Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Five Principal Orders - Part 2: Symbolism of the Orders

In the first part of this two-part presentation, we discussed the five principal or 'noble' orders of Architecture.  We learned that of these five, three are more ancient and are known as the 'Greek' orders, whereas two are of later origin and considered to be of Roman origin.

Although the five orders can be identified with certain symbolic concepts, such as the five senses, the five archaic elements and the five platonic solids.  The five archaic elements are fire, air, water, earth and spirit, also known as 'aethyr'.  These do not refer to our material notions of these things, but rather to the qualities of objects and their attributes.  Fire refers to volatility and zeal; Air refers to movement and thought; Water to fluidity and emotion; Earth to stability and material things.  The fifth element, known as the 'quintessence', refers to things that are 'un-manifest' or hidden attributes that transcend the physical form.

The five platonic solids are three-dimensional figures that have been known since antiquity.  They are special because they are the only three dimensional figures that can be created with equal polygons.  The five are: the tetrahedron, which has four triangular sides; the cube (or hexahedron), which has six square sides; the octahedron composed of eight rectangular sides; the dodecahedron, with twelve pentagonal faces; and the icosahedron with twenty triangular faces.  These are familiar to anyone who has played "Dungeons and Dragons" or other games with specialized dice.  The ancient geometers associated these five solids with the five elements: the tetrahedron for fire, due to its shape and sharpness; the cube for earth, representing stability; the icosahedron for water due to its tendency to roll; the octahedron for air because of the symmetry of its points.  The dodecahedron, unique in that it has pentagonal faces, represents the quintessence, the fifth element.

We can focus more closely on the symbolism of the three Greek orders because the number three is so hugely prevalent in the basic structure of the craft lodges.  We traditionally speak of three pillars in masonry as being Wisdom, Beauty and Strength, each being necessary to balance the activities of the lodge in equilibrium. 

The traditional attribution of the Corinthian column is to the Junior Warden, which we also attribute to Fire.  Fire is appropriate because the Junior Warden's duties are to govern the lodge when it is at temporary rest from its labors at the time of the noon-day sun, or at the noon meridian.  Also, fire is appropriate as the Junior Warden is responsible for cooking and serving the food for the lodge.  We attribute this to the column of Beauty, referring to the splendor of the noon-day sun.

We attribute the Doric column to the Senior Warden.  It is he who is responsible for ensuring that the activities and labor of the workers on the temple.  Although he is not the Master, he is responsible for ensuring that the work of the lodge continues by ensuring that the plans of the Master are carried out by the workmen upon the temple.  We associate this column with the notion of Strength as the Senior Warden must ensure the wellness of the workmen as well as fortitude of morals and character.  We can attribute this column to the element of Earth.

The Ionic column is attributed to the Worshipful Master and is characterized as the pillar of Wisdom.  As all Masons must labor to achieve the status of Master, he is charged with maintaining harmony and good order by laying out the plans for the completion of the temple.  As will all matters of equilibrium, a lodge could not function if the force of Strength was not balanced by the temperance of Wisdom, and both impart their effect on the Beauty of the overall work.  The Master's column can be attributed to the element of Water, as it is the Master who sets the work into motion and maintains its fluidity.

This leaves us with the Tuscan and Composite orders to attribute.  As the Composite is a combination of the characteristics of all the columns, it is tempting to attribute this to the notion of the Quintessence, the fifth element of Spirit.  This column could be said to represent the North, where no lodge officer sits.  The Tuscan order, due to its simplicity and lack of decoration, could be attributed to Air, which represents movement without physical form.  As will all attributions, it is up to the individual to decide which is most satisfactory.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Five Principal Orders - Part 1: Describing the Orders

When Masons are passed to the degree of a Fellow Craft, we are bombarded with a great deal of technical information.  This information is difficult or impossible to understand while we are being initiated, and these important matters frequently go undiscussed in the normal workings of our lodges.

(In Pennsylvania Masonry, we are specifically told to engage in the study of the Five Principal Orders and given their names, but we do not have any legenda or lectures in our work that explain their significance to the Craft.)

For our interest in a short discussion of classical architecture, we can focus on the structural elements, namely the differences in the styling of the supporting columns.  In classical architecture, columns evolved throughout time to reflect the technology of the builders as well as the aesthetic sensibility of the times.  All columns are composed chiefly of three parts, the base, the shaft and the capital.  To which order a column belongs depends primarily on the proportion of the width of the column to its height, but more noticeably about the decorative elements that are used to adorn the capital and base.  A more intense study of these architectural forms will indicate many other elements that contribute to the classification of an order, but we will focus on the columns themselves.

Although the Principal Orders are five, two are actually derivatives of the original three orders, namely, the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian, also known as the Greek Orders.  In many lodge rooms, these are the orders that are used for the pedestals at the station of the Junior Warden, Senior Warden and the Worshipful Master.

The oldest of these is the Doric, which is most notable for originally lacking a base, and standing flat on its flooring.  Doric columns, found on the Parthenon in Athens, are decorated with vertical grooves, usually twenty around, which are thought to originate in imitation of ancient columns made of bundled wood.  They have a smooth, undecorated capital that joins to a square plate of material known as an abacus.  Doric columns have a proportion of six or seven times their diameter.  Since all columns are narrower at the capital than at the base, Doric columns look shorter and squatter than other columns.  The Lincoln Memorial also employed this order in its construction.

The Ionic column brought several changes to the simplicity of the Doric.  Because of advances in building techniques, the proportion of columns was changed to make them nine diameters high, thus allowing for taller construction.  The capitals of Ionic columns are decorated with a spiral figure known as a 'volute', whose name derives from the Latin 'voluta' or scroll.  It can only be speculated as to whether the Greek architects conceived of this shape from natural observations, such as snail shell, or by mathematical derivation.  Although lost in the mists of time, the Temple of Diana at Ephesus, one of the Ancient Wonders of the World, was constructed with the Ionic order.  The Jefferson Memorial is another modern example of this order as is the Westmoreland County courthouse.

The Corinthian column is less mathematical and more sculptured in appearance.  In addition to the increase in its proportional height to ten diameters, the capital is richly decorated with small volutes and complex leaf-like structures, which are styled after the 'acanthus' leaf, a common flowering Mediterranean plant with fern-like leaves frequently used for decoration.  The Pantheon in Rome is the canonical example of this order of architecture and still stands today.  The U.S. Capitol building and the National Archives are decorated with this order.

The other two Orders are called Roman orders and are derivations of the Greek.  The Tuscan Order actually came into use long after the Greek period, but is listed first because of its starkness and simplicity.  The Tuscan is essentially an undecorated column and had a 'renaissance' in Roman architecture.  Its proportional height is also seven times the diameter.  Thomas Jefferson's famous home, Monticello, is decorated with Tuscan columns.

The Composite Order is not actually an order to itself, but is a later addition to classical architecture, consisting of various compositions of each of the features, generally that of the acanthus leaves and volutes in alternating arrangement.  It usually has a proportion of eleven or twelve times the diameter.  It was used in Ancient Rome primarily for triumphant arches, such as the Arch of Titus, which still stands in the Forum and commemorates the sack of the Second Temple at Jerusalem.

In the next installment, I will discuss the meanings of the various orders and their association with Masonic teachings.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Murder of the Master

As Master Masons, we all first experience and then regularly bear witness to the senseless murder of our ancient Grand Master, Hiram Abiff.  Rather than bestow the secrets of our craft on the unworthy, Hiram was slain by three impetuous and undeserving Fellow Crafts.  Before receiving the blows that felled him, and even after having been assaulted, Hiram patiently told his assassins that they would have obtained that which they sought through patience and perseverance.

Our tradition informs us that these Fellow Crafts did not deem themselves worthy of receiving the Master’s word – it leave us to wonder why.  Were there skills not equal to that of their fellows of the second degree?  Perhaps they were over-eager to assume the role of an overseer of the work before they were fit for the task.  It is possible that as the Holy Temple neared its completion, and as the workers were discharged, there was no longer a need for additional supervision.  We can only speculate at their true motivation, since the Holy Scripture is silent regarding the tale of the demise of our Ancient Grand Master.  Our legends tell us that Hiram was a perfected man, which must have contributed to his enormous access to such a wide variety of mental and manual skills.

The Book of Kings does indeed tell us that the Inner Court of the temple had three gates, to the East, South and West, and our tradition dictates that the ruffians conspired to trap the Widow’s Son there and wrest the secrets from him. 

We are instructed that the Master first attempted to exit at the South gate, representing the station of the Junior Warden, and was there met by Jubela, who, after failing to extract the secrets from Hiram, struck at his throat with the twenty-four inch gauge.

At first consideration, the connection to the penalty of the Entered Apprentice degree seems obvious – but a wooden ruler is hardly a fitting implement to slice open someone’s throat.  It should be noted that no tools of iron or other metal would have been available to the ruffians, so we can imagine that they improvised with what was at hand.

It is of great interest that the Latin word for a gauge or ruler is CANON, and refers to both the measuring device and to a set of fundamental legal rules, as used in the term ‘canon law’.  It can be said that the use of the gauge as a weapon can be equated with tyranny, in the sense that it can be accomplished by interfering with free speech and expression. The organs of speech are the larynx, which generates the sound necessary for speech, and the tongue, which forms these vibrations into recognizable words.  Although wounded, the Master survives the attack.

When the Master Hiram escapes to the West, he is then confronted by the Senior Warden as Jubelo, who also attempts to extort the secrets by the threat of violence.  Choosing the wooden square, not the metallic square we think of as one of the greater lights, he strikes him in the left breast, in the place where the heart is found.  As the heart is the legendary seat of emotion, we can say that Jubelo attacked Hiram by striking at his psychological and emotional well-being.

In the noble art and science of rhetoric, which is recommended to us as one of the ancient liberal arts, there are traditional names for specific errors of argument known as ‘logical fallacies’.  These are tools of rhetoric used to invalidate specific elements of an opponent’s arguments..  Among the more familiar of these is the fallacy called ‘argumentum ad hominem’, or ‘ad hominem attack’ – meaning that one attacks the person making the argument or their credibility and not the matter being debated

Another of these fallacies is the phrase argumentum ad baculum, which translates literally to ‘appeal to the striking rod’ or ‘appeal to fear of violence’.  By striking the Master in the heart, he attacks his sense of affection for mankind as well as his love of his Craft.  This is naturally equated with the penalty of the Fellow Craft Mason’s obligation.  The commandments of the divine are that we should love one another, be charitable to all mankind, and passionately pursue the noble goals of Freemasonry -- these cannot be obeyed with one’s emotions in disarray.  As a result of this assault on the emotions we see numbness of the soul, lack of sympathy, falseness, indifference, and treachery as the result.  Injured further, the master survives the second attack.

Having escaped to the East, our Grand Master was confronted by Jubelum.  Jubelum strikes at the master with the gavel, which in many traditions is replaced by a larger implement known as a ‘setting maul’.  He is struck on the forehead, which contains the portion of the brain known as the ‘frontal lobe’, and is known to be the seat of intellect and reason.  In this case, the gavel represents the assault of the mob mentality upon the intelligence and self-awareness of man, leading to thoughtless violence and vulgarity, ignorance and inhumanity, superstition, bigotry, and disempowerment of the logical mind.

It is interesting that in the case of Jubelum, the attack on the Widow’s Son is not directly related to the penalty of the Master Mason’s degree in the same way as the other attacks.  It is conceivable, however, that we can consider the attack of the mob to be representative of a tearing apart or rending of human civilization by animalistic behavior.  When the ignorant masses gain control, it becomes impossible to apply the lessons of Freemasonry, which can be said to be essentially fractured and burned

With the crippling attacks on the voice and the heart, and the fatal attack on the brain, the Master is slaughtered -- in the chamber of his own design -- by Ignorance, Superstition and Tyranny.  We must recall that the central theme of the third degree is not the death of Hiram, but his raising.  Similar to other resurrection stories that are central to religious and Masonic teaching, death is never permanent, but a transition from incarnation to incarnation.  The wisdom gained by reflecting on the teachings of Freemasonry is what empowers us to overcome these enemies of true human liberty.

It is fitting to think of resurrection as being an indication of immortality, which is further represented by the acacia sapling mentioned in the degree and the funeral service.  As the central figure in the blue lodge, we are frequently reminded of the great and noble deeds of Hiram, the widow’s son, a man for whom we are rightfully encouraged to imitate.  Far more than all other great personages of the Craft, Hiram Abiff’s life and memory achieve immortality in the eternal traditions and teachings of Freemasonry.

With thanks to Bro:. Kevin Main

© 2013 Mitch Goldstein

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thoughts on Passover and Easter

What binds humanity together is stronger that what divides us.  This is the time of year that I start to snap out of the winter funk.  Now I can drive to work during the light - perhaps not that much of a concern because now I commute east to west when I go to downtown Pittsburgh.  Soon the forsythias will bloom, after that my eyes will be come itchy and I will sneeze a great deal.  Then, the daffodils - but I digress.

It seems instructive to focus on the common themes between these two holidays and avoid the stark differences.  Both holidays celebrate redemption and the renewal of the spring, the resurrection phase of the cycle of life.  Both are focused, in their own way, on liberation - from slavery and sin.  Both are structured around festive meals, centered around family and friends.  Both use the egg as a symbol of nature and fertility.

In the Passover 'seder' ceremony, we eat green herbs to remind us of the forthcoming spring, dipped in salt water as a reminder of the tears shed by martyrs and those who suffer in the cause of good. Green is also the predominant color of the regalia of a "Perfect Master", which is what I have been thinking about a great deal.  Primarily, I will be traveling back to Guthrie to see the degrees of the Scottish Rite again at their Spring Reunion, secondarily because I have been set my fifth degree paper
for the College of the Consistory, so I will be paying special attention to that degree and it's symbolism of new life as the consequence of death.

In addition to these sacred holidays, it's also visitation season, meaning I will have the opportunity of traveling with my District Deputy Grand Masters as a sitting Master.  I am really enjoying the opportunity to meet so many Brethren from near and far.  I am looking forward to visiting lodges in Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia too!

As a result, I make a promise to record my experiences during my travels.  I hope it is edifying.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Closing Instruction

It has been a long night, and I haven't posted for quite some time.

In Morals and Dogma*, the chapter for the 28ยบ - The Knight of the Sun or Prince Adept - still remains one of my favorite chapters in that austere and stirring masterpiece of Bro:. Albert Pike.  I will leave you with his closing instruction for that degree as my final thoughts for the evening:

There is no pretence to infallibility in Masonry. It is not for us to dictate to any man what he shall believe. We have hitherto, in the instruction of the several Degrees, confined ourselves to laying before you the great thoughts that have found expression in the different ages of the world, leaving you to decide for yourself as to the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of each, and what proportion of truth, if any, each contained. We shall pursue no other course in this closing Philosophical instruction; in which we propose to deal with the highest questions that have ever exercised the human mind, --with the existence and the nature of a God, with the existence and the nature of the human soul, and with the relations of the divine and human spirit with the merely material Universe. 

*Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry , prepared for the
Supreme Council of the Thirty Third Degree for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States:
Charleston, 1871.