Friday, June 8, 2012

Symbols of Royal Arch Masonry - Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1 of Royal Arch symbols, I will finish this set-off.

Banners of the Master of the Veils

In Royal Arch Masonry, a particular significant symbol are the banners. It is important to note that there is a difference between American Royal Arch Masonry and British Royal Arch Masonry in the number of banners used. In England, there are 12, but in America, there are only 4 banners displayed. Regardless of their numbers, these banners are to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Here we will pay attention to the American Four.

The colors of these four banners are Blue, Purple, Scarlet, and White representing the tribes of Judah, Ephraim, Reuben, and Dan. The devices attached to these four banners, respective to their colors are an eagle, a man, an ox, and a lion. According to the Masonic Leader blog, "But as to what were the devices on the banners, or what were their various colors, the Bible is absolutely silent. To the inventive genius of the Talmudists are we indebted for all that we know or profess to know on this subject." These four banners are filled with many meanings.

With the First Banner, we see the color blue to remind us of our intimate connection with the Blue Lodge. Symbolically the color blue can mean friendship, loyalty/fidelity, integrity, steadfastness, and strength. By strength we see the Royal Arch degree complete the Master Mason degree, thereby completing one initiatory journey through Ancient Craft Masonry and strengthening one's knowledge of the lessons imparted. The device attached to this banner is the Eagle who has been a symbol of courage (fortitude), the spirit, strength, messengers of heaven, and masters of the air. The Tribe of Dan is represented by this banner. According to the Book of Numbers, the Tribe of Dan was said to be the second-largest Israelite tribe, after Judah. The most famous Danite was Samson and his famous hair. This banner represents moral integrity, which aligns with the Masonic virtue of temperance.

The Second Banner depicts a man on a purple background and is said to represent the Israelite tribe of Reuben. This color stands for royalty, sovereignty, and magic/enchantment. Like the color blue, this color reminds us not only of our connection to the Blue Lodge, but the union of Craft and Royal Arch Masonry. This man, against the other creatures of this Earth, is an emblem of intelligence, the gift from God to be stewards of this Earth. According to the Torah, this tribe consisted of the descendants of Reuben, the first son of Jacob, who lived on the East side of the Dead Sea. Together, this banner represents strength, which corresponds to the Masonic virtue of fortitude.

The Third Banner is scarlet with an ox depicted upon it, to represent the tribe of Ephraim. Scarlet is a color of fervency, zeal, passion, and of blood, and therefore life. It used to represent warriors with their bravery and courage as well as the blood of martyrs in their steadfastness to their beliefs. The ox is seen as a patient, diligent, and powerful (as in strength) animal. From the Bible, the ox was a sacrificial animal and symbolizes St. Luke. This tribe is said to be descendants of Ephraim, a son of Joseph. Even though he wasn't the eldest he received the blessing of the firstborn as Jacob, his grandfather, foresaw that Ephraim's descendents would be the greatest of his siblings. The area occupied by this tribe was at the center of Canaan, a very mountainous region giving it protection, and was highly fertile which gave the people prosperity. This banner represents patience and diligence, and compare that to the Masonic virtue of prudence.

The Fourth Banner with its pure white background shows us the lion upon it, the sigil of the Tribe of Judah. White is a wondrous color and it symbolizes many things such as light, innocence, purity, joy, sanctity, silence, secrecy, humility, and balance. Traditionally, the lion was seen as lord of the land, the king of the beasts, as the eagle is supreme in the air. It was used by warriors and noblemen alike as a symbol of their strength and authority. Symbolically the lion represents courage, valor, power, royalty, dignity, justice, wisdom, and ferocity. The lion while the ancients saw the lion as a "solar animal", but the lion is primarily a nocturnal hunter; with this, we see the lion as a symbol of balance between night and day, darkness and light. The tribe of Judah, the leading tribe of the Kingdom of Judah, is known for its important Jewish leaders to include David and his royal lineage, the prophet Isaiah, and Zerubbabel (as claimed by the Exilarchs). This banner represents promptness and readiness and can be compared to the Masonic virtue of justice.

Turning our attention to the number 4, see many symbolic meanings emerge. The old phrase goes, "the Master's Degree without the Royal Arch is a story half-told, a song half-sung and a promise unfulfilled." Four represents completion which corresponds to Royal Arch Masonry completing the Master Mason's degree. The number four signifies stability, solidity, order, endurance, and nature whereby we observe the four seasons, the four cardinal directions, four winds, four quarters of the moon, and the four elements. By it we are reminded of the four arms to a cross, the four rivers of Paradise that formed a cross, and we read in the 1st Chapter of the Book of Genesis that God, on the fourth day, put lights in the firmament to separate light from darkness, to mark days, and to outline the passing of seasons and time.

These banners lead us, as candidates are guided, to the next symbol, the arch.

The Arch

It is all too obvious why the Arch is important to Royal Arch Masonry. As we learn of the 5 orders of architecture in the FellowCraft degree, so do we see another important architectural marvel and that is the arch. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an arch is a "curved structural member spanning an opening and serving as a support (as for the wall or other weight above the opening)." The word "arch" comes from the Latin term "arcus" meaning "to bow." Arches are said to have started appearing around the 2nd millennium B.C. and have been used by cultures across the world.

Aches are also symbolic of the sky. The blue sky reminds us of the values taught to us in the Blue Lodge and teaches us that these virtues should be as expansive of the arch of heaven above us. To the ancient Egyptians, the goddess Nut was the goddess of the sky. She was often represented as a nude woman arching over the Earth. For the Greeks, Uranus was the god of the sky, which the Greeks saw a brass dome decorated with the cosmos. This arch of sky was also a favorite of the goddess of rainbows, Iris. In many mythologies the sky was seen as a vault, a dome, arching over the Earth.

Arches are gateways, symbols of transition and change. Arches are associated with doors, gateways, or supports of a bridge. It is through or by an arch that we gain passage to something beyond. This transitioning can be internal or external; internally as in a change of personality or perspective and externally as in change in location or career. Spiritually, the arch represents a gateway or transition between the two worlds. We are constantly transitioning through life and eventually, we will come to face our final arch, one which we all must pass through, and meet our Creator. 

The Keystone

No arch would be complete though with a keystone. A keystone is a wedge-shaped stone placed at the apex of an arch, and is the last piece placed during construction and locks all the stones into position. This keystone gives the arch its strength and ability to bear the weight.

According to the Texas Grand Chapter Short Talk Bulletin, "the purpose of a Keystone is to impart to Royal Arch Masonry its vitality, and perpetuity." Of the degrees that fall under Royal Arch Masonry, the Mark Master degree deals with the Keystone as a primary symbol. The Most Excellent Master degree deals with it in the ceremony and holds it in high esteem. Again, from the same short talk bulletin, "in the Royal Arch degree, the Keystone is rediscovered in the ruins of the Temple."

It is also important to note that the keystone, by being at the apex of the arch and what gives it strength, is closest to God and should inspire us to continue upward in faith and knowledge to God, and follow his guidance as to the keystone of our lives. We as living arches are nothing without God and his Word, our spiritual Keystone.

Officers Jewels

The jewels of the Officers of the Chapter, from their symbolism, tell an interesting story. For the High Priest, I refer you to Part 1 for the symbolism and meanings. We will only cover some of the officers, not all of them. They will be the King, Scribe, Captain of the Host, Principal Sojourner, and Royal Arch Captain.

One would think with the title of "King", that he would be the presiding officer, but in Royal Arch Masonry the King is subordinate to the High Priest to teach us that our duty to God comes first. The badge of this officer is the Level surmounted by the Crown which according to the installation ceremony we are told this should remind us that although this officer is a representative of the king, yet we remain on a level with them as respects our duty to God, country, and ourselves.

As we learn in the Blue Lodge, the level denotes equality. Time passes us all by and death will come to all of us. Death cares nothing of our incidental differences and will reduce us all to the same state in the end. As I pointed out in Part 1, the Crown is an emblem of authority or sovereignty.

When I first heard the term "Scribe" used for the name of an officer, I thought they were referring to the Secretary, as that is how it is in Kappa Sigma. In the absence of the High Priest and the King, the Scribe is to preside over the Chapter. The jewel of his office is the Plumb surmounted by a turban. It is an emblem of rectitude and vigilance, ever reminding us to walk uprightly before God and man. As Scribe, we should admonish our fellow Companions to fidelity and industry while at labor, and temperance and moderation while at refreshment. Just as the other two have, so too does the Scribe have a type of headdress on his jewel, and, with the other two, it symbolizes the authority of his office. 

The Captain of the Host shares similar duties with that of Senior Deacon and the Marshall of the Blue Lodge as he assists with the opening and closing of a Chapter just as a Deacon would, but also is the superintendent of processions, public or private. The jewel of this officer is an armed soldier engraved upon a triangular plate, which is a symbol of order, security, and decorum.

To guide the blind in a way they know not, and lead them in paths that they have not known is the duty of Principal Sojourner. From, the installation of officers, we are informed that this officer should be qualified to make darkness light before the guided and make crooked things straight. We see a correspondence between this officer and that of the Senior Deacon who leads the blind, the uninitiated, through the darkness. The badge of this officer is the pilgrim engraved upon the triangular plate.

The equivalent to the Lodge's Junior Deacon, the Chapter has the Royal Arch Captain. Together with the help of the Captain of the Host, he is to ensure all in attendance are Royal Arch Masons and guard the 4th, last, banner. The jewel of his office is the sword upon the triangular plate as a symbol of security of not only the banner, but the entire Chapter from those who have no traveled the rugged path of trial.


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