More 1st degree symbolism

Alchemy, Hermeticism and the Kabbalah in the Craft

by Comp. D. McClymont
King Solomon Royal Arch Chapter 334
Central South Africa
  1. Introductory remarks
The symbolism in Craft Freemasonry is so intricate, so multidimensional, and so consistent that it is hard to accept that it stems only from the craft secrets of a bunch of stonecutters. There is also a lot more content in Freemasonry than can be directly attributed to the Ancient Charges and the discipline of Sacred Geometry.
This paper started out as a bit of RA research, but, as usual, I found that everything in Freemasonry has its roots in the 1st degree, especially the explanation of the tracing board.
Caution: this paper is not an exhaustive study. It is not even didactic. It is merely a sharing of what I have discovered  a progress report, if you like. So far, I have merely begun to map out the extent of the territory covered by the subject. Detailed examination of the contents will take the rest of my life.
  1. Content of this paper:
I want to examine the mosaic pavement, the Glory in the centre, the position of the altar and, above all, the 3 great pillars.
Merely naming them Wisdom, Strength and Beauty is very trite even silly. Then, linking these names to the three GMs is a bit forced unless there is a deeper tradition underlying the ritual. If we are to look for modern significance in the three GMs, then we could just as well refer to Solomons religious tolerance, Hirams multinational commerce empire and the other Hirams skills calling the three great pillars Tolerance, Globalization and Technology¦

  1. Some ideas from the disciplines of Alchemy, Hermeticism and the Kabbalah: 
    1. Alchemy 
Alchemy divides reality into three realms, and looks for the light and gold in the unknown there. In the realm of the Spirit, the gold is the principle of Reason the underlying rational principle behind everything that John called the Logos (the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it).
In the realm of the Mind, the gold is Truth¦
In the realm of the Material, gold is the sun.
Quite apart from certain very familiarly Masonic themes there, we should note the placement, in the Centre of the Lodge, of the Blazing Star which is the Glory in the Centre. We should also take note that the point within a circle is precisely where the candidate kneels, hoodwinked, asking to be restored to the light (As well see, the point within a circle is the hieroglyph for the sun in its role as the emblem of Divinity). There is thus a direct link between the Lodge and Alchemys three realms. There is also a logical link between Alchemy and the Tree of Life. The sephir for knowledge is Daat, the Abyss. The search for knowledge is inevitably a journey into a dark and unknown place until you find something there¦
We should also note that the Alchemists were engaged in a life-long search, not for a means to transmute lead into gold in a material sense. Their studies led them to search for a means whereby a means to make the impure pure (making good men better). These extracts are from Wikipedia: chemical substances, physical states, and material processes [are] as mere metaphors for spiritual entities, states and transformations. Thus, both the transmutation of common metals into gold and the universal panacea symbolized evolution from an imperfect, diseased, corruptible and ephemeral state towards a perfect, healthy, incorruptible and everlasting state; and the philosopher's stone then represented some mystic key that would make this evolution possible. Applied to the alchemist himself, the twin goal symbolized his evolution from ignorance to enlightenment, and the stone represented some hidden spiritual truth or power that would lead to that goal. In texts that are written according to this view, the cryptic alchemical symbols, diagrams, and textual imagery of late alchemical works typically contain multiple layers of meanings, allegories, and references to other equally cryptic works; and must be laborously "decoded" in order to discover their true meaning.
The picture we have of an evil, old dodderer, muttering all sorts of mumbo-jumbo comes from a satirical play about Sir Isaac Newton, a noted alchemist. It is very far from the truth.
Wikipedia again:  Up to the 18th century, alchemy was actually considered serious science in Europe; for instance, Isaac Newton devoted considerably more of his time and writing to the study of alchemy than he did to either optics or physics, for which he is famous, (see Isaac Newton's occult studies). Other eminent alchemists of the Western world are Roger Bacon, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Tycho Brahe, Thomas Browne, and Parmigianino. The decline of alchemy began in the 18th century with the birth of modern chemistry, which provided a more precise and reliable framework for matter transmutations and medicine, within a new grand design of the universe based on rational materialism.

    1. The birth of modern science:
Again, there are two very trite references in our ritual and Lodge design; at least trivial to post-Newtonian man. The first is a part of the 1st degree catechism: the candidate states that he was made a Mason when the sun was at its meridian. He explains this apparent contradiction in terms of the solar system.
Secondly, one of the things the tesselated border, in conjunction with the Glory in the Centre, signifies, is the movement of the planets around the sun.
By the time of the initiation of Sir Robert Moray (1641) and Elias Ashmole (1646), these elements were part of Freemasonry. But in the 1640s the idea of the solar system, with the sun at its middle was radical. During the 1630s, Galileo had to recent his ideas about the solar system or die. Giordano Bruno actually did pay the ultimate penalty.
Freemasonry and modern science originated more or less from the same sources, and 17th century Freemasonry was a most radical organization, seeking radical truths in the face of certain persecution.

These early giants of science were part of a movement that evolved into the Royal Society in 1662. An Anglican bishop, Wilkinson by name, formed the Invisible College during the Cromwell persecution of thinking specifically to advance the ideas begun by Francis Bacon. The men he gathered around him included Sir Christopher Wren, Halley, Hooke, Boyle, and, eventually, Sir Isaac Newton. All of them epitomized Freemasonry as it is presented to the 2nd degree candidate investigating the hidden mysteries of science and nature, making the 7 liberal arts and sciences the focus of their studies, and regarding all knowledge as One.



    1. Hermeticism
From Wikipedia: Legend has it that the founder of Egyptian alchemy was the god Thoth, called Hermes-Thoth or Thrice-Great Hermes (Hermes Trismegistus) by the Greek. According to legend, he wrote what were called the forty-two Books of Knowledge, covering all fields of knowledge — including alchemy. Hermes's symbol was the caduceus or serpent-staff, which became one of many of alchemy's principal symbols. The "Emerald Tablet" or Hermetica of Thrice-Greatest Hermes, which is known only through Greek and Arabic translations, is generally understood to form the basis for Western alchemical philosophy and practice, called the hermetic philosophy by its early practitioners. 
For us today, the most well-known aspect of the Hermetic way is the Seal of Solomon (Star of David). Those two interlaced triangles symbolise,As above, so below.
The Hermetics went beyond the dualistic ideas of Gnosticism. That much is clearly seen in the mosaic pavement with the tessellated border. The black and white tiles are, at first glance, representative of dualistic theory: that reality is divided into good & evil, spirit & material, etc. Such a world view compels a Gnostic to reject half of reality¦
The Hermetic ( Newton was one) saw also that tessellated border, and the whole presided over by the Glory in the Centre. He saw that reality is indeed, both appealing and appalling but that everything is integral to the Whole: that there is a Divine plan (architecture) which encompasses all things and gives it meaning and beauty.
It was the Hermetic mindset that drove the great scientific era of the 17th-18th Centuries¦
  1. What is the Kabbalah? 
It is a system of meditation on Divine mysteries. Though it takes its name from the Jewish form of the system, it is much more universal. Its basis is a symbol for God, as shown on the front of this paper.
Very briefly, the basis of Kabbalah is the Tree of Life and the 72 names of God.
The Tree of Life is an attempt to give a picture of the Great Architect of the Universe, bearing in mind the prohibition in the Decalogue against the making of graven images.
Those aspects of the Creators nature that can be apprehended by the Creation are depicted as 10 facets, divided into 3 columns. Logic says that there must be much about the Creators infinite nature that cannot be apprehended by the Creation, and this is depicted by the Ain Sofa. Note the alternative name in the picture The Word¦

 The Creators involvement with Creation steadily increases as your eye travels down the Tree. The lowest of the sephiroth is Malkuth. This Hebrew word literally means Kingdoms, but signifies, rather, Cosmos Gods involvement in the material Universe.

  1. Lodge symbols 
    1. The 3 pillars in the centre of a Scottish lodge why Wisdom, Strength & Beauty? 
Note the text of the 1st degree Tracing Board Explanation: they support the Lodge. Immediately afterwards, the Explanation moves on to talk about the covering of a Masons Lodge. The logical connection is that the pillars connect with and hold up the covering of the Lodge. They have a major role to play in the fact that our lodges are on holy ground, and members are supposed to progress upward¦ 
If you look at the three columns of the Tree of Life, you will see, in the centre, a column of Beauty, supported on either side by columns indicative of Wisdom and Strength. (Aside: note the sepher Tephiroth Beauty. It is associated with compassion and the Heart. In another illustration I have of the Tree, the alchemical symbol associated with it is the sun. Again, remember where the glyph for the sun is in the lodge. Also, note that, in the pilgrimage route from St James of Compostela to Rosslyn, Chartes Cathedral is on a site of a pre-Christian oracle of the sun, and corresponds to the Chakra of the Heart.)
Within the compass of the 3 pillars, there is another configuration of three pillars. The point within the circle is bounded to the North and the South by 2 grand parallels, representing Moses and Solomon. Moses personifies the Law and all the strength and certainty associated with it. Solomon, as King, gained his reputation for Wisdom by the insight of his judgements. You not only need the strength of good Laws, but the application of Wisdom to know how to keep things Just. The result is the Beauty of the central pillar Jacobs Ladder.
The Ladder, as the narrative in Genesis tells us, was occupied by angels both ascending and descending. The Ladder is a two-way link, just as the energies in  the Tree of Life stream upwards and downward, and from side to side. It is not just an upward quest for us mortals.
The Blazing Star, which is the Glory in the Centre is easily identified with Ain Sof.
    1. The point within a circle why in the centre of the lodge? 
We should first take note of the importance of centres in our rituals and symbolism. As the lodge is opened in the 3rd degree, the questions is asked as to how we
will search for the lost secrets of Freemasonry. The answer is given: With a centre
A point within a circle occurs in the 1st degree it is shown to the candidate as being on the western side of the altar, at the heart of the lodge precisely where the
candidate kneels and asks for the light.
The point within a circle is used in Pythagoreanism
The hieroglyphic for the sun, the divinely given light from above, and thus for God himself is a point within a circle. One of the theories as to the origin of the  
name Freemason is the Egyptian words Fre messe meaning Child of Light. 
 There is an echo, here, from the Sermon on the Mount God maketh the sun to shine on the just and the unjust.

At Chartres Cathedral, there is a very famous maze. It is circular, and once a year, pilgrims traverse it towards the point in the centre. Chartres = Sun = Heart = the glyph, etc., etc, and staying within due bounds thereof ensures you cannot possibly err. Follow what is in your heart.  

  1. Concluding
As I said in the opening remarks, this is just a mind-map of the territory. There is much more to the Kabbalah, Hermeticism and Alchemy in the Royal Arch. The content of the mind-map is a mind-boggling roadmap for a life of beautiful spiritual progress.