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The Use Of Wands

By Bro. J R G Harvey HDGC Grand Chaplain On behalf of John E Bingham LOL 844 Sheffield

The use of wands in John E Bingham LOL 844 Sheffield and some background on the origins, form and purpose of the wands carried by sponsors of candidates for the Orange and Purple degrees.

The practice of candidates for the Orange and Purple degrees being accompanied by sponsors carrying wands bearing ribbons of the appropriate colours seems to have almost totally died out in the lodges of the LOIE. Despite having made enquiries of brethren in all Provinces if their lodges still follow this practice, I have to date found none that do so other than LOL 844. This is not to say that there do not remain other lodges which still use them but simply, that I have been unable to discover any!

For example, in my own district, Yorkshire No 35, when assisting Doncaster LOL 33 in 2013 to initiate a candidate in which LOL 844s Orange Degree wands were used as part of the ritual, the WM of LOL 33 remarked that the last time he had seen wands used had been circa 35 years previously by Leeds LOL 81. I do not know if the most recent booklets “Introduction to the Orange Order” and “Advancement to the Purple Order” have in these latter years omitted this requirement but those in use in LOL 844 Sheffield clearly state that that a candidate for the Orange degree shall be accompanied by two sponsors, each bearing wands (although no prescription is made, either of the colour these should be or if they should bear ribbons) and that a candidate being advanced to the Purple degree shall be preceded by two purplemen each bearing purple wands with orange ribbons and followed by two sponsors, each carrying orange wands with purple ribbons.

For many years LOL 844 did not have sufficient members to be able to be able to provide two purplemen and two sponsors for a purple degree candidate and so the practice developed of candidates for the purple degree being accompanied only by two Purplemen but each of whom would carry a representative wand. One wand was purple with orange ribbons to represent those which should be carried by two purpleman and one orange with purple ribbons to represent the wands which should be carried by two sponsors.

In the course of my enquiries into the current use of wands, some brethren have claimed that the LOIE formally abolished the requirement many years ago. That is incorrect. The reality is that as is the case with other of our historic ritual, the practice has simply slowly fallen into disuse.

Whilst wands have always and continue to be an integral part of a sponsor’s regalia for Orange and Purple degrees in LOL 844, even here there has been debate over what length the wands should be, what specific form they should take and how they should be used. There is no guidance on any of these questions in any written publications by the LOIE on ritual and because their use has been almost completely discontinued there is no internal evidence from custom and practice either.

What we do know from the report of Lord Gosford to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland is that wands were carried on the first ever Orange parade on 12th July 1796 because in that report, he advised that the Orange men had marched through his demesne, “.in regular files by two and two with orange cockades, unarmed and by companies which were distinguished by numbers on their flags. The party had one drum and each company had a fife and two or three men in front with painted wands in their hands who acted as commanders”.

We know further that for at least 150 years following that first parade, wands were in regular use in the degree work and parades of the Orange Institution worldwide. For example, The Candidate is ushered in, in the condition already described, bearing a wand or staff in one hand – extract from The Protestant Truth Society booklet 'Orangeman or Christian: Which?' by Deputy Grand Chaplain of Grand Orange Lodge of England - Rev. Alexander Roger 1925

And

Having received the necessary permission from the members, the Master shall direct the Tyler to open the door and admit the Candidate and his Conductors, who shall accompany him into the lodge room, bearing wands decorated with the colour of the Degree, and the brethren shall rise and remain standing. – extract from the Orange degree ceremony of the Loyal Orange Association of British America 1926.

The “deacon poles” still carried on parade by lodge marshals in Ireland and Scotland would have originally been called wands. They would have been carried by a lodge’s principle officers and it is highly likely that they were also at one time used in the initiation and advancement of candidates for degrees. The very name “deacon pole” is itself is indicative of this. There has never legally been such an office as “deacon” in the Orange Institution (although it is known that some early Irish lodges did appoint “deacons” and were censured by Grand Lodge for such actions) but in Masonic lodges, deacons accompany candidates being admitted or raised to degrees and carry wands to indicate their office and the only plausible explanation of the use of deacon poles in the Orange Institution is that these were originally analogous with that the wands carried by deacons in Masonic lodges.

However whilst we have no internal evidence on what the wands carried by the earliest Orangemen looked like other than that they were painted, there is much external evidence on their likely appearance from the practices of other fraternal societies contemporary in age with the Orange Institution because when we look at those societies, we find that the practice of candidates for membership being accompanied by sponsors bearing wands was and remains common to them all..
All fraternal societies in the 18th and 19th centuries used them both in their rituals and in their public parades. The Oddfellows Magazine for October 1839, in an account of an Oddfellows procession in Liverpool earlier that year reported “The PGs (or Past Masters to use Orange terminology) and other officers who walked at the head of each lodge bore white and in a few instances scarlet wands”, i.e. they bore wands of the colour of the Oddfellows first degree (White) and the third degree (Scarlet which was originally introduced exclusively for the Masters of Oddfellows Lodges)).

Wands continue to be carried on parade by members of the “Loyal Laurel and Crown Lodge No 1056” of the Independent Order of Oddfellows (Manchester Unity) in the small Derbyshire village of Parwich. Interestingly however, no one in the lodge wears any regalia and the oldest photographs of the lodge on parade (which are over 100 years old) show this has always been the case. Ordinary members carry white wands whilst the Master of the Lodge carries a wand with a red and blue stripe at the top. What is the significance of this? White is the first degree of the Oddfellows; Scarlet (Red) is the third degree. The third degree is now available by all members who desire it but it was, as has previously been stated, originally available only to the Masters of lodges!

Thus in the traditions of the Parwich Oddfellows lodge, we are able to see a practice which was the norm in the very earliest Orange Lodges. That this lodge should have retained the 18th century practice of carrying wands in procession as an indication of degree and have never discarded these to take on the later practice of wearing regalia to indicate office and degree is a unique anachronism unknown in any other lodge of any other fraternal society. Even more remarkable is that this practice has continued totally by chance. The lodge has practiced no ritual for the past 90+ years with the consequence that no one in the lodge now knows why member’s wands are painted white or why the Master’s wand has a red and blue stripe, even though they are repainted every few years! It is an informative indication of how quickly knowledge of the meaning of the symbolism used by a fraternal society can be lost and illustrates very clearly why it is important that we record old Orange traditions of the LOIE whilst there remain lodges which still practice them.

Nevertheless, as the Loyal Laurel and Crown Lodge No 1056 is the last Oddfellows lodge in England with an unbroken tradition of holding an annual village parade now in its 177th year, it provides a unique mirror on what were once the common practices of all British fraternal societies in the early 19th century and is thus able to inform the LOIE on some of our likely early practices in the use of wands.. Firstly we can conclude with that, although the deacon poles carried by marshals of the Orange Institution in Ireland are these days varnished and topped with brass finials, originally they would almost certainly have just been staves painted orange as the colour of the degree. The report of the parade of 1796 reveals that those first Orangemen were working men; tradesmen and artisans. It is unlikely they would have had spare money to spend on sashes and even if they had, sashes were not commercially made at that time. They therefore showed their allegiance to the newly formed Orange Institution by following the usual practice of wearing a cockade in their hats. The cost of these was negligible; a bit of orange ribbon obtainable from a travelling pedlar and a few stitches. In the same way Jacobites a few years earlier had worn the white cockade whilst supporters of the Hanoverian monarchy had worn the black cockade. Similarly the carrying of painted wands by officers of the lodges was an inexpensive and readily available means of identifying who the officers were. The painted staves or wands were symbols of their office and authority.

In the context of fraternal societies, we should be clear that when the rituals of those societies speak of “wands” they are using an archaic English word for what may be variously called a virge, a rod, a pole or a staff. Indeed, the church office of “verger” is so called because the incumbent of that office carried a virge as a symbol of his office but a virge could just as accurately be called a wand.

Interest in how the use of wands in fraternal society rituals originated is not unique to the Orange Institution. Members of other fraternal societies, particularly Freemasons have asked the question and several of them have sought to answer it. Some hypotheses that have been advanced are highly speculative but what is certain is that the Masonic wand predates the Orange wand. Some Masonic historians and writers have suggested, in its original form, the wand used by 18th century Freemasons was in imitation of the staff of Mercury, the winged messenger of the gods in Roman mythology. This seems very plausible for reasons which will be elaborated on later in this paper. The staff of Mercury was surmounted by a figure known as the “caduceus” which also acted as a talisman having power to ward off all evil spirits from the pathway so that nothing might impede Mercury on his heavenly journeys. In the Mithraic mysteries too the herald, who conducted the candidates through the ceremonies of initiation also carried a wand surmounted by the figure of the “caduceus” of Mercury.

Today in the Order of Freemasonry, Deacons (attendants upon candidates for initiation) carry wands topped with silver doves, each of which carries a twig in its beak but the Masonic Bulletin of Sept 1946 states that in the early speculative period of Freemasonry, the Deacon's wand was surmounted by the caduceus, and that in some foreign Grand Lodges it is still used as the insignia of the Deacons and is still the emblem on their wands.

However, towards the latter part of the eighteenth century Christian influences in English Freemasonry were instrumental in substituting the dove, the present Deacon wand emblem, as more appropriate to Biblical concepts of the messenger than the pagan symbol of Mercury and it is surely of more than passing significance to Orangemen to note that the caduceus was a winged rod with two serpents entwining it as shown below.

No Orangeman can fail to be struck by the similarity this image has to our own emblem of a serpent twining round a rod which we refer to as “Aaron’s Rod.”? What however is puzzling about the Orange symbol of Aaron’s rod is the form in which we depict it. Presumably that form relates to when Moses threw it down before Pharaoh and it became a serpent and then when he took it back up it became a rod again but there is no reference to this incident in the Orange ritual; another miracle altogether in connection with Aaron’s rod being associated with it.

Why is this? It is certainly possible that those founders of Orangeism who were also Freemasons simply “Christianised” the caduceus, the symbol that they had seen used in their Masonic lodges into the pole upon which Moses set a brass serpent in the wilderness to which all the Israelites who were bitten by serpent’s were to look if they desired to live and which the Lord Jesus Christ identified as a “type” of himself in the Gospel of John 3:14.

This “serpent on a pole” may then have been brought it into use in the Orange lodges. We are unlikely to ever know with absolute certainty if this was the definitive sequence of events but it is interesting to note that the symbol of a serpent entwining a rod, identical to our Aaron’s rod symbol was also used in the Independent Order of Oddfellows (Manchester Unity) up to 1834 and it too was identified as the Mosaic “serpent on a pole.”

What is indisputable is that the Boyne Society chart of 1798, reproduced in the “History of the Royal Arch Purple Order” published by the Royal Arch Purple Chapter of Ireland shows quite separate representations of both Aaron’s rod, which we read in Numbers Chapter 17, “budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.” and the “serpent on a pole,” thus making clear that the emblem we now refer to as “Aaron’s rod” was not originally regarded as such by the Orange Institution. On that chart Aaron’s rod is clearly seen to be sprouting leaves and almonds. Was the serpent on a pole, like the caduceus in Masonic lodges, originally used as the finial which topped the wands used in early Orange initiation rituals? Additionally how did the knowledge of what it originally represented become lost? We shall almost certainly never know.

Moving on to the question of the use of wands in the degree work of the LOIE, unlike in Freemasonry and Oddfellowship, we have no specific lodge office having the duties of attending on candidates for initiation and advancement and rituals simply refer to candidates being accompanied by Sponsors.

In LOL 844 our practice is that wherever possible, whichever two brethren interviewed the candidate at his home and then reported back to the lodge recommending his admission take on the role of his sponsors at his initiation. The wands carried by each of them are symbols of their office as guarantors of the candidate in the ritual of the degree. They are required to give vocal assurances to the lodge that they have thoroughly examined the candidate, made him aware of what is required of an Orangeman and that they are satisfied that he is suitable for initiation or advancement. The wands they carry emphasise the gravity of the undertakings they are making in standing surety for the candidate.

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