Tag Archives: mortality

River of Sorrow

On this tracing board for the degree of “Chevalier de l’Orient” from the Kloss/von Löwen collection you see a river filled with bones and skulls.

The Masonic museum of Riga (Latvia) holds a French symbol chart which has some similarities to the one above. Here the river of sorrow is at the bottom. The left part says “star”, and the right part “bvsanaï”. No idea yet what that refers to. Because the gate at the bottom says “Babilone” like the example above, the river of sorrow and the arms with swords, there is a suggestion that these two French charts refer to the same or at least similar degrees.

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Clearly alchemical symbols are not common in Freemasonry. An exception is the ‘room of contemplation’, also ‘room of preparation’ or ‘dark room’. This is a fairly common practice for European initiations. After French usage the room is often adorned with alchemical symbolism and symbols of mortality. Bread, salt, the symbol of sulphur, the anagram VITRIOL, etc.

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Grim Reaper

Dąbrowski has an image that can supposedly be found in the National Museum of Scotland. On that chart you see a Grim Reaper. I don’t know in what rite or degree the pilgrim is significant. Perhaps in some third degrees. Is this image perhaps also an explanation for the down-pointing arrow?

Christina Voss in The ‘Universal Language’ of Freemasonry (2003) describes a man with a scythe as “time”, which is an interesting interpretation.

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No these drops aren’t rain, or blood, they are tears. Of course a reference to mortality. They appear in quite a few degrees with a ‘mortality theme’, such as the Master Mason “craft” degree and the early Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite degrees.


According to Voss the hourglass was introduced in the late 18th century. It can sometimes found on tracing boards, symbol charts or grave slabs, either or not with wings. Just as in non-Masonic context, the symbol refers to fleeting time. It is doesn’t often seem to have a ritual meaning, but it can be found on some Ark Mariner tracing boards.