The Magus of Freemasonry: The Mysterious Life of Elias Ashmole--Scientist, Alchemist, and Founder of the Royal Society

The Magus of Freemasonry: The Mysterious Life of Elias Ashmole--Scientist, Alchemist, and Founder of the Royal Society

by Tobias Churton


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594771224
Publisher: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
Publication date: 08/15/2006
Edition description: Original
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,169,603
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Tobias Churton is an Honorary Fellow of Exeter University where he is a course lecturer on Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism and teaches in England’s first master’s program in Western Esotericism. He studied theology at Oxford University and created the award-winning documentary series and accompanying book The Gnostics as well as several other films on Christian doctrine, mysticism, and magical folklore. He is the founding editor of Freemasonry Today magazine and author of Gnostic Philosophy. He lives in England.

Read an Excerpt

The Magus of Freemasonry

The Mysterious Life of Elias Ashmole--Scientist, Alchemist, and Founder of the Royal Society
By Tobias Churton

Inner Traditions

Copyright ©2006 Tobias Churton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1594771227


Ex Uno Omnia
Lichfield has been considered by some to be the true spiritual center of England. And, as freemasons should know, "at the centre of the circle, a master mason cannot err." Right at the center of that circle was Elias Ashmole, the privileged blend that is Renaissance Man, the British Hermetic philosopher par excellence, the self-styled Mercuriophilus Anglicus, and "Mighty Good Man." And if Elias, the "expected one," the harbinger of new arts and revealed knowledge, was indeed at the center, then Elias Ashmole was everything and everywhere. For 20th century English mage Edward Alexander Crowley, Ashmole was a saint of the Gnostic Church.

Ashmole was a magus. He inhabited a world where science and magick were still handmaidens to religion and philosophy. He was one of the last men of learning to enjoy that world before the family broke up. All too soon, science would leave home to plough her own furrow independently and, at times,in contempt of her troubled parents. Nevertheless, Ashmole was a founding member of the Royal Society--a harbinger of that fateful parting--and was himself unconcerned with theological disputes. The philosophy he espoused stood above them; and so did he. . . .


Elias Ashmole began calling himself the Mercuriophilus Anglicus (the English Mercury Lover) during the 1650s, after the illegal execution of King Charles I and the beginning of Oliver Cromwell's decade of power. Mercurius was the Latin form of the Greek Hermes. As the divine Mercurius, Hermes, the pater philosophorum (father of philosophy), was crowned as the lord of the ancient art of alchemy.

Alchemy was the subject of Ashmole's first three books. Mercurius is also a staple element of alchemical processes. In simple words, there could be no alchemical transformations without the implicit principle of transformation, mercurius. Hermes was the psychic lord (psychopomp) of the Art.

Alchemical mercury is not to be understood as the chemical element alone. According to the alchemist physician Paracelsus, "There are as many mercuries as there are things." Alchemical mercury suffuses all things. It was thought to be the secret or hidden principle that is the creative essence of the cosmic All (Pan) in all things. While mercurius is the principle manifest in the strange properties of chemical mercury, the word nonetheless represents a deeper reality: the principle of change itself. . . .

from Chapter 4


Ashmole saw himself as "human mercury," an agent for transformation, moving swiftly twixt earth and heaven, almost invisible: a presence. In the frontispiece to his translation of Fasciculus Chemicus (1650), he hides his face behind his astrological birth chart. The essential Elias was a kind of incarnation of the Hermetic principle; the real man could be found in the stars, albeit with his feet on the ground.

Men such as Ashmole are few in number, and vitally necessary. Like the Englishman of George Santayana's observation, "It will be a black day for the human race when scientific blackguards, churls, and fanatics manage to supplant him." Men of Ashmole's cast stimulate the conditions that enable the genius of an Einstein, Newton, or Mozart to flourish.

He was a master's master, most recognized by the few, not subject to that democratic assessment whose choices lie invariably between mediocre and superficial options. Democracy has always been a means chosen by the sick to control the healthy.

If these gifts of Ashmole's were obvious to discerning scholars in his antiquarian works, they were no less intrinsic to Ashmole's continuous engagement with drawing up astrological "figures" or "schemes" (as he called them) for himself and others. What appeared first as advice to ladies seeking husbands would eventually serve the deliberations of the monarch and his senior ministers.

Ashmole's "figures" showed the positions of the sun and the moon as well as the seven known planets within the familiar twelve signs of the zodiac. The zodiac was divided into twelve "houses," six above and six below the horizon; six east and six west of the meridian. The "cusp" or beginning of the first house (the "ascendant") always coincides with the eastern point of the horizon; the seventh house cusp, with its western point. The cusps of the tenth house ("mid heaven") and the fourth are determined by the meridian.

It should be emphasized that while there was science in astrology (astro-nomy, the law of the stars), interpretation (astro-logy, the logos or "word" of the stars) was an art and like all art requires experience and individual human sensitivity. Horary judgements were based on "favorable" or "unfavorable" positions (or "conjunctions") of planets in the zodiac and in the twelve houses. Harmonious and disharmonious characteristics of certain angles ("aspects") at which the sun, moon, and planets "beheld one another" were also taken into consideration. Plotting the angles or "aspects" required some knowledge of geometry. The when and the how of constructing a significant building involved both an astrological and a geometrical aspect. A significant building contained a "sign," a celestial signal.

Different aspects of the celestial pattern touched planet Earth in different ways at different times, as did the rays of the sun and the moonlight that had such a demonstrable effect on planetary existence. These aspects might condition any significant detail of life. For example, a horoscope of the time in which a letter arrived could inform the astrologer of the writer's sincerity or of hidden intentions. Horoscopes could be used to decide on the advisability of a projected meeting or "scheme," or even the laying of a foundation stone. Furthermore, one might plan one's future activities around propitious times. A number of projected scenarios could be set up as "figures." The resulting figures were called "elections." According to Ashmole's Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652, p. 451): "by Elections we may Governe, Order and Produce things as we please: Faber quisque Fortunae propriae."


Excerpted from The Magus of Freemasonry by Tobias Churton Copyright ©2006 by Tobias Churton. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: Ex Uno Omnia
The Great Man
The Magus
The Hermetic Magus
C.H. Josten

One: The Coming One
The Ashmoles
Formative Influences

Two: Lichfield—the Hidden Light of England
St. Chad and the Origins of Lichfield

Three: London Calling

Four: War
The Intelligencer
Ashmole’s Persona
Defending Oxford
Dreams and Spires

Five: Defeat and Rebirth: Freemasonry
Free Masonry
Secret Signs

Six: Return to London
Women Again
Lady Mainwaring

Seven: The 1650s (I): The Philosopher’s Stone
Ex Uno Omnia
Fasciculus Chemicus

One Hieroglyph—New Being
The Theatre of British Chemistry
Ashmole and the Rosicrucians
The Rose Cross Fraternity
A Gathering Reputation
The Way to Bliss

Eight: The 1650s (ii): Study to Be Quiet
Secret Work
A Journey to Staffordshire
Contemplative Men and Antiquarian Recreation
The Tradescant Deed of Gift

Nine: The Windsor Herald
The Royal Society
The Antiquarian
The Masterpiece

Ten: Lichfield—the Reconstruction
The Loving Cup
Our Magus
Ashmole’s Politics
Bills, Bills, and More Bills
Ashmole and the Mason's Company
The Origins of Freemasonry

Eleven: The Museum
The Tradescant Rarities
The Ashmolean
"Those Fatall Flames"

Twelve: Coming Home
Saving Dee
Sendivogius, Kelley, and Dee
Toward Home




What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Reads like an adventure novel. Ashmole was one of the leading intellectual and spiritual lights of the time, an accomplished alchemist, and close friend to some of the most brilliant men in England. Churton has given us a compelling picture of Ashmole’s life, the city in which he lived, and the guild structure of the time.”

"This book is not only an excellent reference on the life of Elias Ashmole but also a most needed, in-depth study into the early transition from Operative to Speculative Freemasonry. It is highly recommended reading for the Masonic scholar."

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The Magus of Freemasonry: The Mysterious Life of Elias Ashmole--Scientist, Alchemist, and Founder of the Royal Society 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Archiver on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This is a very complete and detailed Life of Elias Ashmole. It examines all of his interests in considerable depth, and as such there is something to be gained from this book whatever your particular interest. There is plenty of detail about Freemasonry in the seventeenth century, some very interesting insights into Alchemy, some of the reasons behind the founding of the Royal Society and so forth, as well as the basic biographical content.My interest was mainly in the book as a biography, and as I reached the end of it I felt that I had an understanding of not only what Ashmole did and where he spent his life - the sort of information provided by other shorter missives - but because the author attempts to draw sensible conclusions about Ashmole¿s reasoning as he deals with the various challenges in his life, I also obtained a feeling for his personality. This is not easy to do and the author is to be congratulated on this achievement. At a time when some of the wealthy had their private ¿cabinets of curiosities¿, Ashmole created the world¿s first public museum, and the book provides an intriguing insight into Ashmole¿s motivation for doing this. If I¿m really critical, one aspect that was not so good and that I found annoyed me as I read, was the use of too many metaphors, some of them excruciating ¿ ¿While Ashmole¿s wisdom was well rooted and watered in the past, he delighted in the flora of futurity¿. Or possibly worse, when the author describes something that ¿...provided the golden thread in the velvet of his life¿. There are more, but I can¿t bring myself to repeat them.In my paperback edition, some of the illustrations were too dark, particularly of houses, churches, view across fields and the like ¿ making it difficult to make out any significant detail in them to the extent that the point of including them was lost. However this is minor detail and probably only annoying to me because excessive metaphor usage is a pet hate of mine! Overall a very worthwhile read about a significant seventeenth-century personality who has been neglected in favour of better-known individuals.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago