Bowring, Josiah; First Degree Tracing Board; The Library and Museum of Freemasonry; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/first-degree-tracing-board-192138

The Golden Key

There is much discussed as to the importance of a “Golden Key” in Freemasonry, but I will state here and now there is no “Golden Key” in pure Freemasonry, but a “key” was once an important symbol in its history. From Mackey’s Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry, under the word Key, he writes the following:

“The Key,” says Dr Oliver, is one of the most important symbols of Freemasonry. To the well instructed Brother it beholds in it the symbol which teaches him to keep a tongue of good report and to abstain from the debasing vices of slander and deformation.

It goes on to mention that amongst the ancients the key was a symbol of silence and circumspection. Sophocles (actually his grandson) alludes to it in the Oedipus Coloneus where he makes the chorus speak of “the golden key” which came upon the tongues of the ministering hierophant in the mysteries of Eleusis:

“Where the holy queens tenderly guard dread rites for men; Whose mortal lips their Golden Key laid thereto, fast fast have closed yon; Ministrant Eumolpidae,,,,,”

Then it cites that Callimachus says that the priestess of Ceres bore a key as the ensign of her mystic office and that the key was in the mysteries of Isis a hieroglyphic of the opening or disclosing of the heart of conscience, in the kingdom of death, for trial and judgement. 

In the old rituals of Masonry the key was an important symbol, and Dr Oliver regrets that it has been abandoned in the modern system. In the first degree ritual of the 18th century, allusion is made to a key by whose help the secrets of Masonry are to be obtained, which key is said to hang and not lie, because it is always to hang in a brother’s defence and not to lie to his prejudice. It was said to hang by the thread of life at the entrance, and was closely connected with the heart, because the tongue ought to utter nothing but what the heart dictates.

Lastly, from the 18th century first degree, the key is described as being composed of no metal  but a Tonge of good report. 

In the ritual of the Master’s degree of the Adonhiramite Rite, or the third degree of the Hermetic Rite at Montpelier, this catechism is recorded: 

Q What do you conceal

A All the secrets that have been entrusted to me

Q Where do you conceal them

A In the heart

Q have you a key to gain entrance there?

A Yes, Right Worshipful

Q Where do you keep it?

A in a box of coral which opens and shuts only with ivory keys

Q Of what metal is is composed?

A Of none, It is the tongue obedient to reason, which knows only how to speak well of those of whom it speaks in their absence as in their presence.

According to Dr Oliver, this version of the Master’s degree was called “The Rite of the Golden Key.” 

According to Mackey, the key was formally equivalent to the instructive tongue. The key, he states, is still preserved as a symbol of secrecy in the Royal Arch Degree (of which there are a few differing versions) and is also presented to us in the same sense in the ivory key of the Secret Master, or the fourth degree in the Scottish Rite, of which we will return to later. 

Mackey’s final remark with reference to the key cites many other historical uses, for example to the Greeks it was a symbol of power, the Romans gave a key to the bride on her wedding day (like we figuratively give the “key of the door” on reaching the age of 21).  He then refers to the Bible, for example the key to the House of David,” and “to St Peter were given the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven;” some refer to these keys as ‘Golden Keys.’ Note also that the key has been adopted as the official jewel of the treasurer of a Lodge, because he has the purse, the source of power, under his command.

Now above we referred to the fourth degree of the Scottish Rite. We should briefly note here, that out of the chaos of the mid to late century, when continental Europe deviated from pure Freemasonry as practised by English Freemasonry (and Irish and Scottish too), hundreds of rituals were created, mostly to make money or give power to their creators. [This chaotic time will form part of my articles relating to the Roman Catholic’s Papal Bulls against Freemasonry.] Out of this this chaos came the Scottish Rite, or the first 25 degrees of the Scottish Rite, formally known as the Rite of Perfection. This rite journeyed to the Americas with Etienne Moran, where it “landed” at Charleston, S. Carolina, as it continued its journey as The Scottish Rite with the addition of another 10 degrees, the final one being honorary.

The Rite of Perfection also became the basis of another Rite, which was called the Primitive Scottish Rite. This Rite claims to have been established in 1770 at Namur, Belgium, by a body called the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of Edinburgh. The truth is that it was the invention of one Marchot, an advocate of Nivelles, who organised it in 1818 at Namur. This places it after the real Scottish Rite was formed, which reached Charleston in 1801.

The Secret Master degree refers to an ivory key, from which I will recall from a book published in 1868, called “The Book of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of Freemasonry.” (by Charles T McClenachan 33°). From Mackey’s Encyclopaedia, a key in itself, was very significant, but it didn’t actually refer to a real key, least of all a golden key, and nor to keeping secrets. The Secret Master’s degree belongs to the Ineffable Series of the Scottish Rite which are conferred in a Lodge of Perfection.

Referencing a second book, published in 1905, called “The complete ritual of the Ancient and Accepted ‘Scotch” Rite,” published in 1905, we will begin with the Secret Master’s degree.

After the initial ceremonial, the M o C states “,,,,none can enter it unless he opens the gate with the key of intellect, have you (to the candidate) the key?”

The answer is, as usual, given for the candidate “,,,,and he carries the heart of truth, the heart of H Ab,,,,” Later, “,,,,help us to use the key of Intelligence within the balustrade of Reason,,,”

The candidate is invested with his regalia, which includes a collar on which hangs an ivory key. These words are contained as the candidate is addressed “,,,,The ivory key,,, is a symbol of your fidelity, innocence and discretion,,,”

Note also that in the 14° of the Scottish Rite the jewel of the Grand Treasurer is also an ivory key.

The seventh degree or Provost and Judge of the Scottish Rite is the only reference to a golden key which is the jewel of this degree. The apron has a pocket in the centre which is intended to keep the key to the chest containing the plans. On completion of the preparation of the candidate to become a Provost and Judge, to aid in performing his duties, the candidate is entrusted with a golden key, it opens the tomb which symbolises the sanctuary of truth, where the heart of H Ab has been deposited; it opens all buildings and gives you access everywhere. Prior to being entrusted with this golden key, the candidate must undertake an obligation to ,,,,impartially dispense justice,,,

Later, in the Provost and Judge lecture, the golden key is again referred to as ,,,, a golden key to distinguish the degree,,,, which is used ,,,, to open a small ebony box where all the plans for the construction are kept,,,

In a few of the later degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite the key is given further mention.

This book (1905) was by an unnamed 33° member of the Scottish Rite of New York, with a critical analysis of the Order by the President of Wheaton College (J. Blanchard). This was supported by the Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry by Albert G. Mackey, himself a 33° Scottish Rite Freemason. Therefore I feel I have stated no secrets that were not already in the public domain. Unfortunately, those who choose to read this book, please do not be fooled by the historical introduction, as it contains a lot of inaccuracies. For example, these three initiations were NOT woven into a Rite in AD926, that is pure fantasy. 

Finally, I reiterate that the golden key carries no additional significance to Freemasonry other than allegorically as discussed above. Unfortunately there are those that make a ‘big deal’ out of it, mainly to emphasise their strange belief in their importance in knowing something no one else knows. This belief of importance belongs only to those who fail to understand that the concordant degrees in Freemasonry, those degrees that fall outside that of pure Freemasonry, are not higher or more important degrees. These misguided folk, who pretend to be “keepers of Masonic Secrets,” for some reason believe they are special people; THEY ARE NOT! They are but a few fools who give freemasonry a bad name and misunderstand that Freemasonry is simply a series of allegorical plays with the aim of uniting a fraternity of men or women (or both) in a manner that renders them more useful to mankind, and an honour to the society to which they belong.

These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, former Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.They do not represent the view of any Grand/Provincial Grand Lodge.

© Copyright 2019 Al-Khabar/Stephen Froggatt all rights reserved

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About Steve

Steve is part of the publishing team of Al-Khabar. He was initiated into Neptune Lodge 5150 EC In 1986 and completed his third degree by being exalted into Neptune’s Royal Arch Chapter in 1989; he also enjoyed two successive years in the Chair of KS in 1993/4. He has also enjoyed being a Mark Master Mason and a Royal Ark Mariner. He has been honoured with the position of Past Provincial Junior Grand Deacon. All the articles are his own and represent no Official Masonic Body

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