2 1/2 thistles?
July 20, 2007 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Last night in a pub here in northern Thailand I had the pleasure of meeting a gentleman from the county of Ross and Cromarty in Scotland. He wore a ring on the face of which was the number 2 1/2 and on the sides of which were displayed a thistle. When I enquired as to their meaning he declined to tell me and said, moreover, that I would not be able to find out. The usual Google searches have not been helpful. Could a good Scotsman among the Metafilter hive enlighten me?
posted by thaivagabond to Society & Culture (78 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
was the number written as 2 1/2 or 2.5 ?
posted by oh pollo! at 7:18 AM on July 20, 2007


Sounds like a Mason thing to me.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:19 AM on July 20, 2007


Oh pollo, the number was written as 2 1/2. Any ideas? Thanks.
posted by thaivagabond at 7:27 AM on July 20, 2007


There are Scottish Lodges numbered 2, but not 2 1/2.

Military?
posted by A189Nut at 7:30 AM on July 20, 2007


The thistle is a symbol of Scotland. And following up on Happy Dave's suggestion, it looks like Masons do use the thistle symbol in some of their iconography.

Indeed you may never find out the exact meaning of the 2 1/2 thing, but don't let it psych you out. Based on my experience, the Masons seem to run on a formula of about 95% intrigue and 5% substance. They really like their secret stuff, but they're just another fraternal network. (IMO).
posted by Miko at 7:31 AM on July 20, 2007


When visiting the National Heritage Museum (Lexington, MA) which is next door to and run by Scottish Rite Freemasonery | Northern Masonic Jurisdiction | United States there is often reference made to "degrees" of Masons:
"Men and women who do not know anything of the structure of Masonry, nor the meanings of its Degrees, will still remember that their father or grandfather had - and was proud of having - the 32°. At the same time, they do not know what a Degree is or the significance of the number 32.

A Degree is a play, a type of didactic theatre which became popular in the Middle Age in Europe. It was primarily used to teach stories from the Bible to a populace which could not read. A nearly universal use of theatre, this type of play is found in ancient China, India, and Egypt as well as in Greece and Rome. You see it in the shadow puppets of Ceylon as well as in the storyteller's stalls of Baghdad.

In Masonry, the person receives a Degree-sometimes by observing it as it is performed, sometimes by participating in the action himself. When a man has received the three Degrees of the Blue Lodge, he is a Master Mason. When he has received the 4° through the 32° in the Scottish Rite, he is called a 32° Mason, or a Master of the Royal Secret.

But why do we have a Degree system at all, and is a 32° Mason a "higher level" Mason than one who stops at the Master Mason Degree? As with so many things, it depends on what we mean.

In one very real sense, there is no Degree higher than the Third Degree, the Master Mason Degree. When you have that Degree, you are a full-fledged Mason-and you will never be "more of a Mason" than you are the night you receive the Third Degree. But, on the other hand, Masons who have taken the so-called "Higher Degrees" have had an opportunity to watch more Degree work from more Masonic traditions. In addition, they have had the opportunity to talk with others about the different symbols and allegories presented in these plays. The Master Mason Degree has been compared to the high school diploma in Masonry. It has often been said that the Scottish Rite is the "college" or "university" course in Freemasonry. Being a 32° Mason doesn't mean that you are somehow more of a Brother than a member who holds the 3°. It does mean that you have had the opportunity to learn much more. The 32° Mason may not be "better," but he is, generally, more knowledgeable about Masonry.

What do the Degrees teach and how do they teach it? First of all (and this isn't just splitting hairs), the Degrees do not teach - they give the person the chance to learn. The difference is important. Except at a very surface level, the Degrees do not attempt to teach specific lessons. Instead, they give parallel examples from earlier cultures, they raise questions, they challenge us to think. Freemasonry, in each of its branches, is a journey of self-discovery and self-development. Its purpose is to help us become more fully ourselves. We have all known people who were self-confident without being arrogant, who were generous without being condescending, who were willing to learn from us and willing to share their information with us, who understand love and honor and compassion and duty and joy, and who live out that understanding from day to day. Masonry tells us that is the natural and normal condition of man. Freemasonry tries to help us develop ourselves into that kind of person.

How does it "teach"? Primarily by symbol and allegory, because those are the most effective teaching tools known. You remember from your own school days that you learned better when the teacher made it possible for you to figure things out on your own than when she or he gave you a list of facts to memorize. An allegory is a story in which another story is "hidden," not to make it secret, but to make it a more effective learning tool.

Take the story of the three little pigs, for example. The story seems to be about three pigs who build their houses from different materials, only one of which stands up against the attack of the wolf. But we are not intended to leave it there. Instead we are supposed to think about it. Why do the pigs build from different materials? What does it really mean that the first pig builds its house of straw (cabbages, in the original)? What does a house symbolize? Obviously, protection against the elements and danger as well as the assurance of comfort and security.

Perhaps building a house of straw means taking the easy way out of things, just doing the minimum required. Maybe the story tells us that when real trouble comes to us, a life built that way just won't work. While the allegories which form the Degrees of the Scottish Rite are richer and more complex than that-the process is the same.

This process of learning, of self-development, is not always comfortable. We confront beliefs and attitudes in the symbols of the Degrees which are negative, and we have to ask ourselves if those negative elements are in our own lives, too. We watch the characters in the 21° believe false rumor and nearly do terrible injustice because of that. Seeing this, we have to ask ourselves if we have been willing to believe and pass on scandal (or even worse, to pass it on without even believing it, just because it made a good story). We see people dispense justice too quickly and without all the facts, and we have to ask ourselves if we always get the facts in making decisions or if we react on the basis of prejudice or ignorance.

But even when the lesson are uncomfortable, they are important. We are given the chance to warn ourselves about the future and inventory our actions in the present. The images are a powerful and potent today as they have been for 200 years. We learn by Degrees.

And so, the young man's pride in his grandfather's 32° is justified and reasonable. Yours should be as well. As a 32° Scottish Rite Mason, a Master of the Royal Secret, you have made the commitment to self-development. You have decided that man does not live by bread alone, but that such things as honor and integrity are as necessary for survival as is food. You have decided that it is cowardly to live without values and more than cowardly to try to avoid the consequences of your own actions.

You have accepted the duty to help make the lives of others better and happier. You have shouldered the burden and the glory of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.

You are a 32° Mason!"
I suspect the number references a "degree". Googling the phrase "degree mason ring" resuts in this.
posted by ericb at 8:08 AM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


So is there such a thing as a "two and a half degree?" I've never heard of that, either.

Full disclosure: we have Masons who meet and run an exhibit at my museum, too. I haven't run across this particular number, but the depth of the symobology is huge - maybe there are half degrees but it's not something I've run across.
posted by Miko at 8:15 AM on July 20, 2007


One hypothesis: third degree is special in Scottish Rite, so the 2.5 might mean 'not quite a Mason'. He might be a member of a Masonic splinter group of some kind?
posted by Malor at 8:17 AM on July 20, 2007


It doesn't look like there are any references online to a "2 1/2 degree Mason"

2nd degree mason

2 1/2 degree mason

3rd degree mason
posted by Miko at 8:19 AM on July 20, 2007


Hey wait, by spelling it out I found one.
1904. David A. Smalley received first section of the Third Degree in Chicago. The lodge was not permitted to reassemble because of strict regulation resulting from the fire in the Iroquois Theater. Two weeks later the second section was conferred on him. During the intervening period, he was a two and a half degree Mason.
This oddity appears again in Masonic Trivia -
On June 27, 1921, Mystic Lodge #21 of Red Bank, NJ, conferred half od the third degree on brother Lyman C. Van when the power went out. He didn't receive the rest of the degree for several weeks, making him, for a time, a "two and a half degree" Mason.
This could be something codified in a subsociety.
posted by Miko at 8:24 AM on July 20, 2007




I think, typically, other folks here are looking for a conspiracy where there isn't one. Masons? Why would you think that, bearing in mind you can't find evidence even when you scour Google? I hate to say it but Occam's Razor always applies. Common sense simple solutions are nearly always right.

Scots gentlemen tend to love football. There happens to be a football club called Partick Thistle. If I were you I'd start your searching in that area, and I'd be particularly looking for memorabilia. Maybe this guy was a former player? Did he look athletic?

I don't know enough about football or Partick Thistle to understand that "2 1/2" might mean.
posted by humblepigeon at 8:34 AM on July 20, 2007


Sorry, humblepigeon, but Occam's Razor slices your suggestion as well. The thistle is a major symbol of Scotland; why would you leap to the conclusion that it represents a very minor football team that is just barely hanging on to a place in the First Division? Not to mention that "2 1/2" has no apparent connection to football/soccer. I hate to say it, but the dude was probably right: the poster will never know what it means.
posted by languagehat at 8:41 AM on July 20, 2007


I agree with languagehat, adding to that the Masonic tradition of wearing symbolic jewelry, the evidence that they already use the thistle, the Scottish references in Masonry, and the likelihood that intimations about secret societies overwhelmingly refer to the world's largest and probably oldest one.
posted by Miko at 8:45 AM on July 20, 2007


What, he's a secret football enthusiast that declines to explain his devotion to the sport and moreover references unfindable symbols of said devotion?

IMO, Occam's Razor points straight to the Masons.
posted by desuetude at 8:47 AM on July 20, 2007


Being a betting man, I'm with those who think the ring is Masonic in nature.

Symbolism shrouded in secrecy: Masons and not a football club.
posted by ericb at 8:48 AM on July 20, 2007


No 2 1/2 Lodge and I don't buy the 21/2 degrees - you'd hardly have a ring to commemorate that.

Military or Golf club more likely
posted by A189Nut at 9:03 AM on July 20, 2007


BTW -- following on his interest in secret societies, The DaVinci Code author Dan Brown's next book The Solomon Key is said to involve protagonist Robert Langdon, investigating the Free Masons.

The Guide to Dan Brown's The Solomon Key. The blog's author [Greg Taylor] has published a book, as a companion to Brown's yet-to-be-released book:
"Now, using hints and clues left by Brown in interviews, on his website, and on the cover of The Da Vinci Code, Greg Taylor takes readers on an unprecedented tour of the new book before it is even released."
I have e-mailed Mr. Taylor to see if he has insight into this symbolism.
posted by ericb at 9:04 AM on July 20, 2007


Military or Golf club more likely

Yeah -- could be a secret military society. Here's an extensive list of Fraternal Organizations.
posted by ericb at 9:14 AM on July 20, 2007


How big was the 2 1/2? It wasn't a coin? Some currencies presumably have 2 1/2. It would be an old UK half crown for instance, but rather too big for a ring.

Other currencies? 2 1/2 baht? Dong?
posted by A189Nut at 9:17 AM on July 20, 2007


The thistle is a major symbol of Scotland

It is the national emblem of Scotland -- The Thistle of Scotland

Could the ring have something to do with the Order of the Thistle [also]?
posted by ericb at 9:23 AM on July 20, 2007


They're destroying Metafilter brick by brick.

Wow. That would make me sad. I enjoy these conversations.

The ring is the evidence we're starting with. But we're trying to discover the meaning of the ring, so we have to match it with some meaning that meets these criteria:

1. Secrecy ("declined to tell me..I would not be able tofind out")
2. Thistle as symbol (as you say, something with a connection to Scotland)
3. Ring as symbol
4 Significance for the number of "2 1/2"

Masonry's a good place to start, logically, because

1. It places a great deal of emphasis on secrecy regarding its traditions, rituals, and the meaning of its symbols
2. There is a strong connection between Scotland and Masonry: Masonry has been known in Scotland since the 1500s. In addition, one body of Masons follows a set of protocols known as the Scottish Rite and is highly organized; the Scottish Rite uses a lot of symbology related to Scotland. The Scottish Rite masons are the ones with the Degrees ericb was talking about.
3. Masons dig jewelry.
4. This is the one we've got not much to go on.

The other piece of evidence is that there a cartload of Masons in this world. When you meet someone who is in a secret society, chances are very high that it's the Masons. Of course that's not always true, but the aforementioned Occam's razor would require ruling out the largest and one of the oldest secret societies in the world before concluding that it's something else.

I agree that it could certainly be something else, but Masonry should still remain in the running as a theory until there is more evidence for something else.
posted by Miko at 9:49 AM on July 20, 2007


You know who could likely have helped us, if only he were real and alive? Sherlock Holmes and the Thistle of Scotland !
posted by ericb at 9:52 AM on July 20, 2007


Is it a coin!
posted by A189Nut at 10:04 AM on July 20, 2007


yeah I am a Master Mason, and I am going to join the chorus that says this is not masonic.
posted by Deep Dish at 10:11 AM on July 20, 2007


[Deleted the miniature "destroying-metafilter" rumble. Metatalk is thataway, folks.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:12 AM on July 20, 2007


Thanks, Deep Dish. Another point that just occurred to me against Masonic associations is that the Masons I know don't usually give you detail on the meanings of the symbols, but seem happy to tell you that they are Masonic symbols and that they're Masons.
posted by Miko at 10:42 AM on July 20, 2007


Nothing springs to mind. I don't see any particular reason why it should be the masons, although of course it's possible. I get the impression that masons in Britain are not quite so open ("[they] seem happy to tell you that they are masonic symbols and that they're masons") as they are in America — for instance, there was a political row a few years ago here about senior police officers who are masons, and whether they should still be allowed to keep their affiliation to masonry secret.

Of course, the thistle is a very widespread symbol in Scotland; you could spend all day thinking of things which are linked to thistles.

So I agree with languagehat that it's fairly unlikely you'll find it out. That said, he's wrong to dismiss the Partick Thistle suggestion by saying that they're a minor team: more or less everyone in Scotland will have heard of them.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:09 AM on July 20, 2007


At a website discussing Freemasons I found this:
"I have discovered a coin; i believe it may be what is known as a 'chapter penny'. On the obverse it bears the legend "They received every man a penny" and a thistle, on the reverse, "St Andrews Millitary No. 668" and "TKSHTWSS" in a circle (if that is the correct order...)

Any information you could give as to what on earth it was for, what the letters signify etc i would greatly appreciate.
Also, there are references to a group of Freemasons (and formerly of Knights Templar) called 'The Order of Knights of St. Andrew' or 'of the Thistle'. So, who knows? We'll likely not nail down the ring's symbolism or meaning. Nonetheless, I'm learning some stuff today.
posted by ericb at 11:27 AM on July 20, 2007


"Masonic Chapter Penny" also known as a "Mark Penny":
"In ancient times your Chapter Penny was your most valued possession. It was given as a token of credit when services or money was borrowed and not returned until the debt was fully repaid. It was the 'mark' of a man's integrity to keep his word. Very similar to having a credit card in today's world. In its Masonic use, the penny is simply a symbol of the reward of faithful labor. In the parable read in the Mark Degree a penny is the amount given to each of the laborers in the vineyard for his day's labors. This was also the chief silver coin of the Romans from the beginning of the coinage of the city to the earliest part of the third century. Indeed, the name continued to be employed in the coinage of the Continental States, which imitated that of the Byzantine Empire, and was adopted by the Anglo-Saxons."*
posted by ericb at 11:37 AM on July 20, 2007


That said, he's wrong to dismiss the Partick Thistle suggestion by saying that they're a minor team: more or less everyone in Scotland will have heard of them.

Of course everyone in Scotland will have heard of them. My point was not that they're so minor no one will have heard of them, my point was that it's ridiculous to suppose this has anything to do with football just because there happens to be a team called Partick Thistle. Even if the Jags were the most famous, historic, and important team in Scotland I'd still say there's no reason to think a random thistle had anything to do with them, any more than that the word Yankee, absent any evident connection to baseball, is likely to mean the New York team. The fact that Partick is a marginal team simply makes my point stronger. The point, once again, being that "thistle" = Scotland, not any particular Scottish institution that happens to use a thistle as a symbol.

"Ooh, look, a picture of an elephant—it must refer to the Elephant and Castle pub, which is quite well known!"
posted by languagehat at 11:52 AM on July 20, 2007


Ah, memories of the Elephant Thread (and the img tag).
posted by ericb at 12:03 PM on July 20, 2007


I enjoy a good conspiracy theory, but my initial thought was something much more mundane. (I only use Occam's disposable razors, so I tend to cut to the mundane.)

It was custom made jewelry for very personal reasons. I have to pieces of custom made jewelry. I'm the only one who knows what they mean. I try not to be a pompous ass about them and say "It's a secret and a person such you will never find out!" but I could and it would be truth.

Or possibly a family heirloom with similar private meaning (like the family calls home 2 1/2 acres on old Thistle Road).

Or he bought it at a pawn shop so he could talk all mysterious about it to strangers in a pub.
posted by Ookseer at 12:12 PM on July 20, 2007 [3 favorites]


I'm of the opinion that the number could be shorthand for "tuppence ha'penny", which has both a literal meaning as well as being a widely-used shorthand for "almost no money at all".

It may or may not also be of interest that the thistle covered one side of the old one-shilling coin in the UK.

Or that there are also references to tuppence ha'penny being equivalent to a nickel. Which it was, once upon a time. And then wasn't. Right now it's worth more than a nickel, which just goes to show how truly fucked the dollar is today, but I digress.
posted by genghis at 12:45 PM on July 20, 2007


Incidentally, I'm absolutely staggered at the notion that Occam's Razor cannot point to football, but somehow obviously could point to freemasonry. I salute your mental gymnastic prowess, sir.
posted by genghis at 12:50 PM on July 20, 2007


I get the impression that masons in Britain are not quite so open...as they are in America

That's interesting. I don't know for sure, but I wonder if the membership decline among American masons is causing the organization to be more open. The ones here are actively promoting membership.

Masons are also a little better accepted here now than they were just twenty or thirty years ago, when their history of religious and racial discrimination really plagued them. That stuff didn't sit so well with non-Masons, so it's almost as though there's been a movement toward a kinder, gentler masonry in recent years.
posted by Miko at 1:19 PM on July 20, 2007


I'm absolutely staggered at the notion that Occam's Razor cannot point to football, but somehow obviously could point to freemasonry

Can you do me a four-point breakdown showing stronger connections to football than to freemasonry given the parameters we have? Then I can judge whether football is as strong a possibility as freemasonry.
posted by Miko at 1:24 PM on July 20, 2007


Incidentally, I'm absolutely staggered at the notion that Occam's Razor cannot point to football, but somehow obviously could point to freemasonry. I salute your mental gymnastic prowess, sir.

genghis, if this if for me, please note that I am not a sir. And that IMO stands for "in my opinion."

I'm not even sold on the idea that this ring is a Mason (or other similar or related secret society) symbol. It just seems the simplest solution. Freemasons have the somewhat unusual characteristic of openly displaying symbols (often with a Scottish connection) that they refuse to discuss. I've never known a football fan who wouldn't jump to discuss any football-related symbol, have you?

I also quite like Ookseer's theories of custom jewelry with a personal meaning or the possibility that our ring-wearing gentlemen is just deliberately cultivating an air of the mysterioso.
posted by desuetude at 1:31 PM on July 20, 2007


Me too. And though Masons is a very good guess, for all we know it could be a college fraternity, a group of friends, a military unit, a family crest, etc. etc.

It sounds like the guy probably did want to cultivate that air of mysterioso - otherwise wouldn't he just say "Oh, it's just something that has personal meaning for me."
posted by Miko at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2007


You can get 2 1/2 gilda, lira and peso coins. I don't know if they have 2 1/2 embossed as numbers on the face.
posted by A189Nut at 3:13 PM on July 20, 2007


could be shorthand for "tuppence ha'penny"

Far as I can tell from consulting google, rings decorated with thistles are not uncommon in Scotland. So the thistle doesn't seem to tell you much other than that it's probably from Scotland, which you already knew. (There's even one that gives the wearer a +50 hit point bonus.)

The 2-1/2 being the mysterious bit, I'm betting on "tuppence ha'penny", though of course it could be just about anything.
posted by sfenders at 3:34 PM on July 20, 2007


Being Scottish in origin, I've never heard anyone use this phrase "tuppence ha'penny."
posted by A189Nut at 4:00 PM on July 20, 2007


I use "tuppence ha'penny" fairly often, as an old-fashioned affectation, as in "it'll only cost tuppence ha'penny" for "it was cheap." I picked it up from my family though, so it's not necessarily widespread. Obviously, non-facetious use is limited, post-1971.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 4:05 PM on July 20, 2007


I believe the simplest most occamy answer is that the "2 1/2" represents something personal and not the Masons. Far more people have personalized jewelry than people have masonic jewelry. And the guy was from Scotland for heaven's sake!

To THAI,

how old was this gentleman? How was he dressed? Did he wear other jewelry? More information would help sort stuff out.
posted by allthewhile at 5:17 PM on July 20, 2007


Wow! Woke up this morning to forty+ responses to my query. It will take a bit to digest all of your ideas / comments / suggestions. My thanks to all of you.
posted by thaivagabond at 5:28 PM on July 20, 2007


Far more people have personalized jewelry than people have masonic jewelry.

No way - not custom-designed jewelry. There are millions of Masons, most of whom wear an emblem of their membership, and then if you add in all those from the last several centuries who have died, you get more millions. Just in Googling around today, I came across many purveyors of mass-manufactured Masonic merchandise.

Custom jewelry is expensive and time-consuming to make. Not everyone wants it or can afford it.

That doesn't mean this guy's ring isn't custom or is Masonic, but it does mean that there's probably more Masonic jewelry in this world than custom jewelry. If the common-ness of jewelry is in question, then the Occam answer is still "Masons."
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on July 20, 2007


As a long-time dabbler in pseudo/clandestine Freemasonry, this sparked my interest because I did not recognize the thistle nor "2 1/2" as being emblems of Freemasonry at all. I would venture to guess that the vast majority of extant Masonic jewelry display the same dozen or so symbols, none of which the public generally recognize as being "Masonic".

Perhaps it wasn't a thistle, but was instead a sprig
of Acacia instead? That's one of the major emblems. How could one be distinctly certain that it was in fact a thistle that one observed?

However, the "2 1/2" is really difficult to pin down. All I could dig up is this:Riding the Goat Exposed, wherein it is revealed that candidates in certain Masonic initiations take 'two and a half' paces [to] represent the secret mystical number of the Order [of the Royal Arch Purple.
2 1/2 Tribes went into the Promised Land to claim Israel, etc.

As for employing Occam's Razor in light of the aforementioned revelation, you may want to consider the fact that you were in the presence of a very high degree Freemason, possibly even one of the elect who run the global, diabolical conspiracy. Encountering such beings is rare and there are many tales of people going mad, becoming enchanted or developing strange obsessions afterwards. Be well.
posted by archae at 11:02 PM on July 20, 2007


I find it slightly odd that someone should say they come from "Ross and Cromarty", a county abolished 30 years ago after existing for less than a century. I thought that even when it existed, people were more likely to say they came from either Ross or Cromarty (or a more specific district), and not use the compound name of a very large and varied area. In Thailand speaking to a foreigner, a description in terms of which part of the Highlands you came from would seem more useful, and a more natural thing to say.

So, does the ring's wearer have a tendency to mislead?
posted by Idcoytco at 2:28 AM on July 21, 2007


Riding the Goat Exposed, wherein it is revealed that candidates in certain Masonic initiations take 'two and a half' paces [to] represent the secret mystical number of the Order [of the Royal Arch Purple.] 2 1/2 Tribes went into the Promised Land to claim Israel, etc.

Fascintaing. More on the Royal Arch Purple --

The Royal Arch Purple Degree -- it depicts the number 2 1/2 as its emblem. There are three main degrees in this order: the Orange degree (Entered Apprentice), the Orange Marksman (Fellowcraft) degree and the Purple Marksman (Master Mason) degree. What color is heather? Yep -- purple. Hmmm. I'm thinking we may be onto something here.
posted by ericb at 7:19 AM on July 21, 2007


The Royal Arch Purple degree is part of the Orange Order. The order is "believed to be of Masonic origin"* and is "a Protestant fraternal organisation based predominantly in Northern Ireland and Scotland with lodges throughout the Commonwealth and in the United States. It was founded in Loughgall, County Armagh, Ireland in 1795."*

"Although the Royal Arch Purple is officially forbidden it is now widely practised as a natural step of advancement within the Orange Institution."*

"The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland is the largest Orange Lodge outside Northern Ireland."*

Check out this 2 1/2 emblem pin -- found at the Phoenixmasonry website in an article on the Orange Order.

I suspect that the inclusion of the thistle on the ring is to distinguish the Scottish Lodge from the Irish one.
posted by ericb at 7:35 AM on July 21, 2007


Initiation ritual for the Purple Order.
posted by ericb at 7:38 AM on July 21, 2007


*Purple Degree*
posted by ericb at 7:39 AM on July 21, 2007


Behind Closed Doors - the Hidden Structure Within the Orange Order [the Royal Arch Purple Order]
"An explosive new book published today reveals to the public for the first time the practices and bizarre initiation rites of the mysterious brotherhood, the Royal Arch Purple Order. Entitled Behind Closed Doors, it has been written by a former member of the order, 33-year-old Co Down man Paul Malcomson....In the book, Mr Malcomson describes the inauguration ceremony as follows: ‘The oath-bound Royal Arch Purple aspirant is prepared for initiation in typically Masonic manner, by being stripped of much of his clothes. ‘He is divested of his coat and vest, collar and tie, shoes and socks. One shoe is then placed on the candidate's left bare foot, and the legs of his trousers rolled up above the knee, his left breast being bare. ‘The candidate is then blindfolded and a piece of purple ribbon is fastened to the front of the candidate's shirt or other garment. ‘Clearly, the Arch Purple initiate by participating in such a ceremony is aligning himself with those initiated into the mysteries throughout the centuries."
posted by ericb at 7:43 AM on July 21, 2007


And ...
"The Royal Arch Purple Degree (3rd degree) is based on the original theme of the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. The 2 1/2 reminds us of the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh who, although their inheritance was assured on the other side of Jordan advanced in the vanguard of the army when crossing the river to assist their brethren to secure the Promised Land." *

"[Before you all get tied up on the Masons, I should advise that the symbolgy is of the Orange Lodge not the Masons.The Masons are cousins of the Orange Lodge and share many similarities. It is the '2 1/2' that gives it away. Many Orangemen wear a small pin on their label to that affect. 'IGIMT' does mean 'In God Is My Trust.' In Lodge, this inscription is front and centre. All references are of Old Testament origin. If you do a word search of a site that will allow for Bible usage, check out each symbol in the English equivalent. The fact that "he" had certain specific symbols on his stone, signify his having attainted at least the Royal Purple Marksman's degree.] '2 1/2' The Royal Arch Purple Degree (3rd degree) is based on the original theme of the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. The 2 1/2 reminds us of the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh who, although their inheritance was assured on the other side of Jordan advanced in the vanguard of the army when crossing the river to assist their brethren to secure the Promised Land."*
So, as a betting man ... I'll go with the ring signifying the Scottish gent as being a member of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland. He has attained The Royal Arch Purple Degree (3rd degree) and can wear the '2 1/2' emblem. He is part of a religious fraternal organization which is " officially forbidden" in Ireland. Initiation into the order involves "bizarre initiation rites" which likely had their origins in Freemasonry.
posted by ericb at 7:57 AM on July 21, 2007


WOW. Amazing work! Feels like this is beyond coincidence.
posted by Miko at 8:15 AM on July 21, 2007


archae's find was the "keystone" (Masonic reference/pun intended) in figuring this out. Hmmm ... any coincidence that his MeFi name is archae?
posted by ericb at 8:23 AM on July 21, 2007


When I enquired as to their meaning he declined to tell me and said, moreover, that I would not be able to find out.

thaivagabond -- head back to that pub. If you run into the Scottish gentleman, buy him a drink. Raise your glass, look him in the eye and say "Here's to your health and your brethren of The Royal Arch Purple Degree." Wink and smile.
posted by ericb at 8:48 AM on July 21, 2007


Fantastic!

Do remember that there's still an awful lot of Catholic-Protestant sectarianism and bigotry in the west of Scotland. There are things you bring up in casual conversation with strangers at the pub, and things you don't. The Orange Order falls very much into the latter category. Perhaps, being several thousand miles away from home, your mysterious gentleman will be amused and impressed at your perseverance in finding the meaning of his ring, despite the fact that he didn't want to tell you himself. But I wouldn't bet on it.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 9:28 AM on July 21, 2007


I see that the Royal Arch Purple is an advanced society of the Orange Order, which is an old offshoot of Masonry. I'm still a little unclear about the nature of the relationship between the RAP and traditional Masons (if there is such a thing).

A few more notes on the discussion:

did not recognize the thistle nor "2 1/2" as being emblems of Freemasonry at all


There is a fair amount of Masonic jewelry featuring thistles. It probably is meant to signify Scottish Rite Masonry. I linked to some above.

I find it slightly odd that someone should say they come from "Ross and Cromarty", a county abolished 30 years ago

I wonder if that's because he wasn't referring to a contemporary geographic region so much as a historic parish or lodge association. The Freemasons have a grand lodge there :"The Grand Provincial Lodge of Ross & Cromarty." The fact that this guy used that appellation may have been influenced by the way these fraternities have historically described their membership territory, which doesn't need to be current, just traditional.
posted by Miko at 11:27 AM on July 21, 2007


American 'Orange Order |Royal Arch Purple' 2/12 pins here.
posted by ericb at 11:48 AM on July 21, 2007


*2 1/2*
posted by ericb at 11:49 AM on July 21, 2007


Royal Arch Purple 2 1/2 tie slide/clip - here.

(Grand Orange Lodge Canadia) Royal Arch Purple 2 1/2 keychains, Lodge 50 Year Pin, Lodge 60 Year Pin and Certificate - here.
posted by ericb at 12:09 PM on July 21, 2007


Royal Arch Purple 2 1/2 Occam Razor - here.
posted by ericb at 12:34 PM on July 21, 2007


Jayzus...I am a Mason. I have posted here about Masonry quite a bit and have to say that I have never heard of this. In fact, this "orange" and "purple" stuff does not exist in the US. That "American" link you posted, ericb, is part of Phoenix's masonic museum, surely donated by a foreigner. Unless I woke up and there are now Orangemen in Phoenix...
posted by mattbucher at 2:29 PM on July 21, 2007


Jayzus...I am a Mason. I have posted here about Masonry quite a bit and have to say that I have never heard of this.

That's because it's not Masonic, but closely related (as mentioned above) -- a "cousin" and/or offshoot of Freemasonry founded in 1795 in Loughgall, County Armagh, Ireland.

The 2 1/2 emblem at the Phoenixmasonry website to which I linked ["Check out this 2 1/2 emblem pin -- found at the Phoenixmasonry website in an article on the Orange Order."] is indeed not from the U.S. and clearly from Ireland (note on the gold pin that there are references to Irish towns: Aughrim, Derry, Innskillen and Boyne). My link to it was meant to identify that the "2 1/2" was an emblem of said degree; said order. In no way was I trying to indicate a connection to Phoenix.

In fact, this "orange" and "purple" stuff does not exist in the US.

The Royal Arch Purple Degree of the Orange Order does indeed exist here in the U.S. and Canada. Check out previous links to such (above). Take, for example, the 2 1/2 Royal Arch Purple Degree pin from the Orange Order of Daly City, CA and the various 2 1/2 paraphenalia available from the Grand Orange Lodge of Canada.

The Orange Order (and Arch Purple Degree) is known in the U.S. as 'The Loyal Orange Institution' and is incorporated in the State of Delaware.
"American Orangemen take an active role in the work of the Council. A Past Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of the USA, Brother Frederick E. Stewart, Jr., was the President of the World Orange Council for the 1997 - 2000 term."*
----------
"The Loyal Orange Institution originated in Ireland in 1795, as a fraternal society among the Protestants of County Armagh. Named in honor of King William III of England, Prince of Orange, lodges were established in most Protestant centers of Ireland by 1800, England and Canada by 1808, and among Ulster immigrants in New York City by 1867. Rapid growth in the society led to the establishment of a Grand Lodge for the United States in 1870. By 1873 there were 100 lodges claiming a national membership of 10,000, growing to 364 lodges and 30,000 members by 1914.

...The Orange Hall and Library Association of the City of Philadelphia was organized in 1884, among members of the local lodges of the Loyal Orange Institution. A few years later members revised name to the Orange Hall Association of Philadelphia."*
----------
"Rising Star Lodge No. 537, Loyal Orange Institution of the U.S., located at Petaluma, CA."*
----------
"The United States is the only country outside the former British Commonwealth Nations in which the organization has an existence. It was established in the United States on August 12, 1868 and a Grand Lodge of the Loyal Orange Institution for the Unites States was organized in 1870. In the United States, the LOI's objectives are to promote civil and religious liberty and loyalty to the United States. In this regard, parallels have been drawn between the Loyal Orange Institution of the United States and other patriotic orders, including the American Protective Association, the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, and the Patriotic Order of Sons of America. In fact, the LOI on at least one occasion (1895) met in a congress with these other orders at Washington, D.C., where the participants adopted a political platform advocating restricted immigration and legislation against certain alleged tendencies of the Roman Catholic church: Notice of this platform was communicated to both houses of the U.S. Congress and to the leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties. (The Cyclopaedia of Fraternities, Albert C. Stevens, p. 308 (Hamilton Printing and Publishing Co., New York: 1899). The Royal Black Institution controls eleven degrees: Royal Black, Royal Scarlet, Royal Mark, Apron and Royal Blue, Royal White, Royal Green, Royal Gold, Star and Garter, Scarlet Arrow, Link and Chain, and Red Cross. In California an Orangeman is to be proud of the Protestant tradition, to advocate the continued separation between church and state, and to support secular public schools and freedom of religion. According to Californian Jim Dougan, a Past Grand Master of the LOI and member of Rising Star Lodge No. 537, "We don't have animosity toward Catholics here." The Orange Lodges sometimes paid sick and death benefits, but never made this feature conspicuous. (Thoughts for the Occasion: Fraternal and Benevolent - A Reference Manual, Franklin Noble, p. 567 (E.B. Treat & Co., New York: 1905).

The ritual of the LOI is based on biblical teachings. While religious in nature, the LOI, like other fraternities, is not a religion nor does it hold itself out as a substitute for organized religion. In 1795, there was only one degree, that of Orangeman, to which the Purple Degree was added in 1796 and later Markman. These were supplemented with the Heroine of Jericho, formerly conferred in the United States as a 'side degree' for Royal Arch Masons and their wives, but which was since anulled. The fifth degree was the Scarlet Degree. (The Cyclopaedia of Fraternities, Albert C. Stevens, p. 308 (Hamilton Printing and Publishing Co., New York: 1899). It is believed that these degrees have been reduced to two: Orangeman and Royal Arch Purple Marksman. "*
posted by ericb at 3:43 PM on July 21, 2007


That "American" link you posted, ericb, is part of Phoenix's masonic museum

BTW -- Phoenixmasonry, Inc. is not located in Phoenix, AZ, but is the work of (to use their term) e-Masons ("Spreading enlightenment -- one web surfer at a time! ... Our site is important to Phoenixmasons (e-Masons) and the general public ... Our Mission Statement fills many roles. One goal, in the global world of the Internet, is to exhibit Masonic documents, lectures, and objects in a rich historical context that both educates and stimulates the traveler to continue and learn."). It sits on servers likely in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

I suspect they took inspiration for their name from University of Phoenix, a leading online university.
posted by ericb at 3:56 PM on July 21, 2007


In Googling around I find that the Phoenix (a.k.a. "The Bennu" ) is a Masonic symbol.
posted by ericb at 8:42 AM on July 22, 2007


Unless I woke up and there are now Orangemen in Phoenix...

Yep. "LOYAL ORANGE INSTITUTION OF THE USA" has a lodge in Phoenix, Arizona
posted by ericb at 8:53 AM on July 22, 2007


Btw, ericb is my favorite mefite. Truly awesome work. Bravo, chap. I pity the fool who casually mentions Royal Arch Purple to you in a bar some day.
posted by mattbucher at 9:36 AM on July 22, 2007


agreed: ericb is among MetaFilter's finest and this has been so interesting to follow.

I also love that "You will not be able to find out" is an irrestistible goad to this little secret society of our own. Pure catnip.
posted by Miko at 11:02 AM on July 22, 2007


Now, any chance someone can find a 2 1/2 emblem with a thistle?
posted by desuetude at 9:01 AM on July 23, 2007


I have e-mailed Mr. Taylor to see if he has insight into this symbolism.

I received a kind reply today:
Hi Eric,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Personally, I've never heard of it (I'm not a Mason by the way), although it sounded Masonic so I asked an extremely knowledgeable friend (on these matters) about it. He said there is a certain type of Protestant Masonry which uses the 2 and a half symbolism, but he couldn't remember the name of the actual order. So I think you're on the right track with that. Sorry I can't offer more help.

Hope you enjoy my book!

Kind regards,

Greg
posted by ericb at 12:17 PM on July 23, 2007


BTW -- my e-mail to him was before we were pursuing the Royal Arch Purple and the protestant religious fraternal order. So, his friend's thought is in keeping with our collective discovery here.
posted by ericb at 12:25 PM on July 23, 2007


ericb, I'm extremely impressed. Remarkable work.
posted by languagehat at 12:31 PM on July 23, 2007


This page is an interesting example of how we can and need to share information in our search for answers.

In fact, I was so intrigued and impressed with the varied amount of information provided within 3 days of the original posting, that I decided to sign up immediately for MetaFilter.

Hence, this is the first message that I am posting on this forum.

Even a hundred or so years ago, the Scottish counties of "Ross and Cromarty" were so thoroughly dovetailed into each other geographically, and so intimately connected politically, that they were usually spoken of as one county.

The website of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland is at but I could not find any images there which show both the Thistle & 2-1/2.

However, I did find an image of 2-1/2 enclosed within an archway on a website about the RoyalArchPurple Degree but nothing similar at

This same archway design appears to be on some of the medallions of an Orange Order collar which is now being offered on Ebay (Item Ref 200160124877).

Also, I found lots of masonic style symbolism in the Orange Order Poster that can be viewed at
but there did not appear to be any 2-1/2 on this poster.

Lastly, Wikipedia has a page entitled "Orange Institution" as well as a category entitled "Orange Order" which offers links to various related pages, but again, no luck with finding an image of a Thistle & 2-1/2.

posted by AshokDM at 10:19 AM on October 7, 2007


Oops, sorry I didn't show the links corrrectly in my post.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland website is at orangeorderscotland.com

I mentioned two websites for the Royal Arch Purple Degree -- the archway & 2-1/2 image is at
but I could not find it any such image at
royalarchpurple

The Orange Order Poster can be viewed here
posted by AshokDM at 10:51 AM on October 7, 2007


Please note that the image of 2-1/2 enclosed within an arch (as mentioned in my earlier post) can be viewed on this page
posted by AshokDM at 7:58 PM on October 7, 2007


I unexpectedly came across this 2-1/2 & Arch design on an unusual pendant being offered from Australia (but described as being a masonic/knights item) which you can see on ebay under item reference 200160154323
posted by AshokDM at 12:52 AM on October 11, 2007


« Older Patent litigation for dummies   |   How do I market and sell cuteness? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.