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Builders' Rites and Ceremonies

These have been summarized in two lectures published at Margate, England, 1894, by Brother George IV. Speth on October 30, and November 13, 1893, in discussing the Folklore of Freemasonry. Brother Speth says that for those of his Brethren who would take the trouble to read between the lines, a matter by no means difficult, he ventures to hope that the facts may not prove dumb guides, but direct their thoughts to the true significance of our ceremonial customs, and confirm in their minds the certainty of the marvelous antiquity, in its essence, although perhaps not in its exact outward form, of the solemn climax of our beloved ritual. Many of us have seen a foundation-stone laid, and more have read of the proceedings. When conducted by Freemasons the ceremony includes much beautiful symbolism, such as trying and pronouncing the stone well laid, pouring wine and on and corn over it, and other similar rites: but in almost all cases, whether the ancient Craft be concerned in the operation or not, there are placed in a cavity beneath the stone several objects, such as a list of contributors to the funds, a copy of the newspaper of the day, and above all, one or more coins of the realm. Should you ask the reason for this deposit, you will probably hear that these objects were placed there for a future witness and reference.

Although this alleged motive is apparently reasonable, yet it is obviously absurd for surely the hope of all concerned is that the foundation-stone never would be removed and that the witness would for ever remain dumb.

Grimm puts it in this way. " It was often though necessary to immure live animals and even men in the foundation on which the structure was to be raised, as if they were a sacrifice offered to the earth, who had to bear the load upon her: by this inhuman rite they hoped to secure immovable stability or other advantages." (See Teutonic Mythology, 1884, translated, Stalleybrass, 1883 page l141.) Baring-Gould says, "When the primeval savage began to build he considered himself engaged on a serious undertaking. He was disturbing the face of Mother Earth, he was securing to himself in permanency of portion of that surface which had been given by her to all her children in common. Partly with the notion of offering a propitiatory sacrifice to the Earth, and partly also with the idea of securing to himself for ever a portion of son by some sacramental act, the old pagan laid the foundation of his house and fortress in blood." (See On Foundations, Murray's Magazine, l887) In Bomeo, among the Mnanau Dyaks, at the erection of a house, a deep hole was dug to receive the first post, which was then suspended over it ; a slave girl was placed in the excavation; at a signal the lashings were cut, and the enormous timber descended, crushing the girl to death (see E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, 1871, page 96).

The following accounts would show how widespread was this sacrificial rite. It was, in fact, universal: a rite practiced apparently by all men at all times in all places. King Dako bunt his palace on the body of Danh. The name of his chief town, Dahomey, means on the body of Danh (see F. Liebrecht, Zur Folkskunde, 1879, page 287).

In Polynesia, the central pillar of one of the temples at Maeva was planted on the body of a human victim (see G. L. Gomme, Folklore Relics of Early Vnlage Life, 1883, page 27).

A seventeenth century account of Japan mentions the belief there that a wall laid upon the body of a willing human victim would be secure from accident: accordingly when a great wall was to be bunt, some wretched slave would offer himself as a foundation, lying down in the trench to be crushed by the heavy stones lowered upon him (see Tyler, Primitive Culture, 1871, page 87).

Formerly in Siam, when a new city gate was being erected, it was customary for a number of officers to lie in wait and seize the first four or eight persons who happened to pass by, and who were then buried alive under the gate posts to serve as guardian angels (see Folk-lore Relics, page 28).

In the year 1876, the old church at Brownsover, about two miles from Rugby, England, was restored: The earlier parts of the building were of Norman, the later of early 13th century architecture. It was found necessary to lower the foundations of the north and south walls of the church, and in doing so, two skeletons were discovered, one under each wall, about one foot below the original foundations, exactly opposite each other and about six feet from the chancel wall which crosses the north and south walls at right angles. Each skeleton was covered with an oak slab about six feet in length by ten inches wide and two inches thick of the color of bog-oak. These pieces of plank had evidently been used as carpenters' benches, from the fact that each of them had four mortice holes cut in such a form as to throw the legs outwards, and from the cuts made in them by edged tools. The skeletons were found in a space cut out of the solid clay which had not been moved on either side, just large enough to take the bodies placed in them. The skeletons were seen in situ: they could not have been placed there after the original walls were bunt (see Antiquary iii, page 93).

Some substitutions are curious. Animals are to be met with of many kinds. In Denmark a lamb used to be bunt in under the altar, that the church might stand.

Even under other houses swine and fowls are buried alive. (See Grimm page 1142.) The lamb was of course very appropriate in a Christian Church, as an allusion to " the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

In the Book of Revelation this epithet is only a metaphor, yet Brother Speth says it would scarcely have been understood unless the rite we are treating of had been known to the Jews. That it was known, the curse pronounced by Joshua upon the man who should adventure to rebuild Jericho, proves to demonstration. "And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city of Jericho ; he shall lay the foundation thereof in his first-born, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates thereof,'' (See Joshua vi, 26, also First Kings xvi, 34.)

The population of India believe at the present day that to give stability to new construction, a human being should be sacrificed and buried in the foundations (see Folk-lore Journal, 1, page 23). All the great engineering works are believed by the common people to be protected against the angry gods of winds and rivers by animal and human sacrifices being performed under the direction of English officers at the beginning or conclusion of the undertaking (see Folk-lore Journal 1, page 92). A correspondent of the Times, dating from Calcutta, August 1, 1880, writes: "A murmur has got abroad and is firmly believed by the lower classes of the natives, that the government is about to sacrifice a number of human beings in order to ensure the safety of the new harbor works, and has ordered the police to seize victims in the streets. So thoroughly is the idea implanted, that people are afraid to venture out after nightfall.

There was a similar scare in Calcutta some seven or eight years ago, when the Hooghly bridge was being constructed. The natives then got hold of the idea that Mother Ganges, indignant at being bridged, had at last consented to submit to the insult on the condition that each pier of the structure was founded on a layer of children's heads'' (see Folk-lore Record iii, page 283).

But we need not go to India for such accusations. In Nature, under date June 15, 1871, we find: " It is not many years since the present Lord Leigh was accused of having built an obnoxious person-one account, if we remember right, said eight obnoxious persons-into the foundation of a bridge at Stoneleigh."

In Scotland there is a current belief that the Picts, to whom local legend attributes building of prehistoric antiquity, bathed their foundation stones with blood (see Folk-lore Relics, page 29). Brother Speth heard people in Kent, of certainly not the least educated classes, assert that both the strength and the peculiar pink tinge which may sometimes be detected in Roman cement, is owing to the alleged practice of the Romans mixing their cement with blood. Did Shakespeare speak only metaphorically, or was he aware of the custom when he makes Clarence say, I will not ruinate my father's house, Who gave his blood to lime the stones together, And set up Lancaster. Henry vi, part iii, act v, scene 1.

Note the words of King John as given by Shakespeare, There is no sure foundation set in blood, No certain life achieved by others' death. King John iv, 2.

Brother Speth gives an experience of the Rev. Baring-Gould. " It is said in Yorkshire," he writes, " that the first child baptized in a new font is sure to die---a reminiscence of the sacrifice which was used at the consecration of every dwelling and temple in heathen times, and of the pig or sheep killed and laid at the foundation of churches. When I was incumbent at Dalton a new church was built. A blacksmith in the village had seven daughters, after which a son was born, and he came to me a few days before the consecration of the new church to ask me to baptize his boy in the old temporary church and font. 'Why, Joseph,' said I, 'if you will only wait till Thursday the boy can be baptized in the new font on the opening of the new church.' 'Thank you, Sir,' said the blacksmith, with a wriggle,'but you see it's a lad, and we should be sorry if he were to deem, if he'd been a lass instead, why then you were welcome, for 'twouldn't ha' mattered a ha'penny. Lasses are ower mony and lads ower few wi' us'."

Now, it is surely unnecessary, continues Brother Speth, to explain why we bury coins of the real under orum foundation stones. ''Our forefathers, ages ago, buried a living human sacrifice in the same place to ensure the stability of the structure: their sons substituted an animal: their sons again a mere effigy or other symbol: and we, their children, still immure a substitute, coins bearing the effigy, impressed upon the noblest of metals, the pure red gold, of the one person to whom we all are most loyal, and whom we all most love, our gracious Queen. I do not assert that one in a hundred is conscious of what he is doing: if you ask him, he will give some different reason: but the fact remains that unconsciously, we are following the customs of our fathers, and symbolically providing a soul for the structure. 'Men continue to do what their fathers did before them, though the reasons on which their fathers acted have been long forgotten.' A ship could not be launched in the olden times without .a human sacrifice: the neck of the victim was broken across the prow, and his blood besprinkled the sides, while his soul entered the new home provided for it to ensure its safety amid storm and tempest: to-day we symbolize unconsciously the same ceremony, but we content ourselves with a bottle of the good red wine, slung from the dainty fingers of English womanhood."

Brother Speth gives numerous facts from various parts of the world and of widely separated times.

Perhaps as significant as any and certainly as interesting are the particulars brought to his attention by Brother William Simpson and dealing with Old Testament days. Referring to Assyrian foundation stones in the reign of Sennacherib who was on the throne 705-681 B.C., we have the roya1 message from Records of the Past (new series, volume vi, page 101), the words "my inscription" relating in Brother Simpson's note to the foundation stone, the 1atter probably being a brick or clay cylinder:

I bunt that palace from foundation to roof and finished it. My inscription I brought into it. For future days, whoever-among the kings, my successors, whom . ASSUR and ISTAR Shall call to the rule over the land and the people-- the prince may he, if this palace becomes old and mined, who builds it anew May he preserve my inscription, anoint it with oil, offer sacrifices, return it to its place ; then will Assur and Istar hear his prayer.

The same work (Records of the Past, new series, volume v, page 171) contains an inscription of Cyrus the Persian King mentioning his discovery of the foundation stone of the Assyrian Assurbanipal, 668-626 B.C., usually identified with the Asnapper of Ezra iv, 10. Here we find a foundation stone instead of the "inscription" and a significant ceremony is described that agrees with that of Sennacherib's and is truly very like the modern Masonic Rite when dedicating hall or temple or laying a corner-stone:

. . . . the foundation-stone of Assur-bani-pal King of Assyria, who had discovered the foundation stone of Shalmaneser son of Assur-natsir-pal, I laid its foundation and made firm its bricks. With beer, wine, on (and) honey.

A simnar announcement by Cyrus is also given on page 173 of the above work : . . . . the inscription containing the name of Assan-bani-pal I discovered anddid not change ; with oil I annointed (it) ; sheep I sacrificed ; with my own inscription I placed (it) and restored (it) to its place.

Foundation sacrifices and the substitution of various kinds used for them are considered freely by several authorities and there is a bibliography. of them to be found in Burdick's Foundation Rites, 1901. We may note that in folklore customs persist and explanations change or as Sir J. G. Frazer (Golden Bough, 1890, ii, page 62) says "Myth changes while custom remains constant; men continue to do what their fathers did before them, though the reasons on which their fathers acted have long been forgotten." That so many legends contain allusions to foundation sacrifices is ample proof that such existed. Brother Speth says further "Had we never found one single instance of the rite actually in practice, we might still have inferred it with absolute certainty from the legends, although these do not always give us the true motive."

When it may have become unlawful or otherwise impracticable to bury a body, then an image, a symbol of the living or the dead, was laid in the walls or under them. The figure of Christ crucified has been found built into an old church wall. Representations of children, candles- the flame being a symbol of life even as a reversed torch is a type of death, empty coffins, bones of men and animals, and so on, have been discovered in or under the masonry when taking down important structures. Freemasons will understand the significance of these old customs. Every laying of a corner-stone with Masonic ceremonies is a reminder of them, and every completed initiation a confirmation.

The subject may be studied further in Jew and Human Sacrifice, Herman L. Strack, English translation of eighth edition, page 138, with bibliographical notes on page 31; Blood Covenant, H. Clay Trumbull, and particularly pages 45-57 of his other book the Threshold Covenant, the first of these works discussing the origin of sacrifice and the significance of transferred or proffered blood or life, and the second treating of the beginning of religious rites and their gradual development ; Foundation Rites, Louis Dayton Burdick ; Bible Sidelights, Dr. R. A. Stewart Macalister, Director of Excavations for the Palestine Exploration Fund; James Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, page 368, and in Doctor Mackey's revised History of Freemasonry, page 1072.

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