The introduction of Jacob's ladder into the symbolism of Speculative Freemasonry is to be traced to the vision of Jacob, which is thus substantially recorded in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis: When Jacob, by the command of his father Isaac, was journeying toward Padanaram, while sleeping one night with the bare earth for his couch and a stone for his pillow, he 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 posterity. 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, finds its analogue in all the ancient initiations. Whether this is to be attributed simply to a coincidence—a theory which but few scholars would be willing to accept—or to the fact that these analogues were all derived from a common fountain of symbolism, or whether the origin of the symbol was lost among the practices of the Pagan rites, while the symbol itself was retained, it is, perhaps, impossible authoritatively to determine.
It is, however, certain that the ladder as a symbol of moral and intellectual progress existed almost universally in antiquity, presenting itself either as a succession of steps, of gates, of Degrees, or in some other modified form. The number of the steps varied; although the favorite one appears to have been seven, in reference, apparently, to the mystical character almost everywhere 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 of these caverns was the representative of a world, or w state of existence through which the soul was supposed to pass in its progress from the first world to the last, or the world of truth. Each round of the ladder was said to be of metal of measuring purity, and was dignified also with the name of its protecting planet.