Salt, Wine, and Oil

It is common knowledge that the ancient wages of a Fellowcraft Mason consisted of corn, wine, and oil. Many however, object to this assertion.

How can corn be associated with these ancient wages when—clearly—corn was first discovered in the New World? Corn was first brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus in the late 1400s.

Since our ritual predates the age of exploration, must not any reference to corn be some sort of mistake?

Corn, wine, and oil is often referenced together within the Bible and in Freemasonry. Engraving from Mackey’s “The Manual of the Lodge”, 1891.

The word ‘corn’ is actually Old English and refers to any type of granular matter. Oats, wheat, barley, rye, even spices, could all be referred to as corn.

When used in its verb form ‘to corn’ means to turn a substance into a grain, for example, ‘to corn gunpowder’. Our ritual, therefore, is not actually referring to kernels of corn, but to some type of Old World grain.

It has become a widespread practice among most Masonic jurisdictions to incorporate the use of corn, wine, and oil in the dedication ceremonies of lodges and other public buildings.

In the United States the most famous of these ceremonies took place 18 September 1793, in Washington D.C., when President George Washington, dressed in full Masonic regalia, laid the cornerstone of the Capitol building.

However, the combination of these three symbolic offerings can be traced back even further.

The principal grains of the Old Testament were barley and wheat. The Bible contains hundreds of references to corn, wine, and oil as separate entities, and over a dozen times the three are grouped

together within the same passage. (See end of article) They were seen as blessings from God, used as currency and used as sacrificial offerings.

By the Victorian Era, from which much of the language of our ritual is derived, the word ‘corn’ was often substituted for the word ‘salt’.

The verb ‘to corn’, meant ‘to salt’ or ‘to preserve.’ Corned beef, for example, contains no actual kernels of corn, but contains a very high amount of salt.

In fact, if we examine the wording of our ritual, the word ‘salt’ could be easily substituted for the word ‘corn.’ ‘The corn of sustenance’ simply becomes, ‘the salt of sustenance’.

Our bodies need salt to survive, and the meaning still holds true.

Salt was quite valuable in the ancient world. It was the primary method of preserving food, mainly meat and fish, and served as a good antiseptic, hence the expression, ‘rubbing salt into the wound’.

One of the busiest ancient Roman trade routes was the famous Via Salaria, a road connecting the capital city to the eastern coast of what is now modern-day Italy.

Along this route salt merchants drove their oxcarts filled with cargo while Roman soldiers marched alongside protecting their wares.

The Roman army quickly adopted the practice of paying these soldiers partly with salt, or with money to buy salt.

The Latin word for salt is ‘sal,’ and the modern word ‘salary’ derives from the Latin ‘salarium’ or ‘salt money’. This is probably where we get the expression ‘he’s not worth his salt’.


However, the earliest reference to this phrase in printed form does not appear until 1805, when Philip Beaver printed his book ‘The African Memoranda’.

On the other hand, the expression ‘not worth his salt’, could also have been associated with the ancient Greek practice of trading salt for slaves.

The word ‘sal,’ also appears in the English word ‘salad’. Ancient Romans adopted the practice of salting their salads to balance out the natural bitterness of the greens.

Other references to salt used as money can be found in Marco Polo’s writings. While traveling in China in the late thirteenth century, he noted that images of the Grand Khan were pressed onto tiny salt cakes and used as coins.

Salt was so rare in the African Empire of Mali (1235-1600 A.D) that it was quite literally worth its weight in gold! Ounces of salt were traded for ounces of gold, and to this day the salt trade is still practiced in Mali.

Other ancient civilisations such as the Phoenicians also traded salt, but this article only examined a few. There is concrete historical evidence that salt was used by various ancient peoples as a form of currency.

Furthermore, our ritual clearly states that a Fellowcraft Mason’s wages consisted of ‘corn, wine, and oil’—wages—being the key word.

Assuming that the ‘corn’ of our ritual was ‘salt’, the assumption that a Fellowcraft Mason was paid in salt would be both grammatically and historically correct.

However, in all probability, the before mentioned ‘corn’ was probably some sort of cereal grain such as barley or wheat.

It is interesting to consider though, that salt might have been part of a Fellowcraft’s wages, and even if this was not the case, it certainly adds seasoning to our Masonic understanding.

Illustration from A Ritual and Illustrations of Freemasonry, accompanied by numerous engravings, and a key to the Phi Beta Kappa. London : Reeves and Turner, 1896


Salt is a symbol for wisdom, being considered neutral, as far as gender is concerned, referring to pondering (something the candidate does in the Chamber of Reflection) and corresponding to the virtue of Charity.

Deuteronomy 11:14: ‘That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.’

Deuteronomy 12:17: ‘Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thy oil, or the firstlings of thy herds or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy freewill offerings, or heave offering of thine hand.’

Deuteronomy 14:23: ‘And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always’.

Deuteronomy 18:4: ‘The first fruit also of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him.’

Deuteronomy 28:51: ‘And he shall eat the fruit of thy cattle, and the fruit of thy land, until thou be destroyed: which also shall not leave thee either corn, wine, or oil, or the increase of thy kine, or flocks of thy sheep, until he have destroyed thee.’

2 Chronicles 31:5: ‘And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the first fruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.’

2 Chronicles 32:28: ‘Storehouses also for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil; and stalls for all manner of beasts, and cotes for flocks.’

Nehemiah 10:39: ‘For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.’

Nehemiah 13:5: ‘And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests.’

Nehemiah 13:12: ‘Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.’

Hosea 2:8: ‘For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Ba’al.’

Hosea 2:22: ‘And the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel.’

Joel 2:19: ‘Yea, the Lord will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen:’

Joel 2:24: ‘And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil.’

Haggai 1:11: ‘And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.’

Article by: Matthew A. Leilich

Matthew A. Leilich, PM, Distinguished Lecturer, Gothic-Fraternal Lodge #270, Hamilton Square, NJ, U.S.A.




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