Symbolism on the Winding Staircase – Five Steps Upon the Stair

Five Steps Upon the Winding Staircase

Modern Masonic second degree tracing board art

The second degree lecture holds a wealth of esoteric study and contemplation. In the preceding examination we looked at the depth and meaning of the first three steps as the conductor in Duncan’s Ritual and Monitor ushers the candidate into the allegorical chamber of King Solomon’s temple.  Now, the candidate is faced with a further rise of steps, Five to be exact, which is described in this text taken directly from Duncan’s Ritual and Monitor of Freemasonry:

Stepping forward to the five steps, he continues:

The five steps allude to the five orders of architecture and the five human senses.

The five orders of architecture are Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite.

Masonic Orders of Architecture

For any brother reading, it’s important to take a moment to look anew at your monitor, if supplied with one, to reacquaint the reference as it relates specifically to Masonry.  From an exoteric point of view, we must look to the point of origin to the Orders of Architecture, which turns our attention to the grand father of modern architecture – Vitruvius.

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio

Vitruvius (born c. 80–70 BC, died after c. 15 BC) is described on Wikipedia as having been a Roman writer, architect and engineer (possibly praefectus fabrum , the man in charge, during military service or praefect architectus armamentarius, the man in charge of architecture, of the apparitor status group), active in the 1st century BC.  By his own description Vitruvius served as a Ballista (artilleryman), the third class of arms in the military offices. He likely served as chief of the ballista (senior officer of artillery) in charge of doctor’s ballistarum (artillery experts) and libratores who actually operated the machines.

Vitruvian Man

The Vitruvian Man, as illustrated by Da Vinci, was based on Vitrivius’ proportions from his writings.  Those writings can be found in his collected works, commonly called De Architectura Libri Decem or Vitruvius, the ten books on architecture.  In the work, Vitruvius describes an assortment of things from town planning to aqueducts.

The rediscovery of his work in the Renaissance had a profound influence on architects of the age which started the rise of the Neo-Classical style. Period architects, such as Niccoli, Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti, found in “De Architectura” reason for raising their branch of knowledge to a scientific discipline as well as emphasizing the skills of the artisan.

Further the English architect Inigo Jones, who crafted the Queens House at Greenwich in

Hortus Palatinus at Heidelberg Castle

1616 and the Banqueting house at Whitehall in 1619,  and the French hydraulic engineer  Salomon de Caus who designed the gardens at Somerset House and the Hortus Palatinus in Heidelberg  Germany (known for its then wonders of “a statue that resounded when struck by the rays of the sun, a water-organ, and singing fountains”), and were among the first to rethink and implement the disciplines of Vitruvius which were considered a necessary element of architecture, essentially art and science based upon number and proportion, which was reinvigorating to architecture of the period.  The 16th century architect Andrea Palladio who designed a number of villas, palaces, and churches in and around Venice, considered Vitrivius his master and guide, and made drawings based on Vitruvius’ work before evolving his own architectural precepts.

Inigo Jones, for those who are unfamiliar, is also the author of a Manuscript circa 1607), on the Origin of Masonry, amongst other things.  Lomas, in Freemasonry and the Birth of Modern Science, dates the time of Jones’ Freemasonry as 1607, while he was a surveyor to the crown under James VI.

The idea of divine architecture came directly from Vitruvius’s work as divine proportions were very much a consideration in every design.  In his book of Architecture, in Book IV the middle three pillars, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, are described in by their physical traits for use in the temples of their celestial counterparts:

“On finding that, in a man, the foot was one sixth of the height, they applied the same principle to the column, and reared the shaft, including the capital, to a height six times its thickness at the base. Thus the Doric column, as used in buildings, began to exhibit the proportion, strength, and beauty of a man.”

“Just so afterwards, when they desired to construct a temple to Diana in a new style of beauty [Ionic], they translated these footprints into terms characteristic of the slenderness of women, and thus first made a column the thickness of which was only one eighth of its height, so that it might have a taller look. At the foot, they substituted the base in place of a shoe; in the capital they placed the volutes, hanging down at the right and left like curly ringlets, and ornamented its front with cymatia and wide festoons of fruit arranged in place of hair, while they brought the flutes down the whole shaft, falling like the folds in the robes worn by matrons. Thus in the invention of the two different kinds of columns, they borrowed manly beauty, naked and unadorned, for the one, and for the other the delicacy, adornment, and proportions characteristic of women….”

“The third order, called Corinthian, is an imitation of the slenderness of a maiden; for the outlines and limbs of maidens, being more slender on account of their tender years, admit of prettier effects in the way of adornment.”

The story of the Corinthian column goes on to tell of its inspiration which was from the growth of an Acanthus through the basket of a young Corinth maiden’s possessions atop her tomb.  The Athenian artist Callimachus passed it and took delight at its “novel style” and built columns after its form.  Once he determined the dimensions and proportions it was established to the rule for the Corinthian order, thus setting, literally, into stone the symmetry of beauty.

In another instance in Vitruvius’s work he details the facing of temples so as they can be experienced in a manner in line with many of the great esoteric and religious traditions.  He oriented them to be entered from the West to…

“…enable those who approach the altar with offerings or sacrifices to face the direction of the sunrise in facing the statue in the temple, and thus those who are undertaking vows look toward the quarter from which the sun comes forth, and likewise the statues themselves appear to be coming forth out of the east to look upon them as they pray and sacrifice.”
– Book IV, Ch. 5

This certainly does not predate the idea of Solomon’s temple orientation, but its questionable if perhaps Vitrivius was influenced in any way by this Judaic Old Testament writing, or operating on an older principal of Temple building.  In its simplest of thought, the older idea of knowledge, better thought of as wisdom, came from the East in the rising sun as it has symbolically represented the idea of a daily new beginning.  The word used for one who undertakes the degrees in Masonry, an initiate, comes from the Latin initiare which means “to begin anew”.  It would, no doubt, mesh with Renaissance architects as designers would see the parallels between the Old Testament Temple and the Classical temple styling to follow that same pattern.[1]

From an esoteric stand point, we can start to infer much of how this translates to our work as a Freemason, building that unseen house . . . but this also has a practical application that would of been at the very forefront of our early forbearers thought, as with Inigo Jones, as they planned and built the neoclassical temples of the late Renaissance.  Perhaps in some ways this is a vestige to our very being a Freemason, homage to the ancient practicing of our brothers in antiquity and a means to making being a Mason relevant to the teachings.

But as the degree then turns from the idea of architecture so must we to the aspect of our human senses, five in total, and their specific link to our ability to hear, see, and feel.

The degree says:

The five human senses are hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting, the first three of which have ever been highly esteemed among Masons: hearing, to hear the word; seeing, to see the sign; feeling, to feel the grip, whereby one Mason may know another in the dark as well as in the light.

Again, as the orders of architecture are of a specific physicality, so too is this treatise on the five senses of the physicality of man.  It speaks much to our physically interpreting the activity around us.  In many ways it is reminiscent of the motto “Aude, Vide, Tace” which from the Latin translates to say “Know, Dare, Be Silent” which goes further to suggest of the same three tactile senses said to be of greatest importance that they have a parallel union:

  • Hearing – knowing = to learn and understand what is being taught
  • Seeing – daring = to think on and consider its purpose and meaning
  • Feeling – touching = to be silent rather than attempting to stumble until fuller knowledge is attained

The longer Roman proverb reads – “Audi, vide, tace, si tu vis vivere” which means to “Hear, see, be silent, if you wish to live (in peace)” which can give us a cryptic undertone or a view to see the disharmony of not being silent.

This middle chamber, middle position, examination gives us much to reflect on especially as it relates to our physicality in the role of a Fellow of the Craft, but to get a broader feel we need to look more widely at the implications of the period understanding to what these five senses represented.

Cornelius Agrippa, in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, says of the five senses:

There be five senses in man, sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching: five powers in the soul…, five fingers of the hand, five wandering planets in the heavens…. It is also called the number of the cross, yea eminent with the principal wounds of Christ[2], whereof he vouchsafed to keep the scars in his glorified body.  The heathen philosophers did dedicate it as sacred to Mercury, esteeming the virtue of it to be so much more excellent than the number four, by how much a living thing is more excellent than a thing without life….  Hence in time of grace the name of divine omnipotence is called upon with five letters…the ineffable name of God was [expressed] with five letters Ihesu…

The five wounds of Original Sin – First, death to the soul (heart). Second, darkness in the intellect, the right hand. Third, malice, an inclination to evil, the left hand. Fourth, sensuality – disordered desires, the left foot. And fifth, irritability and aggression, the right foot.

Ihesu is the middle ages usage of the name of Jesus, often written in Catholicism as simply IHS which has run through both Greek and Latin translations.  In Greek, it looks like Iota-eta-sigma-omicron-upsilon-sigma which becomes IESOUS in English.  The H comes from the variance of eta which is epsilon, and rendered as H giving us Agrippa’s meaning.

Further in the work of Agrippa, he attributes the number Five beyond the senses touching on the planets, the animal kingdom, and five things as made by God: essence, the same (similarity), another (difference), sense, and motion.  He called the number five the Pythagorean number of wedlock and justice (such we could interpret as Solomonic justice) because the number divides 10 in an even scale – Five represents the point of balance.

Clearly, we can see that Agrippa found some greater importance in the 5 senses, broadening their occult interpretations.  What we can take from this is that the 5 senses can be as limited as we choose to see them or as broad as we can start to  interpret them to be as most interpretations of the number 5 have similar or like meaning.  In either case, they have a wide variance by which to perceive them than simply in the five points of perfection.

In these two discussions of physicality, Architecture and sense, we find two seemingly unrelated elements that in the second degree are intricately interwoven and presented by instruction as integral to the metaphorical building of Solomon’s temple, or more specifically, our own temple of inner Being.  Like the great Greek and Roman pillars our senses are ever increasing importance giving our physicality a dimension to the degree.  Yet, by digging deeper, through some of the more esoteric connections, we can get a sense of the power of this simple number that divides 10, a Solominc number, the number of perfection.  So here, we have reached our second landing upon the staircase.  We have surmounted our second series of steps in the middle chamber and come to a point of rest.  Before us is the next ascent which will take us up a dizzying flight of seven steps.  Though the number may seem small, its connections are many and varied and further round out the active role of our manhood which is our place of being as a Fellow of the Craft.  Behind us rests the previous three and five steps – a monumental feat of climbing indeed, but before we can claim a victory over them, we must surmount the next seven and explore their potentiality in meaning.

Part 1 – Masonic Symbolism on the Winding Staircase  
Part 2 – Symbolism on the Winding Staircase – 5 steps upon the stair
Part 3 – Symbolism on the Winding Staircase – Seven the Magic Number



[1] Vitrivius does give further instruction on temples when not able to orient them in an eastward facing saying “…if the nature of the site is such as to forbid this, then the principle of determining the quarter should be changed, so that the widest possible view of the city may be had from the sanctuaries of the gods. Furthermore, temples that are to be built beside rivers, as in Egypt on both sides of the Nile, ought, as it seems, to face the river banks. Similarly, houses of the gods on the sides of public roads should be arranged so that the passers-by can have a view of them and pay their devotions face to face.” So, what is the guide is not fixed in necessity.
[2] What then are the five wounds of Original Sin? First, death to the soul through the loss of sanctifying grace, and consequently in due time to the body. Second, darkness in the intellect. Third, malice — an inclination to evil — in the will. Fourth, sensuality (disordered desires) in the concupiscible appetite. And fifth, irritability and aggression in the irascible appetite. their correlation follows:
Death to the soul – Death of the body (heart) – Death occurs when the soul, the life principle of the body, is separated from the body, as the heart is the seat of the soul.
Darkness in the intellect (and will) – the right hand, the hand of spirit – spiritual darkness, The will grasps at things by reaching out for them in desire.
Malice and evil – the left hand, the sinister hand where our will is malice, a proclivity to real evil, to rebellion
Sensuality of desire – the left foot, earth bound, it is the foot that sets off down the wrong path of pleasure and sin.
Irritability and aggression – the right foot of strength where man’s irascible appetite is our aggressiveness and proclivity to anger.
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A devoted student of the Western Mystery Traditions, Greg is a firm believer in the Masonic connections to the Hermetic traditions of antiquity, its evolution through the ages and into its present configuration as the antecedent to all contemporary esoteric and occult traditions. He is a self-called searcher for that which was lost, a Hermetic Hermit and a believer in “that which is above is so too below.” Read more about Greg Stewart.

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