At the visual focus of this illuminated document (and its copies), and set apart with striking contrast, we find a familiar Mithraic motif—a red Phrygian cap set atop the shining white steel of a weapon, itself braced vertically, Excalibur-like, into the presumed bedrock. Should one doubt the symbolic significance of this spear and its Mithraic equivalent, the sword or harpe, attention is directed to the fasces, or barsom, (its Persian equivalent, an assemblage of herbal stalks reminiscent of the Dionysian thyrsus, ostensibly a symbol of strength through unity, although not devoid of a basic botanical significance5 ), which otherwise would remain inexplicable in this context. Also, the red tassel situated above the fasces is an important Masonic symbol for the ‘Mystic Tie’ that binds Masons, although they might be of diverse opinion and perspective, into a sacred band of Friends and Brothers; the knot or tie, however, is a more ancient symbol of cosmic trans-terrestrial Union.
Together, the cap and spear form a remarkable homologue of the fly-agaric. Unlike the Mithraic versions, of the Sword of Accord discussed above, the various illustrated versions of the Déclaration, in both the use of colors and in other revealing details, leave little room for doubt as to exactly what entheobotanical Mystery is being depicted. Thus, the skirt-like remnant of the mushroom’s shattered universal veil hanging down atop the spearhead is explicitly depicted, as well as its otherwise incongruously bulbous base.
For additional clarification, the upwardly thrusting mushroom is identified with a sacred garland of evergreen boughs, and remains concealed, albeit just barely, beneath the illuminated capstone of the Déclaration. The evergreen (usually the Attic acacia) is a well known Masonic symbol derived from ancient sources whose esoteric mythos is intimately connected to the obligatory mycorrhizal relationship between evergreen trees (among others) and the entheogenic mushroom that they host. One might only expect the fly-agaric to emerge, as it is about to do in this image, amidst an evergreen-strewn forest floor.
A final element is added to make the esoteric intention of the scene blatantly obvious. Even the most obtuse and profanely-minded viewer would have recognized the ouroboros as the preeminent symbol of the Hermetic Mysteries. For initiates, however, the circular serpent represents far more specific and practical truths. Aside from the well known association of snakes and mushrooms, and the probable allusion to the wheel-like circular cap (notice the serpent’s lowermost extremity corresponds exactly with the bottom of the Phrygian cap), there is an additional reference to the widely documented practice of filtering and fortifying the entheogenic properties of the mushroom as the urinous metabolite by means of passing it through the human body. Thus with the ouroboros—the “tail-eater,” (more correctly translated as “urine-eater”6)—the cycle of the Mystery comes full circle in this masterwork of esoteric visual encryption.
Capping the scene, Libertas on the left informs herself by means of Divine Illumination, while on the right Reason makes ‘eye contact’ with the viewer and beckons attention to the revelatory Light (with her right hand) and its as yet unrevealed earthly source (with her left), the alchemical Son of the Sun, the sacred mushroom sacrament.The fact that other renderings of the Déclaration are practically identical even in the subtle details described above7 (See Figs.  ) argues conclusively against the possibility that coincidence or artistic license played any significant part in the composition of these illuminated manuscripts. Quite the contrary, such consistency is the product of an intentional, detailed design that carefully incorporates a complex set of secret fungal-entheogenic images worthy of the Mysteries from which they were derived.
Liberty-poles were tall staffs of one kind or another with a Phrygian cap or other symbol of liberty on the top. This tradition is certainly related to that of the Greek eleuthriodendron (eleutherios, ‘free,’ dendron, ‘tree’7 ), the ‘Tree of Liberty’ that was a “post or tree set up by the populace, hung with flags and devices and crowned with a cap of liberty.”8 Such trees were planted in during the American Revolution, and in France in the 1790’s following the French Revolution, and so also in Italy. Like the maypole granting sexual license on May Day (the folk equivalent to the Roman Floralia festival), Liberty Trees should also be understood as phallic symbols.9 The liberty pole, complete with Phrygian cap also occurred on some early American coinage, and the goddess Libertas, along with her spear and wearing the cap, almost became the central image on the Great Seal of the United States.
Identical to the Mithraic Phrygian version, and sometimes called by that name, the ‘liberty cap’ is a brimless cloth cap that fits snugly around the head. The close association with the idea of ‘liberty’ has much to do with the fact that freed slaves in ancient Rome were distinguished by such a cap. Hence, it was used as a symbol of liberty by French and American revolutionaries.10 Although most often red (as were those worn by the French Jacobins), the English wore a blue cap with a white border with the same connotation, and Britannia sometimes carries such a cap on the point of her spear.
Another intriguing image convincingly connects Masonic esoterica with the fungal sacrament.11 Along with the alchemical Sun and Moon (with seven planetary stars), the leontocephalic crossed Keys of Heaven, the interlocked square and compass, and similarly crossed trowel and bell, we find, in the very center of the image, an unusual and at first unidentifiable object, like an optical illusion, perhaps a lantern, but once seen correctly, the truth jumps up from the page. It is a mushroom, closely resembling a certain Psilocybe the striated “Liberty Cap,” Psilocybe semilanceata.  The cap of the mushroom is presumably formed by the ‘rays’ emanating from the all-seeing eye of Horus, a fact that does not explain the mushroom’s stipe which bisects the square and compass, growing upwards from a Book of Revelation and pouring from its pileus cap a stream of Living Waters down on either side.
In this context, it is important to note that the name ‘Liberty Cap’ has been applied to P. semilanceata, a common and potent entheogenic mushroom, at least as early as 1841 in Europe, an appellation finally surfacing from a long established and already common folkloric usage, probably going back to at least the time of the French Revolution.12
In view of the remarkable correspondences to Mithraic iconography and the characteristically alchemical nature of Masonic symbolism, as well as their famous antagonism with the Catholic Church on the subject of sacraments,13 it is highly probable that the mystery of the Mithraic sacrament was preserved within the Order. In fact, a characteristic memento of initiation into Freemasonry was the Masonic pitcher, presumably from a token from the ceremony of a sacramental potion, many examples of which are extant. Hence, there should be little doubt that something was drunk in the ritual.
George Washington was himself initiated into Freemasonry in 1752 at the Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and as is well known, he was a close friend of Lafayette, who was a co-initiate and fought with him in the Revolution. The famous Masonic apron (one of two) was personally embroidered in silk by the Marquise de Lafayette and presented to him in 1784. Washington was also a Rosicrucian and a familiar of the group of mystics and occultists who meet at the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia, amongst whom was Peter Miller, who translated the Declaration of Independence into European languages. It was here that the basic ideas of the Constitution took shape. Washington was reputedly of a mystical bent himself and profoundly religious, and on several occasions he had visionary experiences in which he saw the future destiny of the emerging new nation. During the war most of Washington’s subordinates were fellow Freemasons and he always entrusted matters of the greatest importance members of the brotherhood. “It is not difficult to imagine that groups of Freemasons, experiencing rituals and initiations in an altered state of awareness, might have gained special insight into the importance of the American revolutionary experience, and its meaning for humanity as a whole.”14 Nor is it unlikely that such a mystery, in Mystery circles down through the ages, would have been a very effective means of maintaining a tight-knit society of ‘illuminated’ members.
Like the Mithraic brotherhood of warriors, the soldiers of the revolutionary army maintained a close comradeship, terming themselves the Cincinnati, on the model of the quasi-mythical simple Roman farmer who saved the Republic and its besieged army. Washington was their first president.
The descendants of the original soldiers still meet today. In the 1787, a gentleman of the Cincinnati presented Washington with what would become the first official dinnerware of the White House. Its design is Masonic, with Martha’s initials in the center, radiating, like Sophia, in a sunburst outward to the linked chain of the original fifteen states which encircle the rim.
1 Thanks to Alan Piper for bringing this to our attention. For more on Rudyard Kipling see Piper, The Lote Tree of the Furthest Boundry: Psychoactive Sacraments in Islamic Gnosis, below. 2 See González Celdrán, Postscriptum Mithraicis, Entheos Vol. 2. No. 2 (forthcoming).
3 Also spelled Phre-masson-ry, which suggests some attempt to connect it with Phrygia.
4 As ‘masons,’ they were metaphorically engaged in building a new world order, and their status as ‘free’ meant that they acknowledged no feudal overlord. They were probably the inheritors of the traditions of the Knights Templar, who were engaged in restoring the old Temple.
5 The barsom is derived etymologically from the Sanskrit barhis, ‘the sacrificial herb,’ from brhati, ‘he plucks.’
6 See Heinrich et al, New Gods in Old Bottles, Entheos, Vol. 1, No. 1.
7Cobham, E., Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, new and enlarged edition, 1894; see also Bennett et al., Sex, op. cit., on the derivation of the maypole from the Asherah poles of ancient Judaism and the ecstatic religions of the Goddess, emblematic of the serpent and the entheogenic sacrament.
8 Cobham, op. cit.
10 The American Heritage Dictionary, fourth edition. On Rome’s Aventine Hill, The Goddess of Liberty was depicted holding a liberty cap in her hands.It is interesting to note one occasion when ‘The Goddess of Reason’ was enthroned by the French Convention (August 10, 1793), resulting in the ‘desecration’ of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. The procession was attended by the municipal officers, national guards, and ballet girls carrying ‘truth’ torches. Even the Archbishop of Paris participated in the procession while ‘nearly all’ the clergy removed their canonical costumes to don red nightcaps! Julien of Toulouse, a Calvinistic minister, also was reported to have joined in the spectacle. See Blanc, Louis: History, ii. P. 365-367
11 Reprinted also in Brown, R. H., Stellar Theology and Masonic Astronomy, 2002, Book Tree, San Diego (first published by D. Appleton & Co., 1882).
12 According to Geoff Kibby, editor of Field Mycology, citing Cooke, 1841, (a personal communication to Mike Crowley).
13 Going back to the Church’s persecution of the Knights Templar in the early fourteenth century and more recently reinforced by its opposition to the Masons’ radical advocacy of the separation of Church and State.
14 Hieronimus, Robert R., America’s Secret Destiny: Spiritual Vision & the Founding of a Nation, Rochester, VT, Destiny Books, 1989.
Freemasonry and the Survival
of the Eucharistic Brotherhoods
"Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main. Thou descending
immortal, immortal to rise again! Now when the watch is ended, now when
the wine is drawn, Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!”
The significance of Mithraism as the first historical, pan-Eurasian religion has never been fully appreciated by European scholarship, which persistently has tried to draw an Iron Curtain between the East and West. In various forms, however, Mithraism has left an indelible and defining mark on the religious history of that vast continent. Christianity was at the same time the greatest benefactor as well as the most destructive scourge of Mithraic tradition. While destroying or vandalizing the material cultural remains of that once great religion, early Christians also copied and co-opted its outward forms in many details, building upon its successes and learning from its limitations. Indeed, both literally and figuratively, Christianity was built upon Mithraic foundations.2
Such dependence was a great liability to a Church claiming a new and original dispensation, and every effort was made to suppress the commonalities. For the most part, this meant emphasizing the more obvious (and superficial) mythological and dogmatic differences, but this was hardly enough to demonstrate an essential practical difference between the visionary Eucharistic practices of the two competing Mystery Religions. In fact, the shared gnosis seemed to validate the syncretism and co-option that had so obviously occurred—even in the outward expressions—of the old and new “official” religions of the Empire. For the ancients, such a situation was the norm; that the unitive experiences elicited by the various Mysteries all demonstrated an essential and universal identification not only between the rites of particular gods and goddesses, but also between deities and the celebrant, and between the celebrant and the co-creative Cosmos as a whole.
Given such an underlying assumption of gnosis as a kind of basic and defining experience at the esoteric core of all the Mysteries, dogmatic and doctrinal differences were only of marginal concern and interest, and crass literal interpretations were easily abandoned in favor of a mythological richness infused and sacralized by a common gnosis.
Mithraism, as we have shown, was a key and formative element in the radical syncretism that characterized much of Classical spirituality. Considered in these terms, it is important to note that Christianity came to stand in polar opposition to this synthesizing and comparatively tolerant attitude toward other religions. In fact, it is justifiable to consider the Christian claim, that of being the sole source of Salvation, as the only truly original and distinguishing characteristic of the new religion—this along with its insistence on the literal historical veracity of its Savior and His miracles. While Imperial Rome was singularly influential in popularizing and codifying both religions, we must recognize a common ecstatic and communal thread in them that starts in the earliest strata of Indo-European traditions and extends even into the present—intact in its esoteric, entheogenic essence.
At the very root of the Mithraic Mysteries lay esoteric mythological, astrological, and pharmacological lore that was not easily to be suppressed, let alone destroyed. The long and almost unbelievably complex history of Mithraism in Eurasia had inseparably woven its mythopoeia into the very fabric of religious-intellectual, artistic, and literary culture throughout the Persian and Classical worlds. As Mithraism faded as a world religion, its venerable esoteric cannon became a river, fed by streams of derivative and original gnostic tradition. It is quite clearly this ancient torrent that sustained and characterized the post-Christian Hermetic and literary undercurrent, erupting throughout history in the various popular gnostic revivals, which were, repeatedly (and often violently), suppressed by the Church Triumphant, which opposed personal mysticism and insisted on imposing itself politically as the essential mediator with the deity.
Surviving into modern times, and deriving from uncertain and legendary sources, Freemasonry3 is the most notable of the secret societies that have perpetuated the pre-Christian Mysteries. Although it is true that over the centuries the Masons have been accused of all manner of conspiratorial and diabolical activity (as has been the case with other ‘secret’ societies throughout history), this has been done with largely circumstantial evidence, partial understanding and paranoid zealotry. There can be no doubt, however, that Masonic lodges were indeed hotbeds of pro-revolutionary sentiment and the philosophies of the Enlightenment that opposed the feudal “Ancién Regime” with a “New World Order.”4 This new philosophy, in turn, was illuminated and inspired by the Classical Revival that had first found popular expression during the Renaissance. There can also be no doubt that Masonic membership was often made up of the social and intellectual elite who were the driving force behind the Revolutions that established the political reality of a new social paradigm—a paradigm that is at least as defining a characteristic of ‘modernity’ as the Industrial Revolution.
Claiming to be the inheritors and preservers of ancient mysteries via direct lines of descent going back at least the time of the Knights Templar, Masonic symbolism does seem to betray a cohesive and accurate synopsis of the ancient Mysteries. Iconographic items such as the Sun, the all-seeing disembodied eye, the ouroboros, the sacred evergreen, and, most importantly for us, the red Phrygian cap atop a spear or Sword of the Accord are all elements well known to the ancient religions, possessing profound meanings to those initiates who learned of their true significance and interconnection.
While most of these symbols are common to alchemical and Masonic imagery, the origins of the so-called ‘liberty pole’ and ‘liberty cap’ are less familiar. It goes without saying, however, that all elements are to be understood as cryptic references that simultaneously conceal and reveal arcane mysteries. The fundamental innovation promulgated in the revolutionary ideal is the dependence upon a kind of Natural Law—as well as the necessary and ongoing revelation of the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of citizens—as the nourishing and necessary spirit upon which a republican democracy might stand. Similarly, Thomas Jefferson appealed to the need for ‘eternal vigilance’ on the part of citizens in maintaining such a government.
While the American Revolution unfolded a world removed from the entrenched monarchies of Europe, the philosophical and political culture in which its revolutionary ideas fermented was fundamentally Continental. Encouraged by the American success, a democratic fervor set Europe—and especially France—ablaze with a call for an inevitable and radical reappraisal of basic political and social suppositions.
The uncanny correspondence between Mithraic, Masonic, and revolutionary esoteric symbolism is clearly displayed in the various illuminated versions of the Declaration of the Rights of Man (Déclaration des droits de l’homme). The drafting of this document (largely by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1789) was seen as the symbolic end of the Ancién Regime. Politically and socially, a new day was dawning on the Continent as the intoxicating concepts of Liberty and Equality spread over the western world. A great democratic experiment had taken hold across the Atlantic, paving the way for the political application of the philosophy of the Enlightenment in Europe. Delineating the liberties of the individual citizen, the Déclaration was inspired by, and reads very much like, the American Bill of Rights, similarly consisting of a short preamble and seventeen articles. It establishes the rights of the citizen to liberty, equality under law, private property, and asserts the separation of powers, and abolished feudal rights in France.