The colour black
As we commence our analysis of the Black degrees we should point out that the first degree of the Royal Black Institution we will initially look at is by far the most elaborate, revealing and significant of all the degrees. For that reason we will spend more time analyzing it than the other grades. In fact, this first Royal Black degree embodies much of the very essence of Black knighthood. We should therefore scrutinize it carefully, as this will demonstrate the very heart-beat of the Royal Black.
The Grand Black Registry of Canada under the auspices of the Royal Black Preceptories of the British Commonwealth released a comprehensive internal pamphlet detailing an overview of the Black degrees and the significance of its colours. This document, which was entitled Lectures on Tracing Boards from Black to Red Cross Degrees, explained, “As white is universally the emblem of purity, so black is used as the symbol of grief” (p. 41).
Whilst this brief and innocuous statement gives a slight indication as to the purpose of the usage of the colour black by the Black Institution it does not even come close to pinpointing the intensity of the Order’s preoccupation with black, and the symbols of death and mortality. It is only by penetrating its doors and meticulously examining the internal teaching and practices of the Black rites that we can satisfactorily establish the importance of this colour within this secret order.
The Royal Black degree lecture commences, in catechism form:
“Why do you wear that colour?
Because I am in mourning.
For whom are you in mourning?
A friend and brother.
What friend and brother?
Brother Joseph” (Joseph here, meaning Jacob’s son in Scripture who was sold by his brethren into slavery).
This unusual teaching gives rise to some very important questions.
(1) Why is the Royal Black Institution in mourning for Joseph of all people, whose life was, and still is, a shining spiritual example of triumph over adversity?
(2) Why is the Black in mourning for a saint of God who is clearly in heaven?
(3) Where did this strange teaching originate?
Read a detailed exposure of the Royal Black Institution:
The story of Joseph in Scripture is a marvellous account of the gracious overruling providence of Almighty God in the life of a surrendered child of God. Analysing his life, we find one of the finest biblical illustrations of victory over betrayal, adversity and pain. He is a wonderful model of fidelity and godly living. The spiritual development of Joseph indicates one of the greatest Bible characters and champions of the faith in Holy Writ. Bible students are in general agreement that he is a powerful type of Christ. Indeed, he is presented as one the major giants of the Scripture in faith’s great hall of fame in Hebrews chapter 11. The story of Joseph has filled the heart of many a warring believer down the years with comfort, hope and joy.
Acts 7:9 says, “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him.” And as every Christian knows: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
The teaching of the Black Institution on Joseph is therefore devoid of any scriptural basis. The Bible makes no command for believers, churches, or institutions, to remain in a perpetual state of mourning for one who has triumphed and gone home to glory. In Genesis 50:19-20 Joseph addressed his brethren who betrayed him, saying, “Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.” Despite the treachery of his brethren Joseph kept a close relationship with the Lord and knew more than most of what it was to depend totally upon his God. He simply trusted Him. It was this overriding awareness of who was in control of his life which allowed him to endure the many trials he faced. He was not a victim in life, he was a victor. Joseph was intimately in touch with God.
The story of Joseph is a tremendous inspiration to every servant of God, and a beautiful demonstration of a life of faithfulness for every child of God to emulate. The greatest memorial existing relating to the life of Joseph is probably found in Genesis 49:22-24. It is here – shortly before his death – that his loving father Jacob expounds a moving tribute to the character and integrity of Joseph. He says, “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.”
What a commendation from the great Patriarch Jacob! The one thing that stands out in this citation is the fact that Joseph was a fruit-bearer. This is the product of any healthy tree. Joseph here was a righteous tree that bore precious spiritual produce. The Black Institution would do well to note the tenor of this immortal epitaph, and emulate his holy example.
The teaching of this strange “Black” theology is not restricted to the confines of the Black Institution, but is shared with its sister Templar order – the Knights of Malta. It is in this order that we find the same mystical teaching on Joseph, the Knights of Malta novice are taught:
“Why do you wear that Black Robe?
Because I am in mourning.
For whom are you in mourning?
I perceive by this you are a Companion of the Black Degree?”
Recognised as the most comprehensive history written by the Knights of Malta institution, historian Thomas Henry Gilmore traces this Black teaching back to the Knights Hospitallers of St. John (which was the Crusader name for the Knights of Malta), when they originally quartered in Jerusalem (before they were driven to Malta). He said, they “assumed as their dress a black mantle with a white cross on the breast. Hence the name ‘Black Knights’, and also the name Hospitallers’ degree is now known as, ‘The Black’. There was, of course, a reason for their assuming black as their distinctive colour, but we need not mention here. All Black Knights may know it, by joining our Order, providing they be found worthy to do so” (Knights of Malta Ancient and Modern p. 12).
Gilmore directs his reader to the Knights of Malta lecture which connects the wearing of black to the ongoing mourning for Joseph by the institution. In doing so, he admits that the whole meaning and custom surrounding this ideology is ancient, originating in the mystical rites of the Roman Catholic Knights of Malta. Evidently this is not a modern innovation that the Royal Black Institution or the modern-day Knights of Malta have themselves conceived, but an archaic belief within the knightly family. Like their contemporary counterparts, these ancient Roman Catholic Knights were obsessed with the things of death and therefore with the colour black.
We recommend The Secret Teachings of the Masonic Lodge by John Ankerberg and John Weldon
Black is the universal identifying colour of the Templar movement worldwide. Anywhere its influence is found, this colour is very much to the fore. The Masonic Encyclopaedia outlines the significance of the use of black within the Knights Templar and also shows its true roots, when it says, “There are Grades of Christian Chivalry which connect with black, and in particular the Order of the Temple, though it is now confined to the sash – a memorial of the extermination which befell the original Templars and sorrow for the murder of Molay” (p. 114).
Jacques de Molay is the most famous historic figure within the Templar movement and the inspiration for the modern Masonic Knights Templar. Here we get an amazing insight into why the Knights Templar wear the colour black. They have owned it since the demise of their beloved leader de Molay was killed by the French King Philippe IV. The interesting thing is, he was found guilty of engaging in some of the most disturbing of immoral activities and religious practices. The Templars were charged with partaking in devil worship, engaging in homosexual acts during their rituals and with denying Christ by crudely spitting and urinating on an image of the cross.
Whilst many within the Black and “Protestant” Knights of Malta boast of their ancient attachment to the Knights Templar, not many are aware of why the Templar movement was preoccupied with the colour black. It seems as if the Royal Black have substituted Jacques de Molay with the Bible figure of Joseph thus giving this custom a more acceptable appearance and apportioning it some type of scriptural credence.
Few outside the Black family are aware of the full significance of the use of the colour black by the Royal Black Institution. They may see the Order parade the colour and note its prominent position within the Institution but they generally have no knowledge as to why it is so much to the fore. The difficulty for outsiders is that, like all secret societies, the Black scrupulously guards its secrets so that the uninitiated know nothing of its internal activities. Rev John Brown in his account of the foundation of the Royal Black Institution justifies this by succinctly stating: “The things of the temple must be learned in the temple.” Such a core philosophy is necessary to conceal and protect its ancient esoteric (or hidden) doctrines. However, nothing could be more contrary to the make-up of Christianity.
The strange fixation of the Black Institution with Joseph and its peculiar grief at his demise enjoys no scriptural support. To selectively and artificially direct men to mourn the death of someone they did not personally know (regardless of how great he was), especially when he died over 3,600 years ago, is absurd, unnatural and without biblical foundation. This is something that is certainly not authorised in Scripture and therefore alien to evangelical Protestantism. The tradition of secretly lamenting and mourning over deceased gods or heroes is an integral part of the pagan world throughout history and is deeply rooted in the ancient mysteries. This kind of pagan error is exposed in Scripture.
In Ezekiel chapter 8, for example, God exposes the idolatry which the children of Israel had brought into the house of God. Ironically, they too performed their practices in secret. The Lord spoke through His prophet Ezekiel: “Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark [or secret], every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth. He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do. Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz” (Ezekiel 8:12-14).
In this passage, the Israelite women are seen weeping over this dead heathen god. This was understandably viewed by God as an abomination, and Israel was judged accordingly. This same custom is common to most of the ancient mysteries. The Egyptian mystics similarly mourned the death of their god Osiris. Legend teaches that he was murdered and cut into pieces. His wife Isis, mourning the death and the mutilation of her husband, went about gathering his remains and was supposedly able to supernaturally piece him together. She was said to have then completed a magical resurrection on Osiris.
The devotees of this false religion created a great autumn festival called the ‘Discovery of Osiris’ in which they celebrated the death of Osiris. On the first day of the festival the faithful notably dressed in black, chanted laments, beat their breasts and cried out with grief as they joined Isis. As the festival unfolded and a re-enactment was made of the Osiris mythical resurrection, the mourning turns to joy.
The 4th century Christian writer Firmicus Maternus described the mystery rites relating to Osiris that spread from Egypt to the Roman Empire during his time, explaining, “In the sanctuaries of Osiris, his murder and dismemberment are annually commemorated with great lamentations. His worshipers beat their breasts and gash their shoulders. When they pretend that the mutilated remains of the god have been found and rejoined they turn from mourning to rejoicing” (Error of the Pagan Religions, 22.1). Plutarch described these ancient ceremonies dedicated unto Osiris as “gloomy, solemn, and mournful.”
Whilst no one is suggesting that the Black meetings witness the great lamenting seen in the ancient mysteries (they do not), in many respects they originate from, and closely mimic those ancient rites. Granted, they use a different religious hero in their initiations. Rather than Osiris of the Egyptian mysteries or Jacques de Molay of the Knights Templar, Joseph is chosen as their appropriate figure.
We recommend a sound compelling book written by the great revivalist Charles Finney who was a former Freemason (The Character, Claims And Practical Workings Of Freemasonry):
Skull and Cross-bones
When most people see the symbol of the skull and cross-bones they immediately associate it with secret societies, toxic substances or black-flagged pirate ships. With all three they are generally identified with death or the threat of death. The black flag of the pirates with the skull and cross-bones (which flew from their ships) was known as the “Jolly Roger.” It carried sinister connotations to the sea-farer, representing the possibility of death if the demands of these ocean-mutineers were not adhered to. The fearsome reputation of the flag was so real that it was common that the mere flying of the Jolly Roger flag on a pirate ship was enough to intimidate the crew of the targeted vessel into surrender without even firing a shot. The symbol has also come to be associated with hazardous liquids. It is universally used to warn people that they are dealing with a dangerous or deadly substance. Nevertheless, our main interest is its use and meaning within secret societies, and especially the Royal Black Institution.
A few years ago Tony Gray wrote a critical examination of the Loyal Orders appropriately named The Orange Order. In it he records an enlightening discussion with the then Imperial Grand Registrar of the Royal Black Institution, Alex Cushnie, in which the Registrar explains the use of the skull and cross-bones by the Institution. In the discourse he doubtless revealed more truth than he intended:
Gray asked “Why the skull and cross-bones?”
“We’re a black institution,” said the Grand Registrar. “We’re in mourning.”
“For whom?” asked Gray.
“Joseph” said the Grand Registrar.
Gray writes: “fighting back the urge to ask ‘Joseph who?’ I waited and was rewarded.”
“When Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt,” he said, “he was given up for dead, and it’s because of that we’re in mourning.”
An understandably perplexed Gray concludes, “I did not seek further elucidation.”
In this interview the Black Grand Registrar reveals much about the actual nature of the Royal Black and its very reason for existence. In essence, he admits that it is a secret Order that is immersed in the accoutrements of death. He admits that it is a society that is in a continual state of mourning. Take away the mourning and the Black loses its identity. It is an Order that proudly parades the symbols of death as an outward representation of its inward beliefs and spiritual psyche.
The skull and cross-bones is indeed one of the most prominent, yet distasteful, symbols within the Royal Black Institution. Whilst this symbol is universally accepted as a symbol of death, its significance within the Black is hidden beneath a shroud of secrecy and mystery. The skull and cross-bones is not merely a Black emblem but is an important exhibit used in its ritual initiations and in certain secret formal gatherings to lay stress upon, or represent secret esoteric teaching. In probably one of the most shocking practices existing within the Loyal Orders, the candidate entering the first degree of the Black – the Royal Black degree – is met with a display of human remains. There, before him, sits an actual human skull and bones amidst a gathering of sober Black brethren. As the entrant views the human skull he is solemnly instructed on the teaching of the Black on death, the resurrection and eternity.
The address declares, “Shortly before Joseph died he made his brethren take a vow that they would carry up his bones to the Promised Land. These are not the bones of Joseph, but they are the nearest representation we can get. You can see they are human bones. To the outside world they are known as the skull and cross-bones but to us they are known as the Black Knights crest. They are symbolic and emblematic of mortality. Death may come and seize the mortal tenement of the soul, shrouding it in the coffin, mouldering it in the dust – the soul still lives on. Thus when a Sir Knight receives the summons to appear before the Grand Lodge above he gets the going pass for the Tyler of eternity.”
And continues, “What is this world but the tyling room of heaven, what is death but the door to that eternal lodge room where our Great Grand Master and departed brethren are waiting to receive us with songs of joy and victory. These emblems of mortality, how forcibly do they serve to remind us of the state to which we are all fast hastening. Once animated, like any of us, they have ceased to act or think, their vital energies have fled. Their powers of life have discontinued their operations, all is now dark. Thus when the sands of life have run and our frail and mortal bodies like these mementos become sepulchral dust and ashes, our disembodied spirits may soar aloft to those regions above wherein dwelleth life, light and immortality for ever and ever more.”
This unexpected encounter with human remains takes the hardiest of candidates by complete surprise. After all, he has absolutely no inkling that such a scene is coming. Remember, new members are totally unaware of any of the detail that is to unfold during their initiation. That serves to intensify the experience. Black Knights are very careful to keep their secrets from the uninitiated, so the newcomer receives no prior warning of this disturbing presentation. If he was not already unsettled, he certainly is now.
The Black initiate nervously stands before his new brethren in a decidedly cold and solemn atmosphere. Around him in the initiation hall are the various symbols of death. There, his attention is directed towards some exhumed bones. His brethren watch with interest as he undergoes this important trial. The nerve of the new member is at stake. The institution uses skulls, cross-bones and other morbid ritualistic props as both a reminder of the member’s mortality and as a test of his courage. In case he is under any misconception, he is assured: “They are human bones.” A Black lesson is then built round these remains. The teaching that is presented is centred on the reality and solemnity of death, the impending afterlife, the hope of the Blackman to overcome death, and the means by which he can do so.
Whilst this Royal Black ceremony is alarming, it is not as dark and dramatic as that belonging to its more elaborate sister Order – the Knights of Malta. The instruction manual of that body outlines in great detail the layout needed within the initiation hall to most effectively impress the mysteries of this particular Black association. It is done by way of two stage sets, which are known as sections. The whole intent of the overall ceremony is to give the new member the feeling that he is in a tomb.
This document gives guidance to the officer bearers on the ritual. It indicates the required setting for the initiation hall; props needed and advises on how best to create the necessary atmosphere in order to secure a successful initiation. A perusal of the instruction manual gives some idea of the intense meaning and mournful purpose of this degree. It gives us a revealing insight into the thinking of the Black orders in regard to this chilling ceremony.
The handbook says of the first scene, “The first section the Chamber of Reflection: representing the tomb of the Pharaoh’s … it can be draped in black and painted with coffins, cross-bones and Egyptian figures and hieroglyphics. Inside the tomb is a chair and table covered with black on which is placed: lighted candle. Bowl of Water with napkin. Skull and Cross-bones. Holy Bible opened at the twelfth chapter of Exodus. Plate of unleavened bread. Question blanks, pen and ink. Coffin draped in black on which is a basin with fluid representing blood and a sprig of hyssop or a sponge.”
The Knights of Malta instruction booklet continues, “other properties may be added both inside and out to make the most effective tomb possible. There should be an opening in the side or back of the tomb for the candidate to enter.”
In the second section (or scene), “The altar is placed in the centre of the base of the triangle formation: in front of the altar is placed the triangle with 12 lights surrounding the skull and cross-bones … and a small coffin in front of the altar.” The booklet continues, “All officers including Coffin Bearers should be dressed in Black Robes with hood or cowl and black rope girdle. The candidate is prepared in first section with black robe, blindfold and sandals … At the time set for the work, when the tomb and all the properties are ready, the chamber is darkened … The funeral march is then played.”
It is within this mock sepulchre surrounded by all the trimmings and symbols of death that the Knights of Malta ceremony unfolds. Whilst the Royal Black initiation is not as dramatic, it certainly parallels this haunting ceremony. In fact, the teaching and symbols used by both organisations are almost identical, and the practices have a close likeness. It is fair to say that nothing else the candidate will undergo in his initiations will better reflect what the Black and the Knights of Malta are all about. This experience is at the very core of the belief system of both fraternities. These are orders that are preoccupied with death and all it mysteries. They are in perpetual mourning by their very testimony and ongoing re-enactments.
We would recommend a very compelling book written by Masonic authority E. M. Storms called Should a Christian be a Mason?:
The apparel worn by the members adds to the dark atmosphere. Few would argue against the suggestion that it is more akin to a pagan rite than a Christian service. The whole morbid scene is specifically designed to shock the candidate and epitomize the solemnity of his stepping into the Black movement. The setting is intended to press the aspirant to meditate upon mortality. Whilst we acknowledge it is important that men contemplate the actuality of death and eternity (this being an important element of the Gospel message), the means by which the Black and Knights of Malta try to achieve this, with its mystical objectives, are particularly disturbing.
The performance involved in this Black initiation is no different from that carried out by witches in their satanic covens. It is the complete antithesis of Christian worship. There is little or no difference between this and an occult ceremony apart from the fact that this is done in the name of Christ and the Protestant faith. One cannot but ask: Where did this dark custom originate? How did such an odious ritual find its way into the Protestant camp? We can search the pages of Holy Writ in vain to find such a blueprint for Christian behaviour. In fact, the surroundings could not be more removed from the traditional evangelical service that is open, joyful, edifying, free of ritualism and concentrated upon life.
This whole tradition has been directly borrowed from the older Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. It artificially performs initiations that require the higher degree candidate to focus upon death. In the early degrees of the higher grades the aspirant is made to mourn the imaginary death of the fictional character Hiram Abiff. His pretended life is central to Freemasonry theology. In The Master Elect of Nine degree the Mason enters a setting that is designed to represent a chamber of mourning for Hiram.
The higher degree manual records: “All the rest of the brethren must be in black and placed in the south, as the lights are placed, eight close, and one at a distance. When there is a reception, all the brethren, being in mourning, sit with their hats flapped, and the right leg over the left, their heads leaning on their right hands, in a doleful character. Their aprons are lined and bordered with black. They wear a broad black ribbon from their left shoulder to their right hip, on the breast of which are painted three heads of fear and terror.”
The initiate is informed by the members: “You doubtless recollect the lamentable catastrophe of our respectable Master, Hiram Abiff. His death is the constant subject of our griefs and tears, and, in this, we imitate the wisest of kings, who bemoaned the irreparable loss which he had sustained.”
When the candidate arrives at the lofty 30th Knight Kadosh degree of the Scottish Rite he enters a Chamber of Reflection. The explanatory notes contained within the institutional handbook of this order are quite revealing. It records: “The Cave or Chamber of Reflection is strewed with emblems of mortality, and is entered by descending a flight of stairs: but one light is used. This chamber should be sombre in all its appointments, and is intended to represent the tomb of Jacques de Molay.” Once again we discover more evidence that this rite was originally formulated to remember the memory of that wicked leader of the Knights Templar.
The inspiration for such peculiar customs can be traced back to the domain of paganism and the occult every time. Such traditions are completely contrary to Christianity. Life is at the centre of the Christian message. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In John 10:10 He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” The evangelical service is absorbed with life and joy; the Black/Templar ceremonies are fixated with death and mourning. One is the complete converse of the other. It can be stated without fear of contradiction that these sinister and macabre ceremonies have absolutely nothing to do with evangelicalism. So where do they come from?
The Institution also possesses a final retrospective degree, which is essentially an overview of the 11 degrees that the candidate has traversed. It is not counted by many as a separated degree but simply a summing up of the other 11 degrees.
We would recommend a revealing book written by David W Daniels – Should A Christian Be A Mason:
Biblical analysis of the Royal Black degree
All the Black Degrees
The Royal Black Institution consists of eleven degrees, as follows: –
(1) Royal Black degree – exposed and biblically examined
(2) Royal Scarlet Degree – exposed and biblically examined
(3) Royal Mark degree – exposed and biblically examined
(4) Apron and Royal Blue degree – exposed and biblically examined
(5) Royal White degree – exposed and biblically examined
(6) Royal Green degree – exposed and biblically examined
(7) Gold Crown degree – exposed and biblically examined
(8) Gold Star and Garter degree – exposed and biblically examined
(9) Crimson Arrow degreee – exposed and biblically examined
(10) Gold Link and Chain degree – exposed and biblically examined
(11) Red Cross degree – exposed and biblically examined
The Institution also possesses a final retrospective degree, which is essentially an overview of the 11 degrees that the candidate has traversed.
Red Cross Grand Charge – exposed
Purchase direct: Inside the Royal Black Institution
Testimonies from former leading Royal Blackmen Rev. Canon Brian T. Blacoe (former Deputy Grand Chaplain of the Royal Black Institution), Malcolm McClughan (former Royal Black Lecturer) and David Carson (Chairman of the United Protestant Council).
A book for Blackmen to seriously consider by Cecil Andrew of Take Heed Ministries.
For more information read Freemasonry: The Invisible Cult by Jack Harris