Freemasonry itself is one of the World’s oldest secular fraternal societies, being an association of like-minded people who work towards a common goal; the aim being self-improvement for the betterment of Society in general. The tenets of Freemasonry, Faith, Hope and Charity, being foremost in obtaining this.
It describes itself as ‘a peculiar system of Morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols’. These are encountered during a series of three ritual ceremonies: Initiation into the 1st degree, Passing to the 2nd degree and Raising to the 3rd degree; all performed in our Lodges.
These rituals are said to be of great antiquity, drawing on many elements, including stonemasonry and legends of the Temple of King Solomon. There are many versions of these rituals including the most commonly used Emulation, and the Besant Ritual, that retain the main purposes. They are said to be of great antiquity, drawing on many elements, including stonemasonry and legends of the Temple of King Solomon. The tools of an Operative mason are used to figuratively direct us to lead upright and true lives, to always act on the “level” guiding us with a moral code to which we all aspire.
The purpose of the ceremonies are to seek to instill morality in us all by teaching and practicing the highest standards of conduct in society. Freemasons strive to be good citizens, to practice the highest moral and social standards, and to be men or women of friendship, charitable disposition, and integrity. It is often said that Freemasonry… ‘Makes good people better.’ While Freemasonry is not a religion, all members must profess the belief in a Supreme Being. One of the strengths of the Masonic Fraternity, is the diversity of colours, classes and creeds it embraces. This is because we all share the common bond of fellowship, which allows us to meet together without religious or political differences coming between us. Freemasonry is very much, an attitude of generosity of mind.
An analogy of the Degrees could be to see them as a person’s growth, in which the EA is a child, learning things for the first time, traditionally “seen but not heard”. Depicted as the rough material, as yet, worked with little skill; it relates to the body. The Entered Apprentice degree teaches us patience, acceptance and humility among other valuable lessons.
The Fellowcraft is the growth of an adolescent to adulthood, receiving a growing amount of independence and strongly encouraged to learn about the five sciences. The Fellowcraft is to fine tune ourselves; as a stonemason hones the rough rocks, so we study to fine tune our intellect for ours and Society’s benefit, it relates to the mind.
The Master Mason degree teaches us of that point in life that we all must reach and the transition to the Divine Spirit, to which the degree relates.
In seeking membership of the Eighteenth degree of he Rose Croix of Heredom, Knight of the Eagle and Pelican , it is necessary to explain the workings of the Chapters.
The 4th to the 33rd degree is generally known as the Ancient and Accepted Rite and before taking the eighteenth degree a candidate must be prepared to have conferred upon them the degrees from the 4th to the 17th inclusive.
The 17th degree, Knights of the East and West, was said to have originated in the year 1118 AD when eleven knights taking vows of secrecy and friendship and discretion when in the hands of the Garinus, Prince and Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is a philosophical degree and is conferred within the Chapter of the Knights of he Rose Croix of Heredom.
The beautiful degree of the Rose Croix especially emphasises the quality of Love which should unite all the Brethren in a lasting bond of friendship and charity.
Mark Master Masons
The first record of the Ritual is in 1769, when Thomas Dunckerley, as Provincial Grand Superintendent, conferred the ceremonies of Mark Man and Mark Master Mason at a Royal Arch Chapter in Portsmouth.
As Freemasonry spread around the globe in the 18th and 19th centuries, Mark Masonry became well established and now has a worldwide presence.
Similar to Craft Freemasonry, the Mark Degree conveys moral and ethical lessons using a ritualised allegory based around the building of King Solomon's Temple. The events of the ritual require the candidate to undertake the role of Fellowcraft mason, thus the degree is seen as an extension of the Fellowcraft Degree and the philosophical lessons conveyed are appropriate to that stage in a candidate's Masonic development. The legend reconciles the Anglo-American version of the Hiramic legend with the 3,300 Master Masons of Anderson's constitutions, making them Mark Masters. or Overseers.
The candidate is helped to choose a Mason's Mark, and introduced to another extension of the Hiramic myth, relating to the manufacture, loss, and re-finding of the keystone of the Royal Arch of that degree.
Often referred to as the "Working Degree" it is much more informal than the Craft as it represents Masons at their work with the most of the officers of the Mark Lodge being familiar to Craft Freemasons. Many of the implements of a Mason's trade are present including the original full-length aprons from which today we drive our modern speculative aprons.
A Brother is said to be Advanced into a Mark Master Masons Lodge with the ceremonies of Mark Man and Mark Master Masons now combined into a single ceremony, which teaches the candidate that continued hard work, fortitude and above all, a belief in a Supreme Being will ultimately lead to its own reward of an enduring bond of friendship between all masons.
Royal Ark Mariner
The story of this degree contains events before, during and after the Biblical flood. The apron and emblems of this degree are easily recognisable by the ark and rainbow motif, the degree itself claims the original apron to have been made from unfinished lambskin.
A Brother is said to be "Elevated" to the Degree of Royal Ark Mariner.
The Principal Officers of a Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners represent Noah, and two of his sons; Shem and Japheth. The Lodge room is made to represent the Ark of Safety. Indeed, Brethren of the 19th Century considered Noah to be one of the Grand Masters of Masonry. He is a celebrated builder and a man of integrity in the face of great opposition and there is something inherently true in the idea that Masonry is heir to the fruits of the greatest and noblest accomplishment of a more primitive generation of man.
The Royal Ark Mariner degree is special because it embodies this speculative reference to far antiquity, which if taken literally implies that all humanity was saved from the great flood by a Grand Master Mason.
Royal Ark Mariners believe the point being made regarding Salvation (Deliverance) and Trust are equally applicable to all of us who depend upon the Great Architect. The ritual teaches that the watchful and discreet Brother will be received into an Ark of Safety where Brotherly love, Truth and Charity reign supreme.
Holy Royal Arch
This is an additional Ritual in Freemasonry, closely associated with the Craft Freemasonry. It was an added extra, worked within craft Lodges for many years. Thus it came to be regarded, by the Ancients in England, as a fourth degree in Freemasonry. The Moderns, on the other hand, do not appear to have officially recognised the degree at all (with a few exceptions), leading in due course, to completely separate Royal Arch Chapters.
Whilst the Royal Arch is, therefore, an integral part of Freemasonry and interwoven with the Craft, it is organised as a separate division, distinct from the Craft degrees, and those involved would say, completes its teaching.
The Holy Royal Arch presents the inquiring mind with an inspirational framework for life. Through the lessons presented in the Craft ceremonies, a Freemason is called upon to improve their relationship with their fellows and to practice the three great principles upon which Craft is founded: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.
The Holy Royal Arch takes matters further and can be seen to be the superstructure that makes all that has been presented complete and perfect. The ceremony in the Holy Royal Arch is colourful, thought provoking and uplifting. It is based upon the Old Testament legend of the rebuilding of the Temple and invokes, simultaneously, sensations of humility and our dependence on our unseen Creator.
The Holy Royal Arch makes good the promise of recovery when what is lost in the Third Degree of Craft Masonry is revealed in a fascinating ceremony. Progress through the Holy Royal Arch completes an individual's journey through pure ancient Freemasonry. Master Masons can, therefore, become members of the Holy Royal Arch in order to further develop and enrich their understanding of Freemasonry.
Members of the Royal Arch are known as Companions. The word companion derives from two Latin terms, meaning someone with whom you shared your bread, was one who could be trusted with your life; it suggests a higher affinity than that of a Brother. It is particularly apt description of a member of the Holy Royal Arch, who has a duty to support and encourage their Companions in their personal lives. New members very quickly discover why we say the desire of all Holy Royal Arch Masons is to "please each other and to unite in the grand design of being happy and communicating happiness".
Membership is open to Freemasons of all faiths who are Master Masons. Members of the Chapter when an individual seeks admission must propose, second and ballot for them. This should only be when a Master Mason is entirely comfortable with Craft Masonry and its ethos. The interval between becoming a Master Mason and exaltation into a Royal Arch Chapter is, however, a matter for each individual and will largely depend on personal circumstances and readiness for its teachings.
There are two Ceremonies: Exaltation, when a new member is admitted to the Chapter and the installation for each of the three Principals. Both are most impressive, colourful and moving occasions.
An optional ceremony is very occasionally worked, that being known as "Passing the Veils" and it is a wonderful additional explanation linking the various degrees to each other. This can be worked either before a Brother is made a Companion or afterwards at a later date.
The Order of the Secret Monitor
The Order of the Secret Monitor, which developed from a still more ancient degree, is the Brotherhood of David and Jonathon and is in its way older than Freemasonry itself. Its principles and its watchwords being founded upon those grand examples set by two worthy Hebrew princes from around 1000 BC as recorded in the Jewish history of the Bible.
This is an order framed upon the principles of mutual trust, watchful Brotherly care; of warning in a time of danger; solace in time of sorrow and skilful and effective friendly advice in every circumstance of life. A society that meets a great and crying need in human affairs and is calculated to benefit those who act up to its tenets.
If a Brother is in sorrow the Conclave will afford sympathy; if in danger Brethren will give assistance; if in distress the Visiting Deacons will bring consolation; if in poverty they will find aid.
Within Craft Freemasonry we are taught at an early stage, that it has for is Principles, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. In no other Order in Freemasonry can there be found a greater emphasis on those fundamental Masonic Virtues, for the teaching of those Principles is a dominant part of our Ceremonial and Ritual and enables us to put them into practice.
Order of the Royal & Select Masters
The Order of Royal and Select Masters, often known as the Cryptic Degrees, consist of four highly dramatic degrees.
These outline the initial steps taken during the building of the temple to preserve copies of the Holy vessels and Sacred treasures in a secret vault, the burial of the Word by the two surviving Grand Masters after Hiram's death, the completion and dedication of the Temple and finally the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar and his army.
It can be seen, therefore, that the Cryptic Degrees form a vital and interesting link between the Craft and Royal Arch, making the connection much more logical and completing the legend of King Solomon and his Temple.
The four degrees are as follows:
The preparations for the building of the temple having commenced in the Mark Degree, the three Grand Masters are anxious that the form of the sacred treasures, including the Ark of the Covenant, could be lost forever in the event of the Temple being sacked. They therefore arrange for a small number of Select Masons, sworn to secrecy, to construct a secret vault beneath the Holy of Holies and deposit replicas therein.
The Temple is nearing its completion and certain Overseers are anxious to receive the Master Word and be honoured with the rank of Royal Master before their employment ceases. Shortly before his death Hiram Abif explains to one of these overseers, Adoniram, that with patience and industry he will in due time receive it. This discourse is widely regarded as the most beautiful in any Masonic Degree.
Most Excellent Master
Hiram Abif has been slain and after a period of mourning, the Holy relics are transferred into the completed temple. King Solomon prepares to dedicate it to the Most High and to celebrate this joyous occasion, confers the Degree of Most Excellent Master on his most trusted and skillful workmen, among whom, are those who built the secret vault.
Super Excellent Master
The Temple had stood in all its glory for nearly 400 years but had then fallen to Nebuchadnezzar and his army. The King and his principal citizens were taken into captivity in Babylonia. Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar's puppet
The Allied Masonic Degrees
Many of the Additional Degrees worked in the early part of the 19th Century originally came from the warrants issued by the Ancients. It allowed Lodges to work those Additional Degrees of which they had knowledge under just one warrant.
Over the next 120 years or so various groupings of the degrees not gathered under a separate Order were brought under the Alliance Masonic Degrees. This constantly changed as various degrees were exchanged and swapped via differing Orders until finally settled in the 1920's.
Given that these are a diverse but individually wonderful set of degrees brought together between the late 19th Century and the 1920's, this gives us the opportunity to set this up as we think best. Although the current amalgam of 5 degrees has been constant since the 1920's, 3 other degrees were at one time included and then later excluded, viz, Knight Templar Priests, Order of the Secret Monitor and Royal Ark Mariner.
The 3 main degrees we concentrate on are St Lawrence the Martyr, Knight of Constantinople and Grand Tilers of Solomon.
Degree of St Lawrence the Martyr
This is based around the depiction of the suffering and fortitude of St Lawrence and is the degree to which all Candidates are admitted and all business of the Council is conducted.
What a wonderful story of true dedication, sacrifice and suffering is told within this short but beautiful ceremony. A green or red apron is used for the Candidates in the ceremony but no additional regalia is needed thereafter. The remaining four degrees may be taken over any timescale in any order.
Degree of the Knight of Constantinople
This relates to Constantine and is what was referred to as a "side degree" which would be conferred by Brother following a Craft Lodge meeting with a simple obligation and entrustment. Its origins are thought to lie in that period of transition from Operative to Speculative Masonry. It is a wonderful lesson in humility and that we are all equal no matter our rank or position. There is no additional regalia.
Degree of Grand Tilers of Solomon
This has similarities to other Degrees and has been worked in the USA since 1761. This degree inculcates the dangers of carelessness and hast and reinforces the importance of careful Tiling. There is no additional regalia.
A Grand Conclave and Supreme Council, and several other degrees are noted to have been in existence at about 1845. The Encampments were warranted in 1830 under the patronage of the then Duke of Sussex.
The Knights Templar Rite is essentially designed for professing Trinitarian Christians and the Candidate must display the signs of honour, dignity and loyalty to the Sovereign if aspiring to this Rite.
The Rite of Templars is known as an Additional Degree, but in the modern use of the expression additional degrees, it is said to also cover the use of the words Higher Degrees. These higher degrees along with the Templar Degree is designated by higher numbers, but in no sense other than in the spiritual quality of the degree and its application as steppingstones to more esoteric knowledge of the mysteries of Freemasonry. The additional or higher degrees are of great value and beauty. The Knights Templar occupy honoured and exceptional places and possess special and peculiar value. That in them is much that serves to throw a revealing light upon the symbolic content of the fundamental Craft degrees.
The degrees of Knight Templar, Knight Malta, Knight Templar Priest, Knight of St Thomas of Acon and Knight Beneficent of the Holy City which are worked in this Grand Lodge under the Great Priory are also known as the Chivalric Degrees.
Finally, to the aspiring candidate, note must be taken that the beliefs and dignity, defence of the Knights, loyalty to the Sovereign. They must prefer honour over wealth, be just and true in word and deed. They must abhor pride and selfishness, and so assist to maintain the standard of chivalrous honour.
The Masonic and Military Order of the Red Cross of Constantine
As a Master Mason if you acknowledge the Christian Faith you are qualified to become a member of the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine.
The oldest record of the Red Cross of Constantine was in Scotland in the late 1700s. The Order assumed its current form following the establishment of Grand Imperial Conclave in London in 1865 by Robert Wentworth Little, an employee at Freemason's Hall. Since that time this Chivalric Order has grown steadily with the formation of a number of Sovereign Grand Conclaves throughout the world.
The moral teachings of the Order are based upon the legendary influences that Christianity had upon the life of Constantine the Great, which culminated in his being baptised into the faith shortly before his death in 337 AD.
Constantine's father was one of four joint rulers of the Roman Empire, being Caesar of the Western Province. Constantine had joined his father to quell an uprising in Britain. When his father died, Constantine was hailed as Caesar by the legions in York in 306 AD, which was grudgingly accepted by Augustus (Senior Emperor) in Rome.
Following attempts to undermine his position by Maxentius in Rome, Constantine resolved to seek justice and retribution by marching on Rome with his army.
One day on the march to Rome, Constantine and his army saw what they believed to be a sign from Heaven: a pillar of light in the sky in the form of a special cross, with an inscription foretelling victory. Constantine therefore had a standard made bearing a Cross replicating the image they had seen and ordered it to be carried before them into battle.
Following the inevitable victory over Maxentius, the Senate proclaimed Constantine, Augustus Maximus (Senior Emperor).
Having later defeated he Augustus of the Eastern Province, Constantine became the overall ruler of the Roman Empire. He then transferred the capital from Rome to Byzantium, which was later re-named Constantinople in his honour.
Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to openly embrace Christianity. At his instigation, several Councils of Bishops were established which laid down a firm basis of Christian liturgy and belief.
The first ceremony consists of the Candidate's admission, obligation and then the installation as a Knight Companion of the Red Cross of Constantine, in which the historical basis of the Order is also detailed.
The ceremony of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and St John the Evangelist is undoubtedly among the most impressive in Masonry, an experience that is enhanced by the sword drill of the Sepulchre Guard. The presence of the Guard is a powerful reminder that this is not only a Masonic but also a Military and Chivalric order. The ceremony culminates with an explanation of the ultimate aims of the Craft.
The final two ceremonies of being Consecrated as the Eminent Viceroy and then Enthroned as the Most Puissant Sovereign will last with the recipient for the rest of their lives.