Of all objects to which the candidate's attention is called as he begins his ascent to the Middle Chamber, none are more conspicuous, or more deserving of the most thorough investigation, than the Two Great Pillars which stand at the entrance. At one and the same time they guard the Sanctum from the outer world, and invite the Initiate into its mysteries; so noble in proportion, so intricate in design, so beautiful to see, they seem to keep solemn watch above the scene, as if to throw a hush of awe about the soul that would mount to the Upper Room of the Spirit. If throughout our history students of Masonry have surrounded them with a host of swarming theories more intricate than the network, and more multitudinous than the pomegranates it is because so many hints of ancient wisdom and secrets of symbolism have of old been hidden within these mighty columns. And if our own studies of the matter lead us to meanings numerous and almost conflicting we need not worry about it, for a symbol that says but one thing is hardly a symbol at all.
It was the custom of many of the most primitive peoples, as Frazer describes so abundantly in his "Golden Bough," to set up stones about their huts, and their villages, and over the graves of their dead. In some cases these crude rock pillars were thought to be the abodes of gods or demons; in others, homes of the ghosts; and often as symbols of sex. Of the last-named usage one writer has said that "pillars of stone, when associated with worship, have been from time immemorial regarded as symbols of the active and passive, the generative and fecundating principles." In Egypt, Horus and Sut were regarded as two living pillars, twin builders and supporters of the heavens, and Sir Arthur Evans has shown that pillars "were everywhere worshipped as gods." "In India, and among the Mayas and Incas," we read in "The Builders," "there were three pillars at the portals of the earthly and skyey temple - Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty. When man set up a pillar, he became a fellow worker with Him whom the old sages of China used to call the first Builder. Also, pillars were set up to mark the holy places of vision and Divine deliverance, as when Jacob erected a pillar at Bethel, Joshua at Gilgal, and Samuel at Mizpeh and Shen. Always they were symbols of stability, of what the Egyptians described as `the place of establishing forever' - emblem of the faith `that the pillars of the earth are the Lords,' and He hath set the world upon them."
"In all countries," remarks another writer, "as the earliest of man's work we recognise the sublime, mysteriously speaking, ever recurring monolith:" but by no people were pillars so venerated, or so variously used as by the Egyptians. Originally, perhaps, they served as astronomical instruments to mark the time, to denote the stages of the heavenly bodies, and to assist in the orienting of temples. Connected with the places of worship they were gradually associated with the gods, and became in time symbols of deity, as we may learn from Professor Breasted's "History of the Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt," in which delightful book he tells us that the obelisk, as Egyptians called the pillar, came at last to stand pre-eminently for the great Sun God.
This veneration of upstanding stones answered so deep a need in man's habits of worship that it proved to be one of the last forms of idolatry to give way before Monotheism, the worship of the One Invisible God. The Israelites, as the Bible witnesses, cling stubbornly to their "stocks and stones," reverence for which they may have learned in Egypt during their long sojourn there; and even in Christian countries the custom remained with such tenacity that the Lateran Council formally prohibited stone worship as late at 452.
From Egypt, it is said, the custom of placing
Pillars before temples was borrowed by the Phoenicians, but this
has been somewhat disputed; be that as it may, we know that Hiram
of Tyre erected two great columns before his magnificent temple
of Melkarth, where Herodotus saw them five centuries afterwards.
It was these, perhaps, that served Hiram as models for the more
famous Pillars which he erected before the Temple of Solomon.
Of these Pillars one description is in the Book of Kings, another in the Book of Chronicles. In the former record the height is given as eighteen cubits; in the latter as thirty-five; if a cubit be accepted as denoting eighteen inches, the former height would be twenty-seven, the latter fifty-two and one-half feet, a variation of twentyfive feet. To explain this discrepancy scholars have supposed Kings to give the height of only one, Chronicles the combined height of both, leaving allowances for the sockets of the head-pieces. Concerning these head-pieces, historians have differed, but none have given a clearer explanation than Mackey:
"Above the pillar, and covering its upper part to the depth of nine inches, was an oval body or chapiter seven feet and a half in height. Springing out from the pillar, at the junction of the chapiter with it, was a row of lotus petals, which, first spreading around the chapiter, after wards gently curved downward towards the pillar, something like the Acanthus leaves on the capital of a Corinthian column. About two-fifths of the distance from the bottom of the chapiter, or just below its most bulging part, a tissue of network was carved, which extended over its whole upper surface. To the bottom of this network was suspended a series of fringes, and on these again were carved two rows of pomegranates, one hundred being in each row."
The Pillars were cylindrical in shape, probably, and were cast of brass, and the combined weight must have been not less than fifty-three tons. One of them was called Boaz, the other Jachin, and the former stood in the northeast corner of the Porch, the latter in the southeast; Jachin was the right pillar, Boaz the left, and this means that right and left have reference to one standing inside the Temple, which faced the East. According to the tradition, the Pillars were cast in foundries situated between Succoth and Zeredatha, about thirty-five miles northeast of Jerusalem, whose moulders and jewellers still use clay brought from that region.
The network about the chapiter was probably an ornamental lattice work of metal, though some think it was an interlacing of branches or vines. The lily-work, doubtless, was a formal design, made to represent a species of the Egyptian lotus, a sacred plant among the dwellers of the Nile and much used by them. There were no globes on these Pillars, though the chapiters themselves were spherical; the globes were added at a late date by some Masonic ritualist, Preston it may be.
Those Pillars, strange to say, were not often copied by medieval builders, though they seem to have been imitated in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, at Poitiers, erected in 1161; and in the Wurzburg Cathedral, in Bavaria, the work, it seems, of the Comacines. But at a very early date they were used by Masons for symbolical purposes, as testified by the history of the Compagnonage, and by the "Old Charges" of the Freemasons.
In the latter we find a curious legend. The Cooke MS. of about 1350 relates that before Noah's flood, Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal Cain knew that God was to destroy the world; "wherefore they wrote the sciences that they had found out on two pillars of stone. Hermes, that was son to Cush, afterwards found the two pillars, and the sciences written thereon; and Abraham taught them to the Egyptians." Inasmuch as it was supposed that Masonry had come from Egypt the old chronicles thus quaintly sought to link their traditions up to the very beginnings of the world. From these Old Charges, we may suppose, the legend crept into the symbolic lore of the Craft, and was thus preserved until Speculative days, when the Pillar symbolism became embodied in the Rituals as we now have them.
It has often been shown that in the descriptions and interpretations given in our work of the Pillars there are many inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Thus, only fourteen American jurisdictions use the Pillars as being eighteen cubits in height; one jurisdiction makes them thirty, and twenty-seven make them thirty-five! Thirtyfive cubits is a lofty height indeed and would make the Pillars entirely out of proportion to a Temple that was only ninety feet long and thirty feet wide! Put such inaccuracies as these, historical and architectural, need not trouble us if we will but keep in mind the fact that with us the Pillars have become symbols of truth, and that errors of fact do not touch the hidden meanings.
What are these hidden meanings? William Preston saw in them a reference to the Pillar of Cloud and the Pillar of Fire by which, it is said, the Israelites were guided, and accordingly made them to stand for Providence. This is ingenious but altogether out of harmony with the long historical use of the emblems, for no other interpreter had ever found such meanings in them. Caldecott believed that the Jewish king stood before one Pillar in public ceremonies and the High Priest before the other, and that the Pillars consequently stand for Government and Religion in society. Brother CoveyCrump, writing in the Transactions of the Authors' Lodge, vol. i, made them to stand for Space and Time, the two pillars through which the human mind passes into knowledge; of similar character is the other reading which sees in them the two tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Mackey, reasoning from their names, Jachin, which means, "He shall establish," and Boaz, "In it is strength," makes them to mean the strength and the stability of Masonry.
Many of the old Jewish Rabbis, afterwards followed by the Kabbalists, found in them the symbolism of birth; as one wrote: "The names of the pillars signified potency and perpetuity; the pomegranates on their capitals or chapiters were symbols of generation." With this, after everything is taken into consideration, I am inclined to agree. Being properly stationed at the door of the lodge room, or on the Porch of the Temple, they signify entrance, for it is through them that the candidate passes to his initiation, and Initiation, as we have already seen, is birth into a new life.
When thus understood the Two Pillars represent
a law that applies throughout the world of men, as well as in
the lodge, and that in a sense not at all far-fetched. We have
learned that many of our human ills spring from bad heredity and
come to us in birth, and not until men are well born will they
be well men, sound in body and soul. And what is true of birth
into life is also true of any new birth into any of the realms
of life. If the pillars at the door of the family be strong and
clean the child will be wholesome and happy in its life therein.
If wise men guard the doorways of the schools our youth will enter
into the mind's world of light and power, but not otherwise. For
always is it, that if one would anywhere become a Master he must
make a right entrance into Life's Temple. And he who thus lives
will himself become a Pillar, strengthened and strengthening,
against which Kings and Priests may lean, and past which others
may be enabled to enter into the life that is life indeed. Woe
be it to human society, if ever it neglects to give, in any of
its spheres, right birth to its children, its seekers and learners!
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