Q. Why may the three principal rounds of this ladder be also said to emblematically represent "faith, hope, and charity?"
A. When the sun has reached his lowest southern declination, and begins to ascend toward the vernal equinox, we have nothing but faith in the goodness of God and the immutability of the laws of nature to sustain our belief that the sun will once more "unlock the golden gates of spring"; but, when the sun enters Pisces (K) and ascends the second round of the ladder, hope is added to our faith, for the sun is seen already to have climbed up two thirds of the distance required to reach the vernal equinox; and when, at last, on the 21st of March, he mounts the third round of the ladder and enters Aries (°Y°), the "sweet influences of the Pleiades" are once more felt, while beneath the warm rays of the vernal sun the snows dissolve, and the earth begins again "to put on her beautiful attire." "For lo! the winter is past, and the flowers appear on the earth, and the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land." The third and last round of the zodiacal ladder is therefore emblematic of charity, or that divine love and benevolence which each year cause the springtime to come in due season. So ought we all to have faith in God, hope in a blessed immortality (emblematically represented by the vernal equinox), and charity to all mankind.
The three steps delineated on the master's carpet have an obvious reference to the three steps, or degrees, by which the initiated becomes a master mason. They are, however, capable of an astronomical explanation also, and may be said to allude to the three signs, Taurus, Gemini, and Cancer (emblematic of three steps), by means of which the sun (having already 116
reached the vernal equinox by means of the zodiacal ladder) ascends to the summit of the Royal Arch at the summer solstice, which point is, as already explained, emblematic of the master's degree.
Q. According to the legend of the "middle chamber" of the fellow-craft's degree, the workmen were paid their wages in the middle chamber of King Solomon's temple, which was approached by a certain flight of "winding steps." This staircase is said to have consisted of "three, five, and seven steps" (according to our lecture), and was reached by entering in at the front door of the temple, passing between the pillars of the porch. (See Mackey's "Symbolism," Chapter XXVI.) What is the astronomical import and real meaning of this legend?
A. The only allusion to these "winding stairs" in the Bible is found in the sixth chapter of 1 Kings. In the fifth verse we are informed that King Solomon "built chambers round about against the walls of the house" The sixth verse continues as follows:
The nethermost chamber was five cubits broad, and the middle chamber was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad, for without in the walls of the house he made narrow rests round about, that the beams should not be fastened in the walls of the house.
The eighth verse informs us that the door for the middle chamber was on the right side [Hebrew, "shoulder"] of the house, and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the midst of the middle into the third.
The only information which Josephus gives may be found in Chapter III, Book VIII, of his "Antiquities," and is as follows:
He [Solomon] also built about the temple thirty small rooms, which might include [i.e., surround] the whole temple by their closeness one to another, and by their number and outward position round it. He also made passages through them, that they might come into one through another. Every one of these rooms had five cubits in breadth, and the same in length, but in height twenty. Above these were other rooms, and others above them, equal both in their measures and numbers, so that these reached to a height equal to the lower part of the house, for the upper part had no buildings about it. The roof that was over the house was of cedar: and, truly, every one of these rooms had a roof of its own that was not connected with the other rooms, but for the other parts there was a covered roof common to them all The king had also a fine contrivance for an ascent to the upper room over the temple, and that was by steps cut in the thickness of the wall, for it had no large door on the east end, as the lower house had, but the entrances were by the sides through very small doors.
The above extracts comprise all the information which reliable history, either sacred or profane, furnishes in regard to the "middle chamber" and the "winding stairs" by which it was reached. It is evident, both from the Bible and from Jose-phus, that the "middle chamber" and the "winding stairs" by which it was reached. It is evident, both from the Bible and from Josephus, that the "middle chamber" was no part of the temple proper; nor, indeed, was it permitted to be fastened to the sacred walls. (See 1 Kings 6, 5, just quoted.) All the chambers were built around the outside of the walls, and were reached from the side, so that in going up to the "middle chamber" a person not only did not pass between the pillars of the porch, but did not enter in or pass through any portion whatever of the temple itself. The steps, according to Jose-phus, were "cut in the thickness of the wall outside." In view of these authorities, although he does not quote them, Dr. Mackey may well say that the historical facts and the architectural details alike forbid us for a moment to suppose that the legend [of the winding stairs], as it is rehearsed in the second degree of masonry, is anything more than a magnificent philosophical myth. (Symbolism," Chapter XXVI)
But if it is a "philosophical myth" it must have a symbolical meaning, and be emblematic in its character. The very essence of symbolical teaching consists of the method of selecting some fact or some real object in nature, art, or science, and by investing it with an emblematic significance through comparison, thus teaching and illustrating some moral or political doctrine. The anchor is thus made an emblem and illustration of hope, the beehive of industry, the scythe of time or death. A real anchor, beehive, or scythe is, however, required as a foundation for this allegorical teaching. If, therefore, the "legend of the winding stairs" is a "philosophical myth," either the actual or the emblematic stairs must have a real existence somewhere, or they could not have been selected or used for the purpose of conveying a philosophical, symbolical, or allegorical lesson. The "winding steps," as described in the masonic legend, did not exist in the temple of King Solomon, as we has shown, not only by Josephus, but the bible itself. We must, therefore, look elsewhere for them. Now as all the other leading emblems of masonry have an astronomical orgin, it is but reasonable to suppose that these very same "winding steps," leading to the place where the wages of the craft are paid, will be found in that other "temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." As they are not to be found in the actual temple, let us look for them in the emblematic one.
But, before doing so, it will be necessary to determine more exactly the proper number of these emblematic steps, for their stated number seems to have varied at different periods and according to different versions of the legend. Dr. Oliver mentions an old "tracing-board," published in 1745, in which the steps are semicircular, and are but seven in number. Dr. Mackey says, on page 221 of his "Symbolism," that tracing boards of the last century have been found in which only five steps are delineated, and others in which they amount to seven. The Prestonian lectures used in England in the beginning of this century gave the whole number as thirty-six, divided into series of one, three, five, seven, nine, and eleven The Hemming lectures, adopted by the union of the two grand lodges of England, struck out the eleven In the United States the number was still further reduced to fifteen, divided into three series of three, five, and seven.
It thus appears that there has been considerable confusion as to the correct number of these symbolical steps. The most ancient versions of the legend make the number either five or seven. Now it is a very safe rule to adopt as to all traditions, including those of masonry, that the older the version the more correct it probably is, for the further back we trace any legend the nearer we will approach the time of its origin, and, consequently, its primitive and uncorrupted form. Applying this rule to the case under consideration, we may safely conclude that the proper number of steps in those "winding stairs" is either five or seven. If, however, we succeed in finding the steps themselves properly located in the emblematic temple, and leading to the very place where the craft receive their wages, we shall be able to determine their exact number by actual count.
The building of the temple, represented emblematically by the Royal Arch of heaven, was commenced in the spring and finished in the autumn. It was, therefore, said to be seven years in building, as has been previously explained. The spring signs, during which the plowing and planting are done, are typical of the E. A. degree; the summer months, when the growing grain requires constant care for its protection, of the F. C. degree; and the season in which the harvests are gathered and stored away, of the M. M. degree, and those skilled workmen who wrought at the completion of the temple.
During the progress of the sun from the vernal equinox to the summer solstice, the husbandman is engaged in preparing the soil and sowing his seeds; during the passage of the sun from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox, he is employed in protecting his maturing crops. In July and August the corn ripens and is harvested, and in the autumn the oil and wine also reward him for his labors.
The wages of the faithful craftsmen, we are told, are "corn, oil, and wine." The seven signs of the zodiac, from the vernal equinox to the first point of Scorpio, "winding" in a glittering curve about the heavens, may in a like manner be said to be emblematic of seven winding steps, leading to the place where—
Corn, Oil, and Wine
—are brought forth to reward the labors of the husbandman. The sun arrives at Aries on the 21st of March, and reaches Scorpio about the 21st of October, passing successively through H, 23, ¿1, ify, and The number of these emblematic steps is therefore seven, thus corresponding with the more ancient versions of the fellow-craft legend; and it will also be observed that they are really semicircular in form. This perfectly harmonizes with the "seven semicircular steps" of the ancient "tracing-board" mentioned by Dr. Oliver. It is also worthy of notice that, just as that part of the year embraced within these seven signs may be divided into three periods—1. That of plowing and planting; 2. That of growing and maturing; and, 3. That of harvesting and storing—so these emblematic steps may also be divided into three groups, which find an appropriate expression in the numbers 3, 5, and 7. The first three signs, Aries, Taurus, and Gemini, denote the season of plowing and planting. The next, two, Cancer and Leo, making five from the vernal equinox, denote the period during which the crops ripen and mature; and the last two, Virgo and Libra, making seven in all, rule the harvest-season—and the storing away of the corn, oil, and wine, with which the solar bounty has rewarded the labors of the faithful husbandman.
The American division of the steps into three groups, expressive of the numbers 3, 5, and 7, is therefore correct, but the total number of steps is seven, and not fifteen. It is easy to see how this latter error, as to the mystic import of the numbers 3, 5 and 7 was made, in consequence of the true nature of the symbolism of the seven steps being lost.
The legend of the "winding stairs" informs us that they conducted between the two pillars of the porch. Dr. Oliver, in his "Landmarks" (note 19 to Lecture XVI), says that "the equinoctial points are called pillars, because the great semicircle, or upper hemisphere, seems to rest upon them." If this symbolism be correct, then, the "winding stairs" do, in fact, lead past and between these celestial pillars, in perfect harmony with the allegory of the legend. Thus explained, the legend of the "winding stairs," leading to the place where "corn, oil, and wine" are delivered as a reward to the faithful laborer in the vineyard, is a most beautiful and significant astronomical allegory. Like all the other astronomical allegories and symbols of Freemasonry, it not only (when properly understood) reveals important and valuable scientific facts respecting the movements of the heavenly bodies, but at one and the same time inculcates, in a sublime and impressive manner, great moral truths. It teaches us, among other things, that industry not only deserves but receives its due reward. It also displays the benevolence of the Great Creator, who causes the earth to bring forth her fruits in due season:
He watereth the hills from above;
The earth is filled with the fruit of his works;
He bringeth forth the grass for the cattle, And the green herb for the service of man:
That he may bring forth fruit out of the earth; And wine, that maketh glad the heart of man;
And oil, to make him a cheerful countenance; And bread, to strengthen man's heart.
It reminds us also of the covenant which God made with Noah in the olden time: "That he would no more curse the ground for man's sake; but that while the earth remained seedtime and harvest should not cease" (Genesis 8:21-22). These and many other important lessens are taught by the astro-masonic symbol of the "winding stairs"; and those lessens are made still more impressive from the fact that the Archetype of these "winding stairs" is not to be found in any transitory, earthly mansion, but far above, set in the eternal majesty of the starry firmament.
The Blazing Star
Q. To what does the masonic emblem of the Blazing Star allude?
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