- Chamber of Reflection
It is a small darkened room or chamber, with the walls painted black or imitating a rocky underground cave. It contains the following: a simple rough wooden table on which we find: a human skull, usually on two crossbones, a chunk of bread, a pitcher with water, a cup with salt, a cup with sulphur, a lighted candle or lantern, an hourglass, paper, ink and pen, a wooden stool or chair painted on the wall: a rooster, a sickle, the acronym V.IT.R.I.O.L.(U.M.) and various sayings.
The chamber reminds one’s self of the caves where primitive men lived. In psychoanalysis, it is a symbol of regression. It is also a symbol of the maternal womb. The profane is regressing to a time of innocence and to a state in his mother's womb. When he emerges from the chamber, it shall be as if being born as a new man. Contrariwise, the cave can also be the symbol of a sepulchre, as the tombs of the ancients in biblical times. Thus, the chamber indicates, at the same time, a beginning and an end: the end of one’s life as a profane, and the beginning of a new life as an initiate in search of light, truth and wisdom. This can also be interpreted as a form of resurrection. This motif of death and resurrection is mentioned in Plutarch’s Immortality of the Soul thus: 'The soul at the moment of death, goes through the same experiences as those who are initiated into the great mysteries.'
Together with the crossbones, sickle and the hourglass, the skull naturally refers to mortality and is linked to the alchemical references also present in the Chamber. The alchemists aimed at transmuting base metals into silver and gold through the process of putrefaction. So must the profane transmute his nature, through a symbolical burial in the chamber, into a new transformed man in the form of an initiate. In alchemy this is called the great work. Indeed, man’s refinement, transmutation and transformation from a brute base metal into gold requires great work! The skull in alchemy, named caput mortuum, is the epitome of decline and decay. The crossbones are usually tibias, the weight-bearing bones of the lower legs.
A Scythe, or small image of the Grim Reaper such as is traditionally shown on the Tarot Card Death represents the fragility and mortality of human life and the need to be awake and alert to the reality of change and transformation that is constantly going on around and inside of us. It is also a symbol of Universal Justice, for “as we sow so shall we reap”.
The Bread and Water
The chunk of bread and the pitch of water are symbols of simplicity, pointing to the future initiate how he should conduct his life. Bread is made of wheat, an element connected to the goddesses Isis and Demeter. Isis is the Egyptian mother goddess and also the goddess of the dead, again, two of the aspects of the Chamber of Reflection. Furthermore, according to the ancient description of an initiation into the Mysteries of Isis by Apuleus, the candidate was placed in a secluded cell and subsequently participated in a ceremony in which he had to overcome trials. Demeter was celebrated at the great festival at the Temple of Eleusis, which became known as the Eleusinian mysteries. The bread and water represent the elements necessary to life, but even though food and the material body are indispensable, they remind the candidate that the physical aspect should not be the main objective in one’s existence. Moreover, these elements remind us of the biblical narrative regarding the prophet Elijah, who is also connected with these elements and a cave He established a school of prophets in a cavern on a mountain. Furthermore, Elijah after eating bread and water, climbed Mount Horeb, in the same way that the future initiate nourished by these symbols can withstand the trials ahead and climb his own mountain. Elijah, once on the mount, also heard God as the still small voice, just as the candidate should follow his inner voice throughout his life.
Three of the alchemical elements used in the great work were sulphur, salt and mercury, all of which are present in the Chamber of Reflection. Sulphur is symbolical of the spirit, being a masculine principle, referring to enthusiasm and corresponding to the virtue of Faith. Salt is a symbol for wisdom, being considered neutral, as far as gender is concerned, referring to pondering (something the candidate does in the Chamber of Reflection) and corresponding to the virtue of Charity. Mercury appears as the rooster drawn on the wall of the Chamber of Reflection. This animal is connected to the deity Hermes, that is, Mercury. It is a feminine principle, referring to Vigilance and it also corresponds to Faith.
This object is a reminder of mortality. It also brings to mind that time runs fast, just as the sand runs through the hourglass. It also conveys the meaning that we should make good use of the time given us.
Vitriol is a sulphuric acid or a sulphate used in the alchemical operations of yore. This word is the origin of the adjective vitriolic, meaning caustic or hostile, referring to speech or criticism. However, in the esoteric sense, it is an acronym for the Latin phrase: Visita interioraterrae, rectificandoque, invenies occultum lapidem, which means: "visit the interior of the earth, and rectifying it, you will find the hidden stone." Some times this acronym appears with the addition of U.M. at the end, which means, veram medicinam, the true medicine. If one takes this advice metaphorically, the meaning conveyed is that, one must search within oneself, as the truth is hidden there, and this truth is the real solution to our problems. Again, a very appropriate acronym to be placed on the wall before the future initiate, while he has to write his philosophical testament.
Besides the profusion of symbols in the Chamber of Reflection, there are various sentences on the wall. Most often they include:
- If you think we will find out your defects, you will feel uncomfortable among us.
- If curiosity spurred you towards us, go away.
- If you are capable of deception, tremble, you will be found out.
- If you take notice of human differences, leave, we do not know them here.
- If your soul is fearful, do not proceed!
- If you persevere, you will be purified, you will overcome darkness, you will be enlightened.
- Think of God, with humility.
- If you want to live well, think of death.
- Serve your country with devotion.
- Remember the great citizens who were Freemasons.
- Know thyself.
- If your heart is well intentioned, go on and you will have our support.
- ^ http://www.freemasoninformation.com/2009/06/the-anterroom-or-chamber-of-reflection/
- ^ The First Book of Kings, Chapter 17, verses 8-11
- ^ The First Book of Kings, Chapter 19, verses 5-13
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