The Winding Stair to the Middle Chamber
Charles A. Sankey
14 February 1968

In speaking about Masonic-things-to-live-by I have, following presentation of second degrees, not hesitated to be critical, I hope more constructively than destructively, of some features of our ritual. At Dufferin Lodge we considered the two pillars. These have a profound meaning but this appears to have been deliberately concealed. At St. George's Lodge we reviewed the seven liberal arts and sciences and I endeavoured to show the depth and brilliance of this classification, a depth and brilliance neglected in our ritual.

Tonight I ask you to look at the approach to the middle chamber as portrayed in this degree.

I wonder how many of you have read the appropriate text in I   Kings, Chapter 6.

Against the wall of the house he built chambers round about
 
The nethermost chamber was five cubits broad, and the middle was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad: for without in the wall of the house he made narrowed rests round about, that the beams should not be fashioned in the walls of the house -
 
The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house: and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle chamber into the third.
 
So he built the house and finished it, and covered the house with beams and boards of cedar.
 
And then he built chambers against all the house, five cubits high: and they rested on the house with timbers of cedar.

The middle chamber was thus really simply a corridor or cloister about 10' 3" wide and 8' 6" high along a side of the temple proper. To go up into it you had to make at least a 90° turn, or possibly a l80° turn, so they put in a spiral or winding stairway. It seems to have been primarily a means for getting around the temple, with privacy and under cover, without interrupting the temple ceremonies .

It is apparent that the pillars were not at the foot of the winding stairs, that we don't know the arrangement of the steps and that the middle chamber wasn't a really vital part of the temple,- in other words the Senior Warden's chart is not factual and is almost wholly symbolic. To investigate the symbolism I want to return to the concept of order.

Order may be either qualitative, as in beauty and as in many of the arts, or quantitative as in science. Any quantitative pattern involves number, repetitive patterns and classification. For many centuries men have taken a given subject and classified it under a number of headings, the nine orders of angels, the seven liberal arts and sciences, the five orders of architecture, three attributes of the Deity. Whether these classifications are still valid by present knowledge is immaterial nor does it matter that our ancient brethren tended to overdo this sort of thing. The number formed a convenient check to make sure not just that you remembered them but that you understood there was an underlying order and classification.

So the Senior Warden's chart has seven, five and three steps and it is winding because our ancient brethren recognized that great curves and circles were characteristics of the universe and of human knowledge. We are still finding this out. The molecular structure of the essential element in all living cells, including our own, the nucleic acid DNA, appears to be a double helix, a double winding stair of genetic knowledge.

Both science and the arts reach our minds through our senses. You will recall that there are five senses of human nature and, in some rituals other than our own, these are associated, and I think properly, with the five steps. Let us consider how one of these senses reflects through a spiral stairway both the order of art and the order of nature. Robert Bridges in his Testament of Beauty writes:

... marvelest them not - to hear the ravishing music that the small birdSs make in garden or woodland, rapturously heralding the break of day; when the first lark on high hath warn'd the vigilant robin already of the sun's approach, and he on slender pipe calleth the nesting tribes to awake and fill and thrill their myriad-warbling throats praising life's God, untill the blisful revel grow in wild profusion unfeign'd to such a hymn as man hath never in temple or grove pour'd to the Lord of heav'n?
 
Hast thou then thought that all this ravishing music, that stirreth so thy heart, making thee dream of things illimitable unsearchable and of heavenly import, is but a light disturbance of the atoms of air, whose jostling ripples, gather'd within the ear, are tuned to resonant scale, and thence by the enthron'd mind received on the spiral stairway of her audience chamber as heralds of high spiritual significance?
 
and that without thine ear, sound would hav no report. Nature hav no music; nor would ther be for thee any better melody in the April woods at dawn than what an old stone-deaf labourer, lying awake o' night in his comfortless attic, might perchance be aware of, when the rats run amok in his thatch?

My essential point should now be apparent. The approach to the middle chamber is an extension of the concept of order introduced in the first degree. Because we now bring into view the hidden mysteries of nature and science it becomes symbolically quantitative, because it reflects the mysteries of the universe it is winding.

So as a Masonic-thing-to -live-by I give you the winding stair to the middle chamber. When you reach the summit you should not need to have your attention directed to certain characters which will come into view. You will have anticipated their presence during your ascent.