Our Symbolic Wages:
  The Elements of Consecration in Freemasonry


Transcript & Notes

Our Symbolic Wages: The Elements of Consecration in Freemasonry

Shawn Eyer, P∴M∴, Academia Lodge № 847

Editor, Ahiman: A Review of Masonic Culture & Tradition
Editor, Philalethes: The Journal of Masonic Research


Corn, wine and oil. These three substances are well known to Freemasons everywhere as symbolic wages. Containers of them are on display in many Lodges, and in the United States, sometimes small vials of them are given as gifts to newly passed Fellow Crafts. But as common and familiar as these items are, why are they so important in our Craft? What is their traditional significance?

It is not uncommon for many of us to assume that these three substances are meant to represent primitive “money,” paid to the builders of the Temple. However, we need to remember that everything in Masonry is symbolic.

And in fact, even in our public cornerstone-laying ceremonies they are called “the Corn of nourishment, the Wine of refreshment and the Oil of joy.”1 These clearly indicate that the Wages are of a symbolic nature, although many are still tempted to interpret them materialistically, as if they refer to the financial and emotional well-being of an individual brother.

There is, of course, a traditional basis for understanding the Wages as literal payment. After all, according to the ancient account in the book of Chronicles, Solomon offered corn, wine and oil to Hiram of Tyre as payment for the cedars of Lebanon, and for sending Hiram Abif.2 But with symbols, the presence of the literal is a given: the perceptible half of every symbol is physical, the other half is an idea.

Throughout the Great Light in Masonry, the phrase “corn, wine and oil” is used so many times that scholars consider it a formulaic expression.3 It is used both literally and figuratively; in the latter case, according to Biblical scholar Nicholas Wyatt, it represents “the essentially concrete form in which ‘blessing’ was conceptualised in Hebrew thought.”4 It signifies “divine pleasure” and, in some cases, might be understood “as actual manifestations of divine activity.”5

Thus, the Corn, Wine and Oil of Masonry comprise another example of Masonic iconography drawn from the ancient symbolism of the Biblical tradition, much like the Compass, the Plumbline, the Level, the All-Seeing Eye, the Stone of Foundation, Jacob’s Ladder and many other examples.6

That being the case, one might wonder if the ancient connotations of divine blessing are present to some degree in our Masonic symbolism of corn, wine and oil... and if so, in what way? This question is easier to answer when we remember that, throughout the Craft, Corn, Wine and Oil are referred to as the Elements of Consecration.7

The Consecration Ritual

The Oxford English Dictionary defines consecration as “The action of consecrating; a setting apart as dedicated to the Deity; dedication with religious rites to a sacred purpose.” Within the traditions of Freemasonry, consecration is a ritual used whenever a new Lodge is established. Nobody knows when it began. There is no evidence that operative stonemasons observed the custom. But speculative Freemasons, as early as 1736, have often seen fit to “consecrate” their Lodges.8 Consecration is similar to, but distinct from, the rituals of constitution and dedication—although historically they have often been performed as part of a single occasion.

Masonic historian Terence O. Haunch, in his seminal article on the subject, offers this definition:

Consecration is the Masonic rite, religious in form, by which a new lodge is blessed for, and dedicated to the purpose for which it is regularly constituted, i.e. the practice of Freemasonry.9

Early descriptions of Lodge consecration are vague. The 1736 example, from Lodge Canongate Kilwinning № 2 in Edinburgh, describes it only as “being done in most due and solemn form.”10 Another Scottish Lodge, Canongate and Leith, was consecrated in 1755.11

From 1756, the Antients’ book of constitutions Ahiman Rezon refers to certain “other Ceremonies and Expressions that cannot be written,” taking place in the context of a Lodge constitution.12 This is one reason why one might conclude the early records do not give the details of the consecration out of respect for the esoteric nature of the ceremony.

In 1772, when William Preston produced the first edition of his Illustrations of Masonry, an actual outline of the consecration ceremony was included. Preston lamented that in his day this important ritual was “too frequently omitted.”13 His early descriptions of the ceremony are only summaries, and exclude many of the prayers and blessings, as well as the actual act of consecration itself.

Luckily, we have two other versions from Preston: first, his slightly expanded account as given in the 1781 and later editions of the Illustrations, and finally in some records of his third degree lecture, wherein esoteric details of the ritual are described.14

Another early version is found in Thomas Smith Webb’s American adaptation of Preston’s work,15 which began in 1797. Webb worked not only from Preston’s published work, but also with knowledge of his unpublished lectures, which he learned from John Hanmer, a longtime member of Preston’s lodge in England who came to the United States. The lectures that Webb framed have constituted the standard American working for two centuries.

The consecration ceremonies performed today in the United States are ultimately derived from the versions that Preston and Webb promoted. There is no one perfect form of the ceremony, but in all its variations it is both impressive and beautiful.

Neither Preston’s account nor Webb’s gives every single detail of the ceremony, but relying on both sources allows us to gain a better understanding of consecration as it was performed in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The description that follows is based upon sources as early as 1772 and no later than 1808.

The ceremony was traditionally preceded by a Grand Procession in which the Grand Lodge officers, the officers and members of the Lodge about to be consecrated, and other Masons would march through the community in their finest regalia. The impressive procession did not necessarily end at the regular meeting place of the lodge, but (according to Webb) often a church was used for the rite.

During this public procession, certain key objects were paraded before the witnesses. These included the Holy Bible, two silver pitchers containing Wine and Oil, a golden Cornucopia containing the Corn, and a special object called “the Lodge,” carried concealed beneath white satin. But how is a Lodge carried?

“The Lodge” in this case is, of course, neither a physical lodge hall, nor the brethren who compose the Lodge. By “the Lodge,” the ceremony refers to a portable object that is symbolically identified with the new Lodge about to be created.

It was often a version of the lodge board or tracing board. Masonic scholar Colin Dyer held that, in England, it was “usually a first degree tracing board.”16

In many American jurisdictions, a simpler board depicting the “internal ornaments” of the Lodge (the Mosaic Pavement, Blazing Star, and Tesselated Border) is used.

In other jurisdictions, a special wooden box or ark—understood as a very basic model of the Lodge—is used; according to Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, these are “treated with the deference due a holy vessel or other sacred object.”17 Terence Haunch refers to it as a cista mystica—a technical term used by historians to refer to holy containers used in initiatic settings. He theorized that this particular type of emblematic “Lodge” may have originated at the Union of the Antients and Moderns of England in 1813.18

Whichever of these three forms the ceremonial “Lodge” takes, the function is the same. It ritualistically becomes a substitutionary device that is ontologically identified with the Lodge is its several definitions: as the founding members and future members of the lodge, as the lodge as an organization, as an initiatic ground, and as the lodge in terms of its eventual place or places of meeting. For the purpose of clarification, I will refer to it as the “emblematical Lodge” for the rest of this discussion.

Although today, ceremonies like this are sometimes performed publicly as a way to promote the Craft, traditionally this was never done. Consecration was a private and extremely solemn ritual. The Grand Procession would enter “the church or house where the services [were] to be performed.”19 Only Freemasons could proceed past this point, and the Lodge about to be consecrated would now be opened and tiled in all three degrees. The emblematic Lodge was placed in the center of the space, generally upon a cushion, still covered with white satin, and the pitchers of Corn, Wine and Oil were arranged around it.20

After some preliminaries, often including an oration on the purpose of Freemasonry, the actual consecration began. The Grand Master and his officers, with “some dignified Clergyman” (usually the Grand Chaplain) gathered themselves around the symbol of the Lodge.

The chaplain, or orator . . . being properly assisted, proceeds to consecrate. Corn, wine and oil are the elements of consecration. Solemn music dignifies the ceremony, while the necessary preparations are made. The lodge is uncovered, and the first clause of the consecration prayer is rehearsed, all devoutly kneeling.21

It is unclear from Preston’s work exactly when and how the Corn, Wine and Oil were poured onto the Lodge, and he may well have regarded this as privileged information. It seems from his version that the pouring takes place at this stage, but there is no wording to describe it explicitly. It may have been done wordlessly as soon as the satin sheet was removed from the emblematical lodge.

Thomas Smith Webb’s American version gives a bit more information. The Chaplain here intones: “Permit us, O thou Author of Light and Life, great Source of Love and Happiness, to erect this lodge, and now solemnly to consecrate it to the honour of thy glory! Glory be to God on high.” And the Brethren respond, “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be! Webb’s version then notes: “During the response, the deputy grand master, and the grand wardens, take the vessels of corn, wine, and oil, and sprinkle the elements of consecration upon the lodge.””22

[Chaplain:] Glory be to God on high!

[Response by the Brethren:] “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be!”23

Returning to the Prestonian edition, the Chaplain would now take up a card upon which the Hebrew name of God was inscribed, and began the first clause of the consecration prayer:

The heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, O Lord, far less the house which we build. Here have we stampt thy sacred name, and as thou dost promise where thy name is, there wilt thou be, hear our supplication, great Jehovah! & bless our endeavours to set forth thy praise. Unto the Lord our God to whom belong mercies & forgiveness, we presume to consecrate this mansion, & herein to deposit the sacred emblems of our venerable order. Unto thee we dedicate the work of our hands, imploring thy divine aid towards the accomplishment of our plans. With contrite hearts & fervent minds, we approach thy presence, & invoke thy blessing on our solemn rites. May the characters here impressed inspire us with awe and veneration towards thee; and enable us to direct our progress to that state which is the essence of truth, of glory, and of goodness.24

The brethren responded, “Glory to God on High.”

A pot of incense was then swung above the emblematic Lodge as the grand honors were given by all present, apparently from the kneeling position. Preston’s ritual then continues with an invocation:

The God of our fathers be with us, bless us, & prosper us. May he impart his grace unto us; shelter us with love, & protect us from danger! May our union be cemented, our harmony preserved, & our happiness accomplished, that passing through this temporary scene, in the practice of piety & virtue, we may at last attain our final reward, in thy eternal Kingdom. Amen.

The response. “Glory to God on high.”25

The assembled lodge then sang an anthem from chapter 29 of the first book of Chronicles, a blessing of King David given as Solomon was being charged with the building of the Temple.

Blessed be thou, Lord God of Israel,
our father for ever and ever!
thine Oh Lord is the greatness,
the power,
the glory,
the victory
and the majesty!
All that is in heaven and in earth is thine,
thine is the Kingdom, oh Lord!
and thou art exalted as head over all.
Both riches and honor come of thee!
Thou reignest over all.
In thine hand is power and might
and in thine hand it is to make great
and to give strength unto all.
Now therefore, our God,
we thank thee
and praise thy glorious name.26

The Chaplain then concluded the consecration prayer:

Most holy & glorious Lord God, the Architect of heaven & earth, & the giver of all good gifts & grace, who hast promised that when two or three are gathered together in thy name, thou wilt be in the midst of them. In thy name we are assembled, most humbly beseeching thee to bless our present designs, & to give us thy holy spirit to enlighten our minds in the knowledge & love of truth, that serving thee aright in all our doings we may farther promote thy honor & glory. Amen.27

Preston concludes the event with a final prayer, identifying all present as candidates for the mysteries of Freemasonry, even though all present were, as noted earlier, Master Masons:

Oh Glorious & eternal God, grant unto us thy servants who are here convened in thy name as candidates for the mysteries of our noble institution, the favor of thy gracious protection, that our minds being filled with a due sense of thy goodness towards us, we may steadfastly adhere (to) the tenets of our profession, & as men selected from the many for the cultivation & improvement of the science of virtue, we may add dignity to our character, & considering the end for which we were created, employ our faculties & talents in the honor of our maker, the instruction of our brethren, & the good of mankind. Agreeing in love & charity, one with another, may our dealings in the world be just & equitable, & loving mercy, & walking humbly before thee our God, may we reach the summit of our hopes in thy eternal Kingdom, oh Jehovah.28

Then, the Grand Chorus sang triumphantly: “Honour unto the king eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God from whom no secrets are hid, be wisdom, might, power, and dominion for ever, Amen.”29 And in Webb’s version, the ceremony concludes by repeating the response: “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be!”30

The grand honors were given, the Lodge covered once more, and with solemn music playing, the ceremony was complete.

As noted earlier, today’s ceremonies may vary, but all are derived from Preston’s model. One of the most interesting features of Preston’s version is the placement of the Name of God upon the Lodge, physically, visually and verbally calling the presence of the divine into the tiled space. This invocation is meant to have a lasting effect, as we can see by looking at Preston’s first degree lecture, where he points out that “the ground we are about to tread is holy.”

What rendered it holy? The name of God impressed on it, Who has declared ‘Where My name is there I am’ and therefore must be holy.31

The emphasis laid upon the physical placement of the divine name upon the symbolic floor of the lodge, and the extensive invocation of the divine presence during the Prestonian ceremony of consecration accord fully with traditional teachings on the nature of such rituals. A consecration was not a perfunctory drill, nor an empty performance, but a heartfelt and solemn rite determined to permanently alter the nature of a place by virtue of it having been specially affected by the presence of God. As modern people, we may be rather alienated from this kind of thinking, but this concept was perfectly natural to the Freemasons of Preston’s day and earlier. As the influential English philosopher John Norris wrote in 1690: “The Divine Presence is the greatest and most solemn Consecration of any place that can be, and wherever he fixes his Mansion, there the Inscription ought to be, Holiness to the Lord.” 32

This same theme presents itself later in the lecture, where it is explained that the “masonic mansion” must be raised on “holy ground” for two reasons. First, “Because the name of God must be thereon impressed.” And second, “Because the ground on which the first regular Lodge [that is, Solomon’s Temple], under the Royal sanction, was formed, was peculiarly sacred.”33

It is explained that what rendered the Temple site holy were three Grand Offerings which “were on that spot presented, which met with Divine approbation.”27 These Grand Offerings were acts of Abraham, David and Solomon that took place at the Temple site.

Abraham’s offering was his son, Isaac (thankfully substituted by the ram). David’s offering was to humbly prostrate himself on the threshing floor of Araunah. And Solomon’s offering was the building of the Temple. “On this basis then,” says Preston’s ritual, “we found the real sanctity of the Masonic pile.”34 The holiness of the Lodge is thus based upon the holiness of the Temple, even the very site of the Temple on Mount Moriah.

The uses of Corn, Wine and Oil to sanctify Masonic temples obviously parallel the three Grand Offerings that according to Craft tradition consecrated Solomon’s Temple. And, interestingly enough, our offerings of Corn, Wine, and Oil are themselves rooted in the actual ceremonies that took place at that Temple.

Corn was used for the grain offerings, wine was used for sacred libations, and oil was used for many things, including the preparation of the meal offering and as fuel for the seven lights of the large hammered gold menorah that stood in the Holy Place. Incense was mixed in with the grain offerings upon the main altar, and was also offered in pure form at the special incense altar that stood before the Holy of Holies.35 Historian Terence Haunch emphasizes the appeal that these ancient ritual elements had for the early Masons:

The sacrificial use in this ceremony of corn, wine and oil (transferred from the rite of foundation stone laying) with the addition of the symbolic purifying and hallowing power of incense—usages firmly founded in Old Testament lore—these would all make their appeal to the religious and masonic fervour of members of the Craft. We may remember, too, that incense found its way not only into the Consecration ceremony but also into certain usages in the Royal Arch. 36

That the wider significance of these thoroughly established Masonic symbols may seem strange to us is a situation that is actually easy to understand. Lodge consecration was a far more common experience in the past, when it was experienced regularly by active Freemasons.

A dramatic decrease in the formation of new lodges in recent decades has meant that only a small minority of living Masons has ever witnessed a Lodge being consecrated. This can lead to a perception of the Lodge’s mission that excludes or diminishes the philosophical and mythical themes that are so central to the consecration rite, and decontextualizes the symbolism of the Corn, Wine and Oil.

But by remembering the consecration ritual, and studying its symbolism, we can help repair the disconnection. One way to do that is to bear in mind that the Elements of Consecration are recurring symbols. Poured out upon the Lodge at consecration, they are later symbolically transmitted to every Freemason during the course of his degrees. One can interpret this to mean that all Masons have a share in the consecration of the Lodge. Even if the ceremony itself took place generations ago, as long as there are eager candidates, the Corn, Wine and Oil are still pouring forth for our benefit.

A Meditation On The Elements Of Consecration

The further symbolism of these three elements is the subject of the remainder of our discussion today—in particular, their more personal symbolism as wages that each of us as Fellow Craft Masons has received, or at least is entitled to receive. Some, as noted earlier, have been content to consider these three items simply as a monetary payment. Of course, at the literalistic level that is how they are presented: as wages, a paycheck. However, this explanation is not exhaustive. For example, we cannot interpret the Corn, Wine and Oil being poured upon the Lodge during the ceremony of consecration as the literal substances themselves, and nothing more. Were that the case, would it not preposterously suggest that if only we pour these three items upon something, it would become a Lodge? Rather, it is what the substances represent that is important: an essential dispensation from the Supreme Being to the Craft, comingled upon the Lodge floor, mythically connecting the Lodge from the moment of its birth to the Temple of Solomon in a timeless and intangible way.

Corn, wine and oil by themselves are simply foodstuffs. But in ritual, they accommodate symbolic meanings. They represent ideas. This is obvious not only from the consecration ritual, but from the typical description of “the Corn of nourishment, the Wine of refreshment and the Oil of joy.”37 Just as we are speculative Masons and not operative stoneworkers, so our wages are symbolic and not a literal compensation for labor.

In fact, the most basic symbolism of Corn, Wine and Oil is ancient. Like many other symbols in the Craft, they are of biblical origin, both individually and as a triad.38 Terence Haunch noted that as symbols “their roots lie deep in the Old Testament.”39 And as noted earlier, Biblical scholars note that the formula corn, wine and oil is used repeatedly in the Bible to represent “the essentially concrete form in which ‘blessing’ was conceptualised in Hebrew thought.”40 They were not only the wages of the ancient Tyrian masons (2 Chronicles 2:14), but they were an important part of the Temple offerings.41

These offerings were superintended by a class of Levites known as shomrei ha-saf, or guardians of the threshold.42 They guarded the north, east, west and south gates of the Temple, and they received a portion of these offerings as food and fuel.

Interestingly, Masonic tradition blends the roles of stoneworkers and the gatekeepers, and the Antients reimagined the gatekeepers as Masonic brethren and practitioners of kabbalah.43 While—like many tropes that are comprised within our Masonic tradition—this is not historically possible, it helps us understand the mythic connection that the early Masons felt to those who served in the Temple, not just during its construction, but after. That corn, wine and oil were “wages” to both groups is notable, and that they had symbolic connotations, even in ancient times, should not be ignored.

Freemasons have tended to primarily—and properly—interpret the Corn, Wine and Oil according to the symbolism they hold in the Great Light.44 Many have added to this basis by drawing insight from cross-cultural sources. Perhaps the most detailed and edifying treatment of the three offerings is that offered by the popular twentieth-century Masonic writer, Charles Clyde Hunt.45

But now, I would like to explore a path not taken previously by Masonic authors, at least so far as I’m aware, and examine some aspects of the symbolism of the elements of consecration that are drawn from ancient and medieval Jewish sources, including the mystical tradition. The observations that follow are my findings during a project in which I set out to understand the symbolism of these three substances, not only in the Jewish Bible, but in post-Biblical Jewish traditions.

Of the three Elements of Consecration, Corn is the one that has the most extensive presence in Craft mythos and ritual. There are two reasons for this.

First, the visual allusion within the Lodge to the consecration ceremony in the form of the jewels and white rods of the Stewards, both of which feature the Cornucopia. In the consecration ritual, the Corn, Wine and Oil were carried into the ritual space by means of three vessels.46 Preston and other early writers specifically identify the vessel of the Corn as a cornucopia, or “horn of plenty.”

When we remember the role of the Stewards in the initiation of candidates, it is easy to understand why this symbol is so fitting for them. It is they who bring every new candidate across the threshold of the Lodge—in effect, “harvesting” him from the fields of the world.

As grain is threshed to separate it from the chaff, the neophyte is distinguished from the cowan by initiation. This liminal “sorting” theme is also vividly present in the teachings of the Fellow Craft degree concerning the crossing of the Jordan. The Hebrew word with which we associate that has three meanings in the Bible: an ear of corn, a stream of water, and (as a verb) to beat out or thresh.47

Thus, our degree’s hieroglyphical emblem of the ear of corn near a fall of water (commonly pictured in monitors and tracing boards) relates to the violent sorting of the Gileadites from the Ephraimites in a very sophisticated and multidimensional way—with obvious initiatic symbolism.

Another aspect of Masonic mythos involving Corn that is usually overlooked is the importance of the threshing floor legend.

According to the Volume of the Sacred Law, the location of the Temple of Solomon (which every Lodge represents) was in fact discovered as the result of a tragic incident in the life of King David. According to the book of Samuel, David issued a decree to have a census taken in his kingdom, in order to determine how strong his military was. This violated a sacred principle, and divine punishment was the result.

This culminated in David’s angelophany on Mount Moriah, and the subsequent purchase of the site for the location of the Temple of Solomon. The place where the destroying angel stood was the threshing floor of Araunah—a place where grain was beaten and tossed in order to separate the wheat from the chaff.48

The symbolism of this story is deeply significant in context. As the Ephraimites were sorted from the Gileadites at the fords of the river Jordan, and as the wheat was separated from the chaff at the threshing floor of Araunah, so the darkness is separated from the light on the Floor of the Lodge, and so the Stewards bear the candidate across the threshold from darkness to light, where he is—in a manner of speaking—“harvested” from the profane world. The newly gleaned Mason is being continually refined and sorted. Only with the proper pass may he continue into the Middle Chamber and beyond.

The same type of refinement process is also reflected in the striking realization that just as Corn must be separated from the chaff in order to be put into use in the Temple as a bread offering, the plants (grapes and olives) that give us Wine and Oil must be processed to yield those finer substances.

It was forbidden for a priest to consume wine within the inner court,49, but that is not to say that it played no role at the Temple. Wine was part of the daily offering, and we know that it was not poured out upon an altar, but instead was consumed by the priests in an unknown place within the Temple precinct.50

Both Josephus and the Mishnah record that in the Second Temple there was a massive votive grapevine of gold in the porch of the Temple. Clusters of gold grapes “as tall as a man” were suspended from it.51 This golden vine can only have been a deeply sacred symbol, and it is notable that grapevines and wine cups are the most common symbols found in Jewish artwork of this period.52

Ancient tradition taught that wine had existed from “the beginning of creation.” Later kabbalists spoke of a supernal vine from which the universe was generated.53 In the Zohar, a thirteenth-century work known as the primary text of kabbalah, both wine and oil are presented as symbolic wealth, received by the enlightened mystic through the transcendence of materialistic concerns: “Never will he crave this world and its pleasures,” it reads, “for another manner of wealth is reserved to him—he has a share in the World to Come, the place of oil and wine. Whoever loves that place neither seeks nor desires worldly riches.”54

This symbolism is strongly reminiscent of Masonic practice, where the Apprentice’s destitution is followed by the introduction of the Fellow Craft’s wages.

It turns out that wine itself can be a metaphor for mystical or esoteric knowledge. The Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, points out that the Hebrew word for wine, yayin, is numerically identical to sod, or “secret.” Thus the ancient aphorism, “When wine goes in, secrets come out.”55 While this can refer at the mundane level to alcohol’s power to loosen the lips, it also has a philosophical meaning. In kabbalistic interpretation, sod refers to the esoteric or symbolic meaning of a subject.56 When our spiritual nourishment is stored away in the dark and left to mature, it results in a deeper understanding of life.

The Talmud also connects oil to esoteric knowledge. In tractate Horayot, it records a strange warning that one of the things that causes a man to forget his spiritual learning is the eating of whole olives. It even says that eating olives can cause one to forget his learning of seventy years.57 Yet it also teaches that drinking olive oil can make one remember seventy years’ worth of learning!

At the literal level, this is easily disproven; but as Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer points out:

This may be understood allegorically. The ‘whole olive’ alludes to the flesh and the outer husk of the fruit, whereas the ‘olive oil’ is its inner essence. In the pursuit of knowledge a person should always strive to penetrate to the inner core of a subject in order to comprehend of its essence. Never should the student ‘swallow it whole,’ i.e., study matters superficially, because that breeds misconception, and ignorance. Such confused knowledge is best forgotten, while clear knowledge of essentials should be remembered for a lifetime.58

If wine and oil both refer to finding inner meanings that go beyond the superficial, the reader may wonder whether there is a similar kabbalistic teaching about corn. There is indeed, and it is found in a sobering parable located in the Zohar:

Once there was a man who lived up in the mountains and who was a stranger to civilization—he planted wheat and ate the grains uncooked.

Then he happened to come down to the city. A good loaf of bread was served to him. “What’s this?” he asked. “Bread, for eating!” they said. He ate it and was pleased. He asked, “What is this made of?” and they told him it was wheat.

Then, he was served a fine cake kneaded in olive oil. He had a taste and asked, “And now this, what’s this made of?” Once more they said, “Wheat.”

Finally, they brought him a delectable pastry in oil and honey, fit for a king. He asked again, and got the same answer. “Well,” he then boasted, “I am above these things; I eat only the wheat which is the basis of all of them.”

Because of his ignorant attitude, [says the Zohar story] he would evermore remain a stranger to these delights, which were lost on him. That is how it is with anyone who learns basic principles and then stops short—who fails to become aware of the delights which derive from the deeper consideration and application of those principles.59

Again we see that the unprocessed material, the raw grain, is symbolic of superficiality and an unwillingness to explore higher realms of meaning. Only when the grain is transformed and harmoniously combined with other ingredients can it represent those deeper considerations which so concern the contemplative and speculative mind.

It should not escape notice that just as olive oil is the inner essence of the olive, so is wine the inner essence of the grape, pressed, stored in the darkness and grown fine with age—and bread is the potential concealed in the head of grain, which must be laboriously threshed, ground, mixed, kneaded and properly baked in order to attain its perfect form. For centuries these three have been symbols of transcending simplistic literalism, and emblems of the work involved in doing so.

We cannot know whether these authentic traditional teachings about the symbolism of Corn, Wine and Oil were known to any early speculative Masons, but we can enjoy their wisdom today.60 These insights are certainly not exhaustive or exclusive of other interpretations found elsewhere in Masonic literature, but their aptness and applicability to the Craft is striking, and provides useful comparison.

As Worshipful Brother H.L. Haywood, one of the most popular Masonic authors of the twentieth century, said:

We cannot learn the message of a symbol with a merely passive and receptive mind, because it is of the genius of symbolism to hide as well as to reveal. When a thing is conveyed to us in clear, simple words, or in plain pictures, such as one sees in the movies, there is no need that one make a great effort of his own mind to comprehend it all; but when a symbol is put before us, and we have a reason for securing its message to us, our own minds must act, for no symbol wears its meaning on its sleeve.

Its value for us is like gold hidden away in the mountain—the miner must dig for it. And that in itself is a virtue, because many men are cursed by the refusal to use their own faculties. They go through the whole of their lives parroting other men’s thoughts, and such a life is necessarily lacking in the pleasure of making mental discoveries, which is one of life's richest joys.61

Just as the Lodge is not consecrated until its floor (or its symbolic exemplar) receives the proper and prayerful outpouring of Corn, Wine and Oil, so are our interior temples unhallowed until we receive the wages of a Mason and put them to use. To be told in a ritual that we are entitled to receive those wages is not enough. We are entitled, yes—but they will not be ours until we understand their meaning.

Thresh . . . grind . . . bake.

Gather . . . crush . . . ferment.

Harvest . . . press . . . pour.


Paperback, 148 pages, full color
$28.97 US
£19.97 UK
ISBN 978-1-60302-36-58

learn about about Ahiman


Based on a paper originally published in two parts: “Elements of Consecration: Part One,” Philalethes 63(2010): 75–79, 86; “Elements of Consecration: Part Two,” Philalethes 64(2010): 74–78.

1. Thomas Smith Webb, The Freemason’s Monitor, or Illustrations of Masonry in Two Parts (New York: Southwick & Crooker, 1802), 116.

2. 2 Chronicles 2:2–15.

3. See the entries by Nicolas Wyatt, “Oil” (640), and J.F. Healey, “Dagon” (216–19) and “Tirash” (871–72) in the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed., edited by Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, & Pieter W. van der Horst (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

4. Wyatt, “Oil,” 640.

5. ”The term yishar describes the qualty of oil as 'shining', and denotes oil freshly-pressed. This term for oil is used almost exclusively in [the Hebrew Bible] in variations of the formula 'corn, new wine and oil' 22 times. The oil in these passages . . . is no doubt olive oil. Together with [corn and wine], it represents the essentially concrete form in which 'blessing' was conceptualised in Hebrew thought. It may be seen that such reifications of divine pleasure could be seen as actual manifestations of divine activity . . . .“ (Ibid.)

6. Cf. Alex Horne, Sources of Masonic Symbolism (Richmond, Va.: Macoy, 1981), 48–53.

7. William Preston, Illustrations of Masonry, 8th ed., (London: G & T Wilkie, 1792), 94.

8. T.O. Haunch, “The Constitution and Consecration of Lodges under the Grand Lodges of England,” Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 83(1970): 10.

9. Haunch, “Constitution and Conscration,” 1.

10. Haunch, “Constitution and Conscration,” 10.

11. At the Dec. 1, 1755 meeting of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, it was requested that the GL “appoint a proper person” to “consecrate” is new temple room for the Lodge at Canongate and Leith. The Grand Chaplain was so selected, and performed the ceremony in the presence of the Grand Master and other GL officers. See Alexander Lawrie, The History of Freemasonry, Drawn from Authentic Sources of Information (Edinburgh: A. Lawrie, 1804), 186–87. The same book features several times the Corn, Wine and Oil, carried in the Cornupia and two silver vessels; the earliest instance given being 1753.

12. Laurence Dermott, Ahiman Rezon: or, A Help to the Brother (London: James Bedford, 1756), 40.

13. Preston, Illustrations, 1st ed. (London: J. Williams, 1772), 216. Preston’s first account of the consecration ritual itself is found on pp. 219–221.

14. William Preston, Illustrations of Masonry, 3rd ed., (1781), 112–17. See Haunch’s article for a complete comparison of the Prestonian sources.

15. Thomas Smith Webb, The Freemason’s Monitor, or Illustrations of Masonry in Two Parts, 4th ed. (Boston: Joshua Cushing, 1808), 98–108.

16. Colin F.W. Dyer, Symbolism in Craft Freemasonry, Rev. Ed. (Hersham, uk: Lewis Masonic, 2003), 59.

17. Henry Wilson Coil, Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, Rev. Ed. (Richmond, Va.: Macoy, 1995), 389.

18. Haunch, “Constitution and Conscration,” 13–15.

19. Webb, Freemason’s Monitor, 102.

20. Webb, Freemason’s Monitor, 103.

21. William Preston, Illustrations of Masonry, 5th ed., (1792), 94.

22. Webb, Monitor (1808), 106.

23. Ibid.

24. Haunch, “Constitution and Conscration,” 45. Haunch cites a description of the card from an 1865 manuscript: “The Tetragrammaton is the Hebrew word yhvh within an oval surrounded with Blue and White rays in letters about 14 inches long in light blue colour upon a Card about 9" × 5" but the sacred symbol G within a circle of rays as our symbolical ’Word’ or name of God will also answer the purpose.” (15)

25. Haunch, “Constitution and Conscration,” 47.

26. 1 Chronicles 29:10–13.

27. Haunch, “Constitution and Conscration,” 47.

28. Haunch, “Constitution and Conscration,” 47, 49.

29. Haunch, “Constitution and Conscration,” 49.

30. Webb, Monitor (1808), 107.

31. Colin Dyer, William Preston and His Work (Shepperton, UK: Lewis Masonic, 1988), 176.

32. John Norris, Practical Discourses upon the Beatitudes (1690), 135.

33. Dyer, William Preston, 191.

34. Dyer, William Preston, 192.

35. See Menahem Haran, Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1985) for a detailed study of the Temple sacrifices.

36. Haunch, “Constitution and Conscration,” 20. One might also include the symbol of the Pot of Incense, not mentioned by Haunch most likely because it is no longer a symbol in the English Craft degrees—however, it once was, and remains so in most American jurisdictions.

37. These descriptions have been part of the public cornerstone laying ceremony since at least 1802, and possibly long before; see Webb, Freemason’s Monitor, 116.

38. See endnote 3; also C.C. Hunt, Masonic Concordance of the Holy Bible (World Pub. Co., 1948), 75–76, 94, 184–86, 261–62.

39. Haunch, “Constitution and Conscration,” 17.

40. Wyatt, “Oil,” 640.

41. Numbers 18:11–12, 1 Esdras 7:30–31.

42. 1 Chronicles 9:17–19, 22–31.

43. Consider the stations taken by the ruffians in the third degree; for gakekeepers as Masons, see Laurence Dermott, Ahiman Rezon (London: J. Bedford, 1756), xi, xiv.

44. Albert G. Mackey, The Symbolism of Masonry: Revised Edition (San Francisco: Plumbstone, 2011), 165–68.

45. C.C. Hunt, Masonic Symbolism (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Laurence Press Co., 1949), 73–116. Hunt includes an important discussion of salt, which is mixed with the Corn, Wine and Oil in some jurisdictions.

46. See illustrations in Philalethes 63(2010), p. 57 & 79.

47. L. Koehler & W. Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 1394–95.

48. 2 Samuel 24:1–25. Later tradition (recorded in the Avodah Zarah, 24b) adds that Araunah was a Noachite; for information on Freemasonry’s (now largely forgotten) self-identification with the Noachidae, see S. Eyer, “The Anchor and the Ark,” Philalethes 64(2011): 35–38.

49. Ezekiel 44:21.

50. Menahem Haran, Temples and Temple Service in Ancient Israel (Winona Lake, In.: Eisenbrauns, 1985), 217.

51. Mishnah Middot 3:8; Josephus, The Jewish War 5.5.4.

52. E.R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Graeco-Roman Period, Abridged Edition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988), 34.

53. Ben Sira 31:27; Zohar 1.192a.

54. Sefer ha-Zohar 3.40b.

55. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38a.

56. Moshe Idel, Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002), 430.

57. Babylonian Talmud, Horayot 13b.

58. Avrohom Chaim Feuer, Tehillim (New York: Mesorah, 1985), 2:1258–59.

59. Sefer ha-Zohar 2.176a–b.

60. The Craft’s strong interest in the Old Testament may have resulted in direct or indirect Jewish influence. For a useful discussion of kabbalistic influences on early Freemasonry, see M.K. Schuchard, Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistic Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill, 2002).

61. H.L. Haywood, The Great Teachings of Masonry (Kingsport, Tenn.: Southern Publishers, 1921), 25.


Dedicated to the Brethren of Academia Lodge.

Thank you, Brethren,
for many wonderful years in the East.

”And may your Lodges be beautiful as the temple,
peaceful as its ark, and sacred as its most holy place.“

M∴W∴Bro∴ E.F. Watson (1811–1897)

Produced by Paul Adams, P∴M∴

Christopher M. Ellis
David A. Forsyth
John Hernandez
Mario Palestini
Stephen Pieraldi
Arthur Porter, P∴M∴

Special Thanks to

Oakland Durant Rockridge Lodge № 188
Academia Lodge № 847
Oakland Scottish Rite Temple

The lecture was based upon the article “The Elements of Consecration” published in Philalethes magazine Spring 2010 & Spring 2011.

For more information about the Philalethes Society

For more information about
Ahiman: A Review of Masonic Culture & Tradition

Copyright © 2011
Plumbstone Books

Products Services About Us