The degree, although worked under the aegis of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons, and requiring every candidate to be a Mark Master Mason, has no historical connection whatsoever with that degree. Mark Grand Lodge’s rule over the ‘Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariners’ is simply a quirk of fate.
There are several paths open to the Master Mason who wishes to pursue his knowledge of Freemasonry beyond the initial three Craft degrees. The Mark degree is one of the oldest of the “side” degrees, incorporating some of the themes found in Freemasonry as it was practised before the 18th Century and which, in England, disappeared from the modern Craft degrees.
Its origins are uncertain but it was certainly being worked in England in the 18th century, and is now worked all over the world, though not always within the same institutional framework. This in itself confers a particularly English flavour on an already rich variety of Masonic workings on offer in Belgium, and provides yet another view of Freemasonry to those seeking to advance their Masonic experience.
The appeal of the Mark degree lies in the fact that some aspects and lessons of the Craft degrees become clearer in the Mark degree, which is not only a true craftsman’s degree but also dramatically conveys essential lessons about life. Mark Freemasonry is also appreciated for its contribution to all kinds of charity.
This Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariners, more commonly known as RAM or Mariners, has been under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons since 1871 and governed by the Grand Masters Royal Ark Council. However, in 1884 Mark Grand Lodge purchased from Morton Edwards, the brother who sold whatever rights he had to the Degree of Royal Ark Mariner for the sum of £25. The receipt for which is still in possession of Mark Grand Lodge.
Lodges are moored to Mark Lodges and assume the same name and number. To be a member the candidate must have been advanced as a Mark Master Mason. In chronological terms it precedes the Mark by hundreds of years because it relates to the building and voyage of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood and its characters are unique in Freemasonry.
This beautiful and exclusive Degree is restricted to those Brethren who are already Mark Master Masons. To many Masons who do not know much about it, even to many Mark Master Masons who have not gone on to become Ark Mariners, the Royal Ark Mariner can seem to be just a quaint, short little degree about Noah’s Flood whose members wear rainbow coloured aprons.
It may be attached to the Mark degree, but it is often dismissed as being of very little ritual significance. This could not be more wrong. Those who are ‘elevated’ as Royal Ark Mariners, and who take the slightest interest in Ark Masonry, soon realise that it is simple and beautiful, rather than superficial or trivial. The great point about the Royal Ark Mariner, as many have said, is that it further develops the idea that is the keynote of initiation: the making of a new beginning or the adoption of a new outlook on life.
The degree is based on one of the oldest stories in the Bible; that of God saving Noah and his family from the destruction metered out to all others.
The ritual stems from the Old Testament story of Noah’s Ark and reinforces the theme of the Creator’s covenant with the faithful and the values of the Noachide faith. It takes up the symbolism of the rainbow, which also features in the regalia of the Order, as the outward sign of this covenant; and it offers a message which underlines the essential moral qualities of ancient Freemasonry in a new way. Today’s Royal Ark Mariner ritual was developed during the 19th century though in some ways it reflects the Freemasonry of the early 18th century and before, before the Hiramic legend became the central theme of the Craft that it is today.
Elevation into the Royal Ark Mariner Degree commemorates the providence and mercy of God and relates to the legend of the deluge. The subject matter being taken directly from The Bible is naturally both beautiful and instructive. When the candidate enters the Lodge room his attention is directed to three pillars and at one stage the Ark is momentarily symbolised in terms similar to the Ark of Salvation. The candidate is finally instructed to advance in the spirit of the Cardinal Virtues. The teaching of the Degree emphasises the importance of the family strengths and the need for each member of society to play his part for the benefit of all. We are taught that out of chaos and catastrophe mankind can survive and that we should face adversity together, helping to look after those less fortunate than ourselves
The candidate is clearly and, particular in this Fraternity, kindly instructed in his obligations to others and to his God. Above all there is a different feel about this degree than many others. This is difficult to explain. The degree is not homily; the symbolism in Ark Masonry is anything but basic. But there is a very real closeness between the members and the candidate; indeed, the installation of the Worshipful Commander ritualistically stresses this very real bond and the Address to the new Worshipful Commander by the outgoing Immediate Past Commander is particularly apt in this regard. Indeed, since the ritual was revised in 1994, the Worshipful Commander speaks of Ark Masonry as a Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariners, rather than merely as a degree.