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GABRIEL VASILE OLTEAN

Expert Inspector of NGLR for Western Region

The Stone - Masonic Symbol

The present work aims to be one Architectural Sketch of a series that treats, under different aspects, the principal symbols (hall, furniture, tools etc.) within the Masonic Temple, a sketch moreover that looks at two (of three) Immobile Jewels that adorn the Masonic Gatherings:

The Raw Stone – placed on the Northern side (near the Altar) with the appropriate Symbolic Tools – Hammer, Chisel and Perpendicular,

The polished stone (Cubic) – placed on the Southern side (near the Altar), also in the company of the Symbolic Tools on this side of the Altar – Rule, Ruler and Lever.

In fact “stone” is a generic name for any solid rock, hard and brittle, spread over the surface or within the earth (according to DEX) or “Hard and solid object used in construction” (Larousse). It is, obviously, one of essential symbols of Masonry. „Freemasonry becoming, in 1717, speculative, lost its technical support for operative and spiritual realization. The Materials, the tools of the trade, became either images, or fixed materials on the lodge carpet at the first degrees and at the last or mental” – notes J. Palou. The entire Masonic ritual is placed on this symbol: the Stone. ,,Always, in all the languages of the earth, the word stone – our distinguished Brother Olimpian Ungherea observes in his Masonic Dictionary – has had a double sense: construction material and spiritual element”. In Akkadian, it means wall and word, in Sanskrit granite and thought, in Latin stone is construction material, but also the search for absolute truth (the philosopher’s stone), whereas in Aramaic (the language spoken by Jesus Christ) it means foundation, but also faith. In the entire history of humanity, stone has had an extremely important role, both from the material point of view (the principal element for constructions) and the spiritual (holding services within megalithic structures for the Celts, the holy table in the Altar in Christian churches is made of stone, the Dalai Lama swears his first oath while kneeling bare-kneed on a stone, etc.).

In Masonry, several sub-categories are used in a symbolic way: the “angle” stone, “raw” stone, “polished” stone under its two aspects, “cubic” stone and “cubic stone with a vertex”, as well as “flat or corner-stone”.

The raw stone as a symbol has a moral character. The entered apprentice is the raw stone that he himself must carve, constantly working also within himself. It is androgynous– which becomes apparent through carving and polishing, through the Freemason’s work – when the two composing principles separate: the pyramidal stone symbolizes the masculine, the cubic the feminine. By placing the pyramid over any face of the stone cube, the two principles become again a whole – the cubic stone with vertex (less often used at present, compared with the others mentioned). This represents the raw matter, undifferentiated, passive, ambivalent, that constitutes the sum of all possibilities of shaping, of carving, of polishing. The Mason makes a clear difference between the raw stone, the stone fallen from the sky, created by divine fire, and the carved stone, which will be that of his work, that in which he will inscribe his human number, there where he will leave the print of his passing through being.

Most authors accept this interpretation. For Ragon, “the raw stone symbolizes the imperfections of the spirit and heart that the Mason has to strive to correct”. “The apprenticeship – writes Wirth – through the carving of raw stone is related also to youth, when exuberant life, springing from its germ, builds the individual, endowing him gradually with all the organs necessary to the functions that he has to fulfill.” The same Wirth insists on the interior effort of the Entered Apprentices that “have got to work on their own transformation into cubic stone”.

The raw stone represents the undisciplined mental of the candidate to initiation, of the profane that knocks irregularly at the Gate of the Temple. It is considered that this one is immersed in darkness and ignorance (see the Ritual and Catechism of the First Degree), but gradually, due to the Masonic work and instruction, his mental will be polished and thus he will be subjected to the test of the square, plumb line and rule – that will prove undeniably his preparation, the accumulated progress through preparation for the passage to Fellowcraft.

J. Palou insists on the metaphoric sense. The raw stone (the Apprentice, the Ego) is to be polished to reach the Self, to liberate itself from the shortcomings that could slight the global edifice formed by Masonry. In the operative plane, “the raw stone” is also a passage from wood to carved stone. This, in another plane, meets Boucher’s considerations. But it also means being sedentary, stability. Guenon says “solidification” that reflects a sort of spiritual degeneration. This work is, obviously, in a tight connection with the symbolism of the Tools whose knowledge represents the essence of the degree of Fellowcraft. The Apprentice only uses the hammer and the chisel, which he carries with himself on his first journey. Wirth synthesizes these tools: “The Apprentice first tackles the raw stone with the help of a sort of pick-axe or sharp hammer that is called, in the English rituals, Cosmon gavel. The tool is not fit for anything but a summary carving, so that he must have recourse to the chisel in order to make disappear one after another all the asperities of block that must be modeled into a flawless cubic stone”.

In the Emulation Ritual, the neophyte discovers the raw stone through the Sketch traced at the First Degree: the raw stone has not shape and is extracted as such from the quarry, but due to the ability and ingenuity of the artisan, it is carved, cut in the desired shape and fitted to occupy its place in the future edifice. It is the symbol of man in his childhood or first period of life, which was in the same primitive state as this stone. But thanks to the affection and vigilant efforts of his parents of the masters that give him a liberal and virtuous education, he will become a worthy member of a harmoniously ordered society.

The polished stone symbolizes humanity in action. The Mason must change the raw stone into polished stone just like the alchemist that transforms “lapis” in the much desired philosopher’s stone. It signifies the assimilated perfection of the Fellowcraft. In opposition to the irregularity of the raw stone, this represents the imperfections of the Apprentice.

The Catechism of the First Degree of the Rectified Scottish Rite reads: “The Raw Stone is attributed to Apprentices to carve, The Cubic Stone to sharpen tools”… Also, the symbolism of the two Stones is explained there thus:

What does the raw stone signify?

Man in the state of ignorance, of chaos, whence it all came.

What does the cubic stone signify?

The force of Masonic virtues.

The polished stone represents the conditions that must be reached by the Fellowcraft. The cubic stone is the masterpiece that must be realized by the Fellowcraft. As polished raw stone, cubic stone is tightly connected to the symbolism of the Tools and, mostly, the Square and the Ruler. At the same time, the cubic stone is a form of “polished stone” and a geometric shape – the cube – a fact that permits numerological speculations (Boucher) and commentaries analogical to moral character (Ragon), for the latter, cubic stone symbolizes the progress that must be made by a Fellowcraft. The most perfect solid, it is “the cornerstone of the Immaterial Temple, erected to Philosophy” and “the symbol of the soul that yearns to return to its origins”. In order to polish it, traditional tools are necessary, and “these tools are represented in our spirit by the sciences whose perfection comes from on high”.

The polished stone is generally suspended from a pulley and is supported through a “louis”, a devise made up from three steel pieces, which is introduced in the stone. This device was named thus by an inventor, an architect, to the honor of the king of France, Louis XIV. We must mention that this name, “louis” or “lewis”, is used to name the son or daughter of a freemason – acknowledged as supporters of their parents – who had, on the basis of a dispensation, the possibility of being initiated at the age of eighteen years.

In the Masonic Doctrine, “polishing the stone” in fact represents the concerted actions of freemasons toward spiritual completion, having in mind that the essence itself of the Royal Art is spiritual. If one were to compass in one expression the essence of the Masonic Doctrine insofar as concerns the symbol of the stone, this would be the one enunciated by Meister Eckhart:

“THE STONE MEANS KNOWLEDGE”

I have spoken!




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