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Alchemy: History of the Great Secret Part VII
Chapter Seven - Alchemy and Freemasonry
The subject of Freemasonry seems to come up in many aspects of historical discussion, and it is no different for the subject of alchemy. Many freemasons, when the organization was new in many parts of the world, were interested in the occult, a heading under which alchemy fell after the decline of the Renaissance and the subsequent decline of alchemical study’s popularity. An organization of its own secrets and worthy of study in its own right, this ancient organization has included students of the hermetic alchemical traditions, as well as later members of the Rosicrucian order. This is reflected in the symbolism of freemasonry itself, which has often included the same allegorical symbols used in alchemical works to represent various aspects of the Great Secret.
According to Masonic lore, their organization began with a man named Hiram Abif, who was, according to legend, the principal architect of Solomon's Temple but was killed before its completion. When translated from the Hebrew, the name roughly means "the king who was lost." According to one Brother Dennis Chornenky, a 32nd degree mason, the masonic rituals actually teach that the murder of the Grand Master "leads to the loss of the Word, leaving it to be discovered in future ages." Later in the same paper, Chornenky admits that some authors have drawn a connection between Hiram Abif and the mythical Hermes Ibis, who, as mentioned in the previous chapters, authored the Emerald Tablet. This connection is usually drawn because of the similarity between the names, and Chornenky does not support it - unless "Hiram is considered to be a symbol of the knowledge professed by Hermes that has become lost for most of humanity due to the vices of men." Freemasonry as a whole is an organization which utilizes quite a large range of symbols and allegories, and this particular suggested use of the Hiram Abif character seems perfectly likely. In his book The Hermetic Marriage, Manly Hall writes "The Greek name Hermes is taken from an ancient root, herm, which means the active, positive, radiant principle of Nature, sometimes translated 'vitality' and known to ancient Masonry as the cosmic fire, CHiram, and later as Hiram Abiff."
Q: Where [was] the noble art or science found when it was lost?
A: It was found in two pillars; the one would not sink the other would not burn.— From the paper by Dennis Chornenky
'Enoch set up two pillars against the sons of Cain, these are hope and good works, which they did not have.' It is also stated that he 'made writings and wrote on stelae of baked brick and bronze.'— Medieval apocryphal Armenian History of the Forefathers
For this reason, his son Seth caused two pillars to be made, the one of brick, the other of stone: they inscribed their discoveries on them both, that in case the pillar of brick should be destroyed by the flood, the pillar of stone might remain, and exhibit those discoveries to mankind; and also inform them that there was another pillar of brick erected by them. Now this remains in the land of Siriad to this day.— Antiquities, 1.2:3
Twin Pillars and Enoch
This is not the only place where Hermetic traditions of ancient Egypt seep into masonic legends. The two pillars of the Temple of Solomon, named Boaz and Jachin, have often been equated to the two legendary pillars which are referred to in the Emerald Tablet. The legendary pillars in the hermetic myths were said to have been carved and inscribed by Thoth, who, as discussed in chapter one, is equated with Hermes Trimegistus, prior to the Great Flood (insert an endnote that states that christianity is not the only religion to have a flood myth), so that the wisdom of the ancients would be preserved.
When John Dee and Edward Kelley studied alchemy and the hermetic magicks, they used a language called Enochian – Kelley thought it to be the language of the angels who spoke to him. The language is named for a figure named Enoch, who appears in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Chinese, and ancient lore. Biblical scholars recognize two figures by the same name; one is the son of Cain and is not the man the language is named for. The correct Enoch in the bible is the son of Jared and father of Methuselah, the ancestor of Noah. In the medieval era, travelers to China drew the parallel between Enoch and Fu Xi, who is credited with the creation of humanity and the Cangjie writing system. Emerald Tablet scholars have theorized that Enoch is also parallel to Hermes Trimegistus – the figure who has connections with Thoth, the god who gave the Egyptians knowledge of writing. Not only does the connection to hermetecism draw an immediate connection to masonic traditions, but Enochian language and brand of magic is used in the higher degrees of freemasonry. Here again in the legends we find a reference to the two pillars:
“Enoch set up two pillars against the sons of Cain, these are hope and good works, which they did not have.” It is also stated that he “made writings and wrote on stelae of baked brick and bronze.” - Medieval apocryphal Armenian History of the Forefathers
This is not the only reference to these pillars however. The entire Enochian version of the Pillar story will be recognized by any freemason or scholar of masonic lore:
“Flavius Josephus, whose Antiquities of the Jews preserved a version of the aforementioned legend, wrote that Adam predicted ‘that the world was to be destroyed at one time by the force of fire, and at another time by the violence and quantity of water.’ For this reason, his son Seth caused two pillars to be made, the one of brick, the other of stone: they inscribed their discoveries on them both, that in case the pillar of brick should be destroyed by the flood, the pillar of stone might remain, and exhibit those discoveries to mankind; and also inform them that there was another pillar of brick erected by them. Now this remains in the land of Siriad to this day.” - Antiquities, 1.2:3
The masonic brand of alchemy has been referred to as “alchemy of the spirit,” which draws the idea that it may have also been influence by eastern philosophies and their internal alchemy. The freemasons do have roots in the Knights Templar order, and trade between China and the Middle East dates back to the 10th century BCE. As discussed in previous chapters, alchemical theories and symbolisms crossed cultures through trade in the ancient world. The Chinese not only traded with Egypt, where freemasons claim their order began, but also with Europe, where the first masonic lodges of the order were founded. In this way, the spiritual alchemy of the Chinese could have easily made its way into the philosophies of freemasonry
Commonly Seen Symbol
The most recognized masonic symbol is the square and compass that make up the symbol for the entire organization. The square and compass represent the male and female aspects, respectively, which must unite to reveal the secret name of god. These two symbols have also been used by European alchemists to represent Christ and the bride (the Church), and their union to beget the “Philosopher’s Stone,” eternal life.
The connections between alchemy and Freemasonry may not be numerous or strong, but many freemasons throughout history have been interested in the occult, and a good number of those studied alchemy. From Isaac Newton to Elias Ashmole to Aleister Crowley down to the Freemasons of today, alchemy has been and is studied by freemasons perhaps often without their knowledge. The symbolism is everywhere, from their temples to their rituals. Death and rebirth, unions, eternal life…all are elements of which the symbols are shared between alchemical study and masonic lore; and so the traditions of the ancient Egyptian and Chinese alchemists survive to the present day, hidden away in an exclusive society and shrouded in allegory the way they always have been.
- Hiram Abif is referred to as the Grand Master throughout many Masonic rituals and traditions.
- Chornenky sites this quote as being taken from the Masonic Old Charges, in the text of the Dumfries No. 4 catechism.
- Freemasonry: Symbols, Secrets Significance, Page 71 “Their interest in alchemy was philosophical, and some have remarked on similarities with Freemasonry’s ‘alchemy of the spirit.’”
- Where the Templars spent a good deal of time during the crusades and during the time before and after the crusades, protecting pilgrims traveling Europe and Jerusalem
© 2015 Elizabeth Skinner