Both Alchemy and Freemasonry are ancient arts that relay a certain philosophy and method of personal growth, but do the similarities end there? There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on whether or not, Freemasonry and Alchemy are formerly linked together. However, as a student of Freemasonry and other esoteric traditions, the similarities are striking.
Alchemy is thought to have originated in Hellenistic Egypt, especially in Alexandria. It’s very possible that it goes back even further, although there is no definitive proof of this. Hermes Trismegistus is thought to be the father of alchemy and translations of The Emerald Tablet that are attributed to Hermes Trismegistus describe the alchemical process in veiled language. Most historians believe that alchemy was simply an early version of chemistry and that the ultimate goal of the alchemical process was to change lead into gold. Despite the fact that this was a procedure in alchemy that is thought to have been possible, true alchemists had a much greater work that they would strive for. The true alchemical process was to help connect the alchemist both physically and spiritually with the universe in which they resided. The process itself was not only to achieve a physical transmutation, but to also produce a mental and spiritual transformation as well. With each step of the process, the alchemist was shedding the superfluidities of life and learning to temper emotions in a pursuit of the betterment of self. The end result of this “Great Work“, was not only to extract the physical Philosopher’s Stone from the materials with which they worked, but also to extract the spiritual Philosopher’s Stone that was within their own being. This “Stone” being the perfected self, or illuminated soul. This process, like all other mystery traditions, required deep introspection of the individual and the coming to terms with inner demons and vices that keep one from their true potential.
Freemasonry has some obvious similarities with Alchemy, but may have some much deeper, symbolic connections as well. Though there is nothing definitive that ties modern Freemasonry to ancient Egypt, most Masons believe that the connection is there. Freemasonry uses many of the same systems that can be found in other Western Mystery Traditions that have their origins in ancient Egypt, and it could be said that the builders of the temples and pyramids in Egypt, may have been the first Master Masons. Like Alchemy, Freemasonry uses a series of steps, or processes to get the initiate from one point to another. The ultimate goal in Masonic Philosophy is the betterment of self, through introspection and acknowledgement of immortality. The masonic initiate is encouraged to temper their emotions and control their vices. In this regard, the philosophy of the two traditions are on equal footing. As I have mentioned in the past, there is a strong correspondence of the Hermetic Tradition with Freemasonry as well. The Hermetic tradition being derived directly from the writings of the original alchemist, Hermes Trismegistus. Both traditions are searching for that which is hidden or lost as well. In Alchemy, it is the search for the hidden stone, or Philosopher’s Stone. In Freemasonry, it is the search for the lost word, or the Divine Name. It seems logical, on the surface, that the two traditions are similar, but does the similarity go even deeper?
As with all ancient mystery traditions, there is an exoteric aspect, and an esoteric aspect. The exoteric aspects become obvious rather quickly to the observer, but the esoteric aspects may take decades, or even lifetimes to come to light for the initiate. Alchemist and Freemason, Timothy Hogan has written extensively on alchemical symbolism that is hidden within free-masonic ritual. In his work The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual, Brother Hogan goes into great detail regarding these symbolic connections. One of the key connections between Freemasonry and Alchemy is the use of metals. Metal’s importance in Alchemy is easily understood within the context. The Alchemist is made aware of the correspondence between the Seven Planets (Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mercury, and the Sun and Moon), the human body, and the Seven Metals (lead, tin, iron, copper, quicksilver/mercury, silver, and gold). Each metal is thought to have intimate connection to the planet of it’s origin and is also said to have a connection to certain essential organs in the human body.
How does this figure into Freemasonry though? Isn’t masonry about building with stone? Mysteriously, metallurgy and metal substances factor heavily in Masonic ritual and literature. Right off the bat, prior to initiation, the new candidate for masonry is divested of all metals. This is not only to remind him of the impermanence of material wealth, but more importantly it is to teach the student the concept of superfluidities and that which is lost and can be gained through trial and spiritual growth. Even though Freemasonry primarily uses the allegory of stonework, metals and metallurgy continually pop up throughout the various Masonic degrees, as well as masonic-related works.
The most intriguing connection is that of the importance of the Sun and the Moon in both Alchemy and Freemasonry. The Sun and the Moon allegorically represent the masculine and feminine principle. The Sun being the masculine and the Moon being the feminine. In Alchemy, as previously stated, the Moon is equated to silver and the Sun is equated to gold. These are the two most powerful metals in the alchemical hierarchy. It should be no big surprise then, that the Sun and Moon (silver and gold) feature prominently in Freemasonry as well. The two Deacons (junior and senior) in the lodge setting carry wooden rods that are topped with symbols. The Junior Deacon’s rod is topped with a Moon symbol and the Senior Deacon’s rod is topped with a Sun symbol. References to the sun and moon also figure prominently into the Masonic ritual and come up time and time again.
Since both Freemasonry and Alchemy are veiled traditions that are illustrated with symbols, it is up to the individual student of these varying disciplines to explore their connections further. If you would like to know more, take a look at some of the links that I have posted below. Best of luck on your own Magnum Opus!