In the Ninth Degree of the Scottish Rite, ignorance, error, and intolerance — the great enemies of mankind — are symbolized by the black border of the apron and the black cordon. Throughout history, there has been a basic conflict between those who seek to suppress others and those who seek to free them. The conflict has usually been bloody. The white of the apron represents both Masonry and Truth, while the gold blazing star on the flap symbolizes the light and knowledge for which we must always seek.
On the apron is a dark cavern in which burns a candle, again symbolic of the light which, however small, dispels the darkness and leads the seeker toward truth. The jewel of the Degree is a dagger with gold hilt and silver blade. The gold and silver represent the sun and moon, and recall the symbolism of the Blue Lodge in which they combine to form the complete and balanced man, in control of his own passions and free in his own thought. The gold and silver or sun and moon also suggest that truth never rests; it leads and shines both by day and by night. The red of the cordon represents the blood of those who have been persecuted for Truth and for Masonry. Their number is legion — DeMolay, burned at the stake because a tyrant regarded wealth more than honor; Tyndall, murdered because he dared to translate the Bible; millions of Jews and Masons in Hitler’s death camps, exterminated simply because they were Jews and Masons; millions of intellectuals and other inconvenient persons in Cambodia, massacred simply because they were intellectuals and inconvenient.
The cordon’s nine red rosettes symbolize the nine Elus (Elected ones) chosen to seek out the murders of Hiram. In symbolic terms, we as Elus are elected to seek out ignorance, error, and intolerance (the murderers) which always seek to destroy the best in human nature (Hiram).
The rosettes also symbolize the nine special virtues of the Degree which serve as additional weapons for the Mason: disinterestedness, courtesy, devotion, firmness, frankness, generosity, self-denial, heroism, and patriotism. The term disinterestedness sometimes causes confusion, as some people assume it to mean “lack of concern or commitment.” But that is not the meaning at all. Disinterestedness means “without being self-serving.” The person who tries to do right, simply because it IS right, and not because it will benefit himself in any way, is being disinterested.
The virtues of the Degree give rise to its duties — to enlighten our souls and minds; to share that light with the people; and to defend the interests and honor of our country so that its freedoms may be preserved and extended. Pike never allows us to forget that we are in a battle to the death with the forces which seek to enslave the spirit of men and women. And it is a battle fought just as really with truth and justice and virtue as it ever was with sword or cannon.
The problem of toleration is especially difficult because it is so easy to “feel good” about being intolerant. The highest price we are called upon to pay for freedom is not in taxes to defend the country, nor even on the battlefield. The highest price we must pay for freedom is to allow others to be free.
Religious toleration means that we must allow others the same right to freedom of worship we demand for ourselves, even if we find their practices wrong or repugnant.
Intellectual toleration means that we must allow the free and full exploration of every idea, even if we think it wrong or dangerous.
Social toleration means that we must allow others to live lifestyles we may find strange or uncomfortable, whether on a commune or in a convent.
Of all the lessons a man or woman must learn to be truly human, toleration may well be the hardest.
Jim Tresner, 33°, Grand Cross