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: The Chamber of Reflection
Topic:Freemasonry
FreemasonryThe Chamber of Reflection is one of Freemasonry's most alluring, thought provoking and truly esoteric symbols. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR) prescribes the profane, before being initiated, should enter a special room which is called Chamber of Reflection (CoR) where they will contemplate why they have chosen to embark on the Masonic path, their life, their past, and their future.

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THE CHAMBER OF REFLECTION
by Giovanni Lombardo
(Lodge Room International Magazine, issue June 2006)

The Chamber of Reflection is one of Freemasonry's most alluring, thought provoking and truly esoteric symbols. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR) prescribes the profane, before being initiated, should enter a special room which is called Chamber of Reflection (CoR) where they will contemplate why they have chosen to embark on the Masonic path, their life, their past, and their future.

The word “reflection” as employed in the Chamber of Reflection has its etymological meaning from the Latin re-flectere ; to bend over, inwardly, so to explore one's own inner and discover the god that lies inside each of us. There he will examine himself, his motives and draw up his spiritual testament by answering the three great questions of human existence: “What are your duties toward:
A) the Supreme Being?
B) Yourself?
C) Humankind?”

The CoR echoes alchemy; and its furniture recalls many alchemical symbols. As there are many (especially in American Blue Lodges) who have not seen the CoR in use as part of an initiation we will being with a discussion of the Alchemical symbology employed therein, before moving on to a description of the CoR and its usages of those alchemical symbols

First of all, despite what many may have read or been taught, Alchemy is not magic; it is a symbolic science and an art, which is a philosophical approach. This approach is quite different from the common philosophy, and can be synopsized as: Omnia ab uno et in unum omnia , viz. “all is in one and one is in all”.

Alchemy is a science dealing with material things aiming to a spiritual goal, for spirit and matter are but two opposite expressions or poles of the eternal. In truth, there is no difference between matter and spirit, as Cartesius taught, no separation between body and soul. Reality is the emanation of the One, whom we indirectly know through Nature. Even the word we use to describe everything, “Universe”, stems from Latin universus, “turned toward one”.

Taking this concept to its next logical step we must therefore understand: All things in the universe are interrelated. Antoine Faivre called this the “doctrine of correspondences”. This means that every thing can, to a greater or lesser extent, influence, or be influenced by, every other thing. This is because Nature is a living entity, dynamic, multilevel, and multivalent and at all points interrelated.

This is particularly obvious in Spagyria, or Vegetal Alchemy. Spagyric products win the test of the monochromatic light of sodium, refracting such frequencies of light which assumes the form of a spiralling ray (think of a strand of the DNA molecule). This spiralling ray of light under sodium monochromatic light does not happen to chemically obtained medicines. Another feature of the spagyric products is their everlasting life, if they have been kept in safe custody, in a wooden box and far from light.

Alchemy is also a transmutative science. Transmutation is the change or conversion of both the agent-subject and the matter-object into something new and different. To transmute means that there is a modification of the subject in its very being, i. e. ontologically. Nonetheless, it is also a spiritual science, since the alchemist aims to create a living creature, thus repeating a cosmogony. In other words, he endeavors through alchemy to imitate the creative principle inherent in God. This is the biggest difference between alchemy and ordinary chemistry. The task of the alchemist is not to recombine atoms and molecules, but, rather, to purify matter. This goal cannot be reached but by the sheer power of the mind by one who has already purified himself.

Franz Hartmann wrote: “Alchemy, in its highest aspect, deals with the spiritual regeneration of man and teaches how a god may be made out of a human being or, to express it more correctly, how to establish the conditions necessary for the development of divine powers in man, so that a human being may became a god by the power of God in the same sense that a seed becomes a plant by the aid of the Four Elements and the action of the invisible Fifth Element (the Quintessence or Life Force).”

Aurum nostrum non est aurum vulgi, Our gold is not the common gold, said ancient alchemists, thus alluding to their own purification. They called those who merely sought after material power and riches “puffers”. The gold of alchemy was simply hastened perfection, inner and outer, the divinization of matter and man. Purifying both man and matter implicates a process of death-rebirth. As Alchemy put matter in the crucibulum —an earthenware pot on burning fire, to separate the metals' various parts — solve, divide — and then to recombine them into a new substance — coagula, unite — so Freemasonry requires the neophyte be shut up in the CoR and purified of profanity's scum before being introduced in the Temple, purified and ready for light.

The profane is placed in the CoR, with various symbols of life and change. Upon the walls are written many phrases, designed to create serious and melancholy reflection, to engender in the profane thoughts of his place in nature, before God and man. Let us examine them closer.

* * *

In the CoR begins first symbolic journey of the Candidate, the journey into the earth, a traditional symbol employed in the initiatic tradition, symbolizing, as it does, the return to the beginning of life, to the womb. It is a narrow chamber, built according to the ratio 1:2, which is the same ratio as we find in the Temple of Solomon, and many temples from history. At first sight, the cavern symbolizes the womb and the process of gestation of the profane that is going to abandon his old being to be reborn to a new life, in the same way as the chrysalis has to die, so that the butterfly can exist. To reinforce the concept of the return to the beginning, to the womb, and to demonstrate the candidate is in darkness prior to being brought to a new light in the lodge, the floor, walls and ceiling of the CoR are painted an opaque black.

[image]

* * *

On the North wall (from which begins the symbolic first journey) — are painted the zodiacal sign of the Cancer the Crab (which represents Solstice in summer, and is blue in color), a human Skeleton, the acrostic V.I.T.R.I.O.L., the alchemical symbols of Sulphur and Salt, and an Oil-lamp. Electrical light should never be used. The hermetic philosophers only used an oil-lamp with an asbestos wick. It is easy to use and gives a uniform heat. This is the fire they have been hiding so much and nobody openly mentioned. On the plane of Spiritual Alchemy, the Fire is made up by the Prayer: Ora et Labora, pray and work. The word “laboratory” echoes the Benedictine motto.

[image]


V.I.T.R.I.O.L. means Visita Interiora Terræ Rectificandoque Invenies Occultum Lapidem Visit the interior of the earth, and, rectifying, purifying it, you will find the hidden stone. Some other read Visita Interiora Tua… , visit your own interior or soul, but the meaning is the same. At this stage, in fact, the Recipient identifies himself with matter, thus earth; the (Masonic) spirituality is still far from him. He must go down in the deepest of his soul, to know himself firstly: Know Thyself. The skeleton symbolizes the bare man, alone with himself, without any psychological defences. To know oneself, that is, to be aware of one's own true essence, is however not enough: the Candidate, or “Man of Wish”, has to correct his flaws. Later he must become “Man of Will”, and in doing so, he will find the treasure which has been hidden inside himself, namely, the Inner Master — or God — which lies within each man. The task is not simple: man needs courage. This is the reason for the warning we find on the wall. Man needs courage and strength. This does not mean have no fear — only fools have no fear for fear is a great teacher when properly harnessed — but rather, to have enough strength to go beyond it. Salt and Sulphur are symbols of matter and spirit respectively. Since the Initiate's task consists in balancing them through Mercury, it is expedient he does so from the beginning, when he is in the Chamber of Reflection. There we find only symbolic references to Mercury, which otherwise would be absent. Mercury represents the intelligence, the communication. The god Mercury has a pair of wings onto his feet; he is the gods' messenger. In Alchemy, it is associated to Air and Water. Painted on the wall is the following sentence:

IF YOUR SOUL IS FRIGHTENED: DO NOT CONTINUE

Below this is the hermetic symbol of Water, for every gestation needs water. Water also symbolizes man's emotional part. The Candidate is left in total solitude, for at this point, he cannot profit by any outside help, he must work on his inner self by himself and suffer purification by separation: Pathémata Mathémata , suffering is teaching, said the ancient Greeks.

* * *

The candidate enters via the West, and on this wall is painted the zodiacal sign of Libra the scale of balance (Equinox in autumn, yellow color) and the following sentence:

IF CURIOSITY BROUGHT YOU HERE: LEAVE!

Below this is the hermetic symbol of Air.

[image]


This element means intelligence; it refers itself to mind and any intellectual activity, therefore knowledge. It may appear strange, therefore, the negative reference to curiosity, this being the first and probably also the best stick to gain knowledge. Curiosity, here, is not the true wish of knowledge. Curiosity is meant to boost one's ego. The knowledge which Freemasons should long for, is instead the preliminary step to act, to build both the inner Temple, firstly, and then that of humankind. “A man who leaves home to mend himself and others is a philosopher; but he who goes from country to country, guided by the blind impulse of curiosity, is a vagabond”, wrote Oliver Goldsmith. The inner Temple must be balanced with the outer one. Balance references Libra and thence to the Equinox. Equinox stems from Latin: æqua nox, that is, the night is equal to the day; they last the same time, being absolutely balanced.

* * *

The South wall is painted with the zodiacal sign of Capricorn, the Ram (Solstice in winter, green color), a Scythe, which refers to Saturn, the Lord of Time, and the Hourglass. There is also a little Window with a Mirror (the Mirror can also be covered by a tent or curtain). Also on the wall is the hermetic symbol for Earth. Painted on the wall is the following sentence:

IF YOU CARE ABOUT HUMAN DISTINCTIONS: GO OUT!

[image]

On the table are set an Inkwell made of crystal containing China black ink with a (Goose) Quill Pen, a Candle; 3 little Bowls (made of wood or clay) containing Salt, Sulphur and Sand; a piece of stale Bread; a Pitcher of water; a human Skull and crossbones. The table is rectangular and 72 cm high and painted in opaque black, it is set against the wall; the candleholder is 22 cm. high. Symbols that have been painted here are mainly those of time. The hourglass reminds us that human life is ephemeral, subject to death, which is symbolized by the scythe. This latter, however, is also symbols of Universal Justice, for “as we sow, so shall we reap”. The mirror alludes to our inner selves, our spirits and to self examination. It is often covered by a tent, curtains, or a window, so as to implicitly invite the Candidate to open it and to see his image reflected in it. This alludes to a deeply esoteric teaching: Man's worst enemy is often himself, and also that we should seek within. When Buddha fought against the cobra, the latter suddenly took on the semblance of the former. This taught us that while we often blame our brother over the mote in his eye, unaware of the beam which sticks out our own. It is from this perspective man must read the warning on this wall. Human distinctions are an obstacle to creating and keeping true brotherhood. Unfortunately, they exist even in Freemasonry. The rejection of candidates for either on religious or racial grounds is still a plague, an unbearable shame for an institution which strives to be “universal”. Within our ranks are men who long for sashes and collars, thinking that if they can wear them they will be more important, more glamorous than those who cannot. This is a childish, unworthy, small and unmasonic goal, one which displays immaturity, inner poverty and little else. The China black ink and the goose quill recall the vegetal reign and the animal one, respectively, again, alchemical balance, and is present for the candidate to use in answering the questions. Sand is present to highlight the sterile room, as if it would protect the Candidate from any external influence. Salt and Sulphur are symbols of matter and spirit respectively and their physical presence echoes and amplifies the symbols on the wall. Bread and water are the simplest food for everybody. There is a clear reference to simplicity, as we can also see in the Fool, one of the Tarots' Major Arcanes.

[image]

The Fool, like the Candidate, is a man undertaking a journey; his packsaddle is small because he has taken the few essential things. At his heels, an impulse — the dog biting at his leg — pushes him onwards. The staff in his hand is seen blossoming, meaning that he is about to gain new riches, not material riches, but spiritual for the journey of the Fool is the spiritual journey of change and growth. Bread is a symbol of transmutation (death) gained through hard work: Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit… (John: XII, 24). Bread also symbolizes the “Great Work“ to be done by the Candidate before being initiated and, above all, afterwards, to subdue his passions — symbolized by Water — and to sublimate them to higher plans of the Being. The Human Skull symbolizes the highest part of the human body: every and all alchemic operation brings its effects into it. Next to the skull are crossed thigh bones, which in Egyptian mythology, were the siege of Ka. Ka was considered to be the essential ingredient or dimension that differentiated a living person from a dead one. Difficult to directly translate, it is possibly one of the most concise interpretations is “life force” or “sustenance”. The ka is represented in hieroglyphs by a pair of arms pointing upwards. In modern, scientific terms, Ka might be compared to DNA. Alchemy aimed to transmute it through appropriate operations and to sublimate the bodily essence in harmony with mental faculties. Furthermore, the crossed bones might be interpret as a reference to coitus, which is to be meant as conjunctio oppositorum, uniting what is opposite, to go beyond duality and restore unity. The symbols contained on the table should be interpreted in light of the table itself. The table is 72 cm tall and the candleholder 22 cm., numbers which have deeper meaning in themselves. Hebrew Cabalists describe the seventy-two names of God. By reading the Bible, they came across a unique phenomenon in the whole Torah: three consecutive verses, each of them having seventy-two letters. They are Exodus: 14, 19-21 and describe the culminant phase of parting the Red Sea. Seventy-two is the numerical value of the Hebrew word: Chesed, Love, and in fact the help of God on the occasion of the parting of the Red Sea and the salvation of the Hebrews must be considered as an act of Love. By combining such letters, they got seventy-two names which match so many faculties of the Almighty. Twenty-two are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Like Egyptians, Jews knew the power of the word. Ma-kehru , the right voice, was how the Egyptian priest was known. This was the priest who was able to modulate his voice in such a way as to emit vibrations which would excite a specific “faculty” of the One, thus getting His aid in any specific circumstance of his earthly life. What is important is not what is said, but, rather, how it is said. By the way, this still happens today by reciting the Psalms in Latin, since Saint Jerome paid great attention to preserve this faculty of speech when he wrote the Vulgata . In conclusion, the Candidate gets the following teaching from a careful examination and contemplation of the symbols on this wall: man can rely on God's love and get His help on condition that he is able to speak to Him: The quaerite et invenietis [seek, and ye shall find] of the Gospel is therefore no vain saying.

* * *

The East wall is emblazoned with the zodiacal sign of the Aries, the Ram (Equinox in spring, red color), a Rooster crowing, and the following: (Left side of the Observer):
IF YOU PERSIST IN, YOU SHALL BE PURIFIED FROM THE ELEMENTS
(Right side of the Observer) YOU SHALL COME OUT FROM THE ABYSS OF THE DARKNESS
(In the middle) YOU SHALL SEE THE LIGHT
Under the Rooster, in a flag, are the words: VIGILANCE AND PERSEVERANCE

[image]

Below all the other symbols are the hermetic symbol for Fire. Let's consider the two sentences, starting form the one on the left side. Alchemists thought the four natural Elements from which all other proceeded were Water (Hydrogen) – Air (Azoth) – Fire (Oxygen) – Earth (Carbon) corresponded to the four qualities: Humid – Hot – Dry – Cold, and to the four Temperaments: Sanguine – Bilious – Nervous – Lymphatic. Every man is a mixture of four elements, such a mixture being his feature or nature. However, some elements are stronger in one man than the others. For instance, Air being related to the “mental”. It is therefore possible he who has it in an overriding quantity can go astray, led by fanciful thoughts. What the candidate needs to learn is if he perseveres in walking the inner path, he will learn how to balance the elements, to get rid of the worst aspects of each of them — to smooth his rough ashlar — thus harmonizing his personality, and his life. One again, balance between the material and the spiritual. The second sentence clearly alludes to the psychological “process of individuation”. Abyss, from Greek abyssos, literally “bottomless”, in psychology means the “collective unconscious”, the values of a group which man has unconsciously absorbed during his early life. Through the process of individuation he will find his own values, that make him an individual, that is, a unique entity, which can no more be divided — Latin: in-divisus — an integrated personality, master of his life and of his destiny. It is a process of self realization during which one integrates those contents of the psyche that have the ability to become conscious. It is a search for totality and a balance between them that creates the integrated personality, one not tending one way or the other. If the Candidate learns the lessons taught in the CoR, he shall see the Light, that is, God. He shall “know” Him, becoming one within the One. The song of the Rooster announces the rebirth of the sun, or the return of the great light also symbolically announces the Candidate's “resurrection” or rebirth from the womb. The Rooster's crowing recommends vigilance and perseverance, symbolized by the long vigil through the night for the rebirth of the sun which the Rooster holds daily. Vigilance means to watch oneself with patience, to avoid arrogance for good results — if any — so gained; perseverance is the continuation of the journey on the inner path: research and learning are endless, indeed.

The Tyler shall watch the Candidate through the peephole to ascertain when he has completed his will and answers to the questions. When this is done, the Marshal shall bring his testament to the Worshipful Master, who will read it for the final approval by the Brethren. Once this is received, the Candidate shall be duly prepared (bare left foot, right knee, chest) a cable-tow on his neck and introduced in the Temple: the ceremony of initiation then begins.



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