Sunday, January 3, 2010

I ♥ Phoenicia

Cruising Google Earth the other day, I came across the picture you see above, taken by one Mihaly Barosi, a Hungarian amateur photographer. These columns are just before the France/Spain border crossing at Le Perthus. Now, I've passed this border several times and of course remarked upon them; in fact, back in April I posted about the pyramid you can see in the background. But I never really went gog-eyed over the pillars.

The pyramid was designed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill and was an attempt to mitigate the damage done to the mountains by the construction of the autoroute, in 1976. According to Bofill's website:

"The garden that surmounts it creates a false perspective that highlights the temple on the top, a monument in homage to Catalonia. Its red brick columns symbolise the four stripes on the catalan flag, the origin of which goes back to the IX century when count Guifré el Pilós, wounded in a battle against the moors, was rewarded with a new banner by the king of France: soaking his fingers in his own blood, the count drew four red lines on his golden shield. With the imminent disappearance of the frontier post at its base, the pyramid became the symbol of a united Europe."

Given the fact I'd already posted about the pyramid, it's much to my discredit that I neglected to remember these two columns because I've recently posted about pairs of columns at the entrance to cemeteries and civic offices.

We've already noted that the Egyptians used pairs of obelisks at the entrance to their temples. Ditto the Phoenicians. Phoenician architect Hiram of Tyre reproduced these two pillars in his design for the Temple of Solomon. From this precedent it entered Masonic iconography.

We would argue that among other meanings, the pillars marked the transition between states; in this case from the profane world to the sacred world. The pillars represent boundaries. Thus, finding them at this border is no surprise. It represent both the transition from France to Spain, but also, paradoxically, the disappearance of boundaries altogether: a divided Europe evolving into a united one. A redistribution of space is evoked.

It's interesting that the "temple" at the top is evocative of Mesoamerican pyramids; the Pyramid of the Sun, for example, once had a temple at its summit and there are many reconstructions available which Bofill is clearly referring to.

We have already mentioned the benben stone in connection with the Voortrekker monument. This stone was a sacred stone in the solar temple at Heliopolis. It was designed so that the first rays of the rising sun would fall upon it; in this it served as the inspiration for the Voortrekker's cenotaph, or empty tomb. More germane to our purpose it that the benben is thought to have inspired not only the design of the obelisks--seen by the Egyptians as petrified rays of lights, but also the capstones of the pyramids.

The phoenix, or "benu bird" was also venerated at Heliopolis; apparently the connection between the benben, the phoenix and the sun might have been based on alliteration in the original Egyptian: benben, benu, and weben, or "the rising sun". It's not difficult to see that the Phoenix, which dies and rises from its own ashes, would be associated with the setting and rising sun. We can also see this metaphor extended in the Voortrekker monument as the continual regeneration of a people, the Afrikaaners. That a cenotaph, or "empty tomb" is involved, it's also hard to ignore a link to Jesus and the resurrection.

And why not, we've recently here at LoS had a fruitful exchange with Somehow it all ties together.

Incidentally, our friend Dave Lettelier wrote us:

"The old mythological legend of the Phoenix is a familiar one. The bird was described as of the size of an eagle, with a head finely crested, a body covered with beautiful plumage, and eyes sparkling like stars. She was said to live six hundred years in the wilderness, when she built for herself a funeral pile of aromatic woods, which she ignited with the fanning of her wings, and emerged from the flames with a new life. Hence the phoenix has been adopted universally as a symbol of immortality. Higgins (Anacalypsis, ii., 441) says that the phoenix is the symbol of an ever-revolving solar cycle of six hundred and eight years, and refers to the Phoenician word phen, which signifies a cycle. Aumont, the first Grand Master of the Templars after the martyrdom of DeMolay, and called the "Restorer of the Order," took, it is said, for his seal, a phoenix brooding on the flames, with the motto, "Ardet ut vivat" - She burns that she may live. The phoenix was adopted at a very early period as a Christian symbol, and several representations of it have been found in the catacombs. Its ancient legend, doubtless, caused it to be accepted as a symbol of Jesus Christ's resurrection and immortality."

The idea that two pillars represent the liminal or transition between states may also be found in the Pillars of Hercules. Literally these are the rocky promontories that flank the Strait of Gibraltar. They are so named because:

"Legend tells that Heracles (Roman Hercules), after traversing various countries during his twelve labors, raised two mountains in Spain and Africa as monuments of his progress. According to another account, Hercules had little time to climb a high mountain, so he split it into two halves, forming the straights of Gibraltar and opening the Mediterranean Seas to the Atlantic Ocean."

There were dissenting views; Greek historian Diodorus Siculus "held that instead of smashing through an isthmus to create the Straits of Gibraltar, Hercules instead narrowed an already existing strait to keep monsters in the Atlantic Ocean from entering the Mediterranean Sea."

The northern pillar is usually accepted to be the Rock of Gibraltar and the southern is either Monte Hacho in Ceuta or Jebel Musa in Morocco.

Interestingly, these pillars appear on the Spanish coat of arms along with the motto "Plus ultra" or "further beyond." This may indicate the desire to see the pillars not merely as a gate to the Med, but rather the opposite: a gate to the wider world. It may also indicate Spain's New World possessions and by implication, its power. A power made possible by its naval superiority.

The Pillars of Hercules also appear on the title page of Sir Francis Bacon's Instauratio Magna or "Great Renewal" (shades of the Phoenix, the Sun, Jesus....) which appeared in 1620. This text was the forward to his Novum Organum or "New Instrument." The book develops a new system of logic based upon inductive reasoning and is considered a critical text in the development of the scientific method. The Latin motto at the base--Multi pertransibunt et augebitur scientia comes from the Book of Daniel 12:4 and means "Many will pass through and knowledge will be the greater". Although far from widely accepted by mainstream historians, many authors have theorized that Bacon may have been involved in Rosicrucian and early Freemasonry.

As John Mongiovi states in his essay "The Two Pillars" (already quoted above):

"The two pillars are often depicted in esoteric symbolism [Tarot, for example] as an entry to hidden knowledge that permits the balance between opposite forces."

Bacon also wrote a novel called The New Atlantis (1624 as Nova Atlantis; 1627 in English). The novel is a mythical island "somewhere west of Peru" stumbled upon by a lost European ship. This island was called Bensalem (remember the benben and the benu?) Plot details aside, the focus becomes the workings of a state-sponsored scientific institution called, evocatively in our context, Solomon's House, where "scientific experiments are conducted in Baconian method in order to understand and conquer nature, and to apply the collected knowledge to the betterment of society." Bacon weren't just pissing in the wind; admirers of his idea created the Royal Society (the UK's national academy of science) in 1660.

The Pillars of Hercules probably have a Phoenician provenance. The Phoenician merchant navy established several bases near the Strait of Gibraltar. One of these, near modern Cádiz, housed a temple to the Phoenician deity Melqart, who the Greeks called the Tyrian (as in Hiram of Tyre) Heracles. Two bronze pillars inside the temple were said to be the true Pillars or Hercules, but ancient commentators (Strabo) disputed this. There were, however, columns in the temple of Melqart at Tyre with religious significance and we have already noted this Phoenician custom in a previous post; indeed the Pillars are said by some to have originally been the Pillars of Melqart. Given the identification of Melqart with Heracles, we might as ourselves just what difference it makes anyways.

Incidentally, Herodotus describes the pillars of the temple to Heracles/Melqart in Tyre, with one being of gold and the other of emerald, the latter "shining with great brilliancy at night." Boyd Rice speculates that this shining may indicate that the emerald column was hollow and that a flame was lit inside. In his observations about the pillars of Melqart and the pillars of Solomon's Temple, Rice posits that "El" or "Yahweh" was not originally alone in a monotheistic masculinity. He had a consort which was either a partner or emanation from himself, or both. He concludes:

we can see that even as the patriarchal Jehovah was gaining a stranglehold on the hearts and minds of his emerging cult, Hiram and Solomon remained true to the more ancient tradition of the divine couple. Rather than being heretics on eccentrics, they were purists maintaining a tradition in its original form."

At any rate, it is clear that Hiram and Solomon were followers of the same basic doctrine. They employed the pillars of Jachin and Boaz for the same reason they refused to abandon the principle of the divine couple: both represented the dual nature of God. "

Rice may be on to something here; these pillars might be considered phallic and at the origin they probably were; but a pair of them might indicate a recognition of the dual nature of the life-force. It takes two to make a thing go right, as the song says.

Jachin and Boaz, were presumed to be made of copper, although some versions of the Bible say brass or bronze. The Jewish Virtual Library offers a different explanation:

"Even those scholars who agreed that these pillars played no structural role in the Temple were divided in their opinions regarding their function. One suggestion was that they had a mythological significance, as "trees of life," or cosmic pillars; or perhaps they fulfilled a ritual function as cressets or incense lamps, like those found in a drawing of a tomb in Mareshah (Smith, Albright). Another possibility is that they had only symbolic significance, symbolizing the dwelling place of God in the Temple, like the monuments found in the temple in Shechem and the temple of Mekal in Beth-Shean (Yeivin); or perhaps they were imitations of Egyptian obelisks (Hollis)."

The idea that they imitated obelisks or represented the dwelling place of God is not so unlikely. Remember, the Egyptians felt that obelisks contained part of the essence of Ra. In Egyptian temples, statues representing the gods were also believed to contain part of that God's essence and were treated as living beings. Priests placed offerings of food and drink before the statues and in some cases temple dancers performed in order to "entertain" the god.

Melqart was associated by the Greeks with their own Hercules, but he was originally the patron and protector of Tyre. According to Wikipedia, the annual observation of the revival of Melqart's "awakening" may identify Melqart as a life-death-rebirth deity (ergo Adonis, Dionysus, Osiris, Jesus, etc.) Melqart may also be in certain contexts, the Ba'al of the Bible. Melqart appears in many forms in the ever-changing syncretism of the ancient Mediterranean world, but seems consistently to be associated with fecundity, including solar attributes, notwithstanding his importance as a sea-god. That he could be both a solar and sea god is not at all incongruous in the ancient Mediterranean context. Ra, for example, sun god par excellence, travelled the sky accompanying the sun in a boat. Not surprising as the Egyptian sky goddess, Nut--bent over the earth--had a star-spangled belly which was a great ocean. Before GPS, before the sextant and compass, sailors navigated by the stars; no weirdness need ensue for their equation of the sea and the heavens.

Melqart's cult was still active during the RomanEmpire.

Let's get back to our pillars. This article at speculates that the concept of pillars
"would be recognised by all sailors as a religious prohibition, a warning that only the approved might pass between them."

This religious prohibition might also have served a decidedly more secular purpose:

"....I propose [the need to control access through the Straits of Gibraltar was], in order to keep secret the bearings and directions to the tin mines of the Celts on the Atlantic European coasts. The Phoenicians had competitors in the Mediterranean, the Greeks in the Eastern Mediterranean and later the Etruscans in the Western Mediterranean, and customers, the Egyptians, it was important to keep them away from the secret of bronze, the source of their naval power. What better way to warn seamen that arrival at the straits was arrival at a restricted place, that passage through here had to be approved by a higher authority."

On a literal level, this may not be so far-fetched; as early as the 4th millennium BC, the city states of "Sumeria" defined their limits with canals and upright boundary stones.

Interesting in that in Bacon's Instauratio Magna and in this possible Phoenician concept, the pillars represent a gate between "common" and "hidden" knowledge. In the Spanish coat of arms it may be indicative of sea-power; remember that our friends at propose they represented a warning in order to preserve the hidden knowledge that was the source of their naval power. In The New Atlantis, it is a ship which "discovers" Bensalem, a utopian island where the pursuit of scientific discover and perpetual improvement is the predominant activity. In all cases we are not dealing with knowledge for its own sake; there are definite realpolitik concerns involved, but concerns not entirely divorced from a spiritual or intellectual ideal.

It is also noteworthy that the pillars have again and again led back to solar deities and the sun's regenerative power. (Remember Bacon's Great Renewal). The sun, as we know, makes a westward journey, like the ship which "discovered" Bensalem, and west of the pillars is where we find the closely guarded secret of the Phoenician's naval power. To the west, we find that hidden knowledge and the source perhaps of renewal. It's not difficult to imagine the Bacon envisioned the New World as the way to regenerate the Old.

Interestingly, this led me to think of Buckminster Fuller's notion that in history (which I know about thanks to Robert Anton Wilson in Cosmic Trigger II p. 56), there is a movement "westward and mildy northward" of civilization, technology and power. Googling a few phrases I came across excerpts from his Fuller's Critical Path, which discusses at great length....the Phoenicians.

Wilson points out that the civilizations which originated in the Bronze Age were all similar in that they had a pyramidal structure--alpha-male son of the Sun God at top, women and slaves at the bottom. These "sun-kingdoms" eventually conquered the better part of the world; even in the 18th century Louis XIV was called the "Sun King" and the Mikado of Japan remained a literal sun-god until the end of the Second World War.

[Here a portion of the manuscript is missing]

If a pillar falls in the woods and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That's just a cute koan to highlight the idea that there is no inherent meaning in objects. What we see in an object is a matrix of our personal knowledge, cultural interpretations and lastly and perhaps least, the author's intentions. What we see isn't reality, but a reality. Our interpretation of what we see isn't The Meaning, but a meaning. Any one of Wilson's Cosmic Trigger books can explain this better than I can.

The above is an attempt to expand upon the possible interpretations of two very evocative public monuments; to enrich the experience of seeing them. I would wager that the architect of the Le Perthus columns could not fail to be aware of the complex and varied symbolism of the two pillars; what he or she intended them to mean, absent any documents or explanation, I cannot say.

And that's just an easy way out for an essay that was leading me in too many directions. Soon, I'm gonna go all James Frazer and implicate the three major Abrahamic religions in stone fancy.

Trust me, it's not too difficult.


  1. Wow, Daurade ... well, this is another fine post you've gotten us into!

    It's difficult to offer meaningful comments on a post so well-written, so let me just list a few random thoughts/reactions/questions:

    1. Is the pyramid in the picture in scaffolding?
    2. "gog-eyed" and "a redistribution of space is evoked"? Oh, our mythologies!
    3. Concerning the notion of the pillars of Hercules representing a gate from the Med world to the larger world, and the idea of hiddlen knowledge in the west which is linked somehow to the New World ... this brings to my mind Genesis 3:4, "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." If the guardians of Eden are on the east side of Eden, they would have been approached when travelling west. And what is a flaming sword if not a petrifying ray of light, on it's way to becoming a pillar?

  2. 1. No, the pyramid is surmounted by what the architect calls a "temple" which to me seems rather "Aztec" in appearance. There are steps leading up the front, and there are small pillars lining the steps. There are also some stonework decorative elements. The whole thing is being reclaimed by vegetation. It's becoming one with the mountain....

    2. Glad you caught that!

    3. This is a very keen observation I'd never have thought of. It seems that after the "discovery" of the New World, some European intellectuals thought it was quite like Eden and the natives, though heathen, somehow closer to innocence (think Rousseau). Bacon also seems to think this....if the Old World needed regeneration, a certain corruption is implied; so I think the Eden image is appropriate.

    The reference to the tree of life is interesting, because three pillars play an important role the schematic of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. These pillars represent both opposite energies and their union. That they have associations with fire, air and water may refer back to:

    The Pillars of Cloud and Fire that led the Israelites out of Egypt, signifying the way leading to the Holy Land and thus the regeneration of the people....a fresh start, as it were....

  3. Re # 1: Aha! I see, now, by following your link to Bofill's site. In your picture, the pyramid does indeed appear to be being consumed by the mountain that was cleaved to birth this summit-pass ... so much so that I mistook the pyramid itself for a hillock on the mountaintop.

  4. A question for you, Daurade.

    Is the pyramid a Masonic symbol?

    It would make sense, insofar as Egypt's pyramids are, I would think, the universal crowning masonic (with a little "m") achievement.

    On the other hand, you have, several times (correct me if I'm presenting you incorrectly here) described the pyramid as a metaphor for certain societies, with a lone ruler on top and the mass of serfs at the base -- and this would seem to run counter to the notion of the Masonic (capital "M") level as a symbol of the leveling of society (or have I got that one wrong about the level)?

  5. The answer is yes and no. See here for a cop-out:

    This is also relevant:

    As I typed that, oddly, a friend in the other office yelled out: "go here":

    "Pyramid" isn't in Mackey's Encyclopedia of all things Masonic, although it does come into play in his discussion of triangles, which are very important Masonic symbols.

    I still think the use of the Pyramid as I've seen it is a metaphor just as you describe it. That does in fact run counter to Masonic thought.

    The clearest answer to reseolve this contradiction is that Masonry is composed of a variety of people with differing political beliefs; the interpretations and meaning of the symbols are many; no single meaning is universal. Same with the pyramid.

    Another part of this is that in those posts, I hold to my interpreation of the symbol, but remember I was pretty far into exploring the synchromystic/conspiracy theory mindset and everything I wrote then was definitely tinged with that....which doesn't mean I deny it now.

    I have to reflect on this....

  6. I find that Egyptian symbolism in Freemasonry to be interesting. Also, I did not know that pillars predated Hiram and Solomon in a symbolic nature. Very interesting read.

  7. Thanks U.F. I think thee's a lot of stuff out there about the Egyptian revival, the Enlightenment, etc. I don't these can be fully studied without looking into Freemasonry.

    Thanks for commenting.

    One day I'd like to do a bit about Mormonism and Freemasonry, but it's a complex and "polemic" subject, to be sure!


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