The relationship between alchemy and Freemasonry is a subject that I’ve written about in my recent work The Lost Rites and Rituals of Freemasonry; certainly some of the symbolism used in English Freemasonry reflects the theme of the transmutation of a Freemason – how to make a good man better, the journey from apprentice to master being part of a pathway to perfection and excellence.
Certain rites from the eighteenth century such as Count Cagliostro’s Egyptian Rite and Melissino’s Rite refer to alchemy or chemistry in their respective rituals, especially in the way the process of alchemy is said to change certain substances; alchemy being used not only as a reminder of the philosophical ideas of the time, but as a metaphor for the journey of the Freemason as he (or in the case of Cagliostro’s Rite – he or she) continues through the higher degrees, transmuting to perfection accordingly as he/she discovers the lost knowledge of the ancients.
Symbols such as the Ouroborus, Mercury with Caduceus and the importance of the sun and the moon, not only remind us of the alchemical themes shared with Freemasonry, but also of the rites of the eighteenth century that attracted Freemasons who experimented in alchemy, Masons such as Louis Claude Saint-Martin, who became involved in the Rite de Elus Coens and Count Cagliostro himself, who formed his own style of Freemasonry, both testifying to the links between alchemy and Freemasonry. As Freemasons, we symbolically work stone to perfect it, stone that originally comes from the earth, and in Melissino’s Rite it is mentioned that ‘chemistry is art, and wisdom is nature, and the most learned chemist cannot be even a pupil amongst us.’ We strive for perfection in ritual and in life itself, like alchemists seeking lost knowledge to turn metal into gold.
There still are echoes of the link between Freemasonry and alchemy, from the certain symbols used and in some of the old rituals, even perhaps in the way the candidate is divested of all metals before entering the lodge today, we only have to look.