Darkness Visible The strange case of the Third in its old form
Arena dispatched Bro Vinny Cochrane to report.
On Saturday 18th June, Citizen Lodge No 2911 hosted an Exemplification of the ancient and peculiar Scottish 3rd Degree in the stunning Temple 17 at Freemasons' Hall. This magnificent event, and the Festive Board which followed, was conducted to raise funds for the Masonic Charitable Foundation's Ukraine refugee appeal, collecting almost £1,000, in addition to a further donation from Citizen Lodge of £1,000.
The ceremony itself was conducted by the ancient Lodge Scoon and Perth – founded before 1658 – and No three on the Roll of the Grant Lodge of Scotland.
The painting by Brother Hutchison Peddie (shown above) hangs on the No 3's north wall and is an
artistic depiction of the entry of King James VI of Scotland by his own desire as a member of the
Lodge on the 15th April 1601. The scene depicted gives a glimpse into the 3rd degree ceremony,
as performed with such distinction by Lodge Scoon and Perth.
Freemasonry is famous, even infamous, for its arcana. The beauty of the Third Degree, now, still retains the sense of mystery and eeriness. Without giving anything away – I find it heart-stoppingly gorgeous. On 18th June, I had the privilege of witnessing a unique version of the degree, rarely seen outside of Scotland, and unique to the ancient Lodge Scoon and Perth. I will not forget it. It was truly "darkness visible" – and, I hope, you'll see what I mean.
How to make the arcane ceremony more tear-jerking? The version as performed by our kind hosts has what Shelley may have said, "Cold command", which is a thing I recognise as a Scot myself. A sense of titanic grandeur, a feeling that one can stare beyond oneself.
Now, if that sounds abstract (which it should), reflect on the oxymoron "darkness visible". The "peculiar" rite expressed this perfectly as we watched the symbolism of murder, death, resurrection – in almost total darkness in the temple, with obscure versions of the most poetic and tragic degree, delivered in demotic Scots, with a pervasive air of violence.
It was artistically sombre, befitting of the story the ceremony depicts – from the slow procession and swinging of incense depicting a tale of death and mourning to the unique physicalised re-enactment of the conflicts depicted in the ceremony and, as illustrated in Hutchison-Peddie's painting above, the beautiful artistry of the setting lit only by firelight. It did, for the audience, make darkness visible, as the eye was still focussed on the theatricality of death and resurrection. I was astonished.
It was, I think I can say truly, the most traumatic and gorgeous working of the Third I have seen. I have acted in King Lear, Macbeth, and many others – but I think "darkness visible" in this ancient and peculiar form brought-up such deep emotions. One may even think that when Lear shrieks about "terrors of the earth", he means fear of burial. Surely one shouldn't see darkness? Darkness, stared upon, creates questions of existence, the presence of the vacuum which envelops our world. Freemasonry is akin to the earliest astronauts gazing at the beyond.
I'd liken Lodge Scoon and Perth's working to staring into space, mankind's timeless quest to find and make sense of what Hamlet referred to as "the undiscovered country" in the vastness of the universe. This journey of discovery was beautifully accompanied by a salad of Mozart, Faure, Purcell, and others, expertly chosen by our hosts to add the right atmospheric narrative to the scenes and the perfect collective emotional tone for us privileged witnesses.
This was an immersive piece of performance theatre, beautifully told, and expertly presided over by the wonderful W Bro Alexander Moncrieff, who bound the various elements of the story with a masterful delivery, conveyed with just the right amount of pathos. I commend each participant in this story, they performed their roles in a manner I have not seen before, all being present in the moment as if we were truly witnessing the actual scene before us as it happened. Such was the high level of this ceremony, it was evident just how much time and dedication had been invested in preparation.
This rare and ancient version of the Third did, ironically, make me think less about my own death. We were raising funds for Ukraine. I need not explain further on that matter, as I expect we are in mutual agreement.
The takeaway I have is that all assembled Brethren had their due, which was this: it was truly our privilege to witness this beautiful Scots ceremony, replete with all the graces and horrors which teach us to be good humans. In parts grandiose, in parts obscure, in parts demotic, in parts apocalyptic. But, in the end, redemptive.
What value do we accrue from this rare and peculiar rite? Several. First, it has raised large amounts for Ukraine, a benighted recipient of an unjustified invasion. Second, the ceremony humbled us to see (however symbolic) the consequences of capricious violence. Third, and finally, we were shown "darkness visible", as our originator was thrown first to despond and became dust.
W Bro Alexander Moncrieff, DepGSwdB, says:
"I was so honoured to be able to demonstrate the Ceremony of Raising performed by Lodge Scoon and Perth to my mother lodge. When the Grand Lodge of Scotland was formed in 1736, the Lodges agreed to join the new body but with various conditions, two being that they were allowed to retain their own ritual and regalia. The degree work in Lodge Scoon and Perth is therefore completely unique, and we are very proud of it."
W Bro Rolf Kurth, Secretary of Citizen Lodge, says:
"It was really super to maintain our years-long connection with Lodge Scoon & Perth. We've visited back and forth several times over the years, so our brothers are well-acquainted; having that extra dimension is added bonus for all of our members, I would suggest.
"One of our newly raised MMs said to me that it was the most impactful piece of theatre he had seen in a while and certainly the most special masonic gathering he had been part of. While he might be fairly young in masonry (and younger generally), that goes to show that events like this are retention positive.
"We were really grateful to the members of No 3 for making the huge effort to come to London with their paraphernalia, and particularly to the demonstration team for putting on such a good' show'. The choreography of the Scottish Third is something to behold!
"We've also had some very good — albeit unrelated — news on the back of this meeting: MetGL has backed the London Masons' Cycling Club idea to morph Citizen into a 'Special Interest Lodge'. So, we look forward to them taking over the helm … or perhaps handlebars… with our blessing to take Citizen from strength to strength."
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 49 August 2022 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 49 here.