I was asked several weeks ago, buy an EA , what purpose mercury filled within the reflection chamber. I am sure she didn't appreciate my rhetorical answer: "what do you think?" Nor did she appreciate my stories of the dubious medical uses for mercury in centuries past. My point is that the symbols contained within Freemasonry remain inanimate and obscure to us unless they are personalized and used. Made animate buy our own self's imagination and intellect.
A symbol must be interpreted on three levels. A visible symbol, a living force in and of itself: like a STOP sign at an intersection. Then three is the meaning of the symbol, the direction to be taken; the allusion to the process of transformation. Lastly, the symbols deeper lesson, the understanding of the spiritual principle, and the motivation of the life force of the symbol. Both mercury and VITRIOL and significant alchemical landmarks. Both, in my opinion, are representative of the plumbline.
V.T.R.I.O.L. Visita Intoriora Terra Rectifinancio Invenis Occultum Lapidem "travel to the interior of the Earth and by rectifying you will find the Philosophers Stone." The Stone that promised to be revealed was, in actuality, the perfect ashlar. The Philosophers Stone here is not that magical , wishful gem that would bring wealth to it's owner. The perfect ashlar of self was meant to be magical , enriching and rewarding quest. Revealing the path to one's true spirit and self. Indeed it was magic in the making, life extending and rewarding. VITRIOL is action, a process, a doing. The symbol of the Great Work itself! The alchemist's rectifying, or continued distillation was a process of separating the dross from the pure gold. While many medieval chemist became distracted by the notion of this process's effect on profane metals, the true esoteric interpretation of one's self and self's place in the cosmos. The digging deep into the personal abyss. Thus the warning of the Reflection Chamber: "If you fear having your faults exposed turn back now."
VITRIOL , if seen as the universal solvent, is astrologically associated with Uranus: the planet on the fringe of our galaxy; big, dark and expansive, represented on Earth as the infinite ocean. It is easy to understand the primal need of (wo)man to stare glaringly down into the dark abyss of the water, only to see his or her own face staring back. The lesson possibly is that everything you need to know is ultimately contained within self not "out there." I had the occasion to create a small plumbline jewel, it was suggested, when it was finished that it looked more like a fishing weight. That design was not intentional! But, nonetheless it was an astute observation.
Indeed, one must cast the plumb into the unknown-to plumb it- to finally know the depth of it.
VITRIOL, like the plumb bob, allows me to explore my depths. To explore: how deep and true are my thoughts? How straight is my character?
Mercury, on its surface is a mirror. Look down into the bubble of it and see for yourself. Fracture the bubble's surface and see a dozen selves. Independent, contained yet fractionalized.
This is the many faceted human personality. I see mercury, or if you will, quicksilver, as the rolling, changing evolution of self. If VITRIOL was the solvent to the early chemist then mercury was the base metal most often worked. In the elusive quest to create physical, profane gold, mercury was often imagined to be the most likely producer of the Philosopher's gold. Which was an allusion of the spiritual self's perfect ashlar. Mercury, Hermes, Hermillion in the ancient Greek literally means "a pile of stones." I imagine myself as unpurified Mercury, a collection of unhomogenized ideas, or a pile of unworked stone. A base metal that, with the correct application of VITRIOL, an acid, will be purified and made useful.
It is Mercury,s reflective quality that I find most intriguing. Just as I can stare down into the ocean entranced by it's dark depths, so too can I wonder at the reflective surface. That cool shimmer, mirroring infinite space and sky, reveals mans small place in the cosmos. Not only do we see ourselves in this personal mirror, others can see themselves reflected in us. I have observed the candle and holder in my living room. It has a large mirror attached to it so to reflect and increase the light. That, I believe, is one's purpose: to reflect and magnify the light, the light of the self, and to reflect the good and illuminated in others. This is possibly how one lodge builds upon another: magnifying first the intentions of its individual members then to reflect the light of each lodge, culminating in the international face of the Obedience.
Physics has taught me that for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is proven to me on a daily basis as I work with mercury and have idly toyed with the little reflective balls, flicking them away, to have them roll back. In this way, I believe, mercury proves one of my beliefs; that what you send out comes back to you. My actions and energies, whether directed to an individual oe sent out to the universe in general will return to me.
Now, possessing the understanding and recognition of the symbol is valuable. But, of far greater is the use of the symbol in one's own life. I recall my own initiation and the blinfords imposed darkness. The isolation forcing me to look inside for answers and to evaluate my commitment to the oaths required of me. This was only the first application of spiritual VITRIOL. The human body is a temple of the spiritual self, the soul. The VITRIOL that leads me to my own depths and exposes, sometimes painfully, the elusive philosopher's stone, is also a means to expose the illuminating inner self.
In conclusion, if VITRIOL is the tool of travel and visitation to the interior human landscape, the mercury is the mirror by which I can reflect on this self's place in the material world.