, the individual can (must?) (re)construct himself. But
there is nothing more difficult than being «free» - master and creator
of one’s own human adventure. Perhaps this is the ultimate illusion.
In any case, it requires each individual to have the means to assert (or
attempt to assert) his freedom.
(perhaps most importantly), it is worth (re)affirming that "Happiness is [still]
a new idea"
for the world, though we should remember that absolute happiness is
"not an ideal of reason, but of imagination” according to
Kant’s formula. Happiness is not a bellhop, at one’s beck and call.
It is like the evening visitor and perhaps belongs to the realm of Grace. No doubt it has to do with the Lost Word –
an essential theme in Scottish Masonic mythology. It is certainly not
the accumulation of money, power and prestige. It tells us that the
Coming (Advent) is
never definitively past, but that it is always possible to create (here
and now, inside one’s head) utopia and uchronia – a place beyond
space and time.
order to glimpse and sometimes grasp this, one should avoid always
living « elsewhere », indulging in nostalgia for an
embellished past or for a lost or future paradise, hoping for uncertain
One should also resist the crypto-pessimism of a neo-Celinian
intelligentsia, and refuse forced adherence to anti-humanist thought
systems, religions that are dogmatized by clerics and ideologies of pseudo-happiness that
inevitably drift towards some kind of Gulag or the totalitarian
conveyed by advertising and caricatured by programs such as Big Brother. It
is also important, however, not to let the various Masonic structures
should prefer sobriety to glitter, meditation to public debate, the
discretion of the true servant to gaudy display.
happiness is to be found in nature?
Or on the mosaic pavement ? Nothing to do with conventional happiness
Ibiza-Bangkok-Hollywood style, nothing to do with the gloomy litany of
man’s exploitation of man (Wall Street, the rat race, the hypertrophy
of the ego, the
American way of life, the chimeras of televisual glory, dining out, the
desire to play God). It is still possible to dream of simple happiness
in the twofold tradition of Oriental and Greco-Latin wisdom, and of the
ethics of the Book. This
joie de vivre depends on the transformation of
one’s vision of the world, the exercise of one’s freedom, and love
for others. It develops through personal appropriation, by borrowing
widely in order to shape one’s own vision of existence. According to
individual temperament, desires, hopes and tastes, it means discovering
the true pleasures of the table and the body – cycling round the world
if you so desire, constructing your life like a novel, helping (loving)
your neighbor, taking a child by the hand, giving everything away like
the widow in the Gospel,
fighting for a better world, or reconstructing it in your head, and then,
like Cyrano de Bergerac, «one evening, under the pale, red rose sky»,
dying while «cracking a good joke in a good cause».
more important is to be, to be what one really is : «In every human being, there is an
optimum of what he could become. There are things that he could never
become, and so many people waste their lives trying to become what they
cannot be, while neglecting to be what they could become. This is a
waste of time and a failure. So in the first place a person should have
a certain image of what he could and could not become, what are the
limitations and what are the possibilities…»
better ourselves a little, mankind will be a little less mediocre. This
is the greatness of every Mason who seeks, this is the perennial
strength of the Order.
is where we realize the significance of the Royal Art (the operatives’
building work, symbolic work through secret geometry) in general, and of
the AASR in particular. Everything is symbol here – no popularity
ratings, no press releases about everything and anything, no showy
parades. The very uncertainties of these Masonic structures recommend
them, as we can be almost sure that their exoteric "answers",
at least, will not lead us astray : the "errors" of
Freemasonry are rarely dangerous, being usually merely "ridiculous"
(and as we know, ridiculousness never killed anyone). Finally, this is
the only “real” promise of Freemasonry, the Socratic promise, the
universal reign of ironic reason, the «truth does not contradict
truth» of Ibn Rûshd (Averroes), the Guide for the Perplexed
by Maimonides, the "marrow"
of the Abbey of Thelema, Montaigne’s « What do I know ? »,
Descartes’ "methodical doubt", Kant’s "critical
Nietzsche’s «The Gay Science» and the "implacable law"
of happy (therefore hidden) lands such as the Realm of King Pausole
whose «Book of Customs"
was reduced to a two-part (very « Kadosh ») proclamation:
"Do no wrong to your
neighbor. Observing this, do as you please".
«There is never
a last word. Continuous space and the need to adapt to every new
circumstance : such is
initiation is constant apprenticeship. We have to relearn what we
thought we had understood, and it is not always certain that we can take
what we have experienced
So let us humbly say by way of a very provisional
conclusion, that among the many philosophies, thoughts, systems, myths,
doctrines and "wisdoms" that concern being, and being in the world,
there is a little Masonic tune, and among the rites, régimes, grades,
degrees and persuasions of the Res
Latonarae***, a little Scottish music makes itself heard – our
little Scottish tune.