THERE IS A fascinating puzzle about the Royal Arch. No, not whether it was ever part of the third degree (we can say with certainly that it never was)
but why it has been adopted by so many other
orders, in that you have to be a member of RA in order to join them.
So why is it that the likes of Royal and Select, Allied , Masonic, Red Cross, Knights Templar, Priests, Baldwyn, The Operatives,
CBCS and many other
orders, require the Royal Arch as a condition of
entry? And why have so many orders
outside Freemasonry embraced it in the
past? Even the very latest order, the
Masonic Order of Athelstan, which came
into being only this year, has a pre-requisite
to joining -you have to be RA. Why?
I am not a historian, so this is not an
academic paper. But I like to think it might
stimulate some brethren into looking at the
subject in greater depth, so that we can
unravel the secret of the RA's abiding
popularity with other orders, even those
outside the Craft.
The First Enthusiast
The first hint of the considered importance of
the Royal Arch degree, came from Laurence
Dermott, who insisted that it was the 'root,
heart and marrow of Masonry' -strong stuff
at a time when the Original Grand Lodge (of
1717) insisted (as it did for around 70 years)
that it was just 'an innovation designed to seduce the brethren'.
Which it certainly did, to this day. What possessed
Dermott to speak so highly of a degree derided by the
Original Grand Lodge?
First we must bear in mind that this has
nothing to do with 'what was lost' in the
Craft third degree and the RA. They are
entirely different. I understand that there is
an article on The Word in this issue, so I
won't dwell on this aspect.
Even the Druids
Through the masonic ages, the RA theme
has been a popular one for some reason.
Going back at least to the early 1800s,
Mackenzie mentions the Grand Royal Arch,
Ramsay's Royal Arch, the Royal Arch of
Enoch, the Royal Arch of Solomon and the
Royal Arch of Zerubbabel -and there were
and are many others.
Even the Druids at one time adopted a
Royal Arch degree which is/was remarkably
similar. I read in this very magazine recently,
that in Cole Court Masonic Hall there is a
Druid Royal Arch certificate, and a jewel
collar that has absolutely identical markings
to that of Royal Arch in the Craft.
Surely this is more than a coincidence.
I am at the moment trying to discover just
what that Druid Royal Arch ceremony was
like, without much luck. If
anything about it,
I would be grateful
for the information.
But I got lucky with
the most impressive
comparison I have
found, one that
regular readers have
had this organisation
described in this
magazine, so I won't
go into too much detail.
The Odd Fellows (as
they were) date back to
the early 1700s for
certain. There have been
many 'schisms' and thus
many versions of the
order. The oldest surviving
ritual we have is that of
the Order of Patriotic Odd
Fellows, which was issued in 1797. What's
more, it has been re-published recently.
In those days, the degrees within the Odd
Fellows consisted of the Covenant or White
degree, the Royal Blue, the Pink or Merit -
and the Royal Arch of Titus!
Now of course the fact that it has Royal
Arch in the title does not prove anything.
But let us take a look at the ritual book.
Before uttering anything, six of the officers
take their places. Three -Ancient Grand
Master, Noble Grand Master and Vice
Grand Master- stand 'as if occupying the
three points of an equilateral triangle'.
Three others -Grand Warden, Grand
Secretary and Grand Treasurer -'occupy
similar positions forming also an equilateral
triangle, intersecting the other.' Note that
these intersecting triangles form the
hexalpha or six-pointed star sign for the
There is a seventh officer in this
ceremony, the Grand Guardian, who is
'within the lodge'.
Presumably at the door.
The ritual then goes on.
AGM: In whose presence
are we met tonight?
NGM: In the presence of
the Holy One of Israel,
who must not be named
with unhallowed lips. Let
the Ancient Grand
Master start to letter the
name, that we, as the
seven principals, may
recognise the name.
Later, in the dark, each of the first six
officers stand in their intersected triangles
and each lights his lamp. It must have been
Now I am sure you will agree that we
have even more coincidences here. So
much so that it must be accepted that the
Royal Arch degree has permeated at least
two orders outside Freemasonry. Why?
What is it that made orders from
seemingly non-associated groups adopt
not only part of the regalia (Druids) but
also the ritual (Odd Fellows) of the Royal
Arch. What lay behind Dermott's words
when he said that the RA was the 'root,
heart and marrow of Masonry'?
All we can be sure of, is that it was
something the Original Grand Lodge didn't
know, or didn't want to know, about. It
certainly is a mystery.