[ Our Lodges are supported by
three great pillars. The symbolism of the pillars is an important aspect of
the teachings of Freemasonry. The author is a distinguished Freemason and in
this article explains the symbolism of the pillars in his own inimitable
style. Please read on ...]
Reflections Regarding The
by W.Bro. Jacques Huyghebaert
whole teaching of Free-Masonry is symbolic.
In order to understand the meaning
of a symbol it is necessary to start studying its physical aspect, then one
should try to deduct its moral signification. It is only after performing
these first two steps, by making the synthesis of both, that the the third
meaning, called by the Ancients the "Sacred meaning" will appear.
Among the essential symbols of the
first degree we have without any doubt the “THREE PILLARS”.
The pillars are symbols borrowed
from operative Masonry.
In a construction, the pillars form
the essential elements supporting the whole and provide the edifice with its
solidity and cohesion. They are truly the masterpieces of the building.
According to VITRUVIUS, a Roman
Architect who lived in the 1st century B.C., the origin of pillars is to be
traced to a most distant antiquity. Here is what he writes on the subject :
" ... in Ancient times men were
born in forests and in caverns like beasts, and lived, as them, from savage
food only. But as it happened by chance that a raging wind came to push
violently close standing trees, they got pressed against each other so rudely
that they caught fire. The flames first frightened and put those men to
flight who were standing by, but being reassured, and feeling as they got
closer, that the moderate heat of fire was a convenient thing, they kept the
fire going with wood, brought other people to the spot, and by aid of signs
explained how useful fire was. Men being so assembled, and uttering different
sounds with their mouths, they made words by coincidence, and from there using
the same sounds to signify certain things, they started talking to each
other. Thus fire gave men the opportunity to assemble, to form a society and
to dwell in the same place; having in this respect particular dispositions not
provided for by Nature in comparison with the other animals, such as the
ability to walk upright and to stand, to know what is beautiful and
magnificent in the Universe, and to make with their hands and fingers all
things with great facility, they thus started, some to make huts with leaves,
others to dig lodges in the mountains, still others imitating the industry of
swallows to make shelters, by aid of sprigs and clay, where they could seek a
covering. And thus each considering the work of his neighbour and perfecting
his own inventions by remarks about the others, progress was made day by day
in the good way to build huts. For men, who are naturally docile and
imitative, gloryfying their inventions, were communicating to each other every
day the new finding they had made in order to succeed in their buildings, and
thus exercising their minds, they formed their judgment in everything that
could contribute to this plan. The Order which they followed in the beginning
was to plant forks and to intertwine branches which they would fill up with
clay to make walls; they also built by aid of blocks of dried clay, upon which
they laid trees across, and covered the whole with branches and leaves to
protect themselves from the sun and the rain. But as these roofs did not
withstand the bad weather in winter, they made them inclined and covered them
with clay in order to enable the water to flow away "[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
Here is another passage taken from
the preface to " The Five Orders in Architecture " by Vignola (1507-1573)
after the French version published by Mariette, in 1760 :
the Origin of Orders is nearly as old as human society. The rigour of seasons
first contrived men to invent small huts to retire and they made openings that
they might not resemble to the caverns of the wild beasts that are obscure.
They made them in the beginning half in the earth, and half above, and covered
them with branches and straw, as are the ice boxes; then becoming more
industrious, they planted trees on end, and laid others across to support the
covering, which gave the first idea of Architecture, because the trees on end
represented the pillars, the bands or ties of green wood, which prevented the
trees from splitting, became the base and chapiters, and the cross beams have
given rise to the entablatures, as well as the inclined covering to the
fronton "[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
And last, here is again the same
story as we find it at the end of the 18th century in the famous "Prestonian
lectures", the content of which, inherited from the Grand Lodge of the
Antients, has been maintained unchanged in our California ritual :
in Architecture may be traced from the first formation in society. When the
rigour of seasons first obliged men to contrive shelter from the inclemency of
the weather, we learn that they first planted trees on end, and then laid
others across, to support a covering. The bands which connected those trees
at top and bottom, are said to have suggested the idea of the base and capital
of pillars; and from this simple hint originally proceeded the more improved
art of architecture.[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
According to Bernard E. Jones, the
traditional history, as reflected in the Craft ritual, attaches remarkable
importance to the pillars, but today only in lodges still preserving the old
style is this importance made evident in the appointments of the Lodge.
In the early eighteenth century
lodge the pillars were undoubtedly the first things to strike the eye of a
Brother on entering.
In many lodges of the 1700's, the
appropriate pillar stood before the Master and each of the Wardens, but in
some lodges there was a pillar on each side of the Master's chair or behind
his chair. It is obvious that each lodge had its own idea on the subject, as
have those lodges to-day which perpetuate the old style by still having
pillars standing on the floor.
We still find these large pillars
today in the United Kingdom in some old lodges at Exeter, Newton Abott,
Gloucester, Cardiff, Penarth, etc., in a Lodge at Ottawa, Canada, in the
Danish lodges, as well as in the Lodges in India and in Sri Lanka.[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
Nowadays the pillars are placed
either around the altar, in the centre of the Lodge as is done in the American
Lodges, following in this the custom of the Antients, or around the tracing
board as is done in the continental European Lodges, according to the Moderns'
The three pillars are represented
by three columns where the Ionic is assigned to the Master, the Doric to the
Senior Warden and the Corinthian to the Junior Warden.
It is necessary, in this respect to
remark the apparently curious fact that among the Five Orders of Architecture,
esteemed by Masons, all refer to the Greeks and the Romans.
Is it not surprising to see that
Medieval Art, and particularly, the magnificent Gothic style, which has given
birth to the splendour of cathedrals, is completely ignored ?
Here is maybe an answer,
illustrating under a different and "Operative" light the quarrel between the
Moderns and the Antients. Let us read again the work from Vignola :
the barbaric nations having come from the far North, and having flown as a
torrent into the provinces of the Roman empire, and having spread fire and
blood, this rich and vast empire came to perish, and with it the Arts, which
until this fatal hour had been so much in honour. Better times having wiped
out ignorance, Italy saw the birth of Princes who, allying a greatness of
spirit with a pronounced taste for Sciences and Fine Arts, employed their
glory to protect merit wherever they met it. A great number of happy
geniuses, that Nature seemed to have reserved to illustrate this grand
century, fertilized with a very well placed zeal, and announced to the whole
of Europe the rebirth of good taste (Renaissance). It is in these
circumstances that the face of Architecture changed. The taste for Antiquity
took the place of Gothic, which insensibly disappeared. This change did
however not happen at once; people were still so busy and the eyes were still
full of so many objects introduced by bad habits, that some time went before
one realized that it was in the only fragments of ancient architecture that
the true principles of the Art had to be sought. Whenever an architect would
dare to imagine some ornaments, they would refer to bad taste and the Gothic
Having this passage in mind, we can
imagine easily that the operative Masons, especially in England, did not
immediately adopt the new style, reviving an " Antient" form of architecture,
and that there remained for some time quite a number of supporters of the
preceding style. This also explains why this architecture was labelled in a
despising way as " Gothic" in comparison with the barbarian Goths.
It is only in the middle of the
19th century that the Middle Ages in general and the Gothic architecture in
particular was rehabilitated.
Anderson, in the Constitutions
which he wrote for the Grand Lodge of London, later to become the Moderns
Grand Lodge, took the defense of the Gothic style; this is what he says :
though the many invasions of the Danes occasion'd the loss of many records,
yet in times of truce or peace they did not hinder much the good work, that
though not perform'd according to the Augustan stile; nay, the vast expense
laid upon it, with the curious inventions of the artists to supply the Roman
skill, doing the best they could, demonstrate their esteem and love for the
Royal Art, and have render'd the GOTHIC BUILDINGS venerable, tho'not imitable
by those that relish the ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE."[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
When under Henry VIII and Elisabeth
I, the Protestant religion became well established in England, and when after
the fire of London in 1666, new edifices had to be built, it is the classical
style in its full triumph, which more and more replaced the dying Gothic
In the first degree lecture, we
learn that a Lodge is metaphorically said to be supported by three great
pillars denominated Wisdom, Strength and Beauty; it being necessary that there
should be Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn all
great and important undertakings. These pillars are represented in the Lodge
by the Worshipful Master, the Senior and Junior Wardens.
As the three principal officers of
the Lodge : the Worshipful Master, the Senior and Junior Wardens are seated in
the East, the West and the South of the Lodge, so are the three pillars placed
in the East, the West and the South.[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
It is also therefore that, the
United Grand Lodge of England, confirmed by a special decision in 1816, the
long-standing usage, which has its peculiar symbolic relevance to our ritual,
that at the opening of the Lodge the sequence of lighting the candles should
be East, West and South, and that at the closing of the Lodge the order should
be reversed and the Master's light be put out last.[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
This passage of the lecture is more
important than may seem at first sight.
Let us take an example derived from
operative masonry : the workman needs two tools to cut the stone, a chisel and
If one of both is missing nothing
can be done.
To produce a Masterpiece, the
material realisation of Perfection, the Free-Mason must not only possess the
knowledge required to know how to incline the Chisel, but he must also have
the power for handling the mallet successfully.
Further any physical work
presupposes preestablished plan conceived in the mind of the architect.
What is true in operative Masonry
is also and necessarily true in speculative Masonry.
How many brilliant spirits do we
not know, among our friends, or in our work, who keep wasting their clever
thinking in vain, by lack of giving themselves the trouble to spend enough
time put their theories into practice ?
How many men, full of energy, do we
not have, around each one of us, who unceasingly make unbelievable efforts,
only to fail ?
They do not understand Dr.Schweizer
words : "Thought without Action is nothing, Action without Thought is also
What is the fundemental reason of
their failure ?
It is very simply that Beauty can
only result from a balanced alliance between Wisdom and Strength.
Peace Nobel Prize winner Dr. Albert
Schweitzer, after having become, as a Protestant preacher, a reputed known
theologist and philosopher, being also a renowned Bach player, went to
University to study medicine at the age of forty, abandonned his native
Alsatia, and went to Lambaréné where he was to spent the rest of his days to
heal the sick and poor of Equatorial Africa.
He had understood the wise words of
King Solomon " Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities;
all is vanity ! And further, by these, my son, be admonished : of making many
books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us
hear the conclusion of the whole matter : Fear God, and keep his commandments
: for this is the whole duty of man."[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
The true moral value of Dr. Albert
Schweitzer's example is that he consecrated his knowledge and his energy for
the benefit of Good.
It is for the same reason that our
ritual states : "that we should apply our knowledge to the discharge of our
respective duties to God, our neighbour and ourselves ...
The pillars are also said to
represent our first three Most Excellent Grand Masters, Solomon King of
Israel, Hiram King of Tyre and Hiram Abif. The pillar of Wisdom is said to
represent Solomon King of Israel, as it was by his wisdom that the mighty
edifice was erected which immortalized his name; the pillar of strength is
said to represent Hiram King of Tyre, who made an agreement with King Solomon
to pay the craft their wages, if any be due, that none may go away
dissatisfied, harmony being the strength and support of all societies,
especially of ours, and the pillar of beauty is said to represent Hiram Abif,
the widow's son, who was the architect of the work, and whose duty it was to
call the craft from labour to refreshment at high twelve, which is the beauty
and glory of the day.[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
The building of the Temple at
Jerusalem, of which it is traditionally reported that it several parts fitted
together with such exact nicety, that it had more the appearance of the
handiwork of the Supreme Architect of the Universe, than that of human hands,
was possible only as a result of the alliance of the outstanding qualities of
these three extraordinary men.
The three pillars, surmounted by
three candles, are also known among Masons as the three lesser lights and
allude to the Sun, the Moon and the Master of the Lodge.
As the Sun rules the day and the
Moon governs the night, so should the Worshipful Master, with equal
regularity, rule and govern the Lodge over which he is called to preside.[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
The candles in the lodge are much
more than a means of illumination. They are important symbols, with a long
and attractive history. The candle came into the speculative lodge not only
from the hall of the guild; it came from the votive offering burning before a
shrine centuries ago. Its physical light is the emblem of the spiritual.
The three pillars can also be
compared to the three stations of the sun during the day : in the morning at
its rising in the east, at noon at its highest point on the meridian, and in
the evening at its setting in the west.
Albert Mackey says this about the
pillars : "In the Brahminical initiations of Hindostan, which are among the
earliest that have been transmitted to us, and may almost be considered as the
cradle of all the others, of subsequent ages and various countries, the
ceremonies were performed in vast caverns, the remains of some of which at
Salsette and Elephanta and a few other places, will give the spectator but a
very inadequate idea of the extent and splendour of these ancient Indian
Lodges. The interior of the cavern of initiation was lighted by innumerable
lamps and there sat in the East, the West and the South the principal
Hierophants or explainers of the mysteries, as the representatives of Brahma,
Vishnu and Shiva".[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
Another eminent Masonic scholar,
Pierson, adds " In the East, as the pillar of Wisdom, this deity - i.e. the
Sun God - was called Brahma; in the West, as the pillar of Strength, Vishnu.
And in the South, as the Pillar of Beauty, Shiva and hence, in the Indian
initiations the representative of Brahma was seated in the East, that of
Vishnu in the West and that of Shiva in the South. A very remarkable
coincidence with the practice of Ancient Masonry."[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
Finally, the three pillars can also
be compared and refer to the three spheres composing the Universe according
the teaching of Cabala : Matter, Life and Spirit.[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
This leads us to what the Ancient
Egyptians used to call by the sacred name of " the Divine Triad".
The Christians name this Mystery
the Holy Trinity.
The Hindus call it "the Sacred
We, as Freemasons are traditionally
taught to represent it, in the first degree, by the NUMBER THREE.[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
" It is a singular coincidence and
worthy of thought that the letters composing the English name of the Deity
should be the initials of the Hebrew words Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty :
G.O.D. Gomer, Oz and Dabar.
As a conclusion to this article let
me cite an excerpt taken from "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" written by Richard
" Me ? Jon, I'm just a plain
seagull, and you're ... the only Son of the Great Gull, I suppose ?
"Jonathan sighed and looked out to
"You don't need me any longer.
"You need to keep finding yourself,
a little more each day, that real, unlimited Fletcher Seagull.
"He is your instructor.
“You need to understand him and to
"Fletch, don't believe what your
eyes are telling you.
"All they show is limitation.
"Look with your understanding, find
out what you already know,
and you'll see the way
to fly."[if !supportFootnotes][endif]