Two Masonic Pillars: Guardians of the Temple

Two Masonic Pillars: Guardians of the Temple

I have a sense that every person on this planet is being tested at this time. This impression came to me recently while watching the tragic burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The fire blazing impacted the world greatly. How could this happen? The faces of the French people singing the Ave Marie, some while kneeling and weeping, was unforgettable. I knew in my heart that they were not just responding to a building on fire. There was something deeper going on. But, what?

One of the most impactful images was the flames bursting forth in front of the twin pillars on the cathedral, which both survived. The spire and roof, however, burned down. As a Freemason, I have learned the symbolic importance of the two pillars featured prominently at the entrance of Masonic Temples. Since the beginning of time, sacred and mysterious places have been guarded by two such pillars acting as guardians at the gateway into unknown realms.

It seems to me that the burning of Notre Dame was an extreme situation. But throughout history, we could name many more such situations. Freemasons are familiar with the lessons associated with tales of destruction, especially of King Solomon’s Temple. Notre_Dame_ Public Domain

Do these tragic events point to dramatic changes in human consciousness? Are we being challenged to look deeply into each and every situation on the earth to see what is really taking place? Are we being tested? Does an examination of the two masonic pillars give any insight?

Historicity in the Bible

In Freemasonry, the pillars of the Temple are called B. and J. The left- hand pillar, or north pillar is named Boaz (B.) which means “In Him is Strength.” The right- hand pillar, or south pillar is named Jakin (J.) which means “He Establishes.” The two pillars were among the many notable features of Solomon’s Temple. I found a study of the physical characteristics to be very interesting. The bible deals with the subject in several different passages.

In regards to the material that they were made of, 1 Kings implies the pillars were solid brass but in another interpretation in Jeremiah 52, they were said to be hollow. They were probably made in parts, cast in clay molds. The masonic lecture says the following:

“These pillars cast hollow the better to serve as a safe deposit for the archives of Masonry against all conflagrations and inundations.”

The pillars were built to be enormous – almost 30 feet tall and 6 feet thick! While the Biblical account does not provide a clear picture of what the capitals (chapiters) looked like, it does indicate they were highly ornate with leaves of lily work, network, and chains of pomegranate.

solomon_temple1 Wiki CommonsWhy were the pillars put there to begin with? It is tempting to presume that their purpose was to hold up the roof of the portico. However, in view of today’s design precedents, they were probably merely ornamental, to give a dynamic entrance to the plaza.

What about the orientation of the pillars? From which direction did one see J. on the right and B. on the left? From the outside looking in or from the inside looking out? The most accepted and masonic theory placed the right pillar, J., in the south, and the left pillar, B., in the north. Perhaps the placement had a ceremonial purpose, the king receiving an official position next to J. and the High Priest next to B.

When the First Temple was destroyed, the pillars did not survive. They were not replaced with the building of the Second Temple. Many viewed this as a travesty as the operative building Masons in those days went to great lengths to memorialize pillars into architecture for posterity.

The Temple is said to be destroyed twice, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times and attacked 52 times. The edifice was re-built twice. Since its destruction, no researcher has been able to solve the innumerable contradictions from the various biblical texts. This leads a person to look beyond the physical appearance to a more symbolic significance.

What, then, do the pillars represent, speculatively?

Eternal in the Heavens

The most common theory among Freemasons is that the pillars B. and J. represent what is known in Eastern philosophy as the pairs of opposites. A Freemason is taught to balance the opposing forces of his own nature by aligning his or her own thoughts, feelings, and actions with the grand plan. He learns through allegory that physical death is only of the body, the form nature, which according to the masonic philosophy will be reborn again in another form. Each individual mason is said to be the symbol of a spiritual temple – “a temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

Brother W.L. Wilmshurst refers to the opposites of “good and evil; light and darkness; active and passive; positive and negative; yes and no; outside and inside; man and woman” and so on.

Brother C.W. Leadbeater claims that the two pillars correlate to dharma and karma. He says that “In the harmonious working of these two laws a man may attain the stability and strength required to reach the circle within which a Master Mason cannot err.”

Life and Death are also represented as pairs of opposites in the pillar symbolism. Sometimes the death of the form nature is necessary to remove that which is old and hindering. This is later followed by the clear shining forth of the birth of constructive forces of new ideas and principles. JachinBoaz Public Domain

Why do we find destruction frightening, then? it is my opinion, our response against destruction can be our greatest error. Some creations by mankind need to be destroyed. If we resist the destroying angels, we miss the opportunities of healthy cycles of growth.

Builders long ago never questioned that they lived and worked under the ever-present watchful eye of the Great Architect of the Universe. Today many people dismiss that way of thinking, as rubbish perhaps.

In the simplest of terms, my sense is that human labor alone did not build and re-build the Temple of Solomon. It will not re-build the Notre Dame cathedral. Faith and reverence for the Divine are the lasting ingredients carved into any edifice. We are being tested in these difficult times on our worthiness as builders.  In balancing the two pillars of our own nature, we are guarding every moral and social virtue.

“The Two Great Pillars which stand at the entrance, 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 scheme, as if to throw a hush of awe about the soul that would mount to the Upper Room of the Spirit.” ~ Brother H.L. Haywood 

What do Freemasons Imagine?

What do Freemasons Imagine?

I grew up listening to the Beatles. John Lennon was one of my favorite musicians. Recently I was listening to his song “Imagine.” As music sometimes does, it triggered a whole chain reaction of questions.

What does it mean to imagine, really? How is imagination related to creativity? Does it guide the Freemason? Is there a masonic message underneath the song’s lyrics for those who have the “seeing eye”?

At first listen, it’s easy to think of the song “Imagine” as a simple tune: a ballad, a vision of peace, a piano-driven melody. But at second listen,  I began to wonder, deep down, if what Lennon describes will really happen. Will the world have a happy ending?  To imagine all people living in peace asks for the giving up of what we often cling to most frantically.

Consider the third verse:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

Possible, really? Imagine a life without material possessions. What are possessions? Well, pretty much everything that we love and cherish and cannot do without. Can we imagine a life without our smart devices? Probably, we cannot. And that’s why John Lennon questions if we are capable of such a triumph.

Even so, I subscribe to the theory that we are poised for a great leap forward in our evolution as humans. This turning point in our history is propelled by technology which is fundamentally transforming not only how we live as a species, but also how we see ourselves at our core. IMG_3216

And, in order to journey into this uncharted new phase of human history, we need Freemasonry more than ever. Why? Because behind all the Masonic work and underlying all its rituals and symbolism there can be found the prophetic vision of a new world. It frames a code and system of moral imagination for those who know that their work and actions transform themselves, and their world.

Brother Foster Bailey writes in “Spirit of Masonry”:

“The prophet of old has told us that ‘where there is no vision the people perish.’ In Masonry the vision blazes forth in the East, and towards the materializing of that vision all good Masons work.”

This begs the question: how do all “good masons” work at imagining?

Imagination: From “Ideas” to “Ideals” to “Idols

The scholar Wendy Wright describes the imagination as:

“the crucial capacity of the human person to create a world – either the familiar world of the everyday or a world not yet visible. Our relentless human search for new ways of being and relating, our dreams of beauty, our longings for mercy and justice.”

Wright claims that imagination is the heart of all creative work, allowing us to imagine the unseen and give form to the new. It is essential to all human activity. It gives us the power to recall the past, and to predict possibilities for the future.

1024px-Inside_the_Temple_of_Aboo-symbol-David_RobertsToday, the job of remembering the past has been well documented by research scholars. In our schools and in our lodges, we study the traditional history as it has unfolded down the centuries. But do we spend as much time attempting to imagine a clear picture of the future? Is there a method whereby ideas can be developed?

In the writings of Brother Alice Bailey, she gives an outline broadly speaking of how ideas pass through three stages.

  1. The idea – based on intuitive perception
  2. The ideal – based on mental formulation and distribution.
  3. The idol – based on the materializing tendency of physical manifestation. (This is when the sensed idea unfortunately becomes dogma).

Bailey says that “once an idea becomes an ideal, humanity can freely reject or accept it, but ideas come from a higher source and are imposed upon the racial mind, whether men want them or not.”

Interesting to consider? Not sure I agree with all of that sentence, especially the word “imposed,” but let us see how this method might work.

Imagine: “A Brotherhood of Man”

Take for example the idea of “brotherhood.” Most would say that in its pure state, the idea itself is from a higher source (Divine). In Early America, the impressed idea took flight as a radical thought movement in surprising ways. Brother George Washington and other early American Freemasons abandoned a European past in which an overbearing authority controlled the flow of ideas. A sense of something new was being imagined and being born in America. St._Paul's_Chapel_Great_Seal_Painting

The early masons “worked” to actualize this masonic ideal. They imagined a liberty from the imprisoning conditions of an oppressive class-ridden society. They imagined equality of society based upon universal education and combating ignorance. They imagined a fraternity, where all men are brothers.

Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! These three words were the outcry and ideals of the best minds of the time.

As such, through the imaginative process, the founders of America began to materialize a sensed idea of brotherhood, even if still a rough stone.

Brother Albert Pike writes in Morals and Dogma (1872):

“He who would become an accomplished Mason must not be content merely to hear, or even to understand, the lectures; he must, aided by them, and they having, as it were, marked out the way for him, study, interpret, and develop these symbols for himself.”

Pike stresses that the lectures and teachings must mark out a way. To develop the symbols is to “mark well,” making them manifest in the everyday world.

Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(reverse).svgA case in point is The Great Seal, which was designed under the direction of accomplished masons such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The Latin motto that is displayed on the unfinished pyramid — Annuit Coeptis Novus Ordo Seclorum — can be approximately, if poetically, translated as: “God Smiles on Our New Order of the Ages.” It expresses Masonic philosophy at its heart.

Thus, in the founding of America we see the three stages of the imagination process that Brother Alice Bailey describes.

And today? What do Freemasons imagine? Perhaps a better question is: How do Freemasons imagine? Sure, the world is not a Utopia yet.  But I have come to realize that the process of imagination can be a path to discovering what is good, true, and beautiful.  And in the words of John Lennon, “it’s easy if you try.” 

“The heart of human identity is the capacity and desire for birthing. To be is to become creative and bring forth the beautiful.” — John O’Donohue