Many of you may
have familiarity with the term “Alchemist”.
For most this term conjures images of early experimenters attempting to
chemically convert lead or base metals into gold, and the search for the
chemical elixir of life. These
experimenters did indeed exist, their work being the forerunner of modern
chemistry. As there were “operative”
alchemists, so there were also “speculative” alchemists. Speculative alchemists are often associated
with Hermetic philosophy, and employ symbols of metals, elements, the planets,
and chemical processes to describe and understand the spiritual process of
personal improvement. The founder of
Hermetic philosophy was an Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegisus. To the Egyptians he was credited as the
author of all the arts and sciences. Deified
by different cultures, he was known as Thoth by the Egyptians, Mercury by the Romans
and Hermes to the Greeks. While in all
probability there actually existed a great sage by the name of Hermes, it is
impossible to extricate the historical man from the mass of legendary accounts
One of the famous writings of Hermes
was the Emerald Table, which contains thirteen sentences summarizing Hermetic
In the Sixteenth
through Eighteenth century, Hermeticism became connected with Alchemy; and by
what seemed mere chemical jargon and meaningless symbols, their true
explanations were concealed from the masses and from the church, who would have
likely pronounced many Alchemists as heretics.
most Masons, many of the symbols found in symbolic, or “Blue Lodge” Masonry
came to us from Alchemy. In his book,
“Symbolism of the Blue Degrees of Freemasonry”
, Albert Pike describes these relationships and states that “By this and many
other proofs we know that the symbols of Freemasonry were introduced into it by
the Hermetic philosophers of England…”. Manly P. Hall in his work, The Secret
Teachings of All Ages, states, “…he [Hermes] was the author of the Masonic
initiatory rituals…Nearly all of the Masonic symbols are Hermetic in character”. In spite of this, I was surprised to find a
dearth of research regarding the relationship between Alchemy and Masonry.
Pike informs us of the strong connection in Blue Lodge Masonry with that of
Alchemy, I wondered if that connection continued into the Scottish Rite Lodge
of Perfection, which in many ways is a continuation and completion of the Blue
Lodge degrees. In this paper we will
survey the symbols of the Scottish Rite degrees from the 4th through
the 14th to see if we can find any connection with the symbols of
Alchemy. My goal is twofold in doing
this: first, to expose the reader to the connection between Alchemy and
Freemasonry, and second to encourage other Masonic researchers to explore this
very interesting and largely untapped area of study. It should be noted that I am a Masonic researcher and not an
Alchemist. This paper is written from
the viewpoint of that of a Masonic researcher. Let us know explore the Lodge of Perfection
in a hunt for Scottish Chemistry!
In the 4th
degree we are introduced to the Kabbalah
and the tree of life. Most students of
the Kabbalah would recognize it as deriving from Jewish mysticism. However, there is also a Hermetic Kabbalah
which is strongly connected to alchemy.
Manley P. Hall states that the theories of the Kabbalah are inextricably
interwoven with the tenets of alchemy, Hermeticism, Rosicruciansim and
Freemasonry. During the period of the open minded
Renaissance Hermeticism and the Kabbalah became increasingly intertwined. However, much of today’s Hermitic Kabbalah
was made popular during the late 19th and early 20th century
by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The many aspects of Hermetic
Kabbalah are too detailed for the scope of this paper, so a short outline will
be given. In Judaic Kabbalah, the 10
Sephiroth are understood to describe the 10 attributes of the Deity. In Hermetic Kabbalah the 10 Sephiroth also pertain
to the attributes of Deity, but they utilize different symbols to describe
them. The Hermetic system relates the
22 paths between the sephira to the 22 Hebrew letters, a color, a musical note
(vibration), an odor and a Tarot card. The Golden Dawn Hermetic system assigns
astrological signs in the form of planets and specific meanings to each of the
Sephiroth on the “body”. The concept of
the Tree of Life is long rooted in Alchemy; an early Alchemistical tree of life
is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Early
Hermetic Tree, from the Musaeum Hermeticum, Frankfurt edition, 1749
It is believed
that the early Kabbalists would often embed their secret teachings in the
symbols and rituals of various esoteric schools of thought, such as the
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Scottish Rite, for safe keeping. We are still able to find clues in the
symbols and ritual of our Scottish Rite degrees that point to esoteric
Kabalistic meanings left to us from earlier times.
researcher, the description of the Tree of Life contained in the 4th
degree appears to be Judaic based.
Never the less, the Kabbalah is so interwoven into Hermetic thought that
we must consider this to be a potential alchemistical symbol.
The theme of the
5th degree is that of death, in this case the memorial of the death
of Hiram Abif. Death has a specific
meaning within Alchemy. According to
Alchemists, unless the elements first die, the Great Work of self
transformation cannot take place.
Amongst the symbolic chemical processes in Alchemy we find the state of
putrefaction, the symbolic color of which is black. Can we connect the colors of the preparation
room which is hung with black drapes, symbolizing the death of putrefaction to
prepare us for the spiritual transformation?
This concept of
having to die and be transformed into another state is common in other
religions. Notable is the Christian
concept of being born again, and teaching of the death of the physical body to
be transformed into the spiritual body. This connection may be seen in the words of
the funeral hymn in the degree, “The buried wheat must seem to die, long
rotting in the earth must lie,…the new stalk can the new grain bear…Before the
moth new-born, can be the type of immortality. This portion of the ritual supports the
Alchemistical concept of rebirth from death, through the state of putrefaction.
The jewel of the degree is a triple
delta upon a triangular plate of gold (see Figure 2). In the center of each delta are found the symbols of the sun on
the right, the moon on the left, and mercury above and between the other two. At first glance this symbol appears to
represent the traditional sun, moon and master of the lodge of blue lodge
masonry. Mercury, as know to the Romans
and as Thoth by the Egyptians, the god Hermes, is considered by Pike to represent
the Master of the Lodge. Mercury was the messenger of the good news
and the good Shepard that leads his flock form earthy to heavenly
pastures. These may be compared to the
functions the Worshipful Master performs to keep his lodge in harmony. However, to those knowledgeable in the art
of Hermeticism, this symbol just screams of alchemy.
Figure 2: Jewel
of the 6th Degree
In Albert Pike’s “Book of the Words”
as well in “Symbolism of the Blue Degrees of Freemasonry”
he describes the drawing of a double headed figure taken from a Latin book on Hermetics. However, we will find a closer connection to
the jewel of the 6th degree by using the drawing in the latter book
on page 213, which we have reproduced here (see Figure 3). This is obvious to the adept in Alchemy a
symbolic representation of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes. On the top you will see the planetary symbols
of the sun on the left with the moon on the right, pouring liquid into a cup
supported by the symbol for the planet Mercury. This corresponds with the symbols used for the 6th
further interpretation is required to understand one of the possible meanings
of these symbols. The sun and the moon
have some specific meanings in alchemy.
From the Emerald Tablet of Hermes we read learn that the Father is the
sun, the Mother is the moon. To the alchemist these represent the great
fourth hermetic principle, the principle of polarity; the two aspects; two
poles; a pair of opposites. It also may represent the seventh principle
that gender is in everything; everything has its masculine and feminine
principles. We see these two principles balanced by the
chalice supported by Mercury. The
planet shown as Mercury is a blind for that of Mercury the hermaphrodite, the
combination of both sexes. Here Mercury
acts as the union between the two opposites.
With the sun and the moon pouring their life fluids into the chalice (or
perhaps the mysterious life principle known to the alchemists as Azoth) these
forces are combined. To an Alchemist
Mercury would symbolize action, movement.
Here we may perceive Mercury in an active state to assist in the union
of the sun and the moon, by gently guiding them together. Interestingly,
one must turn the jewel of the 6th degree upside down to match the
symbolic representation in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes. Perhaps there is also symbolism in that, or
perhaps we are being frustrated by centuries of change in our rituals and
symbols – in many cases changed by people who did not understand the true
nature of the esoteric meaning behind them.
Figure 3 -
Symbolic Representation of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes
I do not find
any explicit symbolic references to Alchemy in this degree
In the eight
degree in the east hangs a nine-pointed blazing star. In the center are the letters IHV, in either the Samaritan whc or the Hebrew uwhy. These three letters
represent an abbreviation of the name of God.
This three letter abbreviation, according to Albert Pike, signifies
‘life’; the use of three letters is also symbolic as we shall see in a moment. This figure may represent the Alchemical
symbol of the enneagram, a circle with nine points. The nine points are formed by the combination of a triangle
(representing the trinity) and seven points (representing completeness). While the development of this figure is
sometimes credited to C.I. Gurdjeiff in the early part of the 20th
century, its use in alchemy goes back many centuries. The drawing show in figure 4 is from the cover of Arthmologia,
published in Rome in 1665 AD, shows the nine sided figure rising into the celestial
The points of
the nine sided star in figure 4 that do not correspond with the inner triangle may
be assigned to the 6 planets in order of the moon (starting at the 1 o’clock
position), Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, with the seventh planet
the Sun in the center represented by the seeing eye. The points corresponding to the center triangle would represent
the forces of the Trinity. Not every
enneagram figure contained the internal triangle. When present the inner triangle would indicate the higher
elements. For the symbol used in the 8th
degree I believe the name of God in the form of a three letter ‘Trinity’ in the
center represents this internal triangle.
As this symbol is also in the form of a wheel, alchemists state you
cannot understand the figure of the enneagram without thinking of it in
perpetual motion. Keep
this in mind when we explore the Chakras in the 12th degree.
The number nine
in the figure also relates to alchemistic thought behind the enneagram. The number nine is a factor of 3 times 3,
which here represents the 3x3 spiritual hierarchies that God descends through
to reach us humans, and that we should raise through the same to God. This may relate to the next symbol we will
explore in the 8th degree, the secret vault.
Figure 4: Nine
sided symbol rises into the celestial sphere,
A. Kircher, Arithmologia, Rome 1665
There are three
degrees in the Lodge of Perfection that include a secret vault. Most well known are the secret vaults of the
13th degree (built by Enoch) and the vault of the 14th
degree (built by Solomon). There is
also a secret vault in the 8th degree to house the Ark of the
Covenant. While not normally thought of
as such, I believe that these vaults are indeed symbols and have a relation to
that of alchemy.
To be certain,
the initiations into the ancient mysteries were often conducted
underground. Even the early Christians
met in the catacombs of Rome. The vault
was, in the ancient mysteries, symbolic of the grave; for initiation was
symbolic of death, where along Devine Truth was to be found. It was also symbolic of the womb, for which
man would pass through to be born anew from death. The concept of the vault may also be found deep in Hermetic
teaching. From the emerald tablet of
Hermes we read, “…and whatever is below is like that which is above; and that
which is above is like that which is below…”
and “It ascends from earth to heaven, and descends again, new born to earth,
taking…the power of the Above and the Below”. The vault may be symbolic of this new birth
and that having three different degrees containing a secret vault is symbolic
of these three different processes of ascending and descending.
references to a secret vault are found in the teaching of the Rosicrucian’s. The ‘founder’, a mysterious person called
"The Highly Illuminated Father C.R.C. (Christian Rosenkreutz, or as he is
also know, Christian Rose Cross) died and was buried in a secret vault that was
found 120 years after his death by followers of his order. When the members entered the vault it was
comprised of seven sides and seven corners, each side five feet broad and eight
feet high. Although the sun never
penetrated this tomb, it was brilliantly illuminated by a mysterious light in
the ceiling. In the center was a
circulate altar, upon which was a triangular brass plate engraved with strange
characters. Many of you will immediately see a parallel
to that of the 13th and 14th degree where also a
triangular plate of gold is found on top of an altar with strange letters on
it. To the Rosicrucian to enter this
vault, or tomb, is thought to enter another dimension and symbolizes rebirth and
While we can
understand why the vault is contained in the 13th and 14th
degree, it is somewhat less clear why we also find it in the 8th
degree. One possible answer is that it
relates to that of the 9 sided enneagram, symbolizing the start of the three
fold ascent and decent from the heaves to the earth. While this is certainly possible, why the 8th degree,
as apposed to the 7th or the 6th or some other
degree? A fellow researcher
has postulated that there may be a connection with the fact that the 8th
degree, like the 13th, immediately precedes a related degree, in
this case the first of three Elu degrees.
It seems reasonable to suppose that the allegory of descending into the vault
of the 13th degree and finding the form, though not yet the meaning,
of the word upon the plate, the vault in the 8th degree may
symbolizes a procedure preparatory for election (morally and spiritually) for
becoming an Elu. This idea certainly
has merit; with the difficulty of looking through the fog of many centuries of
change and influence upon our Scottish Rite rituals we will probably never know
for certain what the true intention was.
However, it should now be apparent to the reader of the apparent
Hermetic influence of the three secret vaults in the Lodge of Perfection.
contain many Alchemistical symbols. The
jewels are daggers with a gold hilt and a silver blade. The silver and gold represents the sun and
the moon. Here combined showing the Hermetic
balance of the male and the female, together combining to form the complete and
balanced man. On the flap of the 9th degree we
see a five pointed golden star. To the
Alchemist, one interpretation of the five pointed star would be to represent
the four elements, that of earth, air, fire and water, with the added five of fifth
element or Quintessence.
found in both the 9th and 10th degree regalia. One of the most used symbols in alchemical
art was the rose. The rose is a symbol of completion, attainment, and
perfection. It can also be an emblem of regeneration.
The original symbol of the Rosicrucian
fraternity was a hieroglyphic rose crucified upon a cross. The cross was often raised on a three step pedestal,
representative of the crucifixion. In
the 10th degree there is a rose above three arches, this may be
symbolizing a form of the crucifixion. Finally in the 10th degree was
see nine candles, for which we are told represent the nine Elus. These nine candles may be related to the
enneagram we explored in the 8th degree. Quite a number of possible Alchemistical and Rosicrucian
references are found within these two combined degree.
I do not find
any explicit symbolic references to Alchemy in this degree
Hanging in the east
in the 12th degree we find a six pointed star comprised of two
triangles interlaced. One triangle is
white, the other black. In alchemy, the upright triangle represents
fire, and the upside-down triangle is the symbol for water. Together they
symbolize the unity of opposites. The number 6 represents balance and beauty. To the reader I suggest you consider the
directions pointed at by each the triangles for further understanding.
On the north
side of the room we find a diagram with the North Star and the seven stars of
the big dipper. The concept of seven
stars has Alchemistic meanings. The big
dipper, while the most recognized grouping of stars is not really by itself a
constellation. It is part of the
constellation Ursa Major, or the Great Bear.
The big dipper forms the rump and the tail of the bear. I have found some connections with the North
Star representing the chi or life force of our world, and the big dipper
revolving around the North Star representing the seven immortals. This connection to ancient Alchemy is rather
speculative, so I am not ready to commit to it.
connection to Alchemy would point to the seven stars as possibly representing
the seven Chakras,
or the seven spiritual energies. The
Alchemists called the Chakras the seals of the planets. A Chakra represents energy centers located
at various points on the body. Shown
below is a table relating the planets, their Alchemical metal, body location,
and the corresponding Chakra.
Base of spine
Copper or Brass
Above the eyes
The seven stars
may also represent the seven Hermetic principles found in the Kybalion. These seven principles are Mentalism,
Correspondence, Vibration, Polarity, Rhythm, Cause and Effect, Gender.
13th and 14th Degree
We will take the
13th and 14th degree together, as they are in many ways
sister degrees. We have already
explored the Hermetic connection with the vault of the 13th and 14th
degree, so we will not repeat that here.
The script for the 13th degree is the only one in the Lodge
of Perfection that explicitly states a connection to alchemy. In the introduction read to the class the
degree states, “The cubicle Stone, an ancient Masonic symbol…This symbol is
also found in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. From here it was introduced into Alchemy, and from there, into
Freemasonry”. To the Alchemist the symbol of the cube may represent
salt, one of the basic substances. The
cube, with its six sides plus the point in the center, corresponds to the seven
days of creation. If you connect the
corners of each side of the cube diagonally you can see four triangles,
symbolic of the four Alchemic elements (salt, sulfur, mercury, and azoth). The Alchemists declare that salt was the
first created substance, produced by fire that flowed out of God. In salt is the creation concentrated, the
beginning and end of all things. Why the reference to Alchemy is explicitly
called out here in our ritual, and not elsewhere, is not known.
In both the 13th
and 14th degree we see the cubical stone with a plate of solid
gold. The plate of gold resembles the
plate on the altar of the tomb (or secret vault) of Father CRC of the Rosicrucian’s. The element gold is also an Alchemistic
element, and very symbolic of the final desired state of transmutation. The reader may wish to observe what side of
the cube the plate of gold is affixed to for further understanding.
The battery of
both the 13th and 14th degree is 3x3. Alchemy is a three fold art, symbolically
represented in 3x3; three elements in three worlds, the divine, the human, and
the elemental. The 3x3 also represents
the number 9, the number of esoteric man and the number of emanations from the
root of Devine. One can immediately see connections with the
nine arches of the vault in the 13th and 14th degree, as
well as the nine names of God given on each arch.
In the 14th
degree in front of the Senior Warden is a seven candelabra, which should bring
to mind the tree of life, as shown in figure 1. In the ritual we are told this candelabrum specially represents
the seven planets that of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury and the Moon,
with the Sun as the highest candle in the center. It should be obvious by now the connection
to Alchemy and what this symbol represents.
Perhaps it is fitting to end the Lodge of Perfection with the planetary
symbols, which to the Alchemist would represent the “above”, the final accent
into the heavens.
In exploring the
symbols throughout the Lodge of Perfection we have seen examples of very strong
Hermetic connection, and in some cases the connection has been more
tenuous. However, it is apparent, at
least to this researcher that the influence of Alchemy that began in the
symbolic lodge has continued throughout the Scottish Rite Lodge of Perfection. The brief symbolic explanations given here
have probably left the reader somewhat wanting. There is a staggering amount of detail and interpretation behind
each of the Alchemistical symbols we uncovered and I must leave further
exploration to the reader. I am reminded
of the Hermetic adage, that whoever attempts a literal understanding of the
teachings of the Hermetic philosophers will lose himself in the many twist and
turns of the labyrinth from which he will never find his way out. I hope that this brief paper has brought to
light the rich field of Alchemy symbolism in Masonry that has gone in many
aspects largely untapped.
what about the quest of the operative Alchemists to convert base metals into
gold? Well, we can and have been able
to accomplish this. It is possible to
take base elements such as tin and copper and combine them to create gold. Oh, I forgot to mention, you will require
the aid of a linear accelerator. This is
used to speed the atoms of tin to 1/10th the speed of light and smash
them into the copper atoms, fusing the nuclei together. It does produce atoms of gold, albeit at a
fiendishly uneconomical cost. While
the modern chemist works to convert atomic structures, the speculative Alchemist
works to turn the spiritual lead to spiritual gold in their path in refining
their relationship with the Deity.
The author wishes to thank fellow Hermetic researcher,
Bro. Ted Balestreri, 32º KSA, for his peer review and helpful suggestions in
the development of this paper.
 The Secret Teachings of All Ages, by Manly P. Hall, p. 92-93
 For a understanding of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes see The Secret
Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall, pages 513-516
 Symbolism of the Blue Degrees of Freemasonry, by Albert Pike,
Transcribed and Edited by Arturo de Hoyos, p. 103
 Secret Teachings, p. 94
 Some aspects of Alchemy are not compatible with the author’s
religious beliefs. Nothing in this
paper should be construed to show the author’s approval or belief in the
teaching of Alchemy.
 There are many spellings of the Kabbalah, the author will use this
one for this paper
 Secret Teachings, p. 358
 The author has referenced three different sources for this short
section on the Hermetic Kabbalah.
“Hermetic Qabalah” by Jan Swanson, www.kheper.net/topics/Hermeticism/Qabalah.htm :
“The Sephiroth”, goldendawn9.tripod.com/sphiroth.htm: Unpublished class notes,
“Portland Scottish Rite University, 4th Degree, 10/17/05” by Bro.
Ted Balestreri, 32º, KSA
 Image taken from Alchemy & Mysticism, by Alexander Roob, p. 308
 Secret Teachings, p 495, 506
 For an explanation of Christian concept of bodily transformation
please see the Biblical book of I Corinthians 15:35-49
 5th Degree Script, The Supreme Council, 33º (Rev.
1/20/04), p. 16
 6th Degree Script, The Supreme Council, 33º (Rev.
1/20/04), p. 3
 Symbolism, p. 104-105
 Figure from 6th Degree Script, The Supreme Council, 33º
(Rev. 1/20/04), p. 3
 The Book of the Words, by Albert Pike, With an Introduction by Art
deHoyos, p. 63
 Emerald tablet of Hermes
 “The Kybalion – Hermetic Philosophy” by Three Initiates, p. 66
 Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis, by Jack Courtis, www.crcsite.org/Tabula.htm
 Figure from Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis, by Jack Courtis
 8th Degree Script, Supreme Council, 33º (Rev. 1/20/04),
 Names of Deity in Freemasonry, by Bro. Norman D. Peterson
 Alchemy and Mysticism, by Alexander Roob, p. 655-658
 Alchemy and Mysticism, p. 659
 Image taken from Alchemy & Mysticism, p. 658
 Morals & Dogma, by Albert Pike, p. 208
 Emerald Tablet of Hermes
 Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis
 The Rosicrucian order, while comprising several philosophical
ideas, did emphasized alchemy and many of their teachings are highly connected
with that of alchemy.
 The tomb of Father C.R.C. should be considered an allegory, or at
best the reader should be aware that there is no historical evidence for this
 Secret Teachings, p 444-446
 From the author’s conversation with Bro. Patrick D. Knowles, 32º
 Vested In Glory, by Jim Tresner, p. 30-35
 The Imagery of Alchemical Art as a Method of Communication ,
Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition No. 9, Vol. 1, Autumnal Equinox 2005,
by Samuel Scarborough
 Secret Teachings, p. 444
 9th/10th Degree Script, The Supreme Council
33º (1/20/04), p. 23-24
 12th Degree Script, The Supreme Council 33º (1/20/04),
 The Great Bear Constellation Ursa Major Description, www.souledout.org/nightsky/ursamajorandminor.html
 Chakra is a Sanskrit work meaning
“spinning wheel”, and refers to various life forces. Each Chakra has a specific place on the
Kabalistic Tree of Life.
 Table from “The Tarrot”, www.divineparadox.com/AgelessWisdom/k17_revelation.htm
 13th Degree
Script, The Supreme Council, 33º (Rev.
1/20/04), p. 6
 Secret Teachings, p. 469
 Secret Teachings, p. 445
 Secret Teachings, p. 497-498
 14th Degree Script, The Supreme Council, 33º (Rev.
1/20/04), p. 12
 I am aware of Alchemistic symbolism in degrees beyond the Lodge of
Perfection, but will leave that for another day.
 Alchemy & Mysticism, p. 36
 Alchemy & Mysticism, p. 33