Eliade remarks that ascension is often seen as a climbing of stairs, and cites the ceremonial staircase in the Orphic and in the Mithraic initiations. He says that stair symbolism is culturally universal and part of the archaic content of the human mind. According to Jung, stairs symbolize the process of psychic transformation in which the contents of the unconscious are brought into conscious awareness.Sound Masonic enough? Here is some more.
The Staircase Lecture is presented to the Masonic candidate in the second degree of his work -that of Fellowcraft. The lecture is considered to be quite a long one as it covers many subjects pertinent to the Mysteries of Freemasonry. Within the dissertation are explanations of the three, five, and seven steps, which compose the staircase. Yet when the lecture reaches the seven steps we are merely told that they represent the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences; and, the seven subjects are named. There are no further explanations given, nor elaboration offered but for one exception -that of geometry. Being that the seven make up the bulk of the staircase, it would seem that further light would be forthcoming. But such is not the case.sourceand
The stairs also play an important role in two other parts of Freemasonry, namely Jacob’s ladder in the first degree, and the 30th degree of Knight Kadosh. The ladder symbolizes the lessons learned in life, which, if properly used, brings us higher and higher in knowledge; however, if lessons are forgotten the danger of falling is continuously present.
The most common usage of the ladder is indeed ascension to Heaven, or coming closer to God. In Islam, Mohammed is said to have seen a ladder which he climbed up to reach God. In Egyptians tombs, many amulets have been found in the shape of a ladder. In the Book of the Dead it says, “My steps are now in position so that I may see the Gods.” Most usage of the ladder is symbolizing to go from this world to the next. However, this thought only assumes that there are two worlds, whereas most cultures assume three, the present, the higher (like Heaven) and the lower. Thus, the ladder can be seen to symbolize the different stages. Each stage can then be subdivided into smaller ones (like three, five and seven) to symbolize further, smaller, breakthroughs needed to be able to advance, such as pubirty, adulthood, and old age.
It is also interesting to note that the number of steps is an odd number. Indeed, Vitruvius noted that most ancient temples had odd numbered steps. He cited the reason for this to be that any pilgrim climbing the stairs would necessarily arrive at the top with the same step as the one he started out with. Hence, if the first step was taken with the right foot, it would be the right foot to reach the top. This was considered a good omen.
It could also be because in the Pythagorian system, odd numbers were considered more perfect that even numbers. It can therefore be said that the usage of odd-numbered stairs was intended to symbolize the perfection the candidate was expected to reach.
Also interesting is the exact number of stairs. Some tracing boards of he 18th century show only 5 steps, whereas in Hemming lectures (used in England) the total number of steps was given as 25, divided into series of one, three, five, seven, and nine.source