The Lewis Degree: A Ceremony Generations in the Making


By Tony Gilbert

illustration of Masonic father and son in the shape of the Lewis Degree

On a Thursday evening in May, Jerome Ortiz prepared to experience something few Masons ever get to see: A Lewis degree. In front of a packed lodge room, his father, Victor Ortiz, would raise him to the sublime degree of Master Mason. From then on, the two would know each other not only as father and son, but also as brothers.

They’d also be known as Lewis Masons—the select group of second-generation Masons raised by their fathers. The Lewis degree is a reference to an ancient iron tool used to hoist large stones. The rare occasion of a Lewis degree conferral can be commemorated with a special pin shaped like the tool, a sort of looped shackle with three vertical bars underneath.

While it’s widely recognized elsewhere, the Lewis degree was formally introduced to California only in 2016, by then-Grand Master David Perry. Perry compares the metaphor of the Lewis with the opening verses of 1 Kings 2:1, when David encouraged his son Solomon to live an upright life. Perry learned about the custom through his travels to other jurisdictions. Not coincidentally, that same year, he participated in a Lewis ceremony by raising his own son, Nicholas Leija, at Napa Valley № 93. That same night, Leija’s childhood friend, Russell Medina, was also raised by his father, Mikal Litzza, making it an extra-rare double Lewis degree night. At the Annual Communication that year, Grand Master Perry presented the Grand Lodge of California’s first-ever Lewis jewel to Nicholas. Says Leija, “As Masons, we’re trying to raise good men. What better way than through your son? I’m proud of my dad for bringing back the Lewis award.”

For his part, Perry says he now feels “blessed to have lived a life my son feels like following.”

That’s a familiar refrain among California’s Lewis Masons.

“It’s very emotional for a father to see his offspring follow in his footsteps,” says Victor Ortiz, who traveled widely as a member of the Navy and even served as grand master of the Grand Lodge of Japan. “I have three boys, and I never told them to join. They need to come of their own free will and accord. It’s hard to explain the feeling— the joy—of knowing my son is coming to an organization that really was my life.”

The Ortiz family shares more than just Masonry between generations, as both father and son have served in the military. Jerome Ortiz, of Claude H. Morrison № 747, says that dual bond is strengthened when he meets other veterans or active-duty members in lodge. To know he shares that sense of camaraderie with his father makes his membership even more special.

So while it’s often said that you can choose your friends but not your family, the Lewis degree shows that sometimes, you can have both.

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