Review of Freemasonry

Make this site your Home Page Print this page Send Masonic E-card Subscribe News Alerts by Email RSS News Feed
PS Review of FM Search Engine:
recommend PS Review of Freemasonry

by Bro. William Steve Burkle KT, 32°
Scioto Lodge No. 6, Chillicothe, Ohio.
Philo Lodge No. 243, South River, New Jersey

The meaning of the Broken Column as explained by the ritual of the Master mason degree is that the column represents both the fall of Master Hiram Abif as well as the unfinished work of the Temple of Solomon[i]. This interesting symbol has appeared in some fascinating places; for example, a Broken Column monument marks the gravesite in Lewis County Tennessee[ii] of Brother Meriwether Lewis (Lewis & Clark), and a similar monument marks the grave of Brother Prince Hall[iii].  In China, there is a “broken column-shaped” home which was built just prior to the French Revolution by the aristocrat François Nicolas Henri Racine de Monville[iv]. Today “The Broken Column” is frequently used in Masonic newsletters as the header for obituary notices and is a popular tomb monument for those whose life was deemed cut short. Note that when I speak of The Broken Column here, I am referring to only the upright but shattered Column Base with its detached Shattered Capital, and not to the more extensive symbolism often associated with the figure such as a book resting on the column base, the Weeping Virgin (Isis), or Father Time (Horus) disentangling the Virgin’s hair. In this version the shattered column itself is often said to allude to Osiris[v]. While these embellishments add to the complexity of the allusion, it is the shattered column alone which I intend to address.

The Broken Column is believed to be a fairly recent addition to the symbolism of Freemasonry, and has been attributed to Brother Jeremy L. Cross. Brother Cross[vi] is said to have devised the symbol based upon a broken column grave monument dedicated to a Commodore Lawrence[vii], which was erected in the Trinity Churchyard circa 1813. Lawrence perished in a naval battle that same year between the Frigates Chesapeake and Shannon. The illustration of the broken column was reportedly first published in the “True Masonic Chart” by artist Amos Doolittle in 1819[viii]. There is however little evidence beyond the word of Brother Cross that the symbol was thus created[ix],[x].

Whether the Broken Column is a modern invention or passed down from times of antiquity is of little consequence; regardless of its origins the symbol serves well as a powerful allusion in our Craft, and as will be discussed, may have deeper meanings which align with other Masonic symbols which also incorporate images of columns and pillars.

Freemasonry makes generous reference to columns and pillars of all sorts in the work of the various degrees including the two pillars which stood at the entrance of Solomon’s Temple, the four columns of architectural significance, and the three Great Columns representing strength, beauty, and wisdom[xi]. The first mention of pillars in a Masonic context[xii] is found in the Cooke Manuscript dated circa 1410 A.D. The three Great Pillars of Masonry are of particular interest in this article even though it is the Broken Column and its deeper meanings which I ultimately intend to explore.

Three Great Columns

The basis for the Three Great Columns can be traced to an ancient Kabalistic concept and a unique diagram found in the Zohar which illustrates the emanations of God in forming and sustaining the universe. The diagram also reflects certain states of spiritual attainment in man. This diagram, called the Sephiroth consists of ten spheres or Sephira connected to one another by pathways and which are ordered to reflect the sequence of creation. In accordance with Kabalistic belief Aur Ein Sof (Light Without End) shines down into the Sephiroth and is split like a prism into its ten constituent Sephira[xiii], eventually ending in the material universe. To discuss the Sephiroth in sufficient depth to impart a good understanding is well beyond the scope of this paper; however, a basic understanding of how the structure of the Sephiroth is related to the Great Columns is manageable, and is in fact essential to the subsequent discussion of the Broken Column. Be aware that the explanations I give are vast oversimplifications of a highly complex concept. In an attempt to simplify the concept, it is inevitable that some degree of inaccuracy will be introduced.

I would like to begin my discussion of the Three Great Columns by discussing the Cardinal Virtues. The Cardinal Virtues are believed to have originated with Plato who formed them from a tripartite division[xiv] of the attributes of man (power, wisdom, reason, mercy, strength, beauty, firmness, magnificence, and base kingship) presented in the Sephiroth. These concepts were later adopted by the Christian Church[xv]  and were popularized by the treatises of Martin of Braga, Alcuin and Hrabanus Maurus (circa 1100 A.D.) and later promoted by Thomas Aquinas (circa 1224 A.D.). According to Wescott[xvi] the Four Cardinal Virtues are represented by what were originally branches of the Sepheroth:

Four tassels refer to four cardinal virtues, says the first degree Tracing Board Lecture, these are temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice; these again were originally branches of the Sephirotic Tree, Chesed first, Netzah fortitude, Binah prudence, and Geburah justice. Virtue, honour, and mercy, another triad, are Chochmah, Hod, and Chesed.”

broken-column1             Thus we have a connection between the Cardinal Virtues and the Sephiroth.  The Three Pillars of Freemasonry (Wisdom, Beauty, and Strength) are associated with the Cardinal Virtues[xvii] and also therefore with the Kabalistic concept of the Sephiroth[xviii]. I have provided an illustration of the Sepiroth in Figure 1. This particular version of the Sephiroth is based upon that used in the 30th Degree or Knight Kadosh Grade[xix] of the ASSR. The Sephiroth, incidentally is also called “The Tree of Life”. Each of the vertical columns of spheres (Sephira) in the Sephiroth are considered to represent a pillar (column). Each pillar is named according to the central concept which it represents; thus in Figure 1 we have the pillars Justice, Beauty, and Mercy left to right, respectively. The Sephiroth is a very elegant system in which balance is maintained between the Sephira of the two outermost pillars by virtue of the center pillar. Note also that traditionally the Sephiroth is divided into “Triads” of Sephira. In Figure 1 the uppermost triad, consisting of the spheres Wisdom, Intelligence, and Crown represent the intellectual and spiritual characteristics of man. The next triad is represented by the Sephira Justice, Beauty, and Mercy; the final triad is Splendor, Foundation, and Firmness (or Strength).

According to S.L. MacGregor Mathers[xx], the word Sephira is best translated to mean (or is best rendered as) “Numerical Emanation”, and each of the ten Sephira corresponds to a specific numerical value. Mathers also asserts that it was through knowledge of the Sephiroth that Pythagoras devised his system of numerical symbolism.  While there are additional divisions and subdivisions of the Sephiroth, the concept which is of interest to us here is that God created the Material World or Universe (signified by the lowest Sephira, Kingdom) in a series of ordered actions which proceeded along established pathways (i.e. the connecting lines between the Sephira in our Figure). Each of the Sephira and each pathway are a sort of “buffer” between the majesty and power of God and the material world. Without these buffers, profane man and the material world he inhabits would meet with destruction. On the other hand, enlightened man is able to progress upwards along these pathways to higher level Sephira and to thereby achieve enhanced knowledge of the Divine. Tradition holds that man once was closer to the Divine spirit, but became corrupted by the material world, losing this connection (i.e. The fall of Man from Grace. Note also the reference to the Tree of Knowledge and possible connections to the Tree of Life). God uses the Sephiroth in renewing and sustaining the material universe. Each new soul created is an emanation of God and travels to materiality (physical existence) via the pathways established in the Sephiroth. In a similar fashion, the spirits of the departed return to God via these same pathways, making the Sephiroth the mechanism by which God interacts with the universe.

broken-column2 The Broken Column

In Figure 2, I have redrawn the Sephiroth as an overlay of the Three Great Columns; however in this version the Pillar of Beauty is Broken. Note especially that the center pillar, the Pillar of Beauty in the Sephiroth has a gap between Beauty and Crown, in effect making this column a Broken Pillar[xxi].  I believe this “fracture” symbolizes Man’s separation from knowledge of the Divine, and an interruption in the Pathway leading from Beauty directly to the Crown (which symbolizes “The Vast Countenance”[xxii]).

            I would also like to extrapolate that if the Broken Column indeed represents Hiram Abif as per the explanation given to initiates, then the two remaining columns would then correspond to Solomon and Hiram King of Tyre[xxiii]. Certainly the Sephira (Wisdom, Justice, and Splendor) which comprise the column of Justice align well with the characteristics traditionally associated with King Solomon. Tradition unfortunately does not address Hiram King of Tyre although we can assume that Intelligence, Mercy,  and Firmness or Strength would be a likely requirement for a Monarch of such apparent success. The connection between the Three Great Columns and the three principle characters in the drama of the Third Degree does have a certain sense of validity. The “Lost Word” associated with Hiram Abif would then allude to the lost Pathway.

            In so many of our Masonic Lessons we initially receive a plausible but quite shallow explanation of our symbols and allusions. Those who sense an underlying, deeper meaning tend to find it (Seek and you will find, knock and the door shall be opened). Perhaps in our ritual of the Third Degree, that which is symbolically being raised (restored) is the Pillar of which resides within us. If so, the Lost Word has then in fact been received by each of us. It only remains lost if we choose to forget it or choose not to pursue it.

[i]     Duncan, Malcom C.  Duncan's Masonic Ritual and Monitor. Crown; 3 Edition (April 12, 1976). ISBN-13: 978-0679506263. pp 157.

[ii]     “Meriwether Lewis, Master Mason”.  The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation.

[iii]    “WHo is Prince Hall ?” (1996). Retrieved December 5, 2008 from

[iv]    Kenna, Michael. (1988). The Broken Column House at Désert de Retz in Le Desert De Retz, A late 18th Century French Folley Garden. Retrieved December 6, 2008 from Valley Daze.

[v]     Pike, Albert. (1919) Morals and Dogma. Charleston Southern Jurisdiction. pp. 379. ASIN: B000CDT4T8.

[vi]    “The Broken Column”. The Short Talk Bulletin 2-56. The Masonic Service Association of the United States. VOL. 34 February 1956 NO. 2.

[vii]   Brown, Robert Hewitt. (1892). Stellar Theology and Masonic Astronomy or the origin and meaning of ancient and modern mysteries explained. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1, 3, and 5 Bond Street. 1892.. pp. 68. 

[viii]   “Boston Masonic Lithograph”. Retrieved December 5, 2008 from Lodge Pambula Daylight UGL of NSW & ACT No1000.

[ix]     Folger, Robert B. Fiction of the Weeping Virgin. Retrieved December 6, 2008 from the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon A.F. & A.M. / fiction/fiction.html

[x]     Mackey, Albert Gallatin & Haywood H. L. Encyclopedia of Freemasonry Part 2. pp. 677. Kessinger Publishing, LLC (March 31, 2003).

[xi]    Claudy, Carl H. Introduction to Masonry. The Temple Publishers. Retrieved December 5, 2008 from Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry.

[xii]   Dwor, Mark. (1998). Globes, Pillars, Columns, and Candlesticks. Vancouver Lodge of Education and Research . Retrieved December 6, 2008 from the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon A.F. & A.M.

[xiii]   Day, Jeff. (2008). Dualism of the Sword and the Trowel. Cryptic Masons of Oregon – Grants Pass. Retrieved December 6, 2008 from

[xiv]   Bramston, M. Thinkers of the Middle Ages. Monthly Packet. Evening Readings of the Christian Church (1893). Ed. Charlotte Mary Yonge, Christabel Rose Coleridge, Arthur Innes. J. and C. Mozley. University of Michigan (2007).

[xv]    Regan, Richard. (2005). The Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. Hackett Publishing.

[xvi]   Wescott, William ( ). The Religion of Freemasonry. Illuminated by the Kabbalah. Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. vol. i. p. 73-77. Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. Retrieved September 29, 2008 from

[xvii]   MacKenzie, Kenneth R. H. (1877). Kabala. Royal Masonic Cyclopedia. Kessinger Publishing (2002).

[xviii] Pirtle, Henry. Lost Word of Freemasonry. Kessinger Publishing, 1993.

[xix]   Knight Kadosh. The Thirtieth Grade of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, and the First Degree of the Chivalric Series. Hirams Web. University of Bradford. 

[xx]    Mathers, S.L. MacGregor. (1887). Qabalah Unveiled. Reprinted (2006) as The Kabbalah: Essential Texts From The Zohar. Watkins. London. pp. 10.

[xxi]   Ibid. Dualism of the Sword and the Trowel

[xxii]  Ibid. Qabalah Unveiled .Plate III. pp. 38-39.

[xxiii] Duncan, Malcom C.  Duncan's Masonic Ritual and Monitor. Crown; 3 Edition (April 12, 1976).

Home Page | Alphabetical Index | What is New | Freemasons World News
Research Papers | Books online | Freemasons History | Symbolism & Rituals
Saggi in Italiano | Essais en Langue Française | Monografias em Português | Planchas Masonicas en Español

| Sitemap | Privacy Policy | How to Contribute a Paper |

RSS Feed News Feed | News Alerts Subscribe News by Email

visitor/s currently on the page.