Saturday, September 21, 2013

Choosing Your Mark

The first of the Capitular or Royal Arch degrees is that of Mark Master. In this degree the candidate represents a Fellow Craft Mason during the construction of King Solomon’s Temple. The work he presents to the Overseers is rejected at first, but later becomes the piece necessary to complete the Temple as seen in the Most Excellent Master degree. It is a common desire of man to wish to leave a lasting record in this world and in this degree candidates are taught the importance of the Mark whereby one can distinguish his work from others and leave a lasting impression as testament of his efforts. Today, candidates choose a Mark of their own, and this Mark is recorded and kept in every Chapter of Royal Arch Masons.

The Mason's Mark should be seen as an equivalent of a signature, particularly when illiteracy was common place. It represents not only the name of the Mason, his character, but, for the operative Mason, it represented his skill and workmanship. By use of the Mark we are demonstrating that we believe our work is of quality to be used in the construction of a building and through such identification would a craftsman receive his wages for his labor. Knowing such things, the use of the Mark gave the craftsman incentive to do their best work before they identified a particular piece by placing their Mark on it. Alongside identifying a particular craftsman marks were used to indicate where a stone would be placed within the structure.

The use of the Mark is very ancient. Marks have been found that date back farther than 5,000 years. Marks have been found on stones in ancient Egypt; castles, churches, and cathedrals in Europe from about the 12th century on; on ancient Greek temples; Roman ruins; and in preserved cities such as Pompeii.

Mark Masonry is one of the oldest degrees in Freemasonry and helps bridge operative and speculative Freemasonry. Some of the earliest Marks found in England date back to the 12th century. Operative Masonry started emerged in England after Norman conquests. In the following centuries it would grow to such a level that required it to be regulated in custom and practices, thus Mason guilds arose. The first regulatory body was the Masons’ Company, formed in London sometime around 1375. This group would later known as the London Masons’ Company and was granted a coat of arms in 1472 during the reign of Edward VI. 

In 1598, William Schaw as Master of Works, named by King James VI of Scotland, published a set of statutes known today as the Schaw Statutes of 1598. These statutes established the duties and structure for Lodges among other things, but, more importantly, it required the recording of the Mason's Mark in a book:
No master or fellow of craft shall be received or admitted without there being present six masters and two entered 'prentices, the warden of the lodge being one of the six, when the day of receiving the new fellow of craft or master shall be duly booked and his mark inserted in the same book, with the names of the six admitters and entered 'prentices, as also the names of the intenders [intendaris-instructors] which shall be chosen for every person so entered in the book of the lodge. Providing always that no man be admitted without an essay and sufficient trial of his skill and worthiness in his vocation and craft.
Within the first half of the 17th century came the appearance of speculative Masons into the operative Mason's Lodge in Scotland. Many of these early Lodges have some existing records that show a combination of names of the Brothers with or without their Marks alongside the signature, but there are also some entries that are just the Marks themselves. Many of these ancient records also speak of men choosing their mark.

From recorded history it is seen that there wasn't much to the ritual of early Mark Masonry, but with the entry of speculative Masons, more elaborate ceremonies were established and enhanced throughout the years becoming more important. In the record books kept from early Lodges, we see entries talking about Mark Masons and Mark Master Masons, and this is still something seen outside of America were a Fellow Craft Mason would receive the Mark Man or Mason and a Master Mason would receive the Mark Master degree. 

The history of Mark Masonry in America is foggy due to lacking records. At various times, it has been conferred by Blue Lodges, the Scottish Rite, Chapters of Royal Arch Masonry, Knights Templar Encampments (now known as Commanderies), and independent Mark Mason Lodges. Eventually this degree would be absorbed and under the authority of Royal Arch Masonry in the 19th century. This was done through the efforts of Thomas Smith-Webb who published in 1798 a Monitor that became very popular and widespread in the US. Today for one to advance to the degree of Royal Arch Mason, one must go through the Mark Master Mason degree; this is true for Masonry in the US, Ireland, and Scotland. In England, Mark Masonry is an independent body known as Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England, Wales and the Dominions and Dependencies of the British Crown which was established in 1856 and oversees around 1,200 Mark Lodges.

The Mark Master Mason degree teaches and explains many valuable lessons such as how to receive the wages talked about in the Blue Lodge, the value of labor, integrity, individual responsibility, and humility. It also teaches one not to judge one by simply on outward appearances, but seek the inner, hidden truth. In this degree we are introduced to the Mallet and Chisel, which, alongside the keystone, are prominent symbols of this degree as both of these instruments are essential preparing stone for the builder's use.

We are taught that through the Mallet we are to correct our irregularities and superfluous habits, and is similar to the Gavel talked about in the 1st degree and can be aligned with the Cardinal Virtue, Temperance. The Chisel is to stone, what education and discipline are to our mind, which reveals the hidden beauty and virtues hidden beneath the surface. It was through these two instruments that our ancient Operative Brethren were able to place their Mark upon their piece of work. Although today, we use other devices to draw our Mark, which allows us to come up with all sorts of designs, Marks of old were primarily a combination of straight lines as they only used the Chisel and the Mallet. Like the old days, once a Mason chooses his Mark it can never be changed.

It has always been man's desire to make his Mark upon the world. With the Mason's Mark, operative Masons proved their work, and, today, while we speculative Masons still choose a Mark, we must show our work by building ourselves and showing the world we are better men for being Masons. What will be your Mark?


1. Are you Worthy to Receive your Mark? n.d. 

2. Capitular Degrees of Freemasonry. n.d. 

3. Mark Masonry. n.d. 

4. Mason's Marks. n.d. 

5. Speidel, Frederick. The York Rite of Freemasonry. Mitchell-Fleming Printing, Inc., 1978. 

6. Turnball, Everett R., and Ray V. Denslow. A History of Royal Arch Masonry. Vol. 1. 2 vols. Highland Springs, VA: Anchor Communications, 1956. 

7. Wallace, George M. The Mason's Mark. n.d. 

8. Woolmer, George. A History of Mark Masonry. n.d.


  1. Interesting and informative, brother. I'd be interested in seeing your mark and description of why you chose what you chose. If you are interested, check out the mark I've chosen here.

  2. My design was a large "sōwilō" which is a Nordic rune that translates into an "s" and is said to represent the Sun and thus light, then on the upper left I have a "B" and on the lower right I have a "N" (my initials).

  3. I never got to choose my mark, it was determined for me. Often wondered how they came up with it, but believe it was to do with fitting with an circle and using my initials, but it bears no similarity in my eyes. Can you shed any light on this please?