NOT a Chamber of Reflection?

Essentially, the Chamber of Reflection (CoR) is a room specially furnished and decorated in a traditional manner, where candidates wait in meditation and prayer before passing through the inner door of the lodge. In some lodges, it is the preparation room adjoining the lodge room, while in others it is set apart. Some lodges even welcome any brother who wishes to use it as a sacred space for their meditations and prayers before or after meetings. If the CoR is something new to you, then check out the relevant Wikipedia page, which is very informative. Brother Roberto Sanchez also has an excellent book about it on Amazon

If you are familiar with the CoR, then you are also probably aware that many people have strong feelings about it, for and against. In some American jurisdictions it is a violation of Masonic law to have a CoR, in others it is optional, but outside the USA it can be standard practice. Even in the USA it was very common before the Morgan Affair, but then fell victim to the unfortunate desire in our ranks to dilute Masonry into something less frightening to people uneducated in symbolism and allegory and less offensive to the spiritually intolerant. While it fell out of use in most American Blue Lodges, some other rites continued to include it as part of their ritual, and over time they developed the misunderstanding that it was unique to them and a violation of their ceremonial and fraternal distinctiveness for others to use it. Other contemporary critics are put off by the CoR’s traditional use of alchemical symbolism, pointing out that it is foreign to many of today’s Masons.

As someone who advocates for a return to a more contemplative engagement of the Builder’s Art, I have openly praised and advocated for the CoR to be employed where it is Masonically legal. It provides an opportunity for the lodge to clearly set a tone for the candidate about the sincerity and solemnity with which our rituals should be engaged. It also eliminates distractions and provides questions or maxims to guide the candidate in deeply pondering the significance of what he is about to experience and the journey he is beginning. In these respects, there really is no solid argument against the use of the CoR. There is nothing about any of these points that is contradictory to the most common and crucial of Masonic teachings and practices.

The problems really arise from two things: (1) alchemical symbolism, and (2) the term Chamber of Reflection. I personally like the alchemical symbolism because it reveals that Masonry sits squarely among other esoteric traditions and with shared aims. As for the name, I find it sadly ignorant and unreasonable that anyone would have an objection to it. Nevertheless, given the reality that these two things are so problematic, my observation is simple: Without including either of those elements, we can get all the most essential benefits of a CoR.  

To create such a space that is not a CoR, at least in the controversial sense, any lodge’s preparation room in any jurisdiction should be conscientiously well-maintained. A dingy, cluttered preparation room not only reflects poorly on the lodge, but it can also suggest to the candidate that he isn’t worth being received with respect and care. At the very least, it should be clean, in good repair, and not used as a broom closet or for storage of various lodge supplies. It ought to be furnished and decorated in such a way that encourages a shift into a more reverent and reflective state of mind. Low light, simple adornments, and dark colors have natural effects of this nature. If incense and meditative music are allowable, they too can be quite fitting and impactful.  

Regarding further guidance and support of the candidate’s time in that space, consider that most jurisdictions publish materials for the education of candidates that already contain questions and statements for their reflection. Similarly useful passages for contemplation might also be found in materials for the general public. In any case, the words can be presented simply, perhaps printed on a single page of paper, with instructions to spend the time in prayer and meditation on them. On the other hand, where it is permissible, it is significantly more impressive to permanently display them, along with common yet carefully chosen Masonic symbols, on the walls of the preparation room. One of the advantages of not painting them on the walls is that they can be more easily changed for each degree. Whatever words are chosen and however they are presented, an interlude before entering the lodge provides a special opportunity for them to be reemphasized by the lodge and considered or revisited by the candidate.

As for the amount of time a candidate should be left alone in such a preparation room, the answer reflects the culture of the given lodge. If the lodge intends for its rituals and ceremonies to be what the rituals themselves claim to be – transformative initiatic experiences in a sacred space – then the candidate will be given sufficient time to ruminate deeply. If it doesn’t have such intentions, then it probably won’t be giving the candidate any such opportunity to begin with. As a general rule, 30 to 45 minutes should be sufficient, since that is about the length of time an average adult can maintain focus on such a task without ongoing assistance. If the lodge is fostering even more of a contemplative culture, then the candidate might have already received instruction in meditative methods that could equip them to make good use of the room for more than an hour.

A final suggestion for those of us who love the traditional CoR – let’s not get so caught up in trying to prove who is right and who is wrong about it, or entangled in an all-or-nothing crusade, that we neglect opportunities to make the best use of what we already have at hand. Even under the scrutiny of the most narrow-minded authorities, we can still provide a preparation room experience that effectively honors the higher aims of our tradition and better prepares our candidates for initiation.

6 Responses

  1. Brother Chuck,
    Excellent paper! I completely agree! Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Our CoR is made to resemble A dark cave (womb), decorated with with alchemical symbols and phrases and lit by a single candle in front of a mirror.

    A candidates time in CoR is dictated by the time it takes to answer one of several select questions. His report is delivered and read to the Lodge and he is then prepared for the EA (in a very thoughtful state of mind!).

  3. Personally I love the idea of a “Chamber of Reflection”. The name alone is impactful. With all the symbolism and allegory we already use, I don’t quite understand how this could be problematic for anyone. I was prepared in a closet/store room just as you described. At that time I had heard about a Chamber of Reflection and was looking forward to the experience. You can imagine my disappointment and even confusion. It did not leave a good first impression of what I was about to undertake. Fortunately it was a Lodge full of amazing Brothers who put on a fine degree. Soon after being raised I cleaned and organized the room to make it at least a little more pleasant.

    I had no idea that a CoR could be against Masonic law. This is something I don’t understand at all and will need to find out more.

    1. Brother Bill, thank you for sharing your experience and reflections. It’s great that you took personal initiative to help provide a better experience for those who came after you. As for resistance to the CoR, it seems yet another example of prejudice, intolerance, and injustice emerging from ignorance and fear, the very things Masonic light is meant to overcome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *