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 Point of a Sharp Instrument-Top 10

Number 8

In this installment, I presented the argument that modern science owes a lot to the Ancient Mystery schools and several esoteric schools of thought. The Royal Society was a group of thinkers/scientists/philosophers who joined together to research and present new concepts and inventions and was made up of individuals who were deeply connected with the ancient traditions of alchemy, Hermeticism, and Freemasonry.

Esoteric Wisdom and the Birth of Modern Science


V0013122 Royal Society, Crane Court, off Fleet Street, London: a meet

The Cornerstone and The Keystone

220px-Mark_Master_Keystone symbol-jumbo-crown-chakra

Since modern Freemasonry has evolved from the Operative Stonemasons, it is important that we understand the importance of the symbolism of the Cornerstone and the Keystone. For centuries, the Cornerstone has been lain by Masons in public ceremonies. The Cornerstone is the first stone laid in the building of an edifice. It is placed in the northwest corner of what will be the future structure. There is a symbolic significance for this. As a Freemason, we learn to “build our Spiritual Edifice”, which is a metaphor for our quest for knowledge and for the betterment of self. Knowledge of the nature of our minds, spirits, and of the universe. In Freemasonry, the term “Light” is used for knowledge of these things. As the Northwest is the opposite area of where the Sun rises and shines throughout it’s traversal of the sky, it is obvious why it would be chosen as the beginning point or point of the least amount of light. Ancient stonemasons looked at a structure as a smaller representation of the universe or the microcosm of the macrocosm. The structure began as a single stone (or in ignorance and imperfection if you look at it esoterically). It will inevitably end in balance and completion of the whole (or enlightened and learned esoterically). This is what the Speculative (or philosophical) Mason is taught to do with their pursuit of Masonic knowledge. It’s not to say that since the Cornerstone is in darkness that it is unimportant. Quite the contrary. The Cornerstone is a beginning and we all have to have a beginning to also have an end. This is why Masons consider the Cornerstone to be so important. It is the departure point. The Cornerstone is imbued with information about the structure and it’s builders. Esoterically, we can look at this as information about our self in our rudimentary state. As we build our Spiritual Edifice (our Spiritual Being and Virtuous Life), we add knowledge and understanding (or perfected stones) until we reach the point of having a beautiful, balanced and completed structure.

This completion (or enlightenment) is where the Keystone comes in. The Keystone is the stone placed at the top of an archway which give the arch it’s stability. It completes the structure. Masonic legend harkens back to the time of King Solomon and the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. This was long before the arch existed in architecture. Despite this, it is for certain that there was a completion stone (called a capstone or copestone) that would have been placed when completing the Temple (the arch and Keystone symbolism was obviously added to Masonic ritual after it’s addition to architecture.) Regardless, the symbolism of the Keystone is highly important. As the Keystone completes the arch and gives it it’s strength and stability, so does the diligent pursuit of knowledge and living a morally upright lifestyle. As you can see, this concept of balance and structure is as important in Masonic symbolism as it is in the actual art of building a physical structure. It has a beginning and an end. An Alpha and an Omega. Both are equally important because you can’t have one without the other.

This concept permeates not only Freemasonry, but other mystical traditions as well. To close this article, we will visit one more concept that uses this same analogy. The Chakra system is prevalent in many Eastern religions. It also has found it’s way into Western thought through various means. The body has multiple energy centers within it. Starting at the base of the spine, or in the reproductive organs and going up, sequentially to the top of the head. These Chakras can be “opened up” or activated through meditation and yoga. The Root Chakra (or Muladhara) is located in the reproductive organs of the body. This is symbolic of the lower self or base-emotions. In other words, one who only has an active Muladhara Chakra is living in and acting in a low vibration of consciousness. Not capable of enlightenment. This can be likened to the Cornerstone. If the Cornerstone were the starting and ending point of a structure, there would be no structure. Just a cold stone sitting in the darkness of the Northwest. As an individual learns to activate each Chakra up the body, they gain more spiritual and life knowledge (this is likened to the building process of building our Spiritual Edifice.) The activation of the Chakras is capped off with the activation of the Crown Chakra (or Sahasrara). Activation of this Chakra is said to create a moment of enlightenment and understanding. This can be likened to the placement of the Keystone. This is the completion of the journey. As a building must start with the Cornerstone and end with the Keystone, the activation of the Chakras must start in the dark northwest corner so-to-speak of our lower emotions of the Root Chakra and end in the Crown. This is not to say that the Root Chakra is unimportant. Again, as in Masonic allegory, you cannot have one without the other. You must have the progression from lowest to highest. This creates balance with the Chakras which is necessary for mastery.

As a student of the Mysteries of Life, we must all apply these concepts to our lives and remember that we are all progressing through life toward the unknown realm of beyond. What we do in the present is as important as what we do in the future. We must spread love, beauty, balance, and light to the world!