PHILIP J. HARRIS esq JP
Lodge St. John No. 280, Grand Lodge of Scotland
This is a paraphrase of three lectures I give to the Royal Arch Companions. It omits the passwords, signs and tokens but is an expose of the essential symbolism often ignored. It relies on your knowledge of allegory and ability to interpret symbols. A necessity for any Freemason the understanding of its many symbols sadly seldom discussed in open lodge.
As much of the symbolism of Masonry is published on the internet, I am thankful that the understanding is restricted to those initiated in Freemasonry. Those members of the Royal Arch will understand this paper. Those considering following the Excellent master’s degree into the Royal Arch will have some idea of expectations. I have included two extracts of the Royal Arch that are the most beautiful of all masonic writings. They bring a teat to the eye of a Companion, and a wonder to others who aspire to be a Master Mason.
Having completed the degrees of the Craft you will have learnt to apply the tools of your trade to yourself, followed the ancient charges and now passed the challenges of the Veils in the Excellent master’s degree. At this point, as at the completion of the third degree you may not feel a new man. You may not be enlightened in the three degrees, nor understand what it is all about. There is no shame in this. Now is the time to return to the beginning of your journey and recap what you have missed: –
• Overcome your fears.
• Trust your guide.
• Seek knowledge from your brethren.
• Learnt to apply the working tools to your character.
• Found the Centre of your being.
• Faced the final fear of death.
• Progressed to study yourself, “that most interesting of all human studies”.
• Found hope in darkness as” that bright morning star showed you that there was still hope”.
Being assured and knowing your strengths, weaknesses and appreciating your humanity you will have faced the challenges of the Excellent master.
• Learnt you are only a man and capable of great good or evil.
• Remain a rebellious person but admit this even to yourself.
• Have sought forgiveness by forgiving all others who need forgiveness.
• You have returned to that badge of innocence and bond of friendship, that white apron.
These are serious challenges to a freemason. To progress further you are truly in mortal danger of facing your Creator. As you are not a fit and proper person to entering to the secrets and privileges of ancient free and accepted masonry.
To be like Moses at the burning bush that was not consumed by the fire within it. “Take off your shoes for you are standing on holy ground”. You are not to have pride in your own goodness, promote your ego by aggrandisement, see yourself as worthy and entitled or perfected as you are not. You come to this final step meekly (this is not weakly, for you should certainly not be weak now) and with humility appreciating yourself as no more than a creation and in need of enlightenment.
BEFORE AND WITHOUT
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will open”. These are probably familiar words to many. But nowhere else are they more illustrated than in the passing of the veils to the door of the Holy Royal Arch.
“In my heart” the candidate affirms at his initiation that he was prepared well before he stood at the door of the Craft Lodge. He has had much to learn of himself, the use of the working tools, trust, charges and obedience to his oath. Yet there is more to learn.
Having been challenged to prove his worth in the Excellent-Master’s degree the candidate is faced with a return to the beginning of his masonic journey. “The badge of innocence and the bond of friendship”. The white of the veil and the apron of the initiate.
Being here one should feel worthy but humbled as he is still a flawed human being separated from his goal. His hope in the bright and morning star is yet to be rewarded.
At this point we should remind ourselves that Masonry is “a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”. As, what comes next is full and rich in allegory and symbolism. We enter through the narrow gate to what lies below.
Below as all our initiation, passing and raising happened whilst the Divine Centre was deep within each of us. “From the Surface of the Earth to the Centre”. This is beyond the door, so we knock on it again.
The opening address of our Royal Arch: Companions, again we assemble with those feelings of affection and goodwill which animate the meeting of friends who have been sometime separated.
After this interval, you have, I trust, acquired an increased relish for the interesting exercises of this retreat and you undoubtedly return with new alacrity to your labours.
And now, Companions, we meet within closed doors, the busy world shut out, with all its perplexities, cares and sorrows, none of which are suffered to intrude upon our happy privacy; for here nothing should enter but innocent pleasures, quiet joys and fraternal gaieties.
Here you are invited to excel in the true, the good and the just, and to enjoy the bright auspices and emanations of the glorious light which sheds around you the clearest and most cheering rays. Here your understanding will be delighted with wisdom and your hearts warmed with benevolence.
Companions, you are not in darkness, walk therefore, as children of the Light. Observe the strictest decorum, carefully attend to every instruction offered, and readily comply with every requisition enjoined. Be diligent in the duties of your respective stations and all the joys of unity and peace will prevail.
The Order we profess is of the highest dignity and honour, it being the summit and perfection of Craft Freemasonry. It impresses on the mind a belief in the existence of a deity, who is without beginning of days or ending of years, and it reminds us of the reverence due to his most Holy name.
If everything wise, virtuous, and praiseworthy were united, the result would be Royal Arch Masonry.
For the person to be exalted to this supreme degree comes the fourth test of your research of self‑knowledge. As a Master Mason you were instructed in the five points of fellowship. You have been shown that you may have rejected evil, you may be to all external appearances you are still a transgressor of the law, and that you should have forgiven others to be forgiven yourself. From these you will have learnt you are only a Man.
The five points of fellowship were given to you as an example of the daily exercised of masonic fellowship. Now you must consider if you have shown the hand of love and fellowship to your breather, travelled to aid a brother in act and deed? Have you given thankfulness to the Most High tor for your brother and agreed in prayer to meet his need? Can you embrace all brothers heart to heart in true love and care? Have you supported a brother’s good name in his absence and in his presence?
You have this last trial outside the door of the Chapter. It is not too late to turn back and receive the knowledge that is necessary for you continued journey in seeking the “Lost Secrets of a Master Mason”.
Although admitted you are again blindfolded in darkness as the Chapter has not fully opened to you until you take your obligation. You must show through your trials or challenges you are a Master Mason, proved in the five points of fellowship and know you are the equal of all present both within and without the door covered with the white veil of innocence.
At this point you are to find the Law of the Most High. In your circumstances you will not be able to read it but having taken the solemn oath you will be restored to light. Not the former light of the Craft but the Light of the Divine presence. All else is darkness but “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it”. You are in the presence of the Lost Secret of the Master Mason. What that is, is up to you to find in your own further research.
As you now hear the passwords of the Excellent Master once more you are Exalted to see what is about you:
You will see twelve men represented on banners
An altar of perfect marble, as a double cube upon which a veil concealing its surface.
The representations of a Man, Bull, Eagle, and a Lion. Markers of the Solstice’s and Equinox’s all looking at you.
You see a Prince (Regal), a Prophet (Prophetic) and a Priest (Patriarchal).
Six lights in the form of two triangles surrounding the Altar.
The names of the first Grand Lodge Principal officers.
Two lines of Companions forming an arch over all of this.
The names of two artificers and a prophet are called upon as you are exalted.
The dimmed lights.
The Royal Arch.
The Scroll of the Law.
What does this all mean? Why are the Companions wearing Purple and Scarlet? What is the purpose of this arch before you?
These things have purpose and meaning and there is much more besides. I will expand on some of these to help your understanding and present alternative suggestions to aid your appreciation of this Temple. The final secret is for yourself to contemplate with what you hear, observe but will never repeat.
It is essential that we understand where we are. The world is shut out of this Temple as in the Jerusalem Temple beyond the Veil is the Sanctum Sanctorum or Holy of Holies. To be here is a privilege and for worthy men or women alone. Here you will learn to show love as never before to your brethren and the world at large. You have access to the hidden knowledge that will enable you to seek the very throne of the Creator the Awful and Dread Being that can bestow great joy and happiness or condemn you to being apart from his presence forever. You will learn to communicate love and happiness to all and share your privilege with the ordinary people not so privileged as you.
Restored to light and holding the law of the Creator in your hand you look for the first time upon your destiny, your humanity, mortality, and your place as a sharer in the universal objective of life itself.
THE PLACE AND THE SYMBOLS
You are now in a new Temple. Your work in the construction of which is broken. The arch or cap stone of the Mark was broken by yourself showing that the former is destroyed and a new Temple takes its place. We remember that when masonry speaks of a Temple it is a metaphor for yourself. You are this, Temple.
With this metaphor in mind, we will now review some of the things you see.
The twelve men represented by pictorial banners are Transgressors like yourself, two of which are foreigners to the other ten as Egyptian’s. Not born of a Hebrew mother they are what may be called Gentile. But they are here having been forgiven or adopted as you were only previously as you poured out forgiveness at the scarlet veil. These are accepted and adopted brethren of the same Creator Father.
The law is in your hand as the foundation of what is truth. As the triangle, square and plumb are truth so you now have it as part of yourself. Universal truth prevails and like this truth so you are eternal in your profession of these “more hidden mysteries of nature and science”.
The Altar is in the Centre, not by chance but by design. A perfect double cube or ashlars. Your mind if drawn back to the teaching of the Centre. That place within you where you are to find knowledge and truth. The Symbol of Creator. It is here where you meet with the Divine and the beginning of all things created.
The lower cube is the one you made in life, chipped at with the chisel of your conscience, polished honed and made perfect. You were worthy of your wages then as now. It sits on the earth which was its home.
The upper cube is the ashlar prepared in this place by you storing treasure in the heavens by labours in life. It is above the lower but equal in dimensions and reflecting the lower in all proportions. Upon it is not part of this paper but I will offer some clues as to the answers you seek. It is the secret of the Master Mason. Veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols
On this Cube below the firmament of heaven is a golden plater, upon which is engraved two titles. Make no mistake these are not names but titles of the Deity. Here you need to know the symbol, the word and the sign of a free and accepted Mason to interpret this lost secret of the Master Mason. It is in the words of the ceremony, the lectures and the Volume of the Sacred law. What men may hear and men may see but never speak. No one will say these words other than breath high and only with two other Companions.
This is surrounded buy six lights, the marker of the six days upon which man was formed from the dust of the earth were your first ashlar rests now. The Altar is contained in two equilateral triangles illustrating both male and female.
You will never salute anyone or anything other than this altar. You do this recognising the supreme, the ultimate and eternal authority of the Universe. Further in recognition of this looking down from above the Patriarch, the Regal and the Prophetic are four earie symbols of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Denoted in the forms of a Bull, Man, Lion and Eagle, the Winter solstice, the Spring equinox, the Summer Solstice, the Autumn solstice. Or is it more correctly, symbolising the most powerful of all spiritual beings under the Divinity, the Cherubim. These Angels contain four faces and continually behold the face of the Creator.
The Closing address of the Royal Arch: Companions, you are now about to quit this sacred retreat of peace and friendship and mingle with the world. Amidst all its cares and employments, forget not those sacred duties that have been so strongly recommended and so frequently inculcated in this supreme convocation.
Remember that around this altar you have voluntarily and solemnly vowed to befriend and relieve, with the most unhesitating cordiality, so far as may be within your power, every Companion who shall need your assistance; that you will in the most gentle manner remind him of his failings, aid in his reformation, defend and vindicate his character whenever wrongfully traduced, and will suggest the most candid, the most palliating and the most favourable circumstances in extenuation of his conduct, even when it is justly liable to reprehension and blame. Thus, shall the world see how dearly Masons love each other.
But, my Companions, you are to extend these noble and glorious sentiments still further. Let me impress on your minds, and let it be instilled in your hearts, that every human being has an undoubted claim to your kind offices.
Let me, therefore, exhort you to do good to all, whilst we more particularly recommend to your care the household of the faithful, that by diligence and fidelity to the duties of your respective avocations, liberal benevolence, diffusive charity, constancy and sincerity in your friendship, uniformly just amiable and virtuous deportment; you may show to the world the happy and beneficent effects of our ancient and honourable institution.
Let it not be said that you have laboured in vain and spent your strength for nought, for your work is before the Lord and your recompense is with your God.
Finally, Brethren and Companions, be ye all of one mind, live in peace, and may the God of love and mercy delight to dwell amongst you and bless you for evermore.
Brother, my Companion, we are on Holy Ground as these faces of the Cherubim look upon this plate of Gold.