Saturday, May 30, 2009

York Rite Alchemy

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

A Masonic Poem

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

Contrasting Reactions to Exposés on TV

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 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

While in strange or mixed company, do not let fall the least sign or token...


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 our symbol?

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.