If you have ever been in a Masonic chamber of Reflection, you may have seen V.I.T.R.I.O.L. or similar symbology. Vitriol as a word can refer to chemistry and mean sulfuric acid and related compounds, which eat away or attack other substances. But as an acronym, V.I.T.R.I.O.L. stands for a sentence in Latin:
Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem,”
“Visit the interior of the earth and purifying you will find the hidden stone.” in English.
The origin of this sentence & symbols is said to have been Basilius Valentinus, a 15th century alchemist, who included it in his work L’Azoth des Philosophes. But it is possible he was not actually one person, but a pseudonym used by several writers of the era, who wrote on alchemy and Hermetic Philosophy.
Let’s get into what this could or should mean to you, but please keep in mind that symbolic interpretation is a form of projection, and that different people will take different meanings and that is to be expected.
Visiting the interior of the earth refers to going inside of oneself and working on self-improvement, that is to say, confronting what we believe and who we are head on.
“Finding the hidden stone” may refer to uncovering the future you, which you can become. The use of stone as an image here is particularly interesting because of the Masonic concept of the perfect ashlar, which also symbolizes what we can reach for with time. This stone is hidden because we must do the personal work to discover it.
The word “hidden” comes also from translating occultum, which is related to the English word occult. When looking into any of these esoteric schools, I find it helpful to remember that occult just means hidden. In the west, over time the word occult picked up many other connotations of all sorts of foolishness and moral panic, but the word is quite simple, and not scary or strange at all. Occult things are those which are hidden and you have to work to discover, nothing more.
Connection to Alchemy
This is a broad, deep, and complex subject that one has to be very careful with, because it had so many different meanings to people at different moments in history. If your starting point with alchemy is the old trope of “turning lead into gold”, please toss that idea away before entering the rabbit hole, because there is so much else going on.
As a starting point, consider the green lion eating the sun, a common alchemical symbol. Going back to the chemical meaning of the word vitriol, this image is a metaphor for acids (the green lion) eating away at substances leaving gold behind. On a personal level, when the “green lion eats the sun” within a person, we can think of it either as base nature causing us to lash out, or possibly eating away at our lower selves to reveal something else within.
V.I.T.R.I.O.L. similarly works on two levels: we might “visit the interior of the earth and purify it” by applying sulfuric acid to materials and extract gold, and thereby “find the hidden stone” (gold). Or we might use it as a personal motto, to encourage self-improvement, reflection, and meditative practices which can improve us emotionally and spiritually.
There is no magic here. Nothing spooky, strange, or “occult” by the more modern sense of the word. These are simply symbols that can act like a lens; by looking through them, and considering for yourself, you may be enabled to gain more knowledge and wisdom. Their value is tied to the work that you do, and their meaning to you.
One could not possibly do justice to the topic of alchemy in a blog post, so I’ll have to leave some of these things as just a teaser for your research. The key point on alchemy though is the ability to interpret its symbols on the chemical level, but also as metaphors for personal development. This is at the heart of what a fuller understanding of V.I.T.R.I.O.L. requires.
For further reading if you are interested.
- Decoding the Alchemical Cipher of V.I.T.R.I.O.L.
- V.I.T.R.I.O.L. in the Masonic Symbol Dictionary
- Adam McLean’s Alchemy Research
- The Green Lion Devouring the Sun
- The Chemistry of Extracting Gold with Sulfuric Acid