An Introduction to the Ancient and Masonic Order of the Scarlet Cord
Address to the OSM Grand Conclave of India in 2020:
Good evening brethren.
My name is Ian Currans and my talk is about the Ancient and Masonic Order of the Scarlet Cord, one of the additional or progressive Orders administered from Mark Masons Hall in London and the Order of which I am privileged to be Grand Master or in our terminology Grand Summus.
Scarlet Cord is widely regarded as being a new Order- indeed Grand Recorder Ryan Williams described it as such in his talk about Progressive Orders some weeks ago and that of course is true. It was inaugurated in 2010, but in actual fact the 2010 inauguration was the re-birth of an Order that had originally come into existence towards the end of the 19th century.
So let’s first look back to that time. The Order of the Secret Monitor was formally established in this country in 1887. It appears that one of the leading lights of that Order, Judge Frederick Philbrick, the first Grand Chancellor, decided very early on that it needed an appendant Order as several of the other Masonic bodies had, an Order that would strengthen and augment the OSM and assist in raising capital for its benevolent aspirations.
Hence was born in 1889 the Royal Order of Knights of the Scarlet Cord. It was governed by a Senatus, presided over by the Summus. There were six grades, the ritual for which Philbrick composed from several sources, including an amplification of elements from the new OSM second degree. The most significant aspect of promotion through the grades was to have made increasingly large contributions to the OSM’s Benevolent Fund- in the higher grades eye-wateringly large contributions. Perhaps not surprisingly, membership of the Order was never great. The first three grades were worked in a Consistory. there was only ever one Metropolitan Consistory in London, but grades one and two could be worked in sub-Consistories of which there were five; Northern which worked in Yorkshire, and others in South Africa, Central India, Madras and Burma. But the Order didn’t need to be large. In 1915, the Summus was the Earl of Warwick, Past Summus the Earl of Halsbury, Regent Vicarius Earl of Londesborough and King of Arms Field Marshal Lord Methuen. Metropolitan Consistory worked regularly until 1914, when it went into abeyance and was revived in 1919. All workings of the Order ceased in 1929.
Nobody knows why, maybe it was just too expensive after the years of the First World War and the Great Depression. Maybe its pomp and splendour (wearing court dress and other relics of the Victorian era) were just outdated. Maybe because the founding fathers were all dead. Maybe because its aim of raising a huge capital sum for the OSM Benevolent Fund had been achieved. Maybe the OSM’s new Grand Supreme Ruler Charles Napier-Clavering was not a fan. Possibly a combination of all these. Suffice to say, that was it for over seventy years.
On 8 June 2001, Peter Glyn Williams, Grand Supreme Ruler of the OSM, delivered a paper to the Supreme Rulers Conclave No 123 at Mark Masons Hall about the old Order. Peter said this was “in response to the interest shown by brethren in their questions when visiting Conclaves in the Provinces.” The paper was widely distributed both here and overseas and doubtless generated even more interest, but still the Order remained in abeyance.
In 2005, the concept of match-funding charitable donations by Provinces and Districts from the OSM Benevolent Fund was raised at the Executive Committee. The Grand Treasurer was in favour but pointed out that if the demand was high, the interest on the capital would be insufficient to cover the donations. The fund needed a significant top-up. It was then that the Deputy Grand Supreme Ruler Brian Wareham suggested to Peter Glyn Williams the idea of resuscitating the old Scarlet Cord, with its system of payments to the Benevolent Fund being a requirement for entry and promotion through the grades, donations much smaller it must be said than the huge ones set in the Victorian era. Peter and Brian floated the suggestion past a few senior OSM members on a trip to South Africa in February 2006. We were all in favour and they then spent a considerable amount of time in searching the archives at Mark Masons Hall and Great Queen Street for documents and rituals.
On 17 November 2006, Peter as Grand Supreme Ruler and therefore guardian of the old rite created a small group as members of the Order and then worked a revised first grade. It was also decided to consecrate a special Secret Monitor Conclave to introduce Princes (i.e. those that had taken their 2nd degree in OSM) into this appendant Order and eventually process them through the various grades.
Scarlet Cord Conclave No 500 came into being on 5 December 2006. During 2007 the Conclave travelled all over England (and to Scotland) to admit candidates into the Order. Such was the overwhelming demand that further Scarlet Cord Conclaves were consecrated both in England and overseas from January 2008 onwards. These local units gradually took on the burden of admitting candidates, leaving No 500 free to promulgate the subsequent grades, as they were being revised or written.
In April 2009 a steering committee was constituted to report on what the future might hold for this booming Order. The Grand Recorder, John Brackley, soon suggested the radical idea of constituting it as a Sovereign Order in its own right, free from the OSM. The idea was embraced enthusiastically and the steering committee, renamed the Way Forward Committee, set about a programme to produce this end result.
There was, as can be imagined, a phenomenal amount to do. Apart from the revising and writing of the grades which was ongoing, an inauguration ritual had to be produced, Constitutions written, a structure at Grand Senatus and Provincial and District level established, regalia to be designed, appointments to be made, the list is almost endless. Nevertheless, it was all achieved by a relatively small number of people in a relatively short space of time. The Inauguration of the Order was set for 21 July 2010 at Great Queen Street. In the morning in Temple 10, Scarlet Cord Conclave no 500 met for the last time and admitted multiple candidates who all wanted to witness the inauguration of an Order. Subsequently, OSM Grand Conclave was opened in the Grand Temple and the 64 Scarlet Cord Conclaves were formally removed from the roll. A Scarlet Cord Consistory was then opened and Grand Senatus was then constituted, dedicated and consecrated to comprise 64 Consistories by Brian Wareham.
Michael Guest, Grand Supreme Ruler of the OSM, was installed as Grand Summus by Michael Herbert and he then invested the Grand Officers including Provincial and District Grand Summi, dealt with administrative business and closed Grand Senatus. An excellent dinner at the Connaught Rooms followed. All in all, a staggeringly impressive day, orchestrated quite superbly by Roy Leavers.
The Order has progressed constantly since that day. Michael Guest was succeeded by Andrew Sweeney in 2012 and I took over in 2018.
So where are we now?
Our memberships are in excess of 3300, distributed around 22 Provinces in England & Wales, 5 Districts overseas (South East Asia, Southern Caribbean, Southern India, Western India and Spain) as well as unattached Consistories on the Isle of Man, in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Eastern India and had it not been for the suspension, Estonia. Additionally, Scarlet Cord ceremonies are worked in Australia, New Zealand and Canada under their OSM Grand Conclaves and in America under the Allied Masonic Degrees USA. We currently have 133 Consistories, with several more just waiting to be consecrated once the suspension is over. Our membership growth last year was 8.5%, making us easily the fastest growing mainstream Masonic Order.
Now, the structure
The Order’s regulatory body is Grand Senatus and the structure of that is identical to the majority of other Orders. Similarly, a Province or District (overseas) is ruled by a Provincial or District Grand Summus with the usual compliment of officers. The individual unit is called a Consistory. At its head is the President, who apart from the usual leadership duties is responsible for performing third grade ceremonies within the Consistory. His Senior Warden equivalent is the Primus of Lectores whose duty it is to perform second grade ceremonies and the Junior Warden equivalent is the Primus of Ostiarii, who performs first grade ceremonies. It’s noteworthy that Companions will potentially reach the chair with two ceremonies already under their belt. Each Consistory has four lecturers, who deliver rather challenging pieces of ritual in the first and second grades to relate the appropriate Old Testament stories.
Many Consistories meet either before or, unusually, after an OSM meeting and then dine together. This has the advantage of keeping costs to a minimum. Some of the officers’ titles are Latin names and are retained from the original Order. Primus of Lectores, Primus of Ostiarii and Episcopus for the Chaplain and at Grand level, Summus of course and Grand Regent Vicarius, a distinction bestowed on a very small number of Companions above the level of a Provincial or District head. The individual member is a Companion, marking a distinction to the mother Order the OSM, where brother is used and reflecting the Brother/Companion relationship in the Craft and Royal Arch. The charity contribution for promotion through the grades is no longer required.
So what of the ceremonies?
The first grade (for which, as previously explained, a candidate must have taken their second degree in the Order of the Secret Monitor) relates the biblical story of Rahab, who hid Joshua’s spies before the capture of the city of Jericho. To protect herself and her family during that battle, Rahab tied a Scarlet Cord in her window. Rahab is widely believed to have run a “house of entertainment” and the Scarlet Cord in her window is reckoned by some to be the origin of the term “red light district.” Possession of this grade brings with it the title “Ostiarius” meaning gatekeeper. Rahab went to live among the Israelites and married the son of one of the spies. They had a son, Boaz- yes, the very same Boaz who is mentioned so fleetingly in the Craft.
The second grade is about Boaz and his marriage to Ruth, events which are related in the eighth book of the Bible. They have a son called Obed, who had a son called Jesse who was the father of King David. So thanks to Scarlet Cord, you can now see that Boaz was indeed the great grandfather of David. Candidates for this grade receive the title “Lector” meaning reader.
The third grade is unique amongst Scarlet Cord ceremonies in that it is not based upon an Old Testament story. Much of it is lifted straight from the original Order’s third grade and is much concerned with honour and the hope of resurrection in the life to come. Candidates become "Fellows". As I alluded to previously, the first three grades of the Order are conferred in an individual Consistory. There is of course an Installation ceremony which brings with it the title “Distinguished” but before a suitably elected Companion can be installed, he must go through the Preparation ceremony, which is based on the early life of the prophet Samuel and is usually conducted at Provincial level. A prepared Companion bears the title "Eminent".
Three years after installation and upon recommendation by the Province or District, a Past President can be nominated for the fourth grade. This ceremony is conducted by the Grand Summus and the Grand Officers of the year, with significant contributions by the four Grand Lecturers, as we return again to the events leading up to the capture of Jericho and elements of the battle itself. This is always a wonderfully spectacular occasion with lots of colour, music and singing- very much a “Ben Hur” production, bringing with it the appellation "Councillor".
This is in complete contrast to the fifth grade ceremony, which is on a much smaller scale, reflecting its exclusivity. The Grade is only conferred on Grand Officers of three years standing on recommendation of the local rulers and is limited to two recipients per Province or District per year. Here we learn of the story of the Prophet Jeremiah, a name mentioned almost as an aside in the Royal Arch Exaltation ceremony, and Jeremiah’s role in preserving the Temple treasures before the attack of the Babylonians. “Keeper of the Hidden Secret” is the enigmatic title bestowed here.
The sixth grade is only conducted when necessity dictates and is conferred very sparingly and entirely at the discretion of the Grand Summus. Various episodes in the Wars of the Maccabees form the basis of this, the most dramatic of all the grades. The Maccabees were essentially Jewish freedom fighters some 150 years before the birth of Christ and their triumph left the Jews in peace and in command of their own destiny until the Roman invasion around 100 years later. Those in possession of this grade are designated “Prince of Jerusalem”.
So what of the regalia?
A companion of the Order wears a Scarlet Cord, either around the waist or over the shoulder, depending on his grade. Additionally, he wears a jewel, suspended around his neck for the first and second grades or a breast jewel for the third grade. Officers of a Consistory wear a sash and the President, Primus of Lectores and Primus of Ostiarii wear collarets, which reflect their responsibilities for conferring the first, second and third grades.
Provincial and District officers wear strident yellow sashes, while those of Grand Officers are of course scarlet. Holders of the fourth grade have breast jewels, while those with the fifth and sixth grades wear these splendid but slightly ostentatious stars- silver for the fifth grade, gold for the sixth. They are known colloquially as sheriff’s badges or marshal’s badges.
The members of the Grand Summus’s personal bodyguard, the Tzaddikim, wear purple sashes and special swords, while the Grand Summus himself of course has plenty of bling, including this collaret, baton, chain and purple robe, which is currently hanging like Batman’s cape in the Batcave, just waiting for the call to action.
And finally, what is special about the Scarlet Cord and why should you consider joining?
The rituals fill in gaps in the Craft and Royal Arch (even though Chapter is not a requirement). You would certainly understand much more clearly the position of the Craft second and third degrees and the Royal Arch Exaltation and Installations in the historical timeline if you were a Scarlet Cord Companion.
If you like ritual party pieces, this Order is for you. Likewise, if you struggle with ritual, then splitting it up is positively encouraged.
The ritual has all been written or re-written in the 21st century so it’s clear and concise with a total absence of mumbo-jumbo. There is much drama; colour; music plays an integral part; flickering candles; flashing sword blades; stories told in flashback and other elements from the TV age; the Scarlet Cord has it all.
It’s predominantly based on Old Testament history and its lessons are those of morality, not spirituality.
Opportunities for progression are open through Provincial or District Ranks and Grand Ranks, as well as through the grades of the Order, so the next step is never too far away.
And finally the Provincial and District rulers are all friendly, approachable and enthusiastic, as are those at Grand level. We love to communicate and engage with individual members. Even the Grand Summus is happy to take questions, as he is now!
Ian S Currans