True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Staircase is Upside Down

At the onset, I want to acknowledge that the idea for this entry came from a conversation with Br. Jeff Peace in a phone conversation that was also fleshed out in an article written by Worshipful Jarrod Morales about four years ago. There is truly nothing new under the sun, but the words here are mine.

Warning: The following discusses non-ritual symbolic aspects of the second and third degree.

So, what is wrong with the staircase? Let me start by laying a foundation, as all good masons should do when starting. The staircase is divided into 3, 5, and 7 steps; the first flight, we are taught represent childhood; The next, we are taught, represent youth, and the last, maturity. This staircase is ascended on the way to the middle chamber of King Solomon’s Temple, where the Fellowcraft, who has acquired knowledge and some experience, is worthy to receive pay.

This is the overarching theme of the Second Degree of Masonry as presented in lodge. Later, we are taught that a lodge of Entered Apprentices consists of no less than seven, one master, the others Entered Apprentices; that a lodge of Fellowcrafts consists of no less than five, two masters, the others Fellowcrafts; and that a lodge of Master Masons consists of not less then three Master Masons.

Notice, One Master is required in a lodge of Entered Apprentices, Two in a lodge of Fellowcrafts, and Three to make a lodge of Master Masons.

If the above is true, why is the staircase in the Fellowcraft trestleboard lecture always displayed as 3, then 5, then 7 steps? Shouldn't the staircase more accurately be 7, then 5, then 3? It seems the staircase has been reversed somewhere along the line, and we must ask, is it reversed to hide the true meaning that it teaches and more importantly, why have we forgotten that it is reversed?

With that in mind, lets take another look at the Staircase and see if the true meaning doesn’t leap out at us. The first level is the Entered Apprentice, Seven Steps. Coincidentally, this is the lodge that requires but ONE Master Mason to form. One is a clue to the first level.

As Entered Apprentices, we are to learn, that is our task, to labor in the mind. As speculative, not operative Masons, our task is to improve the mind, to begin our journey away from the material world of the profane outside the temple.

The seven steps are, we are told, represent the seven liberal arts and sciences: Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry and Astronomy. These can be broken down into two groups, the quadrivium and the trivium.

In medieval educational theory, the quadrivium consisted of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. These followed the preparatory work of the trivium, made up of grammar, logic (or dialectic, as it was called at the times), and rhetoric. In turn, the quadrivium was considered preparatory work for the serious study of philosophy and theology.

Let me repeat that last again: The Liberal Arts and Sciences are preparatory work for the serious study of philosophy and theology. They are the foundation and the preparation necessary to advance into the philosophy of speculative masonry.

The subject of music within the quadrivium was originally the classical subject of harmonics, in particular the study of the proportions between the musical intervals created by the division of a monochord. A relationship to music as actually practiced was not part of this study, but the framework of classical harmonics would substantially influence the content and structure of music theory as practiced both in European and Islamic cultures.

In modern applications of the liberal arts as curriculum in colleges or universities, the quadrivium may be considered as the study of number and its relationship to physical space or time: arithmetic was pure number, geometry was number in space, music number in time, and astronomy number in space and time. Morris Kline classifies the four elements of the quadrivium as pure (arithmetic), stationary (geometry), moving (astronomy) and applied (music) number.(1)

Let us make an advance. The second flight of steps would remain the same: the Five orders of Architecture. Strangely, only three of these orders are important to Masons, and then there are the five senses of human nature, of which only three are important to Masons. This is the intermediary flight or stage of growth. It is symbolically the “operative” step, where we begin to apply what we have learned on the first flight of stairs.

Let us make another advance, my brothers, which would bring us to the flight of three steps. This flight represents the three degrees of Masonry, the great lights of Masonry, the three principles officers of the lodge, and the three supports of Masonry. These are the highest level of speculative Masonry in the second degree. They are symbolic of the speculative nature of Freemasonry, the spiritual side of the craft, and the first step above the mental plane toward the spiritual. It is the last advance a man makes before entering the middle chamber, that area between the material, mortal and the ethereal, spiritual world.

Edgar Allan Poe, who, strangely, was one of the antimasonic pinhead brigade, though a brilliant writer, taught us that sometimes the best place to hide something is in plain view. I wish to submit to you all that the staircase, presented to us and explained at length in the second degree, is a symbol and lesson hidden in plain sight.

The lesson however, is not the one we are taught and lectured on… oh, to be sure, the lesson taught is true, on a superficial level, and at that time and in that place, it is a valuable lesson. However, like calculus, the seeds of which are contained when we teach a child addition and subtraction, the true lesson of the staircase may only become visible on further contemplation.

We learn in Freemasonry that it is a peculiar moral science, taught by allegory and illustrated by symbols. It appears that perhaps some symbols are well and truly hidden. What else, my brothers, may be hidden in the recesses of the craft whose depths we are told to plumb in the lecture of the Fellowcraft degree?

With that, I leave you with a quote from Br. Giovanni Giacomo Cassanova:
Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.(2)

May the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us!


(1) Wikipedia:
(2) Memoirs, Volume 2a, Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Paris, p. 33


Jeff Peace said...

Bro. Morales took his ideas for the "Upside-down" staircase from my earlier paper entitled "The Fellow-Craft of the 'Moderns'" about which we had a lengthy phone conversation. It would have been brotherly of him to give me credit for the original research instead of just plagiarizing my work.

Anonymous said...

I had also heard of the "upside down" staircase from brother peace awhile ago.
Remember, it is this Antient Masonic system that is turned around, the more you use logic on todays rituals, one will find many discrepancies.

I am glad theron is staring to notice the illogical rituals we are using as mainstream, antient masons.
Moderns introduced logic while antients removed any sense of logic.

Plagiarizing is weak

The Relevant Mason said...

nicely done Brother Theron. For the Brothers claiming you or others stole ideas, the ideas of education to achieve wisdom can not really be claimed by anyone, least of which those who stuggle with the simple lessons of Brotherly love.

You keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Appears someone studied at the Sen. Joe Biden school of literature

Galen Dean said...

Bro. Dunn,
an extremely interesting perspective! I will be dwelling on this for some time as I assimulate it into my Masonic education. No doubt it will become seeds for many future articles by myself and many others.
Galen Dean
Sr. Warden
Fellowship Lodge #668
Yucaipa, Ca

Theron Dunn said...

You know, its pretty weak to take pot shots at someone who GAVE credit for an idea, then chose to write about it. Not very brotherly, either. Jeff, you are right, you did talk to me about the concept before Wr. Morales wrote his well written article.

I changed the intro to give you both credit.

Br. Anonymous: Cheap shots, taken anonymously, especially when wrong, really only show the weakness of YOUR position. NOTHING in my article is taken from anyone else, except the IDEA, and NO ONE owns an idea. AND, I gave credit FOR the idea where credit is due.

Please circumscribe your desires and act like a Mason, whoever you are. I at least put my name to what I write. Plagiarism is a pretty serious charge, and you will note that not even Jeff, who discussed it with me FOUR YEARS AGO, did not claim I was plagiarizing him, only that I failed to note it was HIS idea.

Brothers, all, thank you for taking the time to read and think about my words. Freemasonry is an idea that I try to live by, and I write about it all the time.

I look forward to continuing to read your substantive comments and thoughts.

By the way, what the heck is the "Joe Biden" school of writing?

LOL, thanks!

Anonymous said...

By the way, what the heck is the "Joe Biden" school of writing?

Biden was the U.S. Senator forced out of the 1988 Presidential race after delivering, near-verbatim, a stump-speech lifted from British Labour Leader Neil Kinnock.

Theron Dunn said...

Ah, so its just another cheap shot...

I dare the anonymous poster to show where I lifted word for word anything not credited. What I did was take a CONCEPT communicated to me, and four years later, on my own, flesh it out and post it.

Ideas are not plagiarism. If they were, there would be nothing to write about, since everything in masonry is built upon other men's ideas.

Thanks for the definition, by the way.

Anonymous said...

It is an interesting concept but I'm not sold yet--probably because I'm so used to working with it the way it was taught to me! Nevertheless, the way we have it now and the reiteration of the instruction on the number three is important for two reasons: first, that the FC remember that which was first told to him in the EA: that one should have W to contrive, S to establish, and B to adorn all great and important undertakings. This admonition is essential training for all would-be artists and forms the core of the aesthetic philosophy contained within Freemasonry; it is its foundation, which is why it is first communicated to the EA. One cannot progress on to the five senses or the learning of the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences without that foundation and submission to it.

Secondly, it is very important because that part of the lecture in some jurisdictions is a part of the "long form" (it was never long until there was a shorter version) and most never get to learn this essential and beautiful advice that will strengthen their internal and external work. Without it, IMHO, they are lost.

This is why, I believe, that the stair case is the correct way and is not reversed, although its reversal is a compelling idea. However, within that idea I have not seen a compelling argument

Just my observation...

L'Homme Rouge

Gary Kerkin said...

Does it really matter who says what when we are trying to arrive at an understanding? To be sure, we should endeavour to acknowledge sources, but don't get too precious about it.
How significant is the order of the numbers? In the First Degree in my Lodge the Candidate is introduced to three irregular steps of 9, 12 and 15 inches. In many other Lodges in near geographical vicinity the order is reversed. Is this signficant? Maybe, but probably not. What we are pointing out is that the steps are "irregular" as distinct from the "regular" steps he is about to be introduced to.
The subject of the numerology of the winding staircase is interesting though. Our version (New Zealand) of the Second Degree Tracing Board reminds the Fellow Craft that the numbers represent the three who rule the Lodge, the five who hold it, and the seven who make it perfect. The usual assumptions are drawn! But Robert LD Cooper points out that the three possibly represents the original three Grand Masters of the Temple legend, the five the five orders of architecture (as you pointed out) and the seven the seven liberal arts and sciences (again, as you pointed out). The five could, of course, relate to the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch). Others have pointed out that seven is a number that historically indicates completeness: the seven primary colours; seven days of the week; in terms of Genesis, the stages of completion of the world; or the seven levels of consciousness.
Perhaps more intesting is that the staircase could be considered a metaphor for life: at the bottom (at birth) the top (the end of life) cannot be seen, and the ascent is seen as the passage through life. Reaching the Middle Chamber is the reward for a diligent life.
Also of interest is the direction. In New Zealand the Candidate starts in the North and "ascends" in an anti-clockwise direction. Most Tracing Boards indicate an anti-clockwise direction, but I have seen one which shows a clockwise direction. I can't find any definitive answer on this but the descriptions in Kings seem to suggest it should be clockwise.

Gary Kerkin, Grand Lecturer, New Zealand

Theron Dunn said...


First of all, thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

Its interesting, in my ritual, the three steps represent the three degrees, the three great lights, the three principle officers and the three great supports (Wisdom, Strength and beauty), five is taught to represent the five orders of architecture and the five senses, and the seven is the liberal arts and sciences.

In California ritual, we never talk about perfecting a lodge with 7. I have heard it referenced elsewhere, but never in the lodge or lectures.

As for ascending, the candidate starts at the north-west corner of the lodge, between the pillars at the preparation room door, then moves east, and at the top of the stairs, turns directly south, to the symbolic outer door.

The staicase "winds" to the south east, then to the north east, then to the south east, but I think that is more artistic license than ritual as the candidate ascends a carpet on the floor representing the staircase as the Senior Deacon presents the staircase lecture. This lecture is about 20 minutes in length and is all memorized.

I really enjoy presenting the lecture myself.

However, i think the lessons taught on the three steps could be argued as being appropriate at the top of the staircase because after a man has mastered the liberal arts and sciences (EA) and himself (FC) then the spiritual would be wisdom, strength, and beauty.

Its just a matter of re-looking at the symbols again from a different perspective. At the time they are presented, they are appropriate for the FC, but in retrospect, from the MM, they can be viewed again differently.

Thanks again for reading and taking the time to post.

Anonymous said...

Please read my reasoning for the W S B to be at the beginning. You will find that this too makes sense.

L'Homme Rouge

Mark said...

Is it conceivable that the staircase is not backwards after all--because it is going down? That is, going deeper?

Just a thought.

The Relevant Mason said...

hmmmm, I think I could wrap my head around moving to the center, not so much down, as to the middle.

Errol said...

It's amazing to me the amount that I have seen accomplished when one doesn't care who gets credit, but it absolutely blows my mind how shallow so called brothers get over trivial matters. At least Mr. Peace had the guts to sign his name I guess. Although a private note would have been much more brotherly. I guess we are too hung up on getting our name posted than practicing Masonry.
Theron, nice job as always.

Anonymous said...

Let us remember that the ritual used in each and every GL in USA (and/or in other English-speaking countries) is NOT identical and that some GLs even permit the use of more than one type of ritual in their jurisdiction. (Plus, let us not forget that, once upon a time, lodges in USA opened in the first degree and all the administrative work was done in the first degree, in the presence of EAs and FCs. In those days, lodges only opened in the 2nd / 3rd degree if there was a candidate to be passed / raised to that degree.)

Here below is an excerpt from the 2nd degree Tracing Board lecture as per Emulation Ritual (which is used by many UGLE lodges in England and overseas):-

They then passed up the winding staircase, consisting of three, five, seven, or more steps. Three rule a Lodge, five hold a Lodge, seven or more make it perfect. The three who rule a Lodge are the Master and his two Wardens; the five who hold a Lodge are the Master, two Wardens and two Fellow Crafts; the seven who make it perfect are two Entered Apprentices added to the former five. Three rule a Lodge because there were but three Grand Masters who bore sway at the building of the first Temple at Jerusalem, namely Solomon King of Israel, Hiram King of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff. Five hold a Lodge in allusion to the five noble orders of architecture, namely the Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. Seven or more make a perfect Lodge, because King Solomon was seven years and upwards in building, completing, and dedicating the Temple at Jerusalem to God’s service. They have likewise a further allusion to the seven liberal Arts and Sciences, namely Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy.

The comparative section of the 2nd degree Tracing Board lecture as per the ritual used in my mother lodge (which is under the jurisdiction of the GL of Scotland) is as follows:-

The Fellow of Craft then ascended the 3, 5 and 7 steps of this winding stair which are symbolical. The 3 steps represent the Right Worshipful Master and the two Wardens. They also allude to the 3 principal supports in Masonry – Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. Wisdom to devise, Strength to support and Beauty to adorn. Also the 3 who held sway at the Temple – Solomon K of I, Hiram K of T and H AB. The 5 steps allude to the 5 orders of architecture – Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite – and the 5 human senses – hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting and smelling. The first three are essential to Masons – hearing to hear the word, seeing to see the sign and feeling to feel the grip. The 7 steps may allude to the 7 days of creation, the 7 years of plenty and famine, the 7 years to build the Temple, the 7 then known planets, the 7 ages of man, etc., but more especially the 7 liberal arts and sciences, namely: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Thus 3 rule a Lodge, namely: the RWM and his two Wardens; 5 make a Fellow of Craft Lodge, namely: the Master, two Wardens and two Fellows of Craft; and 7 make a Lodge perfect, namely: the Master, two Wardens, two Fellows of Craft and two Entered Apprentices or other Freemasons.

Fraternally, ADM

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