Many of us have seen a Foundation Stone laid or have read an account of the proceedings usual on such occasions.
When conducted by Freemasons, the ceremony includes much beautiful symbolism, such as trying and pronouncing the stone well laid, pouring of wine, oil 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 the cavity beneath the stone, objects of a peculiar nature, such as a list of contributors to the funds, a copy of the newspaper of the day, and also one or more coins of the realm.
Should you ask a bystander the reason for this deposit, they would probably answer that it was done in order that at any time that the stone was removed, evidence would be available of the circumstances attending the function, that in fact these objects were placed there for future witness and reference.
Although such a motive may be considered reasonable, according to the rite (or practice) of this day, nothing could be further from the truth. Surely the hope of all concerned in the ceremony is that the foundation stone is never removed, and that the witness will ever remain dumb.
In ancient times, the erection of a building of any sort was not undertaken lightly and such was the importance thereof, that it was thought necessary that at the very start some form of sacrifice had to be made to ensure its long life.
Primitive man believed that everything had a soul and, in a building, it was necessary to provide it with a soul of its own, and this could not be done more readily than by burying a living soul in the foundations, and thus we arrive at the origin of the human sacrifice. The offering of human sacrifice was in fact universal, a rite practiced apparently by all men, at all times, in all places.
A 17th. century account of Japan mentions the belief that a wall laid upon a body of a willing? human victim would be secure from accident, and accordingly, when a great wall was to be built, some wretched slave would offer himself as a foundation, lying down in the trench to be crushed by the heavy stones lowered upon him.
King Dako built his palace on the body of Dahn and the name of his chief town Dahomey means “On the body of Dahn “.
When Rajah Sala Bin was building the fort of Seealcot in the Punjab, the foundation of the south-eastern bastion gave way so repeatedly that he had recourse to a soothsayer, who assured him it would never stand until the blood of an only son was shed there, wherefore the only son of a widow was sacrificed.
According to popular tradition a young maiden was built into the wall of Nida Nanderskied, with an opening left through she was to be fed as long as she was able to eat. In fact, in 1844 the wall at this point was broken through and a cavity was disclosed in which a human skeleton was actually discovered.
As man became more enlightened he rejected human sacrifices and replaced it with animal sacrifice in the first place, then with vegetable, and finally with one of a more symbolic character. We have the example of Abraham and his son Isaac when a substitute was used.
Animals sacrificed were of many different kinds, but a few examples will suffice. In Denmark a lamb was built under the altar, that the church might stand, and under other houses swine and fowl were buried alive.
As time moved on the use of living sacrifices was discarded in favor of symbolic ones. It was thought that the effigy of a man would serve the same purpose and many cases have been found of statues and imitations of babies having been used. Thus, we see that the first or foundation stone has great symbolical meaning and is included in our ceremonies for that reason.
Our forefathers, ages ago, buried a living human sacrifice to ensure the stability of the structure, their sons substituted an animal, their sons again a mere effigy or symbol, and we, their children, still use a substitute - coins, bearing the effigy of our Monarch.
One would not assert that one in a hundred is conscious of what he is doing, and if you ask may be given some other reason, but the fact remains that unconsciously, we are following the custom of our fathers, and symbolically providing a soul for the structure.
“Men continue to do what their fathers did before them, though the reasons for which their father’s acted have long since been forgotten”.