There is so much symbolism within Freemasonry and often we overlook some of it that is plain sight. Some often have questions, but never really ask as to why we use it. One such question surrounds the use of the staffs by the Senior and Junior Deacons. These officers as well as the Stewards and Marshall carry a staff or a similar implement. Some of our ceremonies, regalia, rituals, and symbols can be traced back to ancient days, the medieval days of Operative Masonry, and some through the evolution of our degrees during the early years of Speculative Freemasonry.
The word "deacon" comes from the Greek word "diakonos" meaning servant, attendant, or messenger. This definition is appropriate to these officers as they serve as the messenger of the Worshipful Master and Wardens. The duties may change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but a realistic look at their duties is as follows. The Senior Deacon, who sits as the messenger between the Worshipful Master and Senior Warden, introduces and accommodates visitors; conducts and guides new candidates during the rituals; attends at the altar during the opening and closing ceremonies; and takes control of the ballot box. The Junior Deacon, the messenger between the Wardens, attends to all alarms at the door; ensures the security of the Lodge alongside the Tyler; and assists during the rituals (initiation and opening/closing).
In the early years of Speculative Freemasonry, not all Lodges had Deacons and if they did they may not have had the same duties as they do now. In some Lodges the Deacon was the presiding officer while the Wardens often served as the financial officer. During the Great Schism, the rivalry period between the Antients and the Moderns, the former had Deacons while the latter had Stewards (there were some exceptions as there always is). With the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), the Lodge of Promulgation recommended the adoption of both the Deacons and Stewards as they were seen as useful and necessary. Through a succession of the ages we now have two Deacons as we see them today.
Both of the Deacons carry staffs. The name of these implements may change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Looking at history, Deacons were associated with columns, but around 1822 the Wardens took over the columns as the symbol of their office while the Deacons were given the staffs. The tops of the staffs have changed and do vary with each jurisdiction. The tops are also the jewels of the office, which today is the sun for the Senior Deacon and moon for the Junior Deacon, both within the Square & Compasses. In the early years of the UGLE, the staffs were topped by pine cones, but this would then change to doves that are also seen as messengers. The dove was also a symbol of peace and harmony, and the Deacons should remember they are officers of peace. One can see this during the initiation when the Senior Deacon is escorting the candidate. The Senior Deacon places himself between the candidate and the Altar, thus protecting the Altar from the uninitiated man, but once the candidate becomes a Master Mason, the Senior Deacon moves to his left side.
The use of staffs by officers is very symbolic and has been used in a variety of cultures. The most obvious use is by the Greek god, Hermes, who was the messenger of the gods, just as the Deacons are the messengers within the Lodge, and who carried the caduceus. This wand was used to ward off evil and to ensure that he was unimpeded in his journey. Carrying a staff is a mark of authority and we see this with the king's scepter, the bishop's or verger's staff, the mace of Parliament, and, Biblically, with the staff of Moses. Now we can't talk about the Deacon's staffs without talking about the rods that are carried by the Stewards of the Lodge as one of the origin theories of these implements surrounds the Stewards of the King in England. These Stewards carried a white rod which was a symbol of their authority appointed by the King. Other officers carried rods such as the usher of the Lord Chamberlain's department who carried a black rod.
One such theory that caught my eye was from the works of Bro. Bill Douglas. In his 2001 article, he talks about a hillside carving that is located on the south coast of England. In Sussex County near Wilmington is what is known as the "Long Man of Wilmington" which displays a man with arms outstretched and in each hand he holds a staff or "asherah". This figure stands 125-feet tall. The word "asherah" refers to wooden columns or staffs that represented the goddess Asherah. These were 6-feet in length and were carried by attendants of priests and stood as the insignia of their office. The goddess Asherah was the mother of twins named Shachar, the god of dawn, and Shalem, the god of dusk. Thus we see a connection to Masonry as the Deacons carry staff, one with the sun and sits in the East, representing the rising Sun or dawn; and the Junior Deacon with the moon as the jewel of his office to represent the end of the day or dusk.
Bro. Bill also makes a reference to Moses' Tabernacle. We learn in the 1st degree that all Lodges are a representation of King Solomon's Temple which was an exact model for the Tabernacle erected by Moses, which was situated due East and West to commemorate the East wind which assisted in the exodus of the Jews out of the land of Egypt. The tabernacle was not a permanent building, but a tent that was dismantled and erected each time the Jews moved through the Wilderness. Prior to dawn the attendants would go to the chosen site and one of them would place the staff or asherah on the spot. When the sun rose, it would send a shadow towards the western horizon. The second attendant would then place his staff at the other end of the shadow. This line would designate the center line of the tabernacle.
The Deacons serve as proxies for the Worshipful Master and Senior Warden. While the Junior Deacon carries messages to the Junior Warden it really is the Senior Warden who he represents and assists; the Junior Warden has the Stewards to assist him in a variety of roles. The staffs have been decorated to represent the Deacons role in the Lodge as messengers and protectors of peace and harmony. Those who serve as Deacons need to knowledge, vigilant, and steadfast that they may be able to perform their duties with impressive zeal.
1. Cameron, D. (2007, October 23). The Deacons. Retrieved from Waterloo Masons: http://www.waterloomasons.com/masonic_education/deacons
2. Deacon. (2013). Retrieved from Online Etymology Dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=deacon
3. Douglas, B. (2001). Why Do Deacons Carry Wands? Retrieved from Masonic Bulletin, BCY: http://weblites.com/images/011506_2.pdf
4. Halpaus, E. (n.d.). Rods and Columns. Retrieved from Grand Lodge of Minnesota AF&AM: http://www.mn-masons.org/sites/mn-masons.org/files/3983.pdf
5. Hodapp, C. (n.d.). Freemason Lodge Officers. Retrieved from Freemasonry For Dummies: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/freemason-lodge-officers.html
6. Walk, C. R. (n.d.). The Masonic Rods and Staffs. Retrieved from Masonic World: http://www.masonicworld.com/education/articles/masonic_rods_and_staffs.htm