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LEVEL

In Latin libra was a balance, the root of our libration, equilibrium; libella was the diminutive form of the same word, and from it has come our level, an instrument by which a balance is proved, or by which may be detected the horizontal plane. It is closely as-sociated in use with the plumb, by which a line perpendicular to the horizontal is proved. The level is that on which there are no in-equalities, hence in Masonry it is correctly used’ as a symbol of equality. “We meet upon the level” because Masonic rights, duties, and privileges are the same for all members with-out distinction.

- Source: 100 Words in Masonry


Articles On The Level On This Page

THE LEVEL & PLUMB

Like the Square and the Compasses, the Level and the Plumb are nearly always united in our Ritual. They really belong together, as much in moral teaching as in practical building. The one is used to lay horizontals, the other to try perpendiculars, and their use suggests their symbolism. By reason of their use, both are special working tools of the Fellowcraft, along with the Square; and they are also worn as jewels by two of the principal officers of the Lodge.

Among the Craft Masons of olden time the actual work of building was done by Fellowcrafts, using materials gathered and rough hewn by Apprentices, all working under the guidance of the Master In our Symbolism, as the Apprentice is youth, so the Fellowcraft is manhood, the time when the actual work of life must be done on the Level, by the Plumb and Square. Next to the Square and Compasses, the Level and Plumb are among the noblest and simplest symbols of the Craft, and their meaning is so plain that it hardly needs to be pointed out. Yet they are so important, in use and meaning, that they might almost be numbered among the Lesser Lights of the Lodge.

The Level, so the newly made Mason is taught, is for the purpose of proving horizontals. An English writer finds a lesson in the structure of the Level, in the fact that we know that s surface is level when the fluid is poised and at rest. From this use of the Level he bids us seek to attain a peaceful, balanced poise of mind, undisturbed by the passions which upset and sway us one way or the other. It is a council of perfection, he admits, but he insists that one of the best services of Masonry is to keep before us high ideals and, what is more, a constantly receding ideal, otherwise we should tire of it.

Of course, the great meaning of the Level is that teaches equality, and that is a truth that needs to be carefully understood. There is no little confusion of mind about it. Our Declaration of American Independence tells us that all men are "created equal" but not many have tried to think out what the words really mean. With most of us it is a vague sentiment, a glittering generality born of the fact that all are made of the same dust, and sharers of the common human lot, moved by the same great faith and fears, hopes and loves - walking on the Level of Time until Death, by its grim democracy, erases all distinctions and reduces all to the same level. Anyone who faces the facts knows well enough that all men are not equal, either by nature or by grace. Our humanity resembles the surface of the natural world in its hills and valleys. Men are very unequal in physical power, in mental abilities, in moral quality. No two men are equal; no two are alike. One man towers above his fellows, as a mountain above the hills. Some men can do what others can never do. Some have five talents, some two, and some but one. A genius can do with effortless ease what is futile for others to attempt, and a poet may be unequal to a hod-carrier in strength and sagacity. When there is inequality of gift it is idle to talk of equality of opportunity, no matter how fine the phrase may sound. It does not exist.

By no glib theory can humanity be reduced to a dead level.

The iron wrinkles of fact are stubborn realities. Manifestly it is better to have it so, because it would make a dull world if all men were equal in a literal sense. As it is, wherein one lacks another excels, and men are drawn together by the fact that they are unequal and unlike. The world has different tasks demanding different powers, brains to devise, seers to see, hands to execute, prophets to lead. We need poets to inspire, scientists to teach, pioneers to blaze the path to new lands. No doubt this was what Goethe meant when he said that it takes all men to make one man, and the work of each is the glory of all.

What, then, is the equality of which the Level is the Symbol? Clearly it is not identity, or even similarity of gift and endowment. No, it is something better; it is the equal right of each man to the full use and development of such power as he has, whatever it may be, unhindered by injustice or oppression. as our Declaration of Independence puts it, every man has an equal and inalienable right to "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," with due regard for the rights of others in the same quest. Or, as a famous slogan summed it up; "Equal Rights for all; Special Privileges to None!" That is to say, before the law every man has an equal right to equal justice, as before God, in whose presence all men are one in their littleness, each receives equally and impartially the blessing of the Eternal Love, even as the sun shines and the rain falls on all with equal benediction.

Albert Pike, and with him many others, have gone so far as to say that Masonry was the first apostle of equality in the true sense. One thing we do know; Freemasonry presided over the birth of our Republic, and by the skill of its leaders wrote its basic truth, of which the Level is the symbol, into organic law of this land, the War for Independence, and the fight for Constitutional Liberty, might have had another issue but for the fact that our leaders were held together by a mystic tie of obligation, vowed to the services of the rights of man. Even Thomas Paine, who was not a Mason, wrote an essay in honor of an order which stood for Government without tyranny and religion without superstition - two principles which belong together, like the Level and the Plumb. Thus, by all that is sacred both in our Country and our Craft, we are pledged to guard, defend and practice the truth taught by the Level.

But it is in the free and friendly air of a Lodge of Masons, about an Altar of Obligation and Prayer, that the principle of equality finds its most perfect and beautiful expression. There, upon the Level, the Symbol of Equality, rich and poor, high and low, prince and plain citizen - men of diverse creeds, parties, interests, and occupations - meet in mutual respect and real regard, forgetting all differences of rank and station, and united for the highest good of all. "We Meet Upon the Level and Part Upon the Square;" titles, ranks, riches, do not pass the Inner Guard; and the humblest Brother is held in sacred regard, equally with the Brother who has attained the highest round of the wheel of fortune.

Every man in the Lodge is equally concerned in the building of the Temple, and each has his work to do. Because the task demands different gifts and powers, all are equally necessary to the work, the architect who draws the plans, the Apprentice who carries stones or shapes them with chisel and gavel; the Fellowcraft who polishes and deposits them in the wall, and the officers who marshal the workman, guide their labor, and pay their wages. Every one is equal to every other so long as he does good work, true work, square work. None but is necessary to the erection of the edifice; none but receives the honor of the Craft; and all together know the joy of seeing the Temple slowly rising in the midst of their labors. Thus Masonry lifts men to a high level, making each a fellow-worker in a great enterprise, and if it is the best brotherhood it is because it is a brotherhood of the best.

The Plumb is a symbol so simple that it needs no exposition. As the Level teaches unity in diversity and equality in difference, so the Plumb is a symbol of rectitude of conduct, integrity of life, and that uprightness of moral character which makes a good and just man. In the art of building accuracy is integrity, and if a wall be not exactly perpendicular, as tested by the Plumb-Line , it is weak and may fall, or else endanger the strength and stability of the whole. Just so, though we meet upon a Level, we must each build an upright character by the test of the Plumb, or we weaken the Fraternity we seek to serve and imperil its strength and standing in the community.

As a workman dare not deviate by the breadth of a hair to the right or to the left if his wall is to be strong and his arch stable, so Masons must walk erect and live upright lives. What is meant by an upright life each of us knows, but it has never been better described than in the 15th Psalm, which may be called the religion of a gentleman and the design upon the Trestleboard of every Mason:

"Lord, who shall abide in Thy Tabernacle? Who shall dwell in Thy Holy Hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. In whose eyes a vile person is condemned; but he honoreth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved."

What is true of a man is equally true of a nation. The strength of a nation it its integrity, and no nation is stronger than the moral quality of the men who are its citizens. Always it comes back at last to the individual, who is a living stone in the wall of society and the State, making it strong or weak. By every act of injustice, by every lack of integrity, we weaken society and imperil the security and sanctity of the common life. By every noble act we make all sacred things more sacred and secure for ourselves and for those who come after us. The Prophet Amos has a thrilling passage in which he lets us see how God tested the people which were of old, by the Plumb-Line; and by the same test we are tried:

"Thus He Showed me; and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a Plumb- Line, with a Plumb-Line in His Hand. And the Lord said unto me; 'Amos, what seeth thou?' And I said, 'A Plumb-Line.' Then said the Lord, 'Behold, I will set a Plumb-Line in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass them by any more."

- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Jun. 1924
Masonic Service Association of North America


THE LEVEL AND THE PLUMB

Before you could become a Fellowcraft it was demanded of you that you become proficient in the work of the First Degree; that you learn "by heart" a certain portion of the Ritual, and make yourself competent to "stand and deliver" it on occasion.

Such a memorization is the sole survival of that ancient custom of Operative Masonry of demanding from the Apprentice, who had served the legal time (usually seven years), a Master's Piece; and example of ability in Masonry by which his fellows could judge whether or no he had made good use of his time and was fit to be "passed" from the state of being but an Apprentice, to that of being a Fellow (or companion) of the Craft.

Alas, that our modern Master's Piece is so modest in its required effort! For it takes no one very long, nor does it make much of a drain upon time or patience, to "learn the words" by heart. Lucky is he whose instructor is not content with teaching him just the words and their order, but who insists upon in-structing as to their meaning and their history.

The modern Fellowcraft Degree is, as a whole, emblematical of manhood; to attain is to be grown up, Masonically speaking. As the entered Apprentice Degree speaks of birth and babyhood, of first beginnings and first principles, so does the degree of Fellowcraft speak of growth, of strength and of virility to those who have inward and spiritual ears with which to hear. No thoughtful man can avoid the impression that this degree is an attempt to emphasize the vital need of knowledge; to encourage study and research, to bring out the beauty of wisdom. It is true that the liberal education which the degree was once sup-posed to outline and encourage is no longer either liberal or educational in fact; but it is still symbolical of all that a good Mason should learn.

To understand the degree and what it attempts to do, one must have some knowledge of its history, and of William Preston, who brought the vigor of a trained mind to bear upon the often hasty and ill considered lectures with which it progenitors were given. He turned these lectures into the elaborate exposition of the five senses, the seven liberal arts and sciences which we now have. In Preston's day such an exposition of knowledge was all inclusive; it is not Preston's fault that he knew nothing of science as we know it; that he knew nothing of medicine or biology or archeology or criticism, or electricity or astronomy in the modern sense. There are those who would substitute for the Prestonian Lectures and the Prestonian-Webb form of the degree, wholly modern exposition of the obtaining of knowledge. With such as these we have nothing to do; our Fellowcraft Degree is hallowed with age, and it is a lovely thing to do as have all those good brothers and fellows who have gone this way before us. But there is nothing to prevent us from reading the degrees symbolically. We do not have to accept it as literal, any more than we have to accept the first verse of the seventh chapter of Revelations:

"And after these things I saw four Angels standing on the four corners of the earth . . ."

as proof that the earth is square and not round. We can consider the meaning of the degree, and govern ourselves accordingly. And if we do so, we will start now, at once, to make ourselves earnest students not only of Masonic knowledge, but of knowledge in general. For of knowledge and its obtaining, this degree is most certainly a teacher; from the time of entry through the West Gate until the finish of the lecture, the entered Apprentice in the process of being "passed" is instructed, taught, given knowledge and urged that only by knowledge can he hope to obtain complete growth and the final glory of Masonry and of life, the Sublime degree of Master Mason.

The most outstanding symbol in the degree of Fellowcraft is the Flight of Winding Stairs. In the Book of Kings we find; "They Went up With Winding Stairs into the Middle Chamber." We go up "with winding stairs" into "The Middle Chamber of King Solomon's Temple." Also we travel up a winding stairs of life, and arrive, if we climb steadfastly, at the middle chamber of existence, which is removed from birth, babyhood and youth by the steps of knowledge and experience, but which is not so high above the ground that we are not as yet of the earth, earthy; not so high that we can justifiably regard it as more than a Stepping Off Place from which we may, perhaps, ascend to the Sanctum Sanctorum; that Holy of Holies, in which our troubled spirits find rest, our ignorance finds knowledge, and our eyes see God.

There is a symbolism in the fact that the stairway "Winds." A straight stairway is not as easy to climb as a winding one, which, because of the fact that it does wind, ascends by easier stages than one which climbs as a ladder. But, also, a straight stair has the goal in sight constantly, and while it may be more difficult in the effort and strength required, it is easier because one can see where one is going. There is no faith needed in climbing a ladder; one can visualize the top and have its inspiration constantly before one as one rises rung after rung.

But the winding stairway is one which tries a man's soul. He must "Believe," or he cannot reach the top. Nothing is clear before him but the next step. He must take it on faith that there is a top, that if he but climb long enough he will, indeed, reach a middle chamber, a goal, a place of light. In such a way are the Winding Stairs and the Middle Chamber symbols of life and manhood. No man knows what he will become; as a boy he may have a goal, but many reach other Middle Chambers than those they visualized as they started the ascent. No man knows whether he will ever climb all the stairs; the Angel of Death may stand but around the corner on the next step. Yet, in spite of a lack of knowledge of what is at the top of the stairs, in spite of the fact that a Flaming Sword may bar his ascent, man climbs. He climbs in faith that there is a goal and that he shall reach it; and no good Mason doubts but that for those who never see the glory of the Middle Chamber in this life, a lamp is set that they may see still farther in another, better one.

We are taught that we should use that which God gave us, the five senses, to climb the remaining seven steps of the stairway, which are the seven liberal arts and sciences. Again we must remember that William Preston, who put such a practical interpre-tation upon these steps, lived in an age when these did indeed represent all of knowledge. But we must not refuse to grow because the ritual has not grown with modern discovery. When we rise by Grammar and Rhetoric, we must consider that they mean not only language but all methods of communication. The step of logic means a knowledge not only of all methods of reasoning, but of all reasoning which logicians have accomplished. When we ascend by Arithmetic and Geometry, we must visualize all science; since science is but measurement, and all measurement in the true mathematical sense, it requires no great stretch of the imagination to read into these two steps all that science may teach. The step denominated Music means not only sweet and harmonious sounds, but all beauty; poetry, art, nature, loveli- ness of whatever kind. Not to familiarize himself with the beauty which nature provides is to be, by so much, less a man; to stunt, by so much, a striving soul. As for the seventh step of astronomy, surely it means not only the study of the solar system and the stars, as it did in William Preston;s day, but also the study of all that is beyond the earth; of spirit and the world of spirit, of ethics, philosophy, the abstract . . .of deity.

Preston builded better than he knew; his seven steps are both logical in arrangement and suggestive in their order; the true Fellowcraft will see in them a guide to the making of a man rich in mind and spirit, by which, and only by which riches, can the truest brotherhood be obtained and practiced.

The Fellowcraft Degree is one of action. Recall, if you will, where you wore your Cable-Tow; but think not that it confines action; it urges it. A great authority has stated that the words come from the Hebrew, and mean, effect "his pledge." Here, then "His Pledge" is for action, for a doing, a girding up, an effort to be made. What effort? To climb, to rise! How? By the use of the five senses to take in and make Knowledge a part of the mind and heart. What Knowledge? All Knowledge!

Conceived thus, the Fellowcraft Degree, from being a mere ceremony, a stepping stone from the Apprentice Degree to that of the Master, becomes something sublime; it is emblematic of the struggle of life, not materially, but spiritually, and it is a symbol with high hope and encouragement constantly held forth. There "is" a Middle Chamber; the steps "do" lead somewhere; man "can" climb them if he will. Not for the drone, the laggard, the journeyer by the easy paths upon the level, but for the fighter, the adventurer, the man with courage. for that which is not worth working for and fighting for is not worth having. It is no easy journey that we make through life, and it is no easy journey that we make through the mazes of this degree. In its Middle Chamber lecture are profound philosophies, deep truths, great facts concealed. He who is a true Fellowcraft will study these for himself; he will not be content with the Prestonian lecture as an end; it will be to him but a means.

For thousands of years men saw the rainbow and the best they could do was call it a promise of God. So, indeed, it may be to us all, but it is also a manifestation of beauty in nature, it is caused by the operation of well-understood laws, and when artifi-cially produced in the spectroscope, it is the key with which we unlocked the mysteries of the heavens. For as long as man has lived upon this earth the lightning has flashed and the thunder roared to no end but terror and beauty. In the last few hundred years man has read the first part of the mysterious story of electricity and taken for himself the power God put in nature. Had man been content merely with what he saw and heard he would still be as ignorant as the beasts of the field.

So should the mysteries of the Fellowcraft be to you, my brother. It is but a great symbol, given in one evening, of all that a man may make of his life. It is a lamp to guide your feet; not, as Preston would have had it, both the feet and the path. Preston and his brethren were Speculative Masons, indeed, but we are enlightened as he never was; so that if we fail to use the light he lit, or see by its radiance a greater Stairway and a higher climb than ever he visualized, the fault is within us, and not in our opportunity.

There are thousands who pass through this degree who see in it only a ceremony, just as there are thousands who see in a rainbow only the color in the sky, thousands who see a lightening flash only as a portent of danger. Be you not one of these! Do you see the Winding Star an invitation, an urge to climb, to learn, to know, to reach that Middle Chamber of your life from which you can look back on an effort well made, a life well spent, a goal well won; and then forward . . . to what awaits you in the final degree? For the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, to which you aspire and which one day may be granted you, is a symb-ol, too . . . perhaps the greatest symbol man has ever made for himself to point a way up a yet greater Winding Stair to a more vaulted Upmost Chamber, where the real Master Mason, raised from a Fellowcraft, may reach up as a little child, and touch the hand of God!

- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Jun. 1925
Masonic Service Association of North America


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