The Symbolism of Freemasonry/Chapter XXX

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The Symbolism of Freemasonry by Albert Mackey
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXX.
The Stone of Foundation.
[1]

The Stone of Foundation constitutes one of the most important and abstruse of all the symbols of Freemasonry. It is referred to in numerous legends and traditions, not only of the Freemasons, but also of the Jewish Rabbins, the Talmudic writers, and even the Mussulman doctors. Many of these, it must be confessed, are apparently puerile and absurd; but some of them, and especially the masonic ones, are deeply interesting in their allegorical signification.

The Stone of Foundation is, properly speaking, a symbol of the higher degrees. It makes its first appearance in the Royal Arch, and forms, indeed, the most important symbol of that degree. But it is so intimately connected, in its legendary history, with the construction of the Solomonic temple, that it must be considered as a part of Ancient Craft Masonry, although he who confines the range of his investigations to the first three degrees, will have no means, within that narrow limit, of properly appreciating the symbolism of the Stone of Foundation.

As preliminary to the inquiry which is about to be instituted, it is necessary to distinguish the Stone of Foundation, both in its symbolism and in its legendary history, from other stones which play an important part in the masonic ritual, but which are entirely distinct from it. Such are the corner-stone, which was always placed in the north-east corner of the building about to be erected, and to which such a beautiful reference is made in the ceremonies of the first degree; or the keystone, which constitutes an interesting part of the Mark Master's degree; or, lastly, the cape-stone, upon which all the ritual of the Most Excellent Master's degree is founded. These are all, in their proper places, highly interesting and instructive symbols, but have no connection whatever with the Stone of Foundation or its symbolism. Nor, although the Stone of Foundation is said, for peculiar reasons, to have been of a cubical form, must it be confounded with that stone called by the continental Masons the cubical stone--the pierre cubique of the French, and the cubik stein of the German Masons, but which in the English system is known as the perfect ashlar.

The Stone of Foundation has a legendary history and a symbolic signification which are peculiar to itself, and which differ from the history and meaning which belong to these other stones.

Let us first define this masonic Stone of Foundation, then collate the legends which refer to it, and afterwards investigate its significance as a symbol. To the Mason who takes a pleasure in the study of the mysteries of his institution, the investigation cannot fail to be interesting, if it is conducted with any ability.

But in the very beginning, as a necessary preliminary to any investigation of this kind, it must be distinctly understood that all that is said of this Stone of Foundation in Masonry is to be strictly taken in a mythical or allegorical sense. Dr. Oliver, the most learned of our masonic writers, while undoubtedly himself knowing that it was simply a symbol, has written loosely of it, as though it were a substantial reality; and hence, if the passages in his "Historical Landmarks," and in his other works which refer to this celebrated stone are accepted by his readers in a literal sense, they will present absurdities and puerilities which would not occur if the Stone of Foundation was received, as it really is, as a philosophical myth, conveying a most profound and beautiful symbolism. Read in this spirit, as all the legends of Masonry should be read, the mythical story of the Stone of Foundation becomes one of the most important and interesting of all the masonic symbols.

The Stone of Foundation is supposed, by the theory which establishes it, to have been a stone placed at one time within the foundations of the temple of Solomon, and afterwards, during the building of the second temple, transported to the Holy of Holies. It was in form a perfect cube, and had inscribed upon its upper face, within a delta or triangle, the sacred tetragrammaton, or ineffable name of God. Oliver, speaking with the solemnity of an historian, says that Solomon thought that he had rendered the house of God worthy, so far as human adornment could effect, for the dwelling of God, "when he had placed the celebrated Stone of Foundation, on which the sacred name was mystically engraven, with solemn ceremonies, in that sacred depository on Mount Moriah, along with the foundations of Dan and Asher, the centre of the Most Holy Place, where the ark was overshadowed by the shekinah of God."[2] The Hebrew Talmudists, who thought as much of this stone, and had as many legends concerning it as the masonic Talmudists, called it eben shatijah[3] or "Stone of Foundation," because, as they said, it had been laid by Jehovah as the foundation of the world; and hence the apocryphal book of Enoch speaks of the "stone which supports the corners of the earth."

This idea of a foundation stone of the world was most probably derived from that magnificent passage of the book of Job, in which the Almighty demands of the afflicted patriarch,--

"Where wast thou, when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Declare, since thou hast such knowledge!
Who fixed its dimensions, since thou knowest?
Or who stretched out the line upon it?
Upon what were its foundations fixed?
And who laid its corner-stone,
When the morning stars sang together,

And all the sons of God shouted for joy?"[4]

Noyes, whose beautiful translation I have adopted as not materially differing from the common version, but which is far more poetical and more in the strain of the original, thus explains the allusions to the foundation-stone: "It was the custom to celebrate the laying of the corner-stone of an important building with music, songs, shouting, &c. Hence the morning stars are represented as celebrating the laying of the corner-stone of the earth."[5]

Upon this meagre statement have been accumulated more traditions than appertain to any other masonic symbol. The Rabbins, as has already been intimated, divide the glory of these apocryphal histories with the Masons; indeed, there is good reason for a suspicion that nearly all the masonic legends owe their first existence to the imaginative genius of the writers of the Jewish Talmud. But there is this difference between the Hebrew and the masonic traditions, that the Talmudic scholar recited them as truthful histories, and swallowed, in one gulp of faith, all their impossibilities and anachronisms, while the masonic student has received them as allegories, whose value is not in the facts, but in the sentiments which they convey.

With this understanding of their meaning, let us proceed to a collation of these legends.

In that blasphemous work, the "Toldoth Jeshu" or Life of Jesus, written, it is supposed, in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, we find the following account of this wonderful stone:--

"At that time [the time of Jesus] there was in the House of the Sanctuary [that is, the temple] a Stone of Foundation, which is the very stone that our father Jacob anointed with oil, as it is described in the twenty-eighth chapter of the book of Genesis. On that stone the letters of the tetragrammaton were inscribed, and whosoever of the Israelites should learn that name would be able to master the world. To prevent, therefore, any one from learning these letters, two iron dogs were placed upon two columns in front of the Sanctuary. If any person, having acquired the knowledge of these letters, desired to depart from the Sanctuary, the barking of the dogs, by magical power, inspired so much fear, that he suddenly forgot what he had acquired."

This passage is cited by the learned Buxtorf, in his "_Lexicon Talmudicum_;"[6] but in the copy of the "Toldoth Jeshu" which I have the good fortune to possess (for it is among the rarest of books), I find another passage which gives some additional particulars, in the following words:--

"At that time there was in the temple the ineffable name of God, inscribed upon the Stone of Foundation. For when King David was digging the foundation for the temple, he found in the depths of the excavation a certain stone, on which the name of God was inscribed. This stone he removed, and deposited it in the Holy of Holies."[7]

The same puerile story of the barking dogs is repeated, still more at length. It is not pertinent to the present inquiry, but it may be stated as a mere matter of curious information, that this scandalous book, which is throughout a blasphemous defamation of our Saviour, proceeds to say, that he cunningly obtained a knowledge of the tetragrammaton from the Stone of Foundation, and by its mystical influence was enabled to perform his miracles.

The masonic legends of the Stone of Foundation, based on these and other rabbinical reveries, are of the most extraordinary character, if they are to be viewed as histories, but readily reconcilable with sound sense, if looked at only in the light of allegories. They present an uninterrupted succession of events, in which the Stone of Foundation takes a prominent part, from Adam to Solomon, and from Solomon to Zerubbabel.

Thus the first of these legends, in order of time, relates that the Stone of Foundation was possessed by Adam while in the garden of Eden; that he used it as an altar, and so reverenced it, that, on his expulsion from Paradise, he carried it with him into the world in which he and his descendants were afterwards to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.

Another legend informs us that from Adam the Stone of Foundation descended to Seth. From Seth it passed by regular succession to Noah, who took it with him into the ark, and after the subsidence of the deluge, made on it his first thank-offering. Noah left it on Mount Ararat, where it was subsequently found by Abraham, who removed it, and consequently used it as an altar of sacrifice. His grandson Jacob took it with him when he fled to his uncle Laban in Mesopotamia, and used it as a pillow when, in the vicinity of Luz, he had his celebrated vision.

Here there is a sudden interruption in the legendary history of the stane, and we have no means of conjecturing how it passed from the possession of Jacob into that of Solomon. Moses, it is true, is said to have taken it with him out of Egypt at the time of the exodus, and thus it may have finally reached Jerusalem. Dr. Adam Clarke[8] repeats what he very properly calls "a foolish tradition," that the stone on which Jacob rested his head was afterwards brought to Jerusalem, thence carried after a long lapse of time to Spain, from Spain to Ireland, and from Ireland to Scotland, where it was used as a seat on which the kings of Scotland sat to be crowned. Edward I., we know, brought a stone, to which this legend is attached, from Scotland to Westminster Abbey, where, under the name of Jacob's Pillow, it still remains, and is always placed under the chair upon which the British sovereign sits to be crowned, because there is an old distich which declares that wherever this stone is found the Scottish kings shall reign.[9]

But this Scottish tradition would take the Stone of Foundation away from all its masonic connections, and therefore it is rejected as a masonic legend.

The legends just related are in many respects contradictory and unsatisfactory, and another series, equally as old, are now very generally adopted by masonic scholars, as much better suited to the symbolism by which all these legends are explained.

This series of legends commences with the patriarch Enoch, who is supposed to have been the first consecrator of the Stone of Foundation. The legend of Enoch is so interesting and important in masonic science as to excuse something more than a brief reference to the incidents which it details.

The legend in full is as follows: Enoch, under the inspiration of the Most High, and in obedience to the instructions which he had received in a vision, built a temple under ground on Mount Moriah, and dedicated it to God. His son, Methuselah, constructed the building, although he was not acquainted with his father's motives for the erection. This temple consisted of nine vaults, situated perpendicularly beneath each other, and communicating by apertures left in each vault.

Enoch then caused a triangular plate of gold to be made, each side of which was a cubit long; he enriched it with the most precious stones, and encrusted the plate upon a stone of agate of the same form. On the plate he engraved the true name of God, or the tetragrammaton, and placing it on a cubical stone, known thereafter as the Stone of Foundation, he deposited the whole within the lowest arch.

When this subterranean building was completed, he made a door of stone, and attaching to it a ring of iron, by which it might be occasionally raised, he placed it over the opening of the uppermost arch, and so covered it that the aperture could not be discovered. Enoch himself was not permitted to enter it but once a year, and after the days of Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech, and the destruction of the world by the deluge, all knowledge of the vault or subterranean temple, and of the Stone of Foundation, with the sacred and ineffable name inscribed upon it, was lost for ages to the world.

At the building of the first temple of Jerusalem, the Stone of Foundation again makes its appearance. Reference has already been made to the Jewish tradition that David, when digging the foundations of the temple, found in the excavation which he was making a certain stone, on which the ineffable name of God was inscribed, and which stone he is said to have removed and deposited in the Holy of Holies. That King David laid the foundations of the temple upon which the superstructure was subsequently erected by Solomon, is a favorite theory of the legend-mongers of the Talmud.

The masonic tradition is substantiallv the same as the Jewish, but it substitutes Solomon for David, thereby giving a greater air of probability to the narrative; and it supposes that the stone thus discovered by Solomon was the identical one that had been deposited in his secret vault by Enoch. This Stone of Foundation, the tradition states, was subsequently removed by King Solomon, and, for wise purposes, deposited in a secret and safer place.

In this the masonic tradition again agrees with the Jewish, for we find in the third chapter of the "Treatise on the Temple" written by the celebrated Maimonides, the following narrative--

"There was a stone in the Holy of Holies, on its west side, on which was placed the ark of the covenant, and before it the pot of manna and Aaron's rod. But when Solomon had built the temple, and foresaw that it was, at some future time, to be destroyed, he constructed a deep and winding vault under ground, for the purpose of concealing the ark, wherein Josiah afterwards, as we learn in the Second Book of Chronicles, xxxv. 3, deposited it, with the pot of manna, the rod of Aaron, and the oil of anointing."

The Talmudical book "Yoma" gives the same tradition, and says that "the ark of the covenant was placed in the centre of the Holy of Holies, upon a stone rising three fingers' breadth above the floor, to be, as it were, a pedestal for it." "This stone," says Prideaux,[10] "the Rabbins call the Stone of Foundation, and give us a great deal of trash about it."

There is much controversy as to the question of the existence of any ark in the second temple. Some of the Jewish writers assert that a new one was made; others, that the old one was found where it had been concealed by Solomon; and others again contend that there was no ark at all in the temple of Zerubbabel, but that its place was supplied by the Stone of Foundation on which it had originally rested.

Royal Arch Masons well know how all these traditions are sought to be reconciled by the masonic legend, in which the substitute ark and the Stone of Foundation play so important a part.

In the thirteenth degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, the Stone of Foundation is conspicuous as the resting-place of the sacred delta.

In the Royal Arch and Select Master's degrees of the Americanized York Rite, the Stone of Foundation constitutes the most important part of the ritual. In both of these it is the receptacle of the ark, on which the ineffable name is inscribed.

Lee, in his "Temple of Solomon", has devoted a chapter to this Stone of Foundation, and thus recapitulates the Talmudic and Rabbinical traditions on the subject:--

"Vain and futilous are the feverish dreams of the ancient Rabbins concerning the Foundation Stone of the temple. Some assert that God placed this stone in the centre of the world, for a future basis and settled consistency for the earth to rest upon. Others held this stone to be the first matter, out of which all the beautiful visible beings of the world have been hewn forth and produced to light. Others relate that this was the very same stone laid by Jacob for a pillow under his head, in that night when he dreamed of an angelic vision at Bethel, and afterwards anointed and consecrated it to God. Which when Solomon had found (no doubt by forged revelation, or some tedious search, like another Rabbi Selemoh), he durst not but lay it sure, as the principal foundation stone of the temple. Nay, they say further, he caused to be engraved upon it the tetragrammaton, or the ineffable name of Jehovah."[11]

It will be seen that the masonic traditions on the subject of the Stone of Foundation do not differ very materially from these Rabbinical ones, although they give a few additional circumstances.

In the masonic legend, the Foundation Stone first makes its appearance, as I have already said, in the days of Enoch, who placed it in the bowels of Mount Moriah. There it was subsequently discovered by King Solomon, who deposited it in a crypt of the first temple, where it remained concealed until the foundations of the second temple were laid, when it was discovered and removed to the Holy of Holies. But the most important point of the legend of the Stone of Foundation is its intimate and constant connection with the tetragrammaton, or ineffable name. It is this name, inscribed upon it, within the sacred and symbolic delta, that gives to the stone all its masonic value and significance. It is upon this fact, that it was so inscribed, that its whole symbolism depends.

Looking at these traditions in anything like the light of historical narratives, we are compelled to consider them, to use the plain language of Lee, "but as so many idle and absurd conceits." We must go behind the legend, viewing it only as an allegory, and study its symbolism.

The symbolism of the Foundation Stone of Masonry is therefore the next subject of investigation.

In approaching this, the most abstruse, and one of the most important, symbols of the Order, we are at once impressed with its apparent connection with the ancient doctrine of stone worship. Some brief consideration of this species of religious culture is therefore necessary for a proper understanding of the real symbolism of the Stone of Foundation.

The worship of stones is a kind of fetichism, which in the very infancy of religion prevailed, perhaps, more extensively than any other form of religious culture. Lord Kames explains the fact by supposing that stones erected as monuments of the dead became the place where posterity paid their veneration to the memory of the deceased, and that at length the people, losing sight of the emblematical signification, which was not readily understood, these monumental stones became objects of worship.

Others have sought to find the origin of stone-worship in the stone that was set up and anointed by Jacob at Bethel, and the tradition of which had extended into the heathen nations and become corrupted. It is certain that the Phoenicians worshipped sacred stones under the name of Baetylia, which word is evidently derived from the Hebrew Bethel; and this undoubtedly gives some appearance of plausibility to the theory.

But a third theory supposes that the worship of stones was derived from the unskilfulness of the primitive sculptors, who, unable to frame, by their meagre principles of plastic art, a true image of the God whom they adored, were content to substitute in its place a rude or scarcely polished stone. Hence the Greeks, according to Pausanias, originally used unhewn stones to represent their deities, thirty of which that historian says he saw in the city of Pharas. These stones were of a cubical form, and as the greater number of them were dedicated to the god Hermes, or Mercury, they received the generic name of Hermaa. Subsequently, with the improvement of the plastic art, the head was added.[12]

One of these consecrated stones was placed before the door of almost every house in Athens. They were also placed in front of the temples, in the gymnasia or schools, in libraries, and at the corners of streets, and in the roads. When dedicated to the god Terminus they were used as landmarks, and placed as such upon the concurrent lines of neighboring possessions.

The Thebans worshipped Bacchus under the form of a rude, square stone.

Arnobius[13] says that Cybele was represented by a small stone of a black color. Eusebius cites Porphyry as saying that the ancients represented the deity by a black stone, because his nature is obscure and inscrutable. The reader will here be reminded of the black stone Hadsjar el Aswad, placed in the south-west corner of the Kaaba at Mecca, which was worshipped by the ancient Arabians, and is still treated with religious veneration by the modern Mohammedans. The Mussulman priests, however, say that it was originally white, and of such surprising splendor that it could be seen at the distance of four days' journey, but that it has been blackened by the tears of pilgrims.

The Druids, it is well known, had no other images of their gods but cubical, or sometimes columnar, stones, of which Toland gives several instances.

The Chaldeans had a sacred stone, which they held in great veneration, under the name of Mnizuris, and to which they sacrificed for the purpose of evoking the Good Demon.

Stone-worship existed among the early American races. Squier quotes Skinner as asserting that the Peruvians used to set up rough stones in their fields and plantations, which were worshipped as protectors of their crops. And Gam a says that in Mexico the presiding god of the spring was often represented without a human body, and in place thereof a pilaster or square column, whose pedestal was covered with various sculptures.

Indeed, so universal was this stone-worship, that Higgins, in his "Celtic Druids," says that, "throughout the world the first object of idolatry seems to have been a plain, unwrought stone, placed in the ground, as an emblem of the generative or procreative powers of nature." And the learned Bryant, in his "Analysis of Ancient Mythology," asserts that "there is in every oracular temple some legend about a stone."

Without further citations of examples from the religious usages of other countries, it will, I think, be conceded that the cubical stone formed an important part of the religious worship of primitive nations. But Cudworth, Bryant, Faber, and all other distinguished writers who have treated the subject, have long since established the theory that the pagan religions were eminently symbolic. Thus, to use the language of Dudley, the pillar or stone "was adopted as a symbol of strength and firmness,--a symbol, also, of the divine power, and, by a ready inference, a symbol or idol of the Deity himself."[14] And this symbolism is confirmed by Cornutus, who says that the god Hermes was represented without hands or feet, being a cubical stone, because the cubical figure betokened his solidity and stability.[15]

Thus, then, the following facts have been established, but not precisely in this order: First, that there was a very general prevalence among the earliest nations of antiquity of the worship of stones as the representatives of Deity; secondly, that in almost every ancient temple there was a legend of a sacred or mystical stone; thirdly, that this legend is found in the masonic system; and lastly, that the mystical stone there has received the name of the "Stone of Foundation."

Now, as in all the other systems the stone is admitted to be symbolic, and the tradition connected with it mystical, we are compelled to assume the same predicates of the masonic stone. It, too, is symbolic, and its legend a myth or an allegory.

Of the fable, myth, or allegory, Bailly has said that, "subordinate to history and philosophy, it only deceives that it may the better instruct us. Faithful in preserving the realities which are confided to it, it covers with its seductive envelope the lessons of the one and the truths of the other."[16] It is from this stand-point that we are to view the allegory of the Stone of Foundation, as developed in one of the most interesting and important symbols of Masonry.

The fact that the mystical stone in all the ancient religions was a symbol of the Deity, leads us necessarily to the conclusion that the Stone of Foundation was also a symbol of Deity. And this symbolic idea is strengthened by the tetragrammaton, or sacred name of God, that was inscribed upon it. This ineffable name sanctifies the stone upon which it is engraved as the symbol of the Grand Architect. It takes from it its heathen signification as an idol, and consecrates it to the worship of the true God.

The predominant idea of the Deity, in the masonic system, connects him with his creative and formative power. God is, to the Freemason, Al Gabil, as the Arabians called him, that is, The Builder; or, as expressed in his masonic title, the Grand Architect of the Universe, by common consent abbreviated in the formula G.A.O.T.U. Now, it is evident that no symbol could so appropriately suit him in this character as the Stone of Foundation, upon which he is allegorically supposed to have erected his world. Such a symbol closely connects the creative work of God, as a pattern and exemplar, with the workman's erection of his temporal building on a similar foundation stone.

But this masonic idea is still further to be extended. The great object of all Masonic labor is divine truth. The search for the lost word is the search for truth. But divine truth is a term synonymous with God. The ineffable name is a symbol of truth, because God, and God alone, is truth. It is properly a scriptural idea. The Book of Psalms abounds with this sentiment. Thus it is said that the truth of the Lord "reacheth unto the clouds," and that "his truth endureth unto all generations." If, then, God is truth, and the Stone of Foundation is the masonic symbol of God, it follows that it must also be the symbol of divine truth.

When we have arrived at this point in our speculations, we are ready to show how all the myths and legends of the Stone of Foundation may be rationally explained as parts of that beautiful "science of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols," which is the acknowledged definition of Freemasonry.

In the masonic system there are two temples; the first temple, in which the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry are concerned, and the second temple, with which the higher degrees, and especially the Royal Arch, are related. The first temple is symbolic of the present life; the second temple is symbolic of the life to come. The first temple, the present life, must be destroyed; on its foundations the second temple, the life eternal, must be built.

But the mystical stone was placed by King Solomon in the foundations of the first temple. That is to say, the first temple of our present life must be built on the sure foundation of divine truth, "for other foundation can no man lay."

But although the present life is necessarily built upon the foundation of truth, yet we never thoroughly attain it in this sublunary sphere. The Foundation Stone is concealed in the first temple, and the Master Mason knows it not. He has not the true word. He receives only a substitute.

But in the second temple of the future life, we have passed from the grave, which had been the end of our labors in the first. We have removed the rubbish, and have found that Stone of Foundation which had been hitherto concealed from our eyes. We now throw aside the substitute for truth which had contented us in the former temple, and the brilliant effulgence of the tetragrammaton and the Stone of Foundation are discovered, and thenceforth we are the possessors of the true word--of divine truth. And in this way, the Stone of Foundation, or divine truth, concealed in the first temple, but discovered and brought to light in the second, will explain that passage of the apostle, "For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

And so, the result of this inquiry is, that the masonic Stone of Foundation is a symbol of divine truth, upon which all Speculative Masonry is built, and the legends and traditions which refer to it are intended to describe, in an allegorical way, the progress of truth in the soul, the search for which is a Mason's labor, and the discovery of which is his reward.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. A portion of this essay, but in a very abridged form, was used by the author in his work on "Cryptic Masonry."
  2. Hist. Landmarks, i. 459, note 52.
  3. See the Gemara and Buxtorf Lex. Talm., p. 2541.
  4. Job xxxviii. 4-7.
  5. A New Translation of the Book of Job, notes, p. 196.
  6. In voc. [Hebrew: shint-tav-yod-yod-heh], where some other curious extracts from the Talmud and Talmudic writers on the subject of the Stone of Foundation are given.
  7. Sepher Toldoth Jeshu, p. 6. The abominably scurrilous character of this work aroused the indignation of the Christians, who, in the fifteenth century, were not distinguished for a spirit of tolerance, and the Jews, becoming alarmed, made every effort to suppress it. But, in 1681, it was republished by Wagenselius in his "Tela Ignea Satanae," with a Latin translation.
  8. Comment, on Gen. xxviii. 18.
  9. "Ni fallit fatum, Scoti quocunque locatum Invenient lapidem, regnare tenentur ibidem."
  10. Old and New Testament connected, vol. i. p. 148.
  11. The Temple of Solomon, pourtrayed by Scripture Light, ch. ix. p. 194. Of the Mysteries laid up in the Foundation of the Temple.
  12. See Pausanias, lib. iv.
  13. The "Disputationes adversus Gentes" of Arnobius supplies us with a fund of information on the symbolism of the classic mythology.
  14. Naology, ch. iii. p. 119.
  15. Cornut. de Nat. Deor. c. 16.
  16. Essais sur les Fables, t. i. lett. 2. p. 9.