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Article # 170
A Search for the Philosopher's Stone Between a Rock and a Heart Place

Author: W.Bro.Stephen M. Osborn    Posted on: Sunday, September 25, 2005
General Article | 1 comments  | Post your comment

A Search for the Philosopher


A Search for the Philosopher’s Stone, Between a Rock and a Heart Place


By  Stephen M. Osborn, 32°, SRRS, MPS


First of all, I would like to apologize for this paper. It is assembled from notes for a series of  papers on the ancient mysteries and the philosophical origins of Freemasonry and has been written under a great deal of time pressure. The subject matter has a great deal of history and may be closely related to both the Grail Quest and the Ancient Mysteries.

  To introduce this paper, I would like to read a short piece I wrote almost twenty years ago as an introduction to a Masonic study group.

Some Reflections Upon Beginning the Quest

We are members of an ancient brotherhood, dedicated to seeking the light and illuminating the darkness. This is a noble goal, perhaps transcending the more obvious one of social good fellowship as valuable as that is in itself. In a serious search, some guidelines are necessary:

  1. No idea is erroneous or absurd, no line of investigation ridiculous. Our current reference points are not necessarily correct, they are merely a construct suitable to our present level of development

  2. Because we do not understand something does not make it false. If you were to bring, say, a stone age Philippine tribesman [1] to lodge and light the lodge room by throwing the wall switch, you would have presented to him an act of magic. An explanation of the theory of electricity would be incomprehensible and probably considered in the light of an incantation. Showing him the wires, switch and fixtures would leave him in awe, that you could control such tiny and invisible demons and make them do your bidding. Should he touch the wires, the shock would teach him that the gods or devils swiftly punish those who trifle with their power. History is replete with acts of "magic" and various unexplained phenomena. Modern science, discounting old explanations and unable to duplicate or explain many of them simply writes it all off as fraud, superstition or fantasy; yet modern science has lately found great value in the herbs and simples that were branded superstitious quackery by the scientists of a generation ago. The expanding  and contracting Universe may be found beautifully expounded in the Vedic and pre-Vedic literature  of  India. The Dogon tribesmen in Africa worship, or seek to propitiate, a dark star orbiting Sirius. Modern astronomers have only recently been able to detect it, yet the Dogon have kept track of its orbit for generations. Science has no explanation, hence it is an interesting coincidence. Is it not possible that, as we have become an increasingly materialistic society, we may have lost more than we have gained ? As Shakespeare makes Hamlet say,

                                                             "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

                                                                       than are dreamt of  in your philosophy."

  We should explore what our brotherhood is, and means, delving deeply into its history and symbolism. Whence sprang our roots? Do we go back as an organization only to the Charter of 1717, or back to the Temple in an unbroken line? May we perhaps be traced back through time in a different form or forms? Is there an ancient body of secret masters or teachers guiding our destiny?

  Our path may lead back through other religions, ancient mystery schools, touch upon "magic," alchemy and astrology. We may find ourselves studying history, prehistory or archeology. We must seek out each glimmer of light, whether found in the Zend-Avesta, Qabbala, Holy Bible, Veda or Book of the Dead. Our track may lead from the African desert to the plateau of the high Himalayas and may span millennia. We may find six dead ends for every flicker of light, but so it has been for every worthwhile quest.

  An historian once remarked; "Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it."

  We have a wealth of symbolism in Freemasonry, much of which can be traced throughout the world and ages of man. The more we can learn of the meaning of these symbols, the ideas they preserve and protect, the better idea we may have of our role today and in the future, and how our great international brotherhood can lead this troubled planet to a better life.

Great Architect of the Universe, We are gathered here as members of an ancient and noble fraternity, seeking always  the light of knowledge. Grant us wisdom to recognize the light, even though it may be enveloped in the mists of time or obscured by the murk and gloom of ignorance and prejudice. Open our eyes and hearts that we may receive ever more light, that we may someday, by our own illumination, help to light the darkness for other night-bound travelers.    AMEN.     So mote it be.

  When you think of Alchemy and the philosopher’s stone, what image comes to mind? For most people, it is of an old Gandalfian sage wearing a peaked hat covered with zodiacal signs, crouched over a bubbling retort, a la Mickey Mouse’s Sorcerer, mumbling incantations. In fact, many of the world’s most famous people, philosophers, sages, scientists, were Alchemists. Isaac Newton was an Alchemist, as was Paracelsus, and Roger Bacon. A number of the famous chemists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries began their studies as Alchemists. What was the fascination of Alchemy? It dealt in various ways with salt, sulfur, mercury and was said to be able to transmute base metals into pure gold. Many people, procuring alchemical texts, poured their entire fortunes into following the directions, that they might produce for themselves vast quantities of wealth. Invariably,  they failed.

The chemicals and the methods of combination listed in the books were allegories, perhaps going back to the ancient mysteries. At the time Alchemy was practiced, the Church held total sway over the minds and bodies of men. The church doctrines were correct and absolute. Deviation from those beliefs was heresy and subject to anything from torture and excommunication to death by fire at the stake. Galileo found this out when he observed the planets and put forward the heliocentric  system. He was forced to recant and his books were burnt. A few years ago, he was retried by the church. The verdict was that, though he was correct in his theory, he was wrong to have challenged the church which held to the geocentric system at the time. (That is an attitude which seems to have  great and growing currency in the modern age.)

Albert Pike says, “The Hermetic philosophers also drew their doctrines from the Kabalah and  more particularly from the Treatise Beth Alohim or Domus Dei, known as the Pneumatica Kabalistica, of Rabbi Abraham Cohen Irira, and the Treatise De Revolutionibus Animarum of Rabbi  Jitz-chak Lorja....  This philosophy was concealed by the Alchemists under their Symbols and in the jargon of a rude Chemistry, — a jargon incomprehensible and absurd except to the initiates; but the key to  which is within your reach; and the philosophy, it may be, worth studying....Like all the Mysteries of Magism, the Secrets of “the Great Work” have a threefold  signification; they are religious, philosophical and natural. The philosophical gold, in religion, is the Absolute and Supreme Reason. In philosophy, it is the Truth, invisible nature, the Sun. In the subterranean and mineral world, the most perfect and  pure gold....” [2]

Written over the gate of the Temple of the Eleusinian Mysteries at Athens were the words  Know Thyself. There were two Mysteries, the lesser and the greater. The lesser were a preparation for the greater and everyone could be admitted to them. The novice desiring entrance into the mysteries had to spend three or four years preparing himself, clearing his mind, purifying his body  and learning mental and physical discipline. The teachings of the lesser Mysteries were probably basically moral teachings, similar to that received in Blue Lodge Freemasonry. The great Mysteries, according to Clemens of Alexandria, concerned the Universe and was the completion and perfection of all Instruction, wherein things were seen as they were and nature and her works were made known.

The Mysteries were widely spread and known by various names, that of Isis and Osiris in Egypt, Orpheus, or the Orphic mysteries, which were the fountain of Grecian Civiliztion. The Celtic Druids celebrated the Mystery of  Dionusos, Ceres and Mithras and the list  goes on. The basic lessons  taught was the perfectibility of man and his place in the cosmos. Much of this teaching was subsumed by the Church and twisted to conform to its doctrines. The true doctrines of the Mysteries were condemned as heresy and expunged by the Church. As with most truths, they were hidden in allegories and passed along, kept alive by the descendants of the initiates until better, freer times should come along. One of the forms chosen was that of Alchemy. The Alchemical texts  were written with several layers of meaning. Much of it relates to the Kabbala. The recipes in the texts  refer to purification of the mind and soul and its preparation for the next stage of its evolution.

Illustrious Brother Manly Palmer Hall,33°, a neoplatonist philosopher, wrote extensively on Alchemy and translated many of the texts, some purported to have been written by C.R.C. himself. His work, An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Philosophy [3]  well  deserves study. In his Preface, Hall says, “To live in the world without becoming aware of the meaning of the world is like wandering about in a great library without touching the books. It has always seemed to me that symbolism should be restored to the structure of world education. The young are  no longer invited to seek the hidden truths, dynamic and eternal, locked within the shapes and behaviours of living beings.”

Henry L. Drake, in the forward to the second edition writes, “Those who do not understand the spiritual sciences question their use of unusual symbols, myths, and figures employed to conceal the essential teaching. Let it be remembered that these ‘clouds’ were no part of the original doctrine, but were made necessary by intolerance and bigotry. The use of indirect communication was based entirely upon practical considerations. To remain unknown was the best way to prevent a repetition of the disaster which occurred to the Knights Templars. The ‘veils’ which concealed the arcana of the Mysteries were not employed to cover ignorance, but to protect wisdom, and in Europe it was protected for a thousand years...The science of life is, therefore, the supreme science and the art of living, the finest of the arts. There have always been truth-seekers willing to acknowledge the sovereignty of the eternal over the temporal. These have dedicated themselves to the mastery of life  and have perpetuated from generation to generation the knowledge and skill, they have accumulated. This body of essential knowledge is the esoteric tradition. The institutions which perpetuated this tradition are the Mystery Schools and the graduates of these schools are the adepts.”

The Great Work is, above all things, the creation of man by himself; that is to say the full and entire conquest, which he effects of his faculties and his future There are two Hermetic operations, one spiritual and the other material, each dependent upon the other. The whole Hermetic Science is contained in the dogma of Hermes, originally engraved on a tablet of emerald. The sentences that relate to operating the Great Work are as follows. “Thou shalt separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, gently, with much industry.. . . .It ascends from earth to Heaven, and again descends to earth and receives the force of things above and below….. ..Thou shalt by this means possess the glory of the whole world and therefore all obscurity shall flee away from thee.. . …This is the potent force of all force,  for it will overcome everything subtle  and penetrate anything solid”…. “So the world was created.” [4]

As I have run out of preparation time, I must make only a brief summation hereafter

The Hermetic philosophers felt that, before one could perform any acts of transmutation or produce the elixir vitae, they must seek for the Philosopher’s Stone, the foundation of the Absolute philosophy, the Supreme and unalterable Reason. “Before we can even think of the metallic work, we must be firmly fixed on the Absolute principles of Wisdom. We must be in possession of this Reason, which is the touchstone of Truth. A man who is the slave of prejudice will never become the King of  Nature and the Master of transmutations. The Philosopher’s Stone, therefore, is necessary above all things.” In essence then, the Philosopher’s Stone can only be made, or found, by perfection of the heart, divesting ourselves of all the dross of prejudice, greed, hatred, and lust which are accumulated in our contact with the outer world.” [5]

I submit that, once one has found the Philosopher’s Stone, one will no longer have the need for power and wealth. Once you have found it, you will not need to use it, for you will understand, what is truly valuable and will cherish it for what it is.


  [1] At the time this was written, anthropologists discovered what was believed to be the last, untouched, tribe of people living in the stone age, the Tasaday, located in the Philippine highlands. I believe this was later found to be a hoax, however at the time it was a world’s wonder.

[2] Morals and Dogma, compiled by Albert Pike, Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction, A. A. S. R., U.S.A., 1871 pp 774 et seq. The chapter on the XXVIII degree, Knight of the Sun or Prince Adept, has an extensive lecture on Alchemy and the Philosophy behind it.

[3] An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Philosophy, by Manly Palmer Hall, 1928,( 2 ed.1975). He devotes several chapters to the Alchemical texts with translation and commentaries. A brother who was initiated in Europe told me he was made to sit and meditate for a time in a dark room which contained a chair and a small table on which was a candle and containers of Salt, Sulfur and Mercury. He was not aware of the meaning of the materials before him, but in actuality he had an entire Alchemical text set before him in those three dishes and the lone light. The Sulfur corresponds with the elementary form of the Fire. Mercury with the Air and Water and Salt with the Earth.

[4] Morals  and Dogma  page 774.This and the next three pages translate from the Great Work and discuss the origin and use of the philosopher’s stone.

  [5]   Ibid   page 775-76.


The learned author is an ex-navyman and a lifelong sailor, had participated in the Operation Redwing, H-Bomb tests, of 1956 in Bikini. He has written for many years advocating peace and an end to nuclear warfare, arsenals, etc. Some of his writings on the subject may be found at and some of his antiwar poetry may be found at He was raised in 1984 at Mill Valley Lodge No. 356, G. L. of California and now is the WM. of Camanio Lodge No. 19 . He is a member of Garfield Lodge No. 41, Walter F. Meier Lodge of Research No. 281 and Esoterika U. D. all of the G. L. of Washington, a 32° Scottish Rite Mason, Valley of Everett, Orient of Washington, of the AASR Southern Jurisdiction and a member of the Knights of St. Andrew, a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society, the Philalethes Society, the Southern California Research Lodge and Journeyman Online 2002. As a prolific writer, he has contributed many articles for the Scottish Rite Journal and the Washington Masonic Tribune. We thank the learned author for permitting us to post this article in our website.

Click Here To Post Your Comment

jaydoc40 wrote on Sunday, September 25, 2005:

Subject: philosophers stone

It is a good article on the theme "know thyself" as expounded in the rich heritage of Bharath.

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