My Alchemical Romance: “The Chamber of Reflection”

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Bro. Bryan Godwin is the Emmy nominated owner and CEO of shade visual effects, the worlds leading invisible visual effects facility. As a serial entrepreneur and tech investor, he has built and managed teams and companies in the creative technology space for two decades. His newest venture, Viraxis Virtual Prototyping, is leading the way in rapid, virtual, prototyping and analytics using virtual reality and augmented reality to test consumer products, goods and services.

Bro. Bryan’s Masonic career began in 2012 at Culver City Foshay No. 467 where he now holds the office of Tyler. He is 32nd degree Scottish Rite mason, Cryptic Mason and active member of Santa Monica Bay Royal Arch Chapter #97. He is also a leading member of Culver City Foshay’s Esoterica committee, and he writes the monthly Esoterica column in CCF’s trestle board. Bro. Bryan, his wife Jennie and daughter Liberty live in Venice Beach California.

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The Chamber of Reflection

Bro. Bryan Godwin

Culver City-Foshay Lodge No. 467, F&AM

Culver City, CA

Esotherica Group, August 2015

The Chamber of Reflection, dark, mysterious, and full of reminders of mortality. It is one of the most overtly esoteric devices used in Freemasonry, and at times, it can be controversial. It is intended to bestow upon a candidate somber feelings of his own mortality, and emphasize how profound the next steps he takes will be. Here at Culver City-Foshay we are fortunate to have such a room, and give the option to all new candidates for Freemasonry to spend some thoughtful and reflective time in the Chamber before their initiation. The controversy around the use of the Chamber of Reflection, within the 3 degrees of Craft Masonry stems from its seemingly spooky and morbid symbols of mortality. Additionally, some brethren feel that it is an “innovation” to adopt this tradition from other areas of Freemasonry, as it was not likely part of the original Preston-Webb system of degrees that is widely in use throughout the United States.

The Chamber is thought to have originated in the French and Scottish Rites of Freemasonry. It likely first appeared in France around 1750. Some suggest that the Hermetic nature of its symbolism indicates the direct or indirect influence of the Rosicrucians. Others, including  Author and occultist Robert Ambelain, even suggest that the Rosicrucians deliberately inserted their ideas and symbolism such as those in the Chamber, into our Masonic traditions. Its form and content has hardly changed since then, with only minor variations across jurisdictions, even with its recent adoption into the American Blue (or Craft) lodges. Most contain the following symbolism:

The Mirror:

Literally a reflection of yourself, and traditionally a trigger for a meditative state. Representing duality, and the “twilight” of the moment that the candidate is in between his life before Freemasonry, and the transformation in which he is about to partake.

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The Hourglass:

A Memento Mori in many traditions, the hourglass overtly represents the finite amount of time that we are given in our Earthly life. On a more esoteric level it can be seen to represent the upper and lower, showing the cycle of life and death and the separation of Heaven and Earth. The possibility of turning the glass, symbolizes our need at times, to reverse our attitudes and actions for continuity, or we shall always be drawn to one end; the base.

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The Scythe:

It is another reminder of our Earthly mortality and the thought that a man may be cut down from this existence at any moment. It may also be interpreted as an emblem of universal justice, that “as we sow, so shall we reap.”

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Salt:

Salt represents base matter, or body, rough and impure. It can be seen as representing the Earthly self ready to be purified. It is one of the three essential alchemical elements, also known as the “Tria Prima.”

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Sulphur :

Sulphur represents the soul, and essence above. It also also representative of fire, and sometimes referred to as the “Red King” in practical alchemy. Sulphur is the second essential alchemical element.

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The Cockerel:

The Cockerel, or rooster, symbolizes the alchemical principle of mercury which creates a fluid connection between the salt below and the sulphur above. It represents the human spirit, which in this case can be differentiated from the “soul,” and represents a fluidity of spirit between the essence above and the firmament below. When partnered with salt and sulphur, the resulting mixture can be thought to symbolise faith, hope and charity.

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Bread and Water:

Two items connected to the simplest method of sustaining life. This simplicity is a reminder of how the candidate should proceed in all his dealings through life. They are also a reminder that “Man does not live by bread alone – but by the Word of the Living God”.

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V.I.T.R.I.O.L.:

Vitriol is another name for sulphuric acid, which at first glance seems to bring a negative connotation. This acid was used in alchemical experiments as a way to break down or purify other matter. In this case, V.I.T.R.I.O.L. is also an acronym, for “visita interiora terrae, rectificando, invenies occultum lapidem”, or “Visit the interior of the earth, and purifying it, you will find the hidden stone.” This is another way of saying “Look within yourself for the truth.” Both meanings encourage the candidate to breakdown the ego and himself to find purity and truth within, and allude to the alchemical “Philosopher’s Stone”.

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Human skull and crossed thighbones:

The history of the skull and crossbones is murky, and worthy of its own discussion. In the case of the Chamber, it is a bleak reminder of what we will all eventually become. It represents the alchemical concept of “Caput Mortuum,” signifying a useless substance left over from a chemical operation, such as sublimation and the epitome of decline and decay; alchemists represented this residue with a stylized human skull, a literal death’s head.

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At Culver-City Foshay lodge, should a candidate choose to spend time in the Chamber prior to being entered into the fraternity, pen and paper are provided to write out any thoughts that might come to mind. This serves two purposes; first to help clear the mind of any burden of thought or concern, and also to provide a record of the moment, which is returned to the candidate when he reaches the sublime degree of Master Mason.

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As the symbolism used within the Chamber is more deeply understood, it can bring light to the reasons why its recent adoption is becoming more prevalent in our first three degrees. This information can help us understand the concerns and controversy, while preserving its benefits. While these concerns do have some validity, the profound and positive effect on a candidate for Freemasonry transcends those criticisms and finds itself a valuable addition to our lodge and a truly memorable moment before our official ritual begins.

Thank you Bro. Bryan Godwin for helping me put this new column together and providing a wonderful essay to set us in the right direction. 

If you would like to be a contributor to My Alchemical Romance: A Primer on Esoteric Freemasonry, send me an email. 

I hope you will.

S&F, J

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