Deacon Rods

Do Deacon Rods in Masonic Lodges Trace Their Origins to the Greeks?

The origins and ancient usages of rods, or staffs, within Masonic Lodges are unfortunately lost to antiquity.  

However, we do have several hints that might give us some insight into how rods came to be used. From English royalty to Parliament to Greek gods, we have suggestions about the origins of the rods within a Masonic Lodge. 

Here, the suggestion will be that the weight of evidence leads one to conclude that, at least in large part, the origins of the usage of rods by Deacons rests within the Greek pantheon, and specifically, Hermes (known by the Romans as Mercury).

Much of the symbolism of Masonic rods seems obvious and needs neither detailed explanation nor research into ancient history.

The rod capped with the sun within the Square and Compasses of the Senior Deacon, for example, requires no explanation other than saying that he sits in the East with the Master and the rising sun. 

Likewise, the Junior Deacon with the moon within the Square and Compasses sits in the West with the setting sun.  Perhaps the most obvious symbols are the cornucopia-tipped rods of the Stewards, who oversee the refreshment of the Lodge while not at labour.

The rods carried by the Stewards likely trace their heritage to ushers in the English Parliament, or, more likely, the white rod carried by the Stewards of the King’s household (Walk). 

This bears a striking resemblance to the Stewards in a Masonic Lodge, especially considering both the duties and the colour of the rods.  Of course, the rods of the Stewards in a Lodge are also white.

The Deacons are another matter, however. There is no obvious historical clue as to the origins of the rods carried by these Brothers. We could, of course, simply say that they needed the rods to check under the eaves to find any eavesdroppers (Walk). 

Considering the rich and layered symbolism of most every item connected to Masonry, it seems too easy to simply call these rods a useful item and leave it at that.  No, Masonry is full of symbols and no item within a Lodge can just ‘be there’ without further, and deeper, meaning.

 

Hermes the Greek God
IMAGE LINKED:  the square private collection – Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

If we look to mythology, specifically within the Greek pantheon, we see one character that seems to mirror the duties of the Masonic Deacons- the god Hermes.  Here we find the patron of our Masonic Brothers, the Deacons.

Hermes was a Greek god who had several duties, but his most important- or at least his most known- was that of messenger of the gods.  His job was to convey messages between all the gods, regardless of where they were.  In fact, he was the only deity in the entire Greek pantheon who was able to travel freely between the underworld and the world of the living (Greek Gods and Goddesses). 

This matches perfectly to the role of Deacons as messengers of the Lodge. One of the roles of the Senior Deacon is to carry messages from the Worshipful Master, while the Junior Deacon carries messages from the Senior Warden (Masonic Lodge Officer Duties).

Hermes was also the patron and protector of travellers. Those who were moving from place to place within either the world of the living, or to their eternal home in the underworld, could faithfully place their trust in Hermes and not fear dangers upon their journey. 

Again, this relates directly to the Senior Deacon as he guides those traveling on their Masonic journey. 

Finally, we come to the rod of Hermes.  The Caduceus, with its intertwined serpents surmounted by wings, is perhaps one of the most instantly recognizable items used by any deity (Caduceus – New World Encyclopedia).

This emblem is so recognizable that it is even used, albeit incorrectly, as the icon of western medicine.  Rarely is Hermes seen without his Caduceus, and this rod was further carried into Roman mythology as Mercury was often portrayed with the Caduceus (Greek Gods and Goddesses).

Considering the importance of the roles of Hermes, and his being easily identified by the Caduceus, we can see clear parallels in Deacons in a Masonic Lodge. 

Just as Hermes carries messages and protects travelers, their roles as messengers and protectors of those traveling within the Lodge make it only fitting that they carry rods reminiscent of the very deity they emulate.

Footnotes
References

Works Cited

 

Unknown. “Caduceus.” Caduceus – New World Encyclopedia, www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Caduceus.

Unknown. “Hermes • Facts and Information on Greek God Hermes.” Greek Gods & Goddesses, 19 Oct. 2019, www.greekgodsandgoddesses.net/gods/hermes/ 

Unknown. “Masonic Lodge Officer Duties.” MASONIC LODGE OFFICER DUTIES, www.masonic-lodge-of-education.com/lodge-officer-duties.html.

Walk, C Richard. The Masonic Rods and Staffs, www.masonicworld.com/education/articles/masonic_rods_and_staffs.htm.

Article by: Mike Bryant

Mike Bryant is a Software Architect who lives in Kentucky with his wife Maudie.

When not playing classic rock music with his band, he enjoys Jeep off-roading and camping.

Mike is Past Master and current Secretary of Breathitt Lodge #649, Past High Priest of Jackson Chapter #160, member of Booneville Lodge #939, founding member of Henry Bannister Grant Lodge of Research #996, and founding member of Breathitt Allied Masonic Degrees Council #556.

He can be reached at mikebryant.com or facebook.com/mikebryantky

 

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