The Oak Island Legend as an Expression of Masonic Symbolism

1.      Some years ago, sceptic Joe Nickell from CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Claims of the Paranormal) proposed that the Oak Island Money Pit started out as a natural sink hole, which are apparently common in that part of Nova Scotia, and a Masonic legend somehow attached itself to that natural sink hole to create the start of what is now called the Oak Island Money Pit legend.  A link to Joe Nickell’s article, from the March/April 2000 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer Magazine, is here.

2.      I myself am an Oak Island sceptic, and I am also a Freemason, but I was initially unimpressed by the Nickell theory, thinking it farfetched and contrived.

3.      However, Kel Hancock and Richard Joltes recently discovered a very similar Money Pit legend from Jollicure in another part of Nova Scotia, particulars being found elsewhere on this site.

The very similar Jollicure Money Pit Legend caused me to re-evaluate my earlier dismissive view of Nickell’s theory, and as a result I wrote a brief article published at the Oak Island Treasure website in which I decided the Nickell theory may well be correct, although I felt the
ritual of the Masonic Degree known as the Royal Arch of Enoch, being the 13th Degree of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (known as the “Rose Croix” in the United Kingdom and Australasia) was a more likely source of the Oak Island legend than the ritual of the Holy Royal Arch Degree suggested by Nickell.  A link to that brief article is here, and which also contains a brief explanation of how masons use their rituals and their significance in what happens in Masonic Lodges.

4.      Since then, I have carried out further research into possible Masonic origins for the Oak Island Money Pit Legend, and have discovered the following:

4(a)    The Masonic legend which forms the basis of the Masonic Holy Royal Arch Degree has changed over time.

4(b)    At the present day, the Holy Royal Arch Degree is based around the building of the second temple at Jerusalem around 500BC.  In its present form, the Holy Royal Arch Degree has only limited similarity to the Oak Island legend as noted in my above-mentioned previous article.

4(c)    However, when the Holy Royal Arch Degree was founded about 1740, it appears it was based on the legend of Enoch, one of the legendary patriarchs from the Book of Genesis who predated the flood.  See for example Mackey’s History of Freemasonry, Chapter 48, where he says:

“It is very probable that the Legend of Enoch which was embodied in Ramsay’s Ecossais, and which was afterward adopted in the Degree of Knights of the Ninth Arch, was at first used by the ceceders in conferring their Fourth Degree.  But it was afterward changed for the very different legend which is still taught in the English Royal Arch”.

(When Mackey refers to the “Fourth Degree”, he is in fact meaning the degree now known as the Holy Royal Arch).  A link to Mackey’s tome on the History of Freemasonry is here.

4(d)  Some time between the birth of the Holy Arch Royal Degree (about 1740) and around 1800, the legend at the basis of that degree was changed from the Enoch legend to the legend of building the second Jerusalem temple at the time of the Jews returning from their captivity in Babylon, and that legend (of building the second temple) remains the basis of the present Holy Royal Arch Degree.

4(e)  But, the Enoch legend remained the basis of some Holy Royal Arch rituals, as worked in some Royal Arch Chapters, as late as the early 1800s;  see for example the paper of Piers Vaughan entitled Early Rituals of the Holy Royal Arch where he says:

2.3 STORIES
One of the most fascinating differences in early rituals are the different settings for the ritual story. While some most certainly focused on the building of the Second Temple, at least one is set in the time of King Solomon, and involves the building of the secret vault and the discovery of the vault of Enoch. We mentioned earlier that the story of the Ark of Noah is one of the oldest of all Masonic devices. The story of Enoch is intimately intertwined with this story, leading us to suspect that the Enochian slant also reflects an early version of the myth.

In the Finch manuscript of circa 1800 we find the most fully developed version of this particular story. Enoch is take to heaven and is shown the triangular plate bearing the name of God, then a vision of an underground vault with nine arches one upon another, within which is a white marble pedestal.

God commands him to build this, as well as two pillars of brass and brick, containing all the knowledge of mankind (later seen in the Second Degree lecture, this time pertaining to the pillars at the entrance to the Temple of Solomon). This he does. In this version we are then transported forward to the time of King Solomon, who is commanded to build not only a Temple but also an underground corridor, and he is promised that on completing the Temple the true name of God revealed to Moses would be restored. According to the text, next to Mount Moriah was another Mount called Mount Calvary (sic), which the workmen were excavating in order to lay foundations for another building.

They come across the ruins of a more ancient building, upon vertical arches. Solomon tells his three principal architects to investigate, which they do, lifting each keystone by its ring, and in the ninth arch they discover the pedestal and the triangular plate.

This story also introduces us to the mysterious names of the three architects or sojourners: Stolkyn, Jacobert and Giblim. This extraordinary development is, perhaps, the strongest hint that the Degree is indeed descended from the French system, as we will see in the conclusion. Most of the other Rituals studied are rather more familiar, dealing with the rebuilding of the Temple by Zerubbabal, Jeshua and Haggai. The use of three sojourners is common to all, as is the idea of descending into a place of darkness, there finding something bright which in many rituals shines with its own light. In most cases, too, the pedestal is a double cube -more of an altar – which means its surface is square, bearing a circle which contains a triangle (of gold): a device familiar to Masons in the Hermetic degrees. Sometimes the language is quite fun. For example, in the Bristol rite the sojourners angrily reply to Zerubbabel’s taunt that they may be “of the lineage of that set of traitors who fell away during the siege and went over to the enemy”, that: “we are not, Most Excellent, of that timorous race of parasites who…fell away and deserted their trust.”

Nevertheless, given that the earliest rituals focus on the period from Enoch, the Flood, and the Building of the First Temple, there is reason to suppose that the action was moved to the Second Temple to continue the biblical tradition, and to move away from apocryphal stories. After all, there is no reference in the Old Testament to finding a secret vault containing a pedestal or sacred delta in the books of Ezra, Haggai or Nehemiah.

Follow this link to Vaughan’s paper:

4(f)    Eventually the Enochian version of the Holy Royal Arch Degree became the 13th Degree of the Masonic Degree system known as the Scottish Rite in North America and known as the Rose Croix elsewhere, and the 13th Degree remains based on the legend of Enoch to this day.

5.      The Oak Island legend probably began, in something vaguely approaching its modern form, in the period 1800-1850, when the Holy Royal Arch Degree was in many Royal Arch Chapters in the world still based on the legend of Enoch, i.e. when the Holy Royal Arch Degree in many Chapters still resembled what is now the 13th Degree of the Scottish Rite rather than the modern Holy Royal Arch Degree.

6.      Therefore Nickell is very likely correct when he identifies the Holy Royal Arch Degree as the source of today’s Oak Island Money Pit legend, although the Holy Royal Arch Degree at the relevant time was in many Royal Arch Chapters more akin to what is now the 13th Degree of the Scottish Rite.  In other words, it turns out that both Nickell and myself were correct when he identified the Holy Royal Arch Degree as the source of the Oak Island Money Pit legend and I identified the 13th Degree of the Scottish Rite as its source.

7.      An old ritual of the 13th Degree, likely similar to the Holy Royal Arch Degree rituals in many Royal Arch Chapters in the early 1800s, is available on the web at this link. I would also refer to the various links to Masonic legendary material in my previous article referred to above.

8.      We are now in a position to see just how many elements of the Masonic Holy Royal Arch Degree (in its old version which is now the 13th Degree of the Scottish Rite) and other Masonic motifs and legends have been incorporated in the Oak Island legend:

8(a)    The Three Sojourners

In the Masonic legend, the Vault of Enoch is discovered and excavated by three sojourners called Stolkyn, Jacobert, and Giblim.  In the Oak Island legend, the Money Pit is discovered and excavated by three fellows called McInnis, Smith and Vaughan.

8(b)    Surface Temple
In the Masonic legend, the remains of Enoch’s temple are discovered at the surface, being a roofless temple of large unhewn stones.  In the Oak Island legend, McInnes, Smith & Vaughan discover a layer of flagstones only two feet below the surface when they start excavating the pit.

8(c)    Nine Successive Vaults
In the Masonic legend, the three sojourners find the roofs of nine successive vaults, vertically aligned down into the earth.  In the Oak Island legend, McInnes, Smith and Vaughan and then later the Onslow Syndicate find nine successive layers of oak logs at 10 feet intervals going down into the earth.

8(d)    The Porphyry Stone
In the Masonic legend, Enoch concealed the secret name of God, known as the “Grand Secret” “engraven on a white oriental porphyry stone, in the bowels of the earth”.  See the Royal Masonic Cyclopedia quoted at the following links:
http://www.mystae.com/restricted/streams/masons/mrituals.html
http://www.mystae.com/restricted/streams/scripts/enoch.html

In the Oak Island legend, the inscribed stone found at about the 90 foot depth in the Oak Island Money Pit is often suggested to have been porphyry;  see for example:

  1. Fanthorpe, The Oak Island Mystery, page 31 and other pages
  2. Crooker, Oak Island Gold, page 21
  3. Harris & McPhie, Oak Island and Its Lost Treasure, page 30.

8(e)    The Translation of the Characters on the Porphyry Stone
The Masonic legend includes the following from Mackey’s The History of Freemasonry cited above:

“The legend proceeds to inform us that after Enoch had finished the construction of the nine vaults, fearing that the principles of the arts and sciences which he had assiduously cultivated would be lost in a universal deluge of which he had received a prophetic vision, he erected above ground two pillars, one of marble, to withstand the destructive influences of fire, and one of brass, to resist the action of water.  On the pillar of brass he engraved the history of the creation, the principles of the arts and sciences, and the doctrines of speculative masonry as they were then practised;  and on the pillar of marble he enscribed in hieroglyphic characters the information that near the spot where they stood a precious treasure was deposited in a subterranean vault.” (Emphasis added).

See Chapter 41 of Mackey’s The History of Freemasonry.  According to the Oak Island legend, the most common translation of the inscribed stone message reads “40 feet below two million pounds are buried”. Incidentally, on the assumption the inscribed stone from the Oak Island Money Pit records a message in Spanish, it can be translated as “At 80, Guide maize or millet into the estuary or stream”, which alludes to the well known Masonic symbolism of “An ear of corn near a fall of water” which any Freemason will recognise.  For a link to this so-called Spanish translation of the inscribed stone, see this article (which incidentally also points out that the nine log platforms of the Oak Island Money Pit correspond to the nine vaults of Enoch).

8(f)    The Discovery of the Treasure
In the modern version of the Masonic Holy Royal Arch Degree, three sojourners discover the hidden treasure vault under the remains of King Solomon’s former temple when their crowbar accidentally strikes a rock and makes a hollow sound, revealing the existence of the vault underneath.  In the Oak Island legend, the diggers of the Onslow Syndicate sink a crowbar into the mud at the bottom of the money pit, and strike a flat wooden surface which they interpreted to be the lid of a treasure chest.

8(g)    The Treasure
In both the Enochian and the modern versions of the Holy Royal Arch Degree, the treasure in the hidden vault consists of a plate of gold on which the long lost secret name of God is engraved.  In the Enochian version of the legend, the gold pate was also encrusted with jewels.
The Oak Island legend assumes that a very valuable treasure is buried in the money pit, although is not specific as to the nature of the treasure as it has not yet been recovered.

8(h)    The Flood Channels
An English translation of the Apocryphal Book of Enoch includes the following passages:

  1. “89.2   And again I raised my eyes to heaven, and saw a high roof, with seven water channels on it, and those channels discharged much water into an enclosure. “
  2. “89.3    And I looked again, and behold, springs opened on the floor of that large enclosure, and water began to bubble up, and to rise above the floor.  And I looked at that enclosure until its whole floor was covered by water.”

I have been unable to find any Royal Arch Degree rituals which incorporate the above allusions to “flood channels”, but given that the legend of Enoch is very important to Freemasons, and given that Masonic ritual changes over time (as explained in my earlier article), it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that some versions of the Holy Royal Arch Degree at certain periods have incorporated the above allusions to “flood channels”.  Certainly the above allusions to “water channels” correspond to the Oak Island and Jollicure Money Pit legends including the tale that they both filled with water, and in the case of the Oak Island Money Pit legend the source of the water was artificially dug flood tunnels linking the money pit to the sea.

8(i)    Animals Sinking
Also from the Book of Enoch:

“89.5   And all the bulls of that enclosure, were gathered together, until I saw how they sank, and were swallowed up and destroyed, in that water”.

This passage corresponds to Sophia Sellar’s oxen sinking into the cave-in pit and to the blacksmith’s cow sinking into the Jollicure Money Pit.  For a link to the relevant passages of the Book of Enoch, refer to the following: http://exodus2006.com/5enoch.htm

8(j)    Equilateral Triangle
The equilateral triangle is probably the most important symbol of the Holy Royal Arch Degree, both in its Enochian version and in its modern version.  The secret name of God was inscribed on an equilateral triangle on the gold plate in the hidden vault in the legend at the heart of the Royal Arch Degree.  This corresponds to the famous equilateral stone triangle which was formerly on the south shore of Oak Island, but which was unfortunately destroyed during Dunfield Senior’s excavations in the mid 1960s.

8(k)    The Letter “G”
The letter “G” has always been important in Masonic symbolism, standing for the Grand Geometrician of the Universe or God.  Nickell’s article cited above refers to the discovery near the cave-in pit on Oak Island in 1967 of a granite bolder with the letter “G” clearly chiselled on its surface.

8(l)    Masonic Symbols on Rock
Nickell’s article also refers to an inscribed stone discovered by Gilbert Hedden at Joudrey’s Cove on Oak Island in 1936, featuring a number of symbols which are clearly Masonic including a point within a circle, which any Mason would recognise.

8(m)    Links of Chain from Epaulette
At formal meetings in Masonic Lodges, the Masons still wear “aprons” loosely modelled on the aprons of working stone masons in the Middle Ages.  Those aprons, in many degrees, often include metal epaulettes attached to the aprons; those epaulettes are often of either gold or a metal resembling gold, e.g. brass.  It is not without significance that the three links of chain reportedly recovered by the Truro Syndicate in 1849 by drilling in the Oak Island Money Pit with a pod auger resembled”links forced from an epaulette”.

8(n)    Piece of Parchment and the Cement Vault
As is well known, the Blair Syndicate of the 1890s drilled deep into the money pit and purportedly discovered a cement vault at approximately 150 feet depth, from which their drill extracted a piece of parchment containing the letters “VI” or “RI”.  The piece of parchment actually does exist, although its provenance is not recorded in a manner which would be satisfactory to an archaeologist.  It needs to be noted that in the modern versions of the Holy Royal Arch Degree (i.e. in use from say about 1800), the treasures concealed in the hidden vault included a parchment containing the original text of the Book of Genesis and which is discovered by the three sojourners when they enter the long lost vault.

8(o)    The Iron Ring
The Enochian version of the Holy Royal Arch Degree refers to Enoch covering the top most entrance into the system of nine vertically aligned vaults into the ground, with a large stone with a large iron ring to assist its removal when required.  The Oak Island legend records that an iron ring was found embedded in a rock at Smiths Cove, probably in the 1795-1804 timeframe.

9.      The parallels between Masonic symbolism (particularly as encapsulated in the 13th Degree, which was formerly the basis of the Holy Royal Arch Degree) and the Oak Island Money Pit legend as it has come down to us are striking.  In my view, there are just simply too
many parallels for it to be a coincidence.  The clincher to my way of thinking is the porphyry stone with hieroglyphic characters on it and purportedly found at about 90 feet down in the money pit by the Onslow Syndicate in the early 1800s;  this is a classic example of Masonic
symbolism, especially the translation which alludes to the traditional Masonic motif of “an ear of corn near to a fall of water”.  The reason why the porphyry stone with hieroglyphic characters is classic Masonic symbolism is that the porphyry stone features prominently in the Masonic side degree known as the Royal Ark Marriners, and stones engraved with non English characters feature in a number of Masonic degrees including the Mark Master Masons degree.

10.     In fact, it would not be exaggerating too much to say that the whole Oak Island Money Pit legend is a Masonic pun.

11.     It is almost as if a group of Mahone Bay Masons have been “laughing up their sleeves” at the rest of the world for several generations.

12.     It now seems that a number of independent elements have converged together to form the Oak Island Money Pit legend as it now exists, including:

12(a)   The recent discovery of John Bartram and others that digging for Captain Kydd’s treasure was a well established confidence game/trick in North Eastern United States in the early 1800s, and was practised as a means of earning a livelihood by Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith and others at that time, and thanks to John Bartram we now know there is a link between Joseph Smith’s family and the Oak Island Money Pit in the form of one of his wives, Fanny Young (who also happened to be a sister of Mormon Church President Brigham Young) visiting Oak Island about 1850 to divine for treasure.

12(b)   If there was any kind of genuine “hole” at the money pit site originally, then it may have been nothing more than a natural sink hole, which we know are common in that part of Nova Scotia, or possibly the remains of an early settler’s attempt to dig a water well;  and whether the original “hole” was a natural sink hole or the remains of a well there is the speculative possibility it may have been used by early Oak Island land owner Casper Wollenhaupt as a saw pit for pit sawing lumber on the island, it being known that Casper Wollenhaupt had a contract to build a ship or ships in the early 1790s.

12(c)   As the Oak Island Money Pit legend evolved, it acquired extensive amounts of Masonic symbolism, particularly drawn from the Enochian version of the Holy Royal Arch Degree of Freemasonry.

13.     Where we have got to so far:

13(a)   The flood tunnel or tunnels have now been conclusively shown (at least to my satisfaction) to be purely mythical.

13(b)   There almost certainly was never a real treasure in the Oak Island Money Pit.  The legend has incorporated a vast treasure at the bottom of the money pit as a result of early 1800s treasure digging swindlers, who were active at that time in that part of the world, and we now know thanks to John Bartram that there is a connection between those treasure hunting swindlers and Oak Island.

13(c)   The Oak Island legend has also undoubtedly incorporated a vast lost treasure as a result of the incorporation of Masonic legendary material which revolves around the discovery of a lost vault which has a very valuable treasure in it.

14.     Although this website has only been going a short while, I think we can justifiably say it has made giant strides towards solving the Oak Island mystery.  I would go so far as to say it is virtually solved.

Note: All material on these pages is © 2005 Dennis J King. Posted here by permission. All rights reserved. Short excerpts may be used as long as proper credit is given and advance permission is obtained.