In the two previous installments on this topic, the manuscript known as “The Copiale Cipher” is introduced and dissected; starting with the incredible work done by Kevin Knight and Christianne Schaffer in cracking its elusive ciphertext, a description of the rituals of the “Oculist” order, followed by a discussion of the shocking claims by the author that the founding of modern Freemasonry, essentially started as a bet in a tavern.
In this third and final chapter, the Masonic ritual expose contained in part three of the manuscript is discussed. It consists of the three Craft degrees, a description of what is often considered the oldest description of the “Scots Master” degree, and the unique degrees of “Lodge of Consolidation and Key Lodge”.
The expose of the first three degrees of Masonry need not be detailed here, as they are similar and perhaps even facsimiles of what you would expect from a Masonic expose from the mid 18th century. Descriptions of columns, knocks, networks, and checkered floors are detailed in the text; familiar to most present day Masons. It describes these symbols being drawn in chalk give some clue to the relative date of the exposes used, if not the MS itself. It describes the Fellowcraft degree and Master Mason degree back to back, alluding that these may have happened in one session, describing a change of the “carpet” or tracing board, and a wardrobe change. The Master Mason degree is replete with the Hiramic legend, which also gives some clues to the dating of the MS.
The description of the Scots Master Degree which follows next has been a primary focus of researchers of the Copiale MS. Many believed that this example of the Scots Master Degree might be an early, if not the earliest example of this working. However it is now known that the language of the degree described in the Copiale is a near exact expose of the “Prussian Ecossais Degree,” also known as the “Berlin Scots Master ritual,” which was written around 1750. This translation has not yet been published, but gives us another clue towards the date of the Copiale and who its author may have been.
The Copiale describes both the French and “German” versions of the Scots Master and details the differences in the workings. It can be concluded that the author had extensive knowledge of these early Haut Grade degrees.
"The rank of a Scottish *master* is an entirely new invention and due to the fact that more than one *lodge* has worked on it, the acceptance ceremony is different, for example: The French *lodge* consists of the following: in the middle of the carpet there is a sparkling stone, inside of which a big i ... is written, the coffin and skull are at the side of the sun and moon, the holiest of all, Noah's Ark, the Ark of the Covenant's bush of acacia, the nearest see on the twelve cattle, the Tower of Babel and suchlike, furthermore, the *lodge* is opened with three times twenty seven strokes, and Dönmeh accomplishments, which happen by three times three, or equally three times three candles lying on the carpet. After the candidate is taken around nine times, he is asked what it is that he wants. He answers to reach the adytum. The *master* believes thereupon that it is necessary for the candidate to be washed in the way of the Levites, which happens in such a way that a few drops of water are poured on his head." (text between asterisks indicates logogram translations)
It is worth highlighting the inclusion of the “Dönmeh”, who were a society of crypto-jews, who professed their faith to be Muslim, while keeping their Judaic traditions. The group originated during and soon after the era of Sabbatai Zevi, a 17th-century Jewish kabbalist who claimed to be the Messiah and eventually converted to Islam in order to escape punishment by the Sultan Mehmed IV. After Zevi's conversion, a number of Jews followed him into Islam and became the Dönmeh. The next two degrees described are potentially the most mysterious and intriguing.
The “Key Lodge,” describes themes such as peace, rebellion, natural freedom, the necessity to form a corps of armed resistance, a three headed monster that represents violent government, tyranny and the workings of the lodge in a political setting. The Copiale MS describes the “Key Lodge” tracing board thus:
"The so called key *lodge* has in its turn something very special, it seems to be thought of beginning from agitation, is commendable by means, and it perished to a great part, as follows: on the green cloth there is first of all an olive branch, this is the sign of peace and tranquility, secondly, the drum is there, so that its acoustic noise bum bum bum gives the sign for a general revolt. Thirdly, the fama, which signals the alarm with the trumpet, calls the *bigx* (freemasons) together again to regain their natural freedom and therefore to build a corps, fourthly, the three-headed monster means the rule and governance, which, by means of power and perfidy, deprive man of his natural freedom and enjoyment of the timely things and of what we, human beings, need. Fifth, the sublime heap means tyranny, with which scaver we are printed, sixth, the three snakes, which are placed in a hieroglyphic and mystical way, stand for nature, justice and bravery. Seventh, the lance, pistols and flag are weapons of the *bigx* (Freemasons), to regain their lost freedom and to rejoice themselves in peace and calmness of all timely goods."
The “Consolidation lodge,” is only a brief description:
“the consolidation *lodge* is a society of alchemists, which have their own carpet, ceremonies, and signs. Their work consists primarily of fixing the mercury to foresee and it is kept at the moment in Halle. Sundry is known, but not all of it. This new association is not thought to be continuous and is not regarded to be worthy of further examination. Amen.
Taken individually, these snippets seem to be quite disparate from previously exposed degrees. Upon following a clue from research by Brother Josef Wages; I was prompted to take a look at the original “Knight of the Sun degree”, including some soon to be published tracing boards from the Baylot MS, which even predate the Francken MS.
The “Knight of the Sun” was categorized as the 23rd degree of Masonry under Etienne (Stephen) Morin’s degree system; “The Order of the Royal Secret.” This system became the foundation of today’s present day Scottish rite. Morin’s 23rd, exists in a highly edited and modified form as our current 28th degree (SMJ), and was once in used in a more similar form as the 27th degree under Albert Pike’s original 32 degree system.
If the “Key Lodge” and “Consolidation Lodge” are considered as one degree rather than two, a new story emerges.
Could the “Key Lodge” and “Lodge of Consolation” in fact be a predecessor to Morin’s 23rd degree “Knight of the Sun,” which was also known as “The Key of Masonry?”
In the Baylot MS tracing boards for the “Chevaliers du soleil” we see some symbols that relate to the Copiale’s “Consolidation Lodge”: An olive tree, a fasces (which could point to a miss-translation or decoding of “fama”, and fits the revolutionary themes described. Additionally, a cross draped with a snake, plus a caduceus could relate to: “three snakes, which are placed in a hieroglyphic and mystical way”
In the 23rd degree as described in the Franken MS, these connections evolve further. While the 23rd degree only loosely touches on the revolutionary and political aspects of the “Key Lodge” described in the Copiale, it does have some explicit similarities, such as this passage that may be related to the “three headed monster”:
“A monster of pride” ... “This Hydra with her hundred heads at that time mislead and will continue to this day to do … men, who are so weak as to submit to her empire, and this error will subsist until the moment that the True Elected shall appear and destroy her entirely.”
A description of a symbolic triangle or delta with the letters C, S and U, could relate to the call for Freemasons to build a corps and regain their natural freedom.
“The first the C at top, signifies grandeur of Masons. The ‘S’, Submission of the Same Order; and the ‘U’ = Union, that ought to reign among the Brethren, which altogether makes but one body, or Equal figure in all its parts.”
The 23rd degree has very explicit alchemical connotations throughout, that correspond directly to the “society of alchemists” described in the Copiale’s description of the “Lodge of Consolidation.” The degree goes in depth into many alchemical concepts, including this description regarding the fixing of mercury:
“The Caduceus represents the double Mercury, that you must extract from the matter. That is to say the Mercury fixed, and from thence is extracted Gold and Silver.”
In conclusion, this summary of the Copiale MS provides contrary evidence to previous assumptions about the content, date and authorship of the manuscript. The description of the Scots Master degree is not one of the earliest exposes, or of a missing degree. It is in fact an accurate expose, likely copied from the 1750 “Prussian Ecossais MS.” This also affirms without question that the date of the Copiale is later than previously believed. The specific citation of the 1745 is used in the past tense in the Copiale, and the date of the Prussian Ecossais MS is around 1753. Therefore the Copiale was created no earlier than 1750 and likely later. It is conclusively not from the 1730s or 40s as previously proposed in other research.
The “heretofore unseen” “Key Lodge” and “Lodge of Consolidation” is almost certainly an early or perhaps incomplete description of the “Key of Masonry/Knight of the Sun.” While that leads to a possible conclusion that there may be earlier versions of this degree, it definitively gives insight into what seems to be a firsthand account of extremely early Haute Grade Masonry.
A picture of the original author of the Copiale can now be imagined, someone with access and knowledge of mid 18th century Haute Grades Masonry, potentially with a para masonic, or anti Masonic angle. Is the author’s description of the Society of Oculists in fact an expose of a short lived operative group of eye doctors? Or, is it as others have described, a mistranslation of a Masonic degree, a blind buried in a story about the blind?
There is still much to be studied in this enigmatic MS. However, there is now further evidence on the potential date of the Copiale, an unveiled source for the expose of the Scots Master degree, and some evidence that the “Key Lodge” and “Lodge of Consolidation” could be considered as one: a proto-degree that may have been an early form of the “Key of Masonry” or “Knight of the Sun.”