Oliver Day Street defined the central theme of the Second Degree as: “In the winding stairs, an architectural feature of Solomon’s Temple is seized upon to symbolize the journey of life. It is not a placid stream down which one may lazily float, it is not even a straight or level pathway along which one may travel with a minimum of exertion, it is a devious and tortuous way, requiring labor and effort for its accomplishment. This is appropriately symbolized by the winding staircase. It teaches us that our lives should be neither downward nor on a dead level, but, although difficult, progressive and upward.”
Where and what does life lead us to? A ladder would afford a straight path for our efforts and a clear view to the top, but the winding or spiral staircase better approximates the reality of our life quest.
Each step partially hides what comes next and our goal is not constantly in sight. It was fortuitous that the ancients chose the spiral as the symbol of creative force, the substance of life. Modem scientific discoveries have shown it to be the pattern of developing galaxies and solar systems and the configuration of the vital DNA molecule.
The initial three steps teach about the great purpose of Masonry, an appreciation of spirituality. The number three and the triangle have long symbolized deity, to whom we give our utmost homage and reverence. The three characteristics of God are omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence. In Christianity, He has three aspects embodied in one. The three Great Lights of Masonry symbolize truth, faith, hope, morality and righteousness.
The next five steps teach that the physical aspect is also important. We learn about architecture, which is the science of building and the art of durability. The five orders of columns, although externally different, are but variants of the basic unit of support. Speculative Masonry presents a vision of spiritual buildings and encourages each individual to choose his own method of actuating it. In other degrees we encounter the five pointed star and the five points of fellowship.
The final seven steps teach us to develop our minds. The seven liberal arts and sciences constitute Rome’s curriculum of education. The “Trivium” of grammar, rhetoric and logic emphasize communications and reasoning. The “Quadrivium” consisted of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. The first two are concerned with measurement and are basic to all the sciences, inventions and discoveries that we know today.
The Fellow Craft is allowed to pass through the outer and inner doors into the Middle Chamber where we congratulate him, for he now understands that the concept of the “winding stairs” is not an elaborate repetition of historical fact, but rather a piece of symbolism whose meanings have led him to a higher sense of what life is and what it is meant to be. This is his great reward.
Compiled by Jack R. Levitt
Past Grand Master of California