“And he dreamed, and beholds a ladder 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 story of Jacob’s ladder seems to have been written without regard for the common understanding of the natural world. Whatever the true contents of the story was had been lost to the editors of the Old Testament. It is quite evident though that this story was deemed too important not to be included in the bible.
That the popularity of the Jacob’s ladder story from antiquity seems to have reached different continents and may be connected to the World Tree stories from all over.
Sacred narratives across cultures describe a previous World Age in which a colossal tree controlled the celestial landscape, joining heaven to earth. By climbing this tree primeval heroes and gods were able to visit Heaven and converse with the gods. A few examples herewith should suffice to show the original connection between the World Tree and ladder-to-heaven motifs.
An accepted universal belief in the ancient times held the belief that Heaven was fairly close to Earth, and that the Earth touched the sky. A luminous ladder stretched the sky which gave easy access to the celestial kingdom. By the stroke of one cataclysmic circumstance or another, the ladder-to-heaven eventually collapsed and the sky was uplifted to its present height (farther).
According to the Anthropologist James Frazer, West African lore has it that “In almost all the series of native traditions there, you will find accounts of a time when there was direct intercourse between the gods or spirits that live in the sky, and men.” A similar belief in South Africa followed a tradition that the sky was solid and is connected to Earth by a ladder, rope, or chain. A ladder-to-heaven motif is also present in aboriginal Australia where in the Milingimbi people spoke of a ladder constructed from a fish-vertebra to connect to the sky. Chinese lore held that gods, fairies, and witches had regular access from the ladder-Earth connection. The Tlingit Indians of British Columbia also has a story of how the son of an Indian chief amidst his loneliness of losing a friend shot so multiple arrows to the star beside the moon one night until a chain of arrows formed to reach him from the star. After resting from night, the boy was surprised to see the next day a ladder reaching all the way to the sky stood before him.
The Melanesians have a story of how the hero Tagaro looked for his missing wife and son who had escaped to the Sky World. Tagaro shot powerful arrows to the sky. The arrow struck firmly to the Heavens and connected from one end to another until a chain formation of them connected the Earth. A Banyan root crept over it which anchored the Earth to Heaven and Tagaro with his bird was able to climb the Banyan root to the sky. In Chinese cosmology, as Michael Loewe documented, the World Tree was associated with the center of the world: “The concept of the cosmic tree which forms the centre of the world may be traced in Chinese literature from the Chan-kuo period, in various guises. Sometimes it appears as a single tree, such as the Fu-sang or the Jo-mu; later it is known as the beautiful tree whose growth stems from a pair of trunks, the Mu-lien-li. At times the tree is conceived as connecting the three worlds of heaven, earth and the Yellow Springs; and as such it may be compared to the ladder by means of which Fu Hsi and his sister ascended to heaven. As the Fu-sang, the concept embraces the tree up which the sun climbs and descends, once daily.”
One thing that rings a bell in my mind is the pre-diluvia story of the Tower of Babel constructed by a rebellious god with the aid of humans which was to give them access to and from the abode of the gods. In the midst of their construction, the major god was not please of what he saw and decided with a committee of gods to destroy the Heaven-Earth connection. Another place is the Land of the Til.Mun- the land of the Rockets, the Tree of Life situated in the Sinai Desert which was an off-limits place to the early humans for only the “righteous” people live there.
There are more myths from the world over that bespeak of a time when the world was connected to the Heavens. Are all these stories interconnected somehow and came from a single source? No one knows for sure.