by W. Wynn Westcott,
Frater Roseae Crucis
The ordinary Englishman
of to-day considers the idea of a lamp which should be ever-burning
only less absurd than the idea of perpetual motion.
To the dabbler
in modern science it is but little less absurd, but to the deepest
thinkers, and to Rosicrucians, a scintilla of light appears on this
The true adept has
discovered that although Nature is bound in general laws which seem
universal, yet in Nature herself evidence may be found, when
properly searched for, that at certain times and seasons, and in
certain modes, unknown to us, her laws are over-ridden and replaced
by a power to which she, the mighty mother, has herself to bow.
The pages of the history
of the world present to us many instances of such events, which we
generally class as miracles; some of them are as well authenticated
as any points in ancient history. The Israelitic passage of the Red
Sea, the swallowing of Jonah by a whale which brought him forth
again alive, and the Ascension of Jesus, are examples.
The power of
prophesy is a contradiction of the ordinary powers of earthly
beings, and is so far miraculous. Angel visitors come but rarely now
from the realms of glory; is heaven more distant? Or have men grown
nothing if not Christians, and Christians have ever
believed in miracle, or have ever acknowledged the existence
of an Omnipotence who can act at times in such a manner as to leave
the traces and steps of the process so hidden as to tempt scoffers
to doubt, and doubters to scoff.
But although perpetual motion be but a dream to us earthbound
mortals, we do not doubt a future perpetual existence, and it is as
reasonable to picture to our self a perpetual flame, as an
Eternity of Life. The ancient Egyptian priests pictured life as
a flame. The Great Master of the Temple of this world being
omnipotent, and able to do all things, does not usually proceed by
miracles, or they will not be prized as such; an essence of miracle
is rarity, a miracle imitated is not a second miracle.
Ordinary events, then,
being the extreme of opposition to miracle, there are yet events of
a third and intermediate type, marvels, which cannot be understood
by the people, but which are yet the product of a special gift to
certain men, their spirits, minds, and bodies, who by due, careful,
and sufficient training, wisdom and experience, have earned such a
Such should the typical Rosicrucian be, a terrestrial earthly Body,
the Temple in which dwells a mind trained to understand the powers
of Nature, and enshrined within this, as a canopy, should sit a
Divine afflatus, a portion of the Spirit of God, an ala of
the Celestial Dove who brooded over the chaos, and this spirit may
by patent submission to Deity, and by active efforts at power, draw
down to itself a commission to work wonders, and so do "not as other
The great tendency of the modern times has been to reduce all men to
a level, a dead level, of mediocrity, an effort fatal to the
supremacy of individuals, and which has tended to discourage
research into the Hidden Mysteries of Nature and Science, as
opposed to the parrot-like study of what are known as modern
sciences, a study of enormous value to mankind, but yet not the
stepping stones on the direct road to Deity.
History then narrates
the lives of many men, who, from the exhibition of uncommon powers
and transcendent abilities and wisdom, are pointed out as the
possessors of what we may fairly call occult Inspiration, "Poeta
nascitur non fit;" but I should add "Magus nascitur non solum fit."
No accident of birth
alone can make a Magician, but intensity of duly directed effort may
do so in a certain number of persons with specially favorable
mental powers. We may be all born with an equal right to existence;
but it is absurd to say we are all to be chiefs or Magi, for, as we
are told in the Master's Degree, "some must rule, and some obey."
In 1484 died Christian Rosenkreuz, our great prototype; he
was such a man; by the dispositions he made, and the Society he
designed, he shook the whole Christian world for a century of years,
and laid the first stones of the edifice we are still building
to-day. In his tomb, when it was opened by the Fratres, in
1604, or 120 years after his decease, were found, besides other
mysterious articles, lamps of a special and peculiar construction;
hence the study of Sepulchral Lamps is one particularly germane to
The discovery of lamps
in ancient sepulchres, in some cases extinguished, in others burning
with brilliance, was no rarity in the middle ages; but the
destroying hands of the Goth and the Vandal have left few ancient
tombs for modern research to explore. We have to content ourselves
with the observations and reports of our forefathers, the narratives
of Arabian, Roman, and mediaeval authors. No fewer than 170 such
authorities have written on this subject. Many of these references,
in Greek and Latin literature, to lucent bodies, phosphorescence,
and "mystic lamps found in tombs," deserve study, and will repay
The Darkness of Death and the Darkness of the Tomb
are, and have ever been, common phrases; no wonder, then, that the
ancients sought to minimize it. Hence we find that the relatives of
a deceased person were desirous of relieving the gloom hanging over
the grave of a beloved wife, kind parent, or respected brother, by
any means in their power.
To include in the tomb a lamp and leave it burning was a
kindly attention, even if it burned but one short hour; it was an
offering to Pluto, to the Manes; it kept away spirits of evil, and
preserved peace to the dead man: this knowledge of the limited time
such a lamp could possibly remain alight acted, doubtless, as a
stimulus to the discovery of a means of prolonging the burning power
of a lamp indefinitely, and if I read history aright, in at least a
few instances, the problem has been solved; so far at any rate as
the manufacture of a lamp which should burn until deranged by the
barbarian invader of its precincts.
I shall narrate a few
examples, premising that these are instances of different modes of
obtaining the desired effect; besides these instances the ancient
Latin authors speak of the use as illuminants, not alone of lamps,
but of natural lucent bodies, which would suffice to dispel the
gloom to some slight extent. Such were the diamond, the carbuncle,
the glow-worm, the exposure of phosphorus to the air, the ignition
of certain substances which burn alone without any wick or
arrangement, such as camphor, which will burn even floating on
The presence of a
combustible gas, which issues from clefts in the rock in some mines
and caverns, seems to have been known, and was probably taken
advantage of by the ancient sages to enhance the mystery and majesty
of their secret rites.
It is very possible that some of the priests
of old were aware of the lucent property of some forms of
sulphide of calcium, which have attracted much attention the
last few years, in the shape of luminous paint.
I will submit also that references exist in the history of remote
ages to suggest the mysterious light now so freely handled and
electricity was not unknown to the ancient
Numa, King of Rome, studied electricity,
and left pupils of his art, of whom we are told was his successor
Tullus Hostilius, who was destroyed whilst endeavoring to draw
down from heaven and coerce the electric fluid from thunder clouds,
or, as they said, front Jupiter Tonans.
"It is certain that
the Zoroastrian Magi had means of producing and directing
electric power unknown to us."
"Historie de la
Magie," p. 57.
Mediaeval scholars have
fully debated several points in regard to ever-burning lamps, but in
all cases without arriving at any definite result; much erudition
has been expended on the question whether a lamp found burning on
breaking open a tomb was not ignited by the admission of air, and
had not been actually burning until it was disturbed; there is
modern evidence in favor of this view, from the analogy of some
chemical experiments, as, for example, phosphorised oil is
invisible in the dark when enclosed in a sealed vial, when this is
opened a light pours forth.
On the other hand,
evidence exists that some of the lamps actually paled and went out
when the cavern in which they were found was opened, as a fine metal
wire made white-hot by electricity in a sealed glass vacuumed ceases
to shine when the glass is broken; others again burned on and could
hardly be extinguished by water or other means, until the
arrangement of the lamp was broken.
Other authors, taking for granted that some of these lamps had
burned for hundreds of years, have discussed the necessary relation
between oil or liquid consumed and wick. With regard to wick, there
are several names of substances proposed as incombustible; but they
are probably only synonyms of one body, namely, asbestos, which is
even now used in our gas fires. It does not consume, although kept
constantly red hot with flames flickering over it.
Other names for it were:
- Plutarch uses this term, Pliny, and Solinus, and Baptista
Linum Asbestinum by Albertus Magnus
- by Pancirollus, and by Lucius Vives
- see Cyclopaedia by E. Chambers, 1741, art. "Allum," and so
called by Wecker, De Secretis, lib. 3, cap. 2, and Agricola
- Dr. Plot uses this name
- mentioned by Plutarch
Linum Carpasium and
Lapis Carystius - see De Defectu Oraculorum, and Pausanias in his
Wool - so called by Friar Bacon and Joachimus Fortius
The ancients, we know,
did try incombustible metal wires as wicks; but found that oil would
not pass up them, as it does up fibers of cotton or wool.
Transactions," No. 166, p. 806, of the year 1684.
In respect to
the oil for the lamp, there is no consensus of opinion as to the
nature of it; neither of the authorities who narrate the finding of
the lamps describe it in any way, yet many Latin authors discuss it.
Some speak of it as bituminous oil, derived from the earth, thus
forecasting the recent extensive use of petroleum. None of them
definitely associate it with any known animal or vegetable oil.
Many mystic references
are, however, made to the labours of the Alchemists, who thought it
must be of the nature of an essential oil of Sol, the metal gold, to
be derived from it by alchemic processes. Sol, they say, must be
dissolved into an unctuous humor, or the radical moisture of Sol
must be separated.
See "Wolfhang Lazius,"
lib. III., c. 8, and "Camden Brittania," p. 572.
For, say they, inasmuch
as gold is so pure that it bears repeated meltings without wasting,
so if it be dissolved into an oily residuum, such should support
fire without being consumed.
It may suitably be explained in this place that the oldest
Alchemists held peculiar views on flame and fire. Fire was to them
an element-one of four; there were two contraries in nature, three
principles, and four elements. Fire, as such, should not need what
we call fuel to consume; but only as a means of detaining it in a
See "Licetus, De
Lucernis," cap. 20-21 and "Theophrastus."
They said there may be a
relation between fire and fuel of three sorts-if the strength of the
fire exceed that of the humor, it presently burns out; if the humor
be too strong for the fire, the fire departs; but if the radical
strength of the humor and of the fire be co-equal, then, caeteris
paribus, that fire would burn continually, until the surrounding
states of radical moisture or natural heat should be altered by
external circumstances, as if a flame be made to burn in a closed
vault, it would depart when such was opened.
Rosicrucian and Alchemical doctrines, especially their views on the
connection between Fire and Water, are brought into close apposition
to the dogmas of the religion of the Hebrews in some portions, at
least, of the sacred writings, notably in the volume of the "Maccabees,"
Book II., cap. I., where we are told that when the Jews were led
captive into Persia, the priest took the Sacred Fire from the Altar,
and hid it in a dry, hollow place.
Many years after, in more
favorable times, Nehemiah sent priests to fetch this fire, nothing
doubting its existence; they found water only in its stead. Nehemiah
caused an altar of sacrifice to be made of wood and other materials,
and this water was poured upon them, before all the people; when the
clouds of the sky passed away, and the sun appeared; then the water
that had been poured over the sacrifice burst into flame.
The connection between
Fire and Water again becomes prominent when we note the miracle of
Elijah, who made a sacrificial altar, poured water on it, and fire
from heaven burned up the water, on the occasion when he condemned
the priests of Baal who could not do likewise.
See Kings I., cap.
that at the present time the priests of the secret temples of the
Buddhists in Tibet, India, and Japan, use asbestos as a wick in
lamps, which burn continuously without replenishing.
Libavius, his commentator, and Korndorf, about the year
1500, each composed a material, by chemical processes, which they
professed would burn for ever. Mateer, a reverend missionary, states
that he knew of a great golden lamp in a hollow place inside a
temple at Trevandrum, kingdom of Travancore, which he had the best
authority for believing had burned continuously for 120 years. The
Abbe Huc, a great traveler, states that he has seen and examined an
By the Levitical Law-Lev. vi., v. 13 - the fire on the altar of
Jehovah was never to be allowed to
go out; but we are not told that it was ever burning without supply.
It has been suggested that if ever-burning lamps were ever known,
they would have been found in this application; but we know that the
sacred flame was allowed to go out, and was renewed from heaven on
Lev. ix., 24; 2 Chron.
vii., 1; 1 Kings xviii., 38.
Other writers have taken
the other side of the argument, viz., that the gift of a flame that
would need no attention would have tended to idolatry, to which the
Israelites were ever prone. The Chaldeans and Persians used to
maintain a perpetual fire in the temples.
Certain scholars have considered that the "window" mentioned as
placed in the Ark of Noah was not such, as during a period of
prolonged cloud and storm a window should not light such a chamber.
In the Hebrew version of Genesis, cap. 6, v. 16, the word is tzer,
which means "something transparent," and is to be compared with the
similar word zer, always translated "splendor" or "light," hence
they suggest that this tzer, or zer, was some form of
ever burning light, or "the universal spirit fixed in a transparent
body," similar to the Mysterious Urim and Thummim.
Alchemy and its successor, Chemistry, are said to have originated in
Egypt, that land of ancient marvels, and, indeed, these names are
intimately related, the ancient name of Egypt being Chm or Land of
Ham, from which the title Chymia, in Greek Chemi and
Ges Cham is
The learned Kircher writes in A.D. 1650 that several
travelers in Egypt found in his time Burning Lamps in the Tombs at
Numa Pompilius, King of Rome, who certainly experimented with the
natural electricity of the clouds, built a Temple to the Nymph
Egeria, and made in it a spherical dome, in which he caused to burn
a Perpetual Flame of Fire in her honor; but in what manner this
flame was produced we have no knowledge.
Nathan Bailey, in his "Brittanic
Dictionary," 1736, remarks that in the Museum of Rarities at Leyden,
in Holland, there were two of these lamps, only partially destroyed.
A lamp still burning was found during the Papacy of Paul III., about
1540, in a tomb in the Appian Way at Rome, supposed to be
that of Tulliola, the daughter of Cicero. The tomb was inscribed: "Tulliolae
Filiae Meae;" she died B.C. 44; it had burned over 1550 years, and
became extinguished as soon as exposed to the air; the whole body
was in perfect preservation, and was found floating in a vessel of
Rerum Memorabilium Deperditarum," vol. I., p. 115, Franciscus
Maturantius, Hermolaus, and Scardeonius.
Such a lamp is stated to have been found in 1401, in the reign of
Hen. III., King of Castile, not far from Rome, on the Tiber, in the
stone tomb of Pallas, the Arcadian, son of Evander, slain by "Turnus
Rex Rotulorum" in the wars at the time of the building of Rome;
nothing could extinguish the flame of this lamp until it was broken.
On the tomb were the
Pallas, quem lancea Turni militis occidit, mole sua jacet hic."
Liber Chronicorum," lib. xii., cap. 67.
Two miles from Rome an
inundation broke down a wall, and disclosed an ancient tomb; on the
cover stone were the letters "P.M. R.C. cum Uxore;" in it an earthen
urn was found; when fractured, a bituminous smoke issued; in the
bottom was a lamp, which went out; the fragments were still oily;
this became dry after exposure.
Abridgment of Philos. Trans.," vol. III., sec. xxxv., also No. 185,
In a certain temple of Venus in Egypt there hanged a lamp which
neither rain nor wind could put out, says, St. Augustine, in his
work "De Civitate Dei," lib. xxi., cap. 6, and he associates its
make with Magic, and the Devil, as indeed do all Roman Catholic
authorities whenever they mention any of these lamps.
Licetus describes this lamp in his work "De Reconditis Lucernis
Antiquorum," cap. vi., and see "Isidorus, De Gemmis."
Ludovicus Vives, 1610, in his notes to St. Augustine, says
that in his father's time, A.D. 1580, a lamp was found in a tomb,
which from the inscription was 1500 years old; it fell to pieces
when touched. This Commentator does not follow his master in his
denunciation of these lamps, but says they must have been made by
men of the greatest skill and wisdom.
See also "Maiolus,
At Edessa, or Antioch, in a recess over a gateway a burning lamp was
found by the soldiers of Chosroes, King of Persia, elaborately
closed in from the air. From a date inscribed it was known to have
been placed there soon after the time of Christ, or 500 years
before. Beside this lamp a crucifix was found fixed.
Licetus," cap. vii., and Citesius in his "Abstinens Consolentanea."
In the volcanic island
of Nesis, near Naples, in the year 600 a marble tomb was found, and
when opened it contained a vase in which was a lamp still alight;
the light paled and soon was extinguished when the vase was broken.
See "Licetus," cap. x.
See "Baptista Porta,
Magia Naturalis," lib. xii. cap. ult., A.D. 1658.
A very notable example occurred in the discovery of lamps buried in
urns about A.D. 1500; they were taken possession of by Franciscus
Maturantius, and described by him in a letter to Alphenus, his
friend; they had been buried 1500 years.
A laborer at Ateste, near
Padua, in Italy, found a sepulchre, in which was a fictile urn, and
within it there stood another urn, and in this smaller one a lamp
burning brightly; and on each side of it there was a vessel, or
ampulla, each of them full a of pure fluid oil; one was made of
gold, and the other one of silver.
On the outer urn were
these words engraved:
munus ne attingite fures, Ignotum est vobis hoc quod in urna
latet Namque elementa gravi clausit digesta labore, Vase sub hoc
modico Maximus Olybius. Adsit secundo custos sibi copia cornu Ne
tanti pretium depereat laticis.
Thieves! Grasp not
this gift sacred to Pluto, Ye are ignorant of what it contains
hidden, For Maximus Olybius has enclosed in This small urn,
elements digested with heavy toil. Let abundance be present in a
second vase as a guardian to it, Lest the value of so much oil
On the smaller one were
pessimi Fures Vos quid vultis, vestris cum oculis emisitiis.
Abite hinc, vestro cum Mercurio Petasato caduceato que Donum hoc
Maximum, Maximus Olybius Plutoni sacrum facit.
Get ye hence, most wicked thieves, What do you desire with your
rolling eyes? Get ye hence with your broad hatted Mercury
Carrying a wand with twisted snakes. Maximus Olybius makes this,
His greatest offering, sacred to Pluto.
Licetus," cap. ix., and "Scardeonius, De Antiq. Urbis Patavinae;
Rubeus, De Destillatione," and "Lazius, Wolfhang," lib. iii.,
in his Corollary to Dioscorides, speaks of a wondrous liquor to
sustain combustion, known to Democritus and Trismegistus.
wrote to Licetus that he knew of a burning lamp dug up from the
Monte Cavallo at Rome; it was still burning when found, and
within it was a bituminous substance.
Plutarch in his work
"De Defectu Oraculorum," states that in a Temple to Jupiter
Ammon a lamp stood in the open air, and neither wind nor rain
put it out, and the priests told him it had burned continually
See also "Licetus,"
cap. v. Herodotus tells us that the Egyptians made a special and
extensive use of lamps in the religious festivals, and that the
Temples of King Mycerinus had many mysterious ones. Strabo, and
Pausanias in his Atticus, narrate that in the temple of Minerva
Polias, at Athens, there was a mysterious lamp of gold always
burning; it was made by Callimachus. The altar of the Temple of
Apollo Carneus, at Cyrene, was similarly furnished. A like
account is given of the great Temple of Aderbain, in Armenia, by
Said Ebn Batric.
his "Book of God" calls attention to the name Carystios
applied to the asbestine wicks of the lamps in ancient Greek
temples, and draws attention to its relations to Chr. of
Christos and to Eucharist, anointed with oil, as to
ever-burning lamps before the throne, as in the Apocalypse.
called Taedifera=torch bearing.
this also comes Eros in Greek, material light coming
from ineffable light.
There is a curious
reference of asbestos to fire, and the heat of the sun, in "The
Ecstatic Journey to Heaven" of Kircher, where Casmiel, the
genius of this world, gives Theodidaktos a boat of asbestos to
embark in for his travels to and on the sun, the centre of heat.
See "Itinerar 1,
Dialogue 1," cap. 5.
Irish lore recounts
a mysterious ever-burning flame in the Temple at Kildare, sacred
to St. Bridget-Daughter of Fire.
Cambrensis, De Mirab. Hibern. 2, xxxiv.
Khunrath, in his "Amphitheatrum
Sapientiae Aeternae," cites the ancient author of "The
Apocalypse of the Sweet Spirit of Nature," as speaking of a
liquid which burneth with a bright light and wastes not.
At the dissolution
of the Monasteries in Britain, by order of Henry VIII., a tomb,
in Yorkshire, purporting to be that of Constantius Chlorus,
father of the Great Constantine, was opened and ransacked, and a
lamp burning was found in it: he died 300 A.D.
See Camden "Brittania"
(Gough's edition, III. p. 572.)
Lazius, in his
"Comment. Reipub. Romae," writes that the Romans under the
Empire possessed the secret of preserving lights in tombs by
means of the oiliness of gold, resolved by their art into a
See lib. III.,
An ancient Roman
tomb was discovered in Spain, near Cordova, near the site of the
ancient Castellum priscum; in this tomb was found a lamp. This
lamp is described by Mr. Wetherell, of Seville.
See an essay by
Wray, "Athenaeum," Aug. 8th, 1846.
The last relation which
I propose to cite to you is from Dr. Robert Plot, the
Archaeologist, written in the time of Charles the Second, as
A certain man,
engaged in digging, having at a particular spot turned up the
earth deeper than usual, came upon a door, which he subsequently
was able to open, and found beneath it a descending passage with
steps; these he descended, and ultimately, with much trepidation
and many delays, he arrived at the entrance of a vault.
This underground chamber was lighted up by a lamp, which was
placed in front of a statue of a man in armor sitting at a
table, leaning on his left arm; in his right hand was a sceptre
When the intruder advanced, a portion of the floor moved with
his weight, and the figure became raised up, at the next step
the arm was elevated, and as the man took the third step the arm
descended, shattering the lamp and extinguishing it.
The man was
terrified, and made a hasty retreat as soon as he recovered
possession of his senses sufficiently to find his way out of the
The place became famous
for some time as the sepulchre of a Rosicrucian, and was regarded as
a triumph of mystic skill and knowledge, which at once proved the
possession of undreamed of powers in the designer, and yet provided
the means of as certainly keeping his secret. See also "Spectator,"
No. 379, of 1712.
This essay has already extended beyond the contemplated limits, so I
refrain from a long resume. These pages provide much food for
thought. That lamps have burned for long periods of time untended is
testified to by more than 150 authorities, and some dozen instances
of this marvel are borne witness to by a large proportion of these
From the time that has elapsed since ever-burning lamps were found,
and from the comparative ignorance of the world at that period of
the distant past, comes to our minds some hesitation and doubt as to
accuracy of detail, and this is unavoidable.
But the consensus of ancient opinion must point to the broad
conclusion that there formerly existed an art that has been lost in
the dim light of the dark ages of the world.
catalogues many other such lost arts, and modern science is flung
back baffled from the performance of many a deed which could have
been freely done by the ancient sages.
Several of our most modern discoveries have been shown to have been
anticipated by men who are contemptuously regarded by modern
scientists. So it has ever been.
Earth knows but little
of its greatest men; its greatest men are but pigmies in the
presence of time, antiquity, and futurity.
but wisdom lingers," said the poet laureate.
Rosicrucian can only exclaim:
"Lead, kindly Light,
lead thou me on; The night is dark, and I am far from home."