Alchemy has become an increasingly popular topic in literary criticism, and scholars have debated the possible alchemical underpinnings of such pop cultural phenomena as Twilight, Harry Potter and the television series LOST, drawing from centuries of tradition to do so. It turns out that Masonry is steeped in such traditions, and alchemical meaning can be found in abundance throughout its many symbols. Unpacking these symbols for readers is the purpose of Timothy Hogan in “The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual.”
This slim 53-page volume is a handy pocket guide to the alchemical thought behind much of Masonic ritual. Knowing what these founders were trying to accomplish and signify has the potential to strengthen a novice’s resolve on the path to higher levels of Masonry. Hogan, a Knight RC of the Royal Order of Scotland, has spent much of his life writing and lecturing on these topics, so readers can trust that he knows what he is talking about.
Mythologically speaking, alchemy is the process by which lead is turned into gold, and the greatest goal of alchemy is to produce the Philosopher’s Stone, an object capable of conferring immortality upon whoever has it in possession. Symbolically, alchemy deals in the purification of a sullied spirit and the resolution of opposites, and these concepts are important to keep in mind if one is going to advance along the Masonic path.
Although the book is quite short, it contains information rarely discussed in other Masonic volumes. While the primary bent is historical and analytical, Hogan writes in an accessible style that makes modern-day applications entirely possible. That said, because it delves deeply into history and unearths little-known connections, this is probably a book best digested by those who have already begun to study Masonry.
Many other books giving a general overview are available; something basic like “Masonry for Dummies” or “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry” would probably be better for the true novice. Then again, someone who is fascinated by the subject of alchemy may be drawn to this book without any prior knowledge of Masonry.
“The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual” may be difficult to track down in a bookstore, but it is readily available online, with a retail price of $15. If you have begun to look into the details of Masonry and are anxious to learn more, this is a useful reference that has surprised even seasoned Masons.