Memento Mori-Death and the Mysteries

From dust we came and to dust we all must return…

Masonic symbolism and ritual is riddled with images and symbols of our mortality. Why is this? Is it because the fraternity is morbid, or is there a deeper, philosophical reason behind it?

There are very few things that we can all be certain of in this world, but our mortality is not one of them. We all will inevitably come to an end and thus continue the infinite cycle of life. We have always been taught to fear death, ever since we were old enough to understand what it is. But do we really know what it is? The simple answer is “no”. Many mystical traditions teach that death is not the end, but the beginning of a new life. This concept caries through nearly every religious tradition up to the current day.

Death as a symbol is very powerful. It reminds us of the short time that we have here. When we face our mortality it has a profound effect on our consciousness. Not only does it remind us that we should make the most of our short time on earth and to do good in the world, but it also helps us accept that change is inevitable and that we should embrace the unknown. It is also symbolic of the endless cycle of the universe. The universe is constantly dying and being born again. It is this concept that brings us to symbolic death and rebirth.

We see this concept of death and rebirth in the majority of, if not all ancient religious traditions. We see this in the slaying of Osiris by Set and his Resurrection, by Jesus’s death and Resurrection, etc. It is the death of the material and the birth of the spiritual.   It is symbolic of a new start that an individual has after becoming enlightened, or saved. It also serves the reminder that we must do our best to live life to the fullest and not take anything for granted. With this rebirth, after a symbolic death, we are encouraged to start anew, with a new sense of obligation to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures.

The symbolism of Freemasonry contains many references to death, or Momento Mori. As previously discussed in my blog, the Chamber of Reflection is a perfect example of Masonic symbolism in which the individual is brought face to face with their own mortality. The Chamber consists of a dark room, lit only by candlelight, a table with various symbolic items including a skull, and an ink well and quill for writing a last will and testament. There is also a bible, or holy book that the candidate must read certain passages from that remind them of the importance of living a virtuous life.

Another instance of death symbolism in masonry is in the Legend of Hiram Abiff. Hiram Abiff is the craftsman that is brought in by King Solomon and Hiram, King of Tyre to adorn Solomon’s Temple. Hiram Abiff is given the keys to the mysteries by King Solomon and is the Master Craftsman of the Temple. He is later accosted by three ruffians who hope to obtain the secrets from him, but he refuses, as they are not ready to receive them yet. They end up taking his life. Hiram Abiff is eventually raised by King Solomon and resurrected, bringing the legend full-circle. It is through this legend as told in the Third Degree that the candidate is taught not to be greedy and to seek what is not entitled to them, but to also understand the virtue in secrecy. They are also taught that they must die a symbolic death, to be reborn as a new, spiritual being.

The trestle board or tracing board (a wooden board with symbols on it) that is used for the Third Degree has a coffin and a skull on it. These symbols are representative of Momento Mori, and of the death of the material that the initiate is to go through on their path to finding Light.

To the casual observer these symbols may be grim, or even frightening, but to the initiate they take on much more positive and reaffirming concepts that can be a constant reminder of the impermanence of life and the importance of living with fervency and zeal and being constantly ready to alleviate the suffering of others in any way possible. In doing so, our existence can be etched into the fabric of time as our charity extends beyond the grave.

3rd Degree Tracing Board


Here is another article that I found that relates. Hope you enjoy!

The Skull and Crossbones and it’s Masonic Application

The Chamber of Reflection-2012 Edition

The Chamber of Reflection is a special room located within a lodge or space used to teach the ancient mysteries. It is meant to be a place of reflection, where the initiate ponders the mysteries of life and mortality, and the changes that an individual must make in their life to garner advancement. The room is dimly lit, only by a candle, and features many symbolic items. There is a skull and crossbones on a table where the new candidate is seated. There is a pen and paper for writing, a scythe, an hourglass, some bread and water, and all the elements of the Alchemical process. There are also some words of warning and a deeply symbolic statement in the form of an acronym. V.I.T.R.I.O.L. We know this word today as meaning sulfuric acid, or bitter criticism. It’s acronymic meaning is even more significant and will be revealed a bit later… The skull and crossbones are a reminder of mortality and the frailty of life. The pen and paper, a symbol of creation, or the recording of thoughts. The scythe, an emblem of death and of harvest. The hourglass, a reminder of time passing. The candle, representative of light and enlightenment through the darkness. The bread and water, a reminder of how little a person needs to survive and a reminder of the elements of nature. The alchemical elements remind us that this transformation of initiation is a process that must go through every step until it’s conclusion. So is the path of life. The chamber was a part of all Masonic Lodges for a long time. Unfortunately due to the loss of many of the original lodge buildings, and a lack in the interest of symbolic Masonry, this chamber has become a thing of the past.

We are now going to reflect back on our year and go within ourselves. We are searching for the lost stone and this past year, we made a bit of headway. Step into the Chamber of Reflection with me now. Let’s go within.

2012 was a year of extremes. We had giant hurricanes, mass murders, war, a rocky political year, great uncertainty of future. We also had great advancement in spirituality and a few veils are beginning to come down. Many people are beginning to wake up to the corruption of our government. The problems with our economy and monetary system. The problems of these ongoing wars for resources and the war against human consciousness. All of these issues lead us to believe that immediate change is needed. Extreme crisis must be combatted with extreme transmutation of consciousness.

Our alchemical process must rectify these issues, one step at a time. All of this tumultuous change is staring us in the face like the skull upon the table in our Chamber of Reflection. This is a reminder of our mortality, our humanity. A reminder that we must grasp this life by the bones and take advantage of the time we have. The scythe that could easily cut our umbilical link to this world is sitting right beside us. This is the war overseas. The war being waged on us by the ones who want all of the power. The ones who want to keep us in darkness. They have forgotten that though we sit in dimness, there is still a stream of light emanating from the candle. It too is on the table. We are reminded that though this interior is grim and dim, we have all that we need to live. Food and water. This also reminds us of our Mother Earth and what she provides for us. The true essence of purity that we must take within our bodies to give us strength and stamina. This nourishment is provided for us by nature and our communion with Her. We have both options before us, life and death. Both equal realities. What we must consider in this Chamber of Reflection is that we have come a long way, but must continue to forge ahead.

The acronym V.I.T.I.R.I.O.L. is taken from a latin phrase: “visita interiorterrae rectificandoque invenies occultum lapidem”. This translates to “visit the interior of the earth, rectify it, and you will find the hidden stone.” This phrase is highly symbolic and is meant to steer the candidate in the proper direction on the path to wisdom. Symbolically, this phrase is telling us to look within ourselves, at our problems and our actions and to rectify them to make them right. To take the love that resides in our hearts and to bring it out to share with the world. To learn to control our passions and vices. When we accomplish this, we have found the hidden stone. This is the Philosopher’s Stone. True wisdom. We need to take this poisonous vitriol, this burning acid and allow it to react with the metals of our lower nature. Let it transform our alchemical gold. We should take this vitriol, and burn away that which is holding us back. Remember to go within yourself, the interior of the Earth. Rectify your actions every step of the way. Bring forth that which is within. That is our quest for 2013. Turning acidic vitriol into V.I.T.R.I.O.L. 2012 was a turning point for evolving consciousness. You can see it everywhere, if you just stop for a second and look. People are beginning to wake up. Let us ponder the meaning of this life in our Chamber of Reflection and let our true feelings guide the way.