The Masonic Word "Lewis"

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Bookend, Nov 8, 2009.

  1. Bookend

    Bookend Registered User

    (This paper was the first I ever wrote and presented, back in 1979)

    Brethren! How many of you can remember distinctly your Initiation and all the strange and bewildering events that took place on that night, when you took your first Freemasonic steps. Without doubt, your strongest recollection, as designed, would be of the position in which you found yourself placed, in the North-East Corner of the Lodge Room. Only after having seen other Candidates Initiated, would you have become aware of the actual ceremony itself.

    At the time of your Initiation, mention would have been made of the various Jewels and Furnishings of the Lodge. As time and your proficiency in the Craft increased, many of them would have become more familiar to you. However, one item of Lodge furniture somehow seems to have become overlooked, maybe forgotten, but perhaps, more accurately, overshadowed. In those countries around the world where Freemasonry began under the influence of the English Grand Lodges, it is not uncommon to find, standing somewhere in the Lodge Room, what is known as a "Lewis". This piece of equipment takes the form of a tripod, or derrick, supporting, by means of a rope, a block of stone, usually in the form of a Perfect Ashlar. The way the rope is connected to the stone is by means of a five-piece metal cramp and it is this arrangement of metal pieces that gives its name to the whole structure.

    Definition and Derivation of the Word
    In most rituals, the only reference to the Lewis is in the Lecture of the First Tracing Board, where it is written that the Lewis signifies strength and the son of a Mason. Certain privileges are also mentioned. The Lewis is, however, far more important than is indicated by this scant ritual reference. The dictionary defines a Lewis as, "An iron dovetailed tenon, made in sections, which can be fitted into a dovetailed mortice, for example, an iron contrivance for raising heavy blocks of stone." Many suggestions have been put forward on how this word became adopted into the stonemason's craft, but no completely satisfactory explanation has been forthcoming. Many ideas display no more than the almost inexhaustible imagination of their authors.

    One explanation of the derivation of the word, "Lewis", stems from the Anglicism of certain Masonic terms from Hebrew and French. During the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not uncommon for the British to adopt affectations of speech, such as the false lisp, pronouncing the letter, "v" for, "w" and vice versa. This letter trait is particularly noticeable in Dickensian characters. Developing this hypothesis, it is possible to produce the word, "Lewis" as a corrupt singular form of the word, "Levite". The Standard English Dictionary defines the Levite as, "…one of the tribe of Levi, whose members were priests of the sanctuary in ancient Israel (to 586 BC) and later (when priesthood was restricted to descendants of Aaron's family) assisted priests in caring for the Temple." It we allow that the Old Testament is the basis for many Freemasonic terms, then, "Lewis", could be substituted for the younger entrants (or assistants) in either the Jewish or Masonic Temple.

    The most generally accepted view is that the Lewis is derived from the French, "louvé", meaning, "she wolf". The word, "louvé", refers to the whole Lewis assembly. It is also generally accepted that the, "louvéteau", which means "wolf cub", or "little cub", refers to the two outer wedge shaped side pieces of the Lewis assembly. The word, "louvéteau", was used, in France in the 1740's, to describe the son of a Mason, in the same way that "Lewis" was used, in England about the year 1738, to designate the uninitiated son of a Freemason.

    It must be noted that, in the Egyptian mysteries of Isis, the Candidate was made to wear the mask of a wolf's head, hence, in these mysteries, a wolf and a Candidate were synonymous. This Osirian Rite arose from the legend that Osiris once assumed the form of a wolf during a contest with his brother, and ultimate slayer, Typhon. Within Greek mythology, according to Mackey, the wolf was consecrated to Apollo because of the similarity between "luke", meaning "light" and "lukos", meaning, "wolf". According to Ambosius Macrobius, a Roman grammarian of about AD400, the Ancients perceived a relationship between the wolf and the sun (or Apollo). As the flocks of sheep and cattle fly at the sight of the wolf, so the stars disappear at the approach of the sun.

    Adopting the generally accepted view that the word, "Lewis", was handed down to us from the French, it is quite likely that the Rev. Dr. James Anderson incorporated it into the practice of the so-called English Moderns. This would have been done when he, according to himself, was asked by the infant Grand Lodge of England in September 1721, to "digest the old Gothic Constitutions in a new and better method". Thus he adopted the word both in its right and in conjunction with the Perfect Ashlar in the tripod assembly. It is noteworthy that once the English practice became popular, it found its way back across the English Channel, and was readily adopted by the French. They, however, adopted the view that the word came from the name, "Louis".

    The Implement of Operative Masonry
    The operative mason used three types of Lewis, namely; the three-legged, the chain and the split-pin Lewis. The common five-piece or three-legged Lewis with which we are familiar, consists of two tapered pieces and a centre parallel piece, connected by a shackle and pin. The two tapered pieces are inserted into the Lewis hole and then the centre piece is placed in position. The shackle and pin are then connected and the stone is then ready to be lifted. The chain and split-pin Lewis are unknown to us as Speculative Freemasons.

    In Operative practice, the Lewis has the advantage in that it lifts the stone and lowers it directly into its final position. This cannot be achieved by chains, or ropes. It also avoids damage to external visible surfaces of the stone, which results from the use of grabs. Our familiar three-legged Lewis is used for doing the most difficult jobs, that is, lifting the heaviest blocks of stone. Because of the weight involved, the forces exerted are high and, therefore, it is useful for handling only strong, sound stone. Weak stones, or stones with flaws or cracks, would crack, or break away. Thus we learn from the Operative practice that the use of the Lewis indicates strength.

    The Masonic Lewis
    Just as the Lewis works only with good, strong, perfect stone, so Freemasonry exerts its greatest influence on men of good, sound character. The use of the word, ‘Lewis’, in modern Speculative practice is a logical development from its use in early operative days. The early Scottish manuscripts reveal that the Lewis, in the second half of the 17th century, was familiar with the Mason trade, because he had completed an apprenticeship in that trade. However, like a cowan, he was not a member of the Lodge, nor was he in possession of the Mason word.

    There is no doubt that the Lewis and particularly the later development of the Lewis being incorporated in the tripod arrangement, with the Perfect Ashlar, was of particular significance to the "Moderns". As far as the "Antients" were concerned, it was nothing more than another "Modern" innovation and therefore, worthy only of scorn. The "Moderns" were of a different mind. They included the Lewis, in one form or another, in the frontispiece of several editions of their Book of Constitutions. The union of the "Antients" and "Moderns" brought about the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813. Shortly before the unification, the greatest opponent of the "Moderns", Laurence Dermott, died and it became clear that one of the points won by them was the retention of the Lewis and tripod assembly. This is proved by the fact that it is still in use today.

    By the end of the 18th century, the Masonic word, "Lewis", had the meaning and significance given to it today. The Lewis of today is familiar with many of the teachings of Freemasonry, because of his father's influence upon him. Like his Operative counterpart, he has remained out of the Lodge, even though he is familiar and perhaps skilled in many of its facets. However, if he should join the Lodge, he ceases to be a Lewis and becomes a Brother - the equal of the other members of the Lodge. The early written references show that for nearly three hundred years, some people associated with Operative and the Speculative Masonry, have been designated by "The Masonic Word - 'Lewis'".

    Masonic Baptism and Adoption
    Masonic ceremonies of Baptism and Adoption are very closely allied and at one time were probably performed simultaneously. They were never popular in Regular Jurisdictions in spite of some attempts to promote interest in them. Albert Pike prepared a ritual for the ceremony of Adoption entitled, "Offices of Masonic Baptism, Reception of a Louvéteau and Adoption". The ritual was published by the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction, United States of America, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. Mackey records that the earliest reference to such ceremonies being practised in the USA, was in the Foyer Maçonnique Lodge of New Orleans, in 1859.

    The adoption of a "louvéteau" created an obligation upon all members of the Lodge. They had to see to his education and, when that was completed, to furnish him, if need be, with the means of establishing him in business. A Minute, in detail, of the Adoption Ceremony was drawn up, signed by all the members of the Lodge and delivered to the "louvéteau's" father. When the "louvéteau" (or Lewis) had attained the requisite age to be made a Freemason, it was necessary only, on production of the "Minute of Adoption", for him to take the Obligation. Possession of this document gave the holder the right of membership of any Lodge of his choosing, without the usual references or investigation. His character was taken for granted as being above reproach. Sadly, this preposterous assumption caused, at times, acute embarrassment to the Lodges concerned. A number of these Adopted Masons became expositors and revilers of the Craft, thereby bringing dishonour, rather than the opposite, to the Lodge. The ceremony of Adoption is today, still practiced in certain clandestine jurisdictions of France and Germany.

    The use of the Lewis in Australian Lodges
    The Lewis, as a piece of furniture in our Lodge Rooms and, as a subject for moralising upon, has been in use in "Modern" Lodges since the 18th century. According to current English practice, "…the Perfect Ashlar suspended from its tripod, is generally placed in the south-west, sufficiently towards the centre of the room to leave space for the Deacons and the Candidates to pass outside it." This refers, of course, to rooms set aside permanently as Lodge Rooms. In other cases, that is, where the furniture has to be stored at the conclusion of the meeting, the equipment is, of necessity, smaller. Under these conditions, the tripod is generally placed on the Senior Warden's pedestal.

    The use of the tripod assembly is purely of English origin, for it was unknown in Ireland and Scotland, (although Lodge Holyrood House St. Lukes No.44 S.C., was presented with one in 1897) and, as such, they can be found in a majority of Lodge Rooms throughout the British Commonwealth. In Australia, practices vary between states - in some ways, quite considerably. Not all Australian Grand Lodges are specific as to where the tripod assembly should be placed. For example, the document titled, "Information on Lodge Working - 1979", issued by the United Grand Lodge of Victoria, includes a statement to the effect that, "The tripod bearing a perfect ashlar and lewis, suspended by a system of pulleys, when used, shall be placed at the South-west corner of the pavement." This statement demonstrates that the apparatus is not an essential part of the Lodge furnishings, but is permissible. The United Grand Lodge of Queensland specifies the same location in their official ritual. The United Grand Lodge of Western Australia laid down upon the authority of its Board of General Purposes that the tripod shall be in a position on the north side of the Senior Warden's pedestal. The Grand Lodge of South Australia specifies the north-west corner of the mosaic pavement. Lodges under the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales place their tripod assembly in some convenient corner of the Lodge Room, generally behind the organ, out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

    The "Lewis" as Masonic Furniture
    It is interesting to realise that some of these Grand Lodges in Australia are, in certain cases, continuing a practice which is probably unique to them. In a small number of Lodges, the Perfect Ashlar is raised off its base when the Lodge is opened in the First Degree. It is raised a little higher in the Second Degree and higher still for the Third Degree. This process is reversed as the Lodge is closed and resumed in the First Degree. It appears that this practice, which may be likened to "flag-raising", began to lose favour towards the end of the 1930's and is found only rarely today in just one or two jurisdictions. However, a few Lodges still follow part of the practice. It is possible to find some Lodges in New South Wales and Victoria, in which the Perfect Ashlar is raised and lowered only when the Lodge is opened, or closed, in the First Degree. The Officer performing this duty varies from Lodge to Lodge, but is generally either the Junior, or Senior Deacon.

    The most widespread use of this practice is in the Victorian Constitution, where the Senior Deacon adjusts the Ashlar, while the Junior Deacon displays, or conceals, the Tracing Board. An interesting variation occurs in the Centenary Lodge No.54 of the Tasmanian Constitution, where the Senior Warden raises and lowers the Ashlar in the First and Second Degrees only. In this case, the Ashlar is situated on the edge of the Tessellated Pavement, in front of him. If a Third Degree is to be worked, the tripod assembly is removed from the room before the Lodge is tyled. The practice of raising and lowering the Perfect Ashlar, suspended within the assembly, is dying out in all jurisdictions within Australia and in no State is it universally adopted. The use of the tripod assembly was introduced and fostered by the "Moderns" and its introduction into Australia was undoubtably a direct result of English influence. The practice of raising and lowering the Ashlar was probably also of English origin. It is interesting to speculate that it is now only followed in a few Lodges in Australia, having died out everywhere else, including England.

    Some Masonic Symbolism
    As has been previously mentioned, the Lewis is used in Operative practice only on strong, sound stone. In the same way, Speculative Freemasonry is concerned only with individuals of the highest and strongest character. Lewis denotes strength and this is demonstrated by its use in lifting the Perfect Ashlar by means of a winch and tripod. It also alludes to the son of a Freemason, whose duty it is, "to bear the heat and burden of the day from which his parents, by reason of their age, ought to be exempt". It is for this reason that several jurisdictions choose to specify that the tripod assembly must be located in the West, near the Senior Warden. The reasoning behind this is that the Senior Warden, representing the setting sun, symbolises Man in the decline of years. Thus it is most appropriate that the Lewis assembly should be placed near him. Ideally, the Perfect Ashlar (or father) should be in a raised position, to indicate that the Lewis, that is, the son, is supporting him.

    The use of the Word in the names of Australian Lodges
    An apparently unique Australian custom is the use of the word, "Lewis" in the name of a Lodge. With big, numerically strong Lodges, it is obvious that many capable Brethren never get the opportunity to demonstrate their ability and progress through the "Chairs". Many naturally become frustrated and disenchanted. Finally, they resign from the Lodge. Also, in big Lodges, fraternal fellowship is never as strong as it is in smaller Lodges. To overcome these difficulties, it had been the practice of these very strong Lodges to form spin-off, or daughter Lodges, as they have been called.

    All this is simple and straight-forward, with the process having been repeated many times. However, in the early part of this century, two Brethren in South Australia were in the process of submitting a petition for a new Lodge. They endeavoured to find a name for it, which would permanently identify it with the sponsoring, or Mother Lodge. They hit upon using the word, "Lewis" in its title. Ultimately, the new Lodge was formed under the auspices of Lodge Emulation No.32 of the South Australian Constitution. It was known as Lodge Emulation Lewis No.69 S.A.C., and was consecrated on 8th August 1912, thereby becoming the first Lodge to be identified as a Lewis Lodge of Freemasons. Since that time, the use of the word, "Lewis" in Lodge names has expanded, but the practice has not been adopted outside of Australia, or indeed, throughout Australia.

    Lodges, like many other subjects such as ships and aeroplanes, are regarded as feminine. For example, we talk of our "Mother" Lodge, that is, the Lodge into which we were Initiated. We use the expression, "daughter Lodge", to describe the sponsoring Lodge of one newly Consecrated. How natural, therefore, to use the expression, "she wolf", or "louvé", that is, "Lewis", to describe the new Lodge. By simply adding the word, "Lewis" to the name of the sponsoring Lodge, that affiliation is maintained and the close maternal link between the two Lodges remains clear for all to see.

    Lewis - The Son of a Freemason
    From the explanation of the First Tracing Board, we have learnt that it is the duty of the Lewis to look after the needs of his parents and, for so doing, can claim the privilege of being made a Freemason before all others. It can be claimed that this privilege is exercised by his being Initiated at the age of eighteen years, whilst others who are not Lewises must wait until they reach the age of twenty-one. Such, however, was not the original intention. This is illustrated by an official directive issued by the Enquiry Office of the United Grand Lodge of England in these terms:

    "A Lewis has no special privilege other than, should there be more than one Candidate on the day of his Initiation, he can claim to be the senior for the purpose of the ceremony. He cannot claim precedence over Candidates proposed previously to himself and must take his place in the usual rotation of any waiting list of applicants that there may be."

    Clearly, this directive means that the Lewis comes first on the day of his Initiation, if there is more than one Candidate. It entitles him, by custom and not by rule, to be admitted before any other Candidate.

    A unique membership arrangement exists in the Alumim Lodge No.58 on the Register of the Grand Lodge of Israel. This Lodge, the name of which means, "Youth" , requires that every Initiate must be a Lewis. In this case, Lewis is defined as a man who was born after his father had been Initiated. To these Brethren, fathers and sons alike, the Masonic word, "Lewis" is of special significance.

    In conclusion, we can see that the contrivance called a "Lewis" is of doubtless antiquity, being known to the ancient Romans. As a symbol of Speculative Masonry, the moral teachings attached to it would appear to have been born at the time of the transition of Operative Lodges to those of Free and Accepted Masons. The tripod and Perfect Ashlar can be seen to be of English origin. Indeed, that symbol has been appropriately recognised in England, by being incorporated into the cap badge of the Royal Masonic Institute for Boys. Although the derivation of the Masonic word, "Lewis" is lost in antiquity, to us as masons, it lives as one of the most important symbols of our Mysteries. As such it deserves much more prominence than it receives.
  2. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing!

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