Symbolism of the Temple, part 1

Thoughts and Reflection on the Temple as a model of Creation


From a macrocosmic perspective Creation, the universe, is the house of God, and from a microcosmic perspective the soul is the house of God. In both the will of God is made manifest. The Temple is an inspired symbolic and material representation of both the universe and the soul, wherein humankind may come to know both the presence and the will of God.

Symbolically speaking, the form of Creation may be considered as a cube within a sphere. The perfect form of the sphere represents the Infinite Light within which Creation takes place. The symmetrical form of the cube symbolises and describes Creation in the context of duality – what we now call space-time!

The tetrahedron (a form of pyramid) and the cube are, geometrically speaking, the first expressions of three-dimensional existence. These forms, or ideas, emerge out of the monad as an evolving progression of number and form, thus, from the point to the line, from the line to the plane, and from the plane to the first solids - the tetrahedron and the cube.

The tetrahedron consists of four planes bound by four angles and the cube consists of six planes bound by eight right-angles. It forms a three-dimensional square that demonstrates the six primary directions - above, below, left, right, before, and behind. However, the symbolism of the tetrahedron applies more to the nature of energy and spirit, thus it is that we must look to the cube for the representation of Creation.

In Matthew XVI v18 Jesus says:

“And I say unto thee, that Thou art Peter (Petra), and upon this rock (Petra) I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

In John 1 v 42 Jesus says:

… “Thou art Simon the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Kephas (Cephas)”, which translated is Petra Peter.

The word Petra (Petra) means ‘rock’ which suggests a solid foundation for the building of a house. The word Cephas, or more correctly Kephas (Cephas), is rendered by Jesus as a stone, but can equally mean a rock. (Note. I am unable to input the Greek font into substack, for which I apologise.)

In Gematria the word Kephas is summed up as follows: K = 20, e = 8, ph = 500, a = 1, s = 200. The total being 729; however 729 is the cube of 9, thus 9 x 9 x 9 = 729. Thus, the cube of 9 consists of 729 cubes, and of these the total amount of cubes accessible from the surface of the cube is 486 – the gematric sum of the word Petra. Thus the Cube of 9 was to be the base or foundation of the Church. This is particularly significant when viewed in the context of the words of Jesus in John 18: 36.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.
If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight,
so that I should not be delivered to the Jews;
but now My kingdom is not from here.” (KJV)

The Cube is four-square to every direction and represents the entire expanse of the material universe in three dimensions; however, in microcosmic terms it represents the body, wherein dwells the soul. Our ancestors generally designed their temples with these principles in mind. In ancient times the Cube often represented both the basis of constructing the Temple and the Inner Sanctuary of the sacred space. The arrangement of the temple is traditionally based upon scriptural references, particularly the following:

a)       Exodus 26

b)      Numbers 2, v 1-34

c)       Ezekiel 1, v 4-28

d)      Revelation 4, v 1-10.

e)       Revelation 21,

Often the sacred space consisted of an area twice as long as it was wide, thus defining an area of a double cube. The first part, which was accessible to all, was called the Outer Court, known in Ancient Judea as the Court of the Gentiles. The second part, with restricted access, contained the Temple proper, known to the people of the Exodus as the Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle was three times as long as it was wide, and was divided into three parts. The first two parts, were known as the Holy Place, it was 40 cubits long, 20 cubits wide and 20 cubits in height. Otherwise known as the Inner Court, it was the room wherein officiating priests received offerings and performed purification rites. It was also the vestibule to the Holy of Holies, which was the inner sanctuary wherein was placed the Ark of the Covenant. This room measured 20 cubits in length, 20 cubits in breadth and 20 cubits in height.

In metaphysical terms the Outer Court of the Gentiles corresponds to the physical body of the senses and the world of the four elements. The Holy Place, or Inner Court, corresponds to the Lower Mind - the psychic and mental realms, and to the influences of the zodiac and the planets. It is a place of internal purification. The Holy of Holies corresponds to the Higher Mind purified of the dross of matter and its influences, in which the soul purified of egoism, may commune with the Divine. The Ark of the Covenant corresponds to Man’s highest principle – pure Spirit united in God.

In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation it states:

“And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.”

In this vision of the New Jerusalem the Cube is revealed as the perfect expression of the divine principles by which all life is justified. As such it is the spiritual term of all life once it has been purged of the dross of matter, and reconciled with its true nature.

The orientation of the temple is derived from an ancient and universal procedure that constitutes a rite in the proper sense of the word. “A pillar is set up in the place chosen for the building of the Temple, and a circle is traced round it. The pillar serves as a gnomon, and its shadow thrown onto the circle marks, by its extreme positions in the morning and in the evening. The two points are connected by an East-West axis and are used as centres for marking out, with a cord used as a compass, two circles that intersect to form the “fish” which gives the North-South axis.”[1] A further two points are formed from the North-South axis (see illustration below) from which the cube is established.

Historically, the orientation of the temple has generally, although not always, been along the East/West axis, with the entrance in the West; however, in ancient times many temples were often arranged with the entrance in the East so that the light of the sun entered the temple and illumined the congregation who were situated in the West. In either case the congregation & celebrant faced east.

The East/West axis describes the soul’s movement from the darkness of the West towards the emerging light of the new dawn in the East, and as such points towards the search for knowledge and understanding of its true nature. It corresponds with the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the North/South axis alludes to the soul’s engagement with life, and may be symbolically understood to represent the Tree of Good and Evil.

The interaction of both axes is represented by a regular patchwork of alternating contrasting tiles. This ‘Checkerboard Floor of Night & Day’ represents the world of ‘Duality’. It denotes the ebb and flow of fortune; life & death; good & evil; male & female, and all other binaries – their orderly arrangement suggests that what takes place in this world is governed by Divine Providence. The checkerboard floor represents the world of Assiah upon which students must learn to walk in perfect equilibrium, which is to say that it is the duty of students to rise above the influence of their appetitive nature. Various paths reveal themselves, among them Asceticism and Empathy, through either of which the student may grow in Knowledge and Wisdom concerning the Law of God and how to live by it.

Two pillars stand upon this floor; rising to the very heights of heaven, or, from another standpoint, descending from heaven to the lowest depths of existence. They represent Strength and Beauty, the masculine and feminine dynamics of Creation that are at work at every level of existence between Heaven & Earth. The pillars express the dynamics of the positive and negative currents flowing between the two sides of the temple. A third (middle) pillar exists but it is not obvious, this pillar represents the student, who must learn to combine and control the powers of the two pillars – both within and without – to grow in Empathy, knowledge, and ultimately Wisdom.

The Quarters – In the Eastern quarter of the temple (cube), at the dawn of each day, emerges the rising Sun; representing the promise of Re-birth, Regeneration and Resurrection. With the newborn Sun cometh the light of a new understanding that has the power to transform the earth-bound, lunar consciousness of the mundane world. Here stands the altar upon which the old way of life must be offered up in sacrifice to Almighty God. Upon that altar the earthy nature of the old Adam must die to the mundane world if the new Adam is to be reborn of the Spirit. In this lies a mystery concerning the nature of that which is offered and why. The eastern quarter of the temple is the station of the Archangel Raphael and represents the Spring Equinox.

The Southern quarter of the temple (cube) depicts the high point of the Sun’s daily journey and as such represents that part of the day during which many creatures labour to provide the necessary provisions for survival. More importantly, it points to the work of spiritual regeneration because ‘Man cannot live by bread alone’. Therefore, the soul must not only toil to survive in the world, but also to understand it place and purpose in life – thus, to observe, to think, to meditate and to engage, with both ‘nature’ and the ‘divine’ is essential. Indeed, through such interior labour the Holy Spirit empowers the soul to grow in spiritual experience acquired in life. Because of this the South is understood to symbolise fire and Incense, representing our purified acts and selfless offerings. It is the station of the Archangel Michael and the place of the Summer Solstice.

The Western quarter of the Temple (cube) is the place of the setting sun and the realm of twilight and encroaching darkness. It represents the entrance to the land of the dead - the underworld; it also signifies a reactive state of mind where instinct rules the soul and as such alludes to visions and dreams, often of a carnal nature, both hopeful and fearful. It is from this realm that the soul must begin the long pilgrimage to the East, the place of regeneration, renewal, and rebirth into a world of light and understanding. When the body sleeps the soul engages in another life, a life that is a mystery to most creatures, including humankind, many of whom know of that life only through dreams which come and go on their own terms. During sleep, some, whether through dream or intuition, are upon waking moved to seek knowledge of the underlying reality of their existence. Thus, it is in the West the Soul is motivated to search for spiritual knowledge and regeneration. This quarter is the station of the Archangel Gabriel, the angel of inspiration and the place of the Autumn Equinox

The Northern quarter of the Temple (cube) represents the depths of night and complete stillness in comparison with the activities of the South. Here it is midnight for the sun has reached the lowest point of its circuit. The complete absence of light signifies matter and material form in comparison to the South which signifies energy and light; as such the North denotes darkness, stillness, and inactivity, and alludes to the quiet repose of the soul in contemplation, wherein it may understand the interaction between spirit and matter. For the initiate, the North represents a time of prayerful silence where the soul turns to seek that spiritual presence that lies hidden within us, buried under the layers of our own nature, the finding of which is no ordinary task. Those who commit themselves to this undertaking must be prepared to engage in the time-consuming work of Self-inquiry and Meditation for the pathway to success in this work leads the soul into the depths of one’s own being where it learns the differences between Action and Non-action, between Stillness, and Movement, between Silence and Noise in short between Self and Not-Self. The North is the station of the Archangel Uriel and the place of the Winter Solstice.

The Lower quarter – that of the floor upon which we stand, corresponds with matter and our earthly nature. It informs the novice that the material world is the foundation upon which all things are established, and that the laws of Nature govern it and all things upon it, and that as novices they are duty-bound to respect the Earth, which includes nurturing and respecting the physical body because it is a creature of Earth. Upon the Earth the student learns to appreciate the wonders of life through the five senses and the discursive mind; they are tools that must be developed and shaped to serve the spiritual life. The senses are gateways that give the soul the opportunity to see God in Nature – to see the Divine in all things. The lower quarter also represents the underworld and all things associated with it. As such it is associated with corruption, vice and the forces of evil. Thus, the student is advised to avoid vice and nurture virtue if it is to avoid the gravitational pull of the underworld.

In nurturing the virtues, the student establishes the optimum level of care for the body – not too much and not too little. Too much of the things of the Earth leads the soul to becoming a slave to appetite, whereas too little – in fasting for example – may destroy the health of the aspirant in Soul, Mind or body. To achieve this simple balance is not easy - it requires the soul to explore its own nature, to understand it, and then to transcend it. In exploring one’s own nature we are let to the interior of our own being where we learn that the chemistry of consciousness, consisting of Thought, Feeling and Image, is driven by human appetite and instinct, in short we are subject to biology and only through developing and understanding of virtue will we overcome biology.

The Upper Quarter – corresponds with the heavens, with Spirit, with the Divine, with the gods and with our spiritual source & home. It is commonly believed by many that we are creatures of light and energy that descended from the heavens and took on a mortal frame and existence. It is also commonly believed that we will return to the heavens when we die (shed this mortal coil), but not without toil and effort. Some maintain that the more we aspire to heavens, and cultivate the virtues (heavenly qualities) the more likely we are to succeed in returning, other believe that we will inevitably return, no matter what we do.

My experience has taught me that there is undoubtedly a moral dimension to our lives which determines its ultimate outcome. It is taught that the human soul is created in God’s image. That image is the ideal humanity is seeking to express; it is the divine potential that lies at the heart of human nature, and the evolutionary imperative ‘to be’ or ‘to become’ is the mechanism by which the unfolding of that divine potential will reach its fullest expression. The development of the virtues (Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and Justice) is essential to this endeavour, as is Prayer & Meditation, by which we will achieve that objective.

The left & Right-hand Path – From East to West via the south is the ‘right-hand path’; it is dexter positive and light. From East to South via the North is sinister, negative and dark. Reversing the current of light and energy from East to West via the North, which would otherwise follow the path of the sun, is the ‘left-hand path’.

The eastern half of the temple is active in relationship to the western half, which is passive in relationship to the eastern half.  Indeed, the entire sanctuary may be seen as a visible and tactile expression of a spiritual truth, where each part informs the contemplative about its nature.

Internal Chemistry – The internal chemistry of creation (cube) take place on three levels. From the top down it consists of essence, energies and form, alternatively, on a personal level and from the bottom up, these levels may be considered as biology, psychology and spirituality. What a student invariably experiences of this chemistry is from the bottom up – a sea of sensation consisting of a tangled mass of thoughts feelings and images – distinguishable only through education and observation.

Another model describes the chemistry of Creation in terms of the four elements, which are often presented hierarchically (in descending order, Fire, Air, Water and Earth), describing a progressive condensation of energy into material form consistent with the needs of the archetype. They are also described horizontally, Air to the East, Fire to the South, Water to the West and Earth to the North.  As such they represent the qualities of matter as manifest on earth, thus, the element of Earth may be viewed in biological terms as the body, the energies with the appetites and the essence with the will of the student. The element of Water may likewise be viewed in biological terms as representing the emotions/feelings, the energies with the imagination and the essence with the reactive like/dislike principle, and so forth. The internal chemistry requires a great deal of thought before it is understood.

In the service of the Eucharist, the ‘essence’ of the four elements is drawn out from our bodies and offered up to God in the form of bread and wine. These symbols represent our elemental nature; the bread consists of corn[2] signifying air, combined with salt[3] which represents the earth. The wine consists of water[4] which is combined with the spirit of the grape, symbolising fire, representing the eternal life of the soul. Upon the altar, these elements are quickened by the Fire of the Holy Spirit that manifests within the ‘divine light’. The unstable elements of our nature are thereby transformed into a new substance, the body and blood of Jesus Christ – a Divine element – which is re-absorbed into our selves during Communion. This mysterious species not only strengthens and sustains our souls, but over the course of time transforms our Earthy substance into a Spiritual substance – the body of the second Adam.

To be continued. . .

[1] p23 Sacred Art in East & West by Titus Burkhart  
[2] Ears of Corn – Air – a symbol of the immortal soul (Neshamah), corresponds with the East. It represents the winds that brought creation into being. A symbol of death & resurrection, (Osiris in Ancient Egypt, and Jesus Christ in Ancient Israel).
[3] Because of the cubic growth of its crystals salt was thought to be an ancient symbol of the Earth.  The cube is a symbol of stability, equality, and the material world, and was often paired with a celestial sphere. Because of its relationship to the cube, salt is associated not only with grounding but manifestation and anchoring the soul into the material world, mirroring cosmology like sacred architecture. (see Matthew XVI v18 and John 1 v 42).
[4] The ‘waters of Life’ denotes the presence of God as the Holy Spirit. As water gives life physically and is integral to one’s physical life, so the water of the Holy Spirit gives life spiritually. “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4.14)

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