The Masonic Trowel

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Grand Lodge of Texas

The Winding Stairs forms an important tradition in Freemasonry and is the focus of the lecture of the Fellowcraft degree. While being prominent within the lecture, there is very little reference to this staircase in Biblical accounts of King Solomon’s Temple. In I Kings 6:8 one reads, “The entrance to the lowest floor was on the south side of the temple; a stairway led up to the middle level and from there to the third.” (NIV) Out of this limited reference, Freemasonry has constructed an allegory that can only be interpreted from a symbolic standpoint.

The Winding Stairs is an impressive and significant Masonic symbol when carefully examined. A critical study suggests that the Winding Stairs might veil more different subjects than any other Masonic symbol. It represents allegories as well as symbolic truths. It embodies science as well as moral and spiritual truths. The splendor of the conception of the Winding Stairs is one of the most interesting examples of symbolic concealment practiced by our early Masonic ritualists.

The allusion of the Winding Stairs leading to the middle chamber of the Temple is apparently a veil to divert the mind from many interesting symbols along the way that are overlooked unless the Mason carefully considers the journey into the middle chamber. In the Biblical account, nothing is said about the two columns at the foot of the stairs; no reference to the globes upon the columns; nothing to show the number of steps contained in the stairway; or that the steps were divided into three series of three, five, and seven steps. There is nothing to suggest the three degrees of initiation, nor imply the five steps represented the five Orders of Architecture or the five human senses, nor indicate that the seven steps led through the liberal arts and sciences.

In fact, one should consider the Winding Stairs as a compound symbol that is constructed to bring together several separate symbols found in the three degrees. Each of these symbols has their own separate significance when used alone. Yet when brought together in a single symbol, it represents a most interesting lesson within the allegory.

The two columns and the globes thereon are symbols belonging to the Entered Apprentice Degree, the three steps are symbols belonging to the Master’s Degree, while the five and seven steps are essential elements of the Fellowcraft Degree. The symbol as a whole can be thought of as depicting the new initiate emerging from the profane world about to begin his journey from darkness in search of moral, mental and spiritual light. If he succeeds in completing his journey, and in acquiring the lessons along the way, he has the hope of attaining a special understanding of his relationship to God that he could not obtain without careful introspection.

The Entered Apprentice begins his symbolic journey in search of Masonic light and knowledge at a point between replicas of the two columns, which undoubtedly represent the columns of Jachin and Boaz of King Solomon’s Temple. The First Degree in Masonry is designed to be only a preparation and purification for a nobler and higher purpose. The lessons are primarily intended to prepare the recipient for the mental, moral, and spiritual light that is to be achieved in the succeeding degrees.

It is therefore in the Second Degree that the real intellectual work begins. The candidate finds stretching out before him the winding stairs, a symbol of discipline and instruction, inviting him to ascend, and teaching him that he must commence his real Masonic labor. Here he enters upon those glorious yet difficult researches in the laborious task of self-improvement now placed before him as a duty. He cannot stand still if he is a true Mason. His Masonic destiny requires him to ascend the winding stairs, step by step, until he has reached the summit, where the treasures of knowledge await him. For the faithful performance of this task a reward is promised. The reward is improvement of his intellectual facilities; the moral and spiritual elevation of his character; and the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom.

Here he proceeds onward and upward through the liberal arts and sciences where he will find divine laws by which the Great Architect creates, preserves, and rules the wonderful universe in which we are fortunate enough to live. Thus it appears that the Winding Stairs represents the progress of an inquiring mind and a sincere heart, through toils and labor of the intellect, in acquiring an understanding of the sciences displayed upon the steps. This is a preliminary step toward the attainment of divine truths, which every Mason should pursue in his quest for self-improvement, on a journey that never ends.

If the Winding Stairs did nothing more than point out the pathway for the attainment of true Masonic light and knowledge, it should be one of the more treasured Masonic symbols. However, it contains much more than a simple inspection uncovers. The seeker of true Masonic light will miss much if he remains satisfied with the Monitorial explanations of the Winding Stairs. He must zealously study this important symbol and the ascending journey it represents to discover true Masonic knowledge that is finally reflected at the very top of the stairs, “which none but true craftsmen can ever see and fully comprehend.” 

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Last modified: March 22, 2014