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Article # 4
Jacob's Ladder

Author: W. Bro. R.Ramachandran P.V. P.G. Stw., P.J.R.G.D    Posted on: Tuesday, April 9, 2002
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  1. The history of Jacob, son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham and Sarah has been narrated in the Holy Bible in Genesis 28-10 to 13 and 16 to 19.The narrative mentions that he persuaded his brother Esau to sell him his birthright and further tricked Isaac to bless him instead of Esau and fearing his brother’s anger he fled Beersheba and proceeded to Haran to live with his uncle Laban. He stopped at a certain place known as Luz, to spend the night. He took one of the stones lying there and kept the same under his head and slept. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth and its top was reaching the Heaven and he found the Angels of God ascending and descending on the ladder. Above stood the Lord and He said,” I AM THE LORD, the GOD of your father Abraham and GOD of Isaac. I WILL GIVE YOU and YOUR descendants the land on which YOU are lying”. Jacob awoke and realized that “Surely the LORD is in this place and I was not aware of it…This is none other than the House of GOD and this is the gate of heaven.” Early in the morning, Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and anointed it with oil and called that place Bethel. He later became very rich and he begot 12 children. He had to flee again and this time to Canaan and en route he had to wrestle all night with an angel and in the morning the angel changed his name to Israel and he became the father of the nation Israel and the twelve tribes of Israel were named after his twelve sons. The Hebrew word “Soolam” can be translated as either as ladder or as stairway. The Bible has adopted the latter meaning.

  2. The ladder, which appeared in Jacob’s dream has been incorporated in the T.B of the I degree. You are aware while explaining the T.B to the E.A, we are informed that, “The figurative covering of a Freemason’s Lodge is the celestial canopy of the Heavens and the way of a Freemason’s figurative ascent thereto is by the assistance of a ladder called Jacob’s ladder. The Ladder has as many staves or rounds as comprise of all the moral virtues, but three are the principal ones, namely Faith, Hope and Charity.”

  3. The symbolic and psychological meaning of the ladder as paradigm of spiritual ascent dates back from the earliest antiquity. The symbolism of the ladder as representing the spiritual evolution or ascent appears in the Egyptian mysteries, Scandinavian mysteries, Greek mysteries and also in the Mithraic mysteries and that of the Cabalists. Most of those ladders had seven rungs. The Greek philosophers had taught that man’s arduous ascent is represented by a ladder and that a man’s endeavour should be to overcome his sinful desires and to achieve the virtues and on reaching the top most rung he would find the trinity of the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. Almost all the schools of thought had adopted the symbolism of the ladder to impress that spiritual upliftment and evolution can be only by step by step and by the acquisition of the various virtues. The close connection of the symbolism of the ladder with the human aspirations for spiritual evolution, perfection and progress with the rites of initiation in different systems and its appearance in the scriptures had probably led to its inclusion in the Masonic symbolism as well.

  4. Masonic historians seem to agree that Jacobs Ladder became a Masonic symbol around the middle of the 18th century and its use became generalized by the beginning of the 19th century. Bro. Carr in his book, “The Freemasons at Work,” has pointed out that during the early days, the virtues Faith, Hope and Charity were depicted by the initials F, H,C, between the rungs. Bro Haunch in Vol.75 of the Transactions of Quotuor Coronoti Lodge has reported that the initials were later replaced by three female figures. Subsequently, those figures were replaced by a cross, an anchor and a chalise with a pointing hand in most of the T. Bs. Their significance was admirably explained by Bro. Haunch in Vol.84 of Transactions of Quotuor Coronoti Lodge. He has observed that the hand is the hand of the Divine Creator, The GOD and Faith is represented by the Cross or by the hand of God with a finger pointing to the Volume of the Sacred Law and Hope is represented by anchor and Charity by the liberal hand extending a chalise or a heart.

  5. Bro. Sir John Cockburn in his “The Symbolism of the Jacob’s ladder,” has summed up that the Ladder has ever been a prominent Symbol in Masonry and is depicted on the T. Bs as the Ladder of Perfection. He has declared that from time immemorial, the ladder has been employed as the symbol of progressive ascent on the intellectual, moral and spiritual planes and that the Ladder reaches from Earth to Heaven and is thus a type of union of the Terrestrial and Celestial kingdoms and of the atonement between God and Man, which throughout the ages has been the constant theme of the mysteries and of religions.

  6. It is necessary at this stage to consider the three principal virtues namely Faith, Hope and Charity. These have been explained beautifully in the Masonic settings and in the way they are to be understood by Freemasons in the lectures in the Emulation Working. The relevant portions are as follows. “Faith is the foundation of Justice, the bond of amity and the chief support of civil society and by Faith we have the access to the Throne of Grace, where we are accepted and finally received .A true and sincere Faith is the evidence of things not seen, but the substance of those hoped for and will bring us to those blessed mansions, where we shall be eternally happy with God. Hope is the anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast and enters into that within the veil. Then let a firm reliance on the Almighty’s faithfulness animate our endeavours and teach us to fix our desires within the limits of His most blessed promises. So shall success attend us .If we believe a thing impossible, our despondency may render it so, but he who perseveres in a just cause will ultimately overcome all difficulties. Charity has been defined as the brightest ornament, which can adorn our Masonic profession and it is the best test and the surest proof of the sincerity of our religion. Benevolence rendered by Charity from the heart is blessed, whence it springs, is nourished and cherished. Happy is the man, who has sown in his breast, the seeds of benevolence he envies not his neighbour, he believes not a tale reported to his prejudice, he forgets the injuries of men and endeavours to blot them from his recollection. Let us be ever ready to listen to him, who craves our assistance and from him who is in want, let us not withhold a liberal hand. So, shall a heartfelt satisfaction reward our labours.”

  7. A close look at the T.B will reveal that the ladder rests upon the volume of the Sacred law and not on the earth. The ladder rests on the Volume of the Sacred Laws, because, by the doctrines contained in that Holy Book, we are taught to believe in the dispensation of the Divine Providence, which belief strengthens our faith and enables us to ascend the first step .It is also symbolic that an ascent on the ladder can not be made by anyone, who does not conform and follow the divine precepts contained in the Holy Book, with implicit Faith in the teachings in the Holy Book. This Faith, naturally creates in us a Hope of becoming partakers of the blessed promises therein recorded, which Hope enables us to ascend the second step but, the third and last being Charity comprehends the whole and the Mason, who is possessed of this Virtue in its most ample sense, may justly be deemed to have attained the summit of his profession, figuratively speaking, an ethereal mansion, veiled from the mortal eyes by the starry firmament, emblematically depicted in our Lodges by the seven stars.

  8. Bro. Wilmhurst in his book “The Masonic Initiation,” has interpreted the ladder as a symbol of the Universe and of its succession of step like planes reaching from the heights to the depths. He observes that “ The Father’s house has many levels for His creatures in their different conditions and degrees of progress and those levels are denoted by the rungs or the staves of the ladder. One ascends or descends according to evolution or otherwise. The Ladder becomes ethereally as a spiritual means of ascent”. Some authors have opined that there are seven rungs or staves, corresponding to the seven stages of consciousness. Notably among them is Bro. Pike and he has advocated the theory, that the human soul in returning to its origin in the infinite must ascend (as it had descended earlier) through the seven planes of consciousness. The Mithraic Mysteries had postulated that the souls of the righteous are conducted through the spheres of seven planets, a process shown by a kind of escalade having seven gates, each of a different metal and at each gate, the soul is stripped of one fault and folly after another and thus the soul is prepared for the entry into the greater light. Dante has also in his “Purgatorio,” adopted the same view. Several systems in the east have propounded theories of the existence of several “logas,” into which the soul enters depending upon the merit it has earned and progress into the higher levels by merit alone.

  9. Bro. Street in his book, “ Symbolism of the Three degrees”, has urged that those seven rungs are symbolic of the Four Cardinal Virtues, namely Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice (ritual teaches us that all of them were constantly practiced by a great majority of our ancient brethren) and the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, by which the man is elevated to the higher state. It is of great importance to notice at this stage, that all the religions have prescribed those virtues for mankind. In fact Christianity has besides the Four Cardinal Virtues, classifying them as Natural Virtues, prescribed the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity as the Theological Virtues. The practice of all those virtues will certainly elevate us to the higher state of evolution.

  10. In our peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols, the symbolism of the Jacobs Ladder is profound. The Ladder resting upon the sacred book shows us the way to reach the G.A.O.T.U and the very first ascent we can make can be only after fulfilling the duties and complying with the divine directions contained therein. In other words, we should qualify ourselves and be worthy to make the ascent, just like the several angels, Jacob found in his dream ascending the ladder. The lesson that has been clearly and in unambiguous terms brought to us is that any evolution of the human Soul can commence only on fulfilling the directions contained in the Sacred Book and that the ascent can be only as per the acquisition of all the moral virtues and that the ascent can be further only step by step. There cannot be any sudden jump or flight up the Ladder. We have to prove ourselves worthy of further ascent. The Masonic teachings will certainly help us to be worthy of the ascent. Let us all make a determined effort to acquire that worthiness and merit, as merit had been our title to the Masonic privileges.

W. Bro. R.Ramachandran P.V. P.G. Stw., P.J.R.G.DThe author was initiated as a Lewis, passed and raised in Sri Brahadeeswara Lodge. He has presented papers in several Masonic Seminars and has contributed many articles.

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Honorio wrote on Friday, May 31, 2002:

Subject: Honorio

Very good your article. Congratulations . HONORIO An embrace 3x3 from Brazil

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