Elias Ashmole: initiation, alchemy, Freemasonry

By
Bro. Richard Harris
August 26, 2022
7 min read
“Therefore, you should carefully test and examine the life, character, and mental aptitude of any person who would be initiated in this Art, and then you should bind him, by a sacred oath, not to let our Magistery be commonly or vulgarly known. Only when he begins to grow old and feeble, he may reveal it to one person, but not to more—and that one man must be virtuous, and generally approved by his fellows."
—ThomasNorton, Ordnal of Alchemy,  p. 12.

The topic at hand concerns this: can it be determined that there are influences of alchemy in masonic traditions of initiation. Specifically, by examining the “Initiation of the Alchemist” (my title for this work) illustration in the Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum (1652). The Theatrum was compiled by Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), and the “Initiation” illustration is a reworking of an illustration from Thomas Norton’s Ordinal of Alchemy (1477). Ashmole was both an alchemist and a Freemason, which should allow us a rare glimpse into the potential blending of the two worlds of alchemy and free masonry.

Portrait of Elias Ashmole - Image © Ashmolean museum, University of Oxford | WA1898.36

To undertake the task of examination, there are three general areas to recognize in order to contextualize and elaborate on this discussion.

What you need to know about Elias Ashmole: theman, the mason, the alchemist

Since we will be comparing alchemical initiation with masonic initiation possibilities; here is why it is important to know some attributes and facts about Ashmole. In short, though, he was nothing less than a superman.

1.   He was an Englishman, a knight with a heraldic coat of arms
2.   He was a mason, one of the earliest recorded masons prior to the Grand Lodge of England's declaration in 1717. It was reputed that he worked on a book on The History of Masonry, which unfortunately never saw the light of day.
3.   He compiledand edited the incomparable Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum (1652). The book was the greatest achievement for alchemy in English ever produced.
4.   He was an alchemist whose spiritual father was William Backhaus ( ). His first two works were on alchemy.
5.   He was a royalist who fought for King Charles during the civil war.
6.   Hew rote the authoritative book on heraldry entitled, The Order of the Royal Garter.
7.   He was an officer in the King’s Guard
8.   He was a lawyer
9.   He was an astrologer (required for an alchemist)
10. He was either a Rosicrucian, or heavily influenced by Rosicrucian ideas and ideals influenced by Francis Bacon. Everything pointed to God; alchemy was the means to understand the natural world; a new world order was taking place as outline din Bacon’s book, The New Atlantis.Bacon’s book influenced the building of the Royal Societies new building.
11. He was a numismatist, who utilized his knowledge of ancient Roman coins to support the heraldic ideals in the Order of the Royal Garter.
12. He was a dedicated member of the Church of England (a protestant).
13. He was a poet and espoused the ideals of poetry.
a.   I Made it easier to hide God’s secrets in plain sight from the unworthy and uninitiated.
b.   Important concepts in poetic fashion was a tradition they traced back to Homer, Ovid,Dante, Chaucer, Spenser, et al. In Other words, poetry was the decided language of important ideas and ideals. Itwas not simply a call of the wild for these jolly Englishman, it was a sacredtradition that needed to be maintained. Maintained it was with the Englishgreats Shakespeare, Marlow, Milton, Spenser.
14. He was an expert in botany and was also given an MD degree from Oxford.
15. He was a founding member of the Royal Society, among which five others were Masons, including the brilliant architect, Christopher Wren.
16. Alongwith Greek, Latin, German and French he learned Hebrew so that he could fully take in the Kabbalah.
17. Yes,there’s more, but this is enough for now.

The Clues in the “Illustration of Initiation”

  • Checkerboard Floor Revealing the lost meaning of the chessboard in masonry
  • Closed Eyes
  • Kissing the Book
  • The Oath
  • The Book
  • Gloves
  • Two pillars
  • Two lions
  • The Sun/Light

The Conclusion(s)

My conclusions will be presented at the conference.

Bro. Richard Harris