Gold has always held a special place in Masonry—metaphorically, anyway.

By David Harrison

The relationship between alchemy, the premedieval philosophy and ancient pursuit of transforming metals into gold, and Freemasonry is closer than you might think. Indeed, much of the symbolism used in the craft historically reflects the theme of transmutation—how to make a good man better, the journey from apprentice to master being part of a pathway to perfection and excellence. That lives on in Masonic symbols like the ouroborus and Mercury with the caduceus.

 Alchemy is even mentioned in certain rites from the 18th century, such as Count Cagliostro’s Egyptian Rite and Melissino’s Rite, which both refer to alchemy or chemistry—especially the way the process is said to transform certain substances. In these cases, alchemy is a metaphor for the journey of the Freemason as he (or she, in the case of Cagliostro’s Rite) continues through the higher degrees, transmuting to perfection through the discovery of the lost knowledge of the ancients.

 As Freemasons, we symbolically work stone to perfect it—stone that originally comes from the earth. In Melissino’s Rite, it is mentioned “Chemistry is art, and wisdom is nature, and the most learned chemist cannot be even a pupil amongst us.” Today, Masons strive for perfection in ritual and in life itself, much like those ancient alch emists seeking lost knowledge to turn metal into gold.

Permission to reprint original articles in CALIFORNIA FREEMASON is granted to all recognized Masonic publications with credit to the author, photographer, and this publication. Contact the editor at

Keep reading by exploring more articles that share common topics.

More from this issue: