ALCHEMY IN THE ENTERED APPRENTICE DEGREE

Bro. Bradley Edward Kohanke, 32nd Degree

Dave Crocket Lodge No. 1225, San Antonio Texas, GLT

 

First, let me preface my remarks by saying that these are strictly my opinions on this topic…and you know what they say about opinions, “…they’re like an anus.  Everybody has one and they usually stink.”

That being said, what image do I conjure up in your mind when I say the word “alchemist?”  Is it some deranged Dr. Frankenstein character working feverishly away in his hidden laboratory, wearing a leather apron and big gloves and surrounded by Bunsen burners, beakers, and candles?  Is he sweating profusely, incessantly ringing his hands, pacing back and forth and muttering to himself, “I’m gonna be rich!  I’m gonna be rich!  I’m gonna be rich?”  That’s the image I get.

But let’s discuss alchemy and what it was supposed to have been.  I think it’s a fair statement to say that alchemy was basically the belief that through ritual purification and the discovery of the “Philosopher’s Stone,” an adept could change base metals such as lead into gold, and produce an elixir that if properly utilized would allow him to live forever, or at least extend life.  No wonder so many people were interested in alchemy…being rich and living forever are pretty attractive alternatives to most mundane lives.  Can you imagine the danger to the alchemist if those “in power” actually believed he had succeeded in making gold and extending life?  No wonder they all worked in hidden laboratories.

This brings me to my first correlation between Alchemy and Freemasonry.  Let me ask you a question…would anybody reading this consider a Masonic Lodge a laboratory?  Probably not, right?  But what if I broke down the word “laboratory” into its Latin origins?  “Labor et ora”…or in English…”work and pray.”  Now what do you think?  I think it’s a pretty accurate description of what takes place in our Lodges.

But what kind of work are we doing here?  Are we changing base metals into gold?  No.  But ask yourself this question…”Are we changing basically good men into better men; men of virtue?”  You bet we are. 

So what about the “ritualistic purification” that an alchemist has to go through each time he begins his work?  Think about this, “What are Masons taught in the Entered Apprentice Degree that they should do before engaging on any laudable undertaking?”  They are taught to invoke the aid of Deity, to ask for God’s blessing on the work they are about to begin.  Isn’t this a form of ritual and purification of thought and purpose?  I think so.

Ok…what of the Philosopher’s Stone?  That mystical and elusive rock rumored to be at the same time, part of the sun and the moon?  Where else have I heard about the sun and the moon?  If you think back to your Entered Apprentice Degree, are we not taught that the lesser lights in Masonry include the sun and the moon?  We are even taught how they are explained and that (in a manner of speaking) as they provide light to dispel the darkness, the Worshipful Master of the Lodge should use their example to govern his Lodge, dispensing light and dispelling darkness or causing the same to be done by his officers.  Again…isn’t it ironic that in both alchemy and Freemasonry we refer to the sun and the moon as symbols or examples…and that a combination of the two results in the Philosopher’s Stone…or that by using them as an example, the Worshipful Master presides over the lodge.

How about looking at metal as a symbol?  Consider this from the Entered Apprentice degree, “How were you prepared?”  Weren’t you divested of everything metallic?  And isn’t there somewhere else in the Degree where metal is mentioned?  Oh yeah, right…after passing through the forms and ceremonies you were asked to deposit something of a metallic nature with the Master of the Lodge.  Is there anywhere else?  How about when talking about the building of King Solomon’s Temple?  Was there heard the sound of any tool of metal…nope.

But I think the most obvious alchemical symbols in the Entered Apprentice Degree are the ashlars; the rough and the perfect.  Think about it for a second.  In operative masonry, through properly utilizing the common gavel (one of the principal working tools of an Entered Apprentice Mason); workers are able to chip away at the imperfections in the stone and better prepare them to be utilized in the building efforts.  In Speculative Masonry, the common gavel symbolizes our noble attempt to chip away at all of our own imperfections, thereby preparing ourselves for the afterlife and hopefully earning the benefits of a life well-lived.  Sounds kinda like finding that elixir of life…that mystical concoction that the alchemists believed would allow them to live forever; “eternal life.”

So…let me ask you something.  These alchemists, these forerunners of modern day scientists, these guys that have been chasing after the Philosopher’s Stone since the time of ancient Egypt or before; isn’t it possible that they were simply the “un-initiated?”  Isn’t it possible that these were simply men who looked at the symbols and philosophies of what we today refer to as “Freemasonry,” and mistakenly interpreted them as literal and gave them a more worldly and materialistic meaning?  Let me quote something from the book Alchemy by E.J. Holmyard, where he provides a fifteenth century dialogue between an alchemist and his son who wishes to be taught the art.  It reads as follows:

 

          “…Son upon condition I shall thee teach

          So that thou wilt on the Sacrament swear

          That thou shalt never write it in scripture

          Nor teach it to no man except thou be sure

          That he is a perfect man to God and also full of charity.

          Doing always good deeds and that he be full of humility

And that you know him not in loud words but always soft and still

          And also prove whether his life be good or ill

          And all this shall thou swear and also make a vow

          If thou wilt have this knowledge of me now

          And the same oath on book they make to thee

          Ere thou them let any part of this science know or see.”

 

Now remember, this was written in the 1400’s, approximately 300 years before the first Grand Lodge of England was formed.  I know the language is a little difficult to comprehend, so let me break it down for you in a way that you might better understand it.

This guy tells his son that he will teach him the secrets of the craft on certain conditions

          First that he will swear on the Holy Bible

          That he will not write any of the secrets

Neither will he reveal them to anyone unless he be a just and upright man before God, full of charity

Doing only good deeds and being a man of humility

That he not be one who causes dissent by raising his voice, but always seeks peace and harmony through soft words and a gentle manner

And that he require this man to prove himself

By taking the same vow before him

And if he does so and he is convinced of his sincerity, he may reveal to him that which is about to be revealed to the son

How familiar does that sound?  Take just a moment and recite the Entered Apprentice Obligation in your head.

So…are there Alchemical symbols in Freemasonry?  Of course there are.  But maybe an even better question to ask is, “Are there really just misunderstood Masonic symbols in Alchemy?”

My opinion is that Freemasonry (or however it was referred to at the time) came first.  What do you think?

 

Alchemy by E.J. Holmyard

Alchemy and the First Degree of Freemasonry by Donald J. Tansey

 

Bro Kohanke was initiated, passed, and raised at Davy Crockett Lodge #1225 in San Antonio, Texas under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Texas in 1991-92.  He served as Chaplain in 1993-94.  He is currently the Senior Deacon.  His Royal Arch Chapter is Helotes #444 and Council is Helotes #362.  He is  a member of Brownwood Commandery #7 in Boerne, Texas.  He is  also a 32' member of the Scottish Rite, Valley of San Antonio - Orient of Texas and a Noble of the Mystic Shrine.  I am a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society, the Masonic Society, and the Texas Lodge of Research.  Although I make my living in the field of Human Resources Management, I am also an ordained Unitarian Minister. Brother Kohanke is also one of the founding members of the Dave Crocket Light Brigade, this group of Brothers in Dave Crocket Lodge complete research, prepare and present Masonic Education-Light- at each of their stated meetings.

 

 

         

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