I am not an historian. I am certainly not a Masonic historian, and, in
particular an historian of the Royal Arch. I do not have the time, wherewithal
or interest to be an historian. Indeed, I may not have sufficient ability to
undertake historical research. I am convinced that ascertaining WHAT happened at
sometime in the past is relatively easy. I use the word “relatively” because
determining WHY it happened is most certainly not easy. But endeavouring to
ascertain why something happened is interesting to me and if I can use it to
further our understanding and promotion of the Orders and philosophies we hold
dear then I am prepared to devote my time and what abilities I have to that end.
In this sense I am speculative in my Masonry and the real beauty in this is that
our speculations are opinion and our opinions are never wrong, are we?
In this paper I present some minor research thoughts occasioned by a
discussion I hosted while First Principal of Piako Chapter. I wish, then, to
comment on some aspects of the history, philosophy and excellencies of the
Order; and then to draw some conclusions as to how we might manage our future.
Chapter April 2001
At the April 2001 meeting of the Piako Royal Arch Chapter No 48 I
convened a discussion which considered the issues and problems confronting Royal
Arch Masonry and to seek solutions to them.
Comp Jim Anderson PGSupt spoke about the history of the Order; RE Comp Les
Borrell PGSupt spoke about the philosophy of the Order and its future.
A number of issues and thoughts were canvassed, but essentially they all
reduced to one single comment: the membership of the Order is diminishing. The
question then becomes one of survival. But of what? The Royal Arch or
Freemasonry in general?
Basically the survival of the Royal Arch depends on the survival of
Freemasonry. If the Order has a membership problem it probably has two causes:
the membership problem of Freemasonry; and the way in which the Order gains and
retains its membership from Craft Masonry.
Why would the Order not be able to gain members from Craft Masonry, and
equally importantly, why would the Order not be able to retain its members?
There appears to be three main reasons:
Understanding and knowledge
The pursuit of excellence.
RE Comp Les Borrell made three distinct points:
Philosophies such as Christianity and other religions, and Freemasonry
are flawless: it is people, and their interpretation of the philosophies that
The physical, intellectual and spiritual qualities of life come from
within persons—they are not successfully imposed from without.
Freemasonry, although not a religion, has a spiritual element and those
who miss that element, miss the point of Freemasonry.
Other contributors concluded that an understanding of these points by
Companions is essential to the well-being of the Order. If the Companions of the
Order do not understand the philosophy, the symbols, and the allegories of the
Order, how can they ever hope to encourage new membership or retain existing
Pursuit of Excellence
Perhaps this should really be entitled “The failure to pursue
RE Comps Anderson and Borrell, and others emphasized a feeling that
Freemasonry appears to be slipping into mediocrity: that it has drifted away
from the desire for excellence.
It is, perhaps a malaise of society in general, rather than the Masonic
Orders in particular, that excuses are offered for not attempting to excel at
ritual, or understanding of the philosophies of the Orders. There may be reasons
why individuals find it difficult to learn ritual – limitations on the time
they can make available, pressures of work and family commitments, and failing
memory processes being just a few. However, these are reasons – they are not
excuses. Thus there is an increasing tendency for people to read their ritual,
rather than learn and recite it, and this leads inevitably to a lowering of
Many speakers identified a malaise that appears to be affecting
attendance at meetings. Experience seems to indicate that many Companions are
drifting into inactivity because their interest is no longer stimulated. This is
not restricted to Royal Arch Masonry, but is seen as a malaise that is affecting
society at large and Freemasonry in particular.
A feeling was expressed that new members are too often drafted into
office too soon, sometimes discouraging that Companion. However, it is an
individual matter – too soon for some may be just right for others.
and the Future
The meeting concluded that there were solutions:
Strive for excellence
Seek new membership and revive flagging interest
Encourage the use of mentors
Promote the philosophies of the Royal Arch
I will deal with some of these later in this paper but now I wish to turn
to some thoughts on the appeal of the Order.
Appeal of the Royal Arch
What is it about Freemasonry that attracts men to such devotion?
What is it about Royal Arch Masonry that attracts Companions to give of
themselves for such a long time?
Is it the funny crowns we
aspire to wear when we get to sit up in the East? The funny little hats that are
so precariously balanced that we daren’t move too rapidly?
Or is it those heavy robes that feel so comforting in winter – but
subject us to sauna like conditions in summer?
Is it the colours which always seem so much more vibrant than the blues
of Craft Masonry?
Is it the poignant plays by which we introduce new members into the
order? The strong messages which are carried by our rituals?
Or is it the atmosphere of a Chapter which always seems somehow
friendlier than a Craft Lodge?
Many of you are better able to answer those questions than me – I am
still a relatively “new boy” on the block.
I know only that the lessons we endeavour to teach through our ceremonies
extend the philosophical bases of Freemasonry so strongly that, for me at least,
they are very hard to ignore. That they answer some of the questions posed by
Craft Masonry – and open up further fields of study which we can all use to
make that daily advancement we so treasure.
Rule 71 of the Book of Constitution of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand
Degrees Recognised as Antient Freemasonry
Lodge recognises only the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, Master
Mason, Mark Master, Excellent Master, and the Royal Arch, as being pure Antient
This makes us, as an Order of Freemasonry, politically very hard to
ignore. As hard, perhaps, as it is to ignore the lessons of our rituals.
So, are we important?
Do we count for anything?
Or are we a funny little anachronism with some quaint ceremonies?
Laurence Gardner’s Book “The Shadow of Solomon”[ii]
carries some fascinating commentary on the history of Freemasonry and an
overview of the influence of alchemy, the philosophers of the 17th
and 18th centuries (particularly those who founded the Royal Society)
and of the Stuart and Hanover dynasties.
His reference to the Royal Arch is fascinating. In his introduction he
shall also discover that a time-honored aspect of the Craft known as the Royal
Arch Chapter holds the ultimate key to Freemasonry. Although the Chapter is
optional to Brethren, it is within this particular ritual (as distinct from the
three primary degrees) that the light of Masonic heritage truly shines – yet
the all-important Royal Arch was totally ignored by the Grand Lodge
establishment for 96 years from its foundation.”
Later he writes that when a Candidate enters a Lodge for the first time
he is likened to the Rough Ashlar which will eventually become smoothed and
is at this stage that the prospect of being admitted to the ‘mysteries and
privileges of ancient Freemasonry’ is potentially very exciting. Progressing
through the three Craft degrees, however, concludes with the immensely
disappointing Hiramic legend, and it is not until one joins the Royal Arch
Chapter that the excitement builds again – but this time with a better
Gardner writes that Christopher Wren was as enthusiastic about the
mathematical mystique of Solomon’s Temple as Isaac Newton and that, therefore,
when Desaguliers became the Grand Master of the Moderns in 1719 it was little
wonder that they focused on it.
a Fellow of the Royal Society he would have been fully aware of ongoing research
from the society’s published Transactions.
It was worth creating a whole new degree just to cement the new-style
Freemasonry to this Solomon tradition – and that is precisely what happened
after 1724, when the 3rd degree was formulated”
Unfortunately, writes Gardner, instead of developing the thrust of the
first two degrees by incorporating Newtonian or other Temple philosophy, the
fictitious legend of Hiram Abif became the focus. But, he writes:
a rather more than adequate 3rd degree already existed. It was much older, and
had evolved quite separately from Craft Freemasonry, with records of a Scottish
working as far back as 1590 in Stirling. Laurence Dermott, Grand Secretary of
the Antients, explained to the Moderns that he knew of this degree, which
existed quite independently of the Craft, and that he firmly believed it to be
the ‘the root, heart, and marrow of Freemasonry’, but he was ignored.”
Much later the Antients included it as a formal aspect of their ritual,
in 1772, but the Moderns did not relent until after amalgamation in December
1813 – their own membership had applied pressure for something better than
Gardner writes that Dermott had been correct – that it was indeed far
more substantial than the established 3rd degree but that it was too
late to make a substitution because to allow more than 3 degrees would, in
effect, demote all the existing Master Masons. The Holy Royal Arch was therefore
added as a Chapter extension of the 3rd degree to give the Craft
brethren something of a culminating consequence.
Chapel does not escape the history either.
Written on a lintel of the south aisle in the Latin lettering of Lombardy
is an inscription:
est vinu; fortior est Rex; fortiores sunt mulieres’ sup on vincit veritas.
is strong; the king is stronger; women are stronger, but above all truth
Where does this come from? The Royal Arch ritual deals with a particular
aspect of Israelite history which is based on chapters 5 and 6 of the book of
Ezra which describe the Decree of Cyrus and the actions of Darius allowing
Zerubbabel to lead the descendants of the captives out of Babylon and rebuild
the Temple. The peculiar events leading to this are described in the first book
Then three young men, that were of the guard that kept the king’s body, spake
one to another;
Let every one of us speak a sentence: he that shall overcome, and whose sentence
shall seem wiser than the others, unto him shall the king Darius give great
gifts, and great things in token of victory:
The first wrote, Wine is the strongest.
The second wrote, The king is strongest.
The third wrote, Women are strongest: but above all things Truth beareth away
Wine, because it intoxicates and so dominates the drinker. The king,
because he has dominion over everyone and everything. But:
Women have borne the king and all the people that bear rule by sea and land.
Even of them came they: and they nourished them up that planted the vineyards,
from whence the wine cometh.
These also make garments for men; these bring glory unto men; and without women
cannot men be.
Yea, and if men have gathered together gold and silver, or any other goodly
thing, do they not love a woman which is comely in favour and beauty?
And letting all those things go, do they not gape, and even with open mouth fix
their eyes fast on her; and have not all men more desire unto her than unto
silver or gold, or any goodly thing whatsoever?
A man leaveth his own father that brought him up, and his own country, and
cleaveth unto his wife.
He sticketh not to spend his life with his wife. And remembereth neither father,
nor mother, nor country.
By this also ye must know that women have dominion over you: do ye not labour
and toil, and give and bring all to the woman?
Yea, a man taketh his sword, and goeth his way to rob and to steal, to sail upon
the sea and upon rivers;
And looketh upon a lion, and goeth in the darkness; and when he hath stolen,
spoiled, and robbed, he bringeth it to his love.
Wherefore a man loveth his wife better than father or mother.
Yea, many there be that have run out of their wits for women, and become
servants for their sakes.
Many also have perished, have erred, and sinned, for women.
O ye men, are not women strong? great is the earth, high is the heaven, swift is
the sun in his course, for he compasseth the heavens round about, and fetcheth
his course again to his own place in one day.
Is he not great that maketh these things? Therefore great is the truth, and
stronger than all things.
All the earth crieth upon the truth, and the heaven blesseth it: all works shake
and tremble at it, and with it is no unrighteous thing.
Wine is wicked, the king is wicked, women are wicked, all the children of men
are wicked, and such are all their wicked works; and there is no truth in them;
in their unrighteousness also they shall perish.
As for the truth, it endureth, and is always strong; it liveth and conquereth
With her there is no accepting of persons or rewards; but she doeth the things
that are just, and refraineth from all unjust and wicked things; and all men do
well like of her works.
Neither in her judgment is any unrighteousness; and she is the strength,
kingdom, power, and majesty, of all ages. Blessed be the God of truth.
And with that he held his peace. And all the people then shouted, and said,
Great is Truth, and mighty above all things.
Then said the king unto him, Ask what thou wilt more than is appointed in the
writing, and we will give it thee, because thou art found wisest; and thou shalt
sit next me, and shalt be called my cousin.
This was none other than Zerubbabel, who then claimed his prize:
Then said he unto the king, Remember thy vow, which thou hast vowed to build
Jerusalem, in the day when thou camest to thy kingdom,
And to send away all the vessels that were taken away out of Jerusalem, which
Cyrus set apart, when he vowed to destroy Babylon, and to send them again
Thou also hast vowed to build up the temple, which the Edomites burned when
Judea was made desolate by the Chaldees.
And now, O lord the king, this is that which I require, and which I desire of
thee, and this is the princely liberality proceeding from thyself: I desire
therefore that thou make good the vow, the performance whereof with thine own
mouth thou hast vowed to the King of heaven.
Then Darius the king stood up, and kissed him, and wrote letters for him unto
all the treasurers and lieutenants and captains and governors, that they should
safely convey on their way both him, and all those that go up with him to build
And that all they that went from Babylon to build the city should have free
liberty, as well they as their posterity, and all the priests that went away.
Gardner cites a 1744 Masonic ritual of the Holy Royal Arch as indicating
Moses as the first biblical Grand Master. Moses was considered to have been a
primary guardian of the hermetic wisdom which came out of Egypt (from Hermes,
who is considered to be the founder of alchemy and geometry).
is much more to be considered in the importance of the Royal Arch to the whole
framework of Freemasonry but a few more words from Gardner are perhaps apposite.
attached as a Chapter to the 3rd Degree of the Craft, Royal Arch Freemasonry
emerged from a very different culture, which had nothing to do with Hiramic
ritual. Royal Arch members are styled Companions rather than Brethren, and its
tenets and symbols have a positive alchemical aspect which is more akin to
Rosicrucian metaphysical philosophy. … It has a distinct crypt legend as its
theme. It is partially rooted in Old Testament lore, but also has a parallel
origin from Templar Europe in much later times, with elements of a tradition
concerning knights of the crusading era who discovered a secret vault in
The inference to be drawn here is that the Templars spent more than a
Century burrowing below the ruins of the temples (Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s
and Herod’s) whilst ostensibly offering services to travellers to the Holy
Lands. That their wealth was amassed by their merchant banking operations of the
14th and 15th centuries has led to speculation that they
must have got a start somewhere and that start may have been treasure discovered
during their excavations.
This is but a brief glimpse into the background and importance of the
Order and, possibly, why it inspires passion and loyalty in its Companions.
Looking at more modern times, the establishment of Royal Arch Masonry and
its development in New Zealand is well covered in Ian Nathan’s excellent book
“A Centennial History of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of New Zealand
1892 – 1992”. I wish only to comment that since 1890 there have been 105
First Grand Principals and 60 Grand Masters, 17 Pro Grand Masters[iii]
and 21 appointments to the rank of either Past Grand Master or Past Pro Grand
What is interesting are the statistics of those appointments. Has there
been a close relationship between the Craft and the Royal Arch?
Of those 105 GZs, 19 have held the position of GM, ProGM, PGM or PProGM.
12 GMs, 4 Pro GMs, 3 PGMs and 3 PProGMS have held the rank of GZ. Some of these
were the same persons so there is a little overlap.
most cases the person was GZ before achieving high rank in the Craft.
E.T. Gillon was GZ in 1892 and was appointed PGM in 1894.
H. Thomson, the first GM (1890) became GZ in 1894.
C.J.W. Griffiths was GZ in 1908 and GM in 1911.
S.C. Bingham became GZ in 1909 and PGM in 1922.
J.J. Esson was GZ in 1914 and GM in 1936.
T. Ross was GZ in 1916 and GM in 1922.
J. H. Harkness was GZ in 1918, Pro GM in 1920 and PGM in 1934.
C. Flavell was GZ in 1921 and GM in 1946.
Col. Sir Stephen Allen as GZ in 1924, Pro GM in 1932 and GM in 1948.
G. Russell was GZ in 1925 and Pro GM in 1926.
T.M. Rankin was GZ in 1926 and PProGM in1940.
Sir Charles Fergusson was GZ in 1928 and GM in 1929.
E.C. Smith was GZ in 1936, Pro GM in 1944 and GM in 1945.
Viscount Galway was GZ and GM in 1938.
Sir Cyril Newall was GZ in
1942 and GM in 1944.
W. J. Girling was GM in 1947 and GZ in 1953.
N.B. Spencer was GZ in 1956 and PProGM in 1960.
A. Burns was GZ in 1960 and PProGM in 1980.
The latest, of course, is ME Companion Barry McLaggan (2001) who was
installed as Grand Master in November 2006.
So, the question arises, where do we go from here and how can we ensure
the survival of this superb Order of Freemasonry?
I indicated, in writing about the discussion in Piako Chapter in 2001,
that we concluded there were five solutions that could lead us to the desirable
outcomes: to encourage excellence; to seek new members and revive flagging
interest; to promote the use of mentors; and to promote the Order.
In many ways the final point really summarises all the others but it is
worth exploring all the others in some depth.
Chapters should always strive for excellence, responding to a challenge
to improve in every way – in the conduct of its business; in the education of
its Companions; in promoting itself to potential members; and in its performance
of its ceremonies.
It should aim for perfection in its openings and closings; in its
reception of visitors; and in the manner of conducting degree ceremonies.
Its challenge should be to get its ritual right and in doing so, enjoy
The benefits of this are seen to be threefold: well performed ritual is
impressive; the participants get a great thrill from being part of it – and
tend to talk about it outside of Chapter; everyone in the Chapter, including
visitors finds enjoyment in the meeting.
Therefore striving to achieve excellence is likely to make the business
of the Chapter more enjoyable to its members; revive the interest of inactive
Companions in the Chapter; promote the character of the Chapter and the Order;
and encourage new membership.
New Members and Reviving Interest
The so-called membership malaise facing Freemasonry affects recruitment
into the Royal Arch. The problems of membership of the Order are therefore those
of the Craft, and the solution is essentially one of finding new members for the
Craft. Solve that problem and the membership of the Order is likewise solved.
Therefore a prime objective for every Companion must be the introduction of
suitable men for initiation into the Craft.
But the problem is not restricted to falling membership. It also applies
to failing membership. So a second challenge facing all Companions of the Order
is create the conditions that will revive the interest of inactive members and
encourage them to attend meetings once again. And how is that achieved? More
than likely the solution will be to make meetings interesting, stimulating and
exciting – by striving for excellence.
The concept of mentors is not new, and has been attempted in the past
with varying success. Grand Lodge attempted to impose it on Craft Membership but
there is little sign that it was ever successful probably because the role is
not understood. It has worked very successfully where individuals have shown
themselves to be willing to take responsibility for another, “junior”,
Companion but many may be discouraged because they consider themselves
ill-prepared to take on such a role. It needs to be understood that the role of
a mentor is not to “teach” or “instruct”. The role is to be a guide and
the only knowledge required is to know where and to whom to direct questions.
It ought to be an objective of a Chapter to foster the concept and
encourage its Companions to take on the role. And that objective may be assisted
by a program of education—assisting every Companion to make that daily
advancement in Masonic Knowledge.
The enthusiasm of its Companions will be enhanced if the Chapter strives
to make its meetings exciting and educational and its ritual and ceremonies as
close to perfect as is humanly possible. If the enthusiasm and excitement of
active members is enhanced, that enthusiasm will be transmitted to less active
members. It will encourage their return to active participation. Equally
importantly, it will be transmitted to members of the Craft who are interested
in furthering their Masonic knowledge and understanding.
The prime responsibility for lifting enthusiasm probably lies with those
who have vision and understanding but it is by no means restricted to them.
Promotion of the Order is primarily educationally based. That is,
communicating the idea that the lessons of the Order continue the lessons of
Craft Masonry. It provides answers to questions that are left hanging for a
Promotion takes several forms:
Individual promotion by Companions to other members of Freemasonry. But
to be successful it is essential that the Companion be able to answer questions
from an interested person, or know where to direct that person if he is unsure
of the answer. So the individual Companion needs knowledge, understanding and
Promotion by a Chapter: providing header boards to be placed on Craft
Lodge notice boards is a start, but is not all a Chapter can do to promote
itself to its host Lodge. Honours Boards, photographs of Companions (and not
just First Principals), and lists of noteworthy achievements are possibilities
which can be explored.
Promotion by Grand Chapter in such publications as “The Freemason”.
We have an Order which provides an extension and widening of the
philosophical and moral code which underpins Freemasonry.
Its ceremonial and rites provides answers which are left hanging after
the first three Degrees.
The survival of the Royal Arch depends solely on its membership.
The responsibility for Royal Arch Masonry lies with the Companions and
the direction is upwards from the grassroots – not from Grand Chapter down.
Where an individual Companion sees a need to improve things he must take
responsibility and accept the challenge.
Questions from Companions must be encouraged to assist with education and
Promotion of the Order is the responsibility of every Companion, Chapter
and Grand Chapter.
The education of Companions is the responsibility of themselves, their
Chapter and Grand Chapter.
However one Companion cannot achieve success on his own: success will be
achieved by a team effort, and the size of the team depends on the size of the
objective. It may be a small group within a Chapter; it may be a Chapter; it may
be Grand Chapter; or it may be the Order. And success will largely be determined
by the excitement and enthusiasm each of us shows to our Brethren in Craft
Masonry and, indeed to those outside the Craft. We need them to say “That
looks so exciting that I wish to be part of it!”
Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of New Zealand
Laurence Gardner “The Shadow of Solomon” Harper Element 2005 ISBN 13 978 0
00 720761 9, ISBN 10 0 00 720761 1, p 193.
In the New Zealand Constitution a Pro Grand Master was usually appointed to
carry out ceremonial duties when the present Grand Master held a position
which precluded him from performing them. Typically this occurred if the Grand
Master was also Governor General or Prime Minister.