Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library
Jacob’s Ladder is the only reference from the volume of the Sacred Law which is mentioned twice in the Craft Ritual; it must therefore, be considered to be of great importance. In our Masonic ritual, the first mention of Jacob’s ladder describes how Masons are enabled to ascend to the summit of masonry, i.e. Charity. This ascent is made possible from it’s beginning in the doctrines of the Holy Book followed by ascending the steps of Faith and Hope which in turn lead to the summit - CHARITY.

The second mention of Jacob’s Ladder in the ritual is in the explanation of the first Tracing Board which refers to the Volume of the Sacred Law supporting Jacob’s Ladder, but this time it brings us directly to God in Heaven, provided that we are conversant with the Holy Book and are adherent to it’s doctrines.

The Introduction of Jacob’s Ladder into speculative Masonry is to be traced to the vision of Jacob, which is recorded in the book of Genesis. “When Jacob, while sleeping one night , with the bare earth for his couch and a stone for his pillow, beheld the vision of a ladder, whose foot rested on the earth and whose top reached to heaven. Angels were continually ascending and descending upon it, and promised him the blessing of a numerous and happy prosperity. When Jacob awoke, he was filled with pious gratitude, and consecrated the spot as the house of God.”

This ladder, so remarkable in the history of the Jewish people, is to be found in all the ancient initiations. Whether by coincidence, or that they were all derived from a common fountain of symbolism is unknown. However, it is certain that the ladder as a symbol of moral and intellectual progress existed almost universally in antiquity, as a succession of steps, of gates, of degrees or in some other modified form. The number of steps varied; but most commonly was seven in allusion to the mystical importance given to that number. Thus in the Persian mysteries of Mithras, there was a ladder of seven rounds, the passage through them being symbolical of the soul’s approach to perfection. These rounds were called Gates, and, in allusion to them, the candidate was made to pass through seven dark and winding caverns, which process was called the ‘Ascent of the Ladder of Perfection’.

Each round of the ladder was said to be of metal and of increasing purity, and was dignified also with the name of it’s protecting planet. The highest being Gold . &. . . The Sun, next Silver and the Moon . . . through to Lead and Saturn. In the mysteries of Brahma we find the same reference to a ladder of seven steps, with similar names. In Scandinavian mysteries the tree Yggrasil was the representative of the mystical ladder. The ascent of the tree, like the ascent of the ladder, was a change from a lower to a higher sphere - from time to eternity, and from death to life.

In Masonry we find the ladder of Kadosh, which consists of seven steps, commencing from the bottom : Justice - Equity - Kindness - Good Faith - Labour - Patience and Intelligence. The idea of Intellectual progress to perfection is carried out by making the top round represent Wisdom or Understanding.

The ladder in Craft Masonry ought also to consist of seven steps, ascending as follows : Temperance - Fortitude - Prudence - Justice - Faith - Hope - and Charity. But the earliest examples of the ladder present it only with three, referring to the three theological virtues, whence it is sometimes called the Theological Ladder. It seems, therefore, to have been determined by general usage to have only three steps. In the 16th. century it was stated that Jacob’s ladder was a symbol of the progressive scale of intellectual communication between earth and heaven; and upon this ladder, as it were, step by step, man is permitted - with the angels - to ascend and to descend until the mind finds blissful and complete repose in the bosom of divinity.

Jewish writers differ very much in their exposition of the ladder. Abben Ezra thought that it was a symbol of the human mind, and that the Angels represented the sublime meditations of man. Maimonides supposed the ladder to symbolise Nature in it’s operations, giving it four steps, to represent the four elements - the two heavier earth and water - and the two lighter - fire and air. And Raphael interprets the ladder, and the ascent and descent of the Angels, as the prayers of man and the answering inspiration of God. Nicolai says that the ladder with three steps was, among the Rosicrucian Freemasons in the seventeenth century, a symbol of the knowledge of nature. Finally Krause says that Brother Keher of Edinburgh, whom he described as a truthful Mason, had in 1802 assured the members of a Lodge in Altenberg that originally only one Scottish degree existed, whose object was the restoration of James III (1460 ) to the throne of England and that Jacob’s ladder had been adopted by them as a symbol. An authentic narrative is purported to be contained in the archives of the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

In the Ancient Craft degrees Jacob’s ladder was not an original symbol. The first appearance of a ladder is in a Tracing Board, on which is inscribed the date 1776, which agrees with the date of Dunkerley’s revised lectures. In this Tracing Board the ladder has only three rounds, a change from the seven-stepped ladder of the old mysteries, and was later described as having many rounds, but three principal ones.

The modern Masonic ladder, is, as I have already said, a symbol of progress, as it was in the ancient initiations. It’s three principal rounds, representing Faith, Hope and Charity, present us with the means of advancing from earth to heaven, from death to life, from the mortal to immortality. Hence it’s foot is placed on the floor of the Lodge, which is typical of the world, and it’s top rests on the covering of the Lodge, which is symbolic of heaven. Which explains the statement given in the lecture on the Tracing Board of the First Degree in Craft Masonry, that the ladder rests on the Holy Bible and reaches to the heavens.

The Stone

Before I close I would like to take you back to those words from the Book of Genesis, namely, “. . . .with the bare earth for his couch and a stone for a pillow. . . . “

Almost 4,000 years ago fate brought Jacob’s caravan to a place called Bethel near Jerusalem, then as even now it was the custom for a traveller to bolster his pillow and bedding with stones for a more comfortable position.

With his head resting on a particular stone, Jacob is said to have had his famous dream, which we have heard earlier.

Jacob prospered in wealth and knowledge and was directed by God to return to Bethel. On his return, the Lord again appeared to him saying “I am the God of Bethel”, thus the Lord associated himself not only with the place of the vision but with the Bethel Stone. Jacob took the Stone with him and, from that time on it was always set up as a pillar marking the altar to the God of Israel.

The Bethel Stone, finally, was returned to Jerusalem where it served as the Coronation Stone for the Jewish Kings, ending with the infamous Zedekiah in 581 B.C. According to Irish historians, a few years later (578 B.C. ) a small but distinguished group of strangers, who had fled from Palestine, arrived in Ulster. They had brought with them the Bethel Stone, or Stone of Destiny, together with a Royal harp and an Ark. It is significant to note that a Harp has been the royal arms of Ireland for the last 2,500 years.

The Stone remained in Ireland for over 1,000 years where every king of Ireland was crowned upon it. Till Fearghus Mor ( The Great )took it to the Scottish island of Iona. Here 48 kings of Scotland were crowned upon it until the ninth century, when it was transferred to the town of Scone near Perth for safe keeping by Coinneach Cruadalach (the Hardy) who became King of Scotland. There it remained for 400 years as that nations coronation stone.

In the reign of England’s Edward I it was removed from Scotland (1292 ), either by force or by mutual agreement (the Authorities disagree), and there it remained located under the Coronation Chair in the Westminster Abbey until 1996, when it was returned to Scotland by a special Act of Parliament..

 

Early Rose Croix

It would appear from reliable documentation that was still in existence, in Austria, prior to the Second World War, that a form of Rose Croix Masonry was first known in 1747, which had formerly been known as “Knights of the Pelican”. There are a number of references, under a variety of different titles, which all purport to relate to Rose Croix Masonry. These variously date back as far as the Knights Templars of Palestine in 1188 A.D. However, the earliest reference to Rose Croix without any additional appendage, and which seems most likely to be to be in accord with the Order as we know it today, first appeared in 1747.

In the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, from which the Rose Croix Masons of America first received the degree, it was placed 18th. on the list - thus the degree became known ( by common usage ) as the Eighteenth Degree. The degree was conferred inin a body known as a chapter, which derived it’s authority directly from a Supreme Council of the Thirty Third degree, and which conferred with it only one other and inferior degree, that of “Knight of the East and West”. A chapters principal officers being a Most Wise Sovereign and two Wardens. Interestingly, the order had two ‘Obligatory’ days of meeting, Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter, observed by Christians in commemoration of Christ’s Last Supper. The name ‘Maundy is derived from MANDATUM ( Latin: “commandment” ).

The Jewel of the Rose Croix is a Golden Compasses, extended on an arc to the sixteenth part of a circle - or twenty two and a half degrees. The head of the compasses is surmounted by a triple crown, consisting of three series of points arranged by three, five and seven. Between the legs of the compasses is a cross resting on the arc; it’s centre is occupied by a full blown rose, whose stem entwines around the lower limb of the cross; at the foot of the cross, on the same side, on which the rose is exhibited, is the figure of a Pelican wounding it’s breast to feed it’s young, which are in the nest surrounding it.