By Jason Van Dyke, PM
Managing Editor & Past Master, The Colonial Lodge No. 1821
Everything in Masonry has a meaning: from the words we use in Lodge to the very furniture and how it is arranged. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that one of the most overlooked pieces of furniture in the Lodge has a deep and profound meaning hidden inside of it – the mace, or Marshal’s baton.
While you might not have noticed before, similar tools are carried by officials at universities, in religious ceremonies, and in governmental organizations; the Baton (military), staff (often religious), scepter (royalty), or swagger stick (lower rank military) are all important pieces of the uniform of these functionaries. While they are all slightly different, for the most part they all symbolize the same thing as our Marshal’s baton – the authority and strength of the institution.
The tradition of carrying this symbol probably started ancient Greece or Minoa. But it is most familiar to us from the Roman Empire. There, the fasces was carried by lictors, sort of the Roman version of the Secret Service. The fasces was made of a bundle of birch sticks bound together by red ribbon or leather straps, and sometimes included an axe in the middle. In this configuration, the bundle of sticks symbolized strength in numbers, or the will of the Roman people made manifest, and the axe symbolized the power of capital punishment that the Roman police had. In fact, the fasces is still a common symbol used today in many republics, and you can see it displayed in buildings everywhere here in the District of Columbia as a symbol of the power and authority of the U.S. Government.
ecumenically, as well—in this case, it was called a virge or beadle (or mazzieri, in the Pope’s case) and was carried in front of church processions, sometimes being used to clear the way of animals or unruly crowds of parishioners.
For Masons, it was this implied threat of defensive violence that lead to the mace being seen as a symbol of independence to forces outside the Lodge, and as a sign of corporeal punishment to those who dared question the authority of the Master inside the Lodge. (While we are not aware of a mace/baton ever actually being used in Lodge for this purpose, we are reasonably sure every Master from the start of time has actively contemplated using it several times per meeting.)
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