Jacob's Ladder - You Don't Know, What You Don't Know

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson

There are a number of symbols within Freemasonry, and there are no shortage of explanations and attributions for them. No doubt some are ancient and thus indisputable in their meaning e.g. The Circumpunct, meaning Deity, Self, and even a modern attribution in the ages of science as the pictograph for Gold (AU). Others, like the explanations of how to wear your apron, have assigned value that was done much later. Examples being the spiritual (triangle) over the square (physical). These and others are romantic, and yet are an invention of "modern" times. How do we know this? Because the shapes of aprons are of modern design, themselves attributed to the ease of manufacturing. This has been talked and written about ad nauseam. 

Another great example is the placement of the "G" within the Square and Compasses. This too is a "modern" and geographical adaptation. It's distinctly American and the items for which it is supposed to be representative of, only begins with the letter "G" in a few languages, thus rendering it "un-universal". This of course doesn't mean it shouldn't be used or that just because we thought it was cool and invented some concept to attribute to the symbol, even after the fact, and much later, we should drop it. To the contrary, if the assigned value assists you in determining a symbols personal value, than go nuts. But, we should always be honest about our symbols and understand our historical roots. 

We should in fact be arming our new Masons with the ritual teachings, and also the historically and contextually accurate information as well. Yes, I just alluded to the fact that ritual is not factually or historically correct. It is a symbolic work. The writers of the ritual most certainly thought some elements were fact, as they were taken from the Tanach (Septuagint). They likely used these allegories to drive home points, and embellished where they needed to. That's okay, because it's symbolic. It's a vehicle to assist you from getting from point A to point B cognitively, and hopefully changing the way you think in order to change your outward and inward behaviors. 

The stance I take here in no way is meant to take away from the esoteric value of the aftermarket attributions we tend to place on the symbols. Again, if this assists you in manifesting your destiny, then this is the "flourish" that is right for you. And the flip side to this, is that when we dig deeper into the historical and contextual meanings of symbols, we often find something even more complex and deeper than anything we'd thought of before! It pays to research, both externally and internally. 

At this point in the blog post I thought I'd have wrapped it up, but in the interest of giving away something, I thought what the heck...So I decided to give a quick gloss over of something. 

I asked myself, "What is a symbol I don't know too much about, outside the ritual and it's immediate biblical associations?" I chose Jacob's Ladder. Here's a brief synopsis of what I knew and felt it meant symbolically, what I learned after brief research and my (possible) new symbolic outlook. 

What I knew Biblical - Genesis 28 - A guy named Jacob (son of Isaac) was traveling, he decided to sleep on the ground and place his head on a rock. While sleeping, he has a vision of a ladder which extends from the Earth to the heavens. Angels went up and down the ladder. When Jacob awoke, he thought it was a miraculous vision. The ladder is seen in the biblical context as the bridge from Earth to the heavens and the rungs and angels signify the many ways we may traverse to the heavens, through sacrifices, prayers and the giving of the Torah. It's a lesson in connection. 

What I knew Masonic - Jacob's ladder also symbolizes the ways in which we may reach a state of "redemption". It is said to have 3 principal rungs which are "Faith", "Hope", and "Charity" (Love). In Masonic teaching, we're told that of these attributes, Charity is the greatest because of its long lasting impact on successive generations of people. Further, in other esoteric circles the ladder may also represent the foundation cord or rope which one travels on their way to the higher realms. The angels representing the different attributes or even Sephiroth. It even has a relation to the Hindu Gunas (3 attributes which must be in balance to escape the Samsara). 

What I learned - The idea of the ladder, like much of the Tanach is taken from earlier texts from without the system. The ladder itself exists in other cultures and is used in their religious and initiatory rites. It is used as a way to symbolize the steps upward or progressive, through a set of degrees or rites of passages. While in Freemasonry we give the allegory of just three "principal" rounds, most traditions which are older give it seven steps. Perhaps the three principal rounds are evenly distributed (first, fourth, and seventh). The number seven has it's various attributions that we're all familiar with. One Mackey points out is that the seven rungs in Freemasonry are attributed toward the Earthly virtues ad te Divine Virtues, Namely, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice, plus Faith, Hope and Charity. 

The Persians used a variation of the ladder and they used the number seven. It represented the soul's progression toward perfection. They referred to each round as a "gate". During the "Persian Mysteries", it was necessary for candidates to progress through winding cavernous spaces (7 in total). Each cavern representative of a world or more aptly some sort of representation for the state of humanity and or the mind. The last cavern or world being called "Truth", which is very interesting when we look at the Hindu philosophy of Absolute Truth and how even that relates to the preeminent Masonic virtue of Truth. 

Mackey's Masonic Encyclopedia gives us this table explaining these rounds of the ladder. You move from the base (1) to the top (7).
7. Gold .............. Sun ............... Truth
6. Silver ............. Moon ........... Mansion of the Blessed
5. Iron ............... Mars ............ World of Births
4. Tin ................ Jupiter ......... Middle World
3. Copper .......... Venus .......... Heaven
2. Quicksilver ... Mercury ....... World of Pre-existence
1. Lead ............. Saturn .......... First World
Above I made a few cryptic references to Hinduism and it's teachings. There is an entire paper's worth of significance here that we could go into, and I will...for the Lodge of Research. 😁

For those that are intent on discovering even more about the historical and contextual meanings of Jacob's Ladder, I invite you to look in Mackey's Encyclopedia as a first step. Then I would recommend looking at concepts within Mackey's as referenced in other books of the same nature, before finally venturing out into the world of archaeological papers (non fraternal) for an un-Masonic and unbiased look as well. What truths you find in the non-masonic, which align with the Masonic, may very well be your best argument for what is true. Have fun!

We don't know, what we don't know!


RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.

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