Temple Symbolism

Symbolism, like movement, has the potential to illustrate concepts that are difficult to describe through language. Most people are familiar with the saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words", yet few, if any of us ever think to apply this principle to symbolism.1

The temple is one symbol that shows up again and again throughout Western symbolic traditions, most notably in Masonic sources that derive from the Kabbalah.2 I find the symbol of the temple fascinating because it clearly illustrates an esoteric idea that can be quite difficult to explain exclusively through prose.

Traditionally, the temple is viewed as the "House of God", the place where the "mystery dwells" so-to-speak. The mystery resides at the center of the temple which is made up of two sides, represented by two columns, with a roof on top. The two pillars taken together can be viewed as symbolizing the myriad pairs of opposites (complements) that we use to navigate our experiences.

The space at the center (along with the roof) represents the inherent mystery of Unity from which everything arises and is resolved back into. Knock down either of the pillars, and the temple collapses, causing the roof to fall and the mystery of space to disappear.

Kabbalistic sources carry a similar motif over through the "Tree of Life", as do secret societies such as the Masons. The "Tree of Life" is comprised of two columns, one associated with Judgement, the other Mercy. If one attempts to destroy or remove either pillar (or if one dominates over the other), the Beauty that resides in the center collapses and disappears.3

1 Joseph Campbell helped pioneer this approach towards myths, which often make use of symbols to tell a story on multiple levels.

2 Not to be confused with the Christian Qabbalah, which is a syncretization of Christian, Jewish, and Hermetic philosophies.

3 Judgement can be viewed as an active principle, with Mercy symbolizing receptivity. Beauty, which resides at the center is both the source and harmonization of the other two principles.