Symbolisms of the Level

By Bro. Adam Smartt, Senior Warden

We meet upon the Level, though from every station come,
The king from out his palace, and the poor man from his home;
For the one must leave his diadem outside the mason’s door,
And the other finds his true respect upon the chequered floor

                – MW Robert Morris. The Level and the Square.” 1854.

In perhaps his most well-known work, nineteenth century poet and Freemason Robert Morris lauded the symbolic importance of the three jewels worn by the stationed officers of a Craft lodge. Arguably only surpassed in Masonic prominence by the square and compasses, the plumb, level and square offer a similar admonishment in how we are to conduct ourselves as just and upright Masons. While the square and compasses offer an inward instruction to temper our passions, show reverent and faithful obedience to our Creator and always seek to act in a just and upright manner, the plumb, level and square offer guidance on how we are to act towards our fellow man, more especially if he be a Mason.

As the jewel of the Senior Warden, I’ve reflected on the tremendous duty that is commanded by the symbolic meaning of the level. As the Tiler protects the room of the Lodge from all cowans, eavesdroppers and uninvited interlopers, the level symbolically guards the body of the Lodge from everything that must remain without the door in order for peace and harmony to prevail within. By it, we are charged to leave behind all politics, piques and prejudices, divest ourselves of any rank, title and professional prestige we so often seek in external life, eschew the dogmatic divisions that have fractured societies from time immemorial, and thereby be enabled to truly embrace our brethren as equals.

In The Craft and Its Symbols, Allen Roberts notes the mild confusion many new Entered Apprentices may experience when they learn the plumb, level and square are defined as “immovable” jewels. Why, then, are they worn by those who are constantly standing and sitting during a meeting, to say nothing of the complex choreography of degree work? The short answer is that each is only ever worn by a specific officer, all of whom must be present for a lodge to open. Therefore, if a lodge is at labor you will always find the immovable jewels present. However, this is Freemasonry, so a short answer will never suffice.

Much like our working tools which have both operative and speculative uses, Roberts offers a second, more symbolic definition for what arguably makes the level “immovable.” He suggests that the guidance it offers and the lesson it imparts is of such great moral and Masonic importance, the level that is worn over our heart must also be symbolically deposited within it, and never removed.

Early in my Masonic career, I struggled with memorizing the vast array of titles and styles of address I would hear exchanged in the lodge room or, inducing even greater anxiety, when Grand Lodge Officers were present. Manners maketh man, after all. In nervously stealing furtive glances at regalia as someone approached or straining to overhear how another had addressed them, it seemed that all Masons are equal, but some are more equal than others. It was a kind Past Master – or perhaps one who had simply tired of my frequent inquiries – who quickly, correctly and charitably disabused me of the notion. “If you aren’t sure how to greet me,” he said, “you can never go wrong with ‘brother.’”

With all due respect our beautiful ritual, excellent lectures and the tomes of scholarly work that fill Masonic libraries, it was in that simple moment that I truly understood the meaning of the level.