In the earliest times it was customary to perpetuate remarkable events, or exhibit gratitude for providential favors, by the erection of pillars, which by the idolatrous races were dedicated to their spurious gods. Thus Sanconiatho tells us that Hypsourianos and Ousous, who lived before the Flood, dedicated two pillars to the elements, fire and air. Among the Egyptians the pillars were, in general, in the form of obelisks from fifty to one hundred feet high, and exceedingly slender in proportion. Upon their four sides hieroglyphics were often engraved. According to Herodotus, they were first raised in honor of the sun, and their pointed form was intended to represent his rays. Many of these monuments still remain.
In the antediluvian or before the Flood, ages, the posterity of Seth erected pillars; "for," says the Jewish historian, "that their inventions might not be lost before they were sufficiently known, upon Adam's prediction, that the world was to be destroyed at one time by the force of fire, and at another time by the violence of water, they made two pillars, the one of brick, the other of stone; they inscribed their discoveries on them both, that in case the pillar of brick should be destroyed by the flood, the pillar of stone might remain, and exhibit those discoveries to mankind, and would also inform them that there was another pillar of brick erected by them." Jacob erected such a pillar at Bethel, to commemorate his remarkable vision of the ladder, and aftervard another one at Galeed as a memorial of his alliance with Laban. Joshua erected one at Gilgal to perpetuate the remembrance of his miraculous crossing of the Jordan. Samuel set up a pillar between Mizpeh and Shen, on account of a defeat of the Philistines, and Absalom erected another in honor of himself. The reader will readily see the comparison between these memorials mentioned in the Bible and the modern erection of tablets, grave stones, etc., to the honor of the dead as well as to a notable deed or event. Compare also the use of an altar.
The doctrine of gravitation was unknown to the people of the primitive ages, and they were unable to refer the support of the earth in its place to this principle. Hence they looked to some other cause, and none appeared to their simple and unphilosophic minds more plausible than that it was sustained by pillars. The Old Testament abounds with reference to this idea. Hannah, in her song of thanksgiving, exclaims: "The pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them" (First Samuel ii, 8). The Psalmist signifies the same doctrine in the following text: "The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved; I bear up the pillars of it" (Psalm lxxv, 3). Job (xxvi, 7) says: "He shaketh the earth out of her places, and the pillars thereof tremble."
All the old religions taught the same doctrine; and hence pillars being regarded as the supporters of the earth, they were adopted as the symbol of strength and firmness. To this, Dudley (Naology, page 123) attributes the origin of pillar worship, which prevailed so extensively among the idolatrous nations of antiquity. "The reverence," says he, "shown to columns, as symbols of the power of the Deity, was readily converted into worship paid to them as idols of the real presence." But here he seems to have fallen into a mistake. le double pillars or columns, acting as an architectural support, were, it is true, symbols derived from a natural cause of strength and permanent firmness. But there was another more prevailing symbology. The monolith, or circular pillar, standing alone, was, to the ancient mind, a representation of the Phallus, the symbol of the creative and generative energy of Deity, and it is in these Phallic Pillars that we are to find the true origin of pillar worship, which was only one form of Phallic Worship, the most predominant of all the cults to which the ancients were addicted.
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