A Demon, a Stone, and the Aspirant
The following article is an exceptional premise presented by guest writer Hayward Gladwin. Hayward skillfully outlines correlations found within the mysterious church of Rennes le Chateau to that of Freemasonry, key paintings, and more. His research is powerfully conveyed and will leave you with an intriguing perspective to respect.
Hayward perseveres in the search for Truth. His determination and dedication for the quest is something to greatly admire. It is a privilege to be able to share a part of his journey and findings here.
A Demon, a Stone, and the Aspirant
by Hayward Gladwin
1. To long, aim, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value.
2. Archaic. to rise up; soar; mount; tower.
Upon entering the church of St. Mary Magdalene in Rennes Les Chateau, immediately to one’s left is the statue that many have identified over the years as the demon Asmodeus. This sculpture, placed underneath the holy water stoup takes on the classic form of devil with horns, wings, and even pitchfork (according to one legend, the circle that is made by the statue’s right hand used to hold a trident, of course now there is nothing there).Why should such a statue, as others have asked, appear at the entrance to, of all places, a Christian church? Among the somewhat typical array of Saints, The Virgin, Christ, and others, what role does the Prince of Demons play in this scene and what would be the motivation for placing him there?
It seems that doing so may have been part of an obscure, yet peculiar tradition.
In his recent article in vol. 5 of Heretic magazine, “Exploring a Masonic Solution to the Mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau”, Maranatha puzzle author Duncan Burden brings up the subject of the rough and perfect Ashlars of Masonic lore and suggests that the statues of Asmodeus and Christ represent archetypal figures of good and evil, as well as the perfect and rough ashlars of Freemasonry. Of which stone pertains to either statue, there is no mention.
These rough and perfect stones, the ashlars, have been commonly understood as symbolizing the rough and perfect aspects of an individual’s character. Rough is the state of the aspirant starting the journey out of the original condition of darkness they are born into. The perfect stone would be one’s movement toward illumination, an achievement completed through personal refinement.
Although these descriptions seem quite simple to grasp, what other evidence is there to identify these rough or perfect stones with the statues of RLC in particular? To begin the search, I suggest we turn to examples of stones found within works of art created by artists associated with the RLC mystery.
In Guercino’s “Et In Arcadia Ego”, a rough, squarish-looking stone engraved with the famous phrase sits to the side of a clearing, holding a skull on top. Two shepherds to the left look towards the scene, gazing ahead. The stone looks ancient, built of individual stones, yet crumbling and in a present state of ruin. It’s form is rough, yet distinctive, and without having the clean, perfect sides associated with the perfect ashlar, its form is more suggestive of a rough ashlar.
Commonly, the rough ashlar is described as the rough stone taken straight out of the quarry, but if we look at more modern versions of the rough and perfect Ashlars, we see that both have a definable shape, and the distinction is made between sides with perfect planes or rough edges. The argument here is that in order to identify it as the stone that will later be worked upon to become perfected, its cubical form must be initially recognizable, especially if we are looking at it as an isolated symbol.
Does Guercino’s ruined pedestal have any relationship to the figures at the church in RLC though? If we look back to the earlier version of Guercino’s work involving this theme, I believe we do find an answer.
In Apollo Flaying Marsyas, we see the same shepherds on the left looking onward again to the scene on the right. However, instead of a stone with a skull on top, we see a scene referring to the Myth of Apollo and Marsyas, wherein during a musical challenge between the two, Marsyas, who dared to challenge Apollo at playing the reed pipes, was the loser. As punishment, Apollo ties the satyr Marsyas to a tree and skins him. This myth, originally a Phrygian myth, was often retold in the ancient Hellenic world with the character of Pan playing the role as Apollo’s rival instead of Marsyas.
The satyr, like Pan, is defined as creature which is half-human and half-goat. Both share similarity with the classical form of the devil: having hooves, horns and the body of a human. A commonly held belief is that Pan was one of the main influences for the largely Christian depiction of the Devil. Thus the pagan god of the pastoral lands essentially became demonized by the church. It seems natural then to assume that the figure of the Devil in the Church at RLC is being used to represent a character whom is similar, at least as a device, to that of Pan.
To be more to the point, the trajectory suggested here is that Guercino first created the work of Marsyas being flayed to symbolize the separation of the animal shell from the human character; though the light and truth of solar Apollo. (One might also benefit from examining the figure of Mithras slaying the bull in similar fashion). Afterwards, Guercino updated this motif with a second version replacing Apollo and the satyr with a rough stone with a skull on top. It is the stone which stands in to fulfill the role of Marsyas.
If this seems like too far of a stretch to make these lateral associations—the leap from satyr (Marsyas), to rough stone, to Asmodeus– when we take a look at the following passage from Fulcanelli’s “Mystery of the Cathedrals“, it is perhaps not as far off as we might imagine:
“It is thus that the ground plan for a Christian building reveals to us the qualities of the first matter, and its preparation by the sign of the cross, which points the way for the alchemist to obtain the First Stone- the corner stone of the philosophers’ Great Work. It is on this stone that Jesus built this Church; and the medieval freemasons have symbolically followed the divine example. But before being dressed to serve as a base for the work of Gothic art, as well as for the philosophical work of art, the rough, impure, gross and unpolished stone was often given the image of the devil.”
The next question would be how this “devil”, the figure of Pan, or the satyr Marsyas, equates to the role of the unrefined character of an individual as proposed by Masonic symbolism. There are two aspects that can be addressed in this regard.
The first is in figuring that Pan, the half-man and half-animal represents humanity in a state of primal innocence, or primitive (elemental) earth. Pan, in this sense, could be looked at as a character with one foot in the lower animal realm and one foot in the human kingdom so to speak; partially driven by mind yet prone to succumb to its primal or earthly urges.
The other perspective suggests a different read, in which we trace how the fallen Angel Asmodeus became a demon. In this sense, the figure of Asmodeus, who was once divine, becomes analogous to the fall of once-divine humanity, such as in the story of Adam/Eve. Humanity, in its present state of imperfection searches for what it once had and has since lost.
As a fallen character, the demon Asmodeus lacks the perfection of the higher angels, and is thus forced to rule from his lowly, rough and earthly throne. Furthermore, the character of Asmodeus can be also be equated with the story of another fallen angel, Azazel, who is found in the book of Enoch. In similar tales, both are bound and imprisoned in the desert by Raphael and, both are associated with, amongst other things, lust. “Az,” in Hebrew meaning ‘strong’ or ‘rough’, and “el” meaning, ‘of God’.
It is with these distinctions that the “rough demon” seems easily connected with the “rough ashlar”.
If we are comfortable with these definitions so far, let us move on to the next subject of identifying the Perfect Ashlar.
In this scene, which is depicting the nativity of Christ, we see something that might at first appear familiar to those who have followed the Maranatha and Rennes Le Chateau story. To begin with, the kneeling, bearded figure here bears a striking resemblance to the kneeling figure pointing to the tomb in Poussin’s Shepherds of Arcadia. However, instead of pointing to a letter on the tomb, in this painting he bows in veneration to the “newborn king”.
Most notable here is the depiction of a perfect stone cube that Joseph’s hand rests on directly above the infant Christ. The suggestion here is the connection between Christ and the Perfect Ashlar. The infant is swaddled directly below the stone and Joseph’s hand is placed on top which seems to suggest the infant’s placement there.
In another nativity scene by Poussin, The Adoration of the Magi, the perfect stone appears above the infant again. This time, a crown and a vessel of gold coins sits on top. It might be worth pointing out here that in Greek, the words ‘Christ’ and ‘Gold’ are very similar. “Christ” is χριστός (pronounced christós), “Gold” is χρνσός (pronounced chrysós).
Yet, if we turn to another visual reference, this time found in western Kabbalah, there is another way in which we can find the perfect cubical stone as representing the symbolic figure of Christ.
On the Kabbalic tree of life, the center, or balancing point of the tree is known as the Sephirah Tiphareth. In terms of planetary symbolism Tiphareth represents the Sun, with its element as gold. Furthermore, in Christian Qabala, it is also the position for the Son, or Christ. The Son, in mystical terms, is that which is produced by the union of The Superior Mother and The Superior Father and becomes, in a sense, a “bridge” between higher and lower planes of existence.
If we were to trace the lines surrounding Tiphareth on the tree, we see the outline of a cube there. A perfect cube surrounding the central position of the symbolic Christ, with the sphere in the center as Tiphareth.
The symbolic meaning of Christ, as opposed to the literary or canonized meaning of the figure, has often been used to depict the inner development of an individual’s perfection. Thorough portrayal of this esoteric Christian motif can be found throughout much of Rosacrucian literature, for those interested in further reading.
But is that all there is to it? Have these lessons helped us to solve the Great Mystery, or have we simply reached the extent of the Lesser? Surely there is more to discover.
Taking a brief moment to return to the setting of the church in RLC, if we progress further inside the temple, crossing the checkered floor and leaving Asmosdeus behind at the door, we advance forward until meeting the statue of Christ being Baptized by John the Baptist.
The crouching figure of Christ, as noted, is similar in posture to the Demon at the door. Whereas we can perhaps understand now why the demon is crouching to the Earth, when we see the seemingly elevated symbol of Christ in a submissive position we might find ourselves having more questions than answers.
Yet, as members of the Johannites would likely have been the first to point out, Christ had a forerunner. He was John the Baptist. Simply knowing that Christ allegorically falls in second place to another (and one representing water at that), it is quite indicative of a Kabbalic theme indicating the plane above the central plane of Christ and Microprosopus (the small face); which is the upper and great sea of consciousness, the plane of Briah.
And with this knowledge, turning around to face the door at the entrance of the church as we begin to exit, the Demon Asmodeus would then appear on our right.
To summarize, we had started with the “Rough One”, Asmodeus, Azazel, Ashmodai, the Rough Ash-lar. We then moved forward tracing the development of the Perfect Ash-lar, through the symbolic Christ. Yet, as we recognized the higher plane above the position of Christ, symbolized by water and John the Baptist, we turn around to face the Demon again as we depart.
It is important here to review the following words from the Maranatha text:: “So high was the prize that Solomon rose the beast of Tobit.”
So, with this in mind, perhaps an act of proper restoration is at stake. The journey we had begun may have seemed finished with arriving at the central Sun/Son, but it appears that the once fallen angel may be in need of completion before all is said and done. And if this is the case, then the Daemon Asmodeus stands to represent not only the Rough Ashlar of original earth but something also of a higher principle. (It might be helpful to be remindful of the Hermetic Principle of Correspondence in this regard).
But if so, what do we have left to work with to figure it out?
Well, there are a few items that haven’t been fully discussed yet. First, there is a head. There is also a cross. A head on top of Guercino’s stone ashlar, and two prominent letters where the kneeling figure in front of Poussin’s famous tomb is pointing to.
(With special thanks to the Maranatha forum members of Tweleve, especially HT, Astree, and Ruby.)
Copyright 2014 by Hayward Gladwin.
Other articles by Hayward Gladwin:
Part two of the above: The Skull on the Tomb, The Rose on the Cross
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