The following story of the Ancient Mariners is an article which was published in “Freemasonry Today” in the Spring 2020 edition and explores the Royal Ark Mariner Degree. It has been reproduced here in its entirety.
Dan Heath, Assistant Grand Secretary of Mark Masons’ Hall, explores the instructive, enigmatic and colourful degree of Royal Ark Mariner.
On 10 June 1884, Morton Andrew Edwards signed a receipt for £25, surrendering his authority over the government of the degree of Royal Ark Mariner to the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons. No one knows whether he thought that this extraordinary event would secure the continuity of the degree for centuries to come.
The degree of Royal Ark Mariner is, as its name suggests, based on the story of Noah and the ark. In the canon of degrees conferred in mainstream Freemasonry, it has the earliest chronological foundation for a masonic ceremony.
The biblical references are apparent from the outset. The Worshipful Master is referred to as Worshipful Commander and represents Noah. The Senior and Junior Wardens represent two of Noah’s sons: Japheth and Shem, respectively. The other officers mirror those of a Craft lodge, with the exception of the Secretary, who is called Scribe; the Inner Guard, called Guardian; and the Tyler, called Warder.
A Royal Ark Mariner lodge is laid out in a triangular form, with the Commander in the east and both Wardens in the west, much like ancient Craft lodges, and the triangle plays an important part throughout the ceremony. Unusually, the candidate does not take his obligation on the Volume of Sacred Law as he would in most other degrees of Freemasonry.
The degree includes lessons on wisdom, strength, beauty, watchfulness, discretion, brotherly love, truth and charity. These are highlighted throughout the ceremony as the story of the great flood and Noah’s efforts are presented in dramatic allegorical form. The Ceremony of Elevation (the initiation ceremony) is a vibrant one; the colours of the degree are those of the rainbow and adorn the aprons, collars and jewel ribbons worn by members.
The inner workings of a Worshipful Commander’s Installation Ceremony afford an opportunity for all Installed Commanders present to take part, and this ritual is held in great affection by many of those who have experienced it.
A core of humility
Little distinguishes the newest members of the degree from Worshipful Brethren, Provincial Officers and Grand Officers. Their aprons remain much the same; only the rainbow-coloured rosettes change to triangles of silver, then gold, as a member progresses. A Past Commander wears a collar jewel of silver metal with an N inside an equilateral triangle, while Grand Officers wear one of gold metal.
The hierarchical structure of the degree is simple, with Mark Provincial/District Grand Masters, their Deputies and their Assistants having the same powers over Royal Ark Mariner lodges within their jurisdiction as they have over Mark lodges. Provincial Officers hold the rank designated Provincial Grand Rank of the Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariner (Prov.R.A.M.G.R.). When necessary, the ceremonial and administrative officers of the Mark Province will carry out the same functions at a Provincial meeting (Assembly) in the degree of Royal Ark Mariner.
This is replicated in Grand Rank, with the structure being the Grand Master, Pro Grand Master, Deputy and Assistant Grand Masters (Present and Past), members of the Grand Master’s Royal Ark Council – the executive body of the degree (G.M.R.A.C.), Provincial/District Grand Masters (Present and Past) and holders of Royal Ark Mariner Grand Rank (R.A.M.G.R.).
The Ark and the Mark
What is the connection between Mark and Royal Ark Mariner Freemasonry, and how did they come to be so inextricably linked? This same question was raised
in the long negotiations between Morton Edwards, Royal Ark Mariner members and the Grand Lodge of Mark Masters (as it was then called) in the years leading up to the surrender of control.
Many theories have been put forward, but no one really knows the answer. It was more than likely part of the effort of the Grand Mark Master Mason, the Rev Canon George Raymond Portal, to unify, under one Grand Lodge, some of the masonic degrees being practised outside of the Craft and Royal Arch.
For the masonic researcher, the degree’s history is a wonderful labyrinth with several dead ends and false starts. There is no doubt that its origins are much older than the Victorian revival of interest and probably go back to the 18th century. One school of thought suggests it may be older than that, being a degree once practised by operative craftsmen, more likely to have been carpenters than masons, hence the great significance of the ark.
There is intrigue, and even a hint of deception, as there appear to have been two separate warrants in existence when the degree was being worked in the mid-1800s, thus bringing into question under what authority exactly Morton Edwards thought he had the right to hand over control of the degree.
Any attempt to unravel the various accounts of the degree’s early years brings into play several names familiar to those who dabble in the history of Freemasonry: the ubiquitous Thomas Dunckerley, the aforementioned Morton Edwards and Canon Portal, Frederick Binckes (Mark Grand Secretary and prolific letter writer of the day), George Kenning (the regalia manufacturer) and Robert Wentworth Little (progenitor of the Red Cross of Constantine and the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia), to name a few.
The Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariner
With their own terminology, structures and practices, each masonic Order is different from the next. Here, we break down the origins, requirements and organisation of the Royal Ark Mariners.
Becoming a Royal Ark Mariner
All Royal Ark Mariner lodges are ‘moored’, or attached, to a Mark lodge and share a number (and, in many cases, the same name). To be elevated into the degree of Royal Ark Mariner you must first have been advanced into the Mark degree.
The InsigniaThe insignia bears a depiction of the ark, the symbolic haven of rest, from which the Order derives its name. The ark points out the constant support we hope to receive from the Supreme Commander of the Universe in all our difficulties. Beneath the ark is the Latin motto Ponamque Foedus Meum Tecum, which is derived from Genesis 6:18: ‘But with Thee will I establish my covenant.’
The apron and jewelThe apron of a Royal Ark Mariner is uncluttered, adorned with the colours of the rainbow. The jewel is a dove bearing an olive branch, suspended beneath a representation of a rainbow, hanging from a rainbow-coloured ribbon.
Surrendering controlThe text of the receipt signed by Morton Edwards reads, in full: Received of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons the sum of twenty-five pounds for which I agree to surrender the whole of the documents, Warrants and authorities connected with the so called Grand Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners and I hereby surrender to the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons all power or authority in me vested, or supposed to be vested by virtue of my position as Grand Commander of the afore said Grand Lodge of Ark Mariners – or by virtue of said Warrants.
A tale of two tracing boardsThe Royal Ark Mariner tracing board contains extensive symbolism, and the explanation, which is in excess of 2,500 words, can be split into five parts. The template image of the tracing board has been reproduced so many times that in 2019 the Grand Master’s Royal Ark Council decided to commission a new ‘master’ design. Freemason Paul Swinge painstakingly researched and hand-painted the new image, clearly depicting all the intricate detail that the explanation goes on to highlight. This reworking of the design was unveiled at the December 2019 Annual Assembly and, at the time of writing, is about to be digitally photographed so it can be reproduced for use in all Royal Ark Mariner lodges.
The most detailed account of the transition of the administration of the degree from Morton Edwards is contained in Morton Edwards, Sculptor, and The Honourable Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariners by John Mandleberg.
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