Contemplating the Level

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Brian L. Pettice, 33°

Last month Brother R J Budler, posted a Masonic Challenge on the Grand Lodge of Illinois Facebook group page. He challenged all to pick a specific working tool to ponder the meaning of and attempt to apply to our lives for one month and then share our thoughts and results. The Worshipful Master of Olive Branch Lodge No. 38, after learning of this challenge, charged each of us lodge members to do this exercise and report back to the lodge. I chose the level. Here are my reflections on the symbolism of the level and how I attempted to apply it to my life.

When the level is introduced to us a working tool, in the second degree, we are told that it is an instrument used by operative masons to prove horizontals and that it reminds us as speculative masons that, “We are traveling upon the level of time, to that undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns.” This is not the first we have heard of it though. If we were paying attention at the close of the first degree we learned that masons should, “meet on the level.” I think the symbolisms of the level in these two instances hints that the level has something significant to teach us about both life and death.

First, anyone familiar with the works of William Shakespeare recognizes the phrase, “that undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns” from Hamlet where one of its interpretations is that it means death. From this we are reminded that we all are going to die. We all have the same destination. We are equal in this regard. Texts from ritual we use in our public ceremonies further bear this out. In our Funeral ritual we are charged to learn, “from the level, equality.” We also meditate on this passage, “What are all the externals of human dignity, the power of wealth, or the charms of beauty when nature has paid her just debt? View life stripped of its ornaments, and exposed in its natural weakness, and we see the vanity of all earthly things save those which go to the growth and perfection of individual character.

In the grave all fallacies are detected, all ranks are leveled, all distinctions are done away. Here the scepter of the prince and the of the beggar lie side by side.” We also learn when the Senior Warden is invested with the level as the jewel of his office at installation that, “a time will come—and the wisest knows not how soon—when all distinction but that of goodness shall cease, and Death, the grand leveler of human greatness, reduce us to the same state.” We are all, indeed, equal in Death.

But what does the level teach us about life? Again from the Senior Warden’s installation ritual, “The level demonstrates that we are descended from the same stock, partake of the same nature, and share the same hope; and though distinctions among men are necessary to preserve subordination, yet no eminence of station should make us forget that we are brethren; for he who is placed on the lowest spoke of Fortune’s wheel may entitled to our regard.” Recognizing that we are all equal in Death, we should also recognize that we are equal in Life. This recognition should change the way we live. It should change how we treat each other. 

It is intimately connected with Justice, not in the sense of retribution for a wrong done, but in treating each other with that, “just due without distinction.” We are to love each other. We are to serve each other. We are to treat each other better than we deserve—everyone, not just the person you like, not just the person you agree with, not just the person who treats you well, but everyone. For as we are equal in death, we are equal in life. We all are endued with that divine spark; with a soul; with that, “immortal part which survives the grave and bears the nearest affinity to that Supreme Intelligence which pervades and animates all nature, and which can never, no never, die.”

I am reminded of a scene in lecture in the upcoming Feast of the Paschal Lamb portrayed by the Scottish Rite. On the evening of the Last Supper, Christ’s disciples argued about which among them was the greatest. Just as we often are-- as I often am—they were concerned with matters of ego and of passions that have no importance. Jesus responded by giving them a lesson in sacrifice and humility as he washed their feet. It is that kind of humility, that kind of sacrifice, that kind of selflessness that the level challenges us to strive for. These are the things I thought of as I contemplated the level this month. These are the things I tried to remember and apply to my interactions with my fellow human beings.


Brian L. Pettice, 33° is a Past Master of Anchor Lodge No. 980 and plural member of Olive Branch Lodge No. 38 in Danville, IL and an Honorary Member of a couple of others. He is also an active member of both the York and Scottish Rites. He cherishes the Brothers that have become Friends over the years and is thankful for the opportunities Freemasonry gives and has given him to examine and improve himself, to meet people he might not otherwise have had chance to meet, and to do things he might not otherwise have had chance to do. He is employed as an electrician at the University of Illinois and lives near Alvin, IL with his wife Janet and their son Aidan. He looks forward to sharing the joy the fraternity brings him with others. His email address is

1 comment:

  1. Great article Bro. Pettice! Many great religions and philosophies throughout history - Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddism, Confucianism, to name a few - teach equality and "the golden rule" in some form or another in their sacred texts. The teachings of the level are truly universal and timeless.


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