Vol. XLV No. 7 — July 1967


Conrad Hahn

The celestial and terrestrial globes atop the Pillars called Boaz and Jachin frequently arouse the curiosity of new Fellowcrafts. Unfortunately, too little comment or explanation is made about them. A well-informed brother generally recognizes the anachronism in the Middle Chamber Lecture when the pillars in the porch of Solomon’s Temple are described as being further adorned with globes on their tops, representing the terrestrial and celestial spheres.

Since the globes are defined as "two artificial spherical bodies, on the convex surfaces of which are represented the countries, seas, and various parts of the earth, the face of the heavens, the planetary revolutions, and other particulars,” it is obvious that Masonic lectures describe, in the case of the terrestrial globe particularly, something that was not known in Solomon’s time. Most Masonic researchers now agree with Biblical scholars that there were no such globes atop the pillars in the porch of Solomons Temple.

This naturally raises questions. How did the globes get into Masonic ceremonies? How did they get to the tops of the pillars? What is their significance? What is their purpose?

The answers to these questions can be made the object of a long and interesting search in the fields of history, archeology, geography, astronomy, and Masonic lore. This Short Talk will attempt only to suggest some broad and tentative answers.

The globes seem to have come into Masonry as a part of the knowledge that the Renaissance rediscovered or developed by its encouragement of the natural sciences. As organized in the eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment, Speculative Freemasonry became a promoter of the arts and of all useful knowledge. In its earliest period, it sought to be a teacher for men to whom the doors of knowledge and learning were not yet open.

One of the fruits of the Renaissance was a quest for geographical knowledge and its preservation, which led to the making of maps and globes and to voyages of discovery.

Although terrestrial globes were known many centuries earlier, they had never been common or popular. Theologians discouraged scientific pursuits in the Dark and early Middle Ages. The idea of a spherical world was frowned upon. Monkish mapmakers went on making charts in which the earth was flat and rectangular.

But with the invention of the printing-press about 1440, knowledge could be dispersed and shared. Less than a hundred years later Copernicus’ theory of a heliocentric universe became widely known. Such ideas led to Galileo’s observations and conclusions. The persecution he suffered for his views, less than a hundred years before the founding of the Grand Lodge of England, undoubtedly spurred the study of “the liberal arts and sciences.”

It was Columbus’ discovery of America, however, which created a demand for terrestrial globes. The next century saw the development of a big business in map and globe making, which was centered mainly in the Netherlands because of the work of the great cartographer, Mercator. In the 1500s Antwerp and Amsterdam became the map-making capitals of the world.

The 1600s (the century that marked the transition from Operative to Speculative Freemasonry) saw the adoption of terrestrial globes as scientific apparatus for educational institutions and for gentlemen of learning, the kind of men who first became Accepted Masons. Revolving globes for the study of the earth’s rotation as well as of its surface features became a standard furnishing in the library of a man of means and culture. They were set on wooden stands. Many of them were beautiful examples of the cabinet maker’s art. It was probably such individuals who brought the globes into Masonic lodges for demonstrations of their “speculations” in astronomy and geography.

One reference in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. 62[1] suggests that the globes had been introduced as ornamentation in Masonic lodges even before the grand lodge era, but they were not on the pillars. They surmounted the chairs of the master and wardens. Lodge records and inventories of the eighteenth century also show that globes were part of the furnishings of lodges at that time; but they are usually listed separately from the pillars, because they were probably on low stands, away from Boaz and Jachin. They were actually used by some masters for demonstrating geographical and astronomical principles.

How, then, did the Globes get to the tops of the pillars? No positive answer is possible, but a reasonable explanation may be found by investigating another development in the arts and sciences that took place during the Renaissance, and especially in the “speculative” seventeenth century.

The Reformation and the printing of the Bible in the language of the people led to much research and inquiry into the backgrounds and meanings of the Book of Books. The seventeenth century saw a tremendous interest in the subject of Solomon’s Temple.

Scholars and clergymen published descriptions of the building of the Temple. Artists and architects vied with one another to produce drawings of that remarkable edifice. Elaborate and intricate models of the Temple were constructed and displayed from country to country. Some of them were set up in London and excited the curiosity of thousands at the time of the establishment of Speculative Freemasonry. It is probable that this unusual interest in the Temple had a considerable effect on the rituals and lectures of Speculative Freemasonry.

If we may judge from such relics of our early rituals as Prichard’s Masonry Dissected, published in 1730, there was no connection between the globes and the pillars in the early period. The Fellowcraft’s Degree makes no mention of the globes. (Neither does that other famous exposé, Jachin and Boaz, which first appeared in 1762.) Curiously, however, some editions of Prichard’s booklet contain a frontispiece, showing two pillars surmounted by globes, but they are not terrestrial and celestial balls. They are apparently “zodiacal spheres.”

The students of Solomon’s Temple in the 1600s and 1700s were all impressed by the description of the “two great pillars in the porch.” Much confusion seems to have existed in their minds about the “chapiters” and their ornaments. The Biblical description in 1 Kings refers to a “belly” in chapter 7, verse 20, and to a “bowl” in verse 41. This apparently led to the conception of a globe. While it would seem to suggest the rounded swelling or protuberance of the “chapiter” or capital, on which were displayed some of the ornamentation, most of the illustrators of that early period pictured an elliptical globe atop the pillars, with the network and rows of pomegranates encircling the ball. A hasty glance at such a sphere could lead to the idea that one was looking at a simple “terrestrial globe.” The “bowl” may well have been a stylized lotus blossom.

No one knows just when or why the terrestrial and celestial globes were transferred from their usual stands to the tops of the pillars. Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia gives a reasonable surmise.

They were first set in racks on the floor, where they were undoubtedly in the way, so that a double purpose was served by someone’s suggestion that they be mounted on the tops of the two columns, where they relieved somewhat the barren, unfinished appearance thereof.

American Freemasons, however, should remember that the arrangement of the pillars is not everywhere the same in Masonry, in many Continental or even state lodges, the columns are not permanently located in the lodge room. In the British Isles lodges use a variety of “workings,” i.e., rituals; the globes atop the pillars are not everywhere to be found. One “working” specifies that the pillars are to be arranged “one on each side of the master’s chair.” Boaz and Jachin are not always placed in the West at the sides of the warden’s station, even in some American lodges.

Brother E. H. Cartwright of England (A Commentary on the Freemasonic Ritual) has observed that

many Provincial lodges outside the home counties have such columns, of varying sizes, placed either as specified in the Oxford Ritual, or, as in Bristol and in many other lodges in the west country and in some northern Provinces, a little eastward of the senior warden. When they are in the latter situation it is customary for brethren entering the lodge to stand between them and salute the master. In the metropolis and the adjoining Provinces they are now seldom represented, though it is probable that in early post-Union days they were generally in evidence.

Such a variety of positions for the pillars (and therefore the globes) points out the many differences in ceremonial practices around the Masonic world, and suggests an answer to the questions about "the proper position” of the pillars: “Whatever the lodge considers proper, in accordance with its own and its grand lodge traditions.”

In addition to the monitorial explanation of the globes’ significance, Masonic writers have tried to give them a greater historical importance. Some have imagined the globes to be derived from the ancient Egyptian symbol of the winged globe (really winged egg), representing universal creation. Masonic scholars today have given up the fanciful belief in the “persistence” of a Masonic tradition from ancient Egypt to Speculative Masonry.

The Middle Chamber Lecture informs us that the globes “denote the universality of Masonry and that a Mason’s charity ought to be equally extensive.” Every initiate probably grasps the meaning of the second idea quite readily. It is doubtful that his concept of the universality of the Craft is improved by the first, because the globes suggest only a geographical extension of the localities in which Freemasonry operates.

When universality is conceived merely in terms of geography, the idea is in its rudest and simplest state. It is then easily combined with the concept of numerical extension; the larger the number of members, the more universal the Fraternity becomes. No Speculative Mason, however, really believes that, which suggests that there are too few such craftsmen, considering the fears of declining membership that trouble the Fraternity today.

The idea of universality is derived from the social and spiritual goals of Freemasonry. It really has little relation to the Fraternity’s geographical extension. Brother C. C. Hunt of Iowa commented on its meaning as follows:

Some think it "unites men of every country, sect, and opinion, and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance”; others, that no man is denied admission because of race, nationality, color, creed, or political opinion; while still others think that its universality consists in the fact that its principles are of universal application throughout the universe of God.

Such “speculations,” in addition to the brief symbolization given in the Middle Chamber lecture, would be helpful to every new Fellowcraft. True universality must be found in the hearts of men, not in a globular representation of the “countries, seas, the face of the heavens, and other particulars.”

And that suggests the purpose of the globes. The monitorial explanation of these “artificial spherical bodies” is directly or indirectly the work of William Preston, whose Illustrations of Masonry first appeared in London in 1772. By making the Masonic lectures epitomes of all the great branches of learning, Preston sought to make the Masonic lodge a school in which all men might acquire knowledge, by which alone they could achieve the blessings of a well-spent life. Preston believed that if all men had knowledge, all social problems could be solved. The globes, therefore, were educational equipment for the lodge, to help teach men the principles of geography and astronomy.

Today, of course, knowledge has become so vast that no man in one life-time can acquire it all. Furthermore, education has been made so widely available that practically all initiates already know the simple facts and principles that Preston’s lectures seek to provide him. This is one of the reasons why some Masons want to “modernize” the ritual.

Preston, of course, was wrong — knowledge is not the sole purpose of Masonry, just as knowledge is not the only means to acquire the wisdom and understanding that are needed to solve man’s social and spiritual problems. But Preston was also right. Knowledge is one end, and certainly not the least important of those by which human perfection may be attained. Modern Freemasonry’s lack of interest in promoting useful knowledge may be one of the most important symptoms of “what’s wrong with the Craft.”

In an age that is planning to transport human beings to the moon and beyond, the globes could well be the starting point for an inquiry into the meaning and purpose of Space Exploration. Such an inquiry need not be limited to the members of the Craft.

As Brother Roscoe Pound wrote many years ago,

I hate to think that all initiative is gone from our order and that no new Preston will arise to take up his conception of Knowledge as an end of the fraternity and present to the Masons of today the knowledge that they ought to possess.

Perhaps to begin with, we could take the Globes down from the Pillars and really look at them, to learn what they signify to the men of our time. The Globes “are the noblest instruments for improving the mind,” wrote Preston; but most of them in Masonic lodges today are idle ornaments merely gathering dust.

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  1. C. Marshall Rose, “Eighteenth Century Lodge Inventories,” AQC 62(1951): 204-33.

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