When he who was weary, plucked at a sprig of acacia, he had evidence of things not seen.1
The sprig of acacia is an important symbol in Freemasonry. For it is said allegorically that a sprig of acacia marked the head of the grave of our beloved Grand Master Hiram Abiff, leading those travel-weary Fellows of the Craft to discover the location where the three despicable ruffians had deposited his precious remains.
In addition to its presence in the Master Mason Degree, the sprig of acacia also appears in the Perfect Master Degree, is mentioned in the Elu of the Nine Degree, and is depicted on the cordon of, as well as being referenced in the Perfect Elu Degree in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction.2
Symbolically, the sprig of acacia is said to be emblematical of our faith in the immortality of the soul,3 and this on account of the fact that the acacia happens to be an evergreen, meaning that its leaves are suffered to fall neither in summer nor in winter. But, perhaps there is still yet something more to this humble yet potent symbol.
The immortality of the soul is an inference which cannot be proven and therefore must be taken on faith. The precipice of death is understood to be one beyond which no man has ever returned. Direct knowledge; that is, Gnosis of the souls immortality is thus thought to be unobtainable in mankinds present state. But, is it? What of those individuals who, after being pronounced deceased, or after being anesthetized or declared brain-dead temporarily, return to waking consciousness with colorful tales and vibrant memories of a vivid afterlife teaming with spiritual intelligences and illumination? Can those accounts be taken as evidence of the souls existence beyond and outside of the physical body?
Or are they to be dismissed as the products of a randomly firing and thus hallucinating brain? These are the problems which the present article will venture to explore. But first, we will take a few moments to review the significance of the acacia and its role within Freemasonry, as well as certain other ancient and modern initiatory traditions.
In the Perfect Elu Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction, we learn that
the acacia is that genus of trees to which belong that which yields the gum arabic, the mezquite, and the locust. It is the satah or satam wood of the Hebrew writings, used in the construction of the Tabernacle and the Temple4, and there fore a Symbol of Holiness and Divine Truth. It is not the Symbol of Immortality alone, but of that life of innocence and purity for which the Faithful hope when they shall have been raised up to a new and spiritual existence.5
To this, Gen. Albert Pike, 33° added in the formidable lecture he penned for the Entered Apprentice Degree that the acacia is
the same tree which grew up around the body of Osiris. It was sacred among the Arabs, who made of it the idol Al-Uzza, which Mohammed destroyed. It is abundant as a bush in the Desert of Thur: and of it the crown of thorns was composed, which was set on the forehead of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a fit type of immortality on account of its tenacity of life; for it has been known, when planted as a doorpost, to take root again and shoot out budding boughs over the threshold.6
And, in an unassuming footnote to the Master Mason Degree in his recently issued book Masonic Formulas and Rituals, Pike wrote that the
branch of Acacia [is] in memory of the true cross, which, it is said, was made of that wood.7 This branch of Acacia took the place of the branch of myrtle, which the initiates of Memphis bore .[T]he bough of gold, which Virgil gives Eneas, wherewith to descend to the infernal regions, has the same origin.8
The acacia has been an important symbol in many of the ancient Mystery traditions, but, as we have yet to see, in the rites of passage and shamanic ceremonies of some still extant indigenous and semi-civilized societies, the acacia serves to this day as far more than simply a powerful symbol. Like the Eucharist of the Christian Church, it is a veritable religious sacrament.
The term acacia stems from a Greek word meaning innocence 9 or freedom from sin 10 and refers to a genus of trees and shrubs that flourish in and around certain regions of Oceania, Africa, North and South America, Asia, and even Europe. In addition to its role as a sacramental incense, many species of acacia contain in the inner bark of their roots high concentrations of the entheogenic 11 compound dimethyltryptamine, better known as DMT. In the form of insuffulates 12 or concoctions, plants containing DMT have a long history of use in indigenous shamanic and initiatory settings, especially those where a mystical or visionary experience is desired.13 The effect of the compound is such that it induces an experience which is so comparable to the classic NDE or near-death experience that it has come to be known appropriately as the spirit molecule. As Bro. Timothy Hogan, 32°, K.C.C.H. explains,
some scholars have associated this acacia with what is called in Sanskrit the Akasha or that collective consciousness that transcends any one individual, and which can be perceived during periods of deep death-like trances in meditation, or at the hour of our final departure from this physical world. In fact, there is even some evidence that early alchemists attempted to make elixirs from acacia in an effort to get into this deep state…14
The acacia flourishes in kaolenite-rich soils; that is to say, clay. In regions where the compound is employed or administered in the form of an insuffulate, the snuff, known variously as yopo, epena, or jurema, depending on the dialect, is prepared by combining the powdered inner bark of the acacias roots with the calcium carbonate15-containing powder of ground bones and/or shells that have been roasted over an extremely hot ceremonial fire, the same having been prepared solely for that purpose. This primitive yet complex process of chemical conversion one which would have given even the most seasoned of Alchemists a run for his money renders the inert plant material susceptible to absorption by the mucous membranes in the nasal cavity, effectively producing a markedly powerful DMT-rich insuffulate.
Conversely, in regions where the concocted or brewed form of the sacrament is preferred, it is prepared by combining it with another plant additive; one that is rich in Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor (better known as MAOI), thereby enabling it to bypass the MAO in the digestive tract which otherwise would prevent it from reaching the bloodstream and thus the brain.
When the substance is prepared in such a manner, it is called, again, depending on the dialect, ayahuasca or yagé. The indigenous peoples of the Amazon and the Caribbean are particularly reverent of the compound, administering it to pubescent boys who are passing through their native rite of passage into manhood, and the shamans themselves even employing it personally for the purpose of acquiring and maintaining their special manas or magical wisdom and power.
In the former case, the entheogen is quite literally believed to kill the child and, after having wandered in the gray halls of Hades,16 his spirit is resurrected, phoenix-like, in the form of a man, and he takes his place as a productive member of the social order. In the latter, the compound serves as that which enables the medicine man to take his mysterious shamanic flights into the heavens, allowing him to commune with deity and/or the ancestral spirits of the tribe.
This all may seem unbelievable to the modern Western mind. However, for the individual suffering the effects of the compound, incontestable and conclusive proof not only of the existence of the soul, but also of the souls persistence even when it has been separated from its material anchor, has been provided.
For, here we have our traveller, consciously experiencing either heavenly delights or hellish terrors, depending on the karmic wages to which he is entitled, all the while being somehow seemingly outside of his physical unit. He is quite literally having what anyone might easily interpret to be an OBE or out of body experience. In the rich words of radical philosopher Terence McKenna,
[t]he experience that engulfs ones entire being as one slips beneath the surface of the DMT ecstasy17 feels like the penetration of a membrane. The mind and the self literally unfold before ones eyes. There is a sense that one is made new, yet unchanged, as if one were made of gold and had just been recast in the furnace of ones birth .Under the influence of DMT, the world becomes an Arabian labyrinth, a palace, a more than possible Martian jewel, vast with motifs that flood the gaping mind with complex and wordless awe. Color and the sense of a reality-unlocking secret nearby pervade the experience. There is a sense of other times, and of ones own infancy, and of wonder, wonder, and more wonder .Many diminutive beings are present there One has the impression of entering into an ecology of souls that lies beyond the portals of what we naively call death .Here is a tremendum barely to be told, an epiphany beyond our wildest dreams. Here is the realm of that which is stranger than we can suppose. Here is the mystery, alive, unscathed, still as new for us as when our ancestors lived it fifteen thousand summers ago .The sense of emotional connection is terrifying and intense. The Mysteries revealed are real and if ever fully told will leave no stone upon another in the small world we have gone so ill in.18
These claims should come as no surprise considering the fact that DMT is one of the most powerful psychoactive compounds known to science. And, unfortunately, it is a substance which was once believed by indigenous natives to induce an experience that has been subjectively interpreted time and time again as the very liberation of the immortal soul from the gross, physical body, thereby permitting it to wander freely the spiritual planes of existential reality, but has since been relegated to the list of scheduled narcotics under the Controlled Substances Act. However, in a society where there is no context for or guidance in the intelligent and traditionally sacramental use of such compounds, a reaction of the like is perfectly understandable and some say even warranted.19
Still, not every culture shares our conservative sentiments regarding naturally-growing visionary compounds. According to Benny Shanon, the Professor of Psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel),
[t]he recourse of powerful psychoactive plants and preparations in order to establish contact with the higher realms of spirituality has been at the very heart of shamanic practices all over the globe.20
Whether were talking about the Soma of the Vedantists, the Haoma of the Zoroastrians, or the mysterious Kykeon of the Eleusinian Mysteries 21, there is no debating that entheogenic compounds have played a vital role in the development of a number of religious doctrines and practices around the world, and thus have played an equally prominent role in the lives of a multitude of worshippers. And, while these ancient rites are in most cases no longer enacted in the same extreme way which they once were, in many instances they still persist, not unlike the sprig of acacia in Freemasonry, in the form of humble yet powerful symbols which communicate similar, if not identical Truths.
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 Abiffs 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 Solomons 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 Hirams 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 Hirams 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. 22
Such an application of the Hiramic allegory, while indeed startling to many, may actually illuminate perhaps one of the most bizarre references to the acacia in the history of Freemasonry. In the Apprentice and Companion rituals of Count Cagliostros Egyptian Rite, the acacia is puzzlingly referred to as being the first matter in a particular and curious Alchemical operation involving seven steps 23, the same of which, when followed, results allegedly in the production of a cubical ashlar, i.e., a purified, crystalline stone or salt that has been extracted, or, to use Alchemical terminology, produced, from the acacia tree: a vegetable stone. 24
[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 then, with this primal matter or this dagger in your hand, you must assassinate this Master this rough ashlar which has become cubical; or this Father and this Mother of all the metals. This operation being finished and the body enshrouded it is now a question of purifying it by following the seven philosophical transitions which are symbolized by the seven steps placed before the door of the Temple [on the Tracing Board of this Degree]. ??
“The first 5 which are the primary colours the sixth which is the colour black and finally the seventh which is that of purple, or fire or of fresh blood25. 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].26
“[T]he candidate shall drink [the red liqueur placed upon the Masters 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 immortal27. 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.
“The acacia which has been given to you at the degree of Master of ordinary Masonry is nothing but that precious matter. And [Hirams] assassination is the loss of the liquid which you have just received and which must be killed with the dagger; it is this knowledge that, assisted by the Great God, shall bring you these riches.28
Just as in the myth of Osiris, in order to produce the stone Alchemically the acacia must be macerated, tossed into a fluid menstruum or, in the case of Osiris, the Nile, and eventually resurrected or raised (via distillation in the Alchemical process) to a sublime state of perfection; in Alchemical terms, to a purified vegetable stone. Timothy Hogan has argued in his book The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual that these same basic steps are encoded within the three degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry, lending credence to the claims that a similar Alchemical interpretation of the three degrees may indeed have been provided to Fratres in the Juniorus Grade of the German Masonic Der Ordens des Gold und Rosenkreuzer 29, the first Rosicrucian Order to surface following the initial publication of the Rosicrucian Manifestos over a century prior. Perhaps it is Mysteries such as this to which the following excerpt from Mackeys 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 30 [italics mine]
Remarkably, DMT is not limited to the plant kingdom alone. In his book TIHKAL: Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved, psychedelic alchemist31 Alexander Shulgin declared that DMT is in this flower here, in that tree over there, and in yon animal. [It] is, most simply, almost everywhere you choose to look.32 And yes, in case youre wondering, it also happens to be inside of you and me. For, DMT is actually manufactured by the human organism, and high amounts of the same have been found in the urine and bloodstream of meditating monks, praying nuns, and even schizophrenics.33 Endogenous34 DMT production is therefore believed by many scientists to be the physiological basis for mystical experiences, near-death and out of body experiences, and a whole host of subjective phenomena that cannot otherwise be explained or even begin to be explored by modern science.
In an attempt to discover the source and function of endogenous DMT production within the human organism, Rick Strassman, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, became the first scientist to conduct governmentally sanctioned research on humans with a scheduled psychedelic since the 1970s. And, with a generous grant from the Scottish Rite Foundation for Schizophrenia Research, Dr. Strassman and his team were able to get their modest research project up and running.35 What Dr. Strassman discovered was that source of endogenous DMT production within humans is most probably the pineal gland.
Situated between the eyes36 and at the center of the brain, immediately betwixt the brains two hemispheres, the pineal gland
is located between the superior callosum, the pulvinar, and the splenium of the corpus callosum. [It] is primarily associated with the production of the brain chemical melatonin and may be indirectly involved in the secretion of serotonin.37
According to Dr. Rick Strassman, the pineal gland
possesses a lens, cornea, and retina. It is light-sensitive and helps regulate body temperature and skin coloration two basic survival functions intimately related to environmental light.38
This has led to its (the pineal gland) appropriately being called the third eye.39 When the pineal gland senses daylight, it is thought to labor for the production of serotonin, which regulates appetite, mood, body movement, and a number of other regulatory functions. When the pineal does not sense daylight, conversely, it produces instead melatonin, and melatonin regulates sleep patterns as well as body coloration. The conditions under which the pineal is thought to secrete DMT, on the other hand, is considerably more complex.
The most general hypothesis is that the pineal gland produces psychedelic amounts of DMT at extraordinary times in our lives. Pineal DMT production is the physical representation of non-material, or energetic, processes. It provides us with the vehicle to consciously experience the movement of our life-force [read soul] in its most extreme manifestations. Specific examples of this phenomenon are the following:
When our individual life force enters our fetal body, the moment in which we become truly human, it passes through the pineal and triggers the first primordial flood of DMT. Later, at birth, the pineal releases more DMT. In some of us, pineal DMT mediates the pivotal experiences of deep meditation, psychosis, and near-death experiences. As we die, the life-force leaves the body through the pineal gland, releasing another flood of this psychedelic spirit molecule.40
In other words, according to Dr. Strassmans hypothesis, the pineal gland may very well be the seat of the soul, and DMT, the catalyst which facilitates the souls entry into and exit out of the body during birth, death, trauma, and mystical or visionary experiences a wild speculation which, without the testimonies of the indigenous peoples who employ the compound sacramentally, as well as those of Dr. Strassmans research volunteers, who themselves also experienced the spirit molecule firsthand, might be easily dismissed.
Dr. Strassmans views are not too dissimilar from those of philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, who postulated a similar function for our mysterious pineal. In his essay The Inter-Relation of Soul and Body, Descartes wrote that
[a]lthough the soul is joined with the entire body, there is one part of the body [the pineal] in which it exercises its function more than elsewhere .[The pineal] is so suspended between the passages containing the animal spirits [guiding reason and carrying sensation and movement] that it can be moved by them ; and it carries this motion on to the soul Then conversely, the bodily machine is so constituted that whenever the gland is moved in one way or another by the soul, or for that matter by any other cause, it pushes the animal spirits which surround it to the pores of the brain.41
Descartes noticed too that the pineal gland happens to be the sole singleton organ within the human brain. Recognizing via personal introspection that thoughts arise only one at a time, Descartes also postulated that the pineal gland is the source of the many thoughts that are aroused within the mind throughout ones life.
The pineal gland is a remarkable organ indeed, and its association with light in particular might be of especial interest to the contemplative Mason. As Dr. Strassman observed,
Western and Eastern mystical traditions are replete with descriptions of blinding white light accompanying deep spiritual realization. This enlightenment usually is the result of a progression of consciousness through various levels of spiritual, psychological, and ethical development.
As any Brother who has been brought to Light can testify, Freemasonry is absolutely no exception.
Thus we see that the sprig of acacia is far more profound in its significance than may have been previously suspected. Not only is it, as an evergreen, an apt symbol for the immortality of the soul, but as a DMT-containing plant, it is associated directly with the pineal gland as the possible biological explanation for near-death experiences, out of body experiences, and other subjective soul experiences. Before closing, it is worth noting that our line of research has shed light not only the significance of the sprig of acacia within Freemasonry, but also potentially on the Masters fatal blow, the same of which strikes in the same general region, albeit superficially, wherein the so-called seat of the soul; i.e., the pineal gland, resides. It was perhaps with a remarkable flash of insight into this same profound and esoteric knowledge that British Freemason Bro. W.L. Wilmshurst so cryptically but eloquently declared in his 1922 classic The Meaning of Masonry that
[t]he head of the material organism of man is the spirit of man, and this spirit consciously conjoined with the Universal Spirit is Deitys supreme instrument and vehicle in the temporal world. Such a mans physical organism and brain have become sublimated and keyed up to a condition and an efficiency immensely in advance of average humanity. Physiological processes are involved which cannot be discussed here, beyond saying that in such a man the entire nervous system contributes to charge certain ganglia and light up certain brain-centers in a way of which the ordinary mind knows nothing .But the Master Mason, in virtue of his mastership, knows how to control and apply those energies. They culminate and come to self-consciousness in his head, in his intelligence .The same truth is testified to, though under veils of symbolic phrasing, in the reference to the sprig of acacia planted at the head of the grave of the Masonic Grand Master and prototype, Hiram Abiff. The grave is the candidates soul; the sprig of acacia typifies the latent akasha (to use an Eastern term) or divine germ planted in that soil and waiting to become quickened into activity in his intelligence, the head of that plane. When that sprig of acacia blooms at the head of his souls sepulcher, he will understand the mystery of the death of Hiram . It is a mystery of spiritual consciousness, the efflorescence of the mind in God, the opening up of the human intelligence in conscious association with the Universal and Omniscient Mind.42
1The Acacia, Short Talk Bulletin Vol. X No. 11, p. 8
2 Rex R. Hutchens, A Bridge to Light, pp. 26, 59, & 91
3 Duncans Ritual of Freemasonry?
4 The Ark of the Covenant was also said to have been built of satah or shittah wood.
5 Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor & Guide, pp. 351-2
6 Morals and Dogma, p. 155
7 According to A.E. Waite, this claim is reiterated in the Grade of Novice and Knight of St. John the Evangelist.
8 Masonic Formulas and Rituals, p. 112
9 Hence its status as an emblem of that life of innocence and purity for which the Faithful hope when they shall have been raised up to a new and spiritual existence in the Perfect Elu (14°) Degree of the A.&A.S.R., S.J.
10 Kenneth R.H. Mackenzie, Royal Masonic Cyclopædia
11 relating to mind-altering plants used in sacramental contexts (Prof. Benny Shanon), literally, that which generates the Divine within
12 i.e., snuffs
13 Christian Rätsch, The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants
14 Timothy Hogan, The Raising of the Body?
15 Calcium carbonate is basically common, everyday chalk. Thus, provided the charcoal which is required to fuel the flame needed to fire the skeletal remains, and the clay wherein the acacia itself is known to flourish, we find here an unexpected analogue to a unique particular of Masonic ritual; namely, the Symbolic Minerals of the Entered Apprentice (1°) Degree.
16 Manly P. Hall, The Lost Keys of Freemasonry
17 from the Greek ekstasis, literally meaning to stand outside oneself, as in an OBE
18 Terence McKenna, Food of the Gods, p. 257-8
19 On February 21st, 2006 the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous decision affirming Religious Liberty in the case of Gonzales vs. O Centro Espirita Beneficente União do Vegetal, permitting affiliates to use ayahuasca in a religious, ceremonial context. ( http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/05pdf/04-1084.pdf )?
20 Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis
21 The eucharistic wine which stands as a sacrament within the Christian Church would be another and perhaps a more well-known example of an entheogenic compound.
22 Mushrooms, Myth & Mithras, p. 225
23 Know that this primal matter always exists in the hands of the Elect of God
I assure you further, by all that is most sacred, that by means of the light communicated to me by our Master, I came to know clearly that one grain of this precious matter becomes a projection to infinity. Open wide your eyes and your ears. ?Seven are the transitions for perfecting the matter.?Seven are the colours.?Seven are the effects which shall complete the philosophical operations:?1st Ad sanitatem et ad hominess morbis [of purity and of sick mortals]?2nd Ad metallorum [of metals]?3rd To rejuvenate and repair the lost forces, and to increase the radical heat and humidity.?4th To soften and liquefy the solid part.?5th To congeal and harden the liquid part.?6th To render the possible impossible and the impossible possible.?7th To procure all the means of doing good, taking at the same time the greatest precautions against working, speaking, acting or doing anything in this connection except in the most reserved and occult manner. Catechism of an Apprentice of the Egyptian Lodge (The Masonic Magician, pp. 208-210)
24 “As those who sought the 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…” (Oration from the Reception of a Master Mason in the Rite of Strict Observance, Collectanea Vol. XXI pt. I, p. 37)
25 It is notable that these are the precise colors of the subterranean root bark of acacia and mimosa species [the same of which] are known to contain high levels of Dimethyltryptamine, as noted by Hoffman and Ruck.
26 Philippa Faulks and Robert Cooper, The Masonic Magician, p. 214
27 That is, for man to realize the existence of his already immortal soul.
28 The Masonic Magician, pp. 225
29 Tommy Westlund, An Overview of the Alchemical and Magical System of the Gold und Rosenkreuz Order?
30 See the entry under The Ordinall of Alchimy.
31 Rick Strassman, M.D., DMT: The Spirit Molecule, p. 42
32 TIHKAL, pp. 247-84
33 John Horgan, Rational Mysticism
34 naturally produced within and by the human organism
35 Rick Strassman, M.D., DMT: The Spirit Molecule, p. xii
36 Consider the location of the Masters fatal blow.
37 William S. Burkle, Masonic Chant: An Argument for the Return of a Tradition?
38 DMT: The Spirit Molecule, p. 60
39 DMT: The Spirit Molecule, p. 60
40 DMT: The Spirit Molecule, pp. 68-9?41 René Descartes, The Inter-Relation of Soul and Body?42 W.L. Wilmshurst, The Meaning of Masonry, pp. 118-19
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