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926 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90403

(310) 395-3992

Santa Monica Palisades Lodge No. 307 is a historic Lodge in the heart of Santa Monica, California. Come learn more about Freemasonry and our ancient Craft.

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Blog

This blog is a resource for the members of Santa Monica-Palisades Lodge No. 307. It is also intended to be read and shared amongst the community at large. We hope to share some interesting and enlightening insights on Freemasonry, and perhaps inspire others to come visit us and learn more. 

 

The Chamber of Reflection

Greg Cherry

by Brian Godwin, Culver City-Foshay No. 467

The Chamber of Reflection, dark, mysterious, and full of reminders of mortality, is one of the most overtly esoteric devices used in Freemasonry and, at times, has been contro­versial. It is intended to bestow upon a candidate somber feelings in respect to his own mortality, and emphasize the profundity of the next steps he will take. Some lodges give the option to all new candidates for Freemasonry to spend some thoughtful and reflective time in the chamber before initiation. The controversy around the use of the Chamber of Reflection, within the three degrees of craft Masonry stems from its seemingly spooky and morbid symbols of mortality. Additionally, some brethren feel that it is an “innovation” to adopt this tradition from other areas of Freemasonry, as it was not likely part of the original Preston-Webb system of degrees that is widely in use throughout the United States.

The Chamber is thought to have originated in the French and Scottish Rites of Freema­sonry. It likely first appeared in France around 1750. Some suggest that the hermetic nature of its symbolism indicates a direct or indirect influence of Rosicrucianism. Others, including author and occultist Robert Ambelain, even suggest that Rosicrucians delib­erately inserted their ideas and symbolism, including the use of the Chamber, into our Masonic traditions. Its form and contents have hardly changed since then, with only minor variations across jurisdictions, even with its recent adoption into the American blue (or craft) lodges. Most contain the following symbolism:

The Mirror: Literally a reflection of oneself, and traditionally a trigger for a meditative state. Representing duality, and the “twilight” of the moment that the candidate is in be­tween his life before Freemasonry, and the transformation in which he is about to partake.

The Hourglass: A memento mori in many traditions, the hourglass overtly represents the finite amount of time that we are given in our earthly life. On a more esoteric level, it can represent the upper and lower, showing the cycle of life and death and the separation of Heaven and Earth. The possibility of turning the glass, symbolizes our need at times, to reverse our attitudes and actions for continuity, or we shall always be drawn to one end; the base.

The Scythe: It is another reminder of our earthly mortality and the thought that a man may be cut down from this existence at any moment. It may also be interpreted as an emblem of universal justice, that “as we sow, so shall we reap.”

Salt: Salt represents base matter, or body, rough and impure. It can be seen as repre­senting the earthly self, ready to be purified. It is one of the three essential alchemical elements, also known as the “Tria Prima.”

Sulphur: Sulphur represents the soul, and essence above. It is also representative of fire, and is sometimes referred to as the “Red King” in practical alchemy. Sulphur is the second essential alchemical element.

The Cockerel: The Cockerel, or rooster, symbolizes the alchemical principle of mercury which creates a fluid connection between the salt below and the sulphur above. It rep­resents the human spirit, which in this case can be differentiated from the “soul,” and represents a fluidity of spirit between the essence above and the firmament below. When partnered with salt and sulphur, the resulting mixture can be thought to symbolise faith, hope and charity.

Bread and Water: Two items connected with the simplest method of sustaining life. This simplicity is a reminder of how the candidate should proceed in all his dealings through life. They are also a reminder that “Man does not live by bread alone – but by the Word of the Living God”.

V.I.T.R.I.O.L.: Vitriol is another name for sulphuric acid, which at first glance seems to bring a negative connotation. This acid was used in alchemical experiments as a way to break down or purify other matter. In this case, V.I.T.R.I.O.L. is also an acronym, for “Visita interiora terrae, rectificando, invenies occultum lapidem”, or “Visit the interior of the earth, and purifying it, you will find the hidden stone.” This is another way of saying “Look within yourself for the truth.” Both meanings encourage the candidate to break­down the ego and himself to find purity and truth within, and allude to the alchemical “Philosopher’s Stone”.

Human Skull and Crossed Thighbones: The history of the skull and crossbones is murky, and worthy of its own discussion. In the case of the Chamber, it is a bleak reminder of what we will all eventually become. It represents the alchemical concept of “Caput Mortuum,” signifying a useless substance left over from a chemical operation, such as sublimation and the epitome of decline and decay. Alchemists represented this residue with a stylized human skull, a literal death’s head.

Should a candidate choose to spend time in the Chamber prior to being entered into the fraternity, pen and paper are provided to write out any thoughts that might come to mind. This serves two purposes; first to help clear the mind of any burden of thought or concern, and also to provide a record of the moment, which is returned to the candidate when he reaches the sublime degree of Master Mason.

As the symbolism used within the Chamber is more deeply understood, it can bring light to the reasons why its recent adoption is becoming more prevalent in our first three degrees. This information can help us understand the concerns and controversy, while preserving its benefits. While these concerns do have some validity, the profound and positive effect on a candidate for Freemasonry transcends those criticisms and finds itself a valuable addition to our lodge and a truly memorable moment before our official ritual begins.

by Brian Godwin, Culver City-Foshay No. 467

Notre Dame and Alchemy

Greg Cherry

by Adrian Fulle

Knights Templar and Islamic Alchemy

In 1099 the knights of the First Crusade conquered Jerusalem and a portion of the Holy Land. For twenty years after, the roads from Jaffa to the Holy Land remained dangerous to travel. In 1120 The Order of Knights Templar was founded as a means to make the roads safe and the Templars set up shop in the palace of King Baldwin II, which was adjacent to the ruins of the Temple of Solomon. 

The wealth and power of the Templars grew steadily. They received the full support of a series of influential Popes, untrammeled freedom of action in the Holy Land and the backing of vast sums of money pouring in from Europe.

In Jerusalem, the Templars had restored considerable expanses of what had once been the Temple of Solomon. Beside it, they erected their own new palace. The Templars’ two centuries in the Levant also opened them to teachings from the Islamic world, including from the mystical Sufis who exposed the Templars to the craft of alchemy. The Templars adopted alchemical practices initially for ways to heal their fighting force with mold extracts, but eventually adopted more.

BOOKS IN STONE

The great flowering of gothic art and architecture, from the mid 12th to the early 13th century, coincided with the zenith of Templar wealth and power. The Templars were tapped as a source of funds for construction of the multitude of unprecedented gothic edifices simultaneously rising up in France at that time.

The Notre Dame

The Notre Dame

With their twin towers facing the west, gothic cathedrals resemble the Temple of Solomon with its two pillars in the front; J and B. And in many cases a statue of Solomon is placed at the west portal of the cathedrals and in between the towers.

A simple study of the gothic cathedrals reveals that they are literally alchemical books written in stone and, some believe, proof that the Templars brought the alchemy they learned from the Sufis to Northern Europe. Notre Dame de Paris, pictured here, is a great case study. Erected over the period of 1163 to 1240s, the cathedral is often reputed to be one of the most prominent examples of Gothic architecture in both France and in Europe as a whole, and the naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass are in contrast with earlier Romanesque architecture. 

The symbols of alchemy can be found throughout Notre Dame.

Scala Philsoophorum

Scala Philsoophorum

Arriving at ground level we find ourselves facing the doors of the cathedral and the central column that divides the entrance. On the column is a depiction of a woman and a ladder with nine rungs, leaning against her from feet to head. This ladder is called the “scala philosophorum” and represents the nine alchemical steps of labor. 

12 Bas-Reliefs

12 Bas-Reliefs

The next images you are greeted with are 12 bas-reliefs, located in the porch of the cathedral. The top row depicts various stages of the alchemical process and the bottom row, the result of that process. 

A few other reliefs found in the porch also identify with alchemy.

Alchemist Protecting Athenor

Alchemist Protecting Athenor

The first depicts an alchemist protecting an athenor from outside forces. In alchemy, an athenor is a furnace used to provide heat for alchemical digestion. It is depicted as a castle tower because that’s what they looked like.

Speculum Alchemiae Lab

Speculum Alchemiae Lab

This last one is the Speculum Alchemiae lab - a secret underground alchemy lab in Prague that was accidentally discovered recently after a terrible rainstorm in the city. Rudolph II was known for being a patron of the alchemical arts and spent large amounts of money setting up laboratories. It is speculated that this is one of the labs he helped set up.

Man with shield of caduceus

Man with shield of caduceus

The second bas-relief depicts a man holding a shield that bears the caduceus, a snake coiled around a golden wand, an alchemical symbol for the incisive and solvent nature of Mercury. This reptile is the aspect of Mercury in its first state and the golden wand is the corporeal sulphur that is added to it. 

You might also recognize it as the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology, or in Roman iconography it is the staff carried in the left hand by Mercury, the messenger of the gods, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves. It is said the wand would wake the sleeping and send the awake to sleep. If applied to the dying, their death was gentle; if applied to the dead, they returned to life. 

The caduceus relates directly to Masonry though it’s meaning of harmony. By extension of its association with Mercury and Hermes, the caduceus is also a recognized symbol of commerce and negotiation, two realms in which balanced exchange and reciprocity are recognized as ideals. 

The caduceus is often used incorrectly as a symbol of healthcare organizations and medical practice (especially in North America) due to confusion with the traditional medical symbol, the rod of Asclepius, which has only one snake and is never depicted with wings.

 

Woman with disc

Woman with disc

The third relief depicts a woman with hair like flame, holding the disc of the salamander, which in alchemical terms lives in the fire and feeds on fire. The salamander represents the incombustible and fixed central salt, which preserves its nature even in the ashes of the calcinated metals.

The remaining reliefs in the cathedral porch are no less impressive and it’s clear that the cathedral builders where trying to point to the importance of alchemy over everything else since these are the first symbols you see before entering the cathedral.

There are so many more alchemical symbols in Notre Dame, but there is one last one that bears mentioning. High on the roof of the North Tower of Notre Dame, we do not find a statue of Jesus, or the Virgin Mary, or any Saints as you would assume a religious edifice would have. Instead, we find this guy...

...A statue of a 12th century alchemist complete with his “wizard” hat, or more correctly, the Phrygian cap that identifies him as an alchemical initiate of that time. 

The Maze of Chartres

The Maze of Chartres

Notre Dame is not alone. The Chartres Cathedral in France is filled with an equal amount of alchemical symbols, as are many other gothic cathedrals around Europe. All around the symbols are prevalent, if we only stop to see them.

by Adrian Fulle 

A Poem After Being Raised to Master Mason

Greg Cherry

While digging though some old files this week, I stumbled upon a piece that I had written on June 20, 2007, which is the same date that I was raised to Master Mason in Santa Monica-Palisades No. 307. They were my thoughts on the degree, at the end of a very long evening. I believe I shared this on our community forum at the time, but I would like to share it again here:

During my process of going from a candidate to an Entered Apprentice, I  was asked many times why I wanted to become a Mason. I answered because of family ties, because of the history, and the fraternal bonds, which were all true.  But the real deep down answer, which I never said at the time, was for the secret. Masons all know a secret, and I wanted to be a part of that, to know that secret.  And now that I have been a part of it, I see what the secret is.  

In my opinion, the secret is the secret itself.  It is what drives those outside of the lodge to create conspiracy theories and other myths to explain who we are. It is the secret that forges such strong brotherhood amongst those in the know. It obligates men to attend the funerals of other men they may have never met before. It is the secret that urges men to dedicate themselves so selflessly to the act of coming to the Lodge every week, and to memorizing 10-page scripts of esoteric passages. After experiencing this ritual tonight, I see now that the secret has barely even revealed itself to me.

On that note, I wrote a poem: 

The Secret

 

What was the thought that came to mind

When led into the Temple blind

Did I fear the path ahead

Or did I trust the hand that led.

 

And what objects came to sight

When brought from darkness into light

I looked beyond what I could see

Into the depth of history.

 

I saw a secret come to pass

That formed like truth from shapeless mass

To rise above us in the East

And fill the lodge fraternally.

 

To ancient men who worked in stone

Upon whom heaven’s light has shone

From every man who learns the sign

The secret links the chain of time.

 

For every brother that we make

An obligation he must take

To end his life should he reveal

The secrets we strive to conceal.

 

And in this secret we shall learn

The truth that bound like fire burns

And in this secret we shall see

This brotherhood eternally.

 

For those who have yet to complete the 3rd, I highly recommend it. It is a secret worth pursuing, and a path worth following.  Several weeks ago, a challenge was laid out to us, as the younger generation of Freemasons, to write out our thoughts, to record them in open forums such as this.  I took that to heart, and I hope to see a greater effort from all of us for reflection and the preservation of new ideas.