Let us focus for a moment, however, not on the steps but on the symbolic Ladder of Masonry. Dr. Albert Mackey writes in his classic work The Symbolism of Freemasonry:
The lodge, as a representative of the world, is of course supposed to have no other roof than the heavens . . . another symbol—the theological ladder—is so intimately connected with it . . . Now, this mystic ladder, which connects the ground floor of the lodge with its roof or covering, is another important and interesting link, which binds, with one common chain, the symbolism and ceremonies of Freemasonry, and the symbolism and rites of the ancient initiations. This mystical ladder, which in Masonry is referred to "the theological ladder, which Jacob in his vision saw, reaching from earth to heaven," was widely dispersed among the religions of antiquity, where it was always supposed to consist of seven rounds or steps.
“Jacob’s Ladder” is a painting by the British poet, mystic, and visual artist William Blake which combines the ladder imagery with the step imagery both so much at home in Freemasonry. In the fluid lines and pastel colors for which he is noted, Blake presents Jacob’s Ladder as a “flight of winding stairs,” with angels ascending from earth past the stars and to the sun (see illustration below).
Returning to Masonic tradition proper, the Ladder is presented in Scottish Rite Masonry as a unique Emblem, and represents in its most direct sense the Ladder or staircase on which the Patriarch Jacob saw “the angels of God were ascending and descending” (Genesis 28: 12) as Jacob was told the destiny of the people of Israel. Masonic scholar Albert Pike, in a discussion in Morals and Dogma, implies that as it forms a triangle, Jacob’s Ladder can be likened in a shape to the mystical pyramids of Egypt. (P. 234, classic edition) Based on Talmudic and Kabbalistic traditions, Jewish Tales and Legends (Mendel G. Glenn, New York, 1929) suggests a more somber interpretation: “Four angels bearing the visage of humans began to ascend the ladder” – four angels representing the nations which would come to rule over the Israelites: Babylon, Media, Greece, and Rome. (P. 124)
In Christian tradition, the Ladder is Emblematical of Saint Paul’s list of greatest virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity (1 Corinthians 13: 13). Attending our Lodges and other Masonic bodies regularly reminds us of such striking incidents and Symbols of morality within the Degrees and the diversity of interpretations for the reflective Mason to consider.