Monday, June 30, 2014
Saturday, May 30, 2009
In speaking of York Rite Alchemy I will first treat the subject of Alchemy by itself:
Alchemy is divided into two denominations: Operative and Speculative.
Operative Alchemy is the science of transmuting lead into gold, and while this lofty goal was perhaps never achieved by the operatives, their work became the precursor to modern Chemistry.
Speculative Alchemy is the science of transmuting our own being from its rough and imperfect state into its exalted and all-perfect state.
The process of Alchemical work is divided into four stages. Black (Negredo), White (Albedo), Yellow (Cintrinitas), and Red (Rubedo.) The Yellow stage, being popular in ancient operative alchemy, has been largely combined into the other stages in speculative and most later alchemical works.
The process is further divided into seven (or more rarely, twelve) distinct steps.
The seven steps and their corresponding stages are:
1st, Calcination. The raw material is reduced to ashes in fire.
2nd, Dissolution. The ashes are dissolved in water.
3rd, Separation. The result is filtered, and the subtle material is separated from the gross material.*
4th, Conjunction. The resulting materials are re-combined, to create what is known as the Lesser Stone, the Lunar Stone, or the White Stone.
5th, Fermentation. Continued application of heat allows growth of a bacteria or ferment.*
6th, Distillation. Any impurities in the resulting substance are eliminated.
7th, Coagulation. The final substance is made solid, and becomes the Great Stone, the Solar Stone, or Philosopher's Stone. Legend suggests that the Philosopher's stone could, in turn, be used to transmute base metals into Gold or to create the Elixir of Life.
Thus concludes our outline of the Seven step alchemical process. For those who are curious, the twelve steps process is similar: Calcination, Dissolution, Separation, Conjunction, Putrefaction, Congelation, Cibation, Sublimation (which is nearly the same as Distillation), Fermentation, Exaltation, Multiplication, and Projection. The seven step process, however, is the more widely accepted and ancient interpretation, with the twelve steps being perhaps not more than an elaboration upon the other.
Now, to my primary subject:
How does this relate to York Rite Masonry?
First, the primary legend of Masonry is about the search for the lost Word, the qualities and powers of which are notably similar to that of the Philosopher's Stone, the allegorical interpretation of being able "to travel in foreign countries, work, and receive master's wages" being basic among these powers.
Through the process of time and development under the hand of skilled Masons, our American York Rite has arrived at a process which correlates one-for-one to the Alchemical work.
1st, Entered Apprentice (Alchemical Process of Calcination)
The candidate as the rough ashlar, or crude material, is divested of all metalic substances and taught to subdue his passions. He is admonished to burn away his impurities, or to put it another way, to use the common gavel to break off the rough and superfluous edges of the stone and make it fit for the builder's use. He is reduced to ashes, as it is the internal and not the external qualifications that recommend a man for Masonry. Alchemists relate this phase to the Fire of Creation: "Let there be light."
2nd, Fellow Craft (Alchemical Process of Dissolution)
The candidate is taught about the Arts and Sciences, and two pillars which could preserve them from conflagration (fire, step 1) and inundation (water, this step.) In the Old Charges we find that the legendary precursors to the Two Pillars in our Fellowcraft Degree were actually set up before the Flood as repositories for the knowledge of the children of Lamech, in music, shepherding, metallurgy, and weaving, and not during the time of King Solomon. This early symbol of "all the knowledge of the arts and sciences" is essentially equivalent to the "Ancient Master's Word." It is as if it is the same legend,which took two developmental routes.
3rd, Master Mason (Alchemical Process of Separation)
The flood has arrived, or in other words, the Grand Master has been slain, and the AMW has been lost. The Alchemical process of separation is that of dividing the subtle from the gross. The raising in the Master Mason Degree can be seen as a separation of that which is eternal in man, from that which is merely temporary. We review all of our hidden material and decide what to discard, and what to keep.
4th, Mark Master (Alchemical Process of Conjunction)
We now put together the material which was retained to form the White Stone, or Key-Stone, upon which is written a new name, representing our new personality.
5th, Past Master (Alchemical Process of Fermentation)
King Solomon is in his old age, his death is imminent. It is said to the candidate, when the hat is placed upon his head, "and may a portion of his wisdom descend upon you." This is the spark, ferment, or bacteria that begins to grow in us.
6th, Most Excellent Master (Alchemical Process of Distillation)
The final touches are placed upon the Temple, and it is dedicated with prayer and ceremony. Divine fire from heaven comes down and lights upon the altar, burning away any impurity which may have been in the work through God's acceptance of the offering to him. The tools are now laid down, and the aprons removed, as we move into the next process.
7th, The Holy Royal Arch (Alchemical Process of Coagulation)
After a long wait, the Sun at Meridian Height shines into the innermost recesses of the vault, under the ruins of King Solomon's Temple, and reveals the object of our quest. Scarlet and Gold, the principal colors of this degree, show us that we have arrived at the Red Stage of Alchemy.
I hope you enjoyed this basic journey into the relation of Alchemy and the York Rite degrees. A question that would be natural is how these relations could exist, when the history and development and sequence of these degrees is so widespread in time and so uniquely American. I would suggest that the formulation of the Rite was in itself a process of separation, fermentation, etc., ending in coagulation of what we have today.
Monday, May 04, 2009
I was going through piles of papers from the past couple years, and found a partial poem that I figured I'd post. It is in need of continuation, if anyone wants to take a stab at it. Well, here goes:
This is a Masonic Poem,
about a Worshipful Master who met a Gnome.
Twas living in the chandelier,
The Master cried, "Come down here!
How long have you been living there,
Above the compasses and square?"
"The DeMolay boys let me in."--
"What have you seen?"--"Where to begin!
The initiations have been fine,
see, I learned this Due-Guard and Sign!" (he demonstrates)
"Stop! You can't do that!"--"Yeah? Says Who?"--
"Erm, it's my Lodge, so, I guess I do!"
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I'd like to examine something of interest to myself by way of contrast.
Although it is not critical to understanding the contrast I'm about to present, I feel some desire to frame what I'm about to say by pointing out that I'm formerly (quite recently) a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that my religion is currently a blend between several things, still including several aspects of Mormonism.
Mormonism and Masonry are subjects that have often been treated together, by both friendly and "anti-" sources. I want to look at a different aspect of comparison. In recent years, Freemasonry has been featured in several television programs. There has been at least one program that has purported to accurately depict the Master Mason Degree, presumably exposing the Masonic secrets held sacred to members of the Fraternity to the general public.
Next Wednesday, HBO plans to air a new episode of "Big Love" which depicts portions of the Mormon Temple Endowment, in an accurate re-creation of an Endowment Room and Celestial Room and with accurately depicted Temple Clothing being shown. For those of you who don't know, "Big Love" is a show about a Fundamentalist Mormon family living in Utah and dealing with life among their Latter-day Saint neighbors. And for those of you who aren't familiar with Mormonism, the depiction of the Temple ordinances and even the Temple clothing is considered taboo in mainstream Mormonism, that's why the producers of the show had to hire an ex-Mormon to help them put together the set and props. The producers have promised that they've done their homework and will be doing an accurate portrayal.
A common thread here is that both shows may be characterized as being created by people who are unsympathetic towards the organization whose secret rituals they are "exposing." Both programs are merely putting together information, the bulk of which has been in print since the mid-1800's, and as neither has been made by members of these organizations, the creators of these programs have apparently not broken any sacred obligations to come up with their respective footage.
So I've set the stage and shared what is in common, now for my contrast: Masons have had mixed reactions to the exposé of the Master Mason Degree on Television, and I get the impression that, by and large, the Craft has welcomed the publicity created by such a program. However, when Latter-day Saints are faced with the same type of situation, they seem to have taken a different route entirely in dealing with things. The Church put out a press release entitled "The Publicity Dilemma" which at the time of this writing is front-and-center on the Church's main lds.org website, and the majority of opinions online seem to be very negative towards HBO's actions.
I am curious what it is about the scenarios or common psychological make-ups of these two groups to cause them to react so differently to such a similar situation? Why aren't the Mormons able to channel this potential attention into a positive force for their growth, when the Masons have been able to succesfully do so in at least a handful of cases that I'm aware of? On the other hand, is the easy-going attitude of the Masons indicative of a general lack of respect for their own solemn ceremonies, or is this response consistent with the best and highest Masonic ideals? Or, does the religion vs. fraternity comparison make this equivalent to comparing apples to oranges -- if so, why?
A closing plea, please be respectful to the Latter-day Saints in any comments left in relation to this post. They are getting enough flack as it is from other sources.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I have, over the course of the past year, seen two infractions of the injunction we receive that when in strange or mixed company we be careful not to let fall the least sign or token whereby the secrets of Freemasonry might be unlawfully obtained.
I have intentionally waited to address this issue, so that my post here would not further the revealment of what ought to be concealed by drawing undue attention to it, but now, after much pause, I speak up:
The nature of the infraction I have seen has been that of photographs taken in open lodge, which have since been "innocently" posted on the web, in which one or more Masons are making the due-guard or penal sign of a degree somewhere in the photo. I am familiar with other societies in which cameras are strictly forbidden to enter the area used for private rituals, and I am thankful that our fraternity does permit the use of cameras, in a majority of cases, to make a visual record of our events, when the time is appropriate. When taking a photo in Lodge, we need to be careful and considerate of what we are taking a photograph of, not just our subject, but of everyone and everything in the background thereof. If we are not careful, we, on a Lodge or Grand Lodge basis, could lose the privilege of taking photos during our meetings.
I hope this will be received as a caution and counsel, and not as a chastisement. Take due notice, and govern yourselves accordingly.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
Why is a branch of the KKK trying to use the Triple Tau, a symbol whose historic evolution is well documented to be part of the Holy Royal Arch Degree of the Antients Grand Lodge of England? Not only that, but they are using explanations of the symbol on their web site which are taken from Masonic authors.
I really think they should come up with their own symbol. Masonry teaches the Universal Brotherhood of Man, and ought to regard all men as equals regardless of race.
Friday, December 26, 2008
The Most Excellent Master, or Sixth Degree in the American York Rite, celebrates the Completion of King Solomon's Temple. Four things are set in place in this degree. The cap-stone is placed into one of the principal arches of the Temple, completing the building. The ark is safely seated within the Holy of Holies, and, after King Solomon offers the dedicatory prayer, fire descends upon the Altar of Sacrifice and the Shekhinah also appears. The lecture of the degree talks to us specifically about building our own inner or spiritual Temple, and draws our attention back to the progress we have made in the preceeding degrees.
Let us review the various Degrees and observe how the Altar of Freemasonry represents the various Altars of King Solomon's Temple as we progress through the degrees.
We are taught that Entered Apprentice Masons hold their meetings on the ground floor of King Solomon's Temple. The ground floor is the Courtyard, where the Altar of Sacrifice is located. It was upon this Altar that the Sacred Fire from Heaven descended and consumed the Sacrifice at the dedication of Solomon's Temple. Once burning, the Fire from the Altar of Sacrifice is never extinguished. It is carried into the Holy Place and used to light the Lampstand and its coals are used to kindle the Incense Altar, and is carried by the priests in censers whenever the Tabernacle must be moved. It is the manifest presence of that Eternal Flame which never goes out, the Aur Ein Sof (Light Without End) of the Kabbalists, universally depicted over the Master's Chair in Freemasonry as the letter G.
Fellow Craft Masons hold their meetings in the Middle Chamber of King Solomon's Temple. In the Middle Chamber we find the Incense Altar, where incense burns both day and night before the veil, and prayers ascend like smoke up over the veil into the Sanctum Sanctorum or Holy of Holies. We also find the Seven-branched Lampstand here, and the Table of Shew-bread which are symbolized by the Wages of a Fellowcraft Masons, corn(wheat), wine and oil, and which, in the Temple, provided sustenance for the priests.
Master Masons hold their meetings in the Sanctum Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies. Here we find an "Altar" called the Ark of the Covenant, which is a small chest or coffer, made of Acacia wood, and overlaid inside and outside with gold, into which were placed the tablets of the Law (both the broken and the unbroken sets), a pot of Manna, and Aaron's Rod which budded and blossomed with almonds. A copy of the Torah was also kept within the Holy of Holies, next to or possibly upon the Ark. The Jewish High Priest, standing before this Ark, or Altar, would offer prayer for his own sins and the sins of his people, and this was also where, according to Masonic legend, Hiram Abiff offered his prayers each day during the building of the Temple.
Upon the lid of the Ark (called the Mercy Seat) rested two additional Cherubim, made of the same piece of beaten gold as the Mercy Seat, facing inward, with their wings covering over and supporting the Ark. The Holy Writings describe the Cherubim as having four faces, those of a Lion, an Ox, a Man and an Eagle, with one face towards each direction. These same creatures were also depicted on the standards of the four principal tribes of Israel, as described in the Royal Arch, or Seventh Degree, and when the Israelites were traveling in the wilderness for forty years, in their Encampment, it was these very same four tribes, Judah, Ephraim, Rueben, and Dan, who respectively camped directly to the East, West, South, and North of the Tabernacle.
Through a study of the Volume of Sacred Law, particularly Leviticus chapter 16, and also of the Talmud, we may learn a great deal about the ceremonies in which the High Priest engaged. He would enter the Holy of Holies on only one day of the year, Yom Kippur, and upon entering, he would pass beneath the Wings of the Cherubim. The Cherubim referred to are the large ones which stretched from one wall of this chamber to the other, touching the tips of their wings together in the midst of the room, as described in the Royal Master, or Eighth Degree. After entering, the High Priest would place a golden censer filled with coals and incense upon the floor before the Ark of the Covenant, and retreat outside the room, where he would offer a prayer before the vail with hands uplifted before YHWH. It was on this occasion, during this prayer, that he was permitted to speak aloud the Great and Sacred Name of Deity, and upon offering this prayer, the Shekhinah or Divine Presence would descend and rest above the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. He would then re-enter the Holy of Holies, and indirectly behold the Shekhinah through the hazy cloud of smoke which had emanated from the his Golden Censer and filled the room. This smoke was so thick that he was required to use his hands to block the smoke from entering his nostrils. As also described in the Royal Master degree, as well as in the Sacred Writings, the Bath-Kol (Literally, "Daughter of Voice," in Hebrew), or Voice of God Unseen issued forth from between the wings of the Cherubim and was heard by the High Priest.
You've probably heard the analogy that our body is a Temple, a house for the Spirit of God to dwell in, or that we are to construct "a spiritual building, pure and spotless, fit for the habitation of him who dwelleth only with the good."
What follows is speculative, and is intended to stimulate your own thoughts on this subject: I want to compare the events of the Most Excellent Master degree to both the physical and spiritual aspects of the human body and see if the completion of the Temple can be represented there in the same manner. I will begin by suggesting that our Heart (or possibly, our Heart and Stomach) represents the Altar of Sacrifice. Physically, the heart is the center of our body's blood system, and blood is the primary ritual element of the sacrifices which were performed in the Temple. The blood from the sacrificial animals was placed upon the horns of the Altar of Sacrifice, and was also carried into the Holy Place and placed upon the horns of the Incense Altar. Scriptures frequently relate Fire to the heart. Psalm 39:3, for example, reads "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue." Jeremiah 20:8-9 reads "For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But [his word] was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." Luke 24:32 says, "And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?"
As I mentioned, some of the blood was carried in to the Incense Altar, and the Psalm also said, "then spake I with my tongue." Our throat has an Incense Altar within it, consisting of the tongue and also the larynx, or voicebox, by which we create speech and offer prayers. The throat is also where air enters our body, like the smoke ascending up from the incense altar and over the vail. If our voice sends forth the prayer, and afterwards we pass through the vail into the Sanctum Sanctorum of our head where we stand in waiting for an answer to our prayer, would not the daughter of voice, the Bath-Kol, be that still small voice (see 1 Kings 19:11-13) of God, speaking directly to our mind. Would not the greater Cherubim reaching across the room be the eyes, whose optic nerves, like wings, meet in the middle of the Holy of Holies, and would not the lesser Cherubim upon the Ark, be our ears, whose canals lead inward, covering over and supporting the mercy seat? The Bath-Kol is the Voice of God which issues forth from between the wings of these Cherubim and enters our thoughts as divine inspiration. Perhaps the smoke of our Golden censer, is the temporary closing of our eyes and ears to outside sensory distractions so that we can listen for the Bath-Kol. Perhaps, like the High Priest, we may invoke the True Word (not the Royal Arch Word, but that which it represents), and summon the Shekhinah to appear in our Holy of Holies to give us direction. This direction is not identical to our own thoughts, but is added unto them, mixing with them. Neither is it identical to that wisdom which descended to rest upon Solomon in the Past Master, or Fifth Degree, represented by King Solomon's Crown or the Top Hat of the Master. But before we are to hear the Bath-Kol, we must ensure that the building is Completed, that the Keystone is set into the Principal Arch of the Temple, that the Ark is Safely Seated, and that there is a Fire burning upon the Altar of our Heart. Remember, the Fire upon the Altar of our Heart should be continually burning, and the Incense should be offered both day and night, but the Shekhinah is only manifest when invoked by use of the Great and Sacred Name.
So, what do the Keystone and the Principal Arch represent in our bodily Temple? How can we prepare our inner Temple for this event? And, why must this event transpire before we are permitted to travel into foreign countries, or to go into that undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns, the privilege finally bestowed upon the craftsmen at the dedication of the Temple?
Please divert all comments on this article to the copy posted on the Reames Chapter #28 R.A.M. Website.