The Fellowcraft Pillars
The three degrees of Freemasonry symbolically represent the three stages of life: youth, manhood, and old age. The lodge symbolizes the world as a whole with the Entered Apprentice representing the youth entering the world and the Master Mason about to leave it. The Fellowcraft represents manhood, the period in which a man is in the prime of his life prepared to face the trials and tribulations of the world, and equipped to do its work.
The work of the world is indeed the greatest endeavor of human life. Human progress is not carried forward by the ignorant or the unskilled as life is complex. Human progress rests on the shoulders of those who have knowledge, skill, and experience. This is the principal idea behind the Fellowcraft Degree. It is a drama of education, the philosophy of enlightenment. The Degree is wise in its teachings and profound in its truths.
As now practiced in Freemasonry, the lessons of the three degrees are built upon the Biblical description of King Solomon’s Temple constructed in Jerusalem as a monument to the God of the Israelites. The building of this edifice is described in I Kings Chapters 5 through 7, while Chapter 8 describes the dedication of the Temple. A careful reading of these passages provides insight into the three degrees.
The great pillars that figure so prominently in the ceremonies of the Fellowcraft Degree are reminiscent of the two pillars that stood in front of King Solomon’s Temple, not to support its roof but as symbolic reminders of the truths and forces in government and religion. While there have been many contradictions regarding the introduction of the pillars into the Masonic system, they are now universally recognized as part of the Fellowcraft Degree.
The terminology is confusing in the way pillar and column are used almost interchangeable in Masonic writings while each term has a distinct meaning. A pillar is a firm upright support for a superstructure such as an upper wall, floor, roof or arch. A pillar can be of any proportions necessary to perform the needed mechanical function of support. A pillar can also be a freestanding shaft that serves as a monument. A column is an architectural feature that is composed of a base, shaft, and capital that has definite geometric proportions and is designed to support as well as to adorn the building. Thus, both pillars and columns are primarily structural supports, the difference being that a column is an architectural feature designed to be functional while beautifying the building.
The Biblical account of the pillars of King Solomon’s Temple is contained in I Kings 7: 13-22, where the writer describes the work of Hiram, a skilled metal worker, in creating the pillars. In addition to this account, Flavius Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, provides the following account.
Now Solomon sent for an artificer out of Tyre, whose name was Hiram. He was by birth of the tribe of Naphtali, on the mother’s side (for she was of that tribe), but his father was Ur, of the stock of the Israelites. This man was skillful in all sorts of work; but his chief skill lay in working in gold, and silver, and brass, by whom were made all the mechanical works about the temple, according to the will of Solomon. Moreover this Hiram made two hollow pillars, whose outsides were of brass, and the thickness of the brass was four fingers breadth, and the height of the pillars was eighteen cubits, and their circumference twelve cubits; but there was cast, with each of their chapiters, lily-work that stood upon the pillar, and it was elevated five cubits, round about which there was net-work interwoven with small palms made of brass, and covered with lily-work. To this also were hung two hundred pomegranates in two rows. The one of these pillars he set at the entrance of the porch on the right hand, and called it Jachin, and the other at the left hand, and called it Boaz.
References to these two great pillars are found in pre-Grand Lodge of England rituals. Their symbolism is the same today as then. It is generally agreed that Boaz means “in him is strength” and Jachin, “he shall establish.” Thus, Boaz signifies strength while Jachin denotes establishment. As Masons, we should reflect upon the significance of the pillars as we construct our personal values and morals. The critics of Freemasonry object to the use of the pillars Jachin and Boaz in Masonic ritual for various reasons; however, the names and descriptions are taken directly from the Bible (I Kings 7) and there is nothing sinister implied by the Masonic usage.
The characteristics of the pillars present important symbolic lessons. The pillars are described in ornate detail with particular geometric attributes. The details of beauty and geometry are to encourage us to fully develop our minds regarding the mysteries of nature and the laws of the universe. Through an improved understanding of our surroundings and the works of nature we begin to develop a true appreciation for Deity and his mighty creation.
The ornamental detail regarding the network, lily-work and pomegranates denote unity, peace, and plenty, respectively. While the Biblical account does not provide a clear picture of what the capitals (chapiters) looked like, it does indicate they were highly ornate. The purpose of the network was to provide a background and its intricate, interconnected arrangement suggests unity. The lily-work represents peace, the lily being a symbol of both peace and purity. Peace is a noble attribute we should strive for in our spiritual relationship with God and as Masons, we should promote peace between all men. The pomegranates must have been striking with two hundred on each capital. The pomegranate fruit, due to the exuberance of its seed, is an emblem of plenty, which was one of its ancient significances.
The explanation of the Fellowcraft Degree in the Masonic ritual provides very similar details of the two pillars provided in both the Biblical account of I Kings and that of Flavius Josephus. However, the Masonic ritual alludes to two spherical bodies placed on top of the pillars, which represent the terrestrial and celestial spheres upon which maps of the features of the earth’s surface and heavenly bodies were depicted. An account of King Solomon’s Temple in II Chronicles 4: 13 suggests the pillars were topped with bowl-like containers. This Masonic addition, however, does not distract from the symbolism that together these spherical shapes represent the universality of Freemasonry.
The Fellowcraft Pillars, as reminders of the two pillars Jachin and Boaz that stood in front of King Solomon’s Temple can be studied from two viewpoints. From one viewpoint, the pillars suggest the massive power, which upholds the universe, provides the laws of nature, and suggests the eternities of the heavens. Before such a Power, man should bow down and worship, engrave upon his heart that the Almighty God is indeed the creator of the universe and the giver of life, and realize that the most godlike man is one whose life is the most constructive.
From another point of view, the pillars suggest the fact of birth, which has more and larger meanings than at first thought. One does not enter a well-furnished manhood by chance, like a blind man blundering through a doorway, but by virtue of study, labor, and preparation. On one-hand, there is the terrestrial sphere with its wisdom and knowledge concerning the earth, its physical existence, and its manual tasks to provide for himself and his family physically. On the other, there is the celestial sphere, with its wisdom of spiritual life, the conscience and imagination, and of the intellect and study of God’s nature to provide for himself and his family spiritually.
In the process of becoming a Fellowcraft Mason, you passed between the two great pillars, Jachin and Boaz, of your own free will. This signified you were no longer a youth but a man. You have the essentials for success, achievement, and happiness. If you passed these pillars with understanding, if you realize that power without control is dangerous, you have learned the lesson taught by the symbolism of the pillars.