The American Lodge of Research met tonight to hear the paper presented by W. Bro. Scott Thomas Cairns titled "From Lead to Gold: The Path of Alchemy and the Masonic Path."
From the lodge summons:
To those who are wise and knowledgeable, Alchemy is far more than the mundane pursuit of turning lead into gold. It is the extraordinary process of personal transformation.
It has been said that Freemasonry has been the repository for the secrets of such groups as the Knight Templar, the Hermetic Mystery School and other Eastern Mystery Schools. The one discipline that binds all of these together is Alchemy. The three Craft Degrees, as well as those of the York and Scottish Rites, contain the secrets of Alchemy.
Join us for an evening of shared wisdom on October 31, as Worshipful Brother Scott Thomas Cairns, Ph.D. gives extraordinary examples of the alchemical process of transformation that is embedded in our Masonic degrees. It is a powerful transformation process for all Masons "making good men better."
W. Scott Thomas Cairns is a Past Master and current the Secretary of Glen Cove Lodge No. 580 of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York's Second Nassau District. He also is Past Master of Carbon Lodge No. 2910 under the United Grand Lodge of England. He is a faculty member of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus. His Ph.D. is in International History from the London School of Economics.
To me, one of the more amazing aspects of Masonic thought is its undeniable parallels and links to Alchemy. The term "Royal Art" first appears in Masonry in Anderson's Constitutions of 1723. Without context or explanation, it is assumed to be an allusion to royal patronage, but it simply is the borrowing from the lexicon of Alchemy. (As an aside, I again recommend the book Alchemy & Mysticism by Alexander Roob. There is much the Masonic eye will see in this copiously illustrated text.) Alchemy employs the symbolism of Jachin and Boaz. Its point-within-a-circle is the symbol of gold. In Alchemy, the sun and the moon denote gold and silver. The legend of GMHA is understood alchemically as part of the endless cycle of death, decay, and rebirth.
Speculative Freemasons labor to perfect rough ashlars. Spiritual Alchemists toil at transmuting base metal into gold. (In my own thinking, Freemasonry evolved out of a need for a social, interactive mode for that work. Where the labor of the Alchemist is solitary, undertaken in a laboratory, Masonic work of course is pursued in lodge by the group.)
These are the kinds of topics broached by Bro. Cairns this evening. His paper is a great example of how speculative subjects can be approached by research lodges when they are anchored in documented facts.