Review of Freemasonry

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The Square Magazine for the DECENNIAL of PS Review of Freemasonry
10 papers published on The Square Magazine from 1996 through 2006 to celebrate the 10 years of PS Review of Freemasonry.
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This project is sponsored by Lewis Masonic, the leading Masonic publisher since 1886.

by Craig Gavin
Published in The Square Magazine Vol 25, September 1999

© All editorial matter contained in this Magazine is copyright and may not reproduced without written permission from the publisher


THE MARK DEGREE is 'one of the most successful of the orders 'beyond the Craft'. In England and Wales it is regarded as a completely separate order, because of the muddled compromise that created the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813, and which in effect alienated all the degrees outside the Craft with the exception of the Royal Arch. Throughout the rest of the world, they retain the traditional connection with the Antients, in that it is part of a structure within Masonry in general. This is certainly the case in Scotland (where it is administered by Grand Chapter) and Ireland, and in the USA (where it is administered within the Royal Arch group) it is an integral part of the York Rite. 

Was it Dunckerley? 

There is documented evidence that masons 'made their mark' in Scotland as far back as 1599; but there is no evidence of an attached ritual. It seems more likely that certain masons were just accorded a mark on initiation. 

In England, the earliest mention is almost certainly that in Royal Arch Chapter of Friendship, at Portsmouth, in 1769, when Thomas Dunckerley made some brethren Mark Masons and Mark Masters, each being given, or choosing, a mark. By 1777, John Knight (of the Moderns, but working an Antient structure) was documenting it in a rite that read: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, Mark Man or Foreman of FCs, Master Mason, Mark Master, etc. From then on, there were soon records of the working of the degree in lodges and chapters in England, Scotland and Ireland. 

Where did Dunckerley get his ritual from? We don't know. Several masonic historians, including Yasha Beresiner , have suggested the possibility that it was actually invented by Dunckerley; a theory that certainly fits all known facts. 

Whereas the premier (1717) Grand Lodge insisted, for 70 years or so, that 'pure' Masonry consisted of only the three degrees (and that did NOT include the Royal Arch -see 'A Prag matic Masonic History' in the December 1998 issue}, the Antients incorporated it into their degree structure. Indeed, so tightly woven was it, that minutes of many Antient lodges show it was conferred in between the Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees, as above. 

Despite the protestations of the pre mier Grand Lodge (Moderns), many of their lodges worked the Antient degrees - especially Mark. So much so that, to avoid this practice, the premier Grand Lodge created Grand Chapter , so that lodges could carry out further degrees without working them in the Craft lodge. 

After the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, the position of the Mark was difficult, because the new UGLE tried to ignore all the further degrees apart from the Royal Arch. However, by now the Mark was an integral part of Masonry in Scotland, Ireland and the USA. It was still being worked in some English lodges, but with increasing difficulty. 

An Illegal Warrant 

In 1851, six companions of the Bon Accord Royal Arch Chapter of Aberdeen, who were resident in London, obtained from their chapter a warrant authorising them to meet in London as a Mark lodge. Of course, Bon Accord Aberdeen had no power to issue such a document. It was reprimanded by Scotland's Grand Chapter and suspended in 1855; but it took umbrage at being taken to task, and never bothered to meet again. 

But by this time the London Bon Accord Mark Lodge had advanced a number of English brethren of note, including Lord Leigh, Provincial Grand Master for Warwickshire (1852-1905), who was installed as Master of the lodge in 1855. And as they were no longer under Scottish jurisdiction, they remained working. 

In March 1856 an attempt was made to bring the Mark degree under the wing of the UGLE as a 'graceful addi- tion to the Fellow Craft degree'. A reso- lution was put down: 'That the Degree of Mark Mason is not at variance with Craft Masonry, and that it should be added thereto, under proper regulations'. This was generally approved. Certainly there were no arguments against. However at the following Quarterly Communication, in June, the motion was rejected. 

Apparently the lads at Bon Accord and at other lodges were ready for this eventuality, because on 23 June 1856, a Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons was created with Lord Leigh as the first Grand Master. 

One of the first actions of the new Grand Lodge, was to issue a Warrant of Confirmation to the London Bon Accord Lodge with no number and TI or time immemorial status -which it retains to this day. 

The Mark Today 

The Mark degree takes place in and around King Solomon's Temple during its construction; it is the only masonic order -apart from the Operatives -to deal with actual stonemason working. During the degree the candidate has his mark (which he can pick himself, or select from several put forward to him) approved, and this will eventually be recorded in Grand Lodge and written on his Grand Lodge Certificate. He will also be given a Mark token. A candidate need be only a Master Mason. 

In the USA, in the York Rite, the Mark degree takes place within a Royal Arch chapter; it is the first of four degrees culminating with the Holy Royal Arch. In Scotland, the degree can be worked in Craft lodges, or it can be taken in a Mark lodge within a Royal Arch chapter -no-one can take the Royal Arch without having been advanced in the Mark. This is in accordance with the working of the Antients; a procedure destroyed in England with the Union of 1813. In Ireland, the Mark must be taken in a Royal Arch chapter, and is a prerequisite to exaltation. 

The Mark also encompasses the degree of Royal Ark Mariner -which we will deal with some other time.


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