The word VITRIOL is displayed in the Chamber of Reflection, used in some
masonic rituals as the first contact of the candidate with the Lodge. Its
meaning is not always apparent, although its alchemical origin is well
known. The word is actually composed of the initials of a Latin sentence:
“VISITA INTERIORA TERRA RECTIFICANDO INVENIES OCCULTUM LAPIDEM”
Visit the interior of the earth and rectifying (i.e. purifying), you will
find the hidden stone. This has been interpreted as a message inciting the
initiate to delve into his own soul in order to find wisdom. However, let us
examine closely each of the words.
VISITA. A visit. This means that the initiate journey into his soul must be
a two-way journey, like the course followed on a labyrinth, which ends by
returning to the starting point. The initiate must not seek to remain
inside. He goes and comes back. He visits.
INTERIORA. The interior, the inside. As The Gospel of Phillip, quoted in A
Gnostic Book of Hours states: ‘The revealed one they call “the one who is
below”, and the hidden one is supposed to be above him. It would be better
for them to say, “The Inner and the Outer”, and “What is outside of the
outer.” This means that the usual Gnostic principle “what is above is also
below” can be transformed into “what is inside is also outside”.
TERRA. Earth, one of the alchemical elements. The ground, the basis, and
also the material, terrestrial (as opposite to spiritual or ethereal). The
RECTIFICANDO. Like rectified alcohol. This means at the same time an act of
purification and of straightening. Whatever is bent must be straightened.
The straight path must be followed. By rectifying our thoughts and our
actions we shall find the hidden truth.
INVENIES. Literally: “shall find”. The same root of “invention”. Coming upon
something (previously unknown). Karl Popper maintained that scientific truth
must be invented.
OCCULTUM. Here we find a connection with “occulum”, the eye. The T may refer
to Templum, the temple. This can be intepreted as the All-Seeing Eye that
dwells within the Temple.
LAPIDEM. The stone. Stone has many connection with the sacred. Altars are
made of stone. Kings are crowned seated on a stone. The symbolism of the
stone is extensive.
By displaying VITRIOL to the eyes of the candidate, the intention is to
teach him to search within his own soul and spirit in order to find the
philosopher’s stone, that is, the key to understanding and eternal life.
Vitriol is also the name of a chemical compound: a caustic sulfate of
various metals, such as copper, iron or zinc. The demonic aspect of sulfur
and the yellow color is well known, this, together with the red of copper
and the black of iron, are the basic colors of alchemical symbolism.
The rituals of the first degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite
are strongly influenced by the symbolism of alchemy, and the decoration of
the Chamber of Reflection is just one of the examples of this connection.