Since modern Freemasonry has evolved from the Operative Stonemasons, it is important that we understand the importance of the symbolism of the Cornerstone and the Keystone. For centuries, the Cornerstone has been lain by Masons in public ceremonies. The Cornerstone is the first stone laid in the building of an edifice. It is placed in the northwest corner of what will be the future structure. There is a symbolic significance for this. As a Freemason, we learn to “build our Spiritual Edifice”, which is a metaphor for our quest for knowledge and for the betterment of self. Knowledge of the nature of our minds, spirits, and of the universe. In Freemasonry, the term “Light” is used for knowledge of these things. As the Northwest is the opposite area of where the Sun rises and shines throughout it’s traversal of the sky, it is obvious why it would be chosen as the beginning point or point of the least amount of light. Ancient stonemasons looked at a structure as a smaller representation of the universe or the microcosm of the macrocosm. The structure began as a single stone (or in ignorance and imperfection if you look at it esoterically). It will inevitably end in balance and completion of the whole (or enlightened and learned esoterically). This is what the Speculative (or philosophical) Mason is taught to do with their pursuit of Masonic knowledge. It’s not to say that since the Cornerstone is in darkness that it is unimportant. Quite the contrary. The Cornerstone is a beginning and we all have to have a beginning to also have an end. This is why Masons consider the Cornerstone to be so important. It is the departure point. The Cornerstone is imbued with information about the structure and it’s builders. Esoterically, we can look at this as information about our self in our rudimentary state. As we build our Spiritual Edifice (our Spiritual Being and Virtuous Life), we add knowledge and understanding (or perfected stones) until we reach the point of having a beautiful, balanced and completed structure.
This completion (or enlightenment) is where the Keystone comes in. The Keystone is the stone placed at the top of an archway which give the arch it’s stability. It completes the structure. Masonic legend harkens back to the time of King Solomon and the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. This was long before the arch existed in architecture. Despite this, it is for certain that there was a completion stone (called a capstone or copestone) that would have been placed when completing the Temple (the arch and Keystone symbolism was obviously added to Masonic ritual after it’s addition to architecture.) Regardless, the symbolism of the Keystone is highly important. As the Keystone completes the arch and gives it it’s strength and stability, so does the diligent pursuit of knowledge and living a morally upright lifestyle. As you can see, this concept of balance and structure is as important in Masonic symbolism as it is in the actual art of building a physical structure. It has a beginning and an end. An Alpha and an Omega. Both are equally important because you can’t have one without the other.
This concept permeates not only Freemasonry, but other mystical traditions as well. To close this article, we will visit one more concept that uses this same analogy. The Chakra system is prevalent in many Eastern religions. It also has found it’s way into Western thought through various means. The body has multiple energy centers within it. Starting at the base of the spine, or in the reproductive organs and going up, sequentially to the top of the head. These Chakras can be “opened up” or activated through meditation and yoga. The Root Chakra (or Muladhara) is located in the reproductive organs of the body. This is symbolic of the lower self or base-emotions. In other words, one who only has an active Muladhara Chakra is living in and acting in a low vibration of consciousness. Not capable of enlightenment. This can be likened to the Cornerstone. If the Cornerstone were the starting and ending point of a structure, there would be no structure. Just a cold stone sitting in the darkness of the Northwest. As an individual learns to activate each Chakra up the body, they gain more spiritual and life knowledge (this is likened to the building process of building our Spiritual Edifice.) The activation of the Chakras is capped off with the activation of the Crown Chakra (or Sahasrara). Activation of this Chakra is said to create a moment of enlightenment and understanding. This can be likened to the placement of the Keystone. This is the completion of the journey. As a building must start with the Cornerstone and end with the Keystone, the activation of the Chakras must start in the dark northwest corner so-to-speak of our lower emotions of the Root Chakra and end in the Crown. This is not to say that the Root Chakra is unimportant. Again, as in Masonic allegory, you cannot have one without the other. You must have the progression from lowest to highest. This creates balance with the Chakras which is necessary for mastery.
As a student of the Mysteries of Life, we must all apply these concepts to our lives and remember that we are all progressing through life toward the unknown realm of beyond. What we do in the present is as important as what we do in the future. We must spread love, beauty, balance, and light to the world!