Symbolism of the Stone of Foundation

The following monitorial instructions on the Select Master degree appear on pp. 62-70 of “Cryptic Masonry: A Manual of the Council” by Albert G. Mackey.

The Stone of Foundation, which in this degree is represented by the altar on which is placed the Substitute Ark, constitutes one of the most important as well as abstruse of the symbols of Freemasonry. It is, it is true, scarcely alluded to, except in a very general way, in the primitive degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry, but is peculiarly appropriate to the Royal Arch, and especially to the degree of Select Master, where it is really the most essential symbol of the degree.

The Stone of Foundation must, however, be distinguished, 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 northeast 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, whose symbolism it is our present object to discuss. 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. This has a legendary history and a symbolic signification which are peculiar to itself, and which, differing from the history and meaning which belong to these other stones, particularly connect it with the degree of Select Master.

The Stone of Foundation is supposed, in the science of Masonic symbolism, to have been a stone placed at one time within the foundations of the first temple, or that of Solomon, and afterward, 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 a 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 center of the Most Holy Place, where the ark was overshadowed by the shekinah of God.”

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, 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.”

The Masonic legends of the Stone of Foundation are very numerous, and many of them contradictory and unsatisfactory. The series of legends which is now very generally adopted by Masonic scholars is that which commences with the patriarch Enoch, who is supposed to have been the first consecrator of the Stone of Foundation.

This 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 incrusted 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 on the deaths 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 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. According to the legend, when King Solomon was digging the foundations of the temple he discovered this stone of Enoch, which for wise purposes he deposited in a secure and secret place, that the Ineffable Name upon it might be preserved for future times.

The Foundation Stone of Masonry appears to be intimately connected with the stone worship of the ancients. History affords abundant examples which prove that the worship of a cubical stone formed an important feature of the religions of the 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 of 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.” And this symbolism is confirmed by Phurnutus, whom Toland quotes as saying that the god Hermes was represented without hands or feet, being a cubical stone, because the cubical figure betokened his solidity and stability.

Profane and Masonic history combined seem to establish the following series of facts: 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.

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 we arrive at this result, that the Masonic Stone of Foundation, so conspicuous in the degree of Select Master, 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 to be his reward.

The full text of Mackey’s monitorial instructions on the Royal Master degree may be found at:

Select Master from Mackey’s “Cryptic Masonry: A Manual of the Council”