Freemasonry is
Summer or Ruth and Boaz by Nicolas Poussin

In olden times, back in the early years, builders and labourers were paid in different ways.

In masonic history, we were informed that at the building of King Solomon’s Temple a vast number of artificers were employed including scholars acquiring a knowledge of the Craft.

These people, who were taught by more advanced workers, were supplied in return for their labour, with corn, wine and oil, at that time common articles of subsistence.

But why corn, wine and oil?

 Summer or Ruth and Boaz by Nicolas Poussin Summer or Ruth and Boaz by Nicolas PoussinThey are no longer used as a means of payment so in the lodge we use them as symbols, in the dedication, constitution and consecration of a new lodge in the laying of corner stones. At this time, once again the fruit of the land, the brew of the grape and the essence of the olive are poured to launch a new unit of brotherhood into the fellowship of lodges or to begin a new structure dedicated to the public use.

Corn, wine and oil have been associated together from the earliest times. In Deuteronomy, the ‘nation of fierce countenance’, which is to destroy the people ‘shall not leave thee either corn, wine or oil’.

In Chronicles, we read ‘the children of Israel brought in abundance the first fruits of corn, wine and oil’. Nehemiah tells of a ‘great chamber where before time, they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine and the oil’ – and later ‘then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn, the new wine and the oil into the treasures’.

There are other references in the Holy Book to these particular forms of taxes, money and tithes for religious purposes, wealth and refreshment. In ancient days, the grapes in the vineyard and olives in the grove and the grain of the field were not only wealth but the measure of trade. So many skins of wine, so many cruses of oil, so many bushels of corn were to them as are dollars and cents today.

Thus our ancient brethren received wages in corn, wine and oil as a practical matter; they were paid for their labours in the coin of the realm.

The oil pressed from the olives was as important to them as butter and other fats were among occidentals. Because it was so necessary, and hence so valuable, it became an important part of sacrificial rites. There is no point in the sacrifice which is only a form.

To be effective it must offer before the altar something of value, something the giving of which will testify to the love and veneration in which the sacrifice holds the Most High.

Oil was also used not only as a food but for lighting purposes, more within the house than in the open air, where torches were more effective. Oil was also an article of the bath. Mixed with perfume, it was used in the ceremonies of anointment and in preparation for ceremonial appearances.

‘The precious ointment upon the head, which ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments’, as the quotation has it in our ritual, was doubtless made of olive oil, suitably mixed with such perfumes and spices as myrrh, cinnamon, and frankincense.

Probably olive oil was also used as a surgical dressing. Nomadic peoples, subject to injuries, could hardly avoid knowledge of the value of soothing oil. With so many uses for oil, its production naturally was stimulated. Not only was the production of the olive grove a matter of wealth, but the nourishing and processing of oil gave employment to many.

Oil was obtained from the olive both by pressing – probably by a stone wheel revolving in or on a larger stone or mortar – and also by a gentle pounding. This hand process produced a finer quality of oil. In Exodus, it says: ‘and thou shalt command the children of Israel that they bring pure olive oil beaten for the night to cause the lamp to burn always.’

The corn of the Bible is not the corn we know today. In many, if not the majority of uses of the word, a more understandable translation would be simply ‘grain’. The principal grains of the Old Testament were barley and wheat. Corn represents not only both of these but all the grains which the Jewish people cultivated.

Our modern corn, cultivated and cross-bred, was unknown to the ancients, but they may have had grain similar from which our great crops have grown. An ear of grain has been an emblem of plenty since the mists of antiquity which shroud the beginnings of mythology.

Ceres by Antoine Watteau Credit: Samuel H. Kress CollectionCeres by Antoine Watteau Credit: Samuel H. Kress CollectionCeres, the goddess of abundance, survives today in our cereals. The Greeks call her Demeter, a corruption of Gemeter, our mother earth. She wore a garland of grain and carried ears of grain in her hand.

The Hebrew word Shibboleth means both an ear of corn and a flood of water. Both are symbols of abundance, plenty and wealth.

Scarcely less important to our ancient brethren than their corn and oil, was the wine. Vineyards were highly esteemed both as wealth and as a comfort – the pleasant shade of the ‘vine and fig tree’ was a part of ancient hospitality. Vineyards on mountain sides or hills were most carefully tended and protected against washing away by building terraces and walls, as even today one may see on the hillsides of the Rhine and in the Middle East.

Thorn hedges kept cattle from helping themselves to the grapes. The vineyard worker frequently lived in a watch tower or hut on an elevation to keep a sharp lookout that neither predatory man or beast took his ripening wealth.

The Feast of Booths, in the early autumn when the grapes were ripe, was a time of joy and happiness. ‘New wine’ – the unfermented, just pressed-out juice of the grape – was drunk by all. Fermented wine was made by storing the juice of the grape in skins or bottles. Probably most of the wine of the Old Testament days was red, but later the white grape must have come into esteem because it is the principal grape of production for that portion of the world today.

So next time you have some corn, light a lamp or candle and drink a toast of wine, give a thought to our ancient brethren and thank them for their hospitality which has continued until today.

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, September 2018, pages 16 and 17.

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