Monday, April 2, 2012

Symbols of Royal Arch Masonry - Part 1

This post has been a long time coming. I was going to have one large post, but I've decided to separate this into a series. The Royal Arch degree is an amazing one with a great amount of symbolism and esoteric meaning. I truly believe that all Master Masons should go through at least the Royal Arch as it completes the story of the 3° - Master Mason.

First let's discuss the High Priest, which in the American Royal Arch is the title of the presiding officer.

Symbols of the High Priest

And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office.
Exodus 28:4

Breast Plate

And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually.
Exodus 28:29

The Breastplate laid upon a triple triangle is a well-known symbol of the Order of High Priesthood and/or for Past High Priests. As one can see from the two verses, the description of the high priest and his garments are in the 28th Chapter of Exodus.

The Breastplate is placed upon the ephod or holy apron-like garment. The square breastplate was inlaid with 12 precious stones, each representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, which were divided into four rows of three stones. This breastplate was also said to hold within it the two sacred divination stones, the Urim (representing light and excellence) and the Thummim (representing perfection and completion).

The First Row consisted of the following stones:
  • Sardius: a brownish-red or blood-red stone, sometimes referred to as carnelian.
  • Topaz: A yellow or yellow-green, translucent stone.
  • Carbuncle: A reddish stone that is said to look like burning coal.
The Second Row consisted of the following stones:
  • Emerald: It may not have necessarily been an emerald as the stone was referred to just as a green stone.
  • Sapphire: A saturated shade of blue, but may not have been an actual sapphire as it was unlikely they were well known or used in ancient times.
  • Diamond: most likely a white or clear stone as the art of cutting diamonds had not been attained on that day.
The Third Row consisted of the following stones:
  • Ligure: A yellowish (sometimes pale) mineral.
  • Agate: Commonly used in Egypt and Assyria as talismans, they were said to be sky blue.
  • Amethyst: A purple stone that was thought to stop you from getting intoxicated and its name literally means "not intoxicating".
The Fourth Row consisted of the following stones: 
  • Beryl: A stone said to be the color of the sea (blue-green).
  • Onyx: An opaque, banded stone.
  • Jasper: A red stone often thought to be a ruby.

High Priest's Miter

On the High Priest's head is the white fine linen turban or mitre/miter. Round the base of the turban is the crown of gold, with the inscription "Holiness to the Lord". The shape and look of the mitre may change and in today's world, we see an evolved style of the mitre in the headdress of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Hebrew word mitznefet (מצנפת) has been translated as "mitre" (KJV) or "headdress". It was most likely a "turban", as the word comes from the root "to wrap".

Crowns, mitres, headdresses, hats, and so on have traditionally been symbols of authority or sovereignty. Head coverings can also be seen as symbols of victory such as we see with the wreath or garland. For Christians, the crown (and those who wear it) is said to remind us of the Crown of Thorns Christ wore as well as Christ is the King of Kings. 

Symbolically we can see through its circular shape it denotes perfection, which Heaven is seen as, and eternal life, and while wearing it we unite the spiritual world with this material world where the sovereign can receive divine inspiration to justly rule.

Triple Tau

The Triple Tau is one of the most prominent symbols of Royal Arch Masonry and has been given many different interpretations throughout its use in the world. It is literally three (3) Tau's linked in the center joined at their base.

The 'tau' is the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet, but it is not the letter "T" in the English language.

Some of the symbolic interpretations of this symbol I will cite from the Grand Lodge of British Columbia-Yukon:
This mystical character can be signified in a few different ways. First, the names Hiram of Tyre and Hiram Abif appear in the Phoenican language with the same letters “H” and “T” as they do in English. Therefore, the Triple Tau takes on the interpretation of the initial letters in Hiram Abif’s name.

Second, it signifies also T. H., Templum Hierosolym, the Temple of Jerusalem, and when used as the Royal Arch symbol, some jurisdictions teach that the wearer acknowledges himself a servant of God.
As a Christian, I see a great deal of symbolism in this. The use of 3 Tau's pertains to the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The 3 sides of the equilateral triangle represent the 3 great attributes of God: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. The circle is not always used or seen, but, to me, it is significant as it represents eternity and the immortality of God, and the soul of man.

The tau in ancient times was regarded as a symbol of life. It was also used as a symbol for those acquitted of a crime or honorably returning home from battle. We also see the use of it in the Bible wherein it is written in the Book of Ezekiel:
And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof
Ezekiel 9:4
Stay tuned for Part 2 which I hope to cover the Banners, the Arch itself, and the Keystone. I will also discuss some of the lessons and duties taught in each of the degrees.


1. High Priest Breastplate. (n.d.). Retrieved from Phoenix Masonry:

2. Meij, H. (n.d.). The Breastplate of the Highpriest. Retrieved from The Golden State Chapter of Research of the Holy Royal Arch:

3. Mitre. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

4. Priestly Breastplate. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://

5. Priestly Turban. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

6. Tarot Symbolism: The Crown. (n.d.). Retrieved from

7. The Triple Tau. (n.d.). Retrieved from Grand Lodge of British Columbia & Yukon:

8. The Holy Bible, King James Version


  1. I like the Triple Tau explanation that goes with the story in Daniel where it says: "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames....But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, "Didn't we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?" "Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did," they replied."Look!" Nebuchadnezzar shouted. "I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!"

    The three Taus when joined together make a fourth Tau which signifys God's presence with us when we are joined together to make the Royal Arch word.

    For some reason that has great appeal to me.

  2. An absolute must for a Chapter program about the Tau.

  3. An absolute must for a Chapter program about the Tau.

  4. Good stuff, a real eye opener.