The Cornerstones of Tradition

December 13, 2018

“The laying of cornerstones with ritualistic ceremonies is as old as the art of building.” – Grand Lodge of Colorado, Cornerstone Ceremony


“We have built no national temples but the Capitol; we consult no common oracles but the Constitution.” Representative Rufus Choate, 1833



On the morning of September 18, 1793, as Jupiter was about to rise in the East and Regulus, the “heart” of the lion, to culminate at the meridian height, George Washington and the Brethren of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 assembled on the south bank of the Potomac. 


The artillery fired a military salute and the drummers began. 


Together with Brothers from Maryland Lodge No. 9 they crossed the river and marched to President’s Square to meet lodge No. 15, newly chartered in the Federal city, and then two-by-two they marched, assembling in due and ancient form at Jenkins hill. 


George Washington, President of the United States; Joseph Clark, Grand Master pro tem; and Elisha Dick, Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22, stood to the east of the large cornerstone prepared and ready for installation in the foundation of the Capitol. The rest of the procession formed up to the west. If the sun had not been out, the bright planet Jupiter would be visible behind George Washington rising at the east angle, and above the assembly, at the mid-heaven, that “high meridian”, the royal star Regulus would be seen to shine – one of the four “watchers”, ancient marker of the summer solstice in the heart of the constellation Leo, associated with the archangel RaphaelMichael, even Uriel by some. 


Silence descended upon the group and then the volley from the artillery announced the moment. The Grand Marshall delivered up a silver foundation plate to be read and then W.B. George Washington descended into the cavazion trench to deposit the plate himself. The ropes worked in the pulleys and the cornerstone was lowered down into the earth, atop the silver plate, and then the consecration with corn, wine, and oil. Reverential prayer stirred the group and then “Masonic chanting honors” were followed by fifteen volleys from the artillery.[1] The assembly broke and repaired nearby as a 500 pound ox was brought to the fires already kindled on the hillside. The Brethren feasted in the newfound moment, an expanse of history stretching out before them. As the sun moved westward, and the feasting waned, fifteen more volleys culminated the proceedings and, before the shadows stretched into the darkness of night, the Brethren dispersed.


This was not the first time a Masonic ceremony had been used in demarking a significant moment in the birth of the fledgling United States. Two years earlier, on Friday, April 15, 1791, the Brethren of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 (then No. 39 and operating under the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania) placed the first of forty boundary stones at Jones Point – a rounded peninsula jutting into the Potomac at the southernmost reaches of the region surveyed for the new capital. George Washington was not present at that ceremony; however history records he visited the site in March the same year. The Brethren first attended at Wise’s Tavern and, shortly after 3 p.m., upon the arrival of the Federal District Commissioners, Daniel Carroll and Dr. David Stuart (a member of Alexandria Lodge),[2] they raised a toast. 


 “May the stone we are about to place in the ground remain an immoveable monument of the wisdom and unanimity of North America,” they said.[3] The gentlemen finished their wine and then, two-by-file, the Brethren marched to Jones Point where the stone was laid and consecrated with corn, wine, and oil. At 3:50 p.m. on Friday, April 15, 1791, Jupiter rose in the east, retrograde, with the Moon seven degrees from conjunction. The Reverend James Muir, Lodge Chaplain, lead the invocation:


“Of America it may be said as it was of Judea of old, that it is a good land and large….May this stone long commemorate the goodness of God in those uncommon events which have given America a name among the nations – under this stone may jealousy and selfishness be forever buried!” He said.



 The specific location had been chosen by Benjamin Banneker, a free black man and autodidact who had proved himself one of the most capable astronomers in the new world. Legend holds that he fixed the position of the first stone by lying on his back to plot six stars as they crossed his position at a particular time of night.[4]This no doubt ensured accurate placement of the boundary stone – the night sky has long been a determinant in gaining one’s bearings; most navigation in those times was greatly assisted by observations of the stars. In fact, Banneker had come to learn mathematics by consulting (and in at least one instance, correcting) the annual almanacs published by the Astronomer Royal, publications so necessary for ensuring viability of British trade. But what of Jupiter, rising in the east? That certainly has no bearing on navigation or surveying, outside the conjunctions and occultations the planet might make, significant as a relative timing event in estimating longitude perhaps. But Jupiter rising in the east is indubitably of less significance for such calculations.


 A third example can be found in the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument, laid with Masonic ceremony on  July 4, 1848. At just after 1 p.m. that day, Jupiter exalted in Cancer culminated directly overhead in his own hour.  


In order to understand the timing of these events, to coincide with such celestial alignments, and why cornerstone laying has been attended by “ritualistic ceremony”, we need to entertain a more ancient worldview, one almost entirely forgotten in modern times. A worldview that reached a significant perfection in the Renaissance and one that nonetheless informs our society still to this day, hidden in plain sight all around us. 


The anonymous author of the famous medieval grimoire, the Picatrix, summarizes this worldview thus:


"The ancient Greeks specialized in the nayranjat, flipping the eye, ‘Tarjih’, and talismans, which they called syllogismus, which means bringing down the high spirits…. The ancient Greeks were not able to deal with this science without astrology."[5]


It bears reflecting that, thousands of years ago, efforts directed toward the construction of large stone edifices were chiefly for reasons other than simple habitation. Such constructions seem to have been first oriented to evince the passing of the seasons, marking the rising and setting of the Sun on the corners of the year and aligned to forecast the appearances of various stars (such as the helical rising of Sirius in ancient Egypt, for example, which corresponded with the rains and the flooding of the Nile). The vast undertaking of the Temple of Solomon likewise suggests that, in the ancient world at least, large building projects (which employed thousands of people over scores of years) were typically undertook for purposes of divine scope. The ancient site of Göbekli Tepe likewise suggests early human endeavor in constructing stone monuments to be aligned to catalogue, forecast, and perhaps synergize, celestial events.[6]


In a very practical sense, all knowledge has come from above. In determining the course of the year, in observing the passage of the Moon, and devising the geometry necessary to predict the return of the seasons, the mathematics of the circle was born – perhaps the first and most fundamental expression of humankind’s desire to understand the unknown but, more practically, to make preparations for the future – to know when to sow and when to reap, when to travel and when to stay put, to know one’s location relative another, and to understand relative distance and the passage of time. These determinations marked the origin of our species, of collective organization and governance, and must have been the earliest focus of human ingenuity in fostering livelihood against the elements. 



Humans have forever kept time. And time is universally observed on the gnomon of the night – the Moon – which appears and disappears each month, finding fullness twelve to thirteen times each year and, by its course in opposition to the Sun, portraying the annual position of the Sun itself. As the seasons brought change, seemingly marked by the Moon’s passage through the constellations, so meaning was ascribed to the heavenly houses. Meaning that reflected the mortality of man – the rise and fall of age, the spring, summer, autumn and winter of our years. Just as the helical rising of Sirius, heralding the spring, and thus the annual flooding of the Nile with its rich alluvial sediment, became associated with the flooding itself – and thus good fortune, plenty, and longevity and, ultimately, the goddess Isis.


For thousands of years, then, a tradition of star lore occupied human endeavor, and significant for our purposes here, the art of building particularly. 


As early as 2872 BCE (and likely earlier still) the historical record preserves that astrology was in use at the royal court. Sargon of Akkad, who conquered all of southern Mesopotamia, parts of Syria, Anatolia, and Elam (in present-day Iran) enlisted the aid of astrologer priests. By 1960 BCE the great observatories were built at Ziggarut, Urak, Ur, and Babylon. The Enuma Anu Enlil, written in Babylonia around 1600 BCE, comprises seventy tablets in cuneiform detailing astrological omens informed by the planetary positions. Particular attention is given to Venus and Jupiter – after the Moon, the two brightest bodies in the night sky, and known as the lesser and greater fortunes respectively. By 1350 BCE, during the Kassite dynasty in Babylon, boundary stones appear on the record as royal charters, calling on the gods to witness and protect the ownership of land.[7]


This tradition appears to have persisted – informing much of occult science and influencing the development of humanity for millennia. Consider that the Baba Batra in the Talmud records that “[Rabbi] Eliezer the Modiite said that Abraham possessed a power of reading the stars for which he was much sought after by the potentates of East and West.”[8] And that in Psalm 19, the Psalmist writes that, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”[9] King Solomon, as putative author of Ecclesiastes, reminds us that, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”[10] and, significant for our purposes here, he enumerates, “a time to build”.[11]


Indeed the specific application of astrological timing to mark the dividing of land or the laying of the first stone founding a building or city is prominent throughout the historical record.


 For example, the founding of the city of Baghdad was famously elected for the Caliph Abu Ja’far Al-Mansur by his court astrologer, the Persian Magician Nawbakht, with the assistance of the famed Jewish Astrologer, Mashallah. At (what we would identify today as) 2:40 p.m. Local Time, on July 31 in the year 762, the first stone of the great city was laid with ceremony and 100,000 workmen began construction. Significantly Jupiter, fortified in domicile, is rising in the east. Jupiter is stationary – at the so-called second station – and about to go direct. That is, the planet is about to resume a forward course through the Zodiac after a temporary period of retrogradation. Jupiter further rules the fourth house, the house of immovable goods (such as real estate) bringing longevity and plenty to the undertaking. The enemies of the state – signified by Mercury in this chart, the ruler of the seventh house – are conjunct the Dragon’s Tail (the malefic place of the eclipse – and thereby occulted), retrograde (going backwards), peregrine (without assistance from the other planets), and malevolently disposed in the eighth house of death (the eight house corresponds to the diurnal declination of Sun during the hottest time of the day). The Moon, a benevolent waxing gibbous, is parallel the fortuitous fixed star, Sirius (the star most sacred to the Egyptians), and the Part of Fortune (a mathematically derived point applied by taking the longitude of the Moon from the ascendant and subtracting the longitude of the Sun) is conjunct the mid-heaven bringing fortune to the rulers of the city and the city-state as a whole.  The ruler of the ninth house of learning and wisdom is the Sun, which is in trine aspect (the most benefic aspect) with Jupiter and the Ascendant – thus knowledge, literally “light” – comes to the people to bring fortune and enlightenment. That Baghdad would become a center of learning and a prominent center of knowledge and science is discernible in the symbolism intended by the chart.


But this tradition was not exclusive to the Levant or the Arab world (note, for example, that the election of Baghdad was undertook by a Zoroastrian astrologer (not a Muslim) with the aid of a Jewish astrologer for the Abbasid Caliph). The Arabs transmitted the Hellenistic and Babylonian traditions alongside the westward expansion of Islam, and preserved the teachings of ancient Greece and the Levant that were lost in Western Europe during the dark ages following the collapse of the Roman empire. (It’s for this reason that many of our star names are principally derived from Arabic words – such as Alderberan, AlgolZuben Elgenubi,[12] etc.)


There is no doubt that the practice of electing times to begin specific undertakings informed medieval Christendom as well. William the Conqueror invaded the British isles when a comet (most likely Halley’s comet) was prominent in the night sky, causing one chronicler, Elimer of Malmesury, to remark, “You’ve come, have you? … You’ve come, you source of tears to many mothers, you evil. I hate you! It is long since I saw you; but I see you now you are much more terrible, for I see you brandishing the downfall of my country.”[13]  Halley’s comet was particularly close to the Earth in 1066 CE – less than 10 million miles away – and was relatively bright. That William took the comet as a sign portentous of his invasion will never be known, but considering the worldview prominent in his time – and the theological practices at the royal courts common to his day – such an assertion does seem plausible. The comet is given prominence in the Bayeaux Tapestry, for example, a contemporaneous medieval embroidery commemorating William’s victory.


Great exertions of human labor were typically undertook in consideration of the stars.[14] At the very least, forecasting the origin of an undertaking to coincide with fortunate stars must have provided a fitting reason for such exertions to be begun. 


It should be no surprise, then, that electing times for building edifices became commonplace to the Roman Church and, through it, among the operative Craft who devised the geometries necessary to align the great Cathedrals with the heavens. Cathedrals such as Santa Maria del Fiore, in Florence; St. Petronio, in Bologna; and churches like Santa Maria degli Angeli e die Martiri, in Rome, among many others, which all incorporate meridian lines where solar noon casts a ray onto a calendar upon the floor, readily demonstrate such mastery during the Renaissance.


Certainly, this philosophy was not merely geospatial – although that was a significant part of it. The movements of the heavens might be thought of as openings in a great machine that reveal and conceal different irradiances issuing from the divine source of all. When certain openings overlap, for example, a greater irradiance of a particular nature would be represented. This is well summarized by the great Platonic scholar and 15th Century Renaissance philosopher, Marsilio Ficino, in his famous treatise, the De Triplici Vita:


"By a similar system they think a chain of beings descends by levels from any star of the firmament

through any planet under its dominion. If, therefore, as I said, you combine at the right time all the Solar things through any level of that order, i.e., men of Solar nature or something belonging to such a man, likewise animals, plants, metals, gems, whatever pertains to these, you will drink in unconditionally the power of the Sun and to some extent the natural powers of the Solar daemons."[15]


The laying of a cornerstone, then, when set according to an equivalent scheme represented in the heavens, was thought to incorporate the heavenly virtues that informed the moment, to resonate those virtues and sustain them – like a chord struck on the great harp of heaven, some tuneful note that constructively reinforces harmonics to fade over time, as compared to, say, a disharmonic, destructively interfering chord that cacophonously dissipates in short order. This music, though, was wrought on the world itself, played first by tuning the moment in line with the significances represented in the heavens, and then struck by incorporating such elements as words, music, and substances, which corresponded with and represented the quality of the moment and, therefore, the endeavor undertook at that time.


This view is echoed by the famous Renaissance monk, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), writing in the early 16th Century for his patron, the great Trithimeus (1462-1516), in collecting the hidden philosophies:


"By which forms [the soul of the world] did in the heavens above the stars frame to herself shapes also, and stamped upon all these some properties; on the stars therefore, shapes and properties, all the virtues of inferior species, as also their properties do depend; so that every species has its celestial shape, or figure that is suitable to it, from which also proceeds a wonderful gift of operating, which proper gift it receives from its own Idea, through the seminal form of the Soul of the World."[16]


We see this in the 13th Century as well, referring again to the Picatrix:


"An image to strengthen and make fortunate a city. Make an image with the ascendant and the tenth house and their lords fortunate, with the fortunes aspecting them, and make fortunate the lord of the second house and the eighth house, and make fortunate the lord of the ascendant and have him aspecting a fortune, and make fortunate the house of the lord of the ascendant, and the Moon and the lord of the house of the Moon. And when the image is made as described, bury it in the middle of the city and it shall be as you wish."[17]


And also, succinctly put:


"Existence is the acceptance to reflect the picture so that the primordial acceptance and the picture become one…."[18]


And we find vestiges of this worldview preserved in the early catechisms of the Craft, about the time when speculative Masons ceased also to be operative Masons. (Bear in mind that operative Masons in the middle ages were also speculative – they were engaged in building edifices suited for the indwelling of Deity. The lecture on the middle chamber, in the Colorado work at least, readily reminds us of this fact: “Our ancient brethren wrought in both operative and speculative. They worked at the building of King Solomon’s Temple and many other sacred and Masonic edifices.”)


The Graham Manuscript (c. 1726) records an early Masonic catechism consisting of thirty-seven questions and answers, and a historical lecture (or account). It almost certainly predates the Hiramic legend, because the context is focused on the raising of Noah by his three sons to retrieve the antediluvian secrets lost after the flood. It also includes an account of Bezaleel, one of the builders of the Ark of the Covenant, and clearly includes material significant to what we would now recognize as the Holy Royal Arch. It begins by establishing the need for prayer to essentially exorcise the building and, in so doing, demonstrates a culture of incantation prevalent in the 18th Century operative Craft:


Q: What is your foundation words at the laying of a building where you expect that some infernal squandering spirit hath haunted and may shake your handiwork?

A:  Come let us and you shall have […]


Q: To whom do you speak?

A:   To the blessed Trinity in prayer.


Q:  How do you administer these words?

A:  Kneeling, bareheaded, facing towards the east.


Q:  What mean you be the expression thereof?

A:  We mean that we forsake self-righteousness and [differ] from these Babylonians who presumed to build to heaven, but we pray the blessed Trinity to let us build truly and square, and the [the Trinity] shall have the praise to whom it is due.


Q:  When [were] these words made or what need was [there] for them?

A:  I answer into the primitive [world], before the Gospel [was] spread[,] the world being encumbered with infernal squandering spirits[,] except that men did build by faith and prayer, their works were often assaulted.


Chief among the concerns is the transmission of a name of God, all powerful in accomplishing the banishment of “infernal squandering spirits”, which could not be communicated without three persons present, else the name be desecrated if spoken in its entirety by a single voice:


Q: What did you see in Lodge when you did see?

A:  I saw truth the world and Justice and brotherly Love.


Q: Where?

A:  Before me.


Q:  What was behind you?

A:  Perjury and hatred of brotherhood forever if I discover our secrets without the consent of a Lodge, except that have obtained a treble voiceby being entered, passed, and raised and conformed by three several Lodges and not so except I take the party sworn to be true to our articles.


The recitation “treble voice” likely refers to a triplevoice – that is, three voices, not the unbroken voice of the upper register. See for example the following, also from the Graham Manuscript:


Q: What are they [the 12 jewels]?

A:  The first 3 jewels [are] Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; Sun, Moon, Master Mason; square, rule, plumb; line, mall, and chisel. 


Q:  Prove all these proper.

A:  As for the blessed trinity they afford reason; as for the Sun, he renders Light day and night; as for the Moon, she is a dark body of water and doth receive her Light from the sun, and is also queen of waters, which is the best of levels; as for the Master Mason, he teaches the trade and ought to have a treble voice in teaching of our secretsif he be a bright man because we do believe into asuper oratory power for although the seventy had great power yet the eleven had more for they chose Matthias in place of Judas; as for square, rule, plumb, line, mall and chisel, they are six tools that no mason can perform true work without the major part of them.


Significantly, aside from the reference to water seeking its own level, and thus being “the best of levels”, and inference of water’s general dominion under the rulership of the Moon (the “queen of waters”), the candidate states that, in order to teach the Craft, the Master Mason “ought to have a treble voice” because “we do believe into a super oratory power”, that is, a power of words that transcends mere utterance. This is again discernible in the later lecture, related by the candidate in this form:


"…then was born Bezaleel who was so called of God before conceived in the [womb] and this holy man knew by inspiration that the secret titles and primitive pallies of the Godhead was preservative, and he built on them in so much that no infernal squandering spirit durst presume to shake his handiwork so his works became so famous while the two younger brothers of the aforesaid king Abloyin desired for to be instructed by him his noble science by which he wrought, to which he agreed conditionally they were not to discover it without another to themselves to make a treble voice so they entered oath and he taught them the theory and practical part of masonry and they did work."


Thus, in search of the antediluvian secrets revealed to the great artisan, Bezaleel, the two younger brothers of this king, Abloyin, were instructed to find another individual because, “without another to themselves to make a treble voice” they were “not to discover it”. Again, a clear enough allusion to the need to pronounce the Holy incantation between three persons less they desecrate the holy name of God.


It is also important to note in this passage that Bezaleel “knew by inspiration the secret titles and primitive pallies of the Godhead” that such were “preservative” to his buildings, “in so much that no infernal squandering spirit” would “shake his handiwork”. The “titles and primitive pallies of the Godhead” probably refer to the names of God and his ministering angels which, pronounced to proper effect, would prevent the “infernal spirits” from undoing the construction. 


The medieval word pally means “friendly”, as in “familiars” and is possibly the origin of the Americanism, “pal”, for friend. The sense is that Bezaleel knew the names of God and the names of the ministering Host by which Bazaleel’s great works stood without collapse or misadventure. A similar design is perhaps alluded to in the derivative, modern cornerstone ceremony worked present day by the Grand Lodge of Colorado, when the Orator is heard to state that the ceremony, “implores the divine blessing of God, to protect the workmen from accident, to bless those who conceived the erection of the edifice and its humanitarian purposes, and all who will enter through its doors.”


The names of God and his ministering Host are certainly significant to the planets and the signs. Each planet was believed to represent a divine agency – a sphere of heaven wherein holy quires of angels took dominion. The planets were not seen as material bodies per se; in much the same way that a particle in modern physics is not really considered a spherical object but rather a range of positions and propagations discernible mathematically, so the planetary bodies represented something else – something discernible mathematically and geometrically. Thus the opening of a dominion revealed in an astrological chart was, to a sense at least, sealed by the utterance of the correct name whereby an angelic agency could be elicited.


History records such ceremonies of a mystical, even theurgical nature. For example, in April, 1543, Pope Paul III commissioned the famed Renaissance astrologer, Luca Guarico (1475-1558), who had recently been appointed Bishop of Giffoni (after correctly predicting the Pope’s election no less), to elect the time to lay the cornerstone for the new Farnese Wing of the Vatican. Luca Guarico was an accomplished forecaster – he served as the court adviser to Catherine de Medici and had made significant predictions based on interpretations of the heavenly bodies.[19] Referring to himself in the third person, Guarico records the cornerstone laying in his Tractatus Astrologicusthus:


"Luca Gaurico computed the hour and erected the celestial figure for the laying of the first stone of the foundation of the building near St. Peter’s. But Vincenzo Campanozzi of Bologna used an astrolabe to determine the suitability of the time, crying out with a loud voice, “Behold, the sixteenth hour from the accustomed setting of the clock is now complete.”[20]And straightway Ennio Verulano, cardinal of Albano most reverend, clad in a white stole with a red tiara on his head, set in the foundation a huge marble block beautifully polished and engraved with the papal arms of Pope Paul III."[21]



Similarly, Tycho Brahe, the famed Danish astronomer, performed a ceremony for the laying of the first cornerstone for his observatory, Uraniborg, upon the island of Hven, on August 8, 1576, “while the Sun rose one with Jupiter next to Leo’s heart [Regulus], the Moon occupying Aquarius in the west….”[22] The dedication rite involved libations of wine and the stone was inscribed with astrologically potent text.[23]


Even the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed (1646-1719), cast an astrological chart for the laying of the cornerstone of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich,[24]outside London, England, for August 10, 1675, at 3:14 p.m., local time. This chart still survives. And while Flamsteed is often presented as opposing astrology due to an unpublished paper he wrote denigrating the “vanity of astrology and the practice of astrologers” (potentially directed more at the rife charlatanry plaguing the era than his own determinations of the art), there are several interesting features to the chart he cast probative of his familiarity with the discipline. 


 First, Flamsteed’s chart is exceptionally well done. Casting astrological charts is hard work, especially in a time before computers and Global Positioning Systems by which latitude and longitude and all the planetary positions, parts, and dignities, can be automated. At 3:14 pm, local time, Jupiter, the greater fortune, rises fortified by domicile, Sagittarius, in his hour – the ninth hour of Saturday. Jupiter is in orb with the Moon by benevolent trine aspect. The Sun, ruler of the ninth house of long distance travel, higher learning, and inspiration, is fortified by domicile and near the ninth cusp. Mercury, natural significator of astrologers and learning – the messenger of the gods – is fortified by sign, conjunct Mars, in the ninth house (though retrograde). The fourth house of buildings is ruled by the Sun as Almuten[25]and Mars naturally, both significant in the Chart. The chart follows almost all of the requirements set forth in the Picatrixfor strengthening a city (as cited above). 


If Flamsteed’s object in erecting the chart was jest, it would have been far easier for him to have just thrown a chart together rather than take pains to do a highly competent work. And, also, then why hold the ceremony at all? Secondly, Flamsteed wrote on the chart a quote from the Latin poet Horace, On the Arts Poetic: Risum teneatis amici –“could my friends refrain from laughing”. 


 It is perhaps interesting to consider that in the above examples both the seats of religious and scientific authority appear to be operating within the same realm of an inspired philosophy.



Evidence of this philosophy de facto informs the degrees of speculative Masonry. Consider as a ready example the lecture on the middle chamber of the second degree, wherein the Senior Deacon remarks: “Astronomy is that divine art by which we are taught to read the wisdom, strength, and beauty of the Almighty Creator in those sacred pages, the Celestial hemisphere” and “[w]hile we are employed in the study of this science, we must perceive unparalleled instances of wisdom and goodness; and through the whole creation trace the glorious Author by his works.” This devolves to mere hyperbole without the context of the foregoing worldview.


We see more evidence of this worldview and this philosophy stamped on Masonic trestle boards, particularly pertaining to the Royal Arch where the vernal and estival signs are sometimes shown divided upon the individual stones forming the arch, with Cancer on the keystone. Frequently the glyph for Jupiter is shown likewise upon the keystone, or close to it, or as one of seven stars nearby. Cancer, the domicile of the Moon, is yet the “exaltation” of Jupiter, a secondary dignity of great significance. Royal Arch Masons are, of course, “exalted” just as Master Masons are “raised”.


So why is Jupiter so prominent in all these cornerstone charts? Traditionally, Jupiter was considered significant of kingship, priests, good fortune, righteousness, benevolence, majesty, power, and health (the name for Jupiter in Hebrew is Tzedeck– meaning, “to be righteous”). The consecratory corn, wine, and oil are thereby attributable to the Jupiterian virtues (as well as in some respects to Venus, the Moon, the Sun, and Mercury, significantly fortuitous and generally pleasant planetary archetypes). For example, Cornelius Agrippa defines “what things are under the power of Jupiter, and are called Jovial” in book one, chapter twenty-six, of his famous Three Books:


"Things under Jupiter, amongst Elements, are the Air: amongst humors, blood, the spirit of life, also all things which respect the increase, nourishment, and vegetation of the life. Amongst tastes such as are sweet and pleasant…. Amongst plants and trees…. the Vine, the Plum tree… the Olive tree, and also Oil…. Also all manner of Corn, as Barley, Wheat, also Raisins, Liquorish, Sugar, and all such things whose sweetness is manifest…."[26]


Thus the “corn of nourishment” likely finds symbolic place under a Jupiterian intelligence. Insofar as the oil of joy was historically applied to make priests and kings, which are also naturally signified by Jupiter, the oil of joy also finds a Jupiterian association. Wine, as made of the grape, and refreshing to the spirit, also has Jupiterian resonances. Thus the three traditional consecrating elements, used today in Masonic cornerstone ceremonies, still bear the symbolism of an earlier worldview of sympathies and correspondences and, in this case, with the planetary archetypes associated with Jupiter.


Thus, in charts cast for timing cornerstone ceremonies, Jupiter will typically be well disposed and prominent – either ascending or culminating, typically in sign or exaltation, and in his hour. The Moon will likely be applying by benevolent aspect (trine or sextile), sometimes via conjunction (not traditionally an aspect). Additional fortifications may include strengthening the ruler of the fourth house, the ruler of the tenth, and perhaps culminations or conjunctions with eminent “fixed” stars (such as Regulus, Sirius, Alderberan, Fomahault, among others). These times would be augmented with actions and elements that resonate the Jupiterian archetypes – corn, wine, and oil; incense, incantations, prayer, the invocation of the angels that minister under this sphere of heaven (such as, for example, Zadkiel, Iophiel, Hismael, Raziel, et seq. in addition to other invocations such as the “planetary pnuemata” and the planetary hymns of Orpheus). These might be accompanied by Jupiterian music, such as music played in the Lydian mode, which is associated with the sphere of Jupiter. These things, then, performed at the significant moment, were believed to augment thevirtues, as summed by the Hermetic maxim: like makes like.


 Present day, the Masonic cornerstone ceremony is a vestige of this earlier tradition. Typically the stone is applied to the building last, to commemorate it in a public fashion that provides closure to the construction process in a fitting and meaningful way. The stone typically has no structural integrity with the building proper, and acts more as a sign – a declaration that the building was completed. Often a time capsule is put in the cavity behind the stone, a cavity typically cut into a non-load bearing part of the building exterior. But the ceremony is still informed by these ideals – the tradition is yet alive in it – and the consecration thereby maintains its symbolic power. It should be done with some intent and mind to this history.


“The laying of cornerstones with ritualistic ceremonies is as old as the art of building. It began with the most ancient civilizations and has come down to us through the civilizations of Egypt, Babylon, and Jerusalem.”[27]


 For thousands of years, then, the contemplation of heavenly causes has occupied the brightest minds. And, for millennia, great works were undertook in supposed microcosmic symmetry with the macrocosmic phenomena informing the moment. As a result, the rituals we perform today remain pregnant with meaning; a traditional worldview which, like so much in our Craft it seems, remains hidden in plain sight.


Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven

Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:

There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st

But in his motion like an angel sings,

Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;

Such harmony is in immortal souls;

But whilst this muddy vesture of decay

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot here it.


             Lorenzo. The Merchant of Venice, Act 5, Scene I.







[1] See Columbian Mirror & Alexandria Gazette, September 25, 1793, as transposed at http://bessel.org/capcorn.htm (accessed Oct. 28, 2018). 


[2] Dr. David Stuart was one of the presidential electors and personal friend of George Washington. See Alexandria Lodge No. 39, Alexandria, Virginia 1783-1788, by Donald Robey, P.G.M. (VA 1987) and P.M. of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 (1975), available at http://aw22.org/documents/Lodge39.pdf. (Accessed Oct. 28, 2018.)


[3] See the City of Alexandriawebsite, at https://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/info/default.aspx?id=41358. (Accessed Oct. 28, 2018.) 


[4] See the Arlington Historical Society, https://arlingtonhistoricalsociety.org/visit/boundary-stones/. (Accessed Oct. 28, 2018.)


[5] Picatrix, ch. 2. Ouroboros Press Edition. The Picatrix is an Arabic transmission of Hellenistic philosophy, called Ghayat al-Hakim in Arabic, or “the way of the wise”. It first came to note in the 13th Century when it was translated into Latin in Portugal, and the court of King Alphonse the Wise.


[6] Göbekli Tepe is a site in Turkey, dating to the 10th millennium BCE and includes imagery suggestive of celestial imagery. It appears to have been a temple and is considered significant in the archeological record as, if built by hunter gatherers, it represents the apparent movement from nomadic tribesman to settled dwellers and thus agrarianism. “First came the temple, then the city,” in the words of Klaus Schmidt, one of the archeologist excavators at the site.


[7] See for example Origins of the Ancient Constellations: I. The Mesopotamian Traditions, by John H. Rogers. Journal of the British Astronomical Association, vol. 108, no. 1 p. 9-28. 1998.


[8] Talmud – Mas. Baba Batra, 16b.


[9] Psalm 19: 1-2, NIV.


[10] Ecclesiastes 1: 1, KJV.


[11] Ecclesiastes 1: 3, KJV.


[12] Meaning “the head of the bull”, “the head of the demon”, and “the claws of the scorpion” respectively.


[13] William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum (“The history of the English Kings), ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson, and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols., Oxford Medieval Texts (1998–99) p. 121


[14] Note that the word “consider” derives etymologically from the Latin con • sideris, “with the stars”. See for example https://www.etymonline.com/word/consider, accessed November 2, 2018.


[15] De Triplici Vita, Book III, ch. 14. Marsilio Ficino.


[16] Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Book I, ch. 11. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa


[17] Picatrix, ch. 5. Greer & Warnock translation.


[18] Picatrix, ch. 4. Ouroboros Press Edition.



[19] History records Guarico predicted the defeat of Francis I at the battle of Pavia; the death of the Duc de Bourbon on the city walls during the sack of Rome in 1527; the fall of Giovanni Bentivoglio the “tyrant of Bologna”; and the election of Alessandro Farnese as Pope; and, perhaps most famously, the death of the French monarch, Henry II, in his 42nd year and on the tournament ground in single combat – a prediction published in 1552 which came to fruition on July 1, 1559 when Henry died after a splinter of a broken lance pierced his eye in a freak accident.


[20] Campanozzi is referring to the planetary hour – the unequal hour – wherein the planetary rulership of the moment was said to obtain dominion.


[21] Tractatus Astrologicus, L. Guarico. 1552, as presented by Cardano’s Cosmos: The worlds and Works of a Renaissance Astrologer, by Anthony Grafton. Pg. 100.


[22] Tychonis Brahe Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica, Tycho Brahe, as cited by Alistair Kwan,  Tycho's Talisman: Astrological Magic in the Design of Uraniborg. Early Science and Medicine 16.2 (2011): 95–119. Web.


[23] See On Tycho’s Island: Tycho brahe, Science, and Culture in the Sixteenth Century, by John Robert Christianson; and Tycho’s Talisman: Astrological Magic in the Design of Uraniborg,  by Kwan, ibid.


[24] Greenwich Observatory was designed by none other than Christopher Wren. Although he is often cited as a Grand Master of the early speculative Craft, evidence to support such a claim in fact is lacking.


[25] The word “Almuten” is a medieval corruption of the Arabic al-mutazz, meaning “the conqueror”, or potentially al-mateen, “the one in power”, and applies to the planet with the most essential dignities at the house cusp in question. This may or may not be the natural ruler of the sign wherein the dignities are calculated.


[26] Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Agrippa. Book I, Chapter XXVI.


[27] Grand Lodge of Colorado, Public Cornerstone Ceremony.

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