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Overview of Marks
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Post Overview of Marks 
The following is a research paper delivered to Prince of Walse Chapter No. 27, Royal Arch Mason, G. R. S., Grand Registry of the Grand Chapter of Canada. I welcome your comments, queries, and complaints.


At the very beginning of our quest for Wisdom within the Royal Arch, we are confronted with a concept that seems at once familiar and strange to the modern mind in North America. It is strange because we are a generally literate society. It is familiar because we see corporate logos everywhere. It is familiar to computer users as the icons on our desktops.

Being “branded” was once a mark of shame and degradation in Western culture – now it is obligatory. Many would not think of leaving the house without displaying the correct corporate marks on their feet, buttocks, and chest.

While we may dislike the modern version, the placement of marks on items has a long history, both exoteric and esoteric.

Marks In History

The craftsman’s mark is a product of non-literate societies. When few people can read or write, it makes little sense the scribble “Hiram Abiff did this” on every keystone or column. It would simply convey no meaning.
Likewise, the complicated interwoven monograms of the nineteenth century have little meaning to someone who can not recognize the individual letter shapes.

Prior to the rise of the medieval guilds, people seldom saw little need to identify themselves as the maker. The people producing pottery, jewellery, cloth, and the like saw little need to identify themselves to their customers. The high cost and risk of transportation generally meant that most goods were purchased where they were made, and people knew where they bought their things.

Luxury items like wine, silks, and jewellery were transported, but consumers cared about Egyptian cotton – not Fred’s Egyptian cotton. Spartan rope may be a prized commodity, but no Phoenician cared who in Sparta made the rope.
This attitude started to change during the Medieval period. Cities grew larger, as did the number of craftsmen, which in turn gave rise to the guild system. The guilds needed ways of certifying who was or was not a journeyman and master. Apprentices were of no consequence since they were the chattel of a master. In some cities, the guilds used a common shape to identify their goods. Those familiar with antique silver could probably name the marks for the cities of London, Birmingham, or Belfast.

The guild marks were used by a cities guilds to ensure that products met local standards. It turns out that a guild or trademark is not enough when there are several master craftsmen and dozens of journey men working within the walls. Individuals were required to use a mark that uniquely identified each member of the guild.

Criteria for marks varied widely between guilds in different places. Marks could be adapted by sons, and grandsons so that a family’s history could be followed in similar marks. In some guilds it was possible to tell the difference between a journeyman and a master by a unique flourish that was added to all master’s marks.

Marks In Esoterica

We are students in an esoteric, initiatory tradition. This means that we must look towards the use of marks in the realm of Hermetic and Rosicrucian philosophies. Here marks are employed for different reasons, in addition to the simple identification of tools and products.

Hermetic and Rosicrucian philosophies are largely the study of metaphor, symbol and allegory. They generally employed the apprentice and master teaching model found in medieval guilds, but the secrecy required by the periodic persecutions meant that there was no central organization of any kind.

Marks were a small portion of the techniques that scholars in far flung cites used to communicate with each other, without identifying themselves to the uninitiated reader. That is, the attacks of the Cowans in Masonic terms. I could write a letter to a scholar in a foreign land, sign it with my mark, and not worry about the genocidal maniacs who were running around Europe during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. This was particularly effective since mail carried by travellers going in the general direction of the destination. The traveller was expected to find another traveller who was going closer to the recipient. After a very few exchanges, the letter carrier had no clue who sent the letter.

Knowledge of marks could also be used in much the same way as Masonic tokens and grips. If someone came to me claiming to have been a student of Theophrastus, but had lost their letter of introduction, I could ask them to draw their master’s mark as part of a test.

Marks also applied to an individual’s personal studies. As the time came for an apprentice to be initiated, it was necessary for the apprentice to create their own mark. This mark was more than a collection of lines and curves, it was a statement of who you were and why you studied the Great Art. Beyond being a signature, it was a sigil that would be used as a focus of meditation and prayer for the remainder of the person’s life. The sigil may be added to throughout a person’s life, but the original symbols would never be discarded.

The creation of a mark is an application of the Four Powers (To Know, To Dare, To Will, To Keep Silent), and through them an invocation of the Elements or the Tetragrammaton:

- We must first know the symbols that will make up our mark and why we Need them there. (Air, Yod)
- We must dare to place our mark on Reality. (Water, Heh (initial))
- We must have the Will to indict it. (Fire, Vau)
- We must keep silent if questioned by the uninitiated about our mark. (Earth, Heh (Final))

This makes the study and preparation that a student goes through to create their mark an important quest. The ability to create a coherent statement in their mark was one of the ways that the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom of a student could be tested.

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