Being interested in the stairs at the Ashmolean, I have chosen to first look at the symbolism associated with stairs to see if this gives me any ideas for a starting point for my project.
Through research I have discovered that the ladder is frequently used to symbolise the 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.
The ladder often symbolises the travel 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.
In dream analysis, staircases often suggest a journey. Travelling up the stairs indicates that the journey is probably positive, hopeful, or purposeful; descending the stairs may show a negative, confusing, or depressing journey. The type of staircase is also important to its symbolic meaning – a traditional staircase is straightforward, suggesting an uncomplicated route. However, a spiral, twisted staircase may suggest mystery and disorientation.
Staircases can be seen as a link. Literally, a staircase is used to connect two floors. However, figuratively a staircase is a passageway which can unite any two things, places, ideas, or states of being.