The Mark Degree

by George S. Draffen.


It is curious that, of all the English-speaking Grand Lodges, the Grand Lodge of Scotland alone should regard the Mark Degree as an integral part of Ancient Free and Accepted Masonry.

Law 84 in the current edition (1954) of the "Constitution and Laws" of the Grand Lodge of Scotland is in the following terms:—

The Degrees of Freemasonry authorised and governed by Grand Lodge are those of Entered Apprentice, Fellow-of-Craft (including the Mark), and Master Mason, and no other.

Scotland first published a Book of Constitutions in 1836 under the title of "The Laws and Constitutions of the Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland." In that edition the relative law on the subject of authorised degrees is to be found in Section IV. of Chapter I. and reads:

"The Grand Lodge of Scotland practises no degrees of Masonry, but those of Apprentice, Fellow-Craft and Master Mason"

When was the amendment made, and why? The date of the change was 20th December 1860 and the reasons form the subject of this essay.

The protagonists of the Mark in 1858-60 claimed that it had been worked from time immemorial in many of the Scottish Lodges—particularly those of an operative origin. How far these claims can be reasonably supported upon written evidence is open to considerable doubt. The earliest record yet discovered in Scotland of the Mark being worked in a Lodge as a Masonic Degree is to be found in the minutes of Lodge St John Operative at Banff, and the date is 7th July 1778.[1] The old Mark Book of 1670 belonging to the Lodge of Aberdeen, No. I ter, is probably the oldest surviving record of Brethren recording their " marks " in a Lodge, but there is no evidence of any kind to support the idea that a mark ceremony was being wrought in Aberdeen as early as 1670. In my view this registration of marks was only a commonly accepted method (among Masons) of attesting membership and had no esoteric significance. The Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) did not work the Mark Degree until 1869. The principal protagonists in Grand Lodge—Lodge Journeymen Masons—have no record of the working of the Mark earlier than c.1789.

The Secret Societies Act, 1799.

Until the year 1800 there does not appear to have been any official restriction placed by the Grand Lodge of Scotland upon her Daughter Lodges as to the degrees which were to be worked. Many Lodges regarded their Craft Charters as good and sufficient authority to work any, and all, Masonic degrees which took their fancy. Grand Lodge must have tacitly accepted the position, for no prohibitions of this practice are recorded in her minute books. With the passage into law of the first of the Acts against Secret Societies, in July 1799, the position altered radically. In England the responsibility of complying with the terms of the Act was placed upon the individual Lodges—and so remains to-day. In Scotland, Grand Lodge assumed the responsibility and issues an annual certificate to all her Lodges certifying that they are conducted "within the meaning of the Act." The Grand Lodge of Scotland thus found itself in the position of certifying to Officers of the Crown for the acts and behaviour of certain of its Lodges who were engaged in working Masonic Degrees of which Grand Lodge was wholly ignorant—at least officially. Such a state of things could not be allowed to continue and, in 1800, the Grand Lodge issued a letter of instruction to all her Lodges positively prohibiting them from working any Degrees other than Apprentice, Fellow-Craft and Master Mason. The Grand Lodge of Scotland thus officially abandoned the Mark Degree in 1800, and when, in 1838, the Provincial Grand Master of the West Indies sought permission to work the Mark Degree in the Lodges under his authority the request was refused as being at variance with Section IV., Chapter 1 of the Laws and Constitutions.

The position of the Mark Degree between 1800, when it was abandoned by Grand Lodge, and 1817, when it was assumed into the authority of the newly formed Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland, is obscure. It was probably worked "au coin de la cheminée" as the French put it. When, from 1805 onwards, the Early Grand Encampment of Ireland began to issue Charters in Scotland, the mark was one of the degrees in the Early Grand Rite and was worked under the authority of these Irish Charters. I have dealt elsewhere with the developments which arose out of the issue of the Irish Early Grand Charters and it is sufficient for this paper to state that, in 1817, a concordat was arranged between the Royal Grand Conclave of Scotland[2] and the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland, whereby authority to work the Mark was transferred (along with some twelve other degrees, including the degree of Master Passed the Chair—also called Passed Master or Chair Master) from the former to the latter. The Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland still exercises authority over the Mark and divides that authority—most amicably I may say—with the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

Chair Master Lodges

Despite the fact that Grand Lodge did not recognise the Mark, a number of Lodges continued to work it and this The Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter regarded as infringement of its sovereignty. Accordingly, in 1842, Grand Chapter resolved to issue Charters for "Chair-Master and Mark" Lodges. A circular, in the following terms, was sent to all Royal Arch Chapters.

“SIR AND BROTHER, I am desired by the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland to intimate to the various Chapters holding of it, that Resolutions to the following effect were adopted at the meeting of the Supreme Chapter on Friday the 23rd day of September, 1842. Royal Arch Chapters being already legally entitled to confer these three degrees of Mark-Master, Chair-Master, and Excellent-Mason, do not require to apply for a new Warrant. The object of the Supreme Grand Chapter in granting Warrants for the Chair-Master's degree, which empowers also to confer the Mark-Master, is to check the irregularity that exists of giving these degrees in Master Lodges. You are therefore required to make this decision of the Supreme Grand Chapter known to the regular Lodges in your neighbourhood. I am, most fraternally, Thomas Boog, Grand Recorder. Edinburgh, 24th September 1842."

I. The Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland having taken into consideration the best means of correcting the many irregularities in the ritual that exist in the Chapters holding of it, and of having one uniform method throughout, now enact that from and after the 22nd day of March 1843 at latest, all Chapters shall conform to the following regulations:

1. The Degree of Mark shall be conferred previously to obtaining that of Past-Master; and that of Excellent Master (consisting of three steps) before that of the R.A. itself.

2. The peculiar rituals and instructions relative to these, as now approved of, will be communicated by the Grand Recorder to one or more Companions duly authorised by each Chapter to wait on him, and no ritual that is not founded on them shall in future be employed or recognised.

3. No Brethren shall be acknowledged by the Companions either as Mark or Past-Masters, if they have obtained these degrees in an irregular Lodge, unless they also obtain them from a Lodge or Chapter holding a warrant to confer them from a Grand Lodge or Supreme Grand Chapter.

II. The Grand Lodge of Scotland having, as in some other countries, expressly forbidden any Degrees to be practised in its Daughter Lodges except those of Blue or St John's Masonry, and which are restricted to the degrees of E.A.P., F.C. and M.M.; and as in Scotland many Lodges require, or at least consider it desirable, that their R.W. Masters and Wardens be also Past-Masters, and as this degree and that of Mark-Mason cannot at present be legally obtained except by R.A. Masons, and in a R.A. Chapter, the Supreme Chapter resolve that in future Warrants (for which the fee of Twenty Shillings Sterling shall be paid) shall be issued by its constituting Chair-Master Lodges, to enable Mark and Past-Masters to hold Lodges of these degrees, and to pass Candidates therein, due care being taken to adopt no ritual not approved of by the Supreme Chapter.

III. Such warranted Chair-Master Lodges and Chapters shall be prohibited from passing Candidates in any of the three first degrees of Masonry, or wilfully admit, receive, or acknowledge in such any one as a Brother who is not already admissible into a Master Lodge holding of the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

IV. That the Petitions to the Supreme Grand Chapter for the Constitution of a Chair-Master Lodge shall be signed either by at least three Royal Arch Masons belonging to Warranted Chapters, or by three or more Mark and Past-Masters, but in this latter case a certificate shall be appended by a Royal Arch Companion to the effect that the Petitioners are Members of a Lodge holding a Warrant to grant these degrees."

This circular admirably sets out the reasons for the issue of Chair-Master Charters and confirms that, whatever Grand Lodge had to say about the matter, many Lodges were continuing to work the degrees of Passed Master and Mark-Master. Some three, or possibly four, Chair-Master Charters were issued. The Chair-Master Lodges did not prove to be a popular innovation and, in 1848 Grand Chapter reversed its decision regarding the issue of Chair-Master Charters and withdrew those already issued. The position then reverted to the status quo ante 1842. I might perhaps add here that the Grand Lodge of Scotland had no separate ceremonial form of installing the Master of a Lodge until 1858 when a "Ceremonial for the Installation of a Chairman of a Lodge" was adopted. In 1872 the Grand Lodge introduced, from England, the present Installed Master's Ceremonial which is in current use. The old Passed Master's Degree was later abandoned by Grand Chapter and may have become the present English Installed Mark-Master's degree—but more of this later.

Bon-Accord Chapter, No. 70

The Mark Degree question protruded itself once more in Grand Chapter in 1851; in which year one of its subordinate Chapters, Bon-Accord, No. 70, in Aberdeen, took upon itself the authority to issue a Mark Charter to a number of Brethren in London. The reasons which led to this action are set out in an article written by Dr Robert Beveridge of Bon-Accord Chapter, for The Aberdeen Masonic Reporter of 1879. Dr Beveridge wrote:

"In the year 1850 there were in Aberdeen only two Royal Arch Chapters actually working, viz.:—St George[3] and St Peter[4] This was a very different state of matters from what had held good at one time. In the early part of this century, and in the latter part of last century, all the Lodges had Chapters connected with them; or rather, to speak more correctly, the Royal Arch degrees were worked in connection with all the Lodges. When the Supreme Chapter of Scotland was formed in 1817 some of the Aberdeen Chapters joined it, and others did not. St George Lodge (No. 190) had a Chapter from its very commencement; it joined Supreme Chapter in 1817, and in 1850 was the best working Chapter, not only in Aberdeen, but in the north of Scotland. For this reason I joined St George Chapter, receiving there the Past, Excellent and Royal Arch Degrees. The Mark Degree I had previously received from St George Lodge. Although the management of St George Chapter was better than that of any of its neighbours, it was still defective in many points, and with the view of endeavouring to improve Royal Arch Masonry in the north, it was resolved to establish another Chapter which should devote itself mainly to perfecting the working.

Accordingly, in the year 1850, a Charter was obtained for "Bon-Accord" Chapter, No. 70. In order to carry on the working with as great regularity as possible, copies of rituals were obtained, and directions were asked from Supreme Chapter as to the proper mode of working the degrees. Through Grand S.E. the following directions were given:—The Chapter itself works only the Arch degree, but all money transactions and all balloting for new members are done in the Chapter only. The other degrees—Mark, Past, Excellent, etc.—are conferred in Lodges holding of the Chapter. For this purpose the Chapter should issue a Commission or Charter to a member of the Chapter to hold a Mark Lodge along with all who may join him; and in the same way for each of the other subordinate degrees. These subordinate Lodges do not, however, act independently, but only in accordance with directions from the Chapter. When, therefore, a candidate applies for admission, he is proposed and balloted for in Chapter, and the fee paid to the Treasurer of the Chapter. If accepted, S.E. then issues an order to the Master of the Mark-Master Lodge to confer that degree upon him; and in like manner orders to the Masters of the Past and Excellent Master Lodges; and, finally, the Chapter itself confers the Royal Arch degree. These directions were strictly carried out. A Commission or Charter was issued to myself to hold a Mark Master Lodge, to Comp., Ramage to hold a Past Master Lodge, and to Comp., Houston to hold an Excellent Master Lodge. Separate Minute Books were kept for each of these and for the Chapter, but only one Cash Book, viz., that kept by the Treasurer of the Chapter.

"The main object of establishing the Bon-Accord Chapter was to endeavour to improve the working of R.A. Masonry in this part of the country. To show the necessity for this, I quote a few sentences from a letter received from Compn. Dr Walker-Arnott, then, and for many years, a Depute Grand Principal of Scotland. It is dated `Glasgow, 1st March, 1851,' and among other matters referring both to Arch and Craft Masonry, he says:—“I perceive that you are getting up the Royal Arch degrees properly. I am glad of it. About 10 years ago old Deuchar and I were appointed a Committee by the Supreme Arch to examine into the difference of rituals in the different degrees, as also the mode they ought to follow each other. I myself visited more than 20 R.A. Chapters—regular and irregular. I also went to Dublin; and procured the English ceremonials. The consequence was that while we considered it right to leave almost untouched the R.A. itself, as practised in the Edinburgh No. 1 for many years, considering that the purest, as well as best hung-together of any we saw great occasion to change the Mark, and also the Excellent. The Mark, as given by the Edinburgh No. I previously, was absurd. . . . The Past was slightly altered. The Excellent was re-cast entirely. . . In that, these . . . were a mass of absurdity. We put them right; but I regret to find that at this present moment, in the Edinburgh No. 1, they adhere to the old system. I mention this because I wish you in Aberdeen to adopt the right one in your new Chapter.'

Lodges holding from Bon-Accord Chapter.

"As it was in the power of the Chapter of Bon-Accord to grant Charters for Mark Master, Past Master and Excellent Lodges, any Lodge to which they granted a Charter must be under the following regulations:—

1. That all the Office-bearers of this Lodge must be Royal Arch Masons, Companions of, and belonging to, and clear on the books of the Chapter of Bon-Accord.

2. That all dues for entry into this Lodge shall be paid to the Treasurer of Bon-Accord Chapter.

3. That the Election of Office-bearers of this Lodge shall take place at the first meeting after the Annual Election of the Office-bearers of the Chapter of Bon-Accord.

"The arrangements detailed above were strictly carried out. When a candidate was proposed, he was balloted for in the Chapter, and, if he was admitted, a mandate was sent to the Masters of the subordinate Lodges to confer the different degrees upon him. As an illustration of this mode of working, I copy the following from the letter-book:—

`Bon-Accord R.A. Chapter, No. 70, 115 Union St., 13 Feb., 1851. Worshipful Sir and Brother, Compn. Wm. Skues, of St Peter Lodge, has—in terms of our Bye-Laws-been found duly qualified to be initiated into the mysteries of the Mark Master degree, and is referred to your Lodge for that purpose. By order, Wm. Ramage, E. R. Beveridge, W.M., Bon-Accord M.M. Lodge.' " I have been thus particular as to the mode of working—indicated by Supreme Chapter—because a knowledge of this point is necessary to understand what followed.

London, 1851

"In the Autumn of 1851 I was in London, having gone up to see the great Exhibition—the Crystal Palace, in Hyde Park. When there, I attended the Emulation Lodge of Improvement, in order to become familiar with the working in Craft Masonry, and thus became acquainted with many of the leading London Masons. The result was that several of them expressed a wish to become acquainted with the Mark degree; and accordingly I wrote to Aberdeen to obtain authority from the Bon-Accord Chapter to confer the degree upon these Brethren. The doing so was quite in accordance with Masonic custom. I was the actual Master of the Bon-Accord Mark Master Lodge, and not only custom, but also Supreme Chapter laws permitted the working out of Aberdeen, provided there was no interference with any other Chapter. As London was 300 miles at least from any Scottish Chapter or Mark Lodge, and as neither Grand Lodge nor Supreme Chapter of England, nor any other Masonic governing body in England took cognisance of the Mark Degree, it was plainly no interference with any one to hold a meeting of the Bon-Accord Mark Lodge in London, and the usual remit from the Chapter to myself might have sufficed. Lest, however, any possible objection might be made, a formal commission was issued to me authorising me to confer the Mark Degree on certain Brethren in London. "In accordance with this Commission, the Mark Master Degree was conferred on the Brethren named therein, on the 26th August. Compn. William Jones, named in the Commission, was Dr Jones, of London, a Brother well-known to the then members of the Bon-Accord Chapter, and of St Machar Lodge, and an affiliated member of both bodies, being also Proxy Master of the latter, to which he had rendered considerable services. Being an English R.A. Compn., Dr Jones, when affiliated into the Bon-Accord Chapter, received the subordinate degrees in Aberdeen, obtaining the Mark Master and Past Master Degrees, 7th August 1851 and the Excellent Master Degree, 12th September 1851.

Mark, Ark, Link and Chain

Besides Compn. Jones and myself, there were about that time in London, two other Aberdeen Brethren, Br. Ramage and Br. Wm. Duthie. At the time, however, when the Commissions arrived, both these had left, Br. Ramage having returned to Aberdeen, and Br. Duthie having gone to Paris. This necessitated our looking out for another Mark Master to make up the three necessary to confer the degree on at least one of the candidates. It will be readily understood that at that time there were a great many stranger Masons in London, and among them we enquired to find a Mark Master. We found that many knew the degree by name, and thought that they had received it, but were unable to show that they knew it. Some Brethren from the Midland Counties told us that they had there a body styled 'the Mark, Ark, Link and Chain '; but that it was nothing more now than a friendly society; although at one time, doubtless, the degrees mentioned had been actually conferred. Another eminent Brother, who had then recently obtained from Grand Orient of France, the 33° of the A. & A. Rite, and seemed to think that his diploma for that degree might be held to cover everything else, was not over well pleased when we hesitated to admit his claim. At last, however, a Brother from the Bermudas was found who was a Member of Chapter No. 1 Edinburgh, and had obtained there[5] the Mark Master Degree, and with his assistance a Lodge was duly formed. Besides the three named in the Commission, the degree was conferred on two others, viz.: Compn. Wm. Absolom, Royal York Chapter, No. 7 and Compn. Richard Graves, Fidelity Chapter, No. 3; so when I left London a day or two after, there were then six members of the Bon-Accord Mark Lodge. Immediately after this, several other Brethren in London wished to obtain the degree, and a wish was expressed that Compn. Jones should receive either a Commission to confer the degree, or a warrant for holding a Lodge, on precisely the same footing as myself—being like myself a member of the Chapter. This granting of warrants, although afterwards found fault with, was at that time, it will be remembered, in accordance with instructions received from Grand Scribe E. What followed will be best described by the following extracts from the minutes and correspondence:—

Bon-Accord R.A. Chapter, No. 70, 115 Union Street, 6th Sept. 1851. Dear Sir and Compn., At a meeting of the Chapter held this evening (called on emergency for the purpose), I laid the contents of your letter before them, and herewith, as ordered, send you extract of the Minute, being a deliverance thereto.

`After mature deliberation, the Companions were of opinion that the commission to Companion Jones should not at present be granted, but that instead thereof (in accordance with his expressed wish) steps should be immediately taken to grant a charter or warrant for holding a Mark Master Lodge in London, and Scribe E was instructed to write Compn. Jones to that effect.'

" On 11th September, a petition, signed by the six Mark Masters in London, was laid before the Chapter, asking that a warrant should be given to Compn. Jones to hold a Mark Master Lodge in London, and the following was the result :

'The petition being read over, it was proposed by P. Z., seconded by P. J., that a charter or warrant be granted to said Companion, in accordance with the regulations, which was unanimously agreed to.'

"On the following day (12th Sept.) Compn. Jones was in Aberdeen and received the Excellent degree, and at the same time the Mark ritual was finally adjusted by the addition of the charge. He left at once for London—in a day or two the Charter was forwarded, and on Sept. 18th the new Lodge, named the London Bon-Accord Mark Master Lodge was opened, and seven candidates advanced. In this manner the London Bon-Accord Mark Master Lodge was established.

Mark originally a Craft Degree.

"As the action of the Bon-Accord Chapter in this matter was afterwards severely criticised, it is necessary, to make matters intelligible, to advert to the position of the Mark Degree. Formerly it was connected not with Arch, but with Craft Masonry. I have already mentioned having received it myself in St George Lodge, and my mark will be found in the mark book belonging to that Lodge, if (as I hope is the case) that book is still in existence. In a previous communication I mentioned that when the Supreme Chapter on the publication of the edition of its laws, dated 1845, endeavoured to enforce the giving of the Mark Degree by Chapters, the Chapters in Aberdeen refused positively to do so, on the ground that it was contrary to ancient usage. In 1850 NO Chapter in Aberdeen conferred the Mark Degree; in fact the Bon-Accord Chapter was the first to do so; and it was not till several years after that the St George Chapter at last agreed to confer it.

The Mark in Newcastle.

Had therefore the six Mark Masters in London applied to Supreme Chapter for a warrant, they would undoubtedly have met with a refusal, based on the inability of the Supreme Chapter to comply with their request. In fact, in December 1851, Supreme Chapter did actually refuse an application for a Mark Warrant from ' certain Brethren and Companions, Mark Master,' in Newcastle, on the ground that this 'was contrary to the existing laws of the Grand Chapter, and by which it is declared that the conferring of that degree should be vested in Chapters only.' As no Chapter in England could confer the degree, or could—even if willing—accept power to do so, it followed that the only way in which the degree could be obtained in England was through the intervention of private Chapters in Scotland. No doubt the six Mark Masters in London would have been perfectly entitled to go on conferring the degree without any documentary authority; and therefore whatever view may be taken of the action of the Bon-Accord Chapter, or of the value of the warrant issued by it, the proceedings of the London Bon-Accord Mark Master Lodge were, in themselves perfectly valid. It is of no practical moment now discussing this point; for even our English Brethren admit the validity of what they call ' time immemorial ' usage; that is to say, that a body that has gone on unchallenged for a number of years practising a degree or degrees, acquires a sort of prescriptive right to do so, no matter how irregular its procedure may have been at first.

“One point in the proceedings of our London Brethren I did not approve of. They insisted on having a special ceremonial for the installation of the Master into the Chair of a Mark Master Lodge. Of course no such thing existed, and from the very nature of things, such an idea was plainly an anachronism. Nevertheless, they insisted upon it, and obtained it in the following way. When in London, in 1851, I as it were exchanged Installation Degrees with some of the Brethren there,—communicating to them the old Scottish Past Master, and receiving in return the English Installed Master. These two, although intended to be the same, yet differ in every point save one.

"When the London Bon-Accord Mark Master Lodge was instituted, our London Brethren adopted for their Chair installation ceremonial the old Scottish Past Master Degree, and this is the plan universally adopted in the English Mark Master Lodges at the present day. I still think it was a mistake to adopt such a plan; because it will give rise to doubt and difficulty if any one in after years endeavours to trace the rise and history of this Degree in England. I am very much inclined to believe with the late Dr Walker-Arnott, that the present installation ceremonial in Craft Masonry had some such origin, at no very distant date, when the Master Mason Degree came to be conferred as a matter of course on all members of Lodges."

Bon-Accord Chapter Suspended

This action on the part of Bon-Accord Chapter set the cat among the pigeons with a vengeance, and I think it can be fairly said was one of the important factors which led to the ultimate erection of Grand Mark Lodges in England, Victoria, New South Wales and elsewhere. The first step taken by Supreme Grand Chapter was to suspend Bon-Accord Chapter and all its members and to demand of them that they recover the Charter “irregularly" issued. At first the members of Bon-Accord denied the irregularity of the issue and, without admitting their guilt, pleaded that they were unable to recover the Charter as the Brethren to whom it was issued declined to return it. Grand Chapter then recalled the Charter of Bon-Accord Chapter and removed it from the roll. Various attempts were made to recover the London Bon-Accord Charter, but without success.

In 1856, looking to the status of the Mark Degree in countries which did not have a sovereign Masonic body with jurisdiction over it, Grand Chapter again decided to issue Charters for Mark Lodges. This time the Charters were confined to the working of the Mark only and did not include authority to confer the Passed Master. From 1856 until 1900 some forty-two Mark Charters were issued. The majority of these Mark Charters were issued to England. Many of these Mark Lodges ultimately joined the Grand Mark Lodge of England.[6]

The action of Grand Chapter in issuing Mark Warrants—albeit none were issued in Scotland—had repercussions in the Craft Lodges. One, Lodge Journeymen Masons, No. 8, laid a memorial before Grand Lodge stating that the Grand Chapter had assumed authority over a section of St John's Masonry by issuing Charters to work the Mark Degree. The matter was remitted to Grand Committee for consideration and report. Brother Andrew Ker, a P.M. of Lodge No. 8, appeared before Grand Committee and explained his case in detail. In January 1858 Grand Committee stated, in its report to Grand Lodge:

1. That certain Lodges had worked the Mark Degree since their formation and prior to the institution of Grand Lodge in 1736.

2. That the assumption by any other authority of sole power to grant warrants (sic) for working the Mark Degree was an interference with the privileges of Lodges under Grand Lodge.

3. That a Special Committee be set up to discuss the Mark Degree with the Grand Lodge of England, Ireland and any independent authority claiming jurisdiction in Masonry in Scotland.

One may fairly comment on this report. First, where was the evidence to support the first statement? None can be produced to-day. I fear that “Tradition " was well to the fore in support of this statement. Second, a reference to the minutes of a mere twenty years earlier and to the first book of Laws and Constitutions would have shown Grand Committee that they had twice within twenty-two years formally denied that the Mark Degree had any connection with Scottish Craft Masonry. Third, a reference to the Book of Constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England would have shown Grand Committee that England did not recognise the Mark as part of “pure and ancient freemasonry." There was, however, no harm to be done in discussing the matter and, if the Special Committee had ever met, the position in England of the Mark Degree there might have been different from what it is to-day.

The Mark in Glasgow

The Special Committee never met, for Grand Lodge's hand was forced by the action of the Provincial Grand Master of Glasgow. The P.G.M., quite correctly in terms of the Grand Lodge Law as it then stood, called upon Lodge Glasgow Kilwinning, No. 4, to stop working the Mark Degree. The Lodge appealed to Grand Lodge to overturn the ruling, when the same Andrew Ker instituted a debate on the subject in Grand Lodge. By an almost unanimous vote Grand Lodge reversed the decision of the Provincial Grand Master of Glasgow—a most unfair decision as the law then stood. The law had to be amended, and of course, this done in due time, but not before Supreme Grand Chapter had lodged a complaint with Grand Lodge that their authority was now being usurped!

The re-assumption by the Grand Lodge of Scotland over the Mark Degree was felt very keenly by Supreme Grand Chapter and some of the more “lively " members tabled a motion that Grand Chapter authorise the Royal Arch Chapters to work the first three degrees. The motion was put and accepted with an amendment that no active steps be taken to put it into effect until all the Chapters had been consulted as to the propriety of such a move. A circular letter was sent to all Chapters and the replies revealed that few were prepared to agree with such an extreme step. On wiser councils prevailing a Committee was appointed to consult with a Committee from Grand Lodge on the whole question of the status of the Mark Degree.

The two Committees met at intervals between 11th January 1860 and 5th November 1860, when a joint report was submitted to Grand Lodge. A précis of this report made by Brother R. S. Lindsay and printed in his “History of Lodge Holyrood House (St Luke) " gives us the sense of the report shorn of some verbiage . Report to Grand Lodge

What is generally known as the Mark Master's Degree was wrought by Operative Lodges of St John's Masonry in connection with the Fellow Craft Degree before the institution of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Since then it had continued to be wrought in the old Operative Lodges; but in what may be called the Speculative Lodges it never has been worked at all—or at all events only in a very few. With the exception of the old Operative Lodges above-mentioned, this degree having been entirely abandoned by the Lodges of St John's Masonry, the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter assumed the management of it as the Fourth Degree of Masonry in order to complete the instruction of their candidates in the preliminary degrees before admitting them to the Royal Arch. The degree, however, whether viewed as a second part of the Fellow Craft Degree or as a separate degree, had never been recognised or worked in England, Ireland or the Continent or in America, as a part of St John's Masonry. It, therefore, now being desirable that an arrangement may be made which would reconcile the differences between the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter and admit of the first three Degrees of St John's Masonry being worked in the Lodges in Scotland in a manner similar to that allowed by Sister Grand Lodges, resolve to recommend the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland to enact and declare as follows, viz.:

1. That all Lodges holding of the Grand Lodge of Scotland shall be allowed to work this degree in virtue of the charters which they already possess.

2. That to prevent confusion with Brethren belonging to Lodges out of this kingdom, or with Sister Grand Lodges, this Degree, although held by the Grand Lodge to be a second part of the Fellow Craft Degree, shall only be conferred on Master Masons, and the secrets shall only be communicated in presence of those who have taken it either from a Lodge or Chapter entitled to grant it.

3. That the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland shall adopt the same Ritual in conferring the Degree, being that now adjusted by their respective Committees.

4. That any candidate applying to be admitted to the Royal Arch Degree, if he has received the Mark Degree in a regular Lodge of St John's Masonry, shall not be required to take it a second time from the Chapter into which he seeks admission; but in the event of his not having received it, he shall be obliged to take it from that Chapter.

5. That as regards the Royal Arch Degrees, the Mark Degree shall be reckoned as the Fourth Degree in Masonry.

6. That nothing contained in these regulations shall interfere with the Superintendence which the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland claims over Mark Masonry out of Scotland, or with the Lodges holding of it in England or abroad.

The Report was adopted by Grand Lodge and on the 20th of December 1860 a circular was sent by Grand Secretary to all Lodges notifying them of the position regarding the Mark Degree. Many Lodges did not work the degree for a long number of years after 1860 and as recently as 1937 a deputation visited the Scottish Lodge in Antwerp (Lodge Wellington, No. 1385) to work the degree as there were not enough Mark Masons in the Lodge to carry out the ceremony.

Although regarded as part of the Fellow-of-Craft Degree it is only conferred upon Master Masons. The Lodge is opened in the First Degree, passed to the Second and raised to the Third Degree. The candidates for the Mark are examined as Master Masons and retire. The Lodge is reduced to the second degree and then “adjourned for work in the Mark Degree." The necessary three additional Office-bearers take their places and the degree proceeds. At the conclusion the “Lodge is resumed for work in the second degree “and thereafter closed either in the second degree or reduced to the first degree and closed in that degree, depending on circumstances.

[1] There is circumstantial evidence pointing to the working of a Mark Degree in Dumfries in 1770

[2] See " Pour La Foy—A Short History of the Great Priory of Scotland." D. Winter & Son, Dundee. The Title at that time of the governing body of the Templar Degrees,

[3] No. 21, Dormant 1828. Reponed 1843.

[4] No. 30, Dormant d.u. Reponed 1853.

[5] Presumably in Lodge No.1. but this might also mean the City of Edinburgh. No.1 has no records of the Mark before 1869.[G. S. D.]

[6] Vide "An Introduction to Mark Masonry," J. A. Grantham


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