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THERE is no doubt that much of the material recorded in the first five books of the Old Testament is derived from the initiatory rituals of the Egyptian Mysteries. The priests of Isis were deeply versed in occult lore, and the Israelites during their captivity in Egypt learned from them many things concerning the significance of Divinity and the manner of worshiping It. The authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament is generally attributed to Moses, but whether or not he was the actual writer of them is a matter of controversy. There is considerable evidence to substantiate the hypothesis that the Pentateuch was compiled at a much later date, from oral traditions. Concerning the authorship of these books, Thomas Inman makes a rather startling statement:
"It is true that we have books which purport to be the books of Moses; so there are, or have been, books purporting to be written by Homer, Orpheus, Enoch, Mormon, and Junius; yet the existence of the writings, and the belief that they were written by those whose name they bear, are no real evidences of the men or the genuineness of the works called by their names. It is true also that Moses is spoken of occasionally in the time of the early Kings of Jerusalem; but it is clear that these passages are written by a late hand, and have been introduced into the places where they are found, with the definite intention of making it appear that the lawgiver was known to David and Solomon." (See Ancient Faiths Embodied in Ancient Names.)
While this noted scholar undoubtedly had much evidence to support his belief, it seems that this statement is somewhat too sweeping in character. It is apparently based upon the fact that Thomas Inman doubted the historical existence of Moses. This doubt was based upon the etymological resemblance of the word Moses to an ancient name for the sun. As the result of these deductions, Inman sought to prove that the Lawgiver of Israel was merely another form of the omnipresent solar myth. While Inman demonstrated that by transposing two of the ancient letters the word Moses (משה) became Shemmah (שמה), an appellation of the celestial globe, he seems to have overlooked the fact that in the ancient Mysteries the initiates were often given names synonymous with the sun, to symbolize the fact that the redemption and regeneration of the solar power had been achieved within their own natures. It is far more probable that the man whom we know as Moses was an accredited representative of the secret schools, laboring--as many other emissaries have labored--to instruct primitive races in the mysteries of their immortal souls.
The true name of the Grand Old Man of Israel who is known to history as Moses will probably never be ascertained. The word Moses, when understood in its esoteric Egyptian sense, means one who has been admitted into the Mystery Schools of Wisdom and ~as gone forth to teach the ignorant concerning the will of the gods and the mysteries of life, as these mysteries were explained within the temples of Isis, Osiris, and Serapis. There is much controversy concerning the nationality of Moses. Some assert that he was a Jew, adopted and educated by the ruling house of Egypt; others hold the opinion that he was a full-blooded Egyptian. A few even believe him to be identical with the immortal Hermes, for both these illustrious founders of religious systems received tablets from heaven supposedly written by the finger of God. The stories told concerning Moses, his discovery in the ark of bulrushes by Pharaoh's daughter, his adoption into the royal family of Egypt, and his later revolt against Egyptian autocracy coincide exactly with certain ceremonies through which the candidates of the Egyptian Mysteries passed in their ritualistic wanderings in search of truth and understanding. The analogy can also be traced in the movements of the heavenly bodies.
It is not strange that the erudite Moses, initiated in Egypt, should teach the Jews a philosophy containing the more important principles of Egyptian esotericism. The religions of Egypt at the time of the Israelitic captivity were far older than even the Egyptians themselves realized. Histories were difficult to compile in those days, and the Egyptians were satisfied to trace their race back to a mythological period when the gods themselves walked the earth and with their own power established the Double Empire of the Nile. The Egyptians did not dream that these divine progenitors were the Atlanteans, who, forced to abandon their seven islands because of volcanic cataclysms, had immigrated into Egypt--then an Atlantean colony--where they established a great philosophic and literary center of civilization which was later to influence profoundly the religions and science of unnumbered races and peoples. Today Egypt is forgotten, but things Egyptian will always be remembered and revered. Egypt is dead--yet it lives immortal in its philosophy, and architectonics.
As Odin founded his Mysteries in Scandinavia, and Quexalcoatl in Mexico, so Moses, laboring with the then nomadic people of Israel's twelve tribes, established in the midst of them his secret and symbolic school, which has came to be known as The Tabernacle Mysteries. The Tabernacle of: the Jews was merely a temple patterned after the temples of Egypt, and transportable to meet the needs of that roving disposition which the Israelites were famous. Every part of the Tabernacle and the enclosure which surrounded it was symbolic of some great natural or philosophic truth. To the ignorant it was but a place to which to bring offerings and in which to make sacrifice; to the wise it was a temple of learning, sacred to the Universal Spirit of Wisdom.
While the greatest, minds of the Jewish and Christian worlds have realized that the Bible is a book of allegories, few seem to have taken the trouble to investigate its symbols and parables. When Moses instituted his Mysteries, he is said to have given to a chosen few initiates certain oral teachings which could never be written but were to be preserved from one generation to the next by word-of-mouth transmission. Those instructions were in the form of philosophical keys, by means of which the allegories were made to reveal their hidden significance. These mystic keys to their sacred writings were called by the Jews the Qabbalah (Cabala, Kaballah).
The modern world seems to have forgotten the existence of those unwritten teachings which explained satisfactorily the apparent contradictions of the written Scriptures, nor does it remember that the pagans appointed their two-faced Janus as custodian of the key to the Temple of Wisdom. Janus has been metamorphosed into St. Peter, so often symbolized as holding in his hand the key to the gate of heaven. The gold and silver keys of "God's Vicar on Earth," the Pope, symbolizes this "secret doctrine" which, when properly understood, unlocks the treasure chest of the Christian and Jewish Qabbalah.
The temples of Egyptian mysticism (from which the Tabernacle was copied) were--according to their own priests--miniature representations of the universe. The solar system was always regarded as a great temple of initiation, which candidates entered through the gates of birth; after threading the tortuous passageways of earthly existence, they finally approached the veil of the Great Mystery--Death--through whose gate they vanished back into the invisible world. Socrates subtly reminded his disciples that Death was, in reality, the great initiation, for his last words were:
"Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?" (As the rooster was sacred to the gods and the sacrifice of this bird accompanied a candidate's introduction into the Mysteries, Socrates implied that he was about to take his great initiation.)
Life is the great mystery, and only those who pass successfully through its tests and trials, interpreting them aright and extracting the essence of experience therefrom, achieve true understanding. Thus, the temples were built in the form of the world and their rituals were based upon life and its multitudinous problems. Nor only was the Tabernacle itself patterned according to Egyptian mysticism; its utensils were also of ancient and accepted form. The Ark
THE ANCIENT OF DAYS.
From Montfaucon's Antiquities.
It is in this form that Jehovah is generally pictured by the Qabbalists. The drawing is intended to represent the Demiurgus of the Greeks and Gnostics, called by the Greeks "Zeus," the Immortal Mortal, and by the Hebrews "IHVH."
of the Covenant itself was an adaptation of the Egyptian Ark, even to the kneeling figures upon its lid. Bas-reliefs on the Temple of Philæ show Egyptian priests carrying their Ark--which closely resembled the Ark of the Jews--upon their shoulders by means of staves like those described in Exodus.
The following description of the Tabernacle and its priests is based upon the account of its construction and ceremonies recorded by Josephus in the Third Book of his Antiquities of the Jews. The Bible references are from a "Breeches" Bible (famous for its rendering of the seventh verse of the third chapter of Genesis), printed in London in 1599, and the quotations are reproduced in their original spelling and punctuation.
Moses, speaking for Jehovah, the God of Israel, appointed two architects to superintend the building of the Tabernacle. They were Besaleel, the son of Uri, of the tribe of Judah, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. Their popularity was so great that they were also the unanimous choice of the people. When Jacob upon his deathbed blessed his sons (see Genesis xlix), he assigned to each a symbol. The symbol of Judah was a lion; that of Dan a serpent or a bird (possibly an eagle). The lion and the eagle are two of the four beasts of the Cherubim (the fixed signs of the zodiac); and the Rosicrucian alchemists maintained that the mysterious Stone of the Wise (the Soul) was compounded with the aid of the Blood of the Red Lion and the Gluten of the White Eagle. It seems probable that there is a hidden mystic relationship between fire (the Red Lion), water (the White Eagle), as they were used in occult chemistry, and the representatives of these two tribes whose symbols were identical with these alchemical elements.
As the Tabernacle was the dwelling place of God among men, likewise the soul body in man is the dwelling place of his divine nature, round which gathers a twelvefold material constitution in the same manner that the tribes of Israel camped about the enclosure sacred to Jehovah. The idea that the Tabernacle was really symbolic of an invisible spiritual truth outside the comprehension of the Israelites is substantiated by a statement made in the eighth chapter of Hebrews: "Who serve unto the paterne and shadowe of heavenly things, as Moses was warned by God, when he was about to finish the Tabernacle." Here we find the material physical place of worship called a "shadow" or symbol of a spiritual institution, invisible but omnipotent.
The specifications of the Tabernacle are described in the book of Exodus, twenty-fifth chapter: "Then the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speake unto the children of Israel that they receive an offering for me: of every man, whose heart giveth it freely, yee shall take the offering for me. And this is the offering which ye shall take of them, gold and silver, and brass, and blue silke, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linnen and goats haire. And rammes skinnes coloured red, and the skinnes of badgers, and the wood Shittim, oyle for the light, spices for anoynting oyle, and for the perfume of sweet favour, onix stones, and stories to be set in the Ephod, and in the breastplate. Also they shall make me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I shew thee, even so shall ye make the forme of the Tabernacle, and the fashion of all the instruments thereof."
The court of the Tabernacle was an enclosed area, fifty cubits wide and one hundred cubits long, circumscribed by a wall of linen curtains hung from brazen pillars five cubits apart. (The cubit is an ancient standard of measurement, its length being equal to the distance between the elbow and the extreme end of the index finger, approximately eighteen inches.) There were twenty of these pillars on each of the longer sides and ten on the shorter. Each pillar had a base of brass and a capital of silver. The Tabernacle was always laid out with the long sides facing north and south and the short sides facing east and west, with the entrance to the east, thus showing the influence of primitive sun worship.
The outer court served the principal purpose of isolating the tent of the Tabernacle proper, which stood in the midst of the enclosure. At the entrance to the courtyard, which was in the eastern face of the rectangle, stood the Altar of Burnt Offerings, made of brass plates over wood and ornamented with the horns of bulls and rams. Farther in, but on a line with this altar, stood the Laver of Purification, a great vessel containing water for priestly ablutions. The Laver was twofold in its construction, the upper part being a large bowl, probably covered, which served as a source of supply for a lower basin in which the priests bathed themselves before participating in the various ceremonials. It is supposed that this Laver was encrusted with the metal mirrors of the women of the twelve tribes of Israel.
The dimensions of the Tabernacle proper were as follows:
"Its length, when it was set up, was thirty cubits, and its breadth was ten cubits. The one of its walls was on the south, and the other was exposed to the north, and on the back part of it remained the west. It was necessary that its height should be equal to its breadth (ten cubits)." (Josephus.)
It is the custom of bibliologists to divide the interior of the Tabernacle into two rooms: one room ten cubits wide, ten cubits high, and twenty cubits long, which was called the Holy Place and contained three special articles of furniture, namely, the Seven-Branched Candlestick, the Table of the Shewbread, and the Altar of Burnt Incense; the other room ten cubits wide, ten cubits high, and ten cubits long, which was called the Holy of Holies and contained but one article of furniture--the Ark of the Covenant. The two rooms were separated from each other by an ornamental veil upon which were embroidered many kinds of flowers, but no animal or human figures.
Josephus hints that there was a third compartment which was formed by subdividing the Holy Place, at least hypothetically, into two chambers. The Jewish historian is not very explicit in his description of this third room, and the majority of writers seem to have entirely overlooked and neglected this point, although Josephus emphatically states that Moses himself divided the inner tent into three sections. The veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was hung across four pillars, which probably indicated in a subtle way the four elements, while at the entrance to the tent proper the Jews placed seven pillars, referring to the seven senses and the seven vowels of the Sacred Name. That later only five pillars are mentioned may be accounted for by the fact that at the present time man has only five developed senses and five active vowels. The early Jewish writer of The Baraitha treats of the curtains as follows:
"There were provided ten curtains of blue, of purple, and scarlet, and fine-twined linen. As is said, 'Moreover thou shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine-twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet.' * * * There were provided eleven curtains of goats' hair, and the length of every one of them was thirty cubits, * * *. Rabbi Judah said, 'There were two covers-the lower one of rams' skins dyed red, and the upper one of badgers' skins. '"
Calmet is of the opinion that the Hebrew word translated "badger" really means "dark purple" and therefore did not refer to any particular animal, but probably to a heavily woven waterproof fabric of dark and inconspicuous color. During the time of Israel's wanderings through the wilderness, it is supposed that a pillar of fire hovered over the Tabernacle at night, while a column of smoke traveled with it by day. This cloud was called by the Jews the Shechinah and was symbolic of the presence of the Lord. In one of the early Jewish books rejected at the time of the compiling of the Talmud the following description of the Shechinah appears:
"Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. And that was one of the clouds of glory, which served the Israelites in the wilderness forty years. One on the right hand, and one on the left, and one before them, and one behind them. And one over them, and a cloud dwelling in their midst (and the cloud, the Shechinah which was in the tent), and the pillar of cloud which moved before them, making low before them the high places, and making high before them the low places, and killing serpents and scorpions, and burning thorns and briars, and guiding them in the straight way." (From The Baraitha, the Book of the Tabernacle.)
There is no doubt that the Tabernacle, its furnishings and ceremonials, when considered esoterically, are analogous to the structure, organs, and functions of the human body. At the entrance to the outer court of the Tabernacle stood the Altar of Burnt Offerings, five cubits long and five cubits wide but only three cubits high. Its upper surface was a brazen grill upon which the sacrifice was placed, while beneath was a space for the fire. This altar signified
THE BREASTPLATE OF THE HIGH PRIEST.
From Calmet's Dictionary of the Holy Bible.
The order of the stones and the tribe over which each administered were, according to Calmet, as in the above diagram. These gems, according to the Rosicrucians, were symbolic of the twelve great qualities and virtues: Illumination, Love, Wisdom, Truth, Justice, Peace, Equilibrium, Humility, Faith, Strength, Joy, Victory.
that a candidate, when first entering the precincts of sanctuary, must offer upon the brazen altar not a poor unoffending bull or ram but its correspondence within his own nature. The bull, being symbolic of earthiness, represented his own gross constitution which must be burned up by the fire of his Divinity. (The sacrificing of beasts, and in some cases human beings, upon the altars of the pagans was the result of their ignorance concerning the fundamental principle underlying sacrifice. They did not realize that their offerings must come from within their own natures in order to be acceptable.)
Farther westward, in line with the Brazen Altar, was the Laver of Purification already described. It signified to the priest that he should cleanse not only his body but also his soul from all stains of impurity, for none who is not clean in both body and mind can enter into the presence of Divinity and live. Beyond the Laver of Purification was the entrance to the Tabernacle proper, facing the east, so that the first rays of the rising sun might enter and light the chamber. Between the encrusted pillars could be seen the Holy Place, a mysterious chamber, its walls hung with magnificent drapes embroidered with the faces of Cherubs.
Against the wall on the southern side of the Holy Place stood the great Candlestick, or lampstand, of cast gold, which was believed to weigh about a hundred pounds. From its central shaft branched out six arms, each ending in a cup-shaped depression in which stood an oil lamp. There were seven lamps, three on the arms at each side and one on the central stem. The Candlestick was ornamented with seventy-two almonds, knops, and flowers. Josephus says seventy, but wherever this round number is used by the Hebrews it really means seventy-two. Opposite the Candlestick, against the northern wall, was a table bearing twelve loaves of Shewbread in two stacks of six loaves each. (Calmet is of the opinion that the bread was not stacked up but spread out on the table in two rows, each containing six loaves.) On this table also stood two lighted incensories, which were placed upon the tops of the stacks of Shewbread so that the smoke of the incense might be an acceptable aroma to the Lord, bearing with it in its ascent the soul of the Shewbread.
In the center of the room, almost against the partition leading into the Holy of Holies, stood the Altar of Burnt Incense, made of wood overlaid with golden plates. Its width and length were each a cubit and its height was two cubits. This altar was symbolic of the human larynx, from which the words of man's mouth ascend as an acceptable offering unto the Lord, for the larynx occupies the position in the constitution of man between the Holy Place, which is the trunk of his body, and the Holy of Holies, which is the head with its contents.
Into the Holy of Holies none might pass save the High Priest, and he only at certain prescribed times, The room contained no furnishings save the Ark of the Covenant, which stood against the western wall, opposite the entrance. In Exodus the dimensions of the Ark are given as two and a half cubits for its length, one cubit and a half its breadth and one cubit and a half its height. It was made of shittim-wood, gold plated within and without, and contained the sacred tablets of the Law delivered to Moses upon Sinai. The lid of the Ark was in the form of a golden plate upon which knelt two mysterious creatures called Cherubim, facing each other, with wings arched overhead. It was upon this mercy seat between the wings of the celestials that the Lord of Israel descended when He desired to communicate with His High Priest.
The furnishings of the Tabernacle were made conveniently portable. Each altar and implement of any size was supplied with staves which could be put: through rings; by this means it could be picked up and carried by four or more bearers. The staves were never removed from the Ark of the Covenant until it was finally placed in the Holy of Holies of the Everlasting House, King Solomon's Temple.
There is no doubt that the Jews in early times realized, at least in part, that their Tabernacle was a symbolic edifice. Josephus realized this and while he has been severely criticized because he interpreted the Tabernacle symbolism according to Egyptian and Grecian paganism, his description of the secret meanings of its drapes and furnishings is well worthy of consideration. He says:
"When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the priests, as a place accessible and common, he denoted the land and the sea, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men. And when he ordered twelve loaves to be set on a table, he denoted the year, as distinguished into so many months. By branching out the candlestick into seventy parts, he secretly intimated the Decani, or seventy divisions of the planets; and as to the seven lamps upon the candlesticks, they referred to the course of the planets, of which that is the number. The veils too, which were composed of four things, they declared the four elements; for the plain linen was proper to signify the earth, because the flax grows out of the earth; the purple signified the sea, because that color is dyed by the blood of a sea shell-fish; the blue is fit to signify the air; and the scarlet will naturally be an indication of fire.
"Now the vestment of the high-priest being made of linen, signified the earth; the blue denoted the sky, being like lightning in its pomegranates, and in the noise of the bells resembling thunder. And for the Ephod, it showed that God had made the universe of four (elements); and as for the gold interwoven, * * * it related to the splendor by which all things are enlightened. He also appointed the breastplate to be placed in the middle of the Ephod, to resemble the earth, for that has the very middle place of the world. And the girdle which encompassed the high-priest round signified the ocean, for that goes round about and includes the universe. Each of the sardonyxes declares to us the sun and the moon, those, I mean, that were in the nature of buttons on the high-priest's shoulders. And for the twelve stones, whether we understand by them the months, or whether we understand the like number of the signs of that circle which the Greeks call the Zodiac, we shall not be mistaken in their meaning. And for the mitre, which was of a blue colour, it seems to me to mean heaven; for how otherwise could the name of God be inscribed upon it? That it was also illustrated with a crown, and that of gold also, is because of that splendour with which God is pleased."
It is also symbolically significant that the Tabernacle was built in seven months and dedicated to God at the time of the new moon.
The metals used in the building of the Tabernacle were all emblematic. Gold represents spirituality, and the golden plates laid over the shittim-wood were emblems of the spiritual nature which glorifies the human nature symbolized by the wood. Mystics have taught that man's physical body is surrounded by a series of invisible bodies of diverse colors and great splendor. In the majority of people the spiritual nature is concealed and imprisoned in the material nature, but in a few this internal constitution has been objectified and the spiritual nature is outside, so that it surrounds man's personality with a great radiance.
Silver, used as the capitals for the pillars, has its reference to the moon, which was sacred to the Jews and the Egyptians alike. The priests held secret ritualistic ceremonies at the time of the new and the full moon, both of which periods were sacred to Jehovah. Silver, so the ancients taught, was gold with its sun-ray turned inward instead of objectified. While gold symbolized the spiritual soul, silver represented the purified and regenerated human nature of man.
The brass used in the outer altars was a composite substance consisting of an alloy of precious and base metals. Thus, it represented the constitution of the average individual, who is a combination of both the higher and the lower elements.
The three divisions of the Tabernacle should have a special interest to Freemasons, for they represent the three degrees of the Blue Lodge, while the three orders of priests who served the Tabernacle are preserved to modern Masonry as the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craftsman, and the Master Mason. The Hawaiian Islanders built a Tabernacle not unlike that of the Jews, except that their rooms were one above another and not one behind another, as in the case of the Tabernacle of the Israelites. The three rooms are also the three important chambers of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh.
As explained in the quotation from Josephus, the robes and adornments of the Jewish priests had a secret significance, and even to this day there is a religious cipher language concealed in the colors, forms, and uses of sacred garments, not only among the Christian and Jewish priests but also among pagan religions. The vestments of the Tabernacle priests were called Cahanææ; those of the High Priest were termed Cahanææ Rabbæ. Over the Machanese, an undergarment resembling short trousers, they wore the Chethone, a finely woven linen robe, which reached to the ground and had long sleeves tied to the arms of the wearer. A brightly embroidered sash, twisted several times around the waist (a little higher than is customary), with one end pendent in front, and a closely fitting linen cap, designated Masnaemphthes, completed the costume of the ordinary priest.
THE GARMENTS OF GLORY.
From Mosaize Historie der Hebreeuwse Kerke.
Th. robe of the High Priest of Israel were often called "The Garments of Glory", for they resembled the regenerated and spiritualized nature of man, symbolized by a vestment which all must weave from the threads of character and virtue before they can become High Priests after the Order of Melchizedek.
The vestments of the High Priest were the same as those of the lesser degrees, except that certain garments and adornments were added. Over the specially woven white linen robe the High Priest wore a seamless and sleeveless habit, sky-blue in color and reaching nearly to his feet. This was called the Meeir and was ornamented with a fringe of alternated golden bells and pomegranates. In Ecclesiasticus (one of the books rejected from the modern Bible), these bells and their purpose are described in the following words: "And he compassed him with pomegranates, and with many golden bells round about, that as he went, there might be a sound and a noise that might be heard in the temple, for a memorial to the children of his people." The Meeir was also bound in with a variegated girdle finely embroidered and with gold wire inserted through the embroidery.
The Ephod, a short vestment described by Josephus as resembling a coat or jacket, was worn over the upper part of the Meeir. The threads of which the Ephod was woven were of many colors, probably red, blue, purple, and white, like the curtains and coverings of the Tabernacle. Fine gold wires were also woven into the fabric. The Ephod was fastened at each shoulder with a large onyx in the form of a button, and the names of the twelve sons of Jacob were engraven upon these two stones, six on each. These onyx buttons were supposed to have oracular powers, and when the High Priest asked certain questions, they emitted a celestial radiance. When the onyx on the right shoulder was illuminated, it signified that Jehovah answered the question of the High Priest: in the affirmative, and when the one on the left gleamed, it indicated a negative answer to the query.
In the middle of the front surface of the Ephod was a space to accommodate the Essen, or Breastplate of Righteousness and Prophecy, which, as its name signifies, was also an oracle of great power. This pectoral was roughly square in shape and consisted of a frame of embroidery into which were set twelve stones, each held in a socket of gold. Because of the great weight of its stones, each of which was of considerable size and immense value, the breastplate was held in position by special golden chains and ribbons. The twelve stones of the breastplate, like the onyx stones at the shoulders of the Ephod, had the mysterious power of lighting up with Divine glory and so serving as oracles. Concerning the strange power of these flashing symbols of Israel's twelve tribes, Josephus writes:
"Yet will I mention what is still more wonderful than this: For God declared beforehand, by those twelve stones which the High Priest bare upon his breast and which were inserted into his breastplate, when they should be victorious in battle; for so great a splendor shone forth from them before the army began to march, that all the people were sensible of God's being present for their assistance. Whence it came to pass that those Greeks, who had a veneration for our laws, because they could not possibly contradict this, called the breastplate, 'the Oracle'."
The writer then adds that the stones ceased to light up and gleam some two hundred years before he wrote his history, because the Jews had broken the laws of Jehovah and the God of Israel was no longer pleased with His chosen people.
The Jews learned astronomy from the Egyptians, and it is not unlikely that the twelve jewels of the breastplate were symbolic of the twelve constellations of the zodiac. These twelve celestial hierarchies were looked upon as jewels adorning the breastplate of the Universal Man, the Macroprosophus, who is referred to in the Zohar as The Ancient of Days. The number twelve frequently occurs among ancient peoples, who in nearly every case had a pantheon consisting of twelve demigods and goddesses presided over by The Invincible One, who was Himself subject to the Incomprehensible All-Father. This use of the number twelve is especially noted in the Jewish and Christian writings. The twelve prophets, the twelve patriarchs, the twelve tribes, and the twelve Apostles--each group has a certain occult significance, for each refers to the Divine Duodecimo, or Twelvefold Deity, whose emanations are manifested in the tangible created Universe through twelve individualized channels. The secret doctrine also caught the priests that the jewels represented centers of life within their own constitutions, which when unfolded according to the esoteric instructions of the Temple, were capable of absorbing into themselves and radiating forth again the Divine light of the Deity. (The East Indian lotus blossoms have a similar meaning.) The Rabbis have taught that each twisted linen thread used in weaving the Tabernacle curtains and ornamentations consisted of twenty-four separate strands, reminding the discerning that the experience, gained during the twenty-four hours of the day (symbolized in Masonry by the twenty-four-inch rule) becomes the threads from which are woven the Garments of Glory.
In the reverse side of the Essen, or breastplate, was a pocket containing mysterious objects--the Urim and Thummim. Aside from the fact that they were used in divination, little is now known about these objects. Some writers contend that they were small stones (resembling the fetishes still revered by certain aboriginal peoples) which the Israelites had brought with them out of Egypt because of their belief that they possessed divine power. Others believe that the Urim and Thummim were in the form of dice, used for deciding events by being cast upon the ground. A few have maintained that they were merely sacred names, written on plates of gold and carried as talismans.
"According to some, the Urim and the Thummim signify 'lights and perfections,' or 'light and truth' which last present a striking analogy to the. two figures of Re (Ra) and Themi in the breastplate worn by the Egyptians." (Gardner's The Faiths of the World.)
Not the least remarkable of the vestments of the High Priest was his bonnet, or headdress. Over the plain white cap of the ordinary priest this dignitary wore an outer cloth of blue and a crown of gold, the crown consisting of three bands, one above the other like the triple miter of the Persian Magi. This crown symbolized that the High Priest was ruler not only over the three worlds which the ancients had differentiated (heaven, earth, and hell), but also over the threefold divisions of man and the universe--the spiritual, intellectual, and material worlds. These divisions were also symbolized by the three apartments of the Tabernacle itself.
At the peak of the headdress was a tiny cup of gold, made in the form of a flower. This signified that the nature of the priest was receptive and that he had a vessel in his own soul which, cuplike, was capable of catching the eternal waters of life pouring upon him from the heavens above. This flower over the crown of his head is similar in its esoteric meaning to the rose growing out of a skull, so famous in Templar symbology. The ancients believed that the spiritual nature escaping from the body passed upward through the crown of the head; therefore, the flowerlike calyx, or cup, symbolized also the spiritual consciousness. On the front of the golden crown were inscribed in Hebrew, Holiness unto the Lord.
Though robes and ornaments augmented the respect and veneration of the Israelites for their High Priest, such trappings meant nothing to Jehovah. Therefore, before entering the Holy of Holies, the High Priest removed his earthly finery and entered into the presence of the Lord God of Israel unclothed. There he could be robed only in his own virtues, and his spirituality must adorn him as a garment.
There is a legend to the effect that any who chanced to enter the Holy of Holies unclean were destroyed by a bolt of Divine fire from the Mercy Seat. If the High Priest had but one selfish thought, he would be struck dead. As no man knows when an unworthy thought may flash through his mind, precautions had to be taken in case the High Priest should be struck dead while in the presence of Jehovah. The other priests could not enter the sanctuary therefore, when their leader was about to go in and receive the commands of the Lord, they tied a chain around one of his feet so that if he were struck down while behind the veil they could drag the body out.
THE HEADDRESS OF THE PRIESTS.
From Mosaize Historie der Hebreeuwse Kerke.
Over the plain white cap of the ordinary priests the High Priest wore an overcloth of blue and a band of gold. On the front of the golden band were inscribed the Hebrew words "Holiness unto the Lord." This illustration shows the arrangement of the bonnet both with and without the golden crown.
THE ARK WITH ITS CHERUBIM.
From Calmet's Dictionary of the Holy Bible.
Josephus tells its that the Cherubim were flying creatures but different in appearance, from anything to be seen on earth; therefore impossible to describe. Moses is supposed to have seen these beings kneeling at the footstool of God when he was picked up and brought into the Presence of Jehovah. It is probable that they resembled, at least in general appearance, the famous Cherubim of Ezekiel.
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