William Simpson (1823-99), the author of The Orientation of Temples in the Ancient World, became famous through his reporting on the Crimean War from the battlefields, but he was also a writer of many monographs and books on architecture and archaeology, as well as being a celebrated landscape painter who drew and painted Indian scenery and ancient buildings in abundance. During the 19th century he spent the major part of his life travelling around the world, witnessing major wars and events before he eventually settled down and married at the age of 57.
Fortunately, his memoirs written for his only daughter, Ann Penelope, was posthumously published, entitled The Autobiography of William Simpson, R.I., in which his life and the events he witnessed are vividly depicted. Simpson’s book, The Orientation and Direction of Temples, written more that century ago demonstrates this clearly. Other books written since have expanded on the subject, but detract nothing from his work. For those who love the spiritual aspects of Sacred Geometry, exploring The Orientation of Temples in the Ancient World will be a delight, filling in many missing pieces of an immense jigsaw-albeit still leaving a few to be found.
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.” A further two points are formed from the North-South axis (see illustration above) 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 and celebrant faced east. Other temples were arranged to signify cosmic events such as the phases of the moon or the rising of a given star.
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. According to some 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 the soul must learn to walk in perfect equilibrium, which is to say that it is the soul’s duty to rise above the influence of the appetitive nature. Various paths reveal themselves, among them Asceticism and Empathy, through either of which we may grow in Knowledge and Wisdom concerning the Law of God and how to live by it.