Esoteric Encounters. The Queen of Sheba in Solomon’s Temple

Andreas Önnerfors


How do literary motifs migrate and translate into esoteric imagination? What is their mutual interdependence? The case discussed in this article, an episode in the half-fictitious, half-documentary Voyage en Orient (1851) by French proto-surrealist author Gérard de Nerval (1808–1855) provides us with an example where such an adaptation has taken place over the course of one and a half century. Furthermore, Nerval incorporates the Queen of Sheba (henceforward Balkis) into
one of the foundational myths of freemasonry, which prompts another, albeit larger question of role of female characters in literary esoteric imagination. The ritual centerpiece of the third or master’s degree in freemasonry is crafted around the bibli- cal account of the construction of Solomon’s temple with an apocryphal extension, the ‘Hiramic legend’, treating the murder of the temple architect Hiram. Whereas from the late 1720s and onwards the ritual narrative does not feature any female protagonists at all, Nerval introduces Balkis as a central and fundamentally plot-changing character. In this article, I will introduce Nerval’s version of the Hiramic legend, present a likely explanation how it migrated to the writings of anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) and discuss Balkis’ role as a ‘female principle’ introduced in the hyper-masculine ritual narrative of freemasonry. My reading of the literary sources is informed by both genealogical and comparative approaches by which I trace the elements of the Hiramic mythology from its eighteenth-century origins to their transformation at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. A necessary limitation of this project at this stage is to omit context in favor of content. Whereas the interplay between these two levels of understanding certainly would merit deeper analysis, I will in this piece only discuss the suggestion of French historian Hivert-Messeca: that Nerval’s adapted masonic mythology aimed at to create an inclusive and secularized spirituality for the age of modernity.

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