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.

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