Q. What qualifies a Man for the Seventh Order [of Masonry]? A. …the Composition of the Grand Elixir. (Post Boy Exposé, 1723).1
As outlandish as it may sound, allusions to the entheogenic properties of the acacia are commonplace in Masonic literature and various rituals. For it would appear that the psychoactive nature of acacia was fairly widely known in certain Masonic circles at least up until the late 1700s. However, some time between the mid to late 18th century and the 19th century occult revival, the secrets of acacia, like the true word of a Master Mason, appear to have been lost. It is only now that the true significance of the symbol is stepping back into the light.
In their daring book Mushrooms, Myth & Mithras, authors Ruck, Hoffman, and Celdrán made a bold attempt to interpret the founding myth of Freemasonry in an entheobotanical context, seeing in the allegory of Grand Master Hiram Abiff’s Raising a possible allusion to a ritualized harvest of acacia root.
“[T]he murdered body of Hiram Abiff, a Master Mason and Master of Works on Solomon’s Temple, was ‘raised’ from his resting place beneath an acacia sprig which marked the spot to those who would be sent by King Solomon to search. After the interred corpse of Hiram was found, Solomon himself went to the site to recover the body. Feeling beneath the ground at the site of the acacia, the king felt Hiram’s ‘hand.’ In the process of recovering his corpse, he first used the grip of the Entered Apprentice, then that of the Fellowcraft, but twice felt the skin slipping off Hiram’s hand. Finally Solomon used the grip of the Master Mason to raise the corpse. In the entheobotanical context, we feel that this myth is a description of a ritualized acacia harvest. We note that the subterranean root bark of acacia and mimosa species are known to contain high levels of Dimethyltryptamine, an entheogen which is strongly psychoactive when extracted and inhaled, and which is easily combined with other sacred entheogenic plants, and consumed as a potion.”2
Such an application of the Hiramic allegory, while indeed startling to many, actually illuminates perhaps one of the most bizarre references to the acacia in the history of Freemasonry. In the Apprentice and Companion rituals of Count Cagliostro’s Egyptian Rite, the acacia is puzzlingly referred to as being the first matter in a particular and curious Alchemical operation. When properly executed, this operation results allegedly in the production of a cubical ashlar; that is, the result is a purified, crystalline stone or salt that has been extracted, or, to use Alchemical terminology, produced, from the acacia tree: a veritable vegetable stone.
“‘[T]he acacia is the primal matter and the rough ashlar is the mercurial part. When this rough ashlar or mercurial part has been purified, it becomes cubical …It is thus that you may bring about the consummation of the marriage of the Sun and the Moon, and that you shall obtain…the perfect [astral?] projection. Quantum sufficit, et quantum appetite [as much as you need and as much as you have appetite for].’3
“[T]he candidate…shall drink [the red liqueur placed upon the Master’s altar], raising his spirit in order to understand the following speech which the Worshipful Master shall address to him at the same time.
“‘My child, you are receiving the primal matter, understand the blindness and the dejection of your first condition. Then you did not know yourself, everything was darkness within you and without. Now that you have taken a few steps in the knowledge of yourself, learn that the Great God created before man this primal matter and that he then created man to possess it and be immortal. Man abused it and lost it, but it still exists in the hands of the Elect of God and from a single grain of this precious matter becomes a projection into infinity. [italics mine]
“The acacia which has been given to you at the degree of Master of ordinary Masonry is nothing but that precious matter. And [Hiram’s] assassination is the loss of the liquid which you have just received …it is this knowledge that, assisted by the Great God, shall bring you these riches.'”4
If not for its DMT content, we cannot conceive of any reason why Cagliostro would have his initiates literally drink an ayahuasca-like concoction of acacia, especially when considering the fact that the libation was expected to “raise” the candidate’s “spirit” so that he might “understand” Cagliostro’s corresponding lecture. Nor is it conceivable in any other than an entheogenic context how a “single grain” of Cagliostro’s extract of acacia might become “a projection into infinity.” In the author’s estimation, this was clearly no symbolic ritual act.
Granted there is no mention in the Master Mason degree of MAOIs, the sister ingredient to DMT in the ayahuasca brew. There is, however, a prominent refernece to Moses’ burning bush in the Royal Arch degree, which some Masons view as the completion to that of the Master.
In the Naqshbandi tradition of Sufism the burning bush is identified as Peganum harmala5, a bush with a long history of sacramental use in the Middle East which, as Benny Shanon speculates in his paper Biblical Entheogens, could have been combined with the local DMT-containing species of acacia to produce a libation virtually indistinguishable from ayahuasca. According to tradition, the prophet Mohammed was even using the seeds when he received the Quran from the archangel Gabriel.
The Naqshbandi Sufis identify P. harmala (also known as Syrian Rue) as the burning bush of Moses for two important reasons. Firstly, the seeds of the bush are burned on coals in a common Islamic ritual known as Aspand, which is designed to twart the dreaded Evil Eye. Secondly, when it was revealed to King Naqshband by Allah’s messenger, lighting over the harmala bush were seven angels in the form of as many flames. As it says in the Quran, “every root, every leaf of harmel, is watched over by an angel who waits for a person to come in search of healing.”6 Not unlike Moses’ experience, for Naqshband the P. harmala bush burned but was not consumed.
P. harmala is currently employed along with a species of acacia by the Fatimiya Sufi order, where ayahuasca plays a central role in their techniques of ecstasy. According to N. Wahid Azal, the founder of the Fatimiya Sufi order,
“[Syrian] Rue has an old and central role in the Mazdean religion of ancient Iran and continues to do so to this very day amongst Iranian Shi’ites, be they Twelver, Isma’ili or Sufi. The Zoroastrians properly consider it to be the most sacred of their herbs, which they constantly burn in their prayer halls, and in Persian it is known as Esfand [Aspand]… Esfand is a shortened version of the Pahlavi form of the name Esfandmorz who is the Avestan Spendarmat or Spenta Armaiti, (trans. ‘Holy’ or ‘Beneficient Devotion’), namely, the Zoroastrian Archangel of the Earth who is one of the six Amesha Spenta (trans. Bounteous Immortals) or archangelic hypostases of the Godhead Ahura Mazda/Ohrmazd.”7
The six “Amesha Spenta” of course play a central role in the degree of Master of the Royal Secret, the thirty-second degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
Attempts to align the origins of Freemasonry with Sufism have been made by a number Masonic researchers, chief among them being hashish enthusaist and member of the cannabis club Le Club des Haschischinns, Gérard de Nerval. In his tome Voyage to the Orient, de Nerval offered a prequel to the story of Masonic hero Hiram Abif, claiming to have overheard the “folk-tale” while smoking hashish in a coffe house in Constantinople. Sir Richard Burton, also an enthusaist of hashish, too wrote that “Sufi-ism [is] the Eastern parent of Freemasonry.”8
We have shown that Cagliostro was familiar the entheogenic properties of the acacia. Let us now turn to the Masonic rite developed by his close friend and supporter Pyotr Ivanovich Melissino, where the properties of acacia are treated of much more blatantly. Arturo de Hoyos, the Grand Historian and Grand Archivist of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, must be credited with the discovery of the following excerpt and its true significance:
“The cubical stone is the alkaline Universal-salt, which dissolves all metals and precious stones, because this salt is the mother, the origin, and the magnet of all of them. The Master Degree speaks to us of the acacia found upon Hiram’s grave. This is the true matter, from which the philosophers create their treasures. It is the true light of the world, from which glorious Hiram shall rise again under the guise of the Redeemer. It is the burning coal of which Isaiah (in chap. 6:6-7) and Ezekiel (in chap. 10:2) speak, and which must be prepared in accordance with the secret system of the wise men of old and the philosophers. …One of our most mysterious materials is therefore the burning coal, which the Egyptian Cabbala names clearly and without fuss.”9
What other than DMT could the “treasures” created from acacia have been? Again, the implication is explicit. The scriptural allusions in the above excerpt refer to a biblical episode wherein a burning coal of an unspecified substance is placed upon Isaiah’s lips by an angel, assumedly for him to inhale its fumes; that is, for him to smoke it. “Lo,” said the angel, “this [burning coal] hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is purged.”10 Recall that acacia literally means freedom from sin. One wonders how far back this tradition actually goes.
It is notable that Melissino, while allegedly a strong supporter and close friend of Cagliostro, was not only himself a practicing chemist, but his rite actually preceded that of Cagliostro by over a decade. It is therefore probable that Melissino is responsible for exposing Cagliostro to the substance and not the other way around. On the other hand, both Melissino and Cagliostro were initiates of the Rite of Strict Observance, which contains its own potential allusions to the psychoactive properties of acacia. See, for example, the following excerpt from the Oration from the Reception of a Master Mason:
“As those who sought the [philosopher’s?] stone wanted to climb, in order to retrieve it, one grasped a hold of the green sprig or [Acacia] branch, which pulled out of the ground, when they observed that it had no roots. This made them think that this branch must signify something…”11 [italics mine]
Note that DMT is found primarily in the roots of the acacia. This branch must have signified something indeed.
Whatever the case, it is quite apparent that both Cagliostro and Melissino knew something very special about the acacia. Furthermore, Melissino was not the only Russian mystic to have preoccupied himself with treasures extracted from a tree. According to G.I. Gurdjieff’s biographer James Webb, the founder of the Fourth Way once claimed cryptically that “only three drugs from the whole Western pharmacopeia were useful — opium, castor oil and an unidentified substance extracted from a certain tree.”12 [italics mine] As it was claimed by Gurdjieff’s successor P.D. Ouspensky that his guru’s teachings were derived in part from Russian Freemasonry, it is not impossible that Gurdjieff’s “unidentified substance” and “certain tree” are none other than DMT and Acacia confusa or nilotica, respectively, and that he learned of the secret from a fellow Russian who was knowledgeable not only of Melissino and his rite but also of chemistry. One can only speculate. Still, perhaps it is to Mysteries such as this which the following excerpt from Mackey’s Encyclopædia of Freemasonry refers:
“It is admitted that the texts and nomenclature of Medieval materials on [Hermetism]…were cryptic and queer; but for that there are several explanations for the need for secrecy, the mixture of languages owing to the many living and dead languages of the sources used, …[and] the need to keep laymen from endangering themselves with drugs they could not understand…”13 [italics mine]
1. Morris, The Post Boy Exposure Sham
2. p. 225
3. Faulks, p. 214
4. p. 225
5. private communication from practicing Naqshbandi Sufi Amir Soofi
6. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants, p. 426
7. http://realitysandwich.com/ (The Fatimiya Sufi Order and Ayahuasca)
8. Bennett, Cannabis: the Philosopher’s Stone
9. Collectanea Vol. XXIII pt. 1
10. Isaiah 6:7 (KJV)
11. Collectanea Vol. XXI pt. 1
12. Webb, The Harmonious Circle
13. See the entry under Ordinall of Alchimy
Bennett, Chris Cannabis: the Philosopher’s Stone
De Hoyos, Arturo Collectanea Vol. XXI pt. 1
De Hoyos, Arturo Collectanea Vol. XXIII pt. 1
De Nerval, Gérard Voyage to the Orient
Faulks, Philippa The Masonic Magician: the Life and Death of Count Cagliostro and His Egyptian Rite
http://realitysandwich.com/ (The Fatimiya Sufi Order and Ayahuasca)
Mackey, Albert Encyclopædia of Freemasonry
Morris, Brent The Post Boy Exposure Sham
Ratsch, Christian The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants
Ruck, Carl Mushrooms, Myth and Mithras
Shanon, Benny Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis
The Holy Bible, KJV
Webb, James The Harmonious Circle
Image by JULIAN MASON, courtesy of Creative Commons license.