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What is the Symbolism of Stairs?
Jacobs Ladder

by Harold Meij

A symbol utilized in the second degree, what does this symbol mean?

The stairs also play an important role in two other parts of Freemasonry, namely Jacobs ladder in the first degree, and the 30th degree of Knight Kadosh. The ladder symbolizes the lessons learned in life, which, if properly used, brings us higher and higher in knowledge; however, if lessons are forgotten the danger of falling is continuously present.

The most common usage of the ladder is indeed ascension to Heaven, or coming closer to God. In Islam, Mohammed is said to have seen a ladder which he climbed up to reach God. In Egyptians tombs, many amulets have been found in the shape of a ladder. In the Book of the Dead it says, My steps are now in position so that I may see the Gods. Most usage of the ladder is symbolizing to go from this world to the next. However, this thought only assumes that there are two worlds, whereas most cultures assume three, the present, the higher (like Heaven) and the lower. Thus, the ladder can be seen to symbolize the different stages. Each stage can then be subdivided into smaller ones (like three, five and seven) to symbolize further, smaller, breakthroughs needed to be able to advance.

It is also interesting to note that the number of steps is an odd number. Indeed, Vitruvius noted that most ancient temples had odd numbered steps. He cited the reason for this to be that any pilgrim climbing the stairs would necessarily arrive at the top with the same step as the one he started out with. Hence, if the first step was taken with the right foot, it would be the right foot to reach the top. This was considered a good omen.

It could also be because in the Pythagorian system, odd numbers were considered more perfect that even numbers. It can therefore be said that the usage of odd-numbered stairs was intended to symbolize the perfection the candidate was expected to reach.

Also interesting is the exact number of stairs. Some tracing boards of he 18th century show only 5 steps, whereas in Hemming lectures (used in England) the total number of steps was given as 25, divided into series of one, three, five, seven, and nine.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014