The Origin of the Lewis
– by WB Bill Douglas, Kenilworth Lodge #29
To find the origin of the Lewis in Freemasonry we have to go back to operative masonry in 12th century Scotland. Sometime in the middle of the 12th century, Kilwinning Abbey was built in the west of Scotland, and as the Scottish stone masons were apparently deemed inadequate, French stonemasons were imported to do the building of it, because they were well experienced and were good at it. They brought with them a contraption which they called a “loues” which is a Latin word meaning “to levitate” and is explained in the explanation of the 1st degree tracing board in the standard Antient and Accepted Rite of Scottish Freemasonry ritual as well as the original ritual of the Emulation Rite as follows.
‘The word Lewis denotes strength and is here depicted as certain pieces of metal dovetailed into a stone and forming a cramp, which when used in combination with some of the mechanical powers, such as a system of pulleys, enables the operative mason to raise great weights to certain heights, while fixing them to their proper bases.
Lewis likewise denotes the son of a mason. His duty is to bear the burden and heat of the day, from which his parents by reason of their age ought to be exempt. To assist them in time of need so as to render the close of their days happy and comfortable. His privilege for so doing is to be made a mason before any other person, however dignified”.
So it became a sort of compassionate reward in operative masonry, ‘Though it had to be earned by the young stonemasons looking after their aged parents. Over time the spelling became Anglicized and was changed to Lewis.
In modern Freemasonry of course, the conditions have changed somewhat. What with old age and other pensions, Government subsidies, RIFs etc, the need to take care of one’s parents has diminished considerably and in many cases disappeared altogether. So the term Lewis has become merely an honourary one. Like they seem to do with most things, lodges and Grand Lodges have introduced their own frivolous rules and regulations to qualify to be a Lewis. For instance, your father must be alive and in good standing for you to qualify to be a Lewis, or, if he’s dead then he must have been in good standing at the time of his death, or, you father must have joined the craft before you joined the craft, and other such silly and nonsensical rules.
The fact is that no lodge or Grand Lodge can decide whether or not you are a Lewis, it’s something between you and your dad. If your dad is or was a Mason then you are a Lewis and there is nothing anybody can do about it. It is possible to purchase a Lewis jewel, they can be bought directly from Dominion regalia or some other regalia supply outlet, or you can buy it via your secretary through Grand Lodge. It’s a very nice jewel to wear and it let’s other Masons know that you are a Lewis and is quite a start up conversation piece.
So, the loues, quite a brilliant piece of constructional mechanism for its time, originated in France and the lewis as a reward for taking good care of ones parents originated in Scotland. It originated in Scotland probably because it didn’t actually cost anything.
So, if your father is or was a Mason, either operative or speculative, in spite of anything anyone might say to the contrary, you are a Lewis and nobody can take that away from you.
Written by WB Bill Douglas (#29), and presented by WB Grant Nieman (#29) as part of the Inter-Lodge Education / Visitation program at Red Deer Lodge #12 February 14, 2017