Not My Ring

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 Scottish Rite Journal.

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In the past, this magazine has presented intriguing articles on the Fourteenth Degree ring. In December 1988, for instance, Ill. Harold S. Stein, Jr., 33°, wrote in these pages: “The Perfect Elu, possessor of the Fourteenth Degree of Freemasonry, proudly wears the mark that shows the world and reminds himself of his new commitment to serve humanity as a disciple of justice, right, and truth” (p. 44). Nearly 100 years ago, in October 1925, Br. Paul F. Berdanier, 32°, opined herein: “Your ring will always remind you that, like Prometheus, you were once bound to the rock of blind zeal [...] now freed by having passed through between the pillars[,] you wear [the Fourteenth Degree ring] on your finger as a mark of service to all the higher attributes of Almighty God.” In the following article, Br. Peterson relates how the Fourteenth Degree not only recalls the sublime ethics and esoteric philosophy of Masonry, but also links generation to generation, father to son. —Mark Dreisonstok, 33°, Managing Editor

Keith Peterson, 32°, KCCH | Valley of Fayetteville, Arkansas

“...he should leave the ring to the most dear among his children ...” —Br. G.E. Lessing, Nathan the Wise

Scottish Rite Masons from every Valley are familiar with the Fourteenth Degree ring. It is bestowed and explained upon the completion of the Fourteenth Degree, it is a prolific symbol of reunions, and it is proudly worn by Brothers throughout the world. Indeed, the Perfect Elu ring is one of the Rite’s most identifiable adornments. The gold, the triangle, and the Hebrew letter yod, are representations of the Lodge of Perfection, and the ring itself is symbolic of each Brother’s personal journey through the degrees leading up to and including the Fourteenth Degree. Those of us who have received this ring are told, upon our passing, the ring should be given to our oldest son or oldest living male relative. On its face, this subtle contingency plan seems like a touching way to pass along a fond remembrance of ourselves to our sons, but in truth this tradition entails so much more.

The depth of my love for the Fourteenth Degree ring burgeoned during the 2016 Scottish Rite Leadership Conference in Houston, Texas. I had just finished my service as a Sovereign Grand Commander’s Fellow, and Ill. Ronald A. Seale, 33°, under whom I served, was to give the culminating speech at the closing session. Having been one of his Fellows for two years, I had heard him speak several times and was eagerly anticipating his remarks. Although he spoke on several topics during this occasion, the narrative that stuck out to me was the recollection of his childhood experiences at his father’s Blue Lodge and Scottish Rite temple. Ill. Seale spoke of the wonder he experienced being around so many respected Masons and the curiosity evoked in him by this little gold ring with this strange symbol in the middle. He went on to explain that his desire to one day understand and wear this ring was a motivating factor in his historic personal journey through Masonry. I was, in a word, “awestruck.”

Upon returning to my Valley, I shared the story of this experience with a beloved brother, MW Kevin Hatfield, former Grand Master of Arkansas and a 33º Scottish Rite Mason. Kevin has been a true mentor to me and, in Masonic terms, a true and faithful father figure. Having heard my affinity for Ill. Seale’s story, Kevin produced a gold Fourteenth Degree ring that was a relic from our recently closed temple in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and bestowed it upon me. I proudly put it on, and I have worn it every day of my life since.

When I got home that night, I did not need to point out my new acquisition. My son, who was only nine at the time, noticed it right away and inquired as to what it was. I said, “Son, this ring will be yours one day,” and that is all the explanation I gave. He knew better than to ask any more questions. He had grown up in a Masonic family, and, as a small child, he ran around the lodge room when I was the Worshipful Master and sat in the seats and pretended he was a Master Mason. He ate meals with Brothers and their families at installations and reunions. He knew line officers by name and recognized the square and compasses whenever he saw them. He would tell me how he was going to be a Mason just like me, and he would proudly point at my hand and tell anyone he saw, “That’s my ring.”

A few years down the road, I would give a presentation on the Fourteenth Degree ring to an audience of Brothers, families, and loved ones at the Spring Reunion of the Valley of Fayetteville, Arkansas. In that presentation, I did not say much about the Masonic meaning of the symbols. Instead, I spoke about one of my heroes, Sovereign Grand Commander Seale and how his journey was profoundly affected by memories of this ring. I spoke about my mentor Kevin and how the ring I received from him reminded me of the true depth and sincerity of Brotherhood. Finally, I spoke about my son and how his future journey in Masonry had already been indelibly marked by a sense of ownership of this ring.

I wear the Fourteenth Degree ring every day, but it is not my ring. It belonged to someone else who gave it to me, and I will pass it to my son. He will pass it to another, and, just like the ring itself, perpetual brotherhood will create a perfect, unbreakable circle that connects the highest ranking Sovereign Grand Commander to the nine-year-old son of his humble Fellow and to every Mason either of them encountered along the way. Yes, the ring is a way for a son to remember his father when he is gone, but it is a tradition that means so much more.

Image: Generation to generation—Perfect Elu family ring (Photography: Cordelia Dreisonstok)

Not My Ring