The Mark Degree
After the three degrees of Craft Freemasonry, many brethren look to ”make a daily advancement in masonic knowledge” as instructed in the Charge after Initiation. The United Grand Lodge actively encourages Master Masons to complete the Third degree by seeking exaltation in a Royal Arch Chapter; its makes no suggestion that they should complete that of a Fellow Craft, by advancement as a Mark Master Mason. However one would hope that all Master Masons would want to do so, as it is simply an accident of history that those masons in England and Wales who are exalted in the Royal Arch have not previously taken the Mark Degree.
While there is evidence that a form of Mark Degree was in existence in Scotland as early as 1599, according to the earliest known English records Mark Masonry was introduced in a speculative body at Portsmouth on the 1st September 1769, when that ubiquitous Thomas Dunkerley conferred the Mark Degree on brethren of the Royal Arch Chapter of Friendship No 257. Records do not show where he got the Degree from, but all researchers into Freemasonry know of the man and his place in the history of Freemasonry.
The Mark Degree was subsequently worked in many Lodges and even under the authority of the Old Grand Lodge of York, but the effect of the union in 1813 between the Ancient and Moderns was the specific recognition of the three Craft degrees including the Holy Royal Arch, thus completely excluding the Mark Degree. This led for many years to the active discouragement of the Mark Degree, nevertheless many Lodges continued to work the Degree and whilst the original circumstances would appear to have been detrimental to masonry, they were eventually to cause several leading Mark Masons to form their own Grand Mark Lodge in June 1856 with Lord Leigh as the first Grand Master.
Just Prior to this at one of the Grand Lodge quarterly communications in that year, a resolution was carried to include the Mark Degree within the True and Ancient masonry, however at the next meeting the minutes detailing that resolution were not agreed as an accurate record and the resolution fell… .masonic in fighting.. politics.. jealousy., who knows
Happily by 1860 a Concordat establishing a common ceremonial, was entered into by the English Grand Mark Lodge and the Grand Chapter of Scotland and slowly the Mark Degree grew in popularity to make it, together with the Royal Arch, one of the most successful supported Degrees in Freemasonry. There are now some 45,000 brethren in over 1700 Mark Lodges within 37 Provinces.
Today, a vast number of brethren who have obtained eminence in the Craft have been no less eminent in the Mark, for example R W Bro Michael Batham Jones the past PGM of Herts is the Deputy Grand Registrar in the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons (an office he has held since 1987,) the late V W Bro John Burr was the Grand Junior Overseer at the time of his death, the present PGM in the Craft R W Bro Cohn Harris was appointed PAGDC in 2003.
HRH Prince Michael of Kent the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons is, as is well known, the blood brother of HRH The Duke of Kent the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England.
Today every candidate to be advanced in the Degree of Mark Master Mason must be a Master Mason of a regular and recognised Craft Lodge, whilst candidates for the office of Worshipful Master must normally have served as the Worshipful Master of a Craft Lodge, although in certain circumstances it is possible to obtain a dispensation.
Elsewhere, the position is quite different, under the Irish Constitution the Mark Degree is taken in a Royal Arch Chapter, while in Scotland the Mark Degree can be received in two ways,, either within a Royal Arch Chapter or separately in a Craft Lodge. No one under the Scottish or Irish jurisdictions can be exalted as a Royal Arch Mason without previously having been advanced as a Mark Master Mason. In the United States of America the Mark is conferred in a Royal Arch Chapter, and once again the Mark Degree is an essential preliminary to obtaining entry into Royal Arch Masonry.
The organisation of a Mark Lodge is very similar to that of a Craft Lodge with some important changes. Four additional Officers are employed, three progressive, these are the Master, Senior and Junior Overseers, these are placed in the centre of the Lodge and the other officer, the Registrar of Marks, non progressive, sits adjacent to the Secretary, each has an important part to play in the Ceremony. The ceremony of admission is called Advancement and chronologically in the Solomonic legend it follows that of a fellow craft. It is one of the oldest and most interesting grades of freemasonry and today incorporates two degrees, for the candidate is first acknowledged as a Mark Man then subsequently advanced as a Mark Master Mason in the same ceremony. You will be pleased to learn that only one fee is required.
It appears that the Degree grew out of an ancient ceremony in which each craftsman selected for himself a private mark, with which he might designate his particular work and this mark was duly registered with the constituted authority.
At the building of King Solomons temple and before the institution of the degree of Master Mason and Past Master, there were 80,000 operatives employed, part of whom were hewers in the quarries at Zaradatha and part builders of the temple, besides these, was a levy of 30,000 in the forest of Lebanon. In order that each of the 110,000 workmen might be known to his superior officers, every portion of the work was subjected to the closest scrutiny and each fellowcraft received with punctuality the reward of his industry and skill, this immense number were divided into 1100 Lodges of fellowcrafts and entered apprentices, the latter under the direction of the former, who taught them the work, and over the whole presided 3,300 Menatschim, Overseers, or Mark Master, three over each Lodge. These are now called The Worshipful Master, the Senior and Junior Wardens. Each Fellowcraft had a mark peculiar to himself by which is work was known and by which he was able to receive payment for his labours.
The legend of the degree is singularly instructive and is well founded on statements of Holy Writ, relating to the period in the building of the Temple prior to the death of Hiram Abif, it teaches the valuable lesson that education is the reward of labour and contains a dramatic message that fraud can never succeed. The symbol of the Degree is a Keystone on which is engraved certain mystic letters, the meaning of which Is explained in the ceremony.
The Mark Degree is an important Order for many reasons, next to the Craft and Royal Arch it is the largest of the Masonic orders and has stood the test of ages.
Unlike many other Orders this degree combines Masonic thought with a lightness of touch, but it is not frivolous. Not only has the candidate learnt more about the place of Masons in the actual and speculative construction of the Temple but he has come further to appreciate both the joys and sorrows within his own masonic journey, as well as the fallibility of man and the need for utter humility before God, the ritual is full of beauty.
It is a necessary requirement for those wishing to progress further in the mysteries of Freemasonry by seeking membership in the Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariners, the Royal and Select Masters, the Order of the Allied Degree and the Worshipful Society of Free masons, Rough masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers more usually known as The Operatives.
John Oakley-Smith, JP, PGJW, DPGM