When we are first initiated into Freemasonry we are not generally aware of the number of Orders or Degrees that exist or their relevance, you hear brethren talk of the Royal Arch, Mark etc. So in effort to expand and illuminate on this subject here is a précis on the better known and their links in the Masonic story. The rituals and foundations of many Masonic Orders is structured around the story of the building of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and murder by ruffians of its chief architect, Hiram Abif., but not all.
Craft: The First Degree – a rite of Initiation – The entry of any man into a closed society has been conducted in clandestine mystery from time immemorial. The principles of moral truth and virtue are amply communicated in the Charge to the Initiate and he is effectively ‘indentured’ as a workman.
Craft: The Second Degree – a true beginning – Now we reach the real foundation. A basically skilled workman is transformed into a craftsman capable of building stately edifices to honour and glory to the Most High. The first solid Temple is constructed by our ancient brethren and the first spiritual Temple in our own hearts . We are now beginning to grasp the essence of the analogy. By referring to historical and biblical events the foundations of freemasonry are truly laid.
Craft: The Third Degree – Raising to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason –We move away from the operative areas of construction and into allegories which is probably the closest to religious aspects of figurative resurrection. The darker sides of man are drawn by ambition and greed into the commission of acts of treachery and violence. We are now in disarray as the genuine secrets are lost, the Temple remains to be completed and we mourn for the ‘builder’. We are not to regain our secrets for some 500 years.
The Holy Royal Arch
The Holy Royal Arch – that which was lost is now found
- Holy: pertaining to the Temple. In this case the second Temple.
- Arch: the place of the deposition of the genuine secrets of a Master Mason.
- Royal: alluding to the Princes or Elders of Grand Sanhedrin.
And Jerusalem, the Holy city of David, the site of all three Temples. After the destruction of Solomon’s Temple the entire city was laid to waste and fell into decay. It is quite understandable that the actual location of the secret vaults would have been lost to living memory. The discovery of the actual location by the Sojourners and the artifacts therein had to be verified by the rulers of the day. The ceremony, which is the recovery of the lost secrets is somewhat dramatised. This is generally agreed to be the completion of the Master Mason Degree. To become a Companion you must be a Master Mason.
The Mark Degree
The Mark Degree – Possibly the purest and most Antient form of Free Masonry
In the Scottish constitution this degree is an extension of the Fellowcrafts. The giving of a personal ‘Mark’ in the Degree is the acknowledgement of the individuality and skill of the builder. It reminds us that by our own efforts we should strive to complete our allotted tasks but also bear in mind that without the cooperation of our neighbours our work would have no place in the intended structure.
To become Mark Master Mason you must be Master Mason in the English Constitution.
The Royal Ark Mariners
The Royal Ark Mariners – An Antediluvian Origin
What if our Masonic origins were much earlier? What if Noah was the original subject of the third degree? After all the story goes that he was ‘raised’ in some form by his sons, Shem and Japheth. And two great pillars were constructed to resist destruction by fire and water inside which were placed the Antediluvian knowledge so that they would not be lost forever by the cleansing of the earth by the great flood. These pillars one would be at the entry to a vault preceded by a series of arches. Sounds a familiar story? but with different characters and another time placement. To become a Royal Ark Mariner you need to be Mark Master Mason.
Royal & Select Masters
Royal & Select Masters – A Cryptic Degree
To become a Companion in this Order you have to be a Master Mason, Mark Master Mason and a Companion of the Holy Royal Arch. There are four steps in this order, Select Master, Royal Master, Most Excellent Master and Super Excellent Master. This fills the gap from the Mark to the Royal Arch, remember the secrets were lost for 500 years. So what of Cryptic? A set of clues leading to hidden treasure? The lost word?
Rose Croix – also known as The Ancient & Accepted Rite
A Christian Degree and one of very few religious orders in Freemasonry. It has 30˚ fortunately most are ‘conferred’ but each one is practiced somewhere in England & Wales every year.
Order of the Secret Monitor
Order of the Secret Monitor – also known as The Brotherhood of David and Jonathan
This is one of the fastest growing Masonic Orders in the United Kingdom. The ceremonies typically surround the story of the remarkable Friendship which existed between David and Jonathan. (I Samuel XX). There are three distinct degrees to the Order of the Secret Monitor:
1° – Secret Monitor. The story unfolds recalling the Friendship that developed between David and Jonathan and the wonderful lessons to be learned in friendship, support and fidelity.
2° – Prince. Admission into an Assembly of Princes is also derived from the Book of Samuel and recalls how Saul sought to destroy David and relates the interesting legend of the methods contrived to foil the pursuits of the jealous King.
3° – Supreme Ruler. This last degree concerns the Installation to the headship of a Conclave and surrounds David’s Kingship. Within the ritual of this degree there is a ceremony of Commissioning, which permits rank and status throughout the Order as a whole and furthermore, a certificate is issued to confirm the Officer is commissioned, both of which are quite unique in Freemasonry.
The qualifications required to be proposed into a Conclave of the Order are that of being a Master Mason.
The Order of the Allied Masonic Degrees
The following degrees are worked under Grand Council. St Lawrence the Martyr; Knight of Constantinople; Grand Tilers of Solomon; The Red Cross of Babylon; and The Holy Order of the Grand High Priest.
Every Candidate must be a Mark Master Mason and a Companion of The Holy Royal Arch as the degrees worked today encompass and complete some of the explanations relating to those Degrees. A Candidate must first be admitted to the Degree of St Lawrence the Martyr, but the other four degrees may be conferred in any order and in any Council.
Red Cross of Constantine
Red Cross of Constantine – The full name of this order is The Masonic and Military Order of the Red Cross of Constantine and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and St John The Evangelist
Its outstanding feature is that it is the only Order open to English masons which avowedly sets out to give a Christian interpretation of the Craft and Royal Arch. The degrees which constitute this Order are:-
- The Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine
- The Knights of St. John and the Holy Sepulchre
The Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine teach us the well-known story of how Constantine came to be converted to Christianity, but the Lecture contains a most interesting reference to the Roman College of Architects, who are regarded by some Masonic Scholars as the direct ancestors of the Comacine Masons. This degree is a stepping stone to the degree of the Knights of St. John and the Holy Sepulchre.
The ceremonies are solemn, dramatic and of deep mystical significance, but their most striking feature is an attempt to explain the Craft and Royal Arch Ceremonies in a Christian sense.
Source: An interpretation by W. Bro Syd. K Robinson P.Prov.A.G.Reg, W. Bro. R. Green and The Provincial Grand Lodge of Warwickshire Website.