Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master, Worshipful Commander and Brethren.
Banners and flags stir strong feelings. Our national flag is held in great honour, and rouses the passions; try flying the Union Jack upside down and someone will tell you off pretty smartly. Other countries are much the same; the American flag never dips in salute, and must never touch the ground. You may remember the controversy in this country as to whether a flag should be flown at half-mast following the death of Princess Diana. The Royal Standard is never flown at half-mast, for the sovereign is succeeded immediately.
We may note that our own new banner has been beautifully made Her Majesty the Queen’s Flagmakers in Knaresborough, having been designed our own Deputy Provincial Grand Master, W.Bro.Alan Oldfield. We may say that its beautiful design has been aptly chosen and clearly defined.
For all of us as freemasons, we have a specific reference to Banners at our Initiation: you will recall that peculiar moment when your charitable feelings were stirred on behalf of those who range themselves under its banners.
Now banners and signs – even the most basic, like pub signs – predate signs with words: they come from a time when most of the population was illiterate. So a pub called The Bush might well originally have had a real bush hanging outside it. Just as for us the porphyry stone predates the written word of Scripture. Signs predate words.
The next thing to take note of is that our Banner is a symbol. That is so obvious a thing, we might easily miss it; but it is important, because symbolism is at the heart of Masonry.
What is Freemasonry?
We learned at our first entrance in:
…a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated symbols.
Symbols are important to us then, moreso than to the rest of the popular world who are not Masons. We are taught to see everything in these terms – to look beyond the outward, material form – and to find its true meaning. And the rest of the popular world does this with flags and banners as with almost nothing else. They mean something.
So what about the design of our own beautiful new banner?
First of all, it is on a green background, with gold fringes to the base. Many Ark Mariner banners have a green ground. It is an excellent choice. But it is not necessarily the most obvious. Given that we are commemorating the story of Noah, the blue of the sea might have seemed more appropriate. But I guess after forty days and nights they’d have had quite enough of that. The colour they must have longed to see again was green.
So for us as Ark Mariners green may well symbolize hope, because it was a green olive branch that the dove brought to Noah; it was a sign that the flood-waters were at last receding, that soon enough they would see again the green grass growing: the green green grass of home. We look for its returning every year, after the dark months of winter, with the fresh green of the returning Spring.
Then we have the White Rose of Yorkshire, adopted the first Duke of York in the 1300s.
And in 1759, Yorkshire infantrymen wore it in memory of their fallen comrades at the Battle of Minden on the 1st of August, which is why that is now kept as Yorkshire Day. So the White Rose of Yorkshire predates the red poppy. Sithee. White is an ancient symbol of purity, of joy and of glory. Very appropriate for us as Yorkshiremen in general, and Royal Ark Mariners in particular.
And as Ark Mariners there is in the rose something else for us to note, for our ritual teaches us that the flowers of the field declare [God’s] power equally with the Stars of the firmament.
The lettering, and the fringes, are Gold. And gold signifies glory and divinity: it is the regal colour, and we are, after all, Royal Ark Mariners. Gold and silver are products of God – they are not a creation of man, but occur naturally. It is said that God designed them to be intrinsically valuable and beautiful, for gold neither tarnishes nor corrodes. Riches in the VSL are measured in terms of gold. It can be hammered so thin that a single ounce can spread over an area of 100 sq.ft.
And Green and Gold together? Well, in one religion at least, Green and Gold are the colours of Paradise.
We have the shield from the arms of our own Provincial Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons, to which we might say our Ark Mariner Province is moored. The shield alone is used on the centre of the Mark Provincial stamp, and it is used on the cloth of Consecration for new lodges. It is depicted twice for the sake of symmetry; we are taught to strive for balance, symmetry and unity.
The White Rose itself has hidden within its petals the initials CW, remembering our own Carl Whitehead, for an unequalled thirty years our Provincial Grand Master.
The Rainbow we are familiar with, as a central sign and symbol of our beautiful Order. The sign of hope, of promise; as the old hymn says,
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.
Then we have the gold triangle which may well remind us of our own Elevation: Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, surmounted the initials of Noah, Shem and Japheth.
The Ark itself is here beautifully depicted, come to rest on Mount Ararat, encircled blue sky, and surmounted the dove bearing its olive branch of hope and peace. Noah himself is visible in the prow, his finger outstretched – Lo, she cometh – and the longed-for sight of land can be seen in the bottom corner.
So much for our beautiful banner itself. But, just as the journey of the Ark has great significance for us, so the journey which our Banner is making today is itself symbolic.
On its entrance into the Lodge, the Banner was veiled. That itself has significance for us when we remember that on our first entry into a Royal Ark Mariner Lodge, our own sight was also veiled.
This is a sign not just of something being hidden, brethren, but rather of its being revealed at the proper time. This relates to our chief and constant care – that our Secrets should only be revealed to those who are worthy in due time.
Like each one of us, our Banner was then accepted, and unveiled. The blessing of heaven was invoked, and it was passed in view before the Brethren. Then it was returned to the East and lowered before the Dedicating Officer – the equivalent of kneeling.
Shortly, it will be Advanced to the Pedestal, Blessed for its future work, and Dedicated as the Perpetual Symbol of this Province. Finally, it will have the Provincial Grand Master’s mark of approval and be Received.
Like each one of us therefore, the Banner is Agreed the Brethren, Proposed and Adopted, Veiled, Introduced, Accepted, Unveiled, Paraded, Advanced, Blessed, Dedicated, and Received. No wonder we should feel such great loyalty to our new banner: this evening it becomes one of us.
Many other symbols could have been included on our banner; we have only to consider how many are depicted on our Tracing Board, which is so rich in meaning that it has – my count at least – more than sixty different symbols.
The design we have is, thankfully, more clearly defined. It is therefore, as our ritual tells us, like the Ark: the simplicity of which was Beauty itself.
So may our Banner indeed encourage us to lift up our eyes and behold…the things that are unseen and eternal, until at the last we find our journey ended in that safe haven where our Supreme Commander lives and reigns forever. SMIB.