By Bro. Cody J. Spangler, DDGM
Ask any member of the Masonic Fraternity today and they’ll all undoubtedly tell you that it is much easier to enter the fraternity than ever. This is the battle which we all must face in the Masonic world. We need members to prolong the life of the craft, but are we sacrificing quality in doing so? What becomes more important then? The quality of the men we bring in or the quantity. Maybe we can help the former by instituting an old part of ritual that is nearly forgotten.
In Pennsylvania Masonry the use of the Chamber of Reflection has gone well by the wayside. To be honest, the only Masonic Body that someone utilizes such ritual is the Commandery of Knights Templar and even theirs is a far cry from the true meaning that the Chamber is to possess. Why would this be important you ask? The answer is simple, it makes the candidates think, which is the main reason our mainstreaming of candidates is ineffective for producing active members (ritualists or officers). We constantly inform them of the required materials needed to advance but lack the necessary education of the deeper meanings of the craft, the true education that a candidate is to receive.
The Chamber of Reflection was a room in the lodge, usually small and part of the anteroom, where incoming candidates would be placed prior to being introduced into the craft and receiving their first degree. The chamber was to resemble a cave and had particular objects in it. Most commonly a skull, a scythe, a lantern or candle, an image of a rooster (sometimes accompanied by plates of sulfur and salt), an hourglass, a symbol of physical earth, bread and water, the letters VITRIOL somewhere in the room, and lastly paper and pencil. All these placed together in a dark setting where the lantern or candle is your only source of illumination sounds a bit macabre, however once inside and visualizing all these objects, one would start to understand their meaning. The skull symbolizes mortality, the hour glass as a symbol of our brief existence on earth. The Rooster (and powders) refer to alchemy and symbolize three great virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. The Bread and water, indication of a simple sustenance. The Scythe which should represent the reaping of the coming harvest. And lastly the word VITRIOL and the symbolic piece of earth. VITRIOL is an acronym which when translated from Latin reads “Visit the interior of the Earth, and purifying it, you will find the hidden stone”. Okay so not everyone would get that from those symbols but hey TEACHING MOMENT!!!!
Arguably the most important part of this whole ritual is what we ask of the candidate while in the Chamber. We ask them to meditate on how Freemasonry will be changing their life, what they believe their duties are to God, their fellow man, and themselves, and in some places the candidate was asked to write a will. This is all to force the candidate into a state of introspective thought. To make them evaluate their lives up until this point, and assess where they themselves could make improvements. The candidate after thirty minutes or so of this reflection in darkness, then can begin their journey to true Masonic Light.
I know that some wouldn’t take this seriously and others would see it as just another forced aspect of ritual, but I feel many more men would take the subsequent knowledge they receive from these degrees more seriously. That they would want to understand more of the esoteric meanings of the fraternity, and further more appreciate these things to a much higher extent. Thus causing them to want to ensure the same enlightenment be passed to subsequent candidates. If nothing else it is something that costs the lodge little to nothing to prepare and if it works on even a handful of candidates, there are a handful you may have missed. Something as simple as this couldn’t hurt to try.
Bro. Spangler is the District Deputy Grand Master of the 27th Masonic District under the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and a two time Past Master of Armstrong Lodge #239 in Freeport, PA. He is a two time Past High Priest of Orient Holy Royal Arch Chapter #247, Deputy Illustrious Master of Kittanning Council #52, and Warder of Holyrood Commandery #100 all in Kittanning, PA. He is a member of the Valley of New Castle AASR and Syria Shrine in Cheswick, PA. A member of Gateway to the West Council #5 of Knight Masons USA located in Pittsburgh, PA. A member of the Widows Sons, Masonic Riders Association, Tyrian Chapter, located in Plumcreek/Monroeville, PA. He is at the forefront of advancing Freemasonry to the best of his ability by working within the constraints of the Rules and Regulations to spread the light of Freemasonry. He focuses highly on the philosophical and symbolic importance of the fraternity and the promoting of Masonic Education. Bro. Cody can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org