Vol. XLIV No. 11 — November 1966


Conrad Hahn

Horizontals are among the “signs” given to an Entered Apprentice. No further explanation of the term is made, however. If the initiate wonders about the symbolic application of that word, he must speculate for himself.

In fact, not until the Fellowcraft Degree does he encounter the word again. He is informed that a tool known as the level is used by operative masons “to lay horizontals.” Immediately, however, the symbolic meaning of horizontal is pinned to one of the most obvious connotations suggested by the instrument being described: “We are traveling on that level of time, etc. . . .”

From the common meaning of horizontal, “on a level; flat,” has come this limited symbolism in the Fellowcraft Degree — a vague definition of equality. We meet “upon the level.” We travel “on the level of time,” because we have a common destiny, the grave.

From time to time thoughtful Masons have expressed dissatisfaction with the simplified symbolism associated with the level, i.e., with horizontals. Our journeys of life may have a common end, but the road is never perfectly level for any person. Even the biological development of the individual suggests that living is not a level experience, during which no part is higher (i.e., more vigorous, more productive) than any other. Masons meet upon the level, in the sense that all have the same duties, rights, and responsibilities; but no rational person would insist that their abilities, skills, and achievements operate on the same level.

The true equality of men lies in their relationship to God. They are all brothers because they are all sons of one Father. They have a common spiritual parent; they are equal in His eyes so far as their duties to Him are concerned and so far as a share of His love is their portion. But how they discharge their duties or how they understand His love can hardly be said to make them equal. In this respect men do not labor or travel (travail) on the same level.

The early ritualists of Speculative Freemasonry made an easy identification of horizontals with the level of time, perhaps because they had at hand a vivid Shakespearean phrase to dress up their explanation. “The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns” is part of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy.

In doing so, however, they displayed a familiarity with literature rather than an interest in the fundamentals of the builders’ art. “To lay horizontals” is a constructive labor for living craftsmen.

One of the original goals of Speculative Freemasonry was to create a level, “a common platform,” upon which a universal brotherhood could achieve mutual respect and understanding, to labor in harmony and peace. If that is still a goal of the Masonic brotherhood, it needs to emphasize the idea that the level is an instrument used to lay horizontals, i.e., to prepare a smooth and level foundation for that understanding that will enable men everywhere to work in harmony and peace.

In the frenzied times in which we live, in an age that specializes in the computerized measurement of the physical and material aspects of life, many men give way to fearful doubts about the spiritual nature of man. Speculative Masons who have learned to lay symbolic horizontals will not give up so easily the search for Truth that leads to sympathetic understanding and brotherly love, just because the Lost Word cannot be programmed out of an electronic brain.

One of the first steps in the erection of a building is the preparation of the site, a level place upon which perpendiculars may be raised. The builders of the ancient world sometimes performed herculean labors to construct a horizontal platform on which their beautiful structures were to be erected. The Parthenon on the Acropolis at Athens first required the construction of a tremendous stone platform, for which the huge ashlars had to be quarried at a considerable distance, moved with great effort, and then put together to lay a gigantic horizontal on the mountain top.

The Temple of Solomon on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem called for a similar laborious construction in order to lay the horizontal foundation on which the Temple could rise in all its splendor. Many of the huge stones were quarried deep in the earth, brought to light, squared and smoothed in order to provide the level foundation of the House of the Lord. Such laying of a horizontal base was hard work; but it had to be done if the building was to achieve its magnificent harmony of wisdom, strength, and beauty,

For the Speculative Builder, a symbolic interpretation comes readily to mind. To build that house not made with hands, the temple of universal brotherhood, requires hard work, thorough spiritual work, just to construct the level site for its foundation, its horizontal platform, which is nothing less than an active understanding of the universal brotherhood of all men as equal children of God.

A builder must have enough imagination to envision the site, even though the terrain is rough and hilly. He must have enough knowledge and wisdom to discover the materials he will have to use to lay the horizontals. In his individual labors to perfect himself as a part of the building, he may have to dig down through his own prejudices to find the ashlars of sympathy and understanding that he will need to level the site for his constructive labors. He will have to bring them to light and shape them with insight and love to fit them for his speculative building. Often he will have to see the possibilities for his foundation laying in the most unprepossessing materials — including other individuals he has found it difficult to like or to approve of.

To lay horizontals” in a speculative sense is to prepare oneself for the building of brotherhood by leveling one’s own passions, prejudices, ignorance, and animosities and creating “more noble and glorious” attributes in their stead.

To accomplish this, a Speculative Builder needs the spade of humility to unearth a true understanding of brotherhood from the rough terrain of his own pride and prejudice. He needs the mallet and chisel of sincerity and truth to shape his fraternal feelings into a benevolent ashlar for the foundation of the house not made with hands. He needs the level of pure justice to test the speculative horizontals he has laid in such spiritual labors. The level is an instrument used by Speculative Masons for more noble and glorious purposes than merely to remind them of death.

Horizontals are classified Masonically as “signs,” together with right angles and perpendiculars. Geometrically, these concepts are very closely related. In order to attain stability and strength, a building must be erected so that the principal stresses are perpendicular to a horizontal. But a perpendicular at the North Pole is not only at right angles to the horizontal on which it has been raised; it is also parallel to a horizontal at the equator, and perpendicular in the opposite direction to a horizontal at the South Pole!

In the area of one individual’s experience, these differences are immaterial. On the global scale, however, they illustrate the fact that the application of the same principle may produce different effects, depending on the size of the “point of view.” To understand universal brotherhood requires a speculative enlargement of one’s spiritual point of view, to realize that brethren of different places and different practices are really using the same building principles to which we have committed ourselves.

A more involved definition of a level also illustrates the more complex relationship of horizontals when viewed from a global point of view. If a horizontal is “a line that cuts perpendicularly (at right angles) all plumblines that it meets,” how far can such a line extend along the earth’s surface before it fails to meet any plumblines? If a horizontal at the equator is parallel to a perpendicular (a plumbline) at the North Pole, the twain shall never meet.

Suppose the earth were perfectly round and level at the equator. Then suppose you erect 10 foot perpendicular poles (plumblines) every 10 yards on the equator all around the world. On each pole you lay a horizontal bar long enough in both directions to touch the horizontals laid on the adjacent poles. Theoretically, those horizontal lines will meet at a slight angle, not visible to the naked eye. But as those lines touch each other all around the globe, the continuous line they form will be a many-sided polygon that looks like a circle.

Masonically, the circle is a symbol of completion, or perfection. The individual may not see the whole. Speculatively, however, each Builder can lay his horizontals accurately and carefully where he is at labor. With faith in the divine plans of the Great Architect of the Universe, he can see that what appears to be aslant or out of plumb in another’s spiritual construction may really be, like the perpendiculars and horizontals described above, in harmony with the circle of spiritual universality. To understand our differences in such a large framework is to lay universal horizontals, a speculative level whereon men of good will can meet in friendship and brotherly love.

The level is an instrument used to lay horizontals!

The Masonic Service Association of North America