HermesThe diversity of the conceptions and the representa­tions concerning alchemy cannot be equaled except by the multitude and the variety of the prejudices referring to this domain. Perhaps precisely for that reason, numerous researches claim that there are few objects of research which, like alchemy, should generate so much uncertainty when its definition is attempted. In time, a veritable inflation of explanations and interpretations settled, thus attributing to the term an absolutely special poly-semantic relief. In the background of the existence of a broad spectrum of interpretations and theories, we find ourselves, however, at a critical juncture, evidenced in a pregnant manner by the fact that, even as the debates increase in amplitude and nuance, in the profane environment, the term is almost non-existent.

With all these inherent difficulties, a few theses can nevertheless be mentioned that enjoy a more consistent support on the part of the connoisseurs, in what regard this mysterious and exciting domain. Thus, it is almost unanimously accepted that alchemy is: (i) secret,[1] (ii) traditional[2] and (iii) about initiation[3]. (Sadoul, J., 1997) In general lines, the three characteristics can be attributed to Masonry as well. As well as alchemy, modern Masonry is secret, even if it is affirmed, more and more insistently, that it is merely “discrete”. In our capacity as initiates, it is important to understand a simple thing: the secret truth, the unutterable one, is, precisely through that, incommunicable and becomes a blasphemy immediately as it is uttered. Masonry is traditional: even form the beginning, the Lodge requests of the aspirer to confess without doubt his faith in the Supreme Being. As it is known, the denial of super-human leads, inevitably, to anti-traditionalism, deviation and subversion. Finally, Masonry is about initiation and this does not have to be demonstrated; from outside, nobody can understand what exactly is going on in the Masonic Lodge and the soul of man alike.

It is for the most part accepted, as well, that the doctrine of alchemy, such as it was developed in Medieval Europe, has its origins in the hermetism born in Alexandria, about the beginning of the first century A.D. (the teaching of Hermes Trismegistos). In that period, there existed in that place a veritable crucible of universal spirituality. The Egyptians, the Persians, the Phoenicians, the Jews, the Greeks and, later, the Romans and the Arabs rendezvoused in Alexandria, where they transmitted to one another each their esoteric teachings and, thus, shared the occult knowledge. All these, among which we will notice Clement of Alexandria, Philo of Judea, Ammonius Saccas, Origen, Dionysius Areopagiticus, Plotinus and others, draw water from the spring of the wisdom of Hermes-Thoth. The father of all these seekers of the light was Hermes and their teaching, a set of beliefs which is not transmitted except in the formula of the initiation.

And yet, the idea has been accredited, according to which alchemy would be far more ancient and more universal than all the esoteric teachings. Thus, they are relatively known, the elements of Chinese alchemy dating from about 5-6000 years ago, or the ones of Sumerian or Indian alchemy. All these have in common a subtle reference, (through analogies, metaphors, parables…), to a becoming of man, to a metamorphosis[4]. essentially, these thesauruses of sapientiality transmit the universal message according to which, after man understands who he truly is, he begins to ask himself more and more responsibly what his mission is. And later, such a man, aroused from his sleep (awoken, raised from the dead) quickly looks around himself to find a true master (or, it is better said, a master finds him) who could teach him to undertake, literally, the labyrinth, the becoming into Being, the path from the Ego to the Self.

From a strictly historical perspective, there is a convention regarding the fact that the alchemic doctrine penetrated Western Europe, especially, through the intermediation of the Arabs (al kymia is a word that originates in this culture). Finally, there is a belief that alchemy is related to Gnosticism, the Kabala, but also to Masonry and the Rosicrucian practice. (Messadié, G., 2008) Furthermore, the history of the Tradition (with capital letter) is uninterrupted and the concrete forms in which this has manifested itself in Europe has passed from some to others, all the way to our days. Essentially, this ordered rolling of events (the establish­ment) is profoundly impregnated by the sacred: “…there does not exist and there cannot exist anything truly traditional which does not contain a super-human element. This is the essential point which constitutes somehow the definition itself of the tradition and of everything that is connected to it” (Guenon, R., 2008). At the center of the Tradition is the Metaphysical Doctrine revealing the Universal Principle, which is, for the most part, inexpressible through words. That is why the messages about the sacred cannot be transmitted except by the utilization of analogies, symbols and rituals. The rendering through words, through texts, of these unutterable truths, would determine us to have recourse to a solicitation of maximum intensity of the language to render the subtle realities.

As far as the speculative Masonry is concerned (with Grand Lodges and with the Lodge in the role of the Master), this was born in 1717, according to the historical data. For all of us, it is clear, however, that Masonry had existed before that as well, of course, somehow in another organizational formula. Practically, the year mentioned above represents the moment when, through an act of free will expressed by four Lodges, the United Grand Lodge of England came into being. As it is known, however, many Lodges remained, then, outside of the United Grand Lodge of England, continuing their activities according the old traditional establishment.

Moreover, there are testimonies and material proofs about Masonic Lodges formed from the stone carvers – apprentices and fellowcrafts – who worked, regularly, even at the middle of the XVIIth century. As a recognition of their traditional and initiatic status, in the operative Lodges of stonemasons, intellectuals of some mark began to enter, men of culture, high prelates. The cases of two alchemists are cited to this end, Robert Moray More[5] and Elias Ashmole[6]. The two and maybe many more others like these ones, were learned men, preoccu­pied with alchemy, hermetism and rosicrucianism and, yet, inexplicably, they found that it was natural to bond with the mysterious free-masons, the constructors of the cathedrals. (Etchegoin, M-F, Lenoir, F., 2013)

The stone carvers were keeping an archaic form of companionship and a traditional ritual with numerous references to the sacred and to the becoming of man, his apotheosis, a mysterious process which imposes that it be undertaken so long as the aspirer is still alive, therefore, while he has not definitively abandoned the world in which he has lived. These masons had also a special symbolism[7] and then, as signs of recognition, passwords and secrets. Of course, all these were intertwined with the secrets of the guild and with a certain interpretation of some specific tools[8]. However, the supreme value of the masons was constituted by the spirit of companionship, the camaraderie based on practicing a craft.

We know today that these Lodges of operative workers had, in their composition, only apprentices and fellowcrafts, the only master being the worshipful who led a fellowcraft Lodge. From time to time, upon the death of the worshipful master, a fellowcraft became master (we do not know how) and, thus, take over the running of the lodge. Therefore, this was the formula back then: the worshipful master was the Master of the Lodge. Even if there do not exist sufficient pieces of evidence, this traditional initiation environment seems to be the parent-stock from which speculative Masonry was born, that which endures even in our days. The operative Masonry, of the Middle Ages, was that which carved assiduously the stone and built the cathedrals of the Occident, it was very close to the erudite and enlightened monks and, of course, had a form of its own, and enciphered, of profound, traditional sacralization. Operative Freemasons of those times, with their special doctrine of companionship, mutual help and glorification of labor (decus in labore) are, what we might call here, the parent-stock, the support on which modern Masonry was edified.

The graft must be sought in another place. Perhaps the graft added to the parent-stock is the alchemy itself of which we were talking at the beginning of this article. All the allegories, the metaphors which we today decipher in Masonry[9] seem to have been taken over from the alchemists. But, at bottom, who were these European alchemists of the Middle Ages? Regarding these men, numerous legends, books and even some palpable results left over from their quests and the experiences they had undertaken have come down to us[10]. An alchemist had to possess his own laboratory (a cabinet of reflection) where he could retire (in quiet and isolation) to work on the transformation of lead into gold. Later, it was suggested that this was only a legend, but in reality the alchemist would only have been working at his becoming. There was an entire atmosphere of chiaroscuro around this myth. At bottom, there can only be talk of the transformation of the adept, a becoming which he had to undergo in silent and in the darkness of the laboratory and to accomplish the alchemic wedding (the union of intellect and the emotional in the Self), a psycho-human phe­nomenon which would only be explained much later. (Jung, C. G., 1998).

The entire symbolism of the alchemists has occulted this sacred work literally only in the soul of he who lives through it. The Rebis, the one with two heads, one of a woman[11] and one of a man[12] is an alchemic symbol which is attributed to Basil Valentine, an alchemist monk who lived in XVth century. Later, over the two heads[13] a single crown was laid, embodying the unity of the human being. This meant that in one single human body lay two instances, one feminine and the other masculine; the feminine part is connected to the heart, the masculine to reason, intellect, like the caduceus of Hermes, with its two snakes intertwined around the central pillar, as Kabalists call it. The orthodox patriarch himself has (inexplicably) the two front-facing snakes, coiled around his staff (the crutch of the bishop).

But who actually founded modern Masonry in 1717? Well, alchemists and Rosicrucians, these latter ones coming from the mantle of Hermes Trismegistos as well. For, none other than the assistant and friend of Isaac Newton, John Theophilus Desaguliers,[14] is con­sidered, by historians, as the artisan of the construction of the United Grand Lodge of England. Like him, many other scientists, cultured men and wise men, members of the Royal Society, worked in the Masonic Lodges of that age. (Verlet, L., 2007) But, the most important detail does not refer to the qualifications and the competences of the founders in their profane lives, but especially to the absolutely special understanding regarding the sacred and the transcendent which all those mentioned show by the construction itself of modern Masonry, which, as we see, endures and continues to fascinate like in that first dawn.

The birth of Masonry is veiled in mystery, as is also the birth of the legend of Hiram. About Hiram only two lines are written in the Bible and from this nothing such an extraordinary legend was born, which is as powerful as that of Osiris or that of Jesus. This is the first parent-stock of Masonry, from a spiritual point of view. In modern Masonry, the lesson of the master represents the apogee of the entire initiation undertaking, the crown laid down over the two anterior modules, those of the apprentice and of the fellowcraft, in order to accomplish the Great Work. If at apprentice degree, the aspirer learns the alchemical lesson of becoming (the eradication of the vices and the cultivation of the virtues) and at the fellowcraft, the sublime lessons of the companionship, to sum it up, at the master degree, three messages of a transcendent order[15] are prefigured to him who hopes to find, for himself, the lost name of the Tetragrammaton.



[1]  The Nature of the primordial elements cannot be revealed; the teaching is revealed, under oath, only to the elected, the public transmission of knowledge being excluded; essentially, the object of knowledge is metaphysics.
[2]  At the basis of alchemy lie not any scientific theories, which are always able to be revised, but several immutable principles.
[3]  The study of alchemy on the basis of manuals is not possible; the art (modus operandi) can be obtained only from a master, any other approach being excluded.
[4]  The transfiguration of Jesus Christ, in which Christians believe, is also a becoming, a transformation.
[5]  Initiated in 1641, in a lodge in Edinburgh.
[6]  Initiated in 1646, in a lodge in Lancashire.
[7]  With nuanced and especially significant references to geometry, architecture, astrology.
[8]  The plumb line, the level, the lever, the trowel etc.
[9]  The polished stone, the rough stone, V.I.T.R.I.O.L, the Royal Art, the Great Work, the four primordial elements learned in the apprentice lesson etc.
[10] Medication, perfumes, painting colors etc.
[11] With the square in the left hand, on the side of the heart (the matter, the sentiment).
[12] With the compass in the right hand (the spirit, reason, thought)
[13] The king and the queen
[14] The Third Grand Master of The United Grand Lodge of England, in 1719.
[15] About the Grand Architect of The Universe, The Universal Immortal Self and The Ideal Temple of Humanity.


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