Columns and Their Representation

Columns and Their Representation
Joel Baker

This short discussion reviews the representative use of columns in Freemasonry and other historical text, and their representation today. In this summary, I have chosen points from history based on the use of columns as a representation of a gate or boundary between man and deity. There are countless other analogies to made as well. I will review Masonic ritual and compare with non-Masonic sources for additional understanding. In this discussion, only the columns and temple boundaries within KST will be reviewed. The ornaments atop the columns’ capitals will be reviewed at a later time. Similarities and historical references to columns/pillars and their representations from ancient to contemporary time will be summarized across different cultures, particularly in regards to religious temples and shrines.

In Free and Accepted Masonic Lodges (F. & A.M.), the columns in a lodge form a key boundary or gate for all three degrees’ initiation rituals. In the EA degree, the columns form the boundary or gate at which the SD inquires who desires admission, and who then symbolically pierces the initiate seeking light with a sharp instrument. The SD equates the pain of having his flesh pierced with that of revealing the secrets of Freemasonry. In the FC degree, the SD inquires and receives information from the Stewards that the candidate desires further light in his journey, this time receiving the candidate on the angle of a square, with the lesson of truth and morality to guide the initiate’s actions. The stewards give the pass for the candidate in the second degree. In the third degree, the Stewards again bring the candidate to the SD, who is acting as gatekeeper between the two columns. Again, the Stewards provide the pass for the candidate, and the SD provides an allegorical lesson between the points of the extended compass and Freemasonry. For these three degrees, the columns are where the candidate is quizzed and allowed to enter if criteria is met. These pillars represent a gate or boundary, where a candidate for knowledge can move freely outside the pillars, and where he must be attended to. The SD guards the lodge from between the columns in all three degrees, allowing the candidate entrance with the WMs direction.

In the FC degree, second section, the candidate is given a tour of the outer porch within KST, where the candidate enters through the same two columns as before. Unlike the first section of the degrees, where the SD acts as a sentinel, guarding the temple entrance, the SD now acts as a guide. The columns are described by the SD in his lecture as in Josephus Book 8, chapter 3, 2 Chronicles 3 and 1 Kings 7 (KJV VSL). Below is a representation of the biblical KST.

Figure 1. KST Representation

The columns at the entrance to KST were different than the structural pillars used in the construction of the temple’s porch. They are given significance in the VSL. While the pillars for the porch described in 1 Kings 7:6 were functional, and construction of side rooms and the roof were listed as hewed from fine stones and cedar, the columns at the temple entrance were cast in bronze, by Hiram Abiff. The entrance columns were named Jaachim (to establish) and Boaz (denoting strength). In the second section of the FC degree, the newly obligated FC is given a review of the pillars. The representation of the pillars signifying passing from the profane to the sacred in KST is represented in the lodge ritual.

Comparing KST to other temples in antiquity shows some similarities in ritual, and design. Albert Pike described in the EA portion of Morals of Dogma that these pillars of KST were imitations of the temple to Malkarth (Melqart). Melqart is the Phoenician god of providence, fertility, commerce, hunting, and colonization. The reference is in line with history, as Hiram Abiff was from Tyre, and Melqart was a Phoenician god with a large temple built for him in Tyre. Hiram of Tyre commissioned that temple. Women, pigs, and foreigners were not allowed in Melqart’s temples. Due to Phoenician sea exploration and trade routes, Melqart’s temple designs were exported across the Mediterranean Sea. Herodotus visited Melqart’s temple in the 5th century BC, claiming two columns at the entrance, one column of gold, one of emerald. Phoenician temples were characterized by a double columned façade and approached by a short staircase. The idea of ascension and traveling from a mortal to a holy place was designed into the architecture. Due to Lebanese cedar being abundant during Tyre’s ascension and growth as a trading empire, several earlier temples decorated with ornate cedar columns did not survive from antiquity. A Crusader Church was built on top of the Temple of Melqart in Tyre. The church’s ruins are present today.

The Egyptians used Obelisks and columns to represent a gateway to the divine at temple entrances. While early Egyptian stone columns were sculpted as wooden poles tied together, obelisks were used singularly as monuments to male fertility (Isis), sun rays from heaven, sun dials and in temples as monuments at temple entrances.

Figure 2. Example Early Egyptian Temple Entrance or Gate

The Temple of Luxor (Thebes) used two decorative obelisks to mark its central pylon. The Pylon being a Greek definition for two large towers with a smaller entrance in-between them. The Obelisks were placed in front of the large pylon. One of these obelisks is now in Paris as the Obelisk of Luxor. The temple at Luxor had these obelisks installed as heralding the reign of Ramses II. The obelisks were offset relative to each other. Although the obelisks’ heights were different, the heights appeared the same to temple goers as they approached the temple entrance.

Figure 3. Temple Entrance at Luxor

Columns in ancient Greece took on key aspects in architecture and society. The Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns described in the FC second section are known to Masons. Interestingly, Greek civilizations in both Turkey (Ionic) and present day Greece (Doric and Corinthian) were within the Phoenician trading network during ancient Greece’s ascension. Within Greek temple entrances is the Propylaea. The Propylaea is simply a monumental gateway leading to a temple or revered place.

Figure 4. Artist’s Rendition of the Propylaea to the Acropolis
Notice that within the Propylaea depicted in figure 4, an Egyptian style pylon and the ascension through a stairway is used to separate the profane from the sacred. The boundary of the actual temple is given with columns of varying ornamentation.
In addition to the temple boundaries being defined by columns, columns were used as a boundary of the known and unknown. The end of the known Mediterranean world was called “The Pillars of Hercules” or “Columns of Hercules.” These pillars refer to the Rock of Gibraltar and Abila Mons/Jebel Musa. While the Rock of Gibraltar is more well known, the Jebel Musa is also a large mountain marking the Moroccan coast in the straits of Gibraltar. The Pillars of Hercules were the gateway to the unknown beyond.

Figure 5. Renaissance Map of the Straights of Gibraltar (with “Columne Ercole”)

It should be noted that Hercules in Greek is derived from Phoenician Melqart. The temple to Melqart/Hercules in Cadiz Morocco is the westernmost temple of Melqart when under Phoenician influence. There is also folklore that Melqart died in what is now Spain.
Esoterically, the Pillars of Hercules also represent that which was lost or the unknown. The city of Atlantis, according to Plato, was found beyond those Pillars. In his Inferno, Dante refers to the Pillars of Hercules when mentioning Ulysses sailing beyond them in search of knowledge of the unknown. The Columns of Hercules are a gateway to that unknown. In Renaissance folklore, the columns bore the warning Non plus ultra, “nothing further beyond” as a warning to go no further. Those who went beyond the Columns of Hercules left the known physical world for that which was beyond. A sample drawing below shows illumination beyond the columns.

Figure 6. Passing Through the Columns of Hercules, on a Rough Winding Road to Light

In eastern religions, the procession of columns either as a gateway or a long porch is also used to achieve a closer relationship with deity. We will look at two examples of eastern worship bearing similarities to others previously covered.
In Hindu worship, believers pass through a Mandapa, or pillared hall or pavilion before proceeding into the next holiest place. The Artha Mandapam is the intermediate porch between the temple entrance and the Garbahghria (Sanctum Santorum). A Mandapa can take the form of an open porch, or enclosed hall. The Mandapa can be sunk or raised vs. ground level. Columns are needed for the design and show progression, while the level of ornamentation varies based on wealth of the region.

Figure 7. Mandapa Ruins with Garbahghria

Figure 8. Temple Entrance (North India), Stairway and Mandapa Porch

In Shinto, The Torii is a large gate constructed to show the boundary between the mortal and divine. The Torii consists of two posts with a plank, decorative ropes, or tiered planks across their top. The Torii must be passed through to symbolically cross into a region with more spiritual potency. The Torii is both gate and marker. Below, Figures 9 and 10 show Torii gates at temple entrances, including passage through a Torii in water (Figure 10). Passing under a gate, between two columns (or wooden posts) is treated as a sacred step in Shinto purification, becoming spiritually clean.

Figure 9. Ascending Staircase with Torii Gates


Figure 10. Miyajima Torii

Modern Architecture uses Columns to signify what is sacred from the profane as well. Even in secular buildings, institutions demanding respect adorn their buildings with columns at the entrances. The US Capitol and Lincoln Memorial, both secular buildings, constructed ascending staircases and columned entrances to give legitimacy to the institution (Capitol) and in memorial (Lincoln).

Figure 11. Lincoln Memorial Entrance

Likewise, The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is a modern design based on a Greek Neoclassical architecture. The gate originally was commissioned to represent peace, a transition from the wars to peace in German unification as well as its site being the historical gates of Berlin on the road to Brandenburg. Due to its location, the gate took on symbolism of transition from Eastern to Western Europe, as well as Capitalist and Communist doctrine. The Brandenburg Gate became a symbol of conflict between post-WW2 superpowers, and with the fall of East Germany, a symbol of unity and hope for one Germany afterward.

Figure 13. Brandenburg Gate

Besides representing the unknown and limits of sea navigation, the Columns of Hercules are used in representation on the Spanish Coat of Arms and in Literature. “Plus Ultra” (Further Beyond) is wrapped across the Columns of Hercules. The columns rest on water. These columns were added both for the physical placement of Spain’s location at the gateway to the Atlantic from the Mediterranean, but also to show the empire accumulated beyond that gate.

Figure 14. Spanish Coat of Arms

In this short review I have presented representative uses for columns as spiritual gateways between man and deity. Whether the Jews, Phoenicians, Greeks, Indians, or Japanese, passing through a gateway denoted by columns during a progression is key to worship and your ritual practice. Modern man still uses similar representation as our ancient brethren to illicit similar feelings of reverence and respect using architecture and its symbolism. This is a connection with the past and future that architecture gives us, and as a subject should be studied in all civilizations and Masons in particular.

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