The Mysterious Pillars in Craft Masonry

Dedicated to the Officers and Brethern of The Belfast Masonic Lodge number 651 and to Worshipful Master 2013 – W.Bro Connor Moore

The Mysterious Pillars in Craft Masonry

כא  וַיָּקֶם, אֶת-הָעַמֻּדִים, לְאֻלָם, הַהֵיכָל; וַיָּקֶם אֶת-הָעַמּוּד הַיְמָנִי, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ

יָכִין, וַיָּקֶם אֶת-הָעַמּוּד הַשְּׂמָאלִי, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ בֹּעַז.[1]

“And he set up the Pillars at the porch of the temple; and he set up the one on the right and named it Jachin, and he set up the one on the left and called it Boaz”

These words are familiar to every Freemason who has undergone his initiation into the degree of the Fellowcraft.  This degree is one of my favourites, I remember undergoing the ceremony, excited to be moving from the plain white apron of the Apprentice to the more embroidered apron of the Fellowcraft and obtaining more ‘secrets’ of the craft along the way.

One of the most intriguing elements of the ritual is the description of the Temple of Solomon, in Irish ritual it is brief, we don’t ‘do’ tracing board lectures in the Irish constitution (as we are more focused on the oral tradition), it is a fleeting glance at the magnificent building which marks one of the mythical beginnings of Craft masonry.  It also teases the candidate with regards to the elements of the Sublime degree which are to follow.

The Origins of the Pillars in Freemasonry

The First recorded mention of Pillars in a masonic context are not those erected in Solomon’s Temple (but are related to them), but the Pillars of Jabal.

and these 3 brethren, aforesaid, had knowledge that God would take vengeance for sin, either by fire or water, and they had greater care how they might do to save the sciences that they [had] found, and they took their counsel together and, by all their witts, they said that [there] were 2 manner of stone[s] of such virtue that the one would never burn, and that stone is called marble, and that the other stone that will not sink in water and that stone is named latres, and so they devised to write all the sciences that they had found in these 2 stones, [so that] if that God would
take vengeance, by fire, that the marble should not burn. And if God sent vengeance, by water, that the other should not drown, and so they prayed their elder brother Jabal that [he] would make 2 pillars of these 2 stones, that is to say of marble and of latres, and that he would write in the 2 pillars all the science[s], and crafts, that all they had found, and so he did and, therefore, we may say that
he was most cunning in science, for he first began and performed the before Noah’s flood. Kindly knowing of that vengeance, that God would send, whether it should be by fire, or by water, the brethren had it not by a manner of a prophecy, they wist that God would send one there-
of, and therefore they wrote their science[s] in the 2 pillars of stone, and some men say
that they wrote in the stones all the 7 science[s]

This story is taken from “The Cooke Manuscript “which is dated from 1410, the Cooke manuscript has the honour of being the second oldest masonic document recorded (the first being “The Regius Poem”).  It is a set of ‘charges’ and is written in a poetic style.  This particular element of the document discloses how the children of Lamech found the seven ‘masonic arts’.  Jubal discovered Geometry and became Cain’s ‘Master Mason’, Jubal discovered Music and the art of Mathematics therein, Tubal Cain discovered the ability of metallurgy while Naamah discovered weaving.  Discovering that the world was to be destroyed by the Great Architect by either Fire or flood, they inscribed their knowledge on two pillars of different types of stone, one that would survive intense fire and heat and the other to survive flooding.

This is an extra-biblical story and does not exist in our copy of the Old Testament, which is modelled after the Greek interpretation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint.  This version of the Pillar mythology has come to us from Josephus, a Jewish Historian, who wrote in his book “Antiquities of the Jews “written in 93 AD:

“the descendants of Seth discovered the science of the heavenly bodies and their orderly array.  Moreover to prevent their discoveries from being lost to mankind and perishing before they became known – Adam having predicted a destruction of the universe, at one time by a violent fire and at another by a mighty deluge of water – they erected two pillars, one of brick and the other of stone, and inscribed these discoveries on both”[3]

So it seems that these myths have a basis in Hebrew legend, curiously this legend changed form again in Anderson’s constitutions in 1723[4], this time it was the saintly Enoch who had erected the pillars.

But godly Enoch of Seth’s Loins
Two columns raised with mighty skill
And all his Family enjoins-
True Colonading to fulfil.”[5]

This text is from the Masters song, specifically the chorus.  Dr Anderson does recognise the seemingly earlier tradition in his footnotes on page 3

For by some vestiges of Antiquity we find one of them, godly Enoch …upon which he erected his two large Pillars (which some ascribe them to Seth)

So why the sudden change in the protagonist in this story?

I believe it has something to do with the growing appreciation for Enochian traditions within the scholars of the Christian church at that time.  These traditions were first documented by a Byzantine chronicler John Malalas was witness to the two versions of the Pillar myth within medieval Christian texts and mystery plays and at that time, the “Book of Enoch”[6] was in high favour also.

It may have been that Dr Anderson uncovered within the older Gothic constitutions the remnants of Enochian tradition as practiced by the operative masons at that time, and was attempting to reinstate it, to give his revised constitutions a sense of authenticity.



The Pillars in the Temple

So now to the pillars in the temple, as mentioned earlier not much is disclosed regarding them during the Irish working, however much is elucidated in the Tracing Board lectures regarding the symbolism of the degree.

During the Question and Answer sessions of the Fellowcraft degree (which in some constitutions must be remembered by the candidate before they can move onto the sublime degree) we see this interesting discourse:


Q: Whence is this word derived from?

A:From the right hand of the pillar at the entrance of King Solomon’s temple, so named after the High Priest who officiated at it’s dedication


If we again look at the Masoretic text – specifically 1 Chronicles 24 v 17

לְיָכִין, אֶחָד  {ר}  וְעֶשְׂרִים,  {ס}  לְגָמוּל, שְׁנַיִם וְעֶשְׂרִים.  {ס}

The one and twentieth to Jachin, the two and twentieth to Gamul

Jachin was therefore the head of the 21st course of priests at the time of David, it is also used as a family name and appears in the list of those who willingly become the citizens and guardians of Jerusalem after the return of Babylon in Nehemiah.

So onto the Tracing Board of this degree:

The Fellow Crafts received theirs (their wages) partly in kind (corn, oil and wine) and partly in money and went into the Middle Chamber of King Solomon’s Temple to receive them.  They got there by the way of a porch, at the entrance of which their attention was particularly arrested by two great Pillars; that on the left was called Boaz, which denotes strength; that on the right which was called Jachin which denotes to establish, and when conjoined stability. ‘For God Said, In strength I will establish this mine house to stand firm for ever’

The Pillars within Solomon’s Temple Firstly described the covenant between David’s line and Yahweh.  This is the same covenant which is repeated between Yahweh and his chosen people time and time again, starting with Abram, whose name was even changed to Abraham to reflect this covenant, the covenant was then renewed with Moses during the Exodus, and now we see it renewed with David’s line.  This covenant is known as the Davidic Promise[7] and it can be found in two separate verses in 2 Samuel:


הוּא יִבְנֶה-בַּיִת, לִשְׁמִי; וְכֹנַנְתִּי אֶת-כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ, עַד-עוֹלָם[8]

 “He shall build a house in my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.”

 וְנֶאְמַן בֵּיתְךָ וּמַמְלַכְתְּךָ עַד-עוֹלָם, לְפָנֶיךָ:  כִּסְאֲךָ, יִהְיֶה נָכוֹן עַד-עוֹלָם[9]

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee; thy throne shall be established for ever”

The Tracing Board lecture moves onto an impressive description of these two Pillars:

“These Pillars were each seventeen and a half cubits high, in circumference twelve cubits, in diameter four, they were formed hollow, the better to serve as archives to Masonry, for therein were desposited their constitutional rolls; their rim or outer shell was four inches, or a hand’s breadth and made of brass”

So here we see the first reference to the other pillars (of Jared/Seth/Enoch) with the pillars of Solomon’s temple being hollow to store and protect important masonic information.

“These Pillars were adorned with Chapiters, each five cubits high, enriched with network, which from the connection of its meshes, denotes Unity; lily-work from it’s whiteness, Peace and pomegranates from the exuberance of their seed, Plenty.  There were two rows of Pomegranates on each Chapiter, one hundred in a row;”

This text comes from 1 Kings Chapter 7, following its description of the appearance and construction of the pillars:

  וַיָּצַר אֶת-שְׁנֵי הָעַמּוּדִים, נְחֹשֶׁת:  שְׁמֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה אַמָּה, קוֹמַת הָעַמּוּד הָאֶחָד, וְחוּט הַכֹּתֶרֶת הָאֶחָת, וְחָמֵשׁ אַמּוֹת, קוֹמַת הַכֹּתֶרֶת הַשֵּׁנִית

“He fashioned the two pillars of brass, of eighteen cubits high each; and a line of twelve cubits around it and also the same with the other (pillar)”

וּשְׁתֵּי כֹתָרֹת עָשָׂה, לָתֵת עַל-רָאשֵׁי הָעַמּוּדִים--מֻצַק נְחֹשֶׁת:  חָמֵשׁ אַמּוֹת, קוֹמַתהַכֹּתֶרֶת הָאֶחָת, וְחָמֵשׁ אַמּוֹת, קוֹמַת הַכֹּתֶרֶת הַשֵּׁנִית

“And he made two capitals of molten brass, to set upon the tops of the pillars; the height of the one capital was five cubits, and also the same with the other (pillar)

וַיַּעַשׂ, אֶת-הָעַמּוּדִים; וּשְׁנֵי טוּרִים סָבִיב עַל-הַשְּׂבָכָה הָאֶחָת, לְכַסּוֹת אֶת-הַכֹּתָרֹתשִׁבְעָה לַכֹּתֶרֶת הָאֶחָת, וְשִׁבְעָה לַכֹּתֶרֶת הַשֵּׁנִית

“He made nets of checker-work and chain-work, for the capitals which were on the top of the pillars, these numbered seven for each”

וְכֹתָרֹת, אֲשֶׁר עַל-רֹאשׁ הָעַמּוּדִים--מַעֲשֵׂה, שׁוּשַׁן בָּאוּלָם:  אַרְבַּע, אַמּוֹת

“And the capitals that were upon the top of the pillars in the porch were of lily-work”

וְכֹתָרֹת, עַל-שְׁנֵי הָעַמּוּדִים, גַּם-מִמַּעַל מִלְּעֻמַּת הַבֶּטֶן, אֲשֶׁר לְעֵבֶר שבכה (הַשְּׂבָכָה); אֲשֶׁר עַל-רֹאשׁ הָרִמֹּנִים, וְכֵן עָשָׂה, לַכֹּתֶרֶת הַשֵּׁנִית

“And there were capitals on the two pillars, and the pomegranates were two hundred, in rows (about each capital)

So you can see how closely masonic ritual text portrays the biblical description of the pillars, some eminent masonic historians have gone even further in their explanations of the adornments of the pillars

Albert Pike when looking at the interpretation of the word Jachin  - Yakayn begins to break down its etymology beginning with yacunnu, which means formed in the womb and yacun meaning to fix and establish and kun  meaning erect, upright.

Pike sees this as evidence for the phallic nature of the pillar, believing that:

“The column on the right represented the rigid membrum virile, object of worship among all the ancient nations..the Phallus, in condition to create, prepared, ready and upright[10]

According to Pike, the Pomegranates and the lily work point to building influences from Egypt, stating:

“The Capitals of Egyptian columns were imitations of this seed vessel surrounded by other ornaments and smaller vessels of the same kind; all of which were symbolic; the pomegranate being a symbol of the productive power of nature and a representation of the female organ of generation[11]



Fig 1: An Example of Egyptian Architecture – showing the pomegranates and lily work

On these pillars were two representations of the terrestrial and celestial elements of Freemasonry:

“..they were further adorned with two spherical balls, on which were delineated maps of the Celestial and Terrestrial globes, which point out ‘Masonry Universal’”

There is not much more to be added with this observation, simply to point out that the globes were in place to show the length and breadth of Freemasonry.[12]

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this brief paper shows how one element of our ritual can produce much visual and academic stimulation.  I hope that after reading this you will begin to research the specifics of the architecture of the masonic interpretation of Solomon’s Temple, for there are many.


[1] Masoretic text of 1 Kings Chapter 7 verse 21 – all Hebrew text in this document comes from the Masoretic text unless specified

[2] Translation of the Cooke Manuscript provided by Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon and can be found:

[3] Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Havard University Press – Pg 4

[4] Dr John Anderson wrote the first constitutions of ‘Modern’ Freemasonry, these constitutions were a set of regulations and a reworking of the old Gothic charges, an excellent article regarding the history of The Constitutions can be found at:

[5] The Constitutions of Freemasonry – Dr James Anderson Pg 75

[6] An extra biblical book, purportedly written by Enoch, the great grandfather of Noah, there are two sections within the book which are dated differently – The Book of the Watchers is dated approximately 200 BC and the Book of Parables were constructed approximately 1AD.  The Book of Enoch is quoted in the Letter of Jude in the New Testament, showing that the writers of the New Testament were influenced by it.  It is seen as a part of the canon of Christian Scripture in the Ethiopian Orthodox church,  The Book of Enoch seemingly was widely known during the development of the Hebrew Bible, but was not included in the formal canon of the Hebrew Bible or the Septuagint.  The Full Text can be found in this translation :

[7] An Excellent paper regarding this concept can be found:

[8] 2 Sam :13

[9] 2 Sam:16

[10] Albert Pike, The Book of the Words Page 27

[11] Albert Pike, The Book of the Words Page 32

[12] An excellent paper regarding the globes and their usage -