The Selection of a Mark

Everett R. Turnbull & Ray V. Denslow

So far as we know, no American Grand Chapter has any restriction as to the selection of a mark. The only restrictions imposed are those requiring his mark to be entered before he receives the Royal Arch degree, or within six months after receiving the degree. At least 38 of the Grand Chapters require registration before advancement. The ritual says "at some convenient period," and many companions never find a convenient time.

In Ireland, the general rule is to adopt marks which consists of seven straight lines-and no crests or monograms. Scotland requires straight lines; an old instruction was "3, 5, 7, 9, or 11 points joined together to form any figure they pleased" with a few minor exceptions. Some jurisdictions frown upon the use of the equilateral triangle as a mark.

As a general thing, the mark should be recorded before exaltation to the Royal Arch; every Royal Arch Mason will then be possessed of a mark; after he receives his degree, it may be hard to contact him again.

The mark should be one that can be produced with the working tools of a Mark Master the Chisel and the Mallet. With these implements he can form the key to the Royal Arch degree; with them he can make his mark to be placed upon each piece of work which he may fashion, or upon his own tools to form an identification. It can be readily seen that the chiseling out of a "virgin weeping," a "sprig of acacia," or the "five orders of architecture" would be a little hard to reproduce upon each piece of work presented for inspection.

An examination of some of the old Books of Marks, in some of our Chapters, will show some remarkable designs, and we shall have to admit they are a very attractive exhibit. The Grand Chapter of Massachusetts has in its possession one of the oldest of these Books of Marks; they contain the marks of such distinguished men as Paul Revere, General Joseph Warren and other citizens of that day.

The recording of the Mark may be made into a beautiful ceremony and constitutes an impressive section of the degree. There is something rather attractive about the Book of Marks, and it always arouses the curiosity of the new member. We feel that far too less attention is paid in these modern days to a ceremony which once constituted the major portion of the making of a Mark Master Mason.

One of the beauties of Masonic Symbolism is that each may interpret according to his own understanding; whatever may be one's religious belief, he will find nothing objectionable in the symbolism of Freemasonry. It is true that there do appear references to the Christian and Jewish Scriptures, but Truth in whatever form it may be found is still TRUTH.

What do I see in the Symbolism of the Mark degree!

Well, I see much to satisfy my yearnings for Truth and a true knowledge of Him who judges our every act.

After all, Man may be compared to a stone — a very rough stone at birth and throughout all his early life. Literally, he is found in the "quarries" and there begins his earthly progress. He is certainly an "irregular" stone at that time; if there is beauty in that stone, it is hardly apparent. Yet he starts out; he passes the ages of youth, manhood, and age; he may have some defects of character which threaten his character; yet there is to be found in it certain traits which are commendable insufficient for rejection — and so he passes on into manhood. Here he is weighed in the scales of justice; his work is, on the surface, insufficient to meet the approval of the Master Overseer. Yet he who marks the sparrow's fall is unwilling to throw aside a single piece of work which can be reworked, or remolded into a perfect stone. Upon second thought, those stones which had been rejected for some apparent flaw, were sought out, brought up, and found to have an appropriate place in the building.

And so, in physical life, throughout the ages, we find men rejected for some apparent flaw in their character; they have been misjudged; they have been persecuted; they have undergone punishment, imprisonment, and crucifixion — all because they have been misjudged, misunderstood — and different. Those who were supposed to have judged, have misjudged. Those who were supposed to be tolerant, have been intolerant. That is the way of the world.

Such men have been martyrs to civilization. Their names deserve to be written in letters of fire as a memorial to their sacrifice and devotion to a cause. Such men were Martin Luther, Galileo, Jacques de Molay, John Huss; and in recent times Dr. Richard Schlesinger, Jose Rizal, VanTongeren, Torigiani, and thousands of others (many of them our own brethren) who have suffered and died that we might have Freedom, and Tolerance, and Justice in this world.

But by their very devotion they have wrought their own Keystones; they have completed their Temple here in this life, and the stones which they may have fashioned will most certainly occupy places of importance in the Great Temple of the Future Life. Whether Mark Masters or not, they have learned the Great Lesson of that degree.

They have learned that with Chisel and Mallet they may chisel out their own destiny, and that when the great Day of Judgment shall come, they shall there receive every man a penny, for theirs has been Good Work, True Work, Perfect Work, just such work as will merit the approval of the Great Master Overseer.


Two coins are mentioned in the degree of Mark Master. First is the Jewish half-shekel of silver. Actually, the word Bekah should have been used, instead of the popular use of the term Shekel which is more familiar; for a Bekah is a half-shekel.

The coining of silver in history goes back to the year 700 B.C. but Simon Maccabeus, who freed his people from foreign rule in 141 B.C. was probably responsible for the first Jewish coinage.

The Shekel, best known of Hebrew coinage, was worth about 64c in purchasing power, so that a half shekel was about 32c or a "quarter of a dollar" as we are told. On the obverse of the shekel is a cup or chalice, with the inscription meaning "shekel of Israel" in the old Hebrew characters. On the reverse is a triple lily, or according to some the "budding rod of Aaron" with the legend "Jerusalem the Holy."

The admonition as to the giving of charity, therefore, does not place any undue hardship, for there are few who could not give at least 32c to relieve those in want.

The penny is mentioned only a few places in the Scriptures, but one of these quotations is used in the degree of Mark Master; it is found in the Parable of the Vineyard, where reference is made to the pay of laborers in the vineyard. The reference is to the "penny a day" paid to those who came in at various hours of the day. This is, at first sight, somewhat misleading. The "penny" is actually the "denarius" whose actual value is not our penny, but the Hebrew penny, worth about 17c. The amount was not as small as it would seem to us, for that was the standard wage in Israel for the daily wage of the average worker.

As Mark Masters, we are not today, seriously concerned with the wages of our ancestors, if they happen to be such. What we are concerned with is the allegory and teaching of the degree. Undoubtedly, justice would teach us that one should be allowed to do as he pleased with his own property just so long as he did not trespass upon the rights of others; that a contract made in good faith should be kept by both parties, even though at times it might seem unfair.

History of Royal Arch Masonry Vol. 1