Monday, December 24, 2012

Other Rites: Le Parfait Maître Irlandais

Somewhere in the nineteenth century, a creeping  amnesia came across the Americas and it was known by the name of Preston-Webb. I will readily admit my bias in regards to ritual. Before I even began to wrestle with the myriad ethical and procedural disappointments which mainstream Freemasonry represents to me,  I found myself aesthetically disenchanted with its foundational ritual. In all fairness, there is nothing wrong with the Preston-Webb rituals. It is perhaps unfair to call them the "white bread" of Masonic rituals although I read or heard some mainstream mason describe them that way. I understand a bit of the history of the adoption of Preston-Webb rituals in North America and it is completely appropriate that a person sees the beauty in those traditions with which they are accustomed. My critique is simply based upon a personal aesthetic which values variety.

That there are a host of good reasons for people to be exposed to the rich and varied range of rituals which we all as masons can claim as our heritage. It is another reason why I view regularity and its raft of offensive descriptions of the "Masonic other" to be perhaps the most serious flaw in our society. It separates and robs people of their rightful heritage which should comprise all of Freemasonry. The issue of maintaining secrecy and restricting access to your own rituals is understandable and grounded in a variety of esoteric issues, despite some masons' desire to deny that there exists an esoteric component to freemasonry. However, apart from in North America, almost all rituals are readily available to Mason and Non-Mason alike. The important secrets do not lie in the words of the initiation, but rather its legitimate experience, and that, no administrative body or Grand Lodge controls.

The isolation which is typical of North American Freemasonry often includes a lack of even the most basic familiarity with other forms of ritual apart from the fairly homogenized Anglo-American forms. I hope this short presentation of an important 18th Century Higher Degree ritual translated from the French will serve to whet the appetite of those North Americans who have not included this aspect of masonic study in their own education to date. Apart from the fact that it is a glaring gap in their education, I believe that most who explore this subject will find it not only valuable but quite enjoyable.  Because of the length of this ritual, and its attendant lesson, it will be posted in two entries.

Le Parfait Maître Irlandais or the Perfect Irish Master

In the early years of Freemasonry in France, the higher grades began to develop primarily under the influence of the Jacobite followers of the Stuart Kings in Exile who had been defeated by the Hanoverian pretenders to the throne in the Islands. While these grades eventually came to be identified primarily with the Scottish, before the rise in popularity of Scottish or Ecossais masonry, a number of Irish degrees had circulated in France. This is not surprising when one considers that there were many Irish and Scottish soldiers and aristocrats who had been forced into exile in France, Spain, and Italy. Over time, the Irish component became incorporated into developing systems which subsequently came to be called Scottish or Ecossais. One such degree is that which is called the Perfect Irish Master which follows. The version presented here comes from a translation of the Cayers Maçonniques: Rituals of the Lodge of Perfection by Gerry L. Prinsen. 

This degree was the 7th Degree in a system including the the first three degrees, which in essence is a version of that Rite most commonly known today as Morin's Lodge of the Royal Secret, the immediate predecessor to the Modern Scottish Rite.

Decoration of the lodge

The lodge shall be decorated in blue, as are the altar and the throne, with curtains in which hang cords, all spread with golden stars. Under the canopy must hang a case of ebony wood and a triangle next to it. It encloses the letter Gஃ and Aஃ intertwined. At the other side, the letters JஃHஃSஃ, also intertwined. It is lighted by sixteen lights placed in fours on the four corners of the tracing board, which represents the Temple of Hiram and the unfinished tomb of Hiram. With the title of Very Perfect Illustrious he holds in his right hand the royal baton and is, as are all brethren, decorated with a pair of gloves and an apron of white leather doubled and trimmed with red, the apron decorated in the centre with a small pouch of the same colour, accompanied by three rossettes placed in a triangle with the point raised: one red, one blue, and one black. In the center is the picture of a case of ebony wood. Besides this he and all the brethren are decorated with a large collar of a fiery colour to which hangs a golden key. The golden key of the Master should be enclosed by a triangle of the same metal and accompanied by the letter Gஃ and Aஃ at each side. Regarding his apron, his gloves and his collar, they are all trimmed with golden lace and fringes.

The Senior Warden us at the West and the Junior Warden outside the lodge in order to wait for and instruct the candidate on the excellence of the degree he is going to receive, as well as on the duties he is going to take. Everything thus arranged the lodge is opened as follows.

Opening of the Lodge

The Very Perfect Illustrious, having assured himself of the dorrs being tyled and of all brethren being masons, gives four knocks with his mallet on the altar in this manner: • • ... • •, which ser as a signal to all brethren to rise and to stand to order. The wardens having repeated same with their own mallets, the Very Perfect Illustrious asks some questions from the catechism to the senior warden and ends by saying
Q. What is the hour, my brother?
A. Six or seven o'clock.
Q Why do you so answer thus?
A. Because the truth of the Very Illustrious Prefect Irish Master has to be made known at all hours of the day.

After this answer the Very Perfect Illustrious says to the whole assembly: My brethren, let us set to work, we shall have the visit of our deacons. The lodge of Perfect Irish Masters is opened, let us do our duty. The Senior Warden repeats the same to the two columns, they all give the Sign, the claps each with sixteen knocks, by four times four as before, with their hands. Then each resumes his place and the proceed to the initiation as follow.


When the lodge has been opened, the Brother Preparer, on the order of the Very Perfect Illustrious, leaves and goes to see the candidate in the chamber of preperation. There he takes from him his sword and all offensive and defensive weapons. Being disarmed he has him decorate himself with the attributes of the last degree he has acquired and then conducts him with free sight to the dorr of the lodge., where he finds the Junior Warden, who as was said before, instructs him about the excellence of this degree and also about the duties he is going to assume. When the candidate is instructed thus, the Junior Warden gives four knocks as before on the door of the lodge. The Senior Warden having heard them informs the Very Perfect Illustrious, who orders him to see who knocks thus.

This brother goes immediately to the door, where he gives four knocks and then opens the door and says to the Junior Warden:
Q. What do you demand, my brother?
A. It is a Master, who desires to be initiated as a Perfect Irish Master.
Q Is he worthy of this?
A. Yes.

Upon this answer he closes the door, returns to his place and gives the answer of the Junior Warden: A Very Perfect Illustrious, who has asked the candidate whether he be assured that he was worthy of it. Having heard that the answer is yes, the Very Perfect Illustrious says to him: let him enter. This brother goes to the door again, where he knocks as before, upon which he opens and receives the candidate from the hands of the Junior Warden. He introduces him into the West of the lodge, where he has him say: 'Givi', upon which he has him kneel on the right knee. In that posture the Very Perfect Illustrious takes the word and prounces: 'Ki'.

Upon that answer the Senior Warden has the candidate rise and then places a drawn sword across his throat and subsequently has him thus make four times the perambulation in the lodge. Upon his return to the West he has him advance by four great steps to the East, the right foot behind the left leg forming the figure 4. In that posture the Very Perfect Illustrious has him place his right hand on the Volume of the Sacred Law and says to him: It is with joy that I recompense your zeal for Freemasonry and your attachment to Masons by constituting you Prevost and Judge over all workmen of this illustrious lodge. Assured as we are of your discretion, we shall not make any difficulty in confiding to you our most interesting secrets. May the peaceful Genius, who presides over our order procure you, by the will of the Supreme Being, source of perfection,  the same fervour for the degree to which we are going to elevate you, that you had for those or have for them. You will partake in the possession of the heart of Hiram, which we preserve in a golden urn since we discovered him assassinated. Try to have sufficient firmness not to divulge what is going to be confided to you about this degree, even if you are forced by the most terrible torments. Please Answer.
A. I assure this on the same oaths I contracted on entering the order and promise to render justice to all my brethren.

After this answer the Very Perfect Illustrious has him rise and pass to his right side, where he gives him a knock with his royal baton on each shoulder, saying to him: By the authority I have received and the unanimous consent of this august assembly I receive you as a Perfect Irish Master. While saying these things he decorates him with gloves, apron, collar and jewel of which the description was given above. Having decorated him thus, he embraces him and gives him the Sign, Words and Token as will follow.

The Sign is given by forming with the thumb and index of the right hand a square and bringing it to the chin as if to support it.  The answer to this Sign is by supporting the nose with the two middle fingers of the right hand in the form of compasses.

The Token is given by knocking once with the end of the little finger on that of the examinator, who will answer by two and so on.

The Sacred Word is Tito and the password is Xinchen, which is spelled as that of an Apprentice.

After the Very Perfect Illustrious has given to the candidate the Sign, Words, and Token, he sends him out to have himself recognized as Perfect Irish Master to the whole lodge, which is done. Upon his return he has him take a seat among the brethren. When the initiation is concluded he proceeds to the lecture as follows.

The Lecture will follow in the next Posting. 
Happy Holidays!


alain bernheim said...

This degree was studied and commented by my deceased friend René Desaguliers [René Guilly] and Roger Dachez in a paper (‘La pensée chinoise et la Franc-Maçonnerie au XVIIIè siècle : à propos du grade de Maître Irlandais, Prévôt et Juge’) printed in Renaissance Traditionnelle n° 96, October 1993, pp. 238-247, where it is followed with two 18 C. rituals of the degree. The authors wrote (p. 243) : « The surprizing result of our research led us to the following simple and certain conclusion : the degree of Irish Masteer is directly inspired by the customs of ancient China and the words of the degree are but a slightly corrupted transcription of words ritually uttered in China along the ritual homage to a dead person. »

A ritual of the degree of Parfait Maître Irlandais on the Web :

Alain Bernheim

alain bernheim said...

BTW... Maître, not 'Mâitre'

E C Ballard ஃ said...

Many thanks for your interesting contributions, and your proofing, which I incorporated into the text. I would be interested in knowing if you have any thoughts on how such an unexpected source for the words might be accounted for.