Field Guide

Ladder

A ladder wth the letters C, H and F is seen on the gravestones of Freemasons. The letters are abbreviations for Charity, Hope and Faith. When the ladder is seen ascending toward the clouds (heavens), it is known as Jacob's ladder, a symbol of the pathway between heaven and earth, in reference to the vision of Jacob as described in Genesis 28:

10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set, and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder was set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

The ladder is also one of the symbols of the Passion since it was used to take Christ down from the cross.

The most interesting aspect of the ladder as a transport mechanism between heaven and earth is that the ladder is comprised of rungs, and each rung must be negotiated before another one is attempted. Ladders are used in many different religions, including Buddhism, Islam, Polynesian, Native American, and in ancient mythology. Oftentimes these ladders have seven rungs, which correspond to the Seven Heavens.

Taken from Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written and photographed by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2004.