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Pierre Cubique

A couple of years ago, I bought two of the coloured prints that Adam McLean partly thanks his alchemical fame to. I went for not too obviously alchemical prints and opted for the Masonic one on the right. It is dated 2012.

I knew this “Cubischer Stein” from another source. It is a four sided cubic that is often displayed folded out. McLean took one side and the top for his image.

The image I knew was this one (but it took some effort to find it again):

It can be found in Waite’s New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry (1921). Waite refers to Le Soleil Mystique. This was a “journal de la maçonnerie universel” (‘journal for universal Masonry’) of which I only find issues published in 1853. These can be found online on a few places, but I do not see this image in it. Therefor I am not sure if that is the source of Waite’s image.

When I became active in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry and encountered a nine-pointed star, I had to think of the McLean drawing and tried to find more information about it. McLean says it is an: “Engraving of cubic stone from Maurisches Handbuch Leipzig, 1829″. I could not immediately find anything about that source, but I did find out the cubic stone also features in the Scottish Rite (in some AASRs at least) in a degree I don’t yet have, so I let the subject go to prevent spoilers.

Recently I encountered the same cube in another Masonic context: a second degree Memphis-Misraim. Not remembering my earlier investigations in detail, just like the first time I had the idea that I knew an image of the stone from a non-Masonic, possibly alchemical, context (Alchemy & Mysticism? that was not it). Yet again I failed to recall my source. (I only did so writing this text.) I dug a little deeper and then some more. The image appears to be a fairly elusive one!

When I look for the image online, I find the one below before I do that of Waite.

On the top it says in French: “the four faces of the cubic stone of the Scottish degree of the regime of the Grand Orient of France”. So is the image Masonic after all or did the Grand Orient de France use an existing image in their Scottish Degree?

Finding the source

It took some effort to find the source of this image, but when I did, that source did not make me more sure about its origin. Also I still could not find anything about McLean’s Maurisches Handbuch. Could he have misquoted his source? Is the title perhaps only partial? Knowing the author would have been helpful. I pretty much gave up on that lead, until another source referred to it too and this source is a German author.

I had noticed that in McLean’s image the title is perhaps in German, but the words in the image are French. This made it likely that McLean might have indeed used a German source, but that source might very well go back to a French one.

I found another reference to another source, just as elusive as the Handbuch: “Dictionnaire encyclopedique de la Franc maconnerie Centro Loyola”. No year given, nor an author (I take it hat ‘Centro Loyola’ is either the publisher or the place where the book was published). Again a source I could not find.

Then I did find the source of the ‘horizontal image’. It is from the little book Explication de la Pierre Cubique, by Antoine Chérau (sometimes written Chéreaux) from 1806. That is an older text than McLean’s Handbuch from 1829 and it is in French. Would that be the first time that the image was published? That does not seem logical. Would you design and publish such an item or would it make more sense that the author describes an existing image? Chéreau’s text is easy to find online and indeed, he describes an image from a degree of the Grand Orient de France. There is an English translation of the text from 2023 from the hand of… Adam McLean!

Then I had the luck of finding the Handbuch. It is not called Maurisches Handbuch, but Maurerisches Handbuch. Or in full: Maurerisches Handbuch : Oder Angabe aller Gebräuche in der französischen Maurerei, nebst Anzeige und Erklärung aller geheimen Worte und Grade der verschiedenen Systeme. That book can be found online on a few places. Now that I had more information for searching, I also found out that the German book from 1821, is a translation of a French book from 1820: Manuel Maconnique Ou Tuileur De Tous Les Rites De Maconnerie Pratiques En France by C. Vuillaume.

The text of Chéreau is still the older.

Some more digging led me to an older source: a French ritual text. This requires a little context.

Régulateur du Maçon

In the early days of Freemasonry, Freemasonry came to France from England. Soon the French started to create all kinds of extra degrees and it seemed like every lodge got more exotic rituals than the rest. The Grand Orient de France tried to create some order and published a book with prescribed rituals. This is the famous Régulateur du Maçon, the ‘regulator’ of Freemasons. It seems that draft versions appeared around 1786 (more about that later) and a real publication appeared in 1801. The Régulateur was to become the basis of the French Rite.

But the famous Régulateur contains only the “symbolic” degrees (as they are called in France), those of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason. Now in France, a pointed cubic stone is common, mostly in the second “symbolic” degree, but that stone is by and far not as elaborate as the image we are looking at.

I never realised that there is another Régulateur: the Régulateur des Maçons Chevalier, a ‘regulator of knight Masons’. This Régulateur contains four more degrees, or actually: “order”s.

For some odd reason the Régulateur du maçon – Les grades symboliques du Rite français can be found online in several places, it is available in reprint, translations and what not. The (in this case) more interesting Régulateur is also from 1786/1801, but is much harder to find. Even my request for a digital copy at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France was denied because it is “not public domain“! Weird.

It seems that Pierre Mollier published the text in his Les hauts grades du rite français (2017), which is subtitled “Histoire et textes fondateurs, le régulateur des chevaliers maçons”, but I do not have that book. I did get me a copy of Arturo de Hoyos and Joseph Wäges’ Étienne Morin: From the French Rite to the Scottish Rite (2024) and they have translated this text (and other early French rituals).

The older texts are harder to get by. It seems that there have been ‘draft versions’ of the Régulateur in (at least) 1784, 1786 and 1787. Handwritten manuscripts, of which I only have the 1787 version. I did get an image of either of the other versions.

In the 1787 manuscript we find the following image:

One face of the cubic stone.

Either of the older manuscripts have the same image, suggesting that it was part of the draft. I do not know if the two later editions are revisions or merely transcripts.

In the printed version we find the following image (also in De Hoyos/Wäges) on the title page.

The image that we know from Chéreau. So it seems that ‘pre-Régulateur’ (in the age of chaos so to say) there already were some rudimentary images in use, but the ‘stone’ was only really developed between 1787 and 1801 and not for the second degree, but for another, “Scottish” one.

Going back further

The more I find, the more ways I have to find more information. It occurred to me that on the back of the book Anatomie de la pierre cubique by Percy John Harvey (2019) it says (my emphasis and Deepl’s translation): “The Cubic Stone engraved by Antoine Chéreau […]”! John Harvey says that Chéreau created the drawing and later wrote an explanation of it. It: “is a kind of graphic “Tyler” designed to bring together the symbolism of the IInd Order of the French Rite and the 14th degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.” So he also says that it is used in the second “Order” of the French Rite and the 14th degree of the AASR. A little sidestep.

I wrote that the Régulateur du maçon – Les grades symboliques du Rite français has the texts of the “craft” degrees. The other Régulateur has four more “orders”, which are (nowadays) ordered thusly (Wikipedia):

  • First order (4th degree): Secret Elect
  • Second order (5th degree): Scottish Grand Elect
  • Third order (6th degree): Knight of the Orient
  • Fourth order (7th degree): Sovereign Rose-Cross Prince, Perfect Freemason, Grand Commander of the Temple

Annoyingly the cover of John Harvey’s book refers to the IVth order and the back cover to the IInd order, but both times it says “Chevalier Maçon”, so I suppose we are talking about the IVth order: “Chevalier de l’Aigle, Parfait Maçon libre sous le nom de Rose-Croix”.

Interestingly, even though John Harvey names Chéreau as creator of the image, the image that he uses, is not that of Chéreau! More about that under the header AASR below.

Like I said, we can go back further. I found a text of the earlier mentioned Grand Orient de France member Pierre Mollier in which he writes that (Deepl translation):

the ‘famous’ plate describing the ‘Stone of the Second Order’ as we know it and which was to become the model adopted by the Chapters from the First Empire onwards was probably taken from a small work published in 1806 by Antoine Chéreau”.

(Did you see that he says “second order”?)
Above I refer to a ‘draft’ version of the Régulateur, Mollier’s investigation is better:

I went back to my rituals. Prior to 1806, illustrations can be found in the Moutiers rituals (1784), in the manuscript version adopted by the GO in 1786 (the same as in 1784), in the version signed by Montaleau (1787), obviously in the Regulator’s version and in a small pamphlet, probably dated 1803

My thought was correct. Before the Régulateur there were versions of the drawing. “the Moutiers rituals” refers to a set of manuscripts that can be found in the Archives diocésaines in Moûtiers (Savoie) collectively known as “manuscrit de Moûtiers”, “manuscript from Moûtiers”. This manuscript contains the rituals of the “Ordres de Sagesse du Rite Français” (‘Orders of Wisdom of the French Rite’) as adopted in 1786 (according to Mollier 1874). These lodges were active in an area that was at the time not part of France and when it did, they joined the Grand Orient de France.

An odd detail, there was a Prosper Moutier involved in the creation of the Régulateur.

Mollier also says that in 1803 more explanation was added to the text (such as how to read the words). Two more translated quotes from Mollier:

Let’s go back to the description given in the 1786 manuscript: “an agate stone cut in a quadrangular shape, on which he had the word substituted engraved on the upper face, all the secret words of masonry on the lower face and the cubic combinations of these numbers on the four sides, which led to it being called a cubic stone”.

Chereau introduces “his” Cubic Stone by announcing that “it [was] drafted in the 2nd grade of blue masonry”. He develops the 4 lateral faces (introducing a small dose of alchemy and mythology/astronomy) and finishes with “the summit [which] announces the sky” by representing the flaming star.

Thus is seems that Chéreau himself created a more elaborate version of the stone based on older examples and later published his little book about it.

Variations

The mentioned Manuel Maçonnique / Maurerisches Handbuch does not only contain the most famous version of the stone, but also another one!

The three on the right are only slightly different. Maybe this can be explained by the fact that they are not just reprints, but actually redrawings with either mistakes, corrections or simply variations. The one on the left differs significantly.

Note that this is the only side that can be found in the pre-1801 manuscripts. It seems that this was the most important side and that Chéreau added the other three. What could be the reason for the variations? I will get to that.

Ancient and Primitive Masonry (the second variation)

John Yarker (1833-1913) was a colourful Freemason from England. He not only joined “regular” lodges, but also “irregular” (not recognised by the other) lodges and a wide range of esoteric and occult organisations. He also created his own version of the Egyptian themed type of Freemasonry that by his time was known as the Ancient and Primitive Rite of Memphis-Misraim. His own version he called “Ancient and Primitive Masonry”. He also used our image. Online you can find a little book of his called Recapitulation of all Masonry, or a description of the Universal Hieroglyph of the Master of Masters.

Just like in the translation of Adam McLean of Chérau, texts are combined. In McLean, one about the “philosophical cross” (which I did find in le Soleil Mystique by the way) and one about the “cubic stone”, in Yarker’s booklet a text about the “universal hieroglyph”, one about the “philosophical cross” and one about the cubic stone”. It is the last part that concerns us here. Yarker’s image looks somewhat like that of Waite.

It is immediately clear that Yarker did not just reprint the images of Chéreau, nor even just translate it from French to English. His text does seem to be that of Chéreau (the title page also says: “translated from the French”), but he removed the references to the Grand Orient de France and he changed another few things, such as references to degrees. Also the cubic stone he edited. One obvious change is this (Yarker on the right):

Here I understand why he did it. I will come back to that. Yarker also made some other editions so that the cube fits into his rite.

A little bit more about the cube

When you read the texts of Chérau or Yarker, you will learn what the cube is about. As esoteric as it looks, it is mostly an ‘aide de memoir’, an aid for memory. The first face that all texts speak of, is the one with the Masonic cipher, the face at the bottom of Yarker’s image. This is -nothing more, nothing less- the Masonic pigpen cipher. Then follow some hieroglyphs that are not explained, and numbers.

Chéreau makes it sound that when you understand the cipher, the next face will make sense. I fail to see the connection between the two sides myself. He continues with an almost impossible description of how you can find the passwords of different degrees in the square with all the letters (of which we saw variations). With some effort his description makes sense.
But here we have the reason that Yarker had to ‘redo’ that 10×10 square: the passwords in his rite are different from those in the rite that Chéreau describes.

The face with the concentric circles and squares refers to the cardinal points, four principles and in the middle, the three elements of (Paracelcian) Alchemy.

Then we have the face with the nine pointed star. There you can see liberal arts and similar references. More as a reminder of what the Mason should master.

Read the texts if you are interested. Do note that none of the texts explain every detail. I suppose the cube is meant to be meditated upon.

Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite

I shortly want to refer to the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. I have checked several, but I have found only two in which this image is used. In the first, not really the cube itself, but three faces of it appear. They form a part of the 14º in an old Dutch collection (Prins Frederik) of the AASR. The face with the letters looks similar to that of Chéreau, but not entirely and it is not like Yarker.

Then there is the French “REAA” (‘Rite écossais ancien et accepté’). There, the 14th degree is called: “Grand Élu Parfait et Sublime maçon ou Grand Élu de la Voûte Sacrée” (‘Grand Chosen Perfect and Sublime Mason or Grand Chosen of the Sacred Vault’), which is basically (just as above and in other AASRs) the ‘second half of the Royal Arch’. Both AASR 14th degrees are quite different rituals than that in the Rite Français I assume, so the image must have been introduced in (wholly) different contexts.

There is something interesting this to this too. The website nos-colonnes.com sells regalia, but also the booklet of John Harvey and a beautiful version of the Pierre Cubique:

This artifact is to be used in the named 14th degree of the Rite Écossais Ancien et Accepté. Note that this face is not the same as this side in Chéreau’s book. Also John Harvey’s book has this side of the stone and this variety of the letters on the cover. Could the original Chéreau design still be part of the Rite Français and was a variation created for the Scottish Rite? This REAA varation is actually also the second version that can be found in the Manuel / Handbuch. So that French booklet of 1821 already had the Rite Français and Scottish Rite versions!

Like I said, I have found no references to the cubic stone in other AASR 14th degrees, so I doubt the above will bring any spoilers to people who do not work in French (style) rites.

A last remark. That Dutch “Prins Frederik” AASR collection is very close to the famous Francken Manuscript (1783) which is the basis of the AASR. In Francken there is no reference whatsoever to the cubic stone, so perhaps the Dutchmen encountered it in France and wanted to use it themselves as well, but in a somewhat other (and older) version of the AASR.

Summery

Old versions of the now elaborate image seem to have appeared just before the reforms that led to the Régulateur. They were introduced in the new standard rituals and then redrawn by Antoine Chéreau. From there it found its way into the French Rite and in an altered version, into the REAA, French Scottish Rite. A century later, Yarker created his own version.

These versions are (at least partly) needed because different Masonic systems have different passwords.

By now, the Pierre Cubique is at least 240 years old and still a fascinating object.

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