The Dionysian Artificers – Part 2

The Dionysian Artificers – Part 2

We discussed briefly, in Part 1, the text of the book, “The Sketch of the History of the Dionysian Artificers,” by Hippolyto Da Costa. The book, written in 1820, is the author’s take on where Freemasonry originated, and what the “guts” of Freemasonry’s teachings are about. However, no where in the text does Da Costa state this is about Freemasonry nor does he use the term Freemasons. What is this text attempting to say, and why should Freemasons care?

Let’s return to the myth of Dionysus. According to Mackey’s “The Symbolism of Freemasonry,” there were two myths of Dionysus and the one particularly noted to Freemasonry and the Dionysian Artificers is the one which involves the Titans. Dionysus had two births, according to some, including the Greek poet Nonnus, who has provided the account of his first birth and death. From Wikipedia…

“The Greek poet Nonnus gives a birth narrative for Dionysus in his late 4th or early 5th century AD epic Dionysiaca. In it, he described how Zeus “intended to make a new Dionysos grow up, a bullshaped copy of the older Dionysos” who was the Egyptian god Osiris. (Dionysiaca 4). 

Zeus took the shape of a serpent (“drakon“), and “ravished the maidenhood of unwedded Persephoneia.” According to Nonnus, though Persephone was “the consort of the blackrobed king of the underworld”, she remained a virgin, and had been hidden in a cave by her mother to avoid the many gods who were her suitors, because “all that dwelt in Olympos were bewitched by this one girl, rivals in love for the marriageable maid.” (Dionysiaca 5)[162] After her union with Zeus, Perseophone’s womb “swelled with living fruit”, and she gave birth to a horned baby, named Zagreus. Zagreus, despite his infancy, was able to climb onto the throne of Zeus and brandish his lightning bolts, marking him a Zeus’ heir. Hera saw this and alerted the Titans, who smeared their faces with chalk and ambushed the infant Zagreus “while he contemplated his changeling countenance reflected in a mirror…”

However, according to Nonnus, “where his limbs had been cut piecemeal by the Titan steel, the end of his life was the beginning of a new life as Dionysos.” He began to change into many different forms in which he returned the attack, including Zeus, Kronos, a baby, and “a mad youth with the flower of the first down marking his rounded chin with black.” He then transformed into several animals to attack the assembled Titans, including a lion, a wild horse, a horned serpent, a tiger, and, finally, a bull. Hera intervened, killing the bull with a shout, and the Titans finally slaughtered him and cut him into pieces. Zeus attacked the Titans and had them imprisoned in Tartaros. This caused the mother of the Titans, Gaia, to suffer, and her symptoms were seen across the whole world, resulting in fires and floods, and boiling seas. Zeus took pity on her, and in order to cool down the burning land, he caused great rains to flood the world (Dionysiaca 6).” 

Wikipedia: Dionysis

The first dating of Dionysus comes from approximately 13th Century BCE in Thrace, possibly migrated from Ionia. Mackey discusses in his chapter, “The Dionysiac (sic) Artificers,” how the rites of Dionysus, as it relates to the first death of Dionysus are nearly ubiquitous throughout the ancient world and how, over time, they have morphed into several rites which we are also familiar with – those of Osiris, Orpheus, and Mithras. After reading the passage above, it is hard not to see the connections in the death and symbolism connecting them together.

In one version of the myth, the events described above are directly attributed to Isis, Horus, and Osiris, with Horus taking the place of the Titans.  From some sources, it is speculated that Dionysus was the only foreign God to be accepted into the Greek pantheon, and that many believe this myth of Dionysus to be the source of all other mystery schools. What is fascinating is we have a 4th or 5th Century CE author, Nonnus, writing about a God that has been in human consciousness for nearly 2000 years, at the very least.

What does this have to do with Freemasonry? Much, if you take Da Costa’s take. From Pgs 5 and 6 of the “Dionysian Artificers,” we read:

Amongst those mysteries are peculiarly remarkable the Eleusinian. Dionysius, Bacchus, Orisis, Adonis, Thamuz, Apollo, etc., were names adopted in various languages, and in several countries, to designate the Divinity, who was the object of those ceremonies, and it is generally admitted that the sun was meant by these several denominations.

Let us begin with a fact, not disputed, that in these ceremonies, a death and resurrection was represented, and that the interval between death and resurrection was sometimes three days, sometimes fifteen days.

Now, by the concurrent testimony of all ancient authors the deities called Osiris, Adonis, Bacchus, etc. were names given to, or types, representing the sun, considered in different situations, and contemplated under various points of view.

Therefore, these symbolic representations, which described the sun as dead, that is to say, hidden for three days under the horizon, must have originated in a climate, where the sun, when in the lower hemisphere, is, at a certain season of the year, concealed for three days from the view of the inhabitants.

(sacred-texts.com: Dionysian Artificers)

The conjecture that the worship of the sun came from a climate (Persia, for example, Mithraic Rites) is, in Da Costa’s view, erroneous. The worship of the sun came from the northern-most climates, and thus came from Atlantis, as documented by Plato and, according to him, Socrates. While the origin of the Sun Worshiping rites is still open to debate in Da Costa’s work, he emphasizes that the numbers, in accordance with the Order of Nature, are important and that the mysteries themselves are teaching their initiates about the cycle of life and death. If we are to believe that these mysteries came from Atlantis, then the one common language that could have been passed through the ages is numbers and symbols, as expressed through the laws of nature which all Earth inhabitants share.

Da Costa continues to trace the lineage of the mystery schools through the modern day, including how the worship of the Sun and Dionysian Rites in particular became associated with the art of building and architecture. From the book, again, pages 30-32:

About fifty years before the building of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, a colony of Grecians, chiefly Ionians, complaining of the narrow limits of their country, in an increased population, emigrated; and having been settled in Asia Minor, gave to that country the name of Ionia. 

No doubt that people carried with them their manners, sciences, and religion; and the mysteries of Eleusis among the rest. Accordingly we find that one of their cities, Byblos, was famed for the worship of Apollo, as Apollonia had been with their ancestors. 

These Ionians, participating in the improved state of civilization in which their mother country, Greece, then was, cultivated the sciences, and useful arts; but made themselves most conspicuous in architecture, and invented or improved the order called by their own name Ionian.

These Ionians formed a society, whose purpose was to employ themselves in erecting buildings. The general assembly of the society, was first held at Theos; but afterwards, in consequence of some civil commotions, passed to Lebedos. 

This sect or society was now called the Dionysian Artificers, as Bacchus was supposed to be the inventor of building theatres; and they performed the Dionysian festivities. They afterwards extended themselves to Syria, Persia, and India. 

From this period, the Science of Astronomy which had given rise to the symbols of the Dionysian rites, became connected with types taken from the art of building.

(sacred-texts.com: Dionysian Artificers)

As the migration of the Artificers coincided with the building of the Temple of Jerusalem, Da Costa speculates that the building afforded a new way to communicate the mysteries, and thus tied together the mysteries of ancients with a legend of Hiram Abiff. Additionally, Da Costa alludes to the idea that the Artificers might have had a hand in building or advising on the Temple’s completion. He states that the Temple represents the “Universal System of Nature.” In other words, the study of the Temple’s actual layout may symbolize the whole of the cosmos in the Hermetic principle of correspondence: “As Above, So Below.”

Da Costa concludes his paper very quickly and simply: With the advent of religions, and science, the ideas of the ancients faded into obscurity.

In the tenth century, during the wars of the crusades, some societies were instituted in Palestine, and Europe, which adopted some regulations resembling those of the ancient fraternities. But is was in England, and chiefly in Scotland, where the remains of the old system, identified with that of the Dionysian Artificers, were discovered in modern times.

sacred-texts.com: Dionysian Artificers

Again, without discussing Freemasonry, Da Costa specifically calls out Freemasonry as a repository of the Dionysian Artificers and any student of modern Freemasonry would recognize many of the hallmarks of the mystery schools. In many places, and some even to modernity, regard these ancient mystery schools as heresy, atheism, or paganistic idolatry. A fascinating read, to accompany reading the Dionysian Artificers, is a section from the Theosophical Society’s website, entitled “Part 1 – The Mystery Schools” from the book “The Mystery Schools,” by Grace F. Knoche (Second Edition: 1999). While this is, of course, a decidedly Theosophical take on the origin and meaning of Mystery Schools, it can give the reader a very different view from the propaganda that has been surfaced through the ages and has influenced our modern thinking about Mystery Schools.

My take is, that in short, the Dionysian Artificers were and are those who are working to keep the venerable Mysteries alive; this is ancient knowledge passed down to us to use to live and to prepare for our own deaths. It’s knowledge of the world we are a part of, and if we listen closely can affect us in profound ways. Nature teaches us to live but more importantly, She teaches us to move through life to our inevitable destiny, and beyond. The stories repeated by the Artificers are not necessarily meant to provide profound enlightenment and help us all transcend to a perfect heaven or afterlife. The Artificers are those who work to continue the refinement of the human species and, over time, help us to move in concert with Nature & Science, and be the best version of Humanity. If that is the goal of the Artificers, perfecting humanity, then it seems that Freemasons are the modern Artificers, just as Da Costa, 100+ years ago, theorized.

Soma and the Holy Grail: What Role Have Psychedelics Played in the Mysteries?

Soma and the Holy Grail: What Role Have Psychedelics Played in the Mysteries?

In the past two decades, the world has seen a renaissance in research on psychedelics, after being completely banned for the previous twenty-five years. Continuing the research that was done in the 1950s and 60s, scientists are further validating that the use of psychedelics in a therapeutic context has a high success rate for treatment of various mental disorders, ranging from addiction to depression and social anxiety. The research seems to indicate that it’s possible to treat, or in some cases perhaps cure, long-term mental disorders with only a short series of psychedelic-assisted therapeutic sessions. 

Psychedelics are arguably much more fascinating than any other class of psychopharmacologicals, in that the action which produces the healing effects is not simply an alteration of mood, but rather the creation of a radically altered, non-ordinary state of consciousness, leading to an acceleration and exacerbation of dormant or subconscious mental processes, which the patient can then face and deal with, to ultimately resolve the underlying psychological issue. It also includes, in some cases, the manifestation of the classical mystical experience, which has a healing power all it’s own. This last case is perhaps the most interesting as it relates to freemasonry, hermeticism, alchemy, and gnosticism, and the ancient mysteries to which we trace our origins.

Among the stories and legends of the esoteric mystery traditions are various clues and indications that psychedelics have played a role. So, how great a role have these magical substances played in the origins of Freemasonry and related occult sciences? 

Ancient Psychedelic Use: Shamans to Kykeon

stoned ape theory psychedelicsIf current indigenous peoples are any indication, we can be fairly certain that humans have been utilizing psychedelics perhaps since we became human. The Stoned Ape Theory, though considered radical by many evolutionary theorists, posits that psychedelic consumption may even have been a primary contributing factor to our development of language, culture, abstract thought, and everything that we typically regard as uniquely human.

Regardless of whether psychedelics were critical for our evolution to homo sapiens, there is no question that psychedelics have played a critical role in human life, particularly as it relates to the religious, or sublime. Shamans have been using these compounds for various purposes ranging from healing to divination, initiation, and ritual communion with spirits presumably from the time humans first gathered in tribes. This pattern extends even to this day, including the Ayahuasceros of the Amazon rainforest, the far Northern Sami using amanita muscaria mushrooms, the indigenous people of Central America’s consumption of psilocybin mushrooms, and in the depths of Africa where Iboga and other plant medicines are still used for healing and initiation rites. These are simply some of those ancient traditions which have survived to modern times, but we can reasonably infer that untold numbers of other cultures, now wiped out by colonialism and religious persecution, have utilized psychedelics for spiritual and other purposes from time immemorial. 

psychedelic somaAmong the history of what we refer to as civilization, we have evidence that the shamanic thread continued and evolved as a component of some earlier human societies. Perhaps the oldest example is that of Soma, a mysterious drink consumed by the Brahmins of India, who are the highest priestly caste in traditional Indian culture. Soma was also used by Zoroastrians of ancient Mesopotamia, meaning it extended beyond the boundaries of modern India. Some of the most ancient texts of the Vedic religions speak at length about Soma and its effects, which included mystical experiences, feelings of bliss, lightness of being, inspiration, and visionary states. Although there is no consensus or absolute proof of exactly what the ingredients for Soma were, the descriptions of its effects certainly fit the bill of a psychedelic. This doubtlessly influenced the philosophies and traditions of India, which ultimately have impacted the Western mystery traditions to some extent.

eleusinian mysteries kykeon
Another famous ancient psychedelic brew a bit closer to home for the Western mysteries is
Kykeon. Kykeon was a visionary drink which was imbibed at the ancient rites of Eleusis, commonly known as the Eleusinian Mysteries. The most popular theory on its ingredients is that it was made from barley infested with the fungus ergot, which contained alkaloids similar to LSD. No one knows with absolute certainty what happened in these rites, but they involved the participant going into an underground cavern or structure to drink the Kykeon and undergo a death and rebirth, an experience which was said to free the participant from fear of mortality. These psychedelic rites were undergone by great philosophers and influential figures including but not limited to Plato, Plutarch, Cicero, Aristotle, many playwrights, and the highest hierophants and priests of the day. Plutarch wrote:

“Because of those sacred and faithful promises given in the mysteries…we hold it firmly for an undoubted truth that our soul is incorruptible and immortal…when a man dies he is like those who are initiated into the mysteries. Our whole life is a journey by tortuous ways without outlet. At the moment of quitting it come terrors, shuddering fear, amazement. Then a light that moves to meet you, pure meadows that receive you, songs and dances and holy apparitions.”

These are some of the most famous examples of psychedelic use in ancient civilizations, and it seems to me that there are clearly symbolic correlations to the Eleusinian Mysteries in modern masonic ritual, at least in general theme of death and rebirth. 

Psychedelic Traces Left by Egyptians and Hebrews?

Perhaps most significant to freemasonry, alchemy, and hermeticism are the clues of possible ritual psychedelic use in ancient Egyptian, and even Hebrew cultures. However, these cultures’ psychedelic traditions are also the least popularly explored, or supported by evidence. While there is some speculation about the Egyptians’ use of blue lotus, which does have psychoactive properties, this particular plant is not known to be psychedelic at any dosage. Rather, it has a more mild, sedative effect. What is far more interesting is the possibility, though only supported by scant clues, of the Egyptian and perhaps Hebrew ritual use of acacia.

Egyptian acaciaAcacia’s significance is attested to throughout ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writings, where some even believe that it is equivalent to the Ished Tree, or the Tree of Life. Historians believe that Egyptians used acacia for a wide variety of medicinal applications, including the treatment of wounds, eye problems, and skin disease. Mythologically, the first Gods of Egypt were born beneath, or emerged from the acacia. In one version of the death of the God Osiris, he was buried in a coffin of acacia, out of which a new acacia tree sprouted, and Horus emerged. This is commonly regarded as one of the possible origins of the story of Hiram Abiff.

It just so happens that this plant so revered both medicinally and mythologically by the Egyptians also contains large quantities of the single most potent psychedelic known to man, n, n-dimethyltryptamine, more commonly known as DMT. This has been referred to by some as The Spirit Molecule, and is also thought to possibly be produced naturally in the pineal gland of the brain, which was also theorized by Descartes to be the “Seat of the Soul.” 

moses burning bush acaciaIn the Hebrew tradition, acacia is likewise regarded as sacred, and one controversial Israeli scholar even thinks that Moses may have had a psychedelic experience, possibly arrived at through the use of acacia, when he saw the burning bush on Mount Horeb. The acacia would likely have been combined with other plants which are also native to the region, which would add MAOIs to render the DMT orally active. If true, this would be a middle-Eastern analog to the ayahuasca of the Amazonian rainforest shamans, using different plants which are native to the Middle East, but with the same active components. 

There also seems to be some evidence that the use of psychoactive ritual incense of various sorts was a very common method of communing with God or various supernatural beings, which the Hebrews (among other ancient peoples) brought with them from Egypt as they wandered the desert. This tradition was possibly even revived temporarily by King Solomon, according to a speculative interpretation of certain biblical passages about the dedication of Solomon’s temple. If true, presumably the sacred acacia might be among the plants used as this sacred incense for divine communion, given it’s highly psychedelic contents. 

While the theory of Egyptian and Hebrew use of acacia for its psychedelic properties is not heavily supported by concrete evidence, the more well-established fact that both cultures regarded the plant as extremely sacred and medicinally useful should lead us to at least ask the question: Was their reverence for the sacred acacia purely because of its medicinal and perhaps symbolic significance? Or did it also represent for them a gateway to other realms, in which they could die and be reborn, or connect with supernatural intelligences?

A Psychedelic Thread Through History

Because of the prevalence of the use of psychedelics in rites and rituals in various civilizations throughout ancient history, we must ask ourselves: Did they simply stop, and their use in civilization die out until their rediscovery by Albert Hoffman, Gordon Wasson, and others in the mid-20th century? This seems like a strange idea, and if true, requires some explanation. Certainly, from a historical perspective, the spread of the Abrahamic faiths correlated to a decline, or more accurately, a persecution and religious cleansing of all psychedelic rites and rituals, particularly in Europe. This was certainly the reason for the fall of The Eleusinian Mysteries, and all similar “pagan” rites in general, whether involving psychedelics or not.

phoenix of the mysteriesAt least by outward appearances, the ancient mystery traditions seem to have been crushed beneath the heel of dogmatic empires, and to have disappeared from mainstream knowledge. Yet, you and I both know that they did not disappear, they merely went into hiding during the millennia of Abrahamic regimes. 

Could the same be true of the ritual and sacramental use of psychedelics? Have traditions such as alchemy and hermeticism kept the use of some types of psychedelic compounds alive secretly, or are their practices the symbolic echoes of ancient psychedelic rites? Certainly, figures such as the controversial hermeticist Aleister Crowley employed drugs of various kinds in ritual and magical use, but there is no known use of substances like this, or even much discussion of it, in organizations like Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, or Freemasonry. 

In lieu of any direct evidence of the ritual use of psychedelics in the more widespread modern mystery traditions, I present to you an alternative hypothesis: Could it be that these traditions hand down to us ritual structures which were originally based on psychedelic use, and that these ritual structures so painstakingly preserved through the millennia are like a holy grail, a container into which the sacred waters of psychedelic experience are waiting to be poured?

Certainly, based on what we know about psychedelics through both modern science, ancient shamanism, and the explorations of modern psychonauts, the ritual experiences of death and rebirth so emphasized in these traditions would almost certainly be given an exponential increase in potency, if undergone in a psychedelic state. On the other hand, the legal and ethical ramifications of doing so right now would be extremely prohibitive; however, perhaps someday in the future, when the therapeutic and religious ritual consumption of psychedelics is more widely accepted, as it is no doubt destined to be by the march of progress, this could be a possibility. 

 I’ll leave you with this passage from P. D. Newman, a Brother of the Scottish Rite:

The principle goal of Alchemy was (and is) the production of the lapis philosophorum. The Alchemical axiom states that the coveted stone is made “not of stone, not of bone, not of metal.” That is to say, it comes not from the mineral kingdom and not from the animal kingdom. It must, therefore, be deduced that the true stone of the philosophers is to be found only within the vegetable kingdom… the production… [was said to be derived] from the mysterious prima materia, or first matter… Truly, acacia is referred to precisely as the prima materia by both Cagliostro and Melissino in the respective Alchemico-Masonic rites authored by them. The same is true of the Fratres Lucis

“The search for physical immortality proceeds from a misunderstanding of the traditional teaching. On the contrary, the basic problem is: to enlarge the pupil of the eye, so that the body with its attendant personality will no longer obstruct the view. Immortality is then experienced as a present fact.” …The Alchemists purport that the stone of the wise has the power to give its possessor the knowledge of his very immortal soul. Hence, it’s also being called the stone of projection. For, the soul of its possessor is the very thing that appears to be projected upon the stone’s proper application.

acacia freemasonry