This sigil, or mystical seal, was found in the musical manuscript of a 1600s Catholic hymn by Spanish composer Cristóbal Galán. It appears to reveal an extraordinary Hermetic precursor to the most recognizable symbol of Freemasonry, the Square and Compass. In addition, if we consider the possible use of Hermetic Androgyne symbolism in Leonardo’s works such as the Mona Lisa, as proposed in A Different da Vinci Code, a curious parallel may be drawn relating all three figures.
How do we get to this point of comparison? Might we suppose for just a moment that some form of a Hermetic Brotherhood of the Temple of Solomon had already flourished long before, perhaps during that brief golden period of medieval alchemy in such parts of Spain as were under a more tolerant Moorish influence? This hidden confraternity, quite possibly including intellectuals of a curious and diverse ruling order, might even have possessed chemical, metallurgical and engineering secrets of commercial and military value. These would have required some purposefully confusing terminology to protect.
Hermetic “gibberish” is generally assumed to be strictly religious since it uses the vocabulary of myth and mysticism. But science and technology, always starved for nomenclature, also uses whatever it has. Even today we coin terms like the Saturn rocket or the Apollo Mission. Similarly, the scientific concepts of such an early secret society and the symbols in which they were couched might reflect a cultural provenance going back through intriguing and even more ancient travelers’ stops such as Carthage, Alexandria, and Tyre. Members of such a group certainly would have used cryptic signs, signals, and forms of recognition appropriate to such origins. Among those in the know, the accumulated lore of this secret society’s focus might even have inspired the Templar’s legendary search for the Holy Grail (?) within the elaborate interstices of the Temple Mount.
An all too obvious emblem for such a hypothetical group would probably be a six-pointed star, or Solomon’s Seal, between the two historic columns of King Solomon’s Temple, Boaz and Jachin, which flanked its portal. We know that this remarkable building was a product of the technology and design of master builders from Tyre. The suggestion of a roof we see in the sigil of Saturn certainly supports this structural analogy. It appears to be generally accepted that Solomon, rather than David, introduced the six-pointed star (in legend at least), and that it also represents the Chaldean supreme deity Saturn. Since the Chaldean Saturn apparently equates to Chronos or Aion, a deity with a Father Time quality, Solomon’s use of the hexagram may appear a bit less startling than many allege.
To make this symbolism less obvious in a world where secrecy would have been increasingly crucial, we could minimize that Star of David into just its occult primordial angles…the male (representing fire) pointing up and the female (representing water) pointing down:
Now it looks a lot like the V, M, and A which seem coincidentally recognizable in that proto-Masonic sigil of Saturn, and it also contains the angles we see in the Masonic Square and Compass. These two essential angles floating in perfect equilibrium between the columns of the sigil would still represent the universal synergy of male and female as in Eastern cosmology…or in alchemical terms, the microcosmic marriage of metal with non-metal…in essence, the androgyne Hermes/Sophia of Gnosticism, representing the enlightenments of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual maturity.
The planet Saturn in alchemy equates to the black stone, or starting out point, and to the base metal lead. This occult insignia of the Temple of Solomon might be seen to beckon us to enter its star portal between the two columns and begin our own initiatory pathway upward toward philosophical gold. The gateway would be step one, like the GO square in Monopoly? And yes…it would represent the entrance to those ancient mystery schools of an even dimmer past.
Since the Hermeticist reveres the perfect balance of the celestial clockwork that we see in the skies above, both the hexagram and the Alchemical Androgyne can be understood to symbolically echo the prescription of the up-pointed finger of Mercury/Hermes: ‘As above; so below.’
Along comes the ever-curious Leonardo da Vinci among many artists and seekers of his age. He picks up a bit of this Hermetic drift in the fabulous metallurgical workshop of Verrocchio…even more from some of Leonardo’s notably well-read patrons. In addition, let’s not forget that among the classical notions revived in the Renaissance was “ man as the measure of all things.” Lo, that Alchemical Androgyne, representing the conjoined male and female angles of fire and water, has now bloomed quite subtly into a full color human art symbol of enlightenment, science, and human progress…a true Back to the Future!
Consequently, for the following 500 years people wonder if that’s a guy or a girl in lots of art of the period. In time, many commentaries on Leonardo and the Renaissance art movement will reference Hermeticism, Neo-Platonic texts, sacred geometry, the birth of modern science through alchemy, the androgyne in art history, one or another branch of Gnosticism and the curious relationship of Freemasonry to this pervasive occult tradition. Yet few will hazard the conclusion that these streams must all converge in that mysterious and conjectural medieval conspiracy with several names, the Brotherhood of the Rose-Cross.
Now here's the big question. Might Leonardo's androgyne Mona Lisa, as a human substitute for that symbolically androgynous hexagram and also set between two columns, represent a proto-Masonic sigil of Saturn hidden in plain sight? This might possibly have been the earliest design of this famous painting in the Louvre, since some early copies such as that in the Walters collection contain the columns:
But perhaps leaving the columns in the painting would have been just too much of a giveaway for Leonardo’s taste. The original version in the Louvre appears not to have been cut down, however, most who analyze this work find it hard to avoid concluding that the intended setting for Leonardo’s Mona Lisa must have been on a colonnaded balcony. Let’s not forget that Hermetic messages are not necessarily for all, but only for those with ‘eyes to see’. In fact, if we look closely, the tips of what certainly appear to column bases can still be clearly seen, creating a somewhat peculiar design element or perhaps a clue to that cryptic smile:
Similarly, as proposed in the article referenced above, does John the Apostle plus his infused female aspect (perhaps an occult Magdalene) also add up to another cryptic Alchemical Androgyne at the Last Supper?
(A totally ignored but more plausible androgyne duo might be the traditionally feminized ‘youthful’ John the Apostle seen in art, fused with John the Baptist, which operate as synergistic figures in Johannite lore.) In fact, might various Renaissance androgynes (and there are many) simply be the same rose by any other name in the sub rosa world of seditious iconography? If so, perhaps the V and M design motif we seem to see in the center of the Last Supper (which just happens to physically encompass this extraordinarily feminized depiction of the apostle John, well beyond the typical canon of youthfulness) is additional confirmation of Hermetic symbolism in the design. Perhaps that V and M represent yet another homage to the sigil of Saturn…in other words, a reintroduction of that missing divinely feminine angle in the midst of this rather imaginative Christian men’s club dinner, complete with hard rolls.
Here’s a further question to ponder. If that impossible-to-copy, almost smirky cat-that-ate-the-canary smile we see on the Mona Lisa, St.Anne in the Burlington House Cartoon, St. John the Baptist, the Angel in the Flesh, and the Archangel Uriel in the Virgin of the Rocks, signals a hidden Hermetic message in the painting, might it even have appeared on John the Apostle’s face at the Last Supper, that is, before Leonardo’s original paint rapidly fell off the damp refectory wall?
The restorer’ guess: Or, how about this?:
And finally, suppose we remove that shoehorned figure of Judas at the table. We would see St. Peter in the cartoon-like guise of a coarse street thug…his right wrist now quite understandably contorted backward to hide a knife from his intended victim, the eternally serene Gnosis, upon whose clavicle he is about to secure his grip for the thrust.
Leonardo’s contemporaneous historical reference here, so ingeniously woven into a dissimulating Biblical anecdote, should be clear to all…Sophia (read enlightenment without dogmatic constraints) is in trouble, as it has been from the very outset of the Church! Incidentally, as everyone has noted, the furtive knife that Peter wields has not escaped St.Andrew, who signals an incongruously immediate threat right here at the Last Supper (incongruous since Malchus, who comes up later in the story, is not part of this scene). The clearly startled Andrew seems to be giving us the Masonic Grand Hailing Sign of Distress. Just how far back might that secret Masonic signal go?
Much like a Masonic ring, the sigil of Saturn as well as its concealed hexagram equivalent, the Hermetic androgyne in human form, would have been an insignia of recognition, but distinctively covert and most assuredly given a very good cover story (cf. Auspice Maria). Both might simply be ways of saying to those who have ears to hear that someone else is also tired of all the ignorance, fanaticism, and repression. It’s time to, as Wordsworth would later say it best, “Come forth into the light of things, let Nature be your teacher.” The same concepts of human progress, enlightenment, and freedom of thought that stirred the intellectual fires of the Renaissance are certainly aspirations very familiar to those who identify themselves as Freemasons.
Was Leonardo part of a great underground stream of hidden alchemical knowledge from an ancient past? This would be a most peculiar stream that flowed, in poetic tradition at least, from Arcadia, that mythical utopia in the rugged center of the Peloponnesus where Hermes was born, and “where Alph, the sacred river ran, through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea.”
Some say that because Leonardo resented the transmutation hoaxers of his day who faked gold objects in the name of Hermes Trismegistus (whom Leonardo referred to as “Hermes the Philosopher”), he disapproved of alchemy altogether. This is claimed despite the fact that the Hermetic tradition represented the most important, familiar and promising repository of useful and fascinating scientific information available during his age.
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