To many Masons, even Mark Master Masons who are not Royal Ark Mariners, the Royal Ark Mariner degree can seem to be just a charming, little degree about Noah and the Flood whose members wear rainbow coloured aprons and has often been dismissed as being of very little ritual significance. Those who are ‘Elevated’ to become a Royal Ark Mariner, however, soon realise that the degree is simple and beautiful, rather than superficial or trivial.
The fundamental nature of the Royal Ark Mariner degree is that it further develops the suggestion of the making of a new beginning or the adoption of a new outlook on life.
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. It stands entirely alone and totally unrelated to any other degree in Freemasonry.
As its name suggests, it has a nautical flavour and takes, for its scenario, the circumstances leading up to the Great Flood as recorded in the Book of Genesis and the steps taken by Noah to build the Ark by which mankind was preserved from perishing in the “Universal Deluge”.
Like the Mark Master Mason’s Degree, which is based on an established fact (i.e. the construction of the Temple at Jerusalem), so the degree of Royal Ark Mariner is also based on an actual happening, (i.e. the Great Flood), as recorded in the Bible and as established in the year 1929 by the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley, who not only found clear evidence of the flood, and established that it had occurred some 6000 years previously, but also proved that it had covered an area of some 4000 square miles of what was then Mesopotamia, now Iraq. To the people of that part of the world, who probably never travelled beyond the perimeter of their own villages, it must have seemed that the whole world was under water.
The senior officers of a Royal Ark Mariner Lodge represent Noah and two of his three sons, Japheth and Shem. The form of the Lodge is quite different from other degrees.
Like the Mark Master Mason’s Degree, there is only one ceremony to complete, i.e. the ceremony of Elevation, and this is relatively short (about 45 minutes).
During the ceremony, analogies are drawn between the dangers of the flood and the dangers of life and how we should strive to reach the ‘Ark’, the haven of rest, just as Noah’s family and the other occupants of his ark did, according to the account in the Bible.
Once again, in this degree there are some really beautiful portions of ritual which are guaranteed to make a lasting impression on every candidate. The ceremony used to install a new Commander is unusual and very memorable.
Like both Craft and Mark, the Ark Mariner degree has reference to that great Masonic allegory of Building. However, in this degree, the issue is not how to build something, but rather the ceremony celebrates a man who did so, in this case the Patriarch Noah in his construction of the Ark. It teaches the futility of relying on any human endeavour or expedience to escape divine justice without the direct instructions of the Almighty. Obedience to the Deity is not to be avoided, but to be embraced.