Freemasons and the Search for Soma

CANNABIS CULTURE – Curiously, the identity and ritual use of Soma, as well as the use of entheogens, has been a shared area of interest of some very well known Masonic figures.
I have written about the search for the identities of the ancient elixirs known in the Vedas as Soma and in the Avestan as Haoma elsewhere, with detailed articles exploring the pros and cons of such candidates as Syrian Rue, Mushrooms and Cannabis. When I was researching my book on cannabis and the occult, Liber 420, I was very surprised to learn that the identity of soma was an interest of some very well known masonic Historians. Further, since I was invited to do a zoom conference on this topic for the Federal Lodge no. 1 in Washington DC, last April, I think we can consider it a current interest of many modern Masons as well.
An 1868 edition of The Masonic Trowel, opened with an article ‘The Symbolism of Sacred Plants’, by the noted Masonic authority Dr. Albert G. Mackey (1807-1881) who served as Grand Lecturer and Grand Secretary of The Grand Lodge of South Carolina, as well as Secretary General of the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States. Mackey wrote about “the doctrine of sacred plants, as symbolic of great truths” and focused on the psychoactive plant that was the source of the sacred libation of ancient Persia, the Haoma.

“The religion of Zoroaster, which was practiced by the ancient Iranians… is the one whose sacred plant was the homa…. The ‘Bunde-hesch,’ [sic]says that ‘Haoma gives not only health, but generative vigour also, and imparts life in the resurrection.”
“….goblets were filled with it, and it was drank by the sacrificers. The intoxication that resulted from its use, like that produced by opium or the hasheesh, was of an ecstatic nature, and made a powerful impression on the imagination of the drinker. The visions seen by him while in this state of unnatural ecstasy were like those of the clairvoyant somnambulists of modern mesmerism, and were considered by the Persians as revelations and confirmation of their religious faith; and hence the home plant itself, and its sacred sap, became a god to the Zoroastric worshipper.”

In regards to an interest in Haoma, Mackey was far from alone. Albert Pike, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction, and noted Masonic historian, also referred to Haoma and in his Indo-Aryan Deities and Worship (1872/1930) citing passages from the Zend Avesta: “I praise the lofty mountains, where thou, O Haoma growest. …. I praise the tracts where thou growest, sweet-smelling over the wide field. As a good growth of Mazda growest thou upon the mountains. …. praises the healing Haoma….. O Haoma, give me of thy remedies …. ” Pikes interest in this regard, however, was more focussed on Haoma’s Indian counterpart, Soma, and there are close to 250 references to “the great leafy plant, Soma” which was in Pikes Indo-Aryan Deities and Worship. “the Soma of the Vedas, was used in the sacrifice, its juice being expressed in a consecrated mortar” (Pike, 1872/1930).

“Soma, the juice of a plant (the Haoma of the Zend-Avesta), was also a Deity, invested with the most extraordinary powers….” “Soma, [was]an intoxicating potion, consisting of… [the]juice of plants, mixed with milk…. the Soma plant was not fermented, but was pressed out with stones at the very time of the sacrifice…In this form…it reminds us of the Turanian Shamanism, the product of ecstatic excitement….”
“….The juice of the Soma plant, producing exhilaration and perhaps intoxication, was their sacred beverage….”

Like Mackey, Pike identifies Soma as Asclepias acida and also makes the same comparison to the effects of Soma to hashish and opium, clearly this was something the two colleagues shared an expressed shared interest in.
There must have been some interest in drugs in these masonic circles as can be seen by the writings of other prominent members. John Yarker (17 April 1833 – 20 March 1913) was an English Freemason, author, and occultist. In a 1885 letter to fellow Mason Francis George Irwin, displaying the letter-head ‘Ancient and Primitive Rites of Masonry’ he wrote the following glowing account of the mystical experience he had received under the influence of cannabis:

“My brother brought me from India some Ganja — what the Turks call Eska and the Syrians Hasheesh. Smoked in a cigarette (as I used it) the Indians call it Bhang. It put me into a peculiar dreaming state and I felt myself at one with the Infinite Mind and whatever subject I thought of passed from the particular to the general. If I thought upon the relation existing between Man and Woman, I beheld myself a portion of the Masculine energy of nature… When I thought of any particular subject it seemed to become one with the Universal Mind, and I felt that at that instant I was one with all the rest of Creation that was thinking the same idea… I thought of the origin of evil, I saw bubbles propelled from the one great source, coming into accidental collision, or as departed entities becoming antagonistic. So it was the vegetable and mineral creations, the essence of these seemed to spring from the one eternal source.”
“….It is quite impossible to describe. in writing, the extraordinary nature of this state, but I mentioned it to a Student of the Occult, who has resided in India, and he told me that a Yoga [Yogi] had told him that he used it for the purpose of obtaining Union with the Infinite, and that whilst taking it he willed the purpose that he desired”

John Yareker 1833- 1913)

Freemason, chief of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, and one of the original founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Dr. William Wynn Westcott (1848-1925) wrote about drugs, in at least 2 unpublished tracts. These tracts, originally meant as inner teachings and given privately to students of the occult arts, have been published in The Magical Mason: Forgotten Hermetic Writings of William Wyn Westcott, Physician and Magus (Gilbert, 1983) and a tract on Dreams recorded the following on opium and hashish:

“Opium gives rise to deep, sound sleep in persons unused to its action, but large doses in persons who have outgrown its soporific effect exhibit the power of causing dreaming in a very exaggerated form: opium eaters dream, and remember dreams, characterised by gorgeous imagery, exalted impressions and boundless grandeur. Students should read the dreams of Thomas de Quincey, the famous author who was an opium eater. Alcoholism on the other hand creates dreams of terror, hatred, malice and suspicion; hauntings by animal forms, by serpents or by insects, and an indescribable terror arising from colours and from horrors of attack by persons who have never been associated with any suspicion of enmity or hostility to the sufferer.”
“The Hashish of the Turks and Arabs, prepared from the Cannabis Indica plant, is credited with the power to give rise to dreams of intense pleasure, often of a sexual character; samples of this drug vary very much in quality; some are powerful sedatives, others almost inert; it is a dangerous drug to experiment with. The old medieval magicians taught that dreams of different characteristics would be produced by sleeping in the presence of certain perfumes from incense made from particular herbs, burned on plates of different metals.” (Gilbert/Westcott, 1983)

Dr. William Wynn Westcott (1848-1925)

In a another tract, titled ‘Divination and its History’, Westcott wrote the following: PHARMAKEIA

“Enchantment by drugs is reckoned among Divinations; medicated compounds were administered internally, either openly or by stealth, to create love and passion, or to cause enmity, or to produce dreams on certain subjects.” “Leaves of the herb called Moly and of the Laurel, also Jasper stones were worn as amulets to ward off the effects of other charms used maliciously. The Cannabis plant or Indian Hemp was given to produce mystic visions. Enchanted girdles were also supplied by magicians to bestow foresight to the wearer and to keep dangers away from him.”(Gilbert/Westcott, 1983)

“Pharmakeia” is the Greek word that is translated in most modern New Testament accounts as “sorcery” and makes specific reference to the use of drugs in magic. Our modern term Pharmacy comes from this same greek Root. In this tract the warnings abut the use of cannabis for visionary purposes are not included. As well there is the reference to “enchanted girdles” made from the plant, which is interesting in regards to the hemp cords that have been suggested as worn by witches, Templars, Dervishes, and going back to Zoroastrian and Vedic references as well. These passages, alongside other references to Golden Dawn members’ use of drugs, do open up the possibility that the use of cannabis and other substances, were a part of the inner teachings of the Golden Dawn.
The 19th century Freemason and inventor George Felt, gave a lecture in HP Blavatsky’s apartment in 1875, on ‘The Lost Canon of Proportion of the Egyptians’. knowledge that came to him “by chemical means’. Felt had hoped to “introduce into the Masonic fraternity a form of initiation such as prevailed among the ancient Egyptians.”

Felts desire to make Freemasonry better resemble the Egyptian mysteries—one of its supposed ancestors—brings him into the same ambit as Rawson, the propagator of the Rites of Memphis and other orientalizing orders. One possibility that leaps to mind is the controlled use of a drug such as hashish, with which the french magnetizes often enhanced the perception of somnambulists, which had brought Randolph such unforgettable experiences, and with which Blavatsky herself had experimented both in Cairo and New York.” (Godwin, 1994)

Rene Guenon, believed that Felt had introduced Blavatsky (also known for her use of hashish) into the occult order the Hermetic Brotherood of Luxor, (H.B.L.) and that she was later expelled, then went on to form the Theosophical Society, all orchestrated by veiled eastern masters, in Guenon’s hidden hand view. In reference to the mail order instructions for initiation of the H.B. of L. Godwin notes “An essential part of the initiation ceremony seems to have been the taking of a pill that was sent along with instructions. Probably this contained a concentrated dose of hashish and/or opium, to ensure a memorable experience and perhaps even a communication with the entities of the ‘Interior Circle’” (Godwin, 1994). The Interior Circle, being a group of hidden initiates, deriving from the concepts of Eckartshausen, Blavatsky, Guenon, etc. (all who can be tied to the use of cannabis, or in the case of Eckartshausen, even more potent drugs).
As Jose Moreno notes: “Even the traditionalist, ultra – conservative and bourgeois gnostic René Guénon is attested to have used hashish (and opium) as an aid to contemplation, at least until marriage; And the most plausible thing is that he persisted in it later, since it began in the Sufi mysteries from 1912 trying to keep it in the greatest of secrets” (Moreno, 2002).- See Ésotérisme et christianisme autour de René Guénon, (James, 2008) for more on Guenon’s relationship with hashish and opium.
Rene Guenon (1886-1951)

A curious and humorous account in La Magie a Paris, (Thimmy, 1934) records how certain hidden masters told Rene Guenon to smoke cannabis from a water-pipe. The story has it that the occult author Zam Bhotiva had sought Guenon to write a forward for his Asia Mysteriosa, a work that involved channeled messages from 3 Sages who were supposedly stationed in the Himalayas, the sort of occult shadow ‘hidden master’ figures popularized by the works of Eckartshausen and Blavatsky, and, according to Thimmy, Guenon insisted on questioning them on their authenticity by choosing a “Sanskrit” word, “Hamsa” which Thimmy stated signifies the symbolic Swan and also the liberation of the mind/spirit, to see if they could identify it, and test them. They responded “Smoke hemp root in a water pipe and you will know what Hamsa is”!
I think a few things may have become altered in Thimmy’s retelling of this story. I have my doubts that Hamsa was used as a Sanskrit word, as the identical world is used in the mid-East for the “Hand of Fatima” and among the Druze it is seen as a reference to a hidden messiah, who is periodically reborn. However, the suggestion to smoke hemp root, would be peculiar, as although the roots of cannabis do have some medicinal qualities, they would not be psychoactive smoked, and this again is likely a mistake on the part of Thimmy.

This response is a little ironic when you know a few decades prior, Blavatsky’s own secret occult rulers, The Mahatmas, were at times written off as the stoned hallucinations of her hashish use! According to Thimmy, Guenon, who at this point in his life was abstaining, refused to let them use the forward, as he was not taken with “the sages who invited him, the grave philosopher, to smoke hemp in a water pipe” (Thimmy, 1934). However in a rebuttal, Bhovita produced a forward written by Guenon, in a 1931 edition of Revue des Polaires, and said it had been rejected prior to Guenon’s story of its refusal, with the comment deriding Guenon as the “‘Grand Master’ of Occultism who distributes, with the morgue and sufficiency of the Medicine of Moliere, plasters and ointments Hermetic …” (Bhovita, 1931)

In their excellent book, The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, (Godwin, Chanel, Deveny, 1995), the co-authors offer a description from the Mason and so-called Alchemist of the Golden Dawn, of which he was also a member, Rev. William Alexander Ayton, regarding his initiation into the H.B.L.. In his initiation into the group, Ayton was required to drink “what purported to be the real soma juice drunk at a certain stage. …I hesitated very much to drink this drug…& I thought of omitting it. However, I opened the bottle & smelt of it. All my life, I have been used to drugs, & I at once recognised [sic]this. I knew its effects were most powerful, but I decided to take it. Whether it was hallucination produced by this drug I know not, but I was conscious of another presence… I was fully 3 hours at it from midnight. When over, I felt my pulse, & found just what I expected, that it was intermittent, which was what I knew to be the effect of the drug I thought it was.” The authors, who are some of the most knowledgeable historians of this period in occult history, note that “hashish… certainly played a role in the initiation of the H.B. of L. [and of]the Rev. Ayton…” (Godwin, Chanel & Deveny, 1995).

Gérard Anaclet Vincent Encausse (1865 – 1916), popularly known by his pseudonym Papus, was the organizer of the “International Masonic Conference” in Paris in, 1908, and besides being the head of the Martinist order, he held memberships in the Theosophical Society, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn temple in Paris, the Rosicrucian Kabbalistic Order of the Rose-Croix. Theodor Reuss of the Ordo Templi Orientis, also elevated Papus to that order’s 10th degree. 

Gérard Anaclet Vincent Encausse (July 13, 1865 – 25 October 1916), whose esoteric pseudonyms were Papus and Tau Vincent, was a Spanish-born French physician, hypnotist, and popularizer of occultism, who founded the modern Martinist Order.

Papus wrote of hashish and other drugs in his Traité élémentaire de magie pratique, ‘Elemental treatise of practical magic’ (1893). “To keep within the limits of our study, we shall only deal here with the following stimulants: alcohol – coffee – tea, morphine, hashish. There are many other substances employed…” (Papus, 1893).

HASHISH – OPIUM – MORPHINE“Many people figure for themselves that hashish, fits into the class of the most dangerous drugs on the psychic viewpoint that can be handled and immediately gives sublime visions and plunges the experimenter in Ecstasy. However, thus presented, the action of hashish does answer to nothing of its reality. This substance, as with opium, but is with much more intensity, acts on force reserves of the nervous centres, emptying them in an instant of any reserve, and throws one in masse into the intellectual sphere. Also, ideas are exaggerated, amplified, embellished in a prodigious way: but we still need that the primordial idea and the paramount physical sensation to exist. So a lamp becomes, under the influence of hashish, a magnificent Palace lighten by 10 000 lights and dripping jewels; on the other hand, when the incident idea is vulgar, Impressions are also. So a beginner taking hashish without preconceived idea and waiting for what was going to happen, simply dreamt it was a pipe and that he smoked himself.”“Hashish is an amplifier and not a creator. But this exhilarating action is followed by a terrible reaction: reserve centres, emptied of their contents, agonize the unfortunate imprudent, and most awful nightmares, the most poignant pain are a natural continuation of dreams charm and Astral sensations.”“Opium, which morphine is derived from, has the same action, but with less intensity, and the unfortunate slave of this substance, willing to flee the reaction, which is imminent, gradually increasing the dose of the poison up to complete exhaustion, is soon followed by death.”“Magical standpoint, the danger of these drugs is considerable, since they increase the empire to be impulsive about the willingness and need a good strong will to not to be dominated by these substances, incarnation / embodiment of the soul of the world in matter are key.”“We do not want to unduly lengthen this presentation and we believe that what we have just said will be enough to understand these exciting theory.” (Papus, 1893)-Translated excerpt by Fr. A.T.A. 11

At least 12 editions of the Masonic journal, L’Initiation, of which Papus was the director of, contained articles on the use of hashish. An 1889 editions included an essay ‘Testament d’un Haschischeen’, from regular contributor, the pharmacist, theosophist and founder of ‘Cannabinology’ Jules Giraud, also know as Numa Pandorac. Giraud wrote about the ability of hashish to “see through the veil of lsis,” and referred to it as the “the guardian angels in jam, the. Patriotism in marmalade, and Providence in compote!” Giraud wrote numerous articles on hashish for various occult journals through the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. In his ‘Prédictions d´un haschischéen sur le haschisch’ which appeared in a 1905 edition of La Voie, revue mensuelle de Haute Science, he wrote how to take “hashish, [is]to place oneself in the hemp of the Lord, it is not a vulgar drunkenness: it is a retreat, a consultation of a tabernacle, a Eucharistic duty… a noble habit of sacred intoxication, an orphic diathesis” (Giraud, 1905). A disapproving critic in an 1889 edition of The Theosophist, (Volume 10) wrote of Giraud’s celebration of cannabis and mysticism, The Great Paradoxes of Numa Pandorac, (1888) as “a disgraceful rhapsody on the pleasures of intoxication, by a writer who seems to practice what he preaches.”

In Liber 420 I suggest this interest in soma, and entheogenic plants, was likely related to trying to understand the origins of ‘The Libation Cup’. Various version of the “libation cup”, appear in Masonic literature, under names such as, the “cup of brotherly love”, “Cup of memory”, the “Fifth Libation” and even the “cup of double damnation” by its detractors. This Libation was sipped from a skull cup in some forms of the Scottish Rites, and allegedly some remnants of this practice has been carried down to the present by some Lodges. It is clearly plausible that these ritual masonic Libations are a carryover from the punches and elixirs of Scottish Rites claimants Caglisotro and Schröpfer, who were known to have used psychoactive substances in their own Masonic ritual variations.

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