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masonic matters

Northeast Corner

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

“The Masonic ritual is a commentary on the Bible, and like any commentary is meaningless alone. Therefore, it is necessary for the Mason to study the Bible along with his Masonry or he cannot understand the latter.” Brother C.C. Hunt

“We find all the morals, ethics, and truths for which Masonry stands in the Bible.” Brother C.C. Hunt

Each man who has been initiated into Freemasonry will remember the time when he was placed in the northeast corner of the Lodge, and was told he then stood as a just and upright Mason. The symbolism of this, it seems to me, is that the Master of the Lodge knew for certain that he had not had the opportunity to violate any vow, make a decision contrary to a true Mason, or to make a mistake of any kind. Because as a candidate he had followed all the orders; answered all the questions; and had been under the supervision of an officer of the Lodge[i] continually from the first part of the degree up until that very moment. So that moment was the one and only time the Master of the Lodge would be able to say that his new Brother then stood as a “just and upright Mason”, because he was not yet given the opportunity to be on his own and thus has not had the chance to make an error or to debase the dignity of his profession. The Master then admonishes him to always walk and act as a just and upright mason and each and every Mason whether at the initiation or not hopes that he will.

The new Mason soon learns that he was placed in the northeast corner of the Lodge because he is a cornerstone of the craft, and it is from there he is expected to build his moral and Masonic edifice.

In the book Masonry Defined our Brother Albert Mackey is quoted as saying that it was Brother William Preston who put this point about being a just and upright Mason into the ritual, which is used here in Minnesota at least.

Brother Mackey tells us that the upright posture refers to the fact that God created man to be upright.[ii] “This is the peculiar prerogative of man.” Man’s upright posture also reminds him “of his relationship to the celestial powers, and that he is endowed with some of the attributes of the divinity, and with a life that will endure forever, he is admonished thereby that he should live in a manner worthy of so illustrious an origin, and so glorious a destiny.” One of the joys of man is to live and stand in an upright manner. Uprightness is symbolic of the love of righteousness which brings happiness, and that is why the “Oil of Joy” is associated with uprightness.[iii]

It is also in the first Degree that a Mason learns what an oblong square is. The form of a Lodge is an oblong square; an oblong square is constructed of two squares set together in such way that would make its length double its breadth[iv]. A traditional map of the world at the time of Moses, and up through the days of King’s David and Solomon, would indicate that the world was in the shape of an oblong square. The traditional belief at that time was that civilization arose in the northeast corner of the world, and from there people spread over the then known world.[v] To the people of this time the northeast corner was the place where the light of civilization first dawned, and because of this the northeast corner was sacred, so to place the first stone of a temple of God in the northeast corner was not only the right thing to do it was the sacred thing to do.

“There was a legend among operative Masons that King Solomon laid the corner stone at the northeast corner early in the morning, because at that time the sunlight was at the outside of that corner. When the stone was proved square, level, and plumb, true and trusty, and properly laid, he proceeded to the southeast corner where, about the middle of the forenoon, he laid the cornerstone at that point. Then at the corresponding time in the afternoon he performed the same task at the southwest corner and ended the day by laying the cornerstone at the northwest corner by the light of the setting sun. In each case the stone was laid when the sun was shining on both the outer sides of the stone.”[vi] We know and understand that this is only a legend, a story, but legends, allegories and stories, fables and parables, many times have a reason for being and this is true here.

Building operations even today require good light. The ancients, who did not have the advantage of artificial lighting, had to make the best use of daylight while it lasted. To lay a corner stone properly required, along with the skill, the best light available which was available at certain times of the day when the sun would shine on both outer walls of the stone and permit accurate placing by sunlight.

The legend mentioned above is explained to us as: “The northeast corner represents dawn of light into the soul. It is the symbol of a youth emerging from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge. The southeast corner represents the time when the sun becomes strong and symbolizes the youth graduating school and entering upon the active duties of life. The southwest corner denotes the beginning of the sun’s decline and symbolizes that man has passed his prime and his strength is failing. The northwest corner represents the setting sun and symbolizes the setting of man’s mortal life.”

“Each of the cornerstones traditionally laid by King Solomon represents a turning point in the life of a man: 1. his emergence from darkness to light; 2. his passing from youth to maturity; 3. from maturity to failing faculties; 4. and finally from this earthly life to his heavenly home.”[vii]

In the legend of the third degree there are some Fellow Craft Masons who desire some information so that they may travel into foreign countries and be able to receive the wages of a Master Mason. As Brother Mackey says many Masons have heard in the third degree about traveling into foreign countries without dreaming for a moment of the hidden meaning, or thinking only that it referred to the actual travels of Masons, after the completion of the Temple, into the surrounding countries in search of employment as Master Masons. “But the true symbolic meaning of the foreign country into which the Master Mason travels in search of wages is far different.” “The symbolism of this life terminates with the Master’s degree. The completion of that degree is the lesson of death and the resurrection to a future life, where the true word, or Divine truth, not given in this, is to be received as the reward of a life worthily spent in its search. Heaven, the future life, the higher state of existence after death, is the foreign country in which the Master Mason is to enter, and there he is to receive his wages in the reception of that truth which can be imparted only in that better land.”[viii]

“The English Bible [is] a book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.” Macaulay

From the Great light of Masonry = “You love what is right and hate what is wrong. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.” Psalm 45:7 NLT

Political Freedom, Religious Tolerance, Personal Integrity; Freemasonry – it’s not for everyone.
[i] In the control of the Senior and Junior Steward to the Senior Deacon to the Worshipful Master with no gaps in supervision.
[ii] Stand erect
[iii] Masonic Concordance of the Holy Bible #2234C3
[iv] This is best illustrated as a superficies, which has length and breadth only for dimensions.
[v] Masonic Concordance of the Holy Bible #988I
[vi] ibid #988L
[vii] ibid #988N&Q
[viii] Masonry Defined January 11, 1930 edition #370

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Last modified: March 22, 2014