Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

XI. The Rites of Misraim and Memphis

418. Anomalies of the Eite of Misraim.—Another of those diversities, which may be called the constant attendants of the life of vast associations, is the rite of "Misraim," so called from its falsely pretending to trace its origin back to the Egyptian King Menes, or Misraim. What chiefly distinguishes it from other rites, and renders it totally different from masonic institutions, is the supreme power given to the heads, whose irremovability we have seen abolished, in order to open the lodges to the forms of genuine democracy. This rite is essentially autocratic. One man, with the title of "Absolute Sovereign Grand Master," rules the lodges, and is irresponsible—an extraordinary anomaly in the bosom of a liberal society to behold a member claiming that very absolute power against which Freemasonry has been fighting for centuries!

419. Organisation.—The rite of Misraim was founded by Cagliostro at a time when there was already a question of even further reducing the number of the Scotch rite of thirty-three degrees, practically reduced to five. Then arose the rite of Misraim with ninety degrees, arranged in four sections, viz.: 1. Symbolic; 2. Philosophic; 3. Mystical; 4. Cabalistic; which were divided into seventeen classes. The rites are a medley of Scotch rites, Martinism, and Templarism, and the absolute Grand Masters arrogate to themselves the right of governing all masonic lodges throughout the world. The foundations of this system were laid at Milan in 1805, by several Masons who had bsen refused admission into the Supreme Grand Council. During the first year and for some time after postulants were only admitted as far as the 8th degree; the other three, complementing the system, embraced the unknown superiors. Jews are the chief supporters of this rite. To show its character, details of some of the degrees are here given.

420. History and Constitution.—From Milan, the Order spread into Dalmatia, the Ionian Islands, and the Neapolitan territory, where it produced a total reform in a chapter of Rosicrucians, the "Concordia," established in the Abruzzi. It was not till 1814 that the rite of Misraim was introduced into France, where the pompous denominations of its endless hierarchy met with no slight success. Never had such titles been heard of in Masonry: Supreme Commander of the Stars, Sovereign of Sovereigns, Most High and Most Powerful Knight of the Rainbow, Sovereign Grand Prince Hiram, Sovereign Grand Princes, etc.; these were some of the titles assumed by the members. The trials of initiation were long and difficult, and founded on what is recorded of the Egyptian and Eleusinian mysteries. In the first two sections the founders of the rite seem to have attempted to bring together all the creeds and practices of Scotch Masonry combined with- the mysteries of Egypt; and in the last two sections all the chemical and cabalistic knowledge professed by the priests of that country, reserving for the last three degrees the supreme direction of the Order. Attempts were made to introduce it into Belgium, Sweden, and Switzerland, and also into Ireland, and latterly into England; but everywhere it is in a languishing condition. The Grand Orient of France has never recognised the rite as a part of Masonry, though it has three lodges in Paris.

421. Rites and Ceremonies.—The Order celebrates two equinoctial festivals, the one called "The Reawakening of Nature," and the other, "The Repose of Nature." In the 69th degree, designated as "Knight of Khanuka, called Hynaroth," particular instructions are given as to man's relation to the Deity, and the cabalistic mediation of the angels. The Supreme Council of the 87th degree has three apartments: the first is draped in black, representing chaos, and lighted up with one light only. The second apartment has three lights, and its walls are hung with green, typifying hope. The third apartment has seventy-two lights, with a transparency showing the word Jehovah over the throne, and another similar one over the entrance door, all symbolising the zodiac and the sun. The sign is raising both hands towards heaven; the grip consists in crossing the hands, and the passwords are: I am—We are; Nature—Truth. In the 88th degree the hall of reception is oval, and hung with seagreen. The 89th degree has the password Lux ex tenebris; and the 90th degree holds its meetings in a circular room, and its password is Sophia, or Wisdom; its sacred word is Isis, to which the answer is Osiris. In this rite, altogether modern, we meet with gnostic and cabalistic words and conceits a phenomenon which were impossible did not gnostic ideas permeate all the veins of the masonic body.

422. Site of Memphis.—It is a copy of the rite of Misraim, and was founded at Paris in 1839, and afterwards extended to Brussels and Marseilles. It was composed of ninety-one degrees, arranged in three sections and seven classes. A large volume printed at Paris, with the ambitious title of "The Sanctuary," gives an account of all the sections and their scope. The first section teaches morality, and explains the symbols; the second instructs in physical science, the philosophy of history, and explains the poetical myths of antiquity, its scope being to promote the study of causes and origins. The third and last section exhausts the story of the Order, and is occupied with high philosophy, studying the religious myth at the different epochs of mankind.