Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

VII. The Holy Royal Arch

405. Officers.—The members of this degree (founded about the year 1766) are denominated "companions." There are nine officers, the chief of whom (in England) is Zerubbabel, a compound word, meaning "the bright lord, the sun." He rebuilds the temple, and therefore represents the sun risen again. The next officer is Jeshua, the high-priest; the third, Haggai, the prophet. These three compose the grand council Principals and senior and junior sojourners form the base; Ezra and Nehemiah, senior and junior scribes, one on each side; janitor or tyler without the door. The companions assembled make up the sides of the arch, representing the pillars Jachin and Boaz. In front of the principals stands an altar, inscribed with the names of Solomon, Hiram, king of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff.

406. Ceremonies.—On entering the chapter, the companions give the sign of sorrow, in imitation of the ancients mourning for the loss of Osiris. Nine companions must be present at the opening of a royal arch chapter; not more nor less than three are permitted to take this degree at the same time, the two numbers making up the twelve, the number of zodiacal signs. The candidates are prepared by tying a bandage over their eyes, and coiling a rope seven times round the body of each, which unites them together, with three feet of slack rope between them. They then pass under the living arch, which is made by the companions either joining their hands and holding them up, or by holding their rods or swords so as to resemble a Gothic arch. This part of the ceremony used to be attended in some lodges with a deal of tomfoolery and rough horseplay. The companions would drop down on the candidates, who were obliged to support themselves on their hands and knees; and if they went too slowly, it was not unusual for one or more of the companions to apply a sharp point to their bodies to urge them on. Trials, such as the candidates for initiation into the ancient mysteries had to go through, were also imitated in the royal arch. But few, if any, lodges now practise these tricks, fit only for Christmas pantomimes.

The candidates, after taking the oath, declare that they come in order to assist at the rebuilding of Solomon's temple, whereupon they are furnished with pick-axes, shovels, and crowbars, and retire. After a while, during which they are supposed to have been at work and to have made a discovery, they return and state that on digging for the new foundation they discovered an underground vault, into which one of them was let down and found a scroll, which on examination turns out to be the long-lost book of the law. They set to work again, and discover another vault, and under that a third. The sun having now gained his meridian height, darts his rays to the centre and shines on a white marble pedestal, on which is a plate of gold. On this plate is a double triangle, and within the triangles some words they cannot understand; they therefore take the plate to Zerubbabel. There the whole mystery of Masonry—as far as known to Masons—is unveiled; what the Masons had long been in search of is found, for the mysterious writing in a triangular form is the long lost sacred word of the Master Mason, which Solomon and King Hiram deposited there, as we have seen in the master's degree (402). This word Jabulon = Jah + Bel + On, Hebrew, Assyrian, and Egyptian names of the sun, is the logos of Plato and St. John, the omnific word; but the above compound name, intended to bear the same import, is substituted by modern Masons. It is communicated to the candidates in this way: The three principals and each three companions form the triangles, and each of the three takes his left-hand companion by the right-hand wrist, and his right-hand companion by the left-hand wrist, forming two distinct triangles with the hands, and a triangle with their right feet, amounting to a triple triangle, and then pronounce the following words, each taking a line in turn:—

"As we three did agree,

In peace, love, and unity,

The sacred word to keep,

So we three do agree,

In peace, love, and unity,

The sacred word to search,

Until we three,

Or three such as we, shall agree

This royal arch chapter to close."

The right hands, still joined as a triangle, are raised as high as possible, and the word given at low breath in syllables, so that each companion has to pronounce the whole word. It is not permitted to utter this omnific word above the breath; like the name "Jehovah" or "Oum," it would shake heaven and earth if pronounced aloud. Zerubbabel next makes the new companions acquainted with the five signs used in this degree, and invests them with the badges of Royal Arch Masonry—the apron, sash, and jewel. The character on the apron is the triple Tau, one of the most ancient of emblems, and Masons call it the emblem of emblems, "with a depth that reaches to the creation of the world and all that is therein." This triple Tau is a compound figure of three T's, called Tau in Greek. Now this Tau or T is the figure of the old Egyptian Nilometer, used to ascertain the height of the inundation. It was a pole crossed with one or more transverse pieces. As on the inundation depended the subsistence, the life of the inhabitants, the Nilometer became the symbol of life, health, and prosperity, and was thought to have the power of averting evil. It thence became an amulet, and in this manner was introduced among masonic symbols.

407. Passing the Veils.—In some chapters the ceremony called "passing the veils" is omitted, but to make the account of Royal Arch Masonry complete I append it here. The candidate is introduced blindfold, his knees bare, and his feet slipshod, with a cable-tow round his waist. The high-priest reads Exod. iii. 1-6, and 13, 14, and the candidate is informed that "I am that I am" is the password from the first to the second veil. He is also shown a bush on fire. He is then led to the second veil, which, on giving the password, he passes, and beholds the figure of a serpent and Aaron's rod. The high-priest reads Exod. iv. 1-5, and the candidate is told to pick up the rod cast down before him, that the act is the sign of passing the second veil, and that the passwords are "Moses, Aaron, and Eleazar." He then passes the guard of the third veil. The high-priest reads Exod. iv. 6-9, and the candidate is informed that the leprous hand and the pouring out of the water are the signs of the third veil, and that "Holiness to the Lord" are the passwords to the sanctum sanctorum. He is shown the ark of the covenant, the table of shewbread, the burning incense, and the candlestick with seven branches. Then follow long lectures to explain the words and symbols, but their quality may be inferred from the following specimen:

"This triangle is also an emblem of geometry. And here we find the most perfect emblem of the science of agriculture; not a partial one like the Basilidean, calculated for one particular clime, but universal; pointed out by a pair of compasses issuing from the centre of the sun, and suspending a globe denoting the earth, and thereby representing the influence of that luminary over the creation, admonishing us to be careful to perform every operation in its proper season, that we lose not the fruits of our labour."

What a farmer would say to, or what profit he could derive from, this universal "science of agriculture," or whether he needs the "admonishing" symbol, I am at a loss to imagine. The triple Tau, according to the lecture, means templum Hierosolyince, also clavis ad thesaurum, res ipsa pretiosa, and several other things equally true.

"But," continues the lecturer, "these are all symbolical definitions of the symbol, which is to be simply solved into an emblem of science in the human mind, and is the most ancient symbol of that kind, the prototype of the Cross, and the first object in every religion or human system of worship. This is the grand secret of Masonry, which passes by symbols from superstition to science." How far all this is from the true meaning of the cross and triple Tau may be seen by reference to 53.