The Chamber of Reflection

By Julian Ochoa

 The Chamber of Reflection is a dark room where the prospective candidate reflects on the path he is about to embark. In French Lodges the chamber is the preparation room in which the candidate remains until he is taken into the temple for initiation. It is thus called the chamber of reflection because of its the gloomy furniture and the moral inscriptions on the walls, calculated to shock and instigate serious reflection on the journey ahead. 

“Most of the brethren who received their initiations in Central and South America, Europe, Middle East and Africa will be acquainted with the Chamber of Reflection. It is used in the first degree in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, the French Rite, the Brazilian Rite and other rites derived from the ones just mentioned. The word chamber is an archaic term for room and the word reflection means, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, “reflecting or being reflected; reflected light or heat or colour or image; discredit or thing bringing discredit;reconsideration (or reflection); idea arising in the mind, comment (on or upon).” ( da costa)

The Masonic exposé Jachin and Boaz, published in London in 1762, describes the use of what clearly appears to be a chamber in those lodges working under the Premier Grand Lodge of England, as follows [bold text added for emphasis]:

Soon after the Master asks, if the Gentleman proposed last Lodge-Night, is ready to be made; and on being answered in the Affirmative, he orders the Wardens to go out and prepare the Person, who is generally waiting in a Room at some Distance from the Lodge-Room, by himself, being left there by his Friend who proposed him. He is conducted into another Room, which is totally dark; and then asked, whether he is conscious of having the Vocation necessary to be received? On answering Yes, he is asked his Name, Surname, and Profession. When he has answered these Questions, whatever he has about him made of Metal is off, as Buckles, Buttons, Rings,

Boxes, and even the Money in his Pocket taken away. Then they make him uncover his Right Knee and put his Left Foot with his Shoe on in to a Slipper; hoodwink him with a Handkerchief, and leave him to his Reflection for about half an Hour. 

The Chamber is also guarded within and without, by some of the Brethren, who have drawn Swords in their hands, to keep off all Strangers, in case any should dare approach. The Person who proposed the Candidate, stays in the Room with him; but they are not permitted to ask any Questions, or converse together. During this Silence, and while the Candidate is preparing, the Brethren in the Lodge are putting every Thing in Order for his Reception there…..

This text would seem to indicate that the room is a simply appointed one, ‘which is totally dark’, and where the brethren ‘leave [the candidate] to his reflections for about half an hour’. More important, it indicates that a chamber of this type, employed ceremonially, was likely well-known to the London brethren of William Preston’s day, which might have inspired that prime mover of the Craft to write those words so well-known in many jurisdictions:

“Wisdom seeks the secret shade, the lonely cell designed for contemplation…”

Such a phrase might be obscure to Masons today, its meaning unclear. However, it would not have been so to our Masonic forefathers of the 18th century, brethren who would have known instantly what one form of that ‘lonely cell’ alluded to. 

In our own constitution there is only one allusion to this room and its in one of the first questions that the W.M. formulates to the candidate: where were you first made a Mason ** ** ***** and where next? ** * ********** **** ********* *** *****.  To us and in all english speaking jurisdictions that room is the storage room or just where the candidate changes attire for the ceremony of initiation. There is no time for reflection as the initial question suggests the candidate was first made a mason inwardly. And to some extent the physical room becomes redundant. But for those prospective candidates that didn’t have time to contemplate on the path prior to the day of initiation the Chamber offers that opportunity to reflect on the transformation he is about to undergo. 

The Chamber of reflection is not only the preparation room. The room symbolises the candidates transition from the profane or material world to the path that leads to higher realms.  The candidate is removed of all metallic substances, not just to symbolise poverty and humility but to remind him to not be attached to worldly possessions as they are also an illusion and of the profane world. To divest from all monies and metallic substances also refers to going back to humans original purity otherwise known as adamic nudity. These metallic substances so far have brought material prosperity, but to go any further these metals become obstacles in the path ahead. Divesting of all monies and metallic substances alludes to divest one self of all false believes and external opinions, with the sole purpose to open ones inner self to the path of Truth. In the candidates inner life The chamber as a dark and isolated room represents a period of darkness and a process of silent maturity which is aided by meditation and concentration. 

 Qabalists claim that through his mastery of this Path, King David, the father of King Solomon, one of the three the principle figures in modern (post 1717AD) Freemasonry, meditated nightly under his covers, as such, the idea of having a small room or corner of a room, set aside for meditation and prayer has held a special place in Judaism. With this in mind, one can read the Psalms of David and see that many express meditative states of consciousness that can only be understood by people who have experienced similar states either through ritual, prayer, meditation or mystical illuminations. 

After the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, the role of meditation declined and was relegated to special schools that became the source of the mystical teachings within Judais. In an attempt to resurrect these practices, the Pharasees, or Secluded Ones, during their formative years would haunt deserted places, caves, ruins, or even secluded themselves in their own homes in an attempt to converse with God.

 The chamber of reflection sits outside the temple, or Tempus and as such symbolically sits outside of time and space. this is nothing more or less than our very own consciousness-our awareness- and challenges us to understand why we do what we do and consider the consequences of our actions. Each man who desires admittance into the brotherhood does so of his own free will and accord. 

The following is a narration of what happens to the candidate: 

After being told a few words of warning calling for the reconsideration on the steps he is about to take, mysterious words bearing a contrasting and intimidating message of discouragement, the young candidate, compelled by either Conviction or Curiosity, decides to ignore such “warnings”, and valiantly enters that “cavern-like” room on the day of his initiation into the Craft. He immediately finds himself in the middle of a gloomy and obscure scenario – a small table with a skull and crossed tibia, a lit candle, a sand clock about to stop, and a few suggestive wall inscriptions complementary of everything he was forewarned prior to stepping into such a perturbing enclosure. Truly, this is a chamber of reflection.

He cannot help feeling like an unfortunate detainee of ancient times, locked in a dungeon awaiting his sentence. On the small table there are also a cup of water, a small piece of bread, and some salt, which seem to be the only food that he is entitled to ingest for being imprisoned. He instinctively asks himself “Am I a Prisoner?”; “I have not done anything wrong”; “I came here of my own free will and they throw me in here”; “How long will they keep me?”; “I have no idea, but, I want to get out, I want to throw down the towel and surrender in the second round”; “I give up”; I can’t stand it any longer”; “What is this about?”; “Why did they lock me up?”; “Is this how they make Good Men better?”; “Is this what they mean by Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth?”; “They are probably just having fun with me!”; “They have me in such a ridiculous and hopeless state!”; “One of my hands is tied, I’m barefooted, almost naked, without my belongings, and partially blind-folded!”; “My God, what’s next?”; “A ransom?”; “Am I being kidnapped?”; “Are all those sinister rumors about the Masons true?”…

 Everything the candidate sees in the room looks as if placed there to scare and discourage him from not continuing on the path. however these symbols are there to assist the candidate  to be in the right mind frame for what he is about to begin. 

Depending on the jurisdiction the chamber has several or just few symbols. the Chamber of reflections is decorated in the following way:

The room is totally black, if the room is not in a dungeon or cave like chamber the walls should be painted black. A wooden table and chair have to be situated in the middle of the room. 

on the table the candidate can find a skull, an hour glass, a candle, sulphur, bread, salt and water a sign that says  V.I.T.R.I.O.L (accompanied by the words perseverance and vigilance) and  various sayings are painted around the walls. and finally Ink and paper plus a few questions. 

 The meaning of each symbols is as follows: 


The chamber reminds one’s self of the caves where primitive men lived. In psychoanalysis, it is a symbol of regression. It is also a symbol of the maternal womb. The profane is regressing to a time of innocence and to a state in his mother’s womb. When he emerges from the chamber, it shall be as if being born as a new man. Contrariwise, the cave can also be the symbol of a sepulchre, as the tombs of the ancients in biblical times. Thus, the chamber indicates, at the same time, a beginning and an end: the end of one’s life as a profane, and the beginning of a new life as an initiate in search of light, truth and wisdom. This can also be interpreted as a form of resurrection. This motif of death and resurrection is mentioned in Plutarch’s Immortality of the Soul thus:

The soul at the moment of death, goes through the same experiences as those who are initiated into the great mysteries. The word and the act are similar: we say telentai (to die) and telestai (to be initiated) .


Together with the crossbones, sickle and the hourglass, the skull naturally refers to mortality and is linked to the alchemical references also present in the Chamber. The alchemists aimed at transmuting base metals into silver and gold through the process of putrefaction. So must the profane transmute his nature, through a symbolical burial in the chamber, into a new transformed man in the form of an initiate. In alchemy this is called the great work. Indeed, man’s refinement, transmutation and transformation from a brute base metal into gold requires great work! The skull in alchemy, named caput mortuum, is the epitome of decline and decay. The crossbones are usually tibias, the weight-bearing bones of the lower legs.


The chunk of bread and the pitch of water are symbols of simplicity, pointing to the future initiate how he should conduct his life. Bread is made of wheat, an element connected to the goddesses Isis and Demeter. Isis is the Egyptian mother goddess and also the goddess of the dead, again, two of the aspects of the Chamber of Reflection. Furthermore, according to the ancient description of an initiation into the Mysteries of Isis by Apuleus, the candidate was placed in a secluded cell and subsequently participated in a ceremony in which he had to overcome trials. Demeter was celebrated at the great festival at the Temple of Eleusis, which became known as the Eleusinian mysteries. The bread and water represent the elements necessary to life, but even though food and the material body are indispensable, they remind the candidate that the physical aspect should not be the main objective in one’s existence. Moreover, these elements remind us of the biblical narrative regarding the prophet Elijah, who is also connected with these elements and a cave (see I Kings 17: 8-11). He established a school of prophets in a cavern on a mountain. Furthermore, Elijah after eating bread and water, climbed the mount of G-d, in the same way that our future initiate nourished by these symbols can withstand the trials ahead and climb his own mountain. Elijah, once on the mount, also heard G-d as the still small voice, just as our candidate should follow his inner voice throughout his life, as we can read in I Kings 19: 5-13.


Three of the alchemical elements used in the great work were sulphur, salt and mercury, all of which are present in the Chamber of Reflection. Sulphur is symbolical of the spirit, being a masculine principle, referring to enthusiasm and corresponding to the virtue of Faith. Salt is a symbol for wisdom, being considered neutral, as far as gender is concerned, referring to pondering (something the candidate does in the Chamber of Reflection) and corresponding to the virtue of Charity. Mercury appears as the rooster. This animal is connected to the deity Hermes, that is, Mercury. It is a feminine principle, referring to Vigilance and it also corresponds to Faith. As the rooster sings at dawn announcing the light of day, so it announces to our future initiate, the Light he may receive.


This object is a reminder of mortality. It also brings to mind that time runs fast, just as the sand runs through the hourglass. It also conveys the meaning that we should make good use of the time given us. Moreover, our candidate is reminded that therefore, he should write his answers and philosophical testament within the allotted time.


Vitriol is a sulphuric acid or a sulphate used in the alchemical operations of yore. This word is the origin of the adjective vitriolic, meaning caustic or hostile, referring to speech or criticism. However, in the esoteric sense, it is an acronym for the Latin phrase: Visita interioraterrae, rectificandoque, invenies occultum lapidem, which means: “visit the interior of the earth, and rectifying it, you will find the hidden stone.” Some times this acronym appears with the addition of U.M. at the end, which means, veram medicinam, the true medicine. If one takes this advice metaphorically, the meaning conveyed is that, one must search within oneself, as the truth is hidden there, and this truth is the real solution to our problems. Again, a very appropriate acronym to be placed on the wall before the future initiate, while he has to write his philosophical testament. 


In some rites these two words are also placed on the wall. The word perseverance is placed under the hourglass, if one is not physically present but painted on the wall, while the word vigilance is placed under the figure of the rooster. These two words intimate to the candidate that he must possess these qualities in order to succeed in his Masonic life. The symbols, allusions, allegories and metaphors of the rituals are not plain. The Freemason must scrutinise them persistently in order to appreciate their richness and deep significance, and be vigilant that the lessons learned therefrom be not forgotten. 


Besides the profusion of symbols in the Chamber of Reflection, as our candidate removes the hoodwink, he will read various sentences on the wall. Most often he will read the following sayings: If you think we will find out your defects, you will feel uncomfortable among us. If curiosity spurred you towards us, go away. If you are capable of deception, tremble, you will be found out. If you take notice of human differences, leave, we do not know them here. If your soul is fearful, do not proceed! If you persevere, you will be purified, you will overcome darkness, you will be enlightened.

In some rites, such as the Brazilian Rite, other sentences may be found on the wall, such as: Think of G-d, with humility. If you want to live well, think of death. Serve your country with devotion. Remember the great citizens who were Freemasons. Know thyself. If your heart is well intentioned, go on and you will have our support.


the questions are formulated by the lodge members to which he has to answer thoughtfully. 


The answers to the questions asked of the candidate become the initial point towards the elaboration of his philosophical and moral testament. The philosophical testament provides a glimpse of the attitude and character of the future initiate and is unique to each individual. The candidate’s true nature will be shown in his answers to the proposed questions as well as in his philosophical testament. On the other hand, it can also bring him discredit, depending on his answers. In the Chamber of Reflection, he has time to reconsider his request for admission in our Fraternity. If his motives are not pure as admonished by the writings on the wall, or if he is fearful and not courageous enough, then he might not be able to keep inviolate the secrets of Freemasonry. Furthermore, solitary in the Chamber of Reflection, our prospective initiate can ponder on thequestions presented to him, on his life, and future. Therefore, the reflection to which the title of this Chamber refers, is not just the pondering of the candidate, but primarily the reflection of his own inner being. This could bring him discredit in certain cases. 


In another ritual of French origin, the Rectified Scottish Rite, during the first degree initiation, the concept of reflection expressed in the sense of giving back a likeness as in a mirror, is revealed in another way. At the moment the hoodwink is dropped from the candidate’s eyes and he sees for the first time the faces of his Brethren around him, the WM says: “It is not always before oneself, that one finds his enemies. That which is to be feared the most is many times behind oneself. Turn around!” When the candidate turns he sees himself in a mirror! This means that the enemy can be also within! Incidentally, the word mirror is in Latin speculum, deriving from the verb speculor, which means, to scrutinise. That is exactly what one does in the Chamber of Reflections, as he scrutinises himself and the symbols around him.


After the candidate leaves the Chamber of Reflection, he is conducted into the temple to be subjected to certain trials. Traditionally, the ancients and the alchemists believed that the universe was composed of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Traditional initiatory societies, such as Freemasonry, have preserved this teaching. Furthermore, one of the marks of these esoteric initiatory organisations was a series of trials through which the candidate was subjected. The Chamber of Reflection, being a cave, becomes then, the first trial, that of the earth, and it is followed later by other trials, as it is made plain by the words of the ritual itself in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. 


The Chamber of reflection does not exist in NSW blue masonry. The chamber exists in higher orders but even there, there is no real emphasis on the chamber. Perhaps it is because there is no ritual involved except for the act of reflection which may have been overlooked, the act of reflection sets the tone for the journey. I can only say that the chamber of reflection enriches a mason’s journey on his initiation.  The chamber of Reflection teaches us that, before we go into that unknown Masonic journey we have to look inside our hearts and question our readiness for the path. The chamber is a place where we have to look at our imperfections and take notice of them so that when we enter into the quarries we know where and how to use the working tools.