(Lynnea Urania Stuart is away this week on a writing assignment for the RE-Source. This is an article from her files, updated since first posted in The Hieron in 2011 and again in The Transgender Movement in 2015. Some links no longer existing in the original article have been replaced in other references.)
It may begin in a dream, whether in REM sleep or in a waking dream. A transgender person may realize his or her true gender in these astral visions. It’s a rudimentary, overpowering event that may begin a spiritual journey, and indeed, the most primal systems of spirituality precisely begin with dreaming practices. Transgender spiritualities take many forms, and finding their representations in human history often points one to places that are obscure, even esoteric. But when they’re recognized, they may add entirely new dimensions to the transgender experience. The purported use of pillars in temple rites survives as one use of archetypes from antiquity that parallel the proliferation of transgender priesthoods.*
I first encountered temple pillars in dreamwork on July 26, 1995 when I first attempted hypnagogic dreamspeaking. Hypnagogic dreamspeaking is the practice of taking a hypnagogic dream just dreamed and using it as the thought stimulus for the next. The result consists of chaining the hypnagogic dreams into a unified dream continuum. The dreamer intentionally moves his awareness between dreaming and waking to relate what’s happening in the dream without destroying that continuum. This practice readily becomes fertile ground for dream study and remains a portal for further work in lucid dreaming directly from waking.
In this dream encounter, I found myself in a temple rite with 2 pillars past an altar, much like the first whimsical image. Officers occupied a dais while an officer consecrated worshipers by means of a censer. I also encountered a dream teacher who later appeared to me nightly for the next 2 weeks, even in REM sleep. At the end of those weeks, she said that others would need to help me and so barred me from that astral temple for many years.
The following month I learned about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and connected with a temple of that genre that October. I was initiated the next month in a temple quite similar to the one I encountered while dreamspeaking. I learned about their use and how they relate to esoteric teachings, many of which that order had made public. Since that time I’ve encountered other traditions that also use temple pillars in much the same way, and have found evidence of similar application in antiquity throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region.
SOME CONCEPTS INTENDED BY THE USE OF TEMPLE PILLARS
Among the things purported about temple pillars is that they represent a plethora of polarities, most particularly the 2 genders of male and female. Temples today typically erect one white pillar on the right hand, considered masculine, representing among other things the Pillar of Mercy in the Kabbalah and marks a focus of projective energy. In contrast to this pillar another black pillar stands on the left hand, considered feminine, and representing, among other things, the Pillar of Severity from Kabbalah and marks a focus of receptive energy. The space between the pillars is sacred. Nobody dares to cross between them except under certain controlled conditions such as in an initiatic rite, and indeed, passage between them results in tangible shifts in one’s body that can’t be adequately explained to the uninitiated. Spatial relationships in a temple setting directly relate to the ‘Etz Chayim or Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life requires some explanation. The Kabbalah, along with other Telestatic and some Shamanic traditions, consider the universe to actually be a multiverse, arranged in layers like an onion. These layers might be represented a different way as a ladder of spheres, sometimes compared to Jacob’s ladder.1 Those layers in this arrangement are separated into distinct spheres of existence and consciousness with axes by which each sphere or sephirah (sephirot in the plural) may be reached. The most commonly presented version we find is from Universal Kabbalah, expressing this arrangement in 2 dimensions, and may be expanded in other ways well. The lowest sephirah, Malkhut, is the closest to physicality and is commonly depicted with 4 Earth colors. The highest sephirah, Kether, is the closest to pure divinity and is depicted as white brilliance. The Tree of Life determines temple layout horizontally and vertically.
This second image shows the vertical relationship between the sephirot (plural of sephirah) on the Tree of Life and the pillars. The Pillar of Mercy includes the set of sephirot on the right hand side of the Tree of Life from highest to lowest: Chokhmah, Chesed, and Netzach. The Pillar of Severity includes the set of sephirot on the left hand side of the Tree of Life from highest to lowest: Binah, G’burah, and Hod. However, the main sequence of sephirot, namely Kether, Tiferet, Y’sod, and Malkhut stand directly between the masculine Pillar of Mercy and feminine Pillar of Severity. This is often spoken of as a third pillar: the Pillar of Mildness which alone fully bridges the full expression of divinity at Kether to the full expression of physicality in Malkhut. Logically, this “Middle Pillar” is hermaphroditic and represents the sacred space between the pillars. The existence of the Middle Pillar is universally recognized by Kabbalists of virtually every tradition, however, when ritually applied to temples of various genres, the Middle Pillar is not physically represented.
Sometimes we find 3-dimensional representations of the Tree of Life in which the Middle Pillar remains central, but with 2 Pillars of Mercy and 2 Pillars of Severity. The connection, among other things, may address the 4 temperaments or the fourfold nature of the Self, the anima, and the animus as cited by Jungian psychologists.2
Examples of temple pillars may be found in other traditions besides the Golden Dawn. The Ordo Templi Orientis arranges the 2 pillars closer to the main altar upon which the Stele of Revealing holds a place of honor. The general participants of the Gnostic Mass do not pass the second step and so do not pass through the pillars. This is reserved for the High Priest and High Priestess.
Some traditions prefer to use lamps instead of pillars per sé in their actual temple layouts, including Freemasons and the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC). Nevertheless, depictions of temple pillars in Masonic aprons and other paraphernalia show just how prominently temple pillars hold their place in their initiatic mythos.
The pattern has even found expression in the United States military, as in the emblem of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego where recruits become Marines on the west coast, an initiation in itself. The emblem can be seen by any and all visitors as a bas relief on the east portico overlooking The Grinder, upon which the public graduation ceremony regularly takes place. Upright canons replace the usual pillars with the emblem of the Marine Corps emerging between them.
THE PILLARS IN ANTIQUITY
All of this might be considered well and good, except we need some connection between the intent of gender we know in modern times and the use of temple pillars in antiquity. Perhaps, the most blatant example is to be found in the story of Cambyses the Persian Emperor who invaded the precincts of the Temple of the Kabeiri at Samothrace. Cambyses demanded to see just what was so admirable about the temple. He forcibly entered and emerged laughing. Cambyses said, “There’s nothing in there but a statue of a white man standing and a black woman upside down!”3
The Kabeiri figured prominently in the Pelasgian pantheon as major chthonic entities with direct links to Phoenicia via maritime trade. The Pelasgians, the aboriginal pre-Greek peoples of the Aegean, spoke of them as “The Great Ones.” The Kabeiric Mysteries enjoyed about as much esteem in their heyday as the rites of Eleusis in the time of Socrates and Plato.
The story about Cambyses and the Temple of the Kabeiri is consistent with what’s purported concerning temple pillars today. The orientation of the 2 statues illustrated energy flows much like Yin and Yang in Taoist practice. The statue of the woman upside down represents one energy flow, which being receptive and not projective, is reverse of the male. Logically, the rendering of modern temple pillars as white and black follow this line of thought. Varro also described 2 freestanding pillars of brass in the Boeotia temple of the Kabeiri, describing them as emblematic of Sun as masculine and Earth as feminine.4
The Kabeiric rites have other counterparts in modern Golden Dawn tradition as well, including the roles of priests as Axieros, Axiokersos, and Axiokersa as initiators. Assessments of how these priests connect with later myths vary, but most appear to view Axiokersos and Axiokersa as corresponding to Hades and Demeter. Axieros, according to some, corresponds to Cybele.5
The metempsychosis of Axieros as Cybele opens up enormous possibilities with respect to gender and spirituality. We know that Cybele was served by the Galli, (referred to in modern transgender Cybeline circles as Gallae), a transgender priesthood centered at Pessinus in Phrygia and would have figured in the religious traditions of Troy.6 The Kabeiri (or at least the Kabeiric pillars) would also popularly become identified as Penates, or household gods of the Romans.7 Virgil referred to Penates being secreted away by the Trojans under Aeneas when he led refugees to Carthage and then Italy to become the ancestors of the Romans.8 Cybele herself was brought to the Palatine as part of the Roman effort against Hannibal;9 and in Rome, the transgender priests would continue to serve till replaced with a male monastic priesthood about the 4th century CE.10
How far back Kabeiric worship extends isn’t known. But we do know that Phoenician trade enriched the Aegean at an early time and that the Greek alphabet developed directly from the Phoenician alphabet.11 Throughout Phoenicia and the Phoenician colonies (most notably on Cyprus), examples of transgenderism and hermaphroditism may be found. One center of transgender priestly work would have been at Apheca, situated on the once well-forested Lake Yammouneh and still remains a nature preserve in Lebanon. Transgender people served as hierodulai (sacred prostitutes) there until Constantine ordered the groves to be cut down in the 4th century CE.12 Their rites purportedly paralleled those of the Gallae who served Cybele, but in Phoenicia the story was of Aphrodite (as either Anat or Astarte) and Adonis instead of Cybele and Attis.13 Phoenicia would also be known for another contribution to religious architecture: temple pillars. Like the pillars of the Kabeiric temple in Boeotia, these were also often made of brass.
The Phoenician tradition of temple pillars also found their way in the Temple commissioned by Solomon. The TaNaKh attests:
“And King Solomon sent, and fetched Hiram out of Tyre (a city of Phoenicia). He was a widow’s son of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass: and he was filled with wisdom and understanding and cunning to work all works in brass. And he came to King Solomon and wrought all his work. For he cast two pillars of brass of eighteen cubits high apiece; and a line of twelve cubits did compass either of them about. And he made two chapiters which were upon the top of the pillars; seven for the one chapiter, and seven for the other chapiter. And he made the pillars and two rows round about upon the one network to cover the chapiters that were upon the other chapiter. And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin (He continues to establish); and he set up the left pillar and called the name thereof Boaz (In it strength is).”14
This inclusion from Pagan tradition seems strange to us because there’s no corresponding use of such temple pillars in the tabernacle directed by Moses. Yet, we find that the glory of God settled there, showing the temple as an acceptable place for the Spirit of YHVH to dwell.15
How was it that Phoenicians adopted the use of temple pillars? One view cites a connection between them and the Plutarch’s account of the Egyptian story of Osiris in Moralia. He said that Set, in planning the murder of Osiris, commanded a beautiful chest be prepared based upon measurements he had secretly taken of Osiris’ body. At a festival on the 17th day of the month Athyr with 72 conspirators present, he promised to give the chest to the one who should find the chest to be exactly his length when he lay down in it. Everyone took turns in the chest, but nobody fitted until Osiris tried it. When he did, the conspirators slammed the chest shut and sealed it with nails and molten lead. Then they sent it out to sea via the Tanitic Mouth of the Nile. Isis, upon hearing the news of Set’s treachery, cut one of her tresses and set off in an epic search for the body of Osiris. Isis learned that the chest had come ashore in Byblos in Phoenicia in the midst of a clump of heather. The heather shortly grew into a massive stock, enfolding and embracing the chest. The king of Byblos admired the tree that had enveloped the chest, cut off the portion that contained it, and used the tree as a pillar to support the roof of his house. Isis traveled there and sat down at a spring, exchanging no word with anyone except the maidservants of whom some called, “Queen Astarte,” treating them with great amiability, plaiting their hair, and imparting to them a wondrous fragrance from her own body. The queen sent for Isis and became so close to her that she appointed Isis to nurse her baby Malcander whom some scholars identify as Adonis. Isis nursed Malcander by giving him her finger to suck instead of her breast, and in the night she would burn away the mortal portions of his body. She also turned into a swallow and flitted about the pillar with a wailing lament until the queen came upon them. The queen, seeing the baby on fire, cried out, depriving Malcander of immortality. Isis then disclosed herself and asked for the pillar. She removed it with ease and cut away the wood of the heather and opened the chest. She wrapped the parted pieces of the pillar in linen, poured perfume upon it, and entrusted it to the care of the kings.16
Isis brought back the body of Osiris, but Set seized it again, cutting it into 14 pieces, all but one of which would be recovered with great trouble by Isis: the phallus of Osiris. Isis fashioned a prosthetic phallus and by this she became impregnated with Horus. Some say, the severed portions of the tree became the pillars in the Temple of Byblos17, but these would be indirectly associated with this Egyptian castration myth as well.
A CONJECTURE AND A SURPRISING DISCOVERY
Throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region eastward to India, we find evidence of transgender spirituality with corresponding castration myths or other transgender myths. These are often spoken of in terms of “eunuchs” because the word “transgender” wasn’t used in antiquity and “eunuch” is still applied today in those countries to peoples whom we currently describe as transgender in North America and Europe. In Mesopotamia, we find the Assinnu and other transgender peoples associated with Assushunamir in the story of Inanna’s descent into the Kingdom of Erishkigal.18 In Anatolia we find the Gallae connected to the story of Attis and in Syria we find similar with Cybele as Atargatis.19 The Roman transsexual emperor Elagabulus worshiped Atargatis.20 Other transgender hierodulai and priesthoods appear in various traditions across the Aegean. Artemis had her Megabyzes.21 Isis had her Cinaedi.22 Yet despite a tradition of transgender priesthoods among the Phoenicians and apparently the Canaanites operating in the midst of other nations who had a corresponding castration myth, we find a dearth such a myth in the Levant. The myth of Aphrodite and Adonis mentions nothing about gender variance or castration, despite its similarity to the Attis myth. Nor do we find anything in the documents uncovered at Ras Shamra attesting the existence of any such thing, though in those documents we find some of the earliest stories on earth including stories of Ba‘al, El, Anat, and Astarte.
I asked about this matter this in an e-mail February 2011 to A. O. Smith, PhD, a scholar who has long been involved in the dissemination of the Ras Shamra documents upon which much of our understanding of Phoenician-Canaanite myth is based. He told me that a castration myth is nowhere attested at Ras Shamra. Dr. Smith suggested in his response to me that in his opinion the transgender eunuch religious practices at that time may have been connected with the cult of Anat and he believed that this was more a Greco-Roman phenomenon. Most writers who refer to the subject associate their cult practices with Astarte instead. A study of transgender cult practices in Mesopotamia and the Subcontinent would contradict his opinion, however, suggesting that they were not limited to the Greco-Roman sphere but were more widespread.
One might ask why we find an absence of a castration myth in an area that not only had transgender priests but also temple pillars.
It may be that a castration myth did exist among the peoples of the Levant at an earlier age, only to be lost at a later time. Could the Proto-Canaanite peoples have had such a myth, perhaps the Natufians? Estimates of when they dominated the Levant vary between 8000 and 15,000 BCE. This Neolithic people allegedly began the practice of sowing grain.23 That would bring a cult and myth of transgenderism and castration down from the Younger Dryas of the Ice Age, with possible connection with the development of agriculture. If so, then it’s possible that temple pillars also were handed down from an earlier time.
While we have found a Natufian burial site of a shamaness, the bones thereof were clearly female.24 Shamanic cultures worldwide have evidenced male to female shamans.25 But to date we have yet to find an example of a similar Natufian burial with male bones and so we haven’t evidenced the possibility of transgender shamans existing among the Natufians. Since the Natufians thrived before the development of writing, we have no idea what their myths may have been. But further north in southeastern Turkey, a temple was recently uncovered that’s believed to have been built around 10,500 BCE, and contains 2 prominent pillars within its central precinct.26
The site today is called Göbekli Tepe. Its discovery has caused no small stir, and the National Geographic June 2011 publication of the find has stirred much controversy. It has long been believed that religion arose out of the development of agriculture. The archaeologists involved in the discovery of Göbekli Tepe suggested something incredibly audacious: that agriculture and civilization may have arisen out of religion instead.27
One writer, responding to the article, noticed the womblike feature of the temple and suggested that it may have been used for mating rites.28 That would not be surprising, especially if these people were indeed involved in the rudiments of agriculture. Sir James Fraser in The Golden Bough described such rites in connection with agriculture, for such rites were often used to consecrate fields and help to assure a bountiful yield at harvest time.29 If indeed that was the intent of the temple, did transgender hierodulai also exist at Göbekli Tepe? Perhaps. But at any rate, it’s evident that humans had a higher level of societal development at these early ages than we have given credit up to now.
Some since that time have stated that there were 4 pillars, not 2. But seeing that the pillars had been carved with the bas reliefs of what were very likely totem animals or atavisms, we can reasonably expect that these were more than pillars intended to only support the roof. If indeed there were 4 pillars, the connection would not be lost in light of the 3 dimensional depictions of the Tree of Life that persist today.
Studies are continuing and the story of Göbekli Tepe continues to unfold. But could this have been a feature that may have been exported south to Phoenicia and west to the Pelasgians? The possibilities are intriguing. For if this is true, then other elements of the religion of the builders of Göbekli Tepe should have been exported to surrounding countries as well…perhaps including transgender shamans or transgender hierodulai who may have played a role in the inspiration for the development of agriculture.
To date, these things remain within the realm of conjecture and supposition. But certain elements are clear: temple pillars were a feature of known mystery religions in the Eastern Mediterranean and religious applications of transgenderism appear to have followed with them; and that the tradition of using temple pillars continues from antiquity with gender attributions applied to them. These things are true, whether or not any particular modern order accepts a transgender person as frater or soror.
These things have continued to enrich the culture of the West, whether the temples of secret societies or the lives and contributions of transgender people. We who are transgender walk the path between the pillars of gender, that sacred initiatic space in which one may recognize a strange magick, and in such a path, some of us have realized the Divine. Some of us even prefer to remain in the place of a Pillar of Mildness made invisible, which alone reaches from Earth to the luminous crown of Kether.
*Statements relating to dreamwork and encounters within Hermetic traditions are drawn from the author’s own experience and practice and are herein intended for historical and philosophical interest. As one who has taught in a Hermetic temple for some years, the author is able to state the intentions of this symbolism in modern practices and only reveals facts already released to the public by orders practicing them. However, nothing in this article enables one to fully set up such a temple let along actually practice Hermetic rites. The author urges anyone intending to study magickal systems to seek out proctored instruction from one of the many existing mystery schools in existence today.
1. Genesis 28:12-28
2. Jung, C.G. Man and His Symbols; Dell Publishing, New York, 1964. ISBN: 0-550-35183-9, p. 30 pertaining to the Self, p.368,369 pertaining to the anima, and p. 197 pertaining to the animus.
3. Herodotus; Thalia
4. Varro; De Lengua Latina, v. 58.
5. Hastings, James; Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VI (Hymns-Liberty); Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1915. ISBN (none); 630
6. Gruen, Erich S. Studies in Greek Culture and Roman Policy (1996) University of California Press. ISBN: 0520204832, 9780520204836, 19.
7. A common belief among scholars based upon the association of the Kabeiric pillars to Castor and Pollux, citing Varro; v. 58. The verse actually reads: “For Earth and Sky, as the mysteries of the Samothracians teach, are Great Gods, and these whom I have mentioned under many names, are not those Great Gods whom Samothrace represents by two male statues of bronze which she has set up before the city-gates, nor are they, as the populace thinks, the Samothracian gods, who are really Castor and Pollux; but these are a male and a female, these are those whom the Books of the Augurs mention as ‘potent deities,’ for what the Samothracians call ‘powerful gods.’”
8. Virgil; The Aeneid, V:144.
9. Fraser, Sir James George; The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (Abridged Version); Macmillan Publishing Co, Inc. NY.196. ISBN: (none); p. 404
10. Bolich, D.G.G, PhD. Crossdressing in Context, Vol. 4, Transgender *& Religion, Volume 4. (2009) Lulu.com ISBN: 0615253563, 9780615253565, p. 107.
11. (n.a.) Alphabet (n.d.) Web” Phoenicia.org phoenicia.org/alphabet.html, Retrieved December 10, 2011.
12. Rawlinson, George; The History of Phoenicia; Longmans, Green & Co., 1889; ISBN: (none), No. 1128-1132 also quotes Eusebius in his denunciation as particularly applicable to Apheca: “ The men there were soft and womanish—men no longer; the dignity of their sex they rejected; with impure lust they thought to honour the deity.”
13. Fraser; p. 403.
14.2 Kings 7:15-21, KJV (parentheses enclose my comments).
15. 2 Chronicles 5:13, 14
16. Plutarch; Morali; quoted by Regula, deTraci; The Mysteries of Isis; Lewellyn Publications, St. Paul MN. ISBN: 1-56718-560-6, p 268-270. The association of Malcander with Adonis is later commentary, a common opinion inserted by the author.
17. Griffiths, John Grys; The Origins of Osiris and His Cult; E.J. Brill Leiden, Netherland; ISBN: 90-04-060-96-0; p. 32.
18. Dally, Stephanie (editor and translator). Myths From Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford University Press, Inc. NY (in USA). 1998. ISBN: 0-19-283589-0, p.158, 159, 282.
19. Drijvers, H. J. W.; Cults and Beliefs at Edessa; E.J. Brill, Leiden, Netherlands; ISBN: 90-04-06050-2; p 91
20. Icks, Martijn ; The Crimes of Elagabalus: The Life and Legacy of Rome’s Decadent Boy Emperor; I.B. Tauris and Co. LTD NY, 2011;ISBN 978-1-84885-362-1; p. 52
21. Turcan, Robert; The Cults of the Roman Empire; Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, Malden MA 1996; ISBN: 0-631-20046-0; p. 30.
22. McMahon, John M.; Paralysin Cave: Impotence, Perception, and Text In the Satyrica of Petronius; Koninklÿke Brill, Leiden, Netherlands 1998; ISBN 90-04-10825-4; p. 45.
23. Leinhard, John H.; Engines of Out Ingenuity: No. 540: Inventing Agriculture (April 2, 1991) Web: The Engines of our Ingenuity. http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi540.htm. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
24. Milstein, Mati; Oldest Shaman Grave Found; Includes Foot, Animal Parts (November 5, 2008) Web: National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/11/081104-israel-shaman-missions.html. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
25. Campbell, Joseph. The Way of the Anima. Harper and Row, San Francisco. 1983. 142, citing Baumann, Herman, The Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Volume I, p. 174.
26. Mann, Charles C. The Birth of Religion, National Geographic, June 2011
27. p. 56, 57.
28. Letter by William Morro in National Geographic, October 2011, p. 6.
29. Fraser; p. 156-158.