The Royal Arch Degree is one with several esoteric meanings and symbolism. The Royal Arch degree is an additional degree that Master Masons can go through. It completes the story of the 3rd Degree Master Mason.
Symbols of the High Priest
First, we’ll look at symbols associated with the High Priest, which is the title of the presiding officer in the American Royal Arch.
Image credit: www.biblestudy.org
Exo 28:4 And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office.
Exo 28:29 And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually.
The garments worn by the priests are described in Exodus chapter 28 in the Bible. The breastplate laid on a triple triangle is a popular symbol of the Order of High Priesthood and also for Past High Priests.
The breastplate is placed on the ephod, which is a sacred garment that closely looks like an apron. There are 12 precious stones inlaid in the square breastplate. Each precious stone represents the 12 tribes of Israel. The 12 stones are arranged in four rows, with each row containing three stones. The breastplate also holds two sacred divination stones. The Thummim represents completion and perfection, while the Urim represents excellence and light.
The first row contains the following precious stones:
Carbuncle: This is a reddish looking precious stone that looks like burning coal.
Topaz: This is a yellow or yellow-green translucent precious stone.
Sardius: Also called carnelian, this is a blood-red or brownish-red stone.
The second row contains the following precious stones:
Diamond: This is usually clear or white as diamonds were mostly uncut as at then.
Sapphire: This is a stone colored in a saturated shade of blue, but it might not have been an actual sapphire stone as the stone was hardly used or known in those days.
Emerald: This might not have been an exact emerald stone, as it was described as a green stone.
The third row contains the following stones:
Amethyst: This is a purple stone with the literal meaning of ‘not intoxicating,’ and it was thought that it could stop one from becoming intoxicated.
Agate: These are sky blue stones that were commonly used in Assyria and Egypt as talismans.
Ligure: This is a pale yellowish mineral.
The fourth row contains the following stones:
Jasper: This is a red stone that was sometimes confused as a ruby.
Onyx: This is an opaque banded stone.
Beryl: This is a blue-green stone that looked like the color of the sea
The High Priest Miter
The High Priest wore a head covering of white fine linen miter or turban. The base of the turban has a crown of gold on which was inscribed ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ The look and shape of the miter can be different. The headdress worn by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is an evolved style of the miter.
The Hebrew word called mitznefet translates to miter or headdress. It is most likely in the shape of a turban. The word comes from the root word for ‘to wrap.’
Miters, hats, headdresses, and crowns have always been traditional symbols of sovereignty. Wreaths and garlands are head coverings that are used as symbols of victory. In Christianity, the crown and those that wear the crown are a reminder of the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus Christ.
The Crown and other similar head covering connotes perfection and eternal life. It serves to unite the earthly world with the spiritual world, where the sovereign being can receive Godly inspiration to rule justly.
The Triple Tau is a popular Royal Arch Masonry symbol. This symbol comprises of three Taus linked in the center and joined at their base. It has various interpretations. The Tau is the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet.
The Triple Tau takes on an interpretation of the initial letters in the name of Hiram Abif. The names Hiram Abif and Hiram of Tyre appear in the Phoenician language with the letters T and H.
The Triple Tau also represents T.H., Templum Hierosolym, or the Temple of Jerusalem. When used as a Royal Arch symbol, it denotes that the wearer is a servant of God.
The Triple Tau also relates to the Holy Trinity of God The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three sides of the equilateral triangle in the symbol represents three attributes of God. These are God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. The circle that circumscribes the triangle represents the soul of man, eternity, and the immortality of God.
In ancient times, the Tau was seen as a symbol of life. It was used as a symbol for those exonerated of a crime or those that return home from a battle honorably. In the book of Ezekiel in the Bible, it is described thus:
Eze 9:4 And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.
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