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Freemasonry has perhaps 6 million people worldwide.The United Grand Lodge of England is the largest (a quarter million), while the separate Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland have about 150,000. The US has just under 2 million members but has only state Grand Lodges, no national one. The group traces its origins to late 14th-century stonemason bodies which regulated qualifications and standards, though much of its mythology can be traced to rhyming couplets of the 64-page "Regius Poem" (ca. 1425-50) which claimed Euclid "counterfeited geometry" and called it masonry for the employment of the children of the nobility in ancient Egypt; that the craft of masonry arrived in England during the reign of Athelstan (924–939), who drafted, together with the nobility and landed gentry, 15 articles (for master masons) and 15 points (for craftsmen) to govern their conduct. By the 15th century ceremonial regalia began to appear. Somehow these local trade organizations evolved into modern Freemasonry, but the earliest known rituals and passwords from ca. 1700 show continuity with those developed in the later 18th century by "accepted" or "speculative" Masons who were not members of craft guilds. The basic Freemason ritual degrees retain the medieval craft guild designations of apprentice, journeyman (now called Fellowcraft), and master mason. Additional degrees vary with locality and jurisdiction and are usually administered by bodies other than the Craft (Blue Lodge) organizations. Blue Lodge Freemasonry offers only three traditional degrees plus, in most jurisdictions, the rank of past or installed master. Master Masons are also able to take further degrees in appendant bodies approved by their own Grand Lodge. The basic, local organizational unit of Freemasonry is the lodge. The first grand lodge, the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster (later called the Premier Grand Lodge of England), was founded in 1717 when four lodges met for a joint dinner; the Grand Lodge of Ireland was formed in 1725, and the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1736, though none of these bodies persuaded all of the lodges in their jurisdictions to affiliate for many years. Other bodies subsequently formed around the world. Each Grand Lodge is independent and does not necessarily recognize each other's legitimacy. When two Grand Lodges recognize each other they are said to be in amity, and the brethren of each may interact Masonically, but if they are not in amity no inter-visitation is allowed. Most Masonic ritual consists of degree ceremonies, at which new "secrets," passwords, signs, and grips, are entrusted to the inductees. Because each Masonic jurisdiction is independent, each sets its own procedures; each lodge also exists and operates according to a set of ancient principles known as the Landmarks of Freemasonry, but they too lack any universally accepted definition. Various rites have evolved among the various lodges. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite is a system of 33 degrees (including the three Blue Lodge degrees) is widespread in North America and Europe. The York Rite, with a similar range, administers three orders of Masonry, Royal Arch, Cryptic Masonry and Knights Templar. British Masons are separately administered in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and are encouraged to join the Holy Royal Arch, which is linked to Mark Masonry in Scotland and Ireland but separate in England; Templar and Cryptic Masonry also exist there. Swedish Rite Fremasonry is dominant in Scandinavia (and a variant of it is used in parts of Germany) contains three divisions; Royal Arch Masonry roughly corresponds with the St. Andrews Lodge, its second division.
Royal Arch Masonry (also known as "Capitular Masonry") is the first part of the York Rite system of Masonic degrees. A Royal Arch "chapter" is similar to a lodge, in that it has officers and a ritual degree system, but the titles of the officers are different. Its highest degree is Royal Arch Mason, and Masons who reach it may continue to Cryptic Masonry or to Knights Templar. Every national or regional organization has its own Grand Chapter, which performs the same administrative functions for its subordinate chapters as a Grand Lodge; most Grand Chapters belong to the General Grand Chapter founded in 1797. The teachings of the Royal Arch are conveyed via a ritualized allegory based on Biblical accounts of the Jewish return from the Babylonian captivity in order to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. (However, in Ireland, it is based on king Josiah's renovation of Solomon's first Temple.) Although some Royal Arch Masonry vocabulary appeared in Masonic literature from the 1720s, its first verifiable appearance was in a Dublin, Ireland, procession in 1743; apparently it was already practiced in Dublin, London, and York, by Masters of craft lodges. Laurence Dermott was accepted into a Royal Arch Chapter in Dublin in 1746 and regarded the Royal Arch as the fourth degree of Craft Masonry. In 1749 the Grand Lodge of Ireland issued warrants to two lodges to establish Royal Arch Lodges. The Antient Grand Lodge of England, with Dermott as grand secretary, formed in 1751 to challenge the Premier Grand Lodge of England ("the Moderns") as the sole governor of Craft Freemasonry in that country. The Antients supported the Royal Arch degree, while the Moderns held that Craft Freemasonry consisted of three degrees only and that the Royal Arch was at the most an extension of the third (Master Mason's) degree which was to be administered separately. In 1764, a Scottish lodge attached to the Antients became the Caledonian Lodge, attached to the Moderns, and in 1765 helped set up a Royal Arch chapter that admitted masons from other "Modern" Craft lodges. This organization was recognized by the Moderns as the "Excellent Grand and Royal Arch Chapter" with administrative responsibilities in 1766. Its first sanctioned meeting was in the same "Turks Head" tavern in London that had hosted the birth of the Antient Grand Lodge. In 1774 the "Antients" formed their own Royal Arch Grand Chapter at Dermott's instigation. In North America, freemasons performed Royal Arch ceremonies as well as some others that are now more familiarly part of Knights Templar and the Red Cross of Constantine. When the two factions merged in 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England, the "Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch" was fully recognized but as a separate order within the third degree which Craft Lodges were allowed to establish. Four years later the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England was formed to govern the Holy Royal Arch in England and Wales. In 1823, Master Masons were allowed to join Holy Royal Arch Chapters without having previously passed through the chair of a Craft lodge. In 1835, the ritual was reformed, when part of the ceremony known as "Passing the Veils" was dropped (though it was re-adopted by Bristol Chapters at the turn of the 20th century). In the 1850s, the Mark degree was organised in an independent Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales; elsewhere, however, Mark Masonry became attached to Royal Arch chapters. In 2004 the Grand Chapter of the Holy Royal Arch in England declared the Royal Arch to be a separate, final, degree in its own right, albeit as the natural progression from the other three degrees
The Triple Tau is the grand emblem of Royal Arch Masonry. Tau was the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet and was used as a symbol for life or resurrection, whereas theta, the 8th letter, was the symbol of death. In the system of Greek numerals it had a value of 300. The Greeks derived it from "taw," the last letter in the Phoenician alphabet; its equivalent Old Hebrew "tav" was put on men's foreheads to identify those who were saved. The Cross of Tau (St. Anthony's Cross, Old Testament Cross, Anticipatory Cross, Cross Commissee, Egyptian Cross, Advent Cross, Croce taumata, Saint Francis's Cross, Crux Commissa) was used to represent a crucifix (along with thesimilarly derived X-shaped chi). After St. Francis of Assisi heard pope Innocent III speak of the tau symbol he adopted it as his personal coat of arms, which became a symbol for the Franciscan Order.
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