Summary: The Three Pillars – The middle Way – The Twelve Pillars
The Three Pillars
The geometries of the Masonic Temple represent the planet and its horizons: wide-long, high and short. From its invisible center the four directions of the world start. This ideal and invisible point ‘known only to the Children of the widow' is the metaphysical epicenter of the world. This symbolic term represents the physicality of the initiate to the spirit born from the Mother Matter. From this ideal epicenter the physical horizon of the world starts; it goes from East to West and from the North it reaches the South of the planet. It is also the start of the vertical horizon, the ideal line that ‘links heaven and earth' from Zenith to Nadir.
Two Pillars are visible at the sides of the Door of the Masonic Temple. The right hand pillar is marked by the letter J and it represents the solar-masculine aspect of the planet; the left hand one is marked by the letter B and it represents its lunar-feminine side. Between the two Pillars there is a third invisible Pillar; it lacks the physical aspect because it is spiritual.
This representation reproduces the Sephirotic Tree, or Tree of Life; the terms ‘masculine' and ‘feminine' don't have anything to do with sexual attributes; they refer to the energetic polarities that ‘vivify' every aspect of the physical dimension, including man's.
The Pillars run along the Floor of the Rectangle, which represents the plane of concrete reason, whose outline represents the initiatory journey of the Freemason.
Boaz is the Pillar of the Apprentices who start learning their mental instruments.
Jachin is the Pillar of the Fellowcrafts that develop the use of the instruments and learn to elevate their attitudes.
The two Pillars represent the limit that the mason will have to overcome before he can reach the top of masterhood. Likewise the mythical pillars of Hercules define the boundary between the knowable world and the center of conscience that corresponds to the project of the soul. Once the initiate has understood the scheme of the Great Work, he will say: “ by entering I left myself, and at the end I found nothing but myself!”
The Sephirotic Tree shows the drawing of the descent and re-ascent of the spirit of God, creator of the universe, in the matter. It is a mapping of the great return towards the archetypical model where humankind started and that is partly contained in it.
In the central pillar the first makers represented the spiritual journey that from the Sephiroth Kether (the divine world) descends towards Malkut (the world of matter), from which man can re-ascend through his inner sky ; this is the spiritual heaven where God is invoked, which is not the physical sky of Malkut. This journey is known as the middle Way. For the men introduced to the ‘mysteries' it is the way of the greater Initiation.
The middle Way
The Three Pillars are the ‘supporting pillars' of every living structure, including man. The Pillar at the center of the Sephirothic Tree is the so-called Middle Way , where the spiritual principle flows. Therefore the man who says that he follows the ‘Middle Way' means that he follows the flow of the spiritual principle, viz. he follows the vertical axis between the masculine and feminine physical energies. This means that he moves between the active and passive aspects of himself; this is symbolically called ‘to walk between black and white'.
But what is the practical meaning of this teaching?
The answer to this question is given by the Caduceus of Hermes, which represents the three currents of energies that flow along the dorsal spine.
In man, the two pillars of the temple are the right side of his body, masculine, and the left side of it, feminine. The two energies must be ruled in order to balance the conflicting drives and turn them into complementary drives. This will be possible by developing the mediating centers of the ‘Middle Way'.
The heart and the head are the main stations of the vertical axis (the Third pillar), which, starting from the coccyx and running into the solar plexus, sublimates primordial energies (see Alchemy of the sexual energy ), balancing its drives up to the mediating center of the head. Here man's conscience re-acquires its freedom, viz. it gains the Free Will (see). In short, this is the meaning of this symbol.
The Twelve Pillars
Whilst the Three Pillars are the center of the Temple, its circumference is supported by 12 Pillars that represent the constellations of the Zodiac. In this case, too, the indication is clear.
The twelve Pillars remind us of the rhythms and times of the Great Work of the universe, which the Mason should feel part of. Besides, since the Temple represents the planet, the twelve zodiacal signs that decorate the Pillars represent its motion around the Sun; the sequence of equinoxes and solstices remind us of the irremediable flowing of time.
‘To go through the Twelve Pillars' marks an extraordinary journey for the initiate. By developing his subtle gifts, he abandons the rectangle, fictitious symbol of the physical reason, to ‘work' in the circular Temple where his ‘work' will harmonize with the cycles of the Great Work (see Great Book of Nature).