The Kabbalistic & Alchemical Symbolism in Old French Freemasonry – Introduction
Part 1 – French Masonry and “High Grade” or High Degree Masonry
The Role of French Masonry in the development of higher degrees (those beyond the first three) is not so well recognized in the English speaking world. A historical analysis of manuscripts (many of which are now becoming available digitally) will show us that much of what is called “Scottish” Rite Masonry was actually grown and developed in France. But it does not end there, so called “Egyptian” Rite Masonry has its roots in France as well.
It is not clear when exactly the first Masonic lodge was established in France. Some traditions say that it was in 1688, but (according to historians) it seems that about 1725 was when the first Masonic Lodge was established in Paris. For some reason (possibly because France was a traditionally Roman Catholic country), Masonry became relatively popular even after it was condemned by Pope Clement XII in 1738. In the mid-1700s a ‘mixed’ form of Freemasonry (‘mixed’ meaning that women were also admitted) became popular with the French, which they called “Adoptive Rite” Masonry or “Masonry of Adoption”.
Since it was generally known that traditional “blue lodge” Masonry (the first three degrees) came from England, as new French degrees & rituals were beginning to emerge, they were often given the adjective of English, Irish or Scottish, etc., and even “Philosophical” Scottish. For those who doubt this ‘French connection’ to what is now called “Scottish” Rite Masonry, we recommend studying the Baylot manuscript FM4 15 (dated to the early 1760s) associated with the “Rite of Perfection”.
Many interesting Alchemical Degrees emerged from France during the mid to late 1700s. Of particular interest are the Alchemical Degrees of the Baron de Tschoudy (also spelled Tschudy, Tschudi, and Tschoudi), which we hope to study in another course. They are very beautiful, having incorporated Kabbalistic and Alchemical symbolism into their practices and catechisms.
By the late 1700s, there were many different “Rites” and “Orders” throughout France and, consequently, there was an attempt to organize them. This resulted in some “Rites” uniting with or being absorbed by others, as well as some being considered ‘illegitimate’ or ‘unauthorized’ by the self-proclaimed ‘correct’ groups (the two most well known being Grand Orient de France and the Supreme Council of France).
By the mid 1800s, there were over 50 different Masonic Rites in France alone (Masonry was certainly going through its ‘multiplication & division’ stage). Around this same time, a particular type of Masonry was gaining popularity in Europe: the so-called “Egyptian” Rites. Two of these Rites stand out because of their association with Arnoldo Krumm-Heller (Huiracocha). The 1st was the “Rite of Misraïm” and was associated with the famous Count Cagliostro (often confused with Giuseppe Balsamo). The 2nd was the “Rite of Memphis” and seems to have been founded by J.E. Marçonis de Nègre.
Both “Egyptian” Rites claimed that they were legitimately Egypt. However, by comparing documents which are now available through the internet, it appears that both were an attempt to collect together and organize all of the different Alchemical, Rosicrucian, Kabbalistic, etc., degrees from France (as well as from elsewhere in Europe) into a single unified system. The purpose of these “Old French Masonic Symbolism” classes is to shed light on these documents in order to emphasize their beautiful esoteric teachings and the hidden Gnostic Kabbalah found within.
In the late 1800s, these two “Egyptian Rites” were fused into a single organization called the “Rite of Memphis-Misraïm” by the “International Grand Master” Giuseppe Garibaldi. The Memphis-Misraïm Rite was classified as “High-Grade” or “High-Degree” Masonry since it apparently had over 90 degrees. In 1905, after Garibaldi’s death, a man named John Yarker took over as the “International Grand Master” and continued to promote the Memphis-Misraïm Rite throughout the world. Later, Huiracocha was made a “Grand Master” (96th) for Central and South America.
J.M. Ragon’s Studies in Freemasonry
Jean Marie Ragon (1781-1862) was initiated into Masonry in 1804 at the Lodge « Les amis du Nord » [“Friends of the North”] in Bruges. After he moved to Paris, he helped establish a famous Lodge there named « Les Trinosophes », where he delivered many lectures on ancient and modern initiations. These lectures were later collected together and published as Cours philosophique et interprétatif des initiations anciennes et modernes [Philosophical and Interpretive Course of Ancient and Modern Initiations] (1841), in two parts (the second of which he was censured by the GRAND ORIENT on September 29, 1843).
Considered by many of his contemporaries as the most well-educated Freemason of the nineteenth century, he was the author of many Masonic works which had considerable influence at the time. Now, they are of particular historical interest for our studies due to the details, explanations and interpretations he has regarding Initiatic Symbolism. Additional books for which he is well known include:
–Masonic Orthodoxy, Occult Masonry and Hermetic Initiation (1853) all 3 published together
–Complete Manual of the Masonry of Adoption or Lady’s Masonry (1860)
as well as a General Masonic Tyler (1861) and he revised many Masonic Rituals (which were then published throughout the 1860s)
Just glancing at the titles of his works, it becomes clear that he has read and studied a lot of about Freemasonry and Initiation. H.P. Blavatsky quotes him often as a Masonic authority in Vol. 3 of her book The Secret Doctrine, saying:
So lets now take a look at some excerpts from Monsieur Ragon’s books:
Magnetism, developed through the science and through the knowledge of the occult world, was called THAUMATURGY. A thaumaturge, in the eyes of the vulgar, was a miracle worker. Since then, ignorance has caused these denominations to be taken in bad way. The sciences that follow are in the domain of thaumaturgy.
Progressive spirits (accustomed to the contemplation of astral and terrestrial phenomena) regenerated in a profound and incessant meditation (exalted, in the silence of retreat and in the recollection of study, by the austerity of a life of application, and by a violent restraint of the soul), experienced long ecstasies (See Somnambulism), during which their intellectual view, crossing the intervals, the spaces and even the obstacles placed between them and the reality, plunged into the future. They read therein the immutable destinies of empires and of nations, and their mouths proclaimed them with the sublime accent of inspiration, without them comprehending the chain of causes from which they derived. The college of great initiations was, in antiquity, a school of prophecy.
…According to the opinion of the mystics, all beings (from God down to the atom) have a particular number that distinguishes them and which becomes the source of their properties, as well as of their destiny. Chance, according to Cornelius Agrippa, is (in the end) merely an unknown progression, and time is merely a succession of numbers. Now, since the future is a composite of chance and of time, then they must serve for kabbalistic calculations in order to find the end of an event or the future of a destiny.
Many have thought that Pythagoras was so named because, in the predictions of the future, he gave answers no less certain and true than those of the Pythian Apollo. His name would derive from puthon (diviner) and from agoras [‘assembly’ or ‘gathering place’]. He discovered and taught the power of numbers which (in his system) resolved the problem of cosmogony:
His science of numbers was based on kabbalistic calculations. The astronomy he mysteriously taught was astrology; but his most secret science was alchemy.
The Greeks, like the Egyptians, had divided divination into artificial (by interpreting omens and soothsaying ) and into natural (by dreams and oracles). They called the first mantike (science by omens and auspices), and the second maniké (science by the delirium of the spirit).
The Romans only knew the artificial divination: omen interpreting and soothsaying, which they regarded as uncertain or false; thus we have the strange contradictions of Cicero in his opinions on this science and in his treatise on Divination; yet he was of the college of soothsayers, and placed this dignity above all those of which he was clothed.
PSYCHOLOGY or PSYCOLOGY is the part of philosophy that treats the soul, its faculties and its operations. The psychological science, science of the soul, is the first rung of that immense ladder that must be learned to climb in order to know the truth; but, in order to reach that goal, one must be like “in the beginning”, being man in the presence of nature from which he receives impressions directly in the plentitude of their action. One must be completely exempt from scientific and religious prejudice. Science, in general, ignores politics and religions, in order to be ONE AND UNIVERSAL.
PHYSIOLOGY is the science of the principles of the animal economy, of the usage and of the interplay of the organs. It is the science of life and of animated nature. It is through physiology that Lavater and Gall came to physiognomic and phrenologic discoveries. Vegetal physiology is the science of the vital functions of vegetables. Mineral physiology successfully occupies (in this moment) the time of some privileged scholars.
ON THE OCCULT SCIENCES.
the science of the mysteries of nature renders them believers. »
…We think that skilled teachers (some of whom Masonry recognizes) will have a lot of interest in the works of the first two degrees such that we invite them to establish, by basing themselves upon the development of the philosophical sciences which we have just cited with enough details to carry the proper conviction into the minds of educated masons and those who are devoted enough to the expansion of useful knowledge in order to undertake this noble task. So we would no longer go out of our temples without benefit for our own intelligent understanding :
The occult sciences will be reserved for the third philosophical degree, within which will be completed (with the corresponding symbolic degree) the education of the modern initiate who (with close practice) will find themselves attaining the summit of ancient initiatic knowledge.
The occult sciences were, always, the prerogative of privileged understanding; they want to be studied in themselves and for themselves; they want a supporting zeal and an untiring perseverance. The principle is ONE, thus the light is ONE and practical initiation is reserved for whosoever WILLS firmly, according to the axiom: WHERE THERE IS A WILL THERE IS A WAY.
The elite genii who have made themselves the institutors and the civilizers of the human being have wished to cultivate in man, intelligent understanding, morality, and physics, in order to help humanity reach happiness and the perfection that his nature allows him to achieve and to assist in his irresistible fondness to extend the limit of his power.
The knowledge of the phenomena of the sidereal world, of the influence of the stars on terrestrial bodies and the knowledgeable inferences that were drawn, gave birth to ASTROLOGY.
Intimately linked to the close study of the luminaries and their revolution, it is certainly the first and therefore the most ancient of the sciences and of the superstitions. The goal of astrologers was to predict the future through the inspection of the heavens. Qualities and virtues, or diverse influences upon man, upon empires, and upon future events were all attributed to the twelve constellations and to the zodiac signs, under the influence of the planets regarded as arbitrators of our destiny. The inferences drawn from the twelve signs, called the twelve houses of destiny (each of which had its particular influence) formed the genethliac art (from the greek généthlè, ‘birth’) or the art of horoscopes (from hora, ‘hour’, and skopéô, ‘I look’). Ptolemy was an astrologer since he believed in these influences.
Astrologers divided the physical existence of everything that breathes into four temperaments: the sanguine, the bilious, the melancholic, and the phlegmatic.
Astrology applied to the microcosm (the human body) gave birth to physiognomy, which it divides into chiromancy (from chèir, ‘hand’, and mantéia, ‘divination’) and metoposcopy (from métopon, ‘forehead ‘, and skopéô, ‘I look’), which teach how to predict the future through the inspection of the lines of the hand, and through the examination of the configuration of the face.
It also gave birth to magism or magic, and this subject is divided into an infinite number of divinations: by proper names, by the four elements, by the evocation of the shadows, by fish, etc.
Astrology (practiced in the Pythagorean school) disappeared with the destruction of the initiatory colleges in Gaul [Northern France], by Caesar. Since then, there have only existed abuses of astrology. In the 16th century the famous Tycho Brahe, who although he had faith, made vain efforts in order to find it. Charlatans and the almanacs of Liège in Belgium exploited its fame.
ON THE KABBALAH OR CABALA.
[“Fortunate is he, who is able to know the causes of things”]
The mysterious laws which regulate the invisible world (known since the highest antiquity) gave birth to a science which, later, was named CABALA or SACRED TRADITION. This science is independent of epochs and of religious forms: Easterners whether indian or arabic or hebrew; the Europeans, catholics, greeks and protestants, all equally admit the principles and the combinations of this science.
The kabbalistic doctrine was for a long time the religion of the wise and of the learned, because (like Freemasonry) it constantly tends towards spiritual perfection and towards the fusion of beliefs and of nationalities among men. To the eyes of the kabbalist, all men are brothers, and their relative ignorance is (for him) simply a reason to teach them.
There were illustrious kabbalists among the Egyptians and among the Greeks, who’s orthodox Church has accepted the kabbalistic doctrines; the Arabs have also produced many kabbalists who’s wisdom was not rejected by the Church of the middle ages.
The sages carried the name of kabbalists… The kabbalah contained a noble, pure, not mysterious, but symbolic philosophy; it taught the dogma of the unity of God, the art of knowing and of explaining the essence and the operations of the Supreme Being, of spiritual powers and of natural forces, and of determining their action through symbolic figures, through the arrangement of the alphabet, through combinations of numbers, through the reversal of letters from writings, and by means of hidden meanings that it claims to discover. The kabbalah is the key of the occult sciences. The gnostics were born as kabbalists.
ON MAGISM (Magic).
THE MAGI (the sages of the ancient East) observed and studied the nature of man, the mechanism of his thinking, the faculties of his soul, his power over nature, and the essence of the properties and of the occult virtues of each thing.
…MAGISM is the science of sciences, or rather it is the assembly of all the human sciences or knowledge; this is why, in antiquity, the magi were the most learned philosophers; in fact, a magus must be initiated into the principal sciences: 1st the preparatory science is the knowledge of ancient languages, the kabbalistic signs, numbers, alphabets, talismanic and other hieroglyphs, which are used in occultism.
ON THE MAGIC OF WORDS.
In Origen we read: “There are some names that naturally have virtue, such as those which are used by the sages among the Egyptians, the magi in Persia, and the brahmans in India. What is called MAGIC is not a vain and illusional art, as was claimed by the stoics and the epicureans: the name Sabaoth [ צבאות ], that of Adonai [ אדני ] were not made by created beings, but they belong to a mysterious theology that relates to the Creator; the virtue of these names comes from there, when they are arranged and pronounced according to the rules.”
We know that the sacred word Jehovah [ יהוה ] was (among the Jews) an ineffable name. In order for its correct pronunciation not to be lost among the Levites, the high priest uttered it in the temple once in the year, on the 10th day of the month of Tisri, the day of the great fast of atonement. During the ceremony, it was recommended for people to produce a loud noise, so that the sacred name was not heard except by those who had the right to hear it, since all others (say the Jews) would have been immediately struck dead.
The great egyptian initiates (before the Jews) did the same in regards to the word “Isis”, which they regarded as a sacred and incommunicable word.
When the jewish high priest uttered (according to the rules) the word Jehovah [ יהוה ], it was said: Shem hamm phorash, meaning ‘the name is well pronounced’. These three words form the sacred word of a Scottish degree. This belief is found at the head of the instructions of the third degree of the knight of the black Eagle, called rose-cross:
Answer: Adonai [ אדני ].
Question: What is its power?
Answer: To set the universe in motion. One of the knights who had the good fortune to speak it kabbalistically would have at his disposal the powers that inhabit the four elements and the celestial spirits, and would possess all possible human virtues.”
The ancients believed that the soul of a man was reclothed (after his death) in a similar form to the one he had during his life, so that it could be distinguished from another soul, though it could (on occasion) come visit places it had inhabited, visit its parents, its friends, converse with them, instruct them and show them the manner of invoking it; so the word abraxas [ ΑΒΡΑΞΑΣ ], pronounced with some ceremony, was passed on in order to make the souls appear with whom one wanted to speak…
THE MAGIC OF WILLPOWER.
We know that man has a magnetic spirituality which (when strongly supported by the will) is the most powerful tool that he has at his disposal; therefore one can call the MAGIC OF WILLPOWER that vital and propulsive influence which acts so powerfully upon the soul and the spirit of the magnetized person(s) or object(s), and which puts into motion even inanimate objects, according to the words of Virgil:
MAGNETIZING IS MAKING MAGIC.
MAGNETISM is (as we have already indicated) a constantly active, vital and curative force which permeates and animates everything; it is electricity that is animalized, vitalized, intentionalized, and propulsive, the magnetizing power of which produces such extraordinary effects upon the very mysterious springs of the human organism, that they seem to contain magic, since it is not yet given to science to explain the physical causes, no more than the life functions, the functions of nourishment, of reproduction, and of a thousand others things. But we firmly believe that well-studied magnetism or, if one wishes, the science of the magi, is the golden key that opens the still impenetrable sanctuary, where the studious and persevering adept will initiate themselves into the mysteries of their being and of their destiny.
The study of the action of man’s spirit over matter which (through his willpower) he uses to animate his life (as Prometheus once animated clay, imbuing it with the celestial fire which he stole from the gods), inevitably allows the initiate to know the action of the universal spirit in all of nature and to realize the difference between eternal phenomena and those which are only ephemeral.
The principle is ONE, the spirit of man is of the same nature as the universal spirit, which is to say, psychologically and with reason, that man (the human soul) was made in the image of God…”
-Paraphrase from Ch. 35, 36, 38 & 39 of MASONIC ORTHODOXY (1853) by J-M Ragon,
available in Ch. 5 of Esoteric Studies in Masonry – Volume 1: France, Freemasonry,
Hermeticism, Kabalah and Alchemical Symbolism
Part 2 – Hermetic or Philosophical Masonry and the Kabbalah (from 1853)
The preamble that we think should be given in this third part of Masonic orthodoxy, which is also the second part of Occult masonry, is simply an extract of the discourse of the orator in the hermetic degree of the True Mason; he expresses himself thus:
From there comes the mockery of those profane people who (without respect for God, and without esteem for the art) turn our most serious mysteries into derision.
From there come the crude satires of these ignorant people who (too heavy from their senses to elevate themselves to the sublimity of our knowledge) blaspheme everything that they can not comprehend.
From there come the ridicule assumed by these lazy people who (unless a skillful mind and a laborious hand is able to somehow give them all the costs of the discovery and of the work) despise everything and have neither the force/strength to imagine, nor the courage to execute the work.
From there comes the offensive libels from these reckless people who (with a boldness which is full of bad faith) dare to put the truth and the hermetic science among fabulous inventions and popular superstitions, with no other motive than the desire to invalidate the authenticity, and the impossibility of destroying the evidence.
Abandon these children of darkness and these enemies of themselves to all the shame of their vain and inconsistent ideas. For us (true children of the light and sincere friends of humanity) who see the truth in our teachings, let us enjoy the benefits and the sweetness that it gives us.”
FOUNDATIONS OF HERMETIC MASONRY.
This Masonry or science (that crowns all that the human genius has been able to conceive of as most sublime) rests upon three columns:
HOPE: which accompanies it;
CHARITY: which follows the success of the work.
Let us add (before entering into the matter) some extracts of hermetic instruction which will prove to masons who have been raised to mastery that they will only comprehend the hidden sense of their degree well after being initiated into the science of Hermes, if they have the good luck (through their merit and their studies) to be admitted. They will also encounter (in the kabbalistic citations which follow) the striking concordance of the religious doctrines with the secret doctrines of the high initiates, to which they seem to serve as a veil; which has made Bacon say: “A little bit of science makes a skeptic, lots of science makes a believer.”
ANSWER. – I have seen the direction of their rays.
Q. – What does the earth that receives these rays signify?
A. – That, without it, we can not mason and that the living fire is necessary for it.
Q. – What does the buried body of Hiram mean?
A. – That, within the earth, is enclosed the most beautiful of secrets.
Q. – What have you encountered within the earth?
A. – The brute stone, upon which three was the number seven.
Q. – What does the tomb of Hiram represent?
A. – That the first matter [or ‘materia prima’] can only be reproduced after putrefaction.
Q. – What does the very Fortunate (the very Respectable) brother represent in the lodge?
A. – Hiram or the first matter which, after the putrefaction, becomes the living fountain.
Q. – Why is he seated in the East?
A. – Because it must be that all matter is exposed to the rays of the sun, from the rising to the setting.
Q. – Why were you made to lie upon the tablet or tracing board?
A. – Because the very Fortunate brother represents the first matter in putrefaction.
Q. – Why were you pulled by the finger?
A. – To remind me that every good mason must assure himself whether or not the matter is rotten, before passing on to the second operation.
Q. – Why do you hold yourself in the lodge with your arms crossed?
A. – In order to testify about the patience that one must have in order to succeed.
Q. – What does the word STRENGTH/FORCE signify upon the blazing star?
A. – The black matter, indicator of putrefaction.
Q. – What does the word WISDOM signify upon the moon?
A. – The white matter, sign of purification.
Q. – What does the word BEAUTY signify upon the sun?
A. – The red matter, source of all good.
Q. – Why was a blindfold put over your eyes?
A. – In order to show me that, although I am a mason, I was in darkness.
Q. – What age are you?
A. – The number fifteen (3 + 5 + 7).
ANSWER. – In order to know, through numbers, the admirable harmony that there is between nature and religion.
Q. – How were you announced?
A. – With twelve knocks.
Q. – What did they signify?
A. – The twelve foundations of our temporal and spiritual happiness.
Q. – What is a kabbalist?
A. – A man who has learned, through tradition, the sacerdotal art and the royal art.
Q. – What does this motto signify: omnia in numeris sita sunt?
A. – That everything lies in numbers.
Q. – Can you explain this to me?
A. – I will do so up to the number twelve, your wisdom will grasp the rest.
Q. – In the number 10, what signifies the unity?
A. – God creating and animating matter expressed by zero which, alone, has no value.
Q. — How do you understand the unity?
|A.— A verb incarnated in the bosom of a virgin, a religion.||A spirit corporized in a virgin earth, nature.|
|A.— Man and woman||The agent and the patient.|
|A.— The three theological virtues.||The three principles of bodies|
|A.— The four cardinal virtues||The four elementary qualities.|
|A.— The quintessence of religion.||The quintessence of matter.|
|A.— The theological cube.||The physical cube.|
|A.— The seven sacraments.||The seven planets.|
|A.— The small number of elect.||The small number of sages.|
|A.— The exaltation of religion.||The exaltation of matter.|
|A.— The ten precepts of the law.||The ten precepts of nature.|
|A.— The multiplication of religion.||The multiplication of nature.|
|A.—The twelve articles of faith.
The twelve apostles, foundation of the holy city, who have preached through all the earth for our spiritual happiness.
| The twelve operations of nature.
The twelve signs of the zodiac, foundation of the prime mobile, spread through all the universe for our temporal happiness.
The rabbi (president of the Sanhedrin) adds:
Q. – Which is the generative number?
A. – In the divinity, it is the unity; in created things, it is the number 2; because divinity 1 engenders 2, and because in created things, 2 engenders 1.
Q. – What is the most majestic number?
A. – It is the number 3, because it denotes the triple divine essence.
Q. – What is the most mysterious number?
A. – It is the number 4, because it encloses all the mysteries of nature.
Q. – What is the most occult number?
A. – It is the number 5, because it is enclosed in the center of the compounds.
Q. – What is the most wholesome number?
A. – It is the number 6, because it encloses the source of our spiritual and temporal happiness.
Q. – What is the most fortunate number?
A. – It is the number 7, because it directs us to the decade, the perfect number.
Q. – What is the most desired number?
A. – It is the number 8, because whosoever possesses it is numbered among the elect and among the sages.
Q. – What is the most sublime number?
A. – It is the number 9, because, through it, religion and nature are exalted.
Q. – What is the most perfect number?
A. – The number 10 because it contains the unity which has made everything and the zero, symbol of matter and of chaos, out of which everything has emerged; it is comprehended then, in its figure, to be the created and the uncreated, the beginning and the end, power and force/strength, life and nothingness. In the study of numbers are found the correlation of all things: the power of the creator, the faculties of the creation, the alpha and the omega [ ΑΩ ] of the divine science.
Q. – What is the most multipliable number?
A. – It is the number 11, because with the possession of the two unities, one arrives at the multiplication of all things.
Q. – What is the most solid number?
A. – It is the number 12, because it is the foundation of our spiritual and temporal happiness.
Q. – What is the number favored by religion and by nature?
A. – It is the number 4 times 10, because it enables us (by releasing all that is impure) to eternally enjoy the number 6 times 12,
Q. – What does the square signify?
A. – The square is the symbol of the 4 elements contained in the triangle, also the emblem of the 3 chemical principles; these things reunited form the absolute unity in the first matter.
Q. – What does the center of the circumference signify?
A. – It signifies the universal spirit, vivifier of nature.
Q. – What do you understand by the quadrature of the circle?
A. – The search for the quadrature of the circle indicates that of the knowledge of the four vulgar elements (which, themselves, are composed of elementary spirits or principal principles); as well as the knowledge of the circle (although round) which is composed of lines that escape the view and are not captured by the understanding.
Q. – As attributes, to whom do the salt, sulfur, and mercury belong?
A. – Salt is the attribute of the Father, sulfur that of the Son, and the mercury that of the Holy Spirit. From the action of these three results the triangle in the square, and the seven angles, the decade [or 10], the perfect number.
Q. – What is the most confused figure?
A. – Zero, emblem of chaos, the unformed mixture of the elements.
Q. – What do the four mottos of the degree signify?
A. – That one must understand, see, keep quiet and enjoy one’s happiness.”
-Paraphrase from Ch. 1 of PHILOSOPHICAL MASONRY (1853) by J-M Ragon,
available in Ch. 6 of Esoteric Studies in Masonry – Volume 1: France, Freemasonry,
Hermeticism, Kabalah and Alchemical Symbolism
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