The Royal Arch

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Royal Arch: Its Hidden Meaning by George Harold Steinmetz, with an additional paper by George S Faison.

George H Steinmetz The Royal Arch

Steinmetz provides a metaphysical interpretation of the rituals of Royal Arch Freemasonry as worked in the 20th-century United States. His book stands as a representative instance of mid-century Anglophone occultism, including the ERRATIC use of ALL CAPS. Authorities cited include H.P. Blavatsky, A.E. Waite, and Max Heindel, but he largely sticks to the features of the rituals themselves. There’s nothing innovative among occultists about his basic ideas, which include reincarnation as an esoteric Masonic doctrine, as well as the relevance of astrological symbolism to the Royal Arch degree. He does, however, find new ways to confuse the ritual hermeneutic.

For example, when discussing the misapplied persistence of the Biblical span of “470 years” in the ritual, he suggests that “we follow the procedure of the Kabalist, and take away from this number the zero (0),” and proceeds to interpret the resulting forty-seven in relation to Euclid’s 47th problem. (72) Had he been genuinely familiar with qabalistic “procedure,” Steinmetz might have noticed that the gematria of the Hebrew OTh (“time” or “period of time”) and DVR DVRIM (“eternity,” lit. “age of ages”) is 470, and thus “470 years” in both the Bible and the Royal Arch ceremony is simply the passage of a generic eon.

An even richer example arises in his insistence that “in the original Hebrew God is quoted as saying: ‘And God said unto Moses IHVH and he said, thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, IHVH hath sent me unto you.'” (78) Of course, anyone with a Tanakh handy can quickly debunk this nonsense. In Exodus 3:14—the verse cited by Steinmetz—the theophany utters “AHIH AShR AHIH,” and names itself AHIH (Eheieh). Half the letters of a Tetragrammaton isn’t nearly close enough. An error like this one, seeming to firm up his thesis, just throws Steinmetz’s aptitude into question.

Finally, he contends that the traditional discovered name of the Royal Arch is the product of “late eighteenth century attempts at mysticism which result in the ridiculous.” (125) Whether Steinmetz’s chosen experts Mackey and Breasted are correct that ON was only and always a place-name and not a name or title of a deity (or whether on the contrary, Forlong is correct in identifying the rising sun with the hare-god Un), the reader must be unimpressed by his “considerable research” that failed to find Jah among Hebrew names of God. Ultimately, his attempts to render meaningless the complex mystery of the Royal Arch Word seem ironic indeed, considering the fanciful and fatuous etymology he provides for the exoteric name Israel: IS from the goddess Isis, RA the Egyptian god, and EL the Semitic “lord.” (103)

The appended paper on “Freemasonry and Astrology” by George S. Faison is inoffensive, but has little to recommend it. Faison unhistorically presents astrology as essentially concerned with psychological character. His efforts to tie its symbolism to Masonry, where credible, depend on its genuine presence in Hebrew scripture. For that, the reader is better off consulting a text which directly addresses the topic, like Drummond’s Oedipus Judaicus. [via]