How are the Gnostics and Freemasonry connected?

Gnostic Reflections in Freemasonry

How are the Gnostics and Freemasonry connected?

By Timothy W. Hogan
PM, KT, 32* KCCH, S.I.I., District Lecturer for the GL of Colorado

Freemasonry is a system of initiation that draws its Masonic symbolism from a variety of sources and traditions.

Masonic historians are quick point out some of the connections between Freemasonry and the cathedral builders, the Knights Templar, the Royal Society, Hermetic tradition, alchemists and Qabalaists, however the connection between Freemasonry and the Gnostic schools is often overlooked- even though it is perhaps the most prevalent.

Gnosticism is a school of thought originally developed in the ancient pagan world and championed by philosophers like Pythagoras, and later instrumental in the development of early Christianity, in which an initiate can attain a Gnosis – or direct knowledge of the divine. In fact, the word “Gnosis” means “knowledge” in Greek, and it was a divine knowledge that could be achieved through the study of nature, personal initiation, and divine revelation. As a result, schools of initiation were set up by the Gnostics in order to engage in study and initiation, and to attain connection with the path of Sophia- the Greek word for “wisdom”. In fact, this is where the word “philosophy” comes from- as it is from the Greek words “Philo”- meaning “to love”, and “Sophia”, being the goddess of wisdom. The term philosophy is believed to have been coined by Pythagoras, and some have associated Pythagoras’ school with a form of Pagan Gnosticism. Gnosticism therefore showed the connection between God and Nature, and contributed to the esoteric sciences of alchemy and sacred geometry. The “G” emphasized in Freemasonry may therefore have other implications! It has also been argued by many researchers that Gnosticism was a new label for the pagan philosophies and doctrines found in Hermeticism, which had just been rewrapped in new packaging. Indeed, Hermeticism and Gnosticism share many fundamental details, and the influence of Hermetic thought and Hermes in particular could be a whole separate article. Therefore we will just explore Gnostic connections in this article.

allegorical Idealism, Middle Platonic philosophers, Jewish mysticism

Gnosticism and Gnostic thought are mentioned several times in the Scottish Rite degrees, and we can see it as a general theme in Freemasonry, though it is rarely mentioned specifically by name outside of the Scottish Rite. This is partially due to the fact that the Gnostics generally considered themselves their own form of religion, and as Freemasonry accepts brothers of all faiths, it is important not to make the mistake of portraying Freemasonry itself as a Gnostic religion. That being said, the idea associated with Gnosticism can be found in almost all religions, and as such, it can be viewed as more of an esoteric philosophy that unites people across various religions- though some people today claim to be Gnostics as a religion. For example, the ideas associated with a Gnostic Christian are fundamentally almost identical to a Buddha or Boddisatva in the Buddhist religion, Gnanis in Hinduism, an Arif in the Islamic tradition, and a “knower” in the Taoist tradition, and it is for this reason that it is believed that Gnosticsm had an influence on all of these religious philosophies as it spread between Egypt and Tibet, and likewise these other schools contributed to Gnostic doctrine. Though Gnostic philosophies vary somewhat depending on the school, in their essential details and philosophy they are mostly the same. The Gnostic philosopher Mani alluded to this universality when he said, “But my hope will go to the West and to the East. And they will hear the voice of its teaching in all languages and they will teach it in all cities. Gnosticism surpasses in this first point all earlier religions, for the earlier religions were founded in individual places and in individual cities. Gnosticism goes out to all cities and its message reaches every land.”1 Therefore it is important to explore some of these ideas and see how they relate to Freemasonry.

To begin with, there is a lot of confusion when it comes to ancient Gnostic thought, with most scholars explaining Gnosticism as a form dualism in which there is a god of darkness and a god of light who are battling for the souls of humanity. In my opinion, this is kind of a way over simplified version of Gnosticism, and one that is potentially more tied with modern Christian ideas, though there certainly were different types of Gnostic schools and some likely had a more dualistic way of interpreting Gnostic philosophy, and we particularly find this in some later Gnostic movements like the Cathars of southern France. We must remember that much of what had been written about the Gnostics prior to the wide spread translation of Gnostic texts, consisted of harsh critiques by the Roman Catholic Church, which view Gnostcism as a rival movement. Therefore we would also expect a harsh and biased interpretation of Gnostic doctrine. A more correct and widespread view of general Gnosticism, in my mind, would be to suggest that there is a single God, which manifests itself into two forces. These forces have been labeled as Spirit and matter, light and darkness, yin and yang. Gnostics believed that the world of spirit is always subtly directing the world of matter, in order that we, as conscious beings, may grow and become more in line with our spiritual potential. Understanding God’s laws of spirit in matter could enable one to come to a better comprehension of God. This moment of “ah-ha”, or awareness of God’s work, is the Gnosis. It was believed by Gnostic schools that this divine knowledge was necessary for humanities salvation- as it was a personal knowledge of God, and to the Gnostics it was represented by Light. “Gnosis” then, in many ways is similar to ideas associated with “revelation”, “enlightenment” and “nirvana” from different traditions.

From a Gnostic standpoint, then, it was ridiculous to worship anything matter based, as it is just a shadow of a very real spiritual phenomenon from the realm of light. The quest for salvation was believed by most Gnostics to take place over several incarnations on the earth plane, and therefore the battle between two gods over the soul of man was a symbolic metaphor of the battle within oneself over the focus and perceptions in life. Mastering the Gnostic process was considered to be true living, as opposed to being asleep and non-living, which was usually associated with “evil”. Ultimately, the Gnostic must free himself from the illusions of attachment to matter and, leaving the darkness of the mundane world, unite with the Divine Light of God, the first Principle Creator. Metaphors associated with raising the dead, or giving the blind sight were said to be symbolically associated with this awakening. Biblical scholars, for example, usually translate the early Greek word “anastasis” as “resurrection”, but the word more correctly means “awakening”. Therefore most Christian Gnostics considered Jesus’ resurrection as a metaphor for an awakening to Gnosis. The Gnostics did not require the intervention of a Priest to know God, as they became their own conduit for God’s revelation. They did set up a series of initiations to help in the development of consciousness and to lead to Gnosis. These initiations were also sometimes associated with stages of consciousness development after the transition from this life at death, and prior to new incarnation.

The initiations of the Gnostics were primarily centered around the classical elements and the seven planets recognized in antiquity, and they usually involved various baptismal rites and the conferral of passwords at each stage of initiation. It was believed that the four classical elements of antiquity, earth, water, air, and fire represented stages of consciousness illumination, with earth representing the consciousness obsessed with the passions and enslaved by matter on one extreme, and fire representing the consciousness free to shine with the light of God on the other extreme. The initiate therefore learned to master their emotions with the initiation associated with baptism by water, the intellect with the initiation associated with air, and the spiritual understanding with the baptism associated with fire. There was usually also a symbolic death of the old lower self and a resurrection of the new spiritual self that was illustrated in these later degree initiations. The lower false self, called the Eidelon or the Twin, symbolically died, and the higher self- called the Daemon, was free to express itself in Mastery as a reflection of God. God was therefore represented as the supreme light, and in fact, the Gnostics were often called the “Sons of Light”, or sometimes the “Religion of Light”- especially in the case of the Manichean Gnostics. They were also referred to as the “Sons of the Widow”, as found in the Manichean, Valentinian and Mandean traditions. There is even some speculation that the Ming Dynasty got its name from the abundance of Manichean Gnostics at the Chinese court, as “Ming” means “light”. The Chinese believed the Gnostic teacher Manni to be the reincarnation of the Taoist sage Lao Tzu, and even referred to him as the “Buddha of Light”2. Obviously this terminology is something we are very familiar with in Freemasonry.

With each Gnostic degree, the aspirant attained new metaphors for how consciousness was connected in the world, and they attained new passwords which were deemed to be a valuable aid when either their transition came, or they went through the symbolic death, so that they could ascend the higher spheres of consciousness. Along these lines, it was believed that souls incarnated down to earth from the highest heavens, passing through all the planetary spheres with their influences, and cloaking the soul with the tools of consciousness needed for incarnation. After death or during certain breakthroughs of consciousness the souls went back by the same path to the higher realms of consciousness, abandoning at each stage of their ascent what they had taken while incarnating, and this purified them for pure Gnosis. To pass out of the sphere of one planet and into the next above it, they had to go through gateways guarded by Archons, who were like Tilers or Inner Guards, and would give way only to those who had the passwords conferred in the Gnostic initiation ceremonies3. Some schools even taught that the soul could not ascend after death until it was “drawn up by the rays of the sun and, after passing the moon, where it was purified, it went on to lose itself in the shining star of the day” 4. In some Gnostic traditions, like the Mandeans, they even attained secret hand grips and were given special signs of the hands and feet associated with each stage of the initiation process. Ultimately the realization of spiritual awakening and Mastery overcoming the slavery of material senses is hoped to be achieved in these initiations.

In Freemasonry, we may recognize this similar symbolism emphasized with the compasses and the square- as the square represented things material and the compasses represented things spiritual and eternal. We can also recognize the same order of initiation from water to air to fire, as emphasized in the penalties associated with each degree, and the planetary influence may be recognized by the emphasis of the seven liberal arts and sciences- each of which was ruled by one of the classical planets. In Freemasonry, we are likewise given hand grips and signs associated with the hands and the feet in each degree. Ultimately each brother must likewise go through a symbolic death and raising into a new life- just like the Gnostics illustrated in their initiation rites and writings.

The Christian Gnostics were principally concerned with the Christian drama however, and the symbolism associated with it, and as Freemasons we can see how it also relates to the symbolism found in the Masonic degrees themselves, and to the meanings behind the experiences associated with Hiram. Therefore we will examine the path to Gnosis from this early Gnostic Christian vantage point. Keep in mind that this same general myth can be found in different forms all over the ancient world- including with Mithras, Krishna, Odin, Buddha, Jupiter, Apollo, Dionysus, Indra, Pythagoras, Semiramis, Prometheus, and even Quetzalcoatl- mainly because most of these traditions had a root in some Gnostic thought. This being the case, even though we are looking at the Christian myth, keep in mind that the initiation aspects of this myth are actually universal and were incorporated into the Gnostic initiations.

As mentioned, within the Gnostic tradition, there were four states of consciousness with three initiatory steps between them in most schools- particularly the Valentinian. The first type of personality was represented by earth and involved people whose consciousness were totally obsessed with the physical world, the physical senses and by extension their own ego. These personalities were referred to as “Hylics”, and the early Gnostics taught that they identified with a false physical body- called the “eidolon”- or double. Biblical terminology referred to these people as “blind” or “dead” or “asleep”, since they couldn’t perceive the spiritual root of things and didn’t understand that their true body was spiritual and not physical. In Freemasonry we would refer to them as a profane- or uninitiated. Since these people were consumed with their ego, this ego was sometimes represented symbolically by a donkey- since the animal can be so stubborn. Overcoming this stage was usually represented by the person riding the donkey- symbolizing control over the lower nature- and represented by Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, or other Avatars like Mithras and Osiris also riding the donkey in their traditions. In the story of Pinocchio (written by Freemason Carlo Collodi), he almost turns into a donkey when he is obsessed with his own ego, but later turns into a real boy when he overcomes this stage of development. Restoring Hylics to the spiritual path was therefore alluded to as “giving the blind sight” and later “raising the dead”. Throughout the Bible, places of slavery or bondage usually represented this hylic state- for example the earth before the flood, the slavery of Egypt, the Babylonian captivity, or the control of Rome being a few examples. In some Masonic degrees we may clearly see it represented by the Babylonian captivity. Again, this stage was associated with the “earth bound” personality of the elements.

Once a person had an experience of the divine nature of the world however, they underwent a change of heart, so to speak, and had achieved the witnessing of some light. Most English translations of the Bible refer to this change of heart as “repentance”- though the Greek word associated with it is “metanoia.” “Metanoia” didn’t mean that you need to confess to a Priest or join a church, or apologize to God for “missing the mark”- as it is so often interpreted, but rather that you simply changed your heart and your focus towards attempting to understand your connection with God, and you were therefore free in the truest sense. It is the first step in spiritual awakening, and in Freemasonry it is symbolized by the sharp implement being pressed against the heart at the EA degree. This stage of initial awakening symbolically was represented as the realization that you live in a prison of your mind or in a tomb and the first initiation in the Gnostic rites involved baptism by water- sometimes referred to as a “catharmos” or purification in early texts. Some Masonic traditions to this day still begin the first degree with the candidate starting out in a small dark room (a Chamber of Reflection) which has bread and water- like a prison, as well as symbols pointing to the way out of that prison. The initiation then proceeds with the candidate’s first initiation out of the symbolic prison- which makes the brother a free-Mason, and thereby freeborn, and of their own free will and accord. The first stage of Gnostic initiation was generally concerned with subduing the passions and ethics. It was called the “psychic” stage by early Gnostics, and it was a stage in which the initiate discovered they were not merely a physical body. The emphasis on water in the Bible and the overcoming of this stage can be found in such metaphors as the flood of Noah and Jesus walking on water. In our EA degree today in Freemasonry, we likewise find a system which is primarily concerned with ethics, and this is where the first light is received, after having been introduced to a penalty associated with water. The candidate becomes a brother, and in so doing, is no longer blind. The essential details are identical to the Gnostic rites.

The next Gnostic initiation was usually done with air or breath and was called “pneumatic”. A pneumatic initiate came to understand their nature in impersonal terms and God not as a person on a cloud somewhere, but rather as the One. Duality begins to become understood and then transcended and all relationships with God begin to be brought into Oneness. God and the initiate become the mystery of God in love with itself. All is perfectly One. In the ancient Gnostic mystery theatres of Egypt, the various parts of the body of the slain Osiris represented different aspects of reality that all had their roots in this One source. The parts of Osiris are recollected and put back together through the love of Isis. If God was One with creation, then the Pneumatic initiate in the Gnostic schools began the study of the arts and sciences in order to understand God and glorify Him. In fact, it was during the Pneumatic stage that most Gnostic schools had represented steps associated with the seven planets, which by extension ruled the seven noble metals, the seven days of the week, and the seven liberal arts and sciences. The Pythagoreans extended it further and suggested that the notes of the octave and the seven Greek vowels were also under this influence. Therefore we should likewise not be surprised to find this emphasis in the second degree of Freemasonry, in which the penalty is related to air- just like the second initiation in the Gnostic schools. In this degree the world of duality is likewise brought into focus with the pillars.

The pneumatic initiate also came to understand that if God was a point within a circle, and the outer circumference of the circle represented the physical form, then lines of radius emanating from the point in the center of the circle represented various stages of consciousness and various personas of the One. In the outer circumference of the circle each radius appeared as unique and distinct, but at the source of all was God- the mystery of mysteries5. The point within the circle therefore not only represents the brother kept in due bounds, but in ancient symbolism it symbolized gold and the sun, and it was a symbol found in part of the Gnostic initiation process. Getting to the center of the circle was the path of Gnosis, which is why Christ said that those who came before him were baptized with water and air, but he came to baptize with fire. Fire represented the initiation into Gnosis, and in Freemasonry it is related to our third degree.

At some point in the Gnostic pneumatic process, attachment to the false self- or eidolon had to symbolically die so that the new higher spiritual body- sometimes called the “daemon” could awaken. (Notice that I wrote daemon and not demon!!!) The word usually translated as “resurrection” in the Bible is the Greek word “anastasis”, which as discussed actually means “awakening”. This awakening was the Gnosis and to the Christian Gnostics it was represented by Christ. The Christ was the point within the circle that Gnostics were trying to reach, and it is symbolically why that point lies between the two Saint John’s in Masonic EA instruction. This is why “doubting Thomas” questions Christ’s awakening. “Thomas” means “twin” in Greek- and represented the eidolon- or false physical self. This is also how it came to be in Islam that the Koran suggests that someone other than Jesus died on the cross for Jesus. The Koran says, “They did not kill him. They did not crucify him. They were taken in by an appearance.” Islamic Gnostics, such as Ishmaili Shiites and Sufi Sunnis teach that they represent the true Islamic tradition of which Mohammed and the original Muslims were initiated into6. It was these same initiation groups that the Knights Templar had come in contact with and learned alchemy and other ideas from. This tradition came from the Gnostic teachings and Apocryphal texts which suggested that the false twin- or eidolon symbolically died on the cross and Jesus (in the Gnostic Christian traditions) awakened to the Christos of Gnosis (representative of the daemon), and therefore united with God (the Universal Daemon). Mystery school tradition maintains that the tying of an initiate to a cross at this stage, or a symbolic death of some kind, goes all the way back to ancient Egypt.  Like the original Christians, Islamic Gnostics treat Christ as an image of the consciousness of God, our shared essential identity. This was all symbolic, of course, to the initiatory and psychological path that we all take, and to the early Gnostic Christians it was irrelevant if a man named Jesus actually went through this crucifixion or if he actually had a twin brother named Thomas. What mattered is that each Christian symbolically went through the symbolic death in order to realize Christ, and by extension a reintegration with God and an understanding of the spiritual Kingdom all around them. Initiation provided the symbolic roadmap to achieve this realization in the Gnostic schools.

This same symbolic death obviously occurs in the Master Mason degree, as the brother represents Hiram Abiff. Even more so, there are two Hirams (or twins) in the degree – Hiram Abiff and Hiram King of Tyre. Some have seen the symbolic death of Hiram Abiff as representing the death of the Gnostic Twin- or Eidolon, who is then attempted to be raised by the Kingly Daemon self (represented by Hiram King of Tyre), but he can’t be raised without the help of King Solomon (representing the Universal Daemon). Some have seen this same twin motif as suggested in the seal of the Knights Templar, which had two knights riding on one horse. It has been debated a great deal if the Templars had any type of secret Gnostic doctrine reserved for the few of the inner circle, however in support of the idea, it is known that they also used a seal of the Gnostic figure of Abraxas7. Abraxas was a rooster headed figure that represented time, among other things, and it was a rooster because a rooster heralds in the new light of the new day with its cry. This was a perfect Gnostic metaphor, and some have suggested that this is the origin of the rooster image found in the Chamber of Reflection in some Masonic traditions, particularly the Traditional Observance. Going back to the twin idea, this same symbol was reflected in the astrological symbol of Gemini (the twins)- whose symbol is two pillars together. We have seen this same two pillar symbol in Freemasonry.

The symbolic death for a “third degree” can be found going all the way back to ancient Egypt. In fact, some researchers suggest that the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus was just such a reenactment of this ancient mystery school drama. The name “Lazarus” in Hebrew is “El Ausor”. “El” was a Hebrew name for God, and “Ausor” was the Egyptian name for the God Osiris- who symbolically dies and was raised from the dead. In fact, in the Mandean Gnostic tradition of the Middle East, one of the names for God continues to be “Aursor”. The story of Lazarus takes place in Bethany, which in Hebrew is “Bethanu”. “Beth” in Hebrew means “house” and “anu” in ancient Egyptian was the abode of the dead. Therefore “Bethany” or “Bethanu” means “house of the dead”. Interestingly, if we change the Hebrew name for Lazarus around so that “El” is last and “ausor” is first, we get the name “Ausorel” or “Azrael”- which is the angel of death. In any event, it is widely believed by researchers that the raising of Lazarus was illustrating an initiatory rite, which is why Jesus took so long to go get him out of the cave he was symbolically buried in.

The Gnostic likewise revered John the Baptist as a supreme Gnostic, and some Gnostic traditions even went so far as to name each of their leaders “John”- as a title, and they believed that John the Evangelist was a Gnostic of the same lineage. They thereby became “holy Saints John”, and the Gnostic leaders likewise named John fell into this same category. Other Gnostic schools, like the Mandeans in Iraq, have even been referred to as “John Christians” throughout most their history, due to their revearing of John the Baptist and emphasis on baptismal rites. The same emphasis is found in the Grail legends, like Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, and it may be related to the Prester John myths. Some have speculated that the emphasis on John in Gnostic traditions is tied to the earlier Babylonian myths of Oannis, whose feast day was June 24th– like John the Baptist, and who was known in myth to anoint Priest Kings, have them don aprons, and teach them the arts and sciences needed for building civilization. According to this theory, Oannis became the Greek Ionanis, which became the Latin Johannis, which finally got abbreviated to John. For the Gnostics this name of John was important however because of the vowels in the name- composed of IOA. Many Gnostics referred to the name of God as IOA or IAO. These vowels were also emphasized in Hebrew words like Adonai- meaning “lord”. The Latin letters IOA were significant from a Gnostic and sacred geometry standpoint, as “I” represented a point extending itself, and therefore the “word” of creation. “O” represented the word extended through space to the point that it comes back in contact with itself, and it therefore represented the extension of the word in creation, or the Christos.  “A” represented a triangle that forms as two dualities come in contact with themselves and therefore form a third point of manifestation, and it symbolized the Sophia, or reflection of the word in matter. In the Gnostic text known as the Pistis Sophia, Jesus explains the mystery of the vowels IAO to his disciples thus: “This is its interpretation: Iota, the Universe came out; Alpha, they will turn them; Omega, will become the completion of all completions.”8

As late as the 1803 there was a Gnostic Church started for French Templars called the Johannite Church of Primitive Christians, by Bernard-Raymond Fabre-Palaprat. This church later had close ties with Martinist movements, and developed into l’Englise Catholique Gnostique under the influence of Gerard Encause. This Gnostic lineage has continued to exist in various strains to today, some of which only allow Master Masons or Martinists to become members of the church. The Gnostic  Johannite Church tradition itself was often mentioned by Eliphas Levi in his writings of the 1800’s, and it is from here that we likewise find mention of it a number of times in Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma9. The early Knights Templar likewise revered John the Baptist, as along with the Abraxas seal mentioned before, there have been numerous other seals found of theirs which depicted the head of John the Baptist, and some have even suggested that they venerated it as a talisman. Obviously the emphasis on both John the Baptist and John the Evangelist features predominantly in most forms of Freemasonry around the world today.

Another interesting similarity that we find in both early Manichean Gnostic rituals and in some degrees in Freemasonry consisted of the placing of an empty chair on a platform in the east which symbolized the “unseen Master” or “unknown Master” of their sect. The Manichean members who had purified themselves for the special annual ritual were permitted to kneel before this empty chair10. The empty chair is reminiscent of the vacant throne of Osiris in Egyptian initiation rituals, though a similar chair is found reflected in the York Rite degrees of Freemasonry in many jurisdictions, and in the Royal Order of Scotland.

We certainly see the ideas found in both Gnosticism and Freemasonry in other traditions as well, which has led some to believe these ideas in Freemasonry came from other sources. For example, the same progression in initiations from earth to water, water to air, and air to fire, is found in other traditions than just the Gnostics, as it is also emphasized in alchemy and in qabbalah11. However it has been argued that the mystics of these different traditions shared similar doctrines, and some have even gone so far as to suggest the Knights Templar secured the doctrines of Gnosticism of the early Christians, Qabbalah of the Jews, and alchemy of  the Islamic societies while in the Holy Land- all of whom had been sharing doctrines and similar initiations as the Templars themselves. By extension, the myth is that Templarism grew into early Freemasonry. Such ideas can also be found in many of the early Rosicrucian manifestos. Ultimately the goal of both the Gnostic tradition and Freemasonry was a level of Mastery- which both systems represent by Light. Gnosticism, on the one hand, teaches that Mastery comes from understanding the spiritual forces behind creation and matter. Freemasonry, on the other hand, emphasizes the same idea- particularly in relation to the compasses that have overtaken the square. Compasses are an instrument used to draw the arcs which define the points behind geometric forms, whereas squares can be used to define those physical forms. The Master Mason is therefore likewise one who understands and utilizes the knowledge of the hidden spiritual and eternal forces behind creation. This is not to get rid of the square, but rather to use it is a tool for the expression of the compasses. Though Gnosticism is a philosophy to some, a religion to others, and a heresy to a few, I hope I have shown that in the essential details we cannot ignore that it shares much in common with the rituals of Freemasonry. This is not written to suggest that Freemasonry itself is a Gnostic religion, but rather to show that much of the symbolism within Freemasonry can best be understood by also understanding some of the symbolism found in the Gnostic philosophy, schools, and initiations.


  1. Rudolph, Kurt, Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism, Harper & Row, San Fransisco, 1987, pg. 332.
  2. Barnstone, Willis & Marvin Meyer, The Gnostic Bible, Shambhala Press, Boston, pg. 572-573.
  3. Doresse, Jean, The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, MJF Books, New York, 1986, pg 267.
  4. Abid, pg 267.
  5. Freke, Timothy & Peter Gandy, Jesus and the Lost Goddess, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2001, pg 60-64.
  6. Freke, Timothy & Peter Gandy, Jesus and the Lost Goddess, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2001, pg 205.
  7. Olsen, Oddvar (editor), The Templar Papers, New Page Books, Franklin Lakes, NJ, 2006, pg 122.
  8. Horner, G. (translation), Pistis Sophia, Macmillan, London, 1924, pg. 180.
  9. Pike, Albert, Morals and Dogma, The Supreme Temple of the AASR SJ, Charleston, 1950, pg 817
  10. Hall, Manly P, Orders of the Quest: The Holy Grail, The Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles, CA, 1949, pg. 14. Also on this page is a reference to Manicheans calling themselves “sons of the widow”.

For more on these associations see my books The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual and The 32 Secret Paths of Solomon: A New Examination of the Qabbalah in Freemasonry.

Sources of general reference:

  • Barry, Kieren, The Greek Qabalah, Samuel Weiser, Maine, 1999.
  • Barnstone, Willis & Marvin Meyer, The Gnostic Bible, Shambhala Press, Boston.
  • Copenhaver, Brian, Hermetica, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Churton, Tobias, The Gnostics, Barnes and Nobles books, New York, 1987.
  • Churton, Tobias, Gnostic Philosophy, Inner Traditions, Rochest VT, 2005.
  • Doresse, Jean, The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, MJF Books, New York, 1986.
  • Fabre D’Olivet, The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, Solar Press, New York, 1995.
  • Freke, Timothy & Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999.
  • Freke, Timothy & Peter Gandy, Jesus and the Lost Goddess, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2001.
  • Gardiner, Philip, Gnosis: The Secret of Solomon’s Temple Revealed, New Page Books, NJ, 2006.
  • Guthie, Kenneth Sylvan (compiled and translated by), The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, Phanes Press, Michigan, 1988.
  • Hall, Manly P., The Wisdom of the Knowing Ones: Gnosticism: The Key To Esoteric Christianity, The Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles, CA, 2000.
  • Hall, Manly P, Orders of the Quest: The Holy Grail, The Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles, CA, 1949.
  • Hoeller, Stephen A., Gnosticism: A New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing, Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, IL, 2002.
  • Holroyd, Stuart, Elements of Gnosticism, Element Books, Shaftsbury, Dorset, 1994.
  • Horner, G. (translation), Pistis Sophia, Macmillan, London, 1924.
  • Kahn, Charles, Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, Hackett Publishing, Cambridge, 2001.
  • Levi, Eliphas, Transcendental Magic, translated by A.E. Waite, Weiser Books, Boston, 2001.
  • Meyer, Marvin, The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1987.
  • Olsen, Oddvar (editor), The Templar Papers, New Page Books, Franklin Lakes, NJ, 2006.
  • Pike, Albert, Morals and Dogma, The Supreme Temple of the AASR SJ, Charleston, 1950.
  • Rudolph, Kurt, Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism, Harper & Row, San Fransisco, 1987.

The Anteroom or Chamber of Reflection

The chamber of reflection


By Carlos Antonio Martinez, Jr., J.D., PH.D., M.A., 33º

The Chamber of Reflection… After being told a few words of warning calling for the reconsideration on the steps he is about to take, mysterious words bearing a contrasting and intimidating message of discouragement, the young candidate, compelled by either Conviction or Curiosity, decides to ignore such “warnings”, and valiantly enters that “cavern-like” room on the day of his initiation into the Craft. He immediately finds himself in the middle of a gloomy and obscure scenario – a small table with a skull and crossed tibia, a lit candle, a sand clock about to stop, and a few suggestive wall inscriptions complementary of everything he was forewarned prior to stepping into such a perturbing enclosure. Truly, this is a chamber of reflection.

He cannot help feeling like an unfortunate detainee of ancient times, locked in a dungeon awaiting his sentence. On the small table there are also a cup of water, a small piece of bread, and some salt, which seem to be the only food that he is entitled to ingest for being imprisoned. He instinctively asks himself “Am I a Prisoner?”; “I have not done anything wrong”; “I came here of my own free will and they throw me in here”; “How long will they keep me?”; “I have no idea, but, I want to get out, I want to throw down the towel and surrender in the second round”; “I give up”; I can’t stand it any longer”; “What is this about?”; “Why did they lock me up?”; “Is this how they make Good Men better?”; “Is this what they mean by Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth?”; “They are probably just having fun with me!”; “They have me in such a ridiculous and hopeless state!”; “One of my hands is tied, I’m barefooted, almost naked, without my belongings, and partially blind-folded!”; “My God, what’s next?”; “A ransom?”; “Am I being kidnapped?”; “Are all those sinister rumors about the Masons true?”…

… The young neophyte then recovers his briefly lost sanity, and focus his attention on some of the fluorescent phrases posted on the dark walls: “IF YOU ARE AFRAID, LEAVE”; “IF YOU ARE NOT CERTAIN, WITHDRAW”; “IF YOU CANNOT COPE, RENOUNCE”; All of the sudden, however, these intimidating and daring clauses give him the encouragement to continue on, to test himself, to confront and overcome his own fears, to subdue his vices, and to begin to truly know himself.

Suddenly, a man wearing a black robe hands him a paper with four (4) questions that he must answer in sixty (60) seconds. At that moment, the novice thinks – “Who, in my present state and condition, is going to answer this questionnaire correctly in one (1) minute?” – While reading the questions, he feels like a bucket of cold water has fallen upon him, slightly refreshing his already warm and confused mind. There are four (4) questions he must reflect upon: What is Man’s duty to God? Again, he thinks – “What, didn’t they say that, here, Religion is never discussed?” – He thinks for a moment and answers what he thinks is right. What is Man’s duty to Himself? “Dignity”, he replies. But, again, he cannot help to think – “What type of Dignity can I have or talk about, after being treated like a dirty rag?”. What is Man’s duty to his Fellow Beings? Without hesitation he replies – “Respect”. If your last hour arrived, what would be your Testament? This time, the young man’s face frowns and he thinks aloud – “A last will? “What are they going to do to me now?”; “I’m locked away in a room, I know nobody in this place, and I’m in the presence of human remains”; “Now, I truly feel uncomfortable!” – He stops, thinks again for a few seconds, and replies – “I’d give half of my holdings to my loved-ones, and the other half to people in need”.

He was given sixty (60) seconds, but, he feels as twenty (20) minutes have gone by; his anxiety begins to feel like asphyxia with an unmistakable sensation of claustrophobia. Suddenly, there is a distinct knock at the door, two or three different voices from without order him not to turn around, and, once more, he is completely blind-folded.

As he is taken away, he remembers reading a particular word with three points between each letter: V:.I:.T:.R:.I:.O:.L:. At that time, our young Initiate did not know its meaning, he probably even assumed that it was an unknown reference to God; But, in due time, he will encounter the latin phrase: “VISITA INTERIORA TERRAE RECTIFICANDO INVENIES OCCULTUM LAPIDEM”, which, semi-translated into English means: “VISIT THE INTERIOR OF THE EARTH, THROUGH RECTIFICATION YOU SHALL FIND THE HIDDEN STONE”, and, then, he will realize that such word went hand in hand with everything he saw and read in that “cavern-like” chamber. Studying and analyzing further, he will find its significance, that of visiting and knowing his Inner Side/Nature, and submitting to a Self-Examination of Conscience with which he must reflect over his actions and deeds, and, thus, discover his Internal Self or Hidden Stone, the Philosophers Stone of the Alchemists, the Rough Ashlar of the Free-Mason.

The ancient Egyptian, Persian and Greek Sages adopted the custom of surrounding their teachings with enigmas that could only be contemplated in silence, and which expressed invariable and uniform principles that formed a perfect and harmonious ensemble that, at the same time, defined a ceremony of religious and secret nature needed for the Initiation and Training of all Priests and Priestesses who desired to unravel these enigmas. These enigmas comprise all that relates to the developing possibilities of the human state that culminate with that which has been called “Restoration of Primeval State”, and these are nothing more than a preparation for The Great Mysteries which appertain to the realization of the super-human states, and conduct the Initiate toward states of spiritual order until reaching the Supreme Identity. Thus, the new adept is brought closer to the hidden truths of the divine.

All the Philosophers of antiquity were disciples of an Initiation, being Progress and the Foundation of the Mysteries what enabled them to liberate themselves from the chaos of superstition. In those times, only the Mysteries could liberate Men from barbarousness. From these mysteries were derived the doctrines of Confucius, Zoroaster and Hermes Trismegistus. Such were the timeless characteristics of the Ancient Mysteries, that fragments of these teachings have reached Modern Freemasonry. These influences are found in the various different Rites of the Order. In all these mysteries we find a common factor indicating a same origin, the ceremonies of initiation were all funereal in character featuring a mystical death and resurrection, and the trials were conducted in the darkness of the night – the aspirant had to be examined, tried and purified in order to attain Wisdom and Light.

In the Mithraic-Zoroastrian mysteries, the neophyte was subject to a rigorous fasting and to a series of tests and trials, where the methods of exciting awe and fear varied ingeniously; all types of sounds and noises were simulated, the roaring of ferocious animals, the explosion of thunder, lightning, lashings with sticks, lamentations, screams of horror or pain, and the sensations of heat or cold were also implemented, by having him/her swim in rivers of strong current and walk through blazing areas. All these tests and trials lasted between twenty-four and eighty days, at the end of which the candidate was introduced in an real cavern. These initiation caverns were small in size, their walls and ceilings were painted with astral signs, and represented the world, the dual movement of the planets, and the passage of the souls through the celestial spheres. Once inside, the candidate was caused to walk through a ladder or bridge along which there were seven doors, each made of a different metal symbolizing the respective attributes of every planet. This Ladder was posteriorly adopted by the Jews and featured in the mythical dream of Jacob, and, presently, it is an indispensable symbol in a number of our Masonic Degrees. As the climax of the ceremony was nearing, the new adept was conducted to a larger room where he/she underwent some type of Baptism, and was finally prepared to receive the Seven Lessons that would constitute the completion of his/her Initiation. In due time, this particular ceremony began to be implemented by almost every Mystery School, until it made its way into Masonic Rituals in the form of “The Ante-Room” or “Chamber of Reflections”.

In the Higher Mysteries, celebrated in Elleusis during the month of September, these ceremonies lasted nine days, and were held in honor of the Goddesses Demeter and Persephone. The Temple was divided in three parts: the “Megaron” or Sanctuary (corresponding to the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple of Solomon), the “Anactoron” or Main Hall (equivalent to the place of collective prayer), and the Underground Chamber located right below the temple. The Infernal Regions and/or Punishment for the uninitiated impious one was symbolically represented by this Underground Chamber, and it was reminiscent of an episode in the drama of Demeter, Persephone and Pluto. Within the walls of this temple, the beliefs and teachings of a celestial life after death were earnestly imparted to their “Adoptae” or Accepted, and thus expanded to the more profound studies of Cosmogony and Anthropogenesis.

In the Druid Mysteries, almost entirely native to the regions of Britain and Gaul, their rituals, brought from Greece by Scandinavian route, required the Initiate to undergo much physical purification and mental preparation; their First Degree was conferred by inflicting a symbolical death on the aspirant, which, culminated in his/her attainment of the Third Degree or regeneration, at which point he/she was placed on a boat symbolizing his/her readiness to sail-off on life’s journey.

The formidable Egyptians, Mayans and Incas used to leave the Initiate alone, locked inside the actual funereal chamber of a pyramid, lying inside a coffin and surrounded by mummies and other lugubrious emblems, so that he/she could reflect on the steps about to be taken – that unless emerging triumphant, such failure could cost him/her the permanent loss of his/her freedom.

Following these ancient initiatic customs and traditions, divesting the candidate of all personal clothing and removing all minerals and metals from him, the Profane is caused to find himself alone with his own values before a first symbolical approximation that invites him to meditate over the vanities of existence, and warns him of mere curiosity as he seeks membership in our Order.

In modern Free-Masonry, the chamber of reflections is equivalent to the alchemical siphon, where the Recipient shall experience transmutation by means of the conjugation and regulating of his/her recondite energies. The Profane “descends to the Infernos”, he must die first, in order to “resuscitate” and attain the light of Initiation. There he shall leave the dealings of the exterior world, there will be an interior abstraction, like the original matrix, so that he can emerge from the depths of the earth (the chaotic dense matter) to the subtleness of the spirit.

This place is also representative of both Macrocosm and Microcosm, in other words, of the Universe and Man. In it, there are manifested four levels or superposed planes where the basic elements of Alchemy are found – earth, fire, water and air. The first level belongs to that of Fire, the primordial element for the work of transmutation; the second and third levels belong to those of Water and Earth – the transforming substances, and the fourth level belongs to the element of Air, the subtlety of gases related with transcendence.

It is particularly important to underline the use of certain phrases inscribed upon this chamber’s walls; these phrases bore messages such as: “IF MERE CURIOSITY HAS BROUGHT YOU HERE, LEAVE!”; “KNOW THYSELF!”; “DUST YOU ARE AND, AGAIN, DUST YOU SHALL BECOME!”; “TO DIE, YOU WERE BORN!”; “TO BETTER EMPLOY YOUR LIFE, THINK OF DEATH!”; “IF AVARICE GUIDES YOU, GO AWAY!”; IF YOU PAY HOMAGE TO HUMAN DISTINCTIONS, LEAVE, FOR HERE WE KNOW THEM NOT!”; “IF YOU FEAR TO BE REPRIMENDED OVER YOUR DEFECTS, DO NOT PROCEED!”; “IF YOU LIE, YOU SHALL BE EXPOSED!”; “IF YOU ARE AFRAID, WITHDRAW!”. These inscriptions are precisely inviting us to “visit the entrails of the earth”, in other words, to effectuate an introspection of our personalities, by being capable to “rectify”, to separate the dense from the subtle, and, thus, to find the “hidden stone” of the Philosophers, the True Philosophers Stone where the Profane’s real capacity for transmutation resides. For the Free-Mason, the transformation of Led or Rough Ashlar into Gold or Cubical Stone; the manner by which Man and Woman become the object of “The Great Work”.

The disorder and obscurity that prevail in the Chamber of Reflections, giving the appearance of a sepulchral cave, furnished with symbols of death and destruction – a skull and bones, is equivalent to being submerged in the center of the earth, from whence we came and ultimately shall return. Of all four elements that reign in Nature (Earth, Water, Air and Fire), Earth is the first that we must “overcome” during our Masonic Initiation. Our momentary stay in the Chamber of Reflections makes us remember the State of Ignorance in which we humans find ourselves, before knowing one fundamental principle of the Masonic Order:  “YOU MUST DIE IN VICES, TO BE BORN IN VIRTUES!”; Or, like Joshua Ben Joseph, alias: “The Christ”, allegedly stated: “HE/SHE WHO IS NOT REBORN, WILL NOT ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!”.

Just before stepping into the Ante-Room, we deposit our material valuables with our Bro:. Exp:. , in order to symbolically enter in a State of Original Purity, making effectual solely our True Values – Moral and Spiritual, glimpsing a new path-way, and disappearing our exterior bonds and considerations to be indefectibly open for a New State of Conscience. This, is the place where two worlds separate, the Profane and the Sacred; This is the critical point where Palingeness (Rebirth and/or Transformation) begins; The return to Life, by finding ourselves and self-divesting of our old personalities (egos and masks), recuperating our authentic being, which, in turn, shall conduct us to the True Initiation, to the Progressive Realization of our being, subjecting to examination our Will and Purpose of Advancement.

Being within that confinement, isolated between those dark walls, the Free-Mason-To-Be completes the strengthening and maturity of his soul, aided by the reflection upon that which surrounds him – the first symbols open to a Candidate’s view.

The ability to “reflect” is most necessary in a Free-Mason’s life! Reflection, per Philosophical Tenets, is the faculty of the human spirit through which the individual retreats and concentrates on him/herself to examine the phenomena subjected to his/her observation. Reflection is so important, that everyone who lacks the capacity of it, is totally incapable of comprehending the mission entrusted to him/her; he/she becomes toy and/or victim of his/her errors and/or passions – giving, instead, to the one who has developed it, an extraordinary superiority in intellectual and moral concepts. Reflection is a complex faculty, by which the active conscience illustrates and completes the Knowledge that the state of spontaneity had left in darkness and confusion.

The Man or Woman who reflects, bothers him/herself solely with matters that take place in the interior of his thoughts, finding him/herself forced to self-isolate from all exterior occurrences that besiege him/her, and to impede their access by suspending the function of the organs which perceive them. The Free-Mason who reflects, needs the retreat, the quietude, the darkness and the silence – to comprehend the phenomena of the spirit, and to clearly distinguish those invisible and impalpable objects concealed by light, and, which, only the silence of the night can reveal.

By proper use of Reflection, the Free-Mason is capable of perfectly distinguishing his thoughts, his ideas of Liberty, of Merit or Demerit. By aide of Reflection, the Free-Mason examines and judges his own actions, weights the consequences of the same, appreciates his moral character, and rejoices in discovering those noble qualities of the soul which, place him above all other creatures. Reflection teaches the Free-Mason the objective for which his glorious attributes call for, and lifts up the veil that concealed his destiny.

While in the Chamber of Reflections, the neophyte symbolically descends to the utmost dense and inferior; he finds himself in the darkness; he is in conflict with the duality of personalities – on one side, the material, composed of a physical body, and, on the other, the ethereal body, mind and emotions that he has constructed with his birth and with his particular circumstances; and, at a higher level, he faces the Elevated Personality, the Superior Individuality where he finds his true being, and shining right above it, is The Great Architect Of The Universe – so that before leaving the Ante Room, on his way to the Lodge Room, he can finally attain the Perfect Expression of the Spirit in the Physical Body.

Through the Ages, the Chamber of Reflection has represented the Initiate’s descend to the Infernos, the apparent death which precedes reincarnation, the re-encounter with a new life, and the Sun defeating the Autumnal Equinox, and rising victorious from its battle against darkness in the Equinox of Spring.

Brothers, a revision and additional embellishment of our Over-Simplified ritual, is most necessary, and way over-due. Our new Brethren must experience what some of us, unfortunately, did not. Our more philosophically and esoterically-inclined “New Breed” of members will cherish the experience of reflecting before seeing the Light. They will treasure the instant when called upon to reflect on their duties to God, to their fellow beings, and to themselves, just like our fore-brothers did, ages before there was even any grouping of four “Non-Operative Masonic Lodges” and their controversial merger into another “Grand Lodge” in England.

The ritualistic lessons of our Craft must be as vivid as possible. Our neophytes must go through the experience of being locked in that room, so that they may confront their own fears and demons. Fears and Demons that, perhaps, they are not aware of. The appreciation, skill, and habit of Reflection must be inculcated in the New Free-Mason beginning on the day of his Initiation. He must be taught to know himself better, to pay more attention to his vices and virtues, and to know the “true secret” on how to successfully polish his “rough ashlar”.

Now is the time for us to pause and “reflect”! … Many times, man fails to use the virtue of Reflection, and even goes through life without ever using it, until his final moment arrives; and, finally, he remembers that he has conscience, and meditates on what has been of his life up to that instant. We, as Free-Masons, should not make that mistake with the same frequency. Unlike the uncultivated, the Profane and Indiffferent Mason alike, we must look into ourselves, see through our Third Eyes, and think before acting.

Thanks to this “catacomb”, feeblemindedly omitted from our present rituals, we, Free-Masons, are what we are, and will be what we will be. In the Chamber of Reflection we are all reborn, and thus we learn to apply to our lives that wise adage that exhorts: “NEVER SAY WHAT YOU THINK, ALWAYS THINK WHAT YOU SAY!”


V.I.T.R.I.O.L. by Greg Stewart (2007) Available at Imagekind.

Reprinted by permission of Carlos Antonio Martinez, Jr.