Symbolical Masonry, by H.L. Haywood, , at sacred-texts.com
When the candidate, reinvested with that of which he had been divested, is made to stand in the Northeast Corner of the lodge as the youngest Entered Apprentice, both the position in which he stands and the posture of his body have reference to such laws of the "new life" in Masonry as are deserving of careful consideration. It has long been observed, and that for the most obvious reasons, that Northeast is neither North nor East, but a midway situation partaking of both. If we recall that the North is the place of darkness, the symbol of the profane and unregenerated world, and that the East is the place of light, the symbol of all perfection in the Masonic life, you will see that it is fitting that an Apprentice be made to find his station there; for by virtue of being an Apprentice he is as yet neither wholly profane nor wholly initiate, having yet much light to receive in Masonry. It is unfortunate that some Masons, in all the deep senses of the words, never move beyond this position but remain, through indifference to the influences of the Order or sluggishness of spirit, in that halfway place.
His standing in an upright posture is at once a hint and a prophecy; it is a hint because it is indicative of the plumb which will be offered him as one of the working tools of a Fellow-Craft; it is a prophecy because it is an anticipation of that raising up which will be made in the Sublime Degree. Inasmuch as these completer unfoldings
of this symbolism will come in due time, and under their appropriate circumstances, I have elected to defer a study of moral perpendicularity to subsequent pages.
Meanwhile we may be reminded that the Northeast Corner is also the place, at least ideally, of the laying of the Cornerstone, a ceremony as ancient as it is significant. From of old the builders have ever attended the placing of the Cornerstone with elaborate ceremonies, often lasting many days, and the custom is still in use. If we stop to inquire the reason for this celebration of a constructing process we shall find that the Cornerstone is the most important stone in the building, and that it represents the sacrifices that have gone to the making of the structure.
"That is called the Cornerstone, or chief Cornerstone, which is placed in the extreme angle of a foundation," writes a seventeenth century commentator, "conjoining and holding together two walls of the pile, meeting from different quarters." Performing a function of such cardinal importance, the Cornerstone has always appealed to men with a meaning beyond its practical use, serving as the symbol of that which is the foundation and principle of consistency in a structure. The Apprentice, standing upright and ready for his working tools, a tried and trusty brother, is, accordingly, the Cornerstone of the Fraternity, even as youth is the Cornerstone of society.
But there is a meaning in it even beyond this. Before the influence of civilisation banished many barbarous usages from the rites of men it was no uncommon custom to bury a living human being under the cornerstone. This was at first, probably, intended to mollify the gods of the ground on which the building stood, and later a recognition of those sacrifices always required of mere when they would build. (See Speth's "Builders' Rites.") As
time went on effigies or statues were used in lieu of human beings, and this was in time refined away into the custom of placing metals, jewels, and other valuables in the cornerstone, even as we Masons now use Corn, Wine, and Oil.
In keeping with all this we may see in the Apprentice standing in the Northeast a dedicated and consecrated man who offers himself as a building stone in the spiritual Temple which the lodge is making of itself and striving to make of all human society. This symbolism, wholly divested of every vestige of the inhuman practices of which it is a far-off reminder, is beautiful and wise every way, for until men, the individual as well as the mass, do offer their own lives to the service of the Brotherhood and the State both Brotherhood and State will ever remain as imperfect as they are now.
Moreover, it seems to me that when the Craft says to the Candidate, "You are the material of which I am builded, and of which the kingdom of Heaven is being builded" it pays a tribute to the essential dignity, and even divinity, of human nature itself. We humans may be crude and barbarous, we may be of the earth, earthy, but it is out of us, out of that very nature we often affect to despise that all the noble stately things of the future must be made. There is no need that we call angels to our assistance, or any celestial beings whatever; in us, as we now are, are those qualities which, would we let them rule in us, would bring the will of God to pass in the earth. It is not beyond reason that the reigning religion of this western world dares to link God to Man in the Person of its Founder, for in a man there is that which is at once Human and Divine. This is the ancient
faith of the Builders, and it is above all things fitting that it should have been set to music by Edwin Markham, who is both poet and Mason, as gifted in the one as he is enthusiastic in the other: