By Bro. Charles C. Conover, Michigan
Edited and Abbreviated by Bro. James Maertens
[Editors note: The Mark Master degree will be familiar to all Master Masons who have continued in their search for Masonic Light by taking the degrees of the Royal Arch Chapter. If you are a Mark Master, consider when was the last time you thought about the significance of your personal mark. The following article appeared in The Builder Magazine, December 1920.]
THE MARK DEGREE seems to antedate any of the [other] chapter degrees. In England and most of her dependencies it is controlled by a separate organization known as the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons. These lodges take their material from the Master's degree and they confer the degrees of Mark Man, Mark Master and in some instances the Royal Ark Mariners. … [In America the degree of Mark Master is included in the Royal Arch Chapter degrees.]
When we read the story of the building of that house upon Mount Moriah we are amazed at the magnitude, as well as the splendor of the work. By the quarries, in Lebanon, and in the mountain that overlooked the Dead Sea, men wrought by plan - Fellow Crafts and M. M.'s of the different lodges. They apparently wrought also by piece in many cases; and it was important that a careful record should be kept of work done, of work done well - and of the worker, whatever he had done. …Masons were in the habit of making such Marks for purposes of signature… When few could read, and fewer write, a plan of adopting some easily remembered Mark would be a great advantage. And there is no doubt that the signature in some way of a man's workmanship was of importance to the Wardens and the Overseers.
Masonry has ever emphasized the value standard in regard to membership in a lodge, both in operative and in speculative labor; and we can easily understand that such a system of Marks as we have discovered would become necessary, especially in a work of such stupendous magnitude as the Temple of Jerusalem, or the other great works of antiquity in which bands of workmen of different nations and languages and habits were employed.
The Marks would be, to the Overseers, both statement of account and surveyor's report; and every man would receive praise and reward or punishment as these marks were borne upon good or bad work.
… The Marks were the signature and the challenge of the workmen. And, just in the same way, the Mark Mason of today demands that a Mark shall represent the responsibility and the account of the Mark Mason. Just as in business the reputation of a merchant or manufacturer may be said to be constantly in pledge against the fulfillment of a contract, so Mark Masonry throws herself upon her character, upon her Masonic brotherliness, upon her right to receive and to give. And just so her character stamps her acts and her ideals.
The Mark is found upon the obverse of the jewel, and not upon the apron, which with the exception that there are no tassels and that the ribbon is edged with crimson, resembles that of the M. M. Craft degree. The jewel takes the form of the keystone of an arch. Upon one side are the letters H.T.W.S.S.T.K.S., and upon the other Hebrew characters of similar import. These are arranged round a space, circular, in which the Mark of the wearer is inscribed.
[B]oth the Royal Arch and the Mark are based largely upon the content and construction of the arch in Masonry. The principal difference is one of form. The Royal Arch deals with the secret the arch has hidden; and the Mark illustrates more the value of the arch itself and the importance of reliable work. (The Trestle Board, Vol. 26, No. 6 Calif.)
When a special and elaborate ceremony (with a distinctive legend) was first used it is not possible to decide, but probably about the middle of the eighteenth century, soon after the arrangement of the Royal Arch as a separate degree. The oldest preserved records date from the year 1769, and there is no lack of evidence as to the observance of the custom in speculative lodges during that century and later, either in separate lodges or under the wing of the Royal Arch. The Mark continued to be worked in England as an unauthorized ceremony until the year 1856, when the Mark Grand Lodge was founded and has proved a conspicuous success, having ultimately secured the support of all the “time immemorial” and other lodges in the country, besides having warranted several hundreds of lodges to work the degree in England and the Colonies and dependencies of the British Crown.
The ceremony is very popular, especially in North America… and is recognized by all Grand Chapters of Royal Arch Masons there and elsewhere, excepting in England. The Grand Lodge of Ireland includes it with the additional degrees belonging to “the other Masonic Grand Bodies recognized in it, and acting in union with it,” and the Grand Lodge of Scotland authorizes the Mark to be “conferred on Master Masons, and the secrets only to be communicated in presence of those who have taken the step in a lodge entitled to grant it.” The Mark Grand Lodge in recent years has incorporated the “Mark Man” with the “Mark Master”; and wisely so, as it was the former that was conferred on Fellow Crafts, and the latter on Master Masons, during the eighteenth century. - (The Trestle Board, Vol. 23, No. 4, October, 1909, California.)
To the ancient operative Mason the “Mark” was only a means of identification, protected by his known ability and the registration of his Mark, as signatures are, in our day, recorded in a bank. In ancient Rome, when two friends were about to part, it was a custom to break a piece of money or ivory in two, and having registered a secret Mark, each retained a part, and this was a token of everlasting friendship, and was called the “arrhabo.” Both word and custom were borrowed from the ancient Israelites, for it is derived from the Hebrew “arabon,” a pledge.
The symbolism of the Mark degree, unlike all other degrees in Freemasonry, may be comprehended in one emblem - the Keystone. Around this is woven the whole of the romance. It was this that caused the humiliation of the skillful Craftsman, in his desire to produce good and useful work, and his long period of sorrow and dejection by its rejection, and, consequently, to this symbol he owed his honorable advancement, and the tardy recognition of his skill.
Now, what are the great lessons which the teaching of the degree inculcates ? We may answer, primarily, “Charity,” in its highest attributes. Not to judge harshly and condemn the actions of others because we may not understand them. To act in charity to all mankind, and more especially to our brethren in Freemasonry, is a Masonic command, which was not exemplified by the overseers in their treatment of the skillful Craftsman's work. Among some of the sterling precepts of the Mark degree we are enjoined to do justice to all mankind, to love mercy, which equally blesses him who gives and him who receives, to practice charity in all its phases, to maintain harmony in our own persons, and to endeavor to promote it with others.
To quote an American writer: “The rejection of the keystone should teach us that nothing has been made in vain. It matters not how worthless and insignificant a creature may appear to our prejudiced eyes, we may rest assured that if infinite wisdom has been employed in its creation, it has, in the economy of Providence, its appropriate place and use; from it we may also learn never to despond and grow weary in welldoing. Although our motives may be misinterpreted and the work of our hands be misjudged by our erring fellowmen, still may we have faith that there is over all a Judge who sees not with the eyes of man.”
I wonder how many of us seriously consider the very great responsibility that devolves on the members of this degree. In the concluding charge the newly-admitted brother is told that while he acts in conformity with the sublime precepts of the Craft, “Should misfortune assail you, should other friends forsake you, should the envious traduce your good name, or the malicious persecute you . . . among Mark Master Masons you will ever find friends who will administer relief to your distresses and comfort in your affliction.” Surely this constitutes the essential essence of true Freemasonry, and were it only given practical effect would raise Mark Masonry high above its sister branches of Freemasonry and would convert the ideal into the real.
You can find the whole article in the section of this site titled "Masonic Library Online." Go to the "Masonic Education" section of the site, and then page down the list of Article and Pages. At the end of this list is a link to the "Online Masonic Library," which contains further links to many online Masonic books and articles, including all the back issues of The Builder.