Is the Mark Degree older than the Craft Degrees? A four-part article by Mike Lawrence. Part Four

To conclude the article, I began with the question “Is the Mark Degree older than the Craft Degrees?” and I first looked at the start of the squared stone building industry in England in the early Middle Ages. This was followed by a look at the organisation of Masons in England and Scotland in the high and late Middle Ages. I then moved to that period what modern day Masonic historian’s call the “transition” which is in fact, the reasons that made men, who were not involved in the building trade or craft want to become non-working or Accepted mason and join a lodge alongside working masons.

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So, to answer the original question, I think we may apply the following scenario, first put by Revd. Barker Cryer:

“There is a realisation amongst Masons that ritual material once possessing infinite mystical value had at some time been discarded from some old practices and suddenly revived and expanded into a rite purporting to restore the genuine secrets”

Can we apply this to Mark Masonry?

The first record we have of Mark Masonry in England is on 1st September 1769 at the Royal Arch Chapter No. 257 when certain brethren were made Mark Masons, after which they chose their mark.

Obviously for there to be a ceremony on that night would certainly indicate a ritual of some kind was used which logic dictates would have been introduced before that date. We know that there is an occasional reference to the term “mark” in several earlier documents, but the same goes for “arch”, but they are not necessarily used in the context with which we understand Mark or Holy Royal Arch to be, so sadly this does not indicate a full separate degree or ritual being practiced earlier than 1769.

The re-introduction of assigning marks could be considered as a once discarded practice, but the Mark ceremony does not have the same antiquity and therfore cannot be.

So, the answer to the first scenario is, NO!

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Secondly, the Revd. Barker Cryer says:

“One of the peculiarities of ritual growth is that customs discarded from the ritual or ignored through lack of understanding in one place surprisingly turns up in another at a much later date.”

This could apply to Mark Masonry as the use of marks, the discarding of spoilt stones and the name Adoniram, pre-date Craft practices, but this does not necessarily prove a direct unbroken chain or link beyond the Craft. After all, much of the Craft system is evident in Mark Masonry, the giving of tokens, signs and words, the administration set up, the position of some of the Officers and the use of the lodge room, which as we know was a late 18th century innovation. Lately, the Mark Degree did developed an independent Lodge room, but this was not prior to the development of the Craft Lodge room.

So, we could partly answer yes to the second scenario, but not with any conviction as we still have no further clues to the antiquity of the Mark Degree, nor that it was ever an independent order.

The final point to make is that we must not confuse the use of mason’s marks and their antiquity, particularly as they have been found on the earliest of squared stone buildings, as being the basis for an independent Mark Degree. Marks were used by all trades to identify the producer or maker or the origin of the piece of work and in this case, given to all qualified stone masons who were not, at that time, known as Mark Masons.

There may even have been a short ceremony involved in the choosing of a mark at the end of an Apprenticeship, but end of Apprenticeship rituals (being one of fun, frivolity and initiation into the trade generally at the expense of the newly qualified individual) was by no means exclusive to Masons. I am sure so many of the more mature Freemasons, will recall from your youth, before the advent of Health and Safety, the things that were done to blood the newly qualified Apprentice on the completion of his indentures.

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It was the French that had a great fondness for religious and chivalric ceremony and this is evident by the development of hundreds of Masonic, non-Masonic and quasi-Masonic degrees which are held by the Grand College of Rites and which included such rituals as:

The Egyptian Rite                    The Rite of Memphis

The Order of Dervishes           The Rite of Mizraim

The Martinist Order                The Early Grand Rite of Scotland

Then we have:

The Rite of Memphis Mark     The Travelling Mark

The French Mark                     The Black Mark

The Ragon Mark

Therefore, many of the Degrees which have, these days, attached themselves under the Masonic banner were developed in France in the early 18th century and their antiquity, which appears to have been lost in the midst of time, in truth date back no further than that.

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So whether we like it or not, we are left with the knowledge that as our Craft Ritual bears little resemblance to pre-1717 practices, particularly as most of the its ritual, dress and surroundings etc., were innovations developed many years after, so I believe Mark has that same distinction.

Mark Masonry is not older than the Craft Masonry, it is not a direct or closer link to Operative Masonry, nor as it is often described “a completion of the Second Degree”, nor is it actually officially recognized within the Grand Lodge of England, as being “pure and antient masonry.”

However, like the Craft, knowledge of its past and its development should never detract from this most beautiful and friendly Degree or the deep spiritual message it contains, neither should it go unacknowledged the great role played and the work carried out by the Mark Benevolent Fund.

For more information about the Mark Masonry please visit:

https://markmasonshall.org/orders/mark-master-mason

https://markmasonshall.org/mbf-home/mark-benevolent-fund

<ends>

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Filed under Freemasonry, Mark Masonry, Masonic, Masonic History, Masonic Traditions

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