Friday, March 16, 2007

Masonic cornerstone laying ceremony: What does it mean?

A 60,000 square foot public library is being built in Santa Maria, California. Completion is expected in mid-2008. Celebrities, including radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger, have helped raise funds, a news article relates.

On March 24 comes the cornerstone dedication.

For hundreds of years it has been customary to have Freemasons perform a dedication ritual to "bless" the cornerstone of a public building.

This scares the willies out of evangelical Christians and paranoid, anti-Masonic conspiracy theorists. A few weeks ago we mentioned the "panic" the cornerstone at the Denver airport has caused in those prone to seeing New World Order symbolism everywhere.

Anyway... what's the point of a Masonic cornerstone dedication ritual? What does it entail?

A Masonic cornerstone ritual is probably the only Masonic ritual, other than a Masonic funeral, that the public (known masonically as "profanes") will ever see conducted. When the brethren are sharply dressed, and well-rehearsed, it's an awesome thing to behold. I recall watching on C-SPAN back in the early 1990s, before I was a Freemason, the Masonic re-dedication of the cornerstone at the U.S. Capitol.

The dedication ceremony is the symbolic laying of the cornerstone, that which supports (again, symbolically) the entire structure. When the cornerstone is discussed, by extension, it refers to the entire building project, and that, in turn refers not only to the actual physical actions to erect the building, but also to the mental, spiritual, even metaphysical energies that have come together to cause the creation of the edifice. The officers conducting the ceremony, usually officers of the state's Grand Lodge, symbolically square, level, and plumb the cornerstone, assuring that it is set correctly, that "the Craftsmen have done their duty."

After the Grand Lodge officers have squared, leveled and plumbed the cornerstone, the Grand Master "finishes the work" by proclaiming the foundation stone "well formed, true and trusty."

The Grand Master then "blesses," for lack of a better word, the cornerstone (again, which by extension, represents the entire project) by pouring corn (which means grain, and doesn't necessarily have to be maize), wine and oil.

The Corn of Nourishment symbolizes health and heartiness of the workers.

The Wine of Refreshment symbolizes plenty.

The Oil of Joy symbolizes peace and joy.

There is no "magical" effect; the Grand Master has no power to bestow these benefits. He is, quite simply, asking that these benefits and blessings be bestowed upon the project and the people by the GAOTU, the Great Architect of the Universe, God.

The following is reportedly the Cornerstone Leveling Ceremony (or Ritual) for the Grand Lodge of Texas A.F.& A.M. It is very similar to other ceremonies I've seen, including the one used by the Grand Lodge of Georgia.
In the cornerstone leveling ceremony it is permissible, but not necessary, to open a Master Mason's Lodge. A Representation of the Grand Lodge is opened and called off for the purpose of leveling the cornerstone.

After the Representation of the Grand Lodge is opened and called off the Brethren proceed to the site where the ceremony, under the direction of the Grand Master or his representative, proceeds as follows:

GRAND MASTER: Right Worshipful Grand Senior Warden, the Grand Lodge of Texas having been invited to lay the cornerstone of this edifice, and having assembled for that purpose, I now order that this, the Representation of the Grand Lodge of Texas, do now assist me in the performance of this work. This my will and pleasure you will, therefore, proclaim to the Grand Junior Warden, that the Brethren and others present may have due notice thereof.

GRAND SENIOR WARDEN: Right Worshipful Grand Junior Warden, it is the order of the Most Worshipful Grand Master that the cornerstone be now laid with Masonic honors; this you will proclaim to all present, that the occasion may be observed with due order and solemnity.

GRAND JUNIOR WARDEN: The Brethren and all persons present will take notice that the Most Worshipful Grand Master will now proceed to lay this cornerstone in due Masonic form. You will, therefore, observe the order and decorum becoming the important and solemn ceremonies in which we are about to engage.

GRAND MASTER: Right Worshipful Grand Treasurer, I now order you to deposit the corn, medals and papers in the place prepared for their reception.

The principal Architect then presents the working tools to the Grand Master, who directs the Grand Marshal to present them to the Deputy Grand Master and Grand Senior and Grand Junior Wardens.

The Grand Master, Deputy Grand Master, and Grand Wardens then descend from the platform; the Grand Master with the Trowel, the Deputy Grand Master with the Square, the Grand Senior Warden with the Level, and the Grand Junior Warden with the Plumb — the Grand Master standing at the East of the stone, his Deputy on his right, the Grand Senior Warden at the West, and the Grand Junior Warden at the South side of the stone. The Grand Master spreads the cement, and may then direct the Grand Marshal to order the craftsmen to lower the stone by three motions.

The Public Grand Honors may then be given [without words].

The Square, Level and Plumb are then applied to the stone by the proper officers.

GRAND MASTER: Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master, what is the proper jewel of your office?


GRAND MASTER: Have you applied the Square to those parts of the stone that should be squared?

DEPUTY GRAND MASTER: I have, Most Worshipful Grand Master, and the Craftsmen have done their duty.

GRAND MASTER: Right Worshipful Grand Senior Warden, what is the proper jewel of your office?


GRAND MASTER: Have you applied the Level to the stone?

GRAND SENIOR WARDEN: I have, Most Worshipful Grand Master, and the Craftsmen have done their duty.

GRAND MASTER: Right Worshipful Grand Junior Warden, what is the proper jewel of your office?


GRAND MASTER: Have you applied the Plumb to the several edges of the stone?

GRAND JUNIOR WARDEN: I have, Most Worshipful Grand Master, and the Craftsmen have done their duty.

GRAND MASTER: Having full confidence in your skill in the Royal Art, it remains with me to finish the work.

The Grand Master then gives three knocks upon the stone and says:

GRAND MASTER: I find this foundation stone well formed, true and trusty, and may this undertaking be conducted and completed by the Craftsmen, according to the Grand Plan, in Peace, Love, and Harmony.

The Deputy Grand Master then receives from the Grand Marshal the vessel containing Corn, and spreads the corn upon the stone, saying:

DEPUTY GRAND MASTER: May the health of the workman employed in this undertaking be preserved to them, and the Supreme Grand Architect bless and prosper their labors.

ALL BRETHREN: So mote it be.

The Grand Senior Warden then receives from the Grand Marshal the vessel containing wine, and pours the wine upon the stone, saying:

GRAND SENIOR WARDEN: May plenty be showered down upon the people of this State, and may the blessing of the bounteous Giver of all things attend their philanthropic undertakings.

ALL BRETHREN: So mote it be.

The Grand Junior Warden then receives the vessel containing Oil and pours the oil upon the stone, saying:

GRAND JUNIOR WARDEN: May the Supreme Ruler of the World preserve the people in peace, and vouchsafe to them the enjoyment of every blessing.

GRAND MASTER May the Corn of nourishment, the Wine of Refreshment the Oil of Joy, and all the necessaries of life abound among men throughout the world, and may the blessing of Almighty God be upon this undertaking, and may this structure here to be erected be preserved to the latest ages in order that it may promote the useful purpose for which it is designed

ALL BRETHREN: So mote it be.

The Grand Master then presents the implements to the Architect, saying:

GRAND MASTER To you Brother Architect, are confided the implements of operative Masonry with the fullest confidence that by your skill and taste a fabric shall arise which shall add new luster to your fame as a Master Builder; may it endure for many ages, a monument of the liberality and benevolence of its founders

ALL BRETHREN: So mote it be.

An oration suitable to the occasion may be then delivered. An ode may be sung and a prayer should conclude the ceremonies. After the leveling ceremony, the Brethren return to the Lodge room, the representation of the Grand Lodge is called back and closed.
Image: Georgia Grand Lodge members re-dedicating the cornerstone of the Georgia State Capitol building in 1985. Click here for additional photos.

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  1. Neat. I'll have to see if Wisconsin has such a ritual available to we Master Masons. I think it'd be neat to read.

    What would be more cool is if someone could webcast the actual ceremony.

    I love public Masonic events because it's a chance to show everyone what we do - even if it's just a family barbecue or kids' night with games and movies and such.

  2. Sounds like an awesome ritual to me. I wonder how may of these anti-Masonic conspiracy theorist nuts, especially the evangelical Christian types, have even considered the FACT that if it weren't for the Masons, there very likely would NOT BE a US of A.

  3. Dear Taper,

    I understand that often things are deposited inside the cornerstone in these masonic rites. In ancient Mesopotamia they built with earthen bricks, so instead of one big stone they made deposit chambers, and inside they would put clay objects that often had to do with the foundation ceremonies themselves. I put up some stuff about this in a recent Tibeto-logic blog (look here if you want), although my main point was to discuss ancient Iraqi words (like words for 'brick') that were somehow preserved in later Tibetan sources. In Egypt, as in the Horus temple at Edfu, they made sacral deposits of blue faience 'domino' pieces depicting Horus. They also put miniature versions of the tools they used in the construction work. What things are deposited inside in Masonic cornerstone rites? And why?



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