The Winding Staircase and its Kabbalistic Path 

The Winding Staircase is one of the most celebrated images in freemasonry and in fact is the subject of its own lecture in most states with in USA.

excluding Pennsylvania (where your author resides).

Mentioned in the Bible in I King’s 6:8, The staircase is separated into three distinct sections; The first with 3 steps detailing the square, compass, and plumb; The second with the 5 orders of architecture and the 5 senses; and the final with the seven liberal arts.

The stair ends at the Middle chamber where the candidate discovers Divine Truth. Symbolism abounds, but what if we were to take the most pertinent numbers contained therein 3, 5, 7 apply them as sephirot in the Tree of Life – and work through the path of the Tree of Life to connect sphere to sphere – we may see how this Divine Knowledge will reach the Mason who desire to climb these stairs in Kabbalistic terms.

Binah
IMAGE LINKED:  author’s collection Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

We would start in the sephirot Binah. Designated number 3 on the Tree of Life – it is known as the Supernal Mother.

It sits firmly atop the pillar of strength or severity in the Tree of Life. It is the “foundation of Primordial Wisdom”.

It is dark and mysterious – and contains all the aspects of the spheres below it (4-10) in the Tree of Life reflected in its murkiness. Known as the Sanctifying Intelligence, it is the organizational aspect of faith rather than belief.

For a new candidate in freemasonry faith is their utmost virtue. It is by faith in which they knocked, and through their faith in their brothers they endure the trials of initiation. Binah is the will to form, and the discipline placed on its counterpart in Chokmah.

And thus, a new brother in freemasonry must use the compass, square and plumb to begin restricting his actions and conforming them closer to the Will of Wisdom.

Binah to Geburah
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From Binah (Wisdom) we must path to the sphere Geburah (Strength). This path is designated as the House of Influence and “from the midst of the investigation … the hidden senses are drawn forth.”

Assigned the Hebrew letter Cheth or Enclosure, this path is closely connected with the idea of Merakabah or the throne of God. Now that the candidate is moving up the steps of discipline he is enshrined in freemasonry – finding brothers close to him and helping him keep in due bounds of his vocation inside and outside the lodge building.

Geburah
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Geburah or Strength is given the number 5. It is firmly placed in the Tree of Life below the sphere of Binah and is known as the Destroyer.

As Binah gives us the wisdom to create and design our lives, it is in Geburah where we cut through excess and only use what is necessary. The fellowcraft steps of 5 show this removal, while columns are ultimately formative and build – there is a whittling down of necessary structure from a wall to a column – in effect leaving only the necessary while removing the dross.

The senses on the steps help to point to another important aspect of this sphere – balance. By subduing our passions freemasons are taught to use their senses widely and within the limits of their compass. Engaging fully but allowing none of what is deemed unfit to enter.

Geburah to Tipareth
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The next route from Geburah to the final sphere Netzach (victory) takes us down two more paths and an extra sphere, each adding its own lesson to us as we follow the Wisdom into our chamber.

The first path is of the 22nd or Faithful Intelligence flowing from Geburah to Tipareth (Beauty). Again, the emphasis is on faith, but not being intelligent in our faith. Rather it’s meaning is the focus on that whoever is leading us knows the way.

The letter associated is Lamed or Ox-Goad and thus like a stubborn animal we are shown the way down the road of morality by the G. A. O. T. U. This route is assigned the Justice card in Tarot correspondences and from that key we can get a sense of our route.

Justice is seen carrying a sword (of Geburah) and is using that power to foster balance like the scale in her left hand. That balance is most emphasized by the next stop, that of Tipareth.

Tipareth
IMAGE LINKED:  author’s collection Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Tipareth or Beauty stands firmly in the centre of the Tree of Life. Its position is placed in the middle of the tree– and we find within it balance and the pouring of the top of the tree flowing into the bottom spheres. It is fitting that in the middle of our journey through the staircase we find this balance.

Associated with the Sun, the association with the son of God or messiah like figure is unmistakable. At this point the candidate is moving from the second to the third degree, finding that within his brothers and himself is a propensity to be the one given the keys or the master’s word.

The next path is called Imaginative Intelligence giving likeness to all the emanations of the tree. The letter nun is given the meaning fish, the symbol of first matter and the key Death is associated with this path in Tarot.

It maybe that the key of Death gives us the greatest clue to what we can interpret from this path and the winding stair. The candidate would be traveling up the seven liberal arts, but what value will these give to fellowcraft that would lead him to wisdom?

Netzach
IMAGE LINKED:  author’s collectio Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The final sphere in which the candidate lands in Netzach or Victory. It is at the bottom of the pillar of mercy, the realm of instinct and emotions and nature. It is essential to those arts mentioned as the 7 liberal arts.

As we can all attest, these arts are not static in our world, they are constantly changing. Thus, the candidate must firmly entrench himself in the history of these arts, and blaze forward with the horizon of these sciences – applying each to his life to better understand himself and the world around him.

But even as the individual can master these arts – the group can truly master them. Netzach is commonly referred to as the group mind, contrasted with Hod the 8th sphere its partner associated with individualization, these may lead us to another kabbalistic secret entombed within this lecture, the importance of adherence to the group.

Those who remember the obligations of this degree can easily see that the 7th sphere the group mind can attribute one to one to what is expected of a newly passed Fellowcraft.

In Freemasonry, the Winding Staircase stands as a powerful symbol of one’s journey toward enlightenment, drawing inspiration from its biblical origins. Were these Kabbalistic symbolic though present in the authors of this famous freemasonic lecture?

One can never be sure, but we see that the power the connections to the Kabbalistic model of thought can afford the esoterically inclined brother.

Beginning with Binah, the realm of faith and discipline, the candidate climbs to Geburah’s strength and discernment, and subsequently to Netzach’s victory and emotional intuition. This mirrors the inner growth of the candidate as he travels on his journey throughout life.

Footnote
References

Sepher Yetzirah. Translated from the Hebrew by William Wynn Westcott, M.B., J.P. Edmonds, WA: Holmes Publishing Group.
Wang, R. (1983). The Qabalistic Tarot. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc.

Article by: Michael Perry

Michael was raised into Indiana Franklin Lodge 313 in Indiana, PA in June 2021 and currently serves as Junior Warden.

He enjoys studying and writing for the Academy of Masonic Knowledge's Master Masonic Scholar program,  wherein he can explore the esoteric aspects of freemasonry and how they influence our culture and communities.

Michael is a Computer and Information Technology teacher and an avid researcher.

 

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