Anthony  D  Buckley


 A D Buckley and M C Kenney

 Negotiating identity: rhetoric, metaphor and social drama in Northern Ireland.

 Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.1995




The Orange Order and its sister institutions, the Royal Arch Purple Chapter and the Royal Black Institution, like the Protestant churches, can claim to represent and in some ways typify Ulster Protestantism.  Their aims, in each case, are to uphold Protestantism as a religion and to uphold the interests of Northern Ireland Protestants.

Compared with other groups in society the Orange, Arch Purple and Black institutions are fairly moderate. They describe themselves as' religious', and they are anxious to rid themselves of any `rowdy element'.  We have just described riotous activity in which Orangemen were involved.  Also, we have shown that rioting has long been associated with festivals organized by the Orange Order.  Despite this, these organizations themselves are made up of law abiding citizens.

The three orders are, indeed, in many respects like their Catholic equivalent, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, whose demonstrations have also sometimes been accompanied by riot. Each of them certainly represents a segment of society eager to uphold the interests of their ethnic group. But none of them is, in Northern Irish terms, extreme.

As in the churches, the more active members of each of these three different orders occupy a special world which has its own preoccupations.  These interests seem somewhat esoteric to outsiders.  Enthusiasts in these bodies are effectively custodians of a highly elaborate tradition which includes rituals and other genres of symbolism.  Because of the continued interest and activity of the experts and enthusiasts within the institutions, less enthusiastic members and, sometimes, complete outsiders can, more occasionally, participate.

All these organizations employ an elaborate array of metaphors which originate in biblical texts.  This chapter will concentrate on the symbolism of one of these organizations, the Royal Black Institution.  It will argue that the continuing popularity of this association is, in part, due to the perceived relevance of these metaphors and texts to social, political and religious issues in modern Ulster.

This chapter will continue to argue that a person's identity is partially structured by being translated into other, more prototypical images. The biblical texts used in the social dramas of the Royal Black Institution provide a set of metaphors which allow Blackmen to see themselves as similar, in certain respects, to the Israelites, Jews and then Christians in the Bible.  As members of an institution devoted to the defence of the Protestant faith, Blackmen can see themselves as 'God's chosen few'.

The symbols and rituals which connect the Blackmen with the Bible are not, however, only rhetorical in their purpose.  Although rhetoric can enhance a person's self respect, it is more properly directed at others.  The significance of Orange and Black imagery is actually kept secret from non members.  The symbolism is, therefore, to use Goffman's expression (1959) part of the 'backstage' life of the Royal Black Institution.  It may, therefore, be considered as part of the means whereby Blackmen work out the operational implications of their shared Protestant identity.

In two most useful studies, Santino (1983; 1989, 68ff) has described the backstage conversations of people who work on Pullman trains in the USA.  These men exchange free ranging anecdotes exploring the infinity of subtle variations upon the fixed relationship which they have with their customers. Using his approach, this chapter will show how the members of the Black Institution use biblical metaphors to confront the variety of situations which arise out of their common identity as Ulster Protestants.

The biblical images do not contradict the standard forms of Protestant rhetoric. In some ways, they reinforce them. Their function, however, is more centrally to act as operational models.  The Bible-based symbols of the Blackmen provide not so much rhetoric as food for practical thought.



The 'Imperial Grand Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth', is more commonly called the 'Royal Black Institution', or simply 'The Black'.  Like its sister organizations, the Orange Order and the Arch Purple Chapter, it has its origins in the melange of secret societies which proliferated in the late eighteenth century both in Ireland and elsewhere.  In the last century, it was one of very many 'brotherhoods'.

The 'brotherhood' tradition reached its peak fifty years before the Great War, though its origins are much older (see Buckley and Anderson 1988).  Historically, the most important of these brotherhoods has been the Order of Freemasons, whose Grand Lodge in Dublin was set up in the early eighteenth century.  The Freemasons, in turn, modelled themselves primarily upon the guilds which controlled the local government of the major cities of Britain and Ireland well into the 19th century.  Many Masonic 'higher degrees' were modelled upon orders of chivalry, and not least upon the crusading orders, the Knights Templar and Knights of Malta (see, for example, Forster 1982 4; Given 1959).

As well as the Masons, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries produced a plethora of agrarian societies.  These were devoted in part to squabbling with each other, and in part to engaging, sometimes through violence, in a variety of economic, religious or political causes (eg Bartlett 1985; Biggar 1910; Donnelly 1978, 1981; Moodie 1968; Robinson 1986; (ed) Williams 1973).  No doubt in imitation of the Masons, but also copying directly the official guilds and chivalric orders, these bodies used secret oaths, passwords, signs, handshakes, and elaborate catechisms, legends and rituals as an intrinsic part of their activity.

From the mid nineteenth century, there also grew up a number of of large friendly societies, dedicated to the provision of health insurance (Buckley 1987).  Many of these had headquarters in Britain.  Sometimes, these bodies too gave themselves the names of crafts, such as Foresters, Shepherds or Gardeners.  Thus they modelled themselves either directly upon the craft guilds, or indirectly upon the Freemasons or upon each other.

By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become almost obligatory, in Ireland as elsewhere, for any voluntary association formed for whatever purpose to have the form of a brotherhood (Buckley and Anderson 1988).  They would typically have regalia and jewels, secret handshakes and signs, and a range of degrees and rituals.

Brotherhoods in Ireland included temperance societies like the Good Templars, the Sons of Temperance, the Pioneers and the Rechabites; drinking clubs like the Buffaloes; religious groups like the Roman Catholic sodalities and the Knights of  St Columbanus; and boys' clubs like the Boy Scouts.  All these were recognizably within the same brotherhood tradition, though they had differing purposes.  All belonged to different `worlds' in Finnegan's sense (1989) and they had often jealously guarded separate identities.

This brotherhood tradition still persists in Ireland though it has declined.  Individual bodies usually recruit their members from a fairly narrow segment of society.  Nevertheless, the broader tradition transcends differences of social class, ethnic affiliation and even gender.  It provides a striking example of how one set of social relationships can be copied as an operational model for another set of quite different relationships.



The Orange, Arch Purple and Black institutions, are three inter related {1} loyalist brotherhoods, of which the most famous is the Orange Order.  The Orange Order was founded after the so-called 'Battle of the Diamond', a skirmish in County Armagh with a Catholic agrarian secret society, the Defenders, in 1795.   Nowadays, the Order is organized locally into 'lodges', each with its own Worshipful Master, Secretary, Treasurer and other officers.  Each local lodge is represented in a district lodge and a county lodge, with Grand Lodge at the apex.  Its administrative headquarters are in Belfast.

The second institution of this trio is the Royal Arch Purple Chapter. Each of the local 'chapters' of this organization is drawn from a specific Orange lodge.  Nevertheless, even locally, the officers of an Orange lodge are different from those of its corresponding Royal Arch Purple chapter.  The hierarchical organization at District, County, and Grand Chapter levels is wholly distinct from that of the Orange Order.  It has no fixed headquarters and is the least well known of the three bodies.

The third body, the Royal Black Institution, is organized in 'preceptories', each drawn from several Arch Purple chapters.  It too has its own distinct hierarchical form of organization.  Its headquarters are in Lurgan in County Armagh.

Of the three organizations, the Black Institution has the most extensive symbolism.  Like the others, the Black Institution is 'a society with secrets',  the secrets consisting of rituals, handshakes, signs and passwords. Despite the secrecy, the Black Institution, like the Orange Order, regularly holds public demonstrations and parades at which much of its symbolism is openly displayed.

As well as having officers and hierarchical structures of administration, the three institutions also have 'degrees'.  The Orange Order has two degrees, the so called 'Orange' and 'Purple' degrees, each with its own ceremonial and ritual of initiation.

When an Orangeman has passed through the Purple degree, he may join the Royal Arch Purple chapter associated with his lodge.  Of all the degrees through which the Orangeman may pass, this is the most elaborate and the most terrifying.  Emblems of the Royal Arch Purple derived from its ritual are worn on Orange collarettes at demonstrations organized by the Orange Order.  They include the Arch itself which has a prominent keystone; a three stepped ladder, the steps signifying 'Faith, Hope and Charity'; and a five pointed star signifying the 'five points of fellowship'.  Other images belong to the Royal Arch Purple but found are also in Black symbolism.  These are the Ark of the Covenant, pots of manna, Aaron's rod and other images related to the Israelites' sojourn in the desert.

The Royal Arch Purple degree is, in some ways, similar to the Royal Arch degree in Irish Freemasonry. It is the first of the so called `higher' degrees in both systems, and the two degrees share much symbolism.  In fact, the degrees are significantly different.  The Masonic Royal Arch in Ireland recounts the repair of Solomon's Temple by Josiah, while the Royal Arch Purple tells the story of the Exodus.   Moreover, many Orangemen feel that the Royal Arch Purple has a similar status in Orangeism to the third degree in Craft Masonry, being a consummation of the earlier Orange and Purple degrees.  However, not everyone in the Orange Order chooses to be initiated into the Royal Arch Purple.  For them, and, indeed, for many who actually become Arch Purplemen, this third degree is but a stepping stone into the degrees of `the Black'.

There are eleven degrees in the Royal Black Institution {2}.  A member will ordinarily be initiated through each of them at successive monthly meetings.  For most of its members, the Black Institution is the highest form of Orangeism.  Other Orangemen are sometimes sceptical of this opinion.  Orangemen who are also Freemasons sometimes describe the Black rites as an inferior form of Masonry.

As the Royal Arch Purple degree is similar to the Royal Arch degree of Freemasonry, so the Black Institution resembles the Masonic Order of the Temple.  Both institutions regard themselves as orders of chivalry.  Both are referred to as 'the Black' and they have black emblems.  Their members address each other as 'Sir Knight'.  The name 'preceptory' is common both to the Black Institution and to the Masonic degrees of Knight Templar and Knight of Malta.  There is, moreover, a similarity between the Masonic Knight Templar ritual and that of the first, Royal Black degree in their use of the skull and cross bones.  And both organizations have Constantine's motto (referring to the cross):  'In hoc signo vinces' (In this sign you conquer).  Both organizations perceive themselves as defenders of Christianity, although the Black Institution understands 'Christianity' to mean 'Protestantism'.

Biblical texts occur in four major contexts in the Black Institution, in rituals, in emblems, on banner pictures, and in the sermons given at the 'church parades' of the Orange lodges and Black preceptories.  Initiation rituals in the Black Institution, as in the Royal Arch Purple Chapter, and, to a lesser extent, in the Orange Order itself, are founded in specific biblical texts.  Two 'lecturers' who supervise these ceremonies will, as part of the proceedings, give a 'lecture'.  This is actually more like a catechism during which the Bible stories are read out and explained.  The initiate, as part of these rites, sometimes takes the role of one, or even successively several of the characters in the plot. Once initiated into a specific degree, the candidate may be told the chapters and verses of the texts upon which the rite has been based.  He may then, at his leisure, read the texts for himself.

It is common for an individual, once initiated into a Black degree, to wear a metal emblem of that degree on the black collarette which he wears on ceremonial parades.  These emblems are not always related to their texts in a way which outsiders will readily recognise.  Typically they depict gardeners' tools, a dove with an olive branch, Noah's Ark, a seven stepped ladder, a skull and cross bones, a bush, a man, a stick with a snake wrapped around it, two crossed trumpets, a square and compasses in which is inscribed the letter G, a hand, an arrow piercing a heart; a balance, a red cross, and a seven pointed star.

Since few outsiders are even certain that the different emblems correspond to biblical texts, their meaning is fairly obscure.  They may, indeed, have once been deliberately contrived to disguise from outsiders the ritual content of the different degrees.  Not everybody collects all the emblems to which he is entitled.  Many Blackmen, when they have been through the eleven degrees, wear only the emblem of the highest degree, the Red Cross.

These same emblems are also to be found on the wall charts, printed for purposes of instruction, which adorn the walls of Orange halls where Black preceptory meetings take place. On such charts are not only Black, but also Orange and Arch Purple symbols, and other images, the 'all seeing eye', a beehive, an hour glass, expressions such as 'Cemented with Love', which are found among brotherhoods generally.  Similar emblems decorate certificates, warrants and other official documents of the Institution.

These same biblical texts appear on the banners displayed at Black demonstrations.  Some Black banners have designs made up entirely with emblems.  Some of these are embroidered.  Most, however, are painted on silk in the manner established by George Tutill, of London (Gorman 1973, 49ff).  These typically give the name and number of the preceptory, (for example 'Mount Horeb RBP 270'), and say that the preceptory is 'encamped at' the particular place where it meets.  On the painted banners are sometimes to be found the coat of arms of the Black Institution on which these same emblems are an important feature.  Much more important here are the pictures which are the main feature of most Black banners.  Nearly all these illustrate a biblical text.


It is important to note that not all the paintings on Black banners which portray biblical scenes relate to Black initiation rites.  Whereas collarette emblems do have a direct reference to Black degrees, a minority of the banner pictures were chosen because the preceptory members happened to like the particular story.

This chapter will not describe the rituals of the Black Institution, or connect the rites of specific degrees to specific biblical texts.  The rites are, in any case, secret, known to this writer only in outline.  The lecturers who organize them learn the texts by heart.  No recordings are made, and nobody may write them down.  The only real way to learn the rituals is not only to become a member of a preceptory, but also to become a lecturer.  Unfortunately, one can do this only after making a solemn undertaking to keep the ritual secret.

Apart from this, some of the rites are clearly great fun.  Part of the fun lies in the ignorance of the initiate about what will happen next.  People say, for example, that an Arch Purple initiate must 'ride a goat'.  This is not strictly true, but it is not far from the spirit of what happens.  It is not for a researcher to publicize what little he knows of these amusing mysteries and spoil the fun.



Discussion here will be confined to the texts referred to in pictures and emblems seen at the Black Institution's public ceremonies.  There will be reference too to wall charts and to other readily available documents.  The aim is to show what meaning these texts might have for an Ulster Protestant who participates in a Black preceptory.

The difficulties in doing this are twofold.  First, Orangemen and Blackmen are often unwilling to discuss these matters with outsiders.  Second, however, my strong impression is that the contents of the rites and the related texts are seldom a topic for conversation even among these organizations' members. There is nothing very peculiar about this second point.  It certainly does not imply that particpants find no meaning in the rites and related texts.  To take part in a rite, to read a text, to follow a banner, even to wear an emblem, is rather like conversing with a person.  One does not need to discuss the conversation with a third party for it to have an impact.

Clearly it would have been useful if more Blackmen had been forthcoming about the significance of their pictures and emblems.  Since, however, what Turner (1962) calls 'native exegesis' was sadly lacking, I must fall back upon studying the symbols in their social context and in their relation to other symbols.  This is to explore their 'positional meaning' (Turner 1962).  My feeling is that the meaning of the texts is not inordinately obscure.  The lack of obscurity, indeed, may be a good reason why Blackmen do not trouble to discuss their rites: there is, quite simply, nothing much to discuss.

It may be useful to try to separate out some layers of meaning which exist in the emblems and banner pictures.  First, there is the emblem or banner picture itself.  This is a very specific sign which refers to a particular element in the somewhat larger biblical text.  A bystander who is not a Blackman may merely glimpse the banner or collarette emblem as it flashes past him in a procession.  Such a person may not be able quickly to do the act of translation which relates the emblem or picture to its text.  This is particularly true of the collarette emblems whose relevance to the text is usually far from clear.  Even from a banner painting, the casual observer who sees, say, Elijah receiving food from an angel, or Daniel in the lion's den, may have only the dimmest recollections of what these stories are about.  For him, the emblems and paintings form part of the public display.  They can, therefore, be understood only within this important, and indeed complex, but restricted frame.

For the Blackman too, the emblems and paintings are part of the public display, but for him they may have an additional significance.  First, a Blackman will have learned during his initiation which emblem belongs to which degree and to which text.  He will, therefore, have enacted in a serious, or half comic drama, the relevant Bible story.  Second, however, even if he did not quite catch all he was told at his own initiation, he is likely frequently to have witnessed the initiation of other candidates. For him, therefore, the emblems and pictures are part of a frame provided by a biblical text.

It is possible, therefore, to explore the levels of meaning to be found in the texts themselves.  There is, first, the immediate sense of the words of the text, which refer to the adventures of Noah, Moses, Daniel, and others.  At this level, there is not much room for interpretation.  The words mean simply what convention and the dictionary say that they mean.

Turner (1965) has written of the 'multivocality of symbols' (see also Charsley 1987).  From this work, one might hope to be able to distil many further allegorical meanings from the narrative.  It is doubtful, however, that the texts referred to in Black emblems and banner paintings are  'multivocal'.  On the contrary, they have a quite restricted range of possible allegorical meanings.  From the perspective of a Unionist Ulsterman, in the context of an organization which upholds Protestantism against Catholicism, the allegorical meanings seem few and inescapable.

The Black rites and their related texts do not provide Blackmen complete allegorical solutions to the social and political problems of being loyalist Protestants.  Nevertheless, by identifying himself with the various Israelite and Jewish heroes in the texts, a Blackman may find, at least, food for thought.  He can use them as metaphors to construct operational frameworks for dealing with new and immediate situations.  With only a few exceptions, the problems which the texts confront are the difficulties faced by God's chosen people when dealing with heathens, foreigners and other villains.

One should not, however, think that the different texts represented in banners and emblems all have the same structure or convey the same message.  Most of the texts have a common framework.  They tell of an individual or people living in a foreign land or among sinners or heathens.  But within this framework, the texts explore many possibilities.  The texts provide a means for Blackmen to explore a central feature of their fixed situation.  This is the relation, social, political, and theological, between Catholicism and Protestantism.

The strictly limited sample of banner pictures to be discussed here were photographed by the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.  They were taken at the annual Black demonstrations held in the towns of Antrim, Dromore and Lisburn on the last Saturday of August 1982.  This collection {3} forms part of the much larger slide collection concerned with the Orange, Arch Purple and Black institutions in the Museum's photographic archive. Consideration will also here be given to emblems on Black collarettes, sashes wall charts and certificates.   These also exist in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum's material culture and photographic collections.



The following, then, is a brief summary of the texts referred to in banner paintings, wall charts and collarette emblems.  Informants kindly told me the precise biblical references. Also given here are the related emblems found on sashes, collarettes and wall charts.  There is also a mention of the number of occasions that a scene from the particular texts appeared in the restricted sample of banner paintings under consideration.

It would be easy to gain an impression that the texts referred to in the pictures and emblems give a simple resume of the Bible from beginning to end. Indeed, the texts do include both the Garden of Eden and the City of God.  In fact, this selection of strongly emphasizes certain biblical themes, while systematically avoiding others. To draw out the peculiarity of the texts, it will be useful, therefore, to list fourteen of the most characteristic texts or groups of texts.  When this has been done, the few remaining texts can be shown to provide a contextual frame for the majority.


1. Noah escapes from the flood (Genesis 2 3)

    Emblems:  dove, Noah's ark.  18 banners.

Noah is among wicked men.  When God destroys the world with a flood, Noah escapes with his family.  God condemns Noah's grandson Canaan and his heirs to serve the descendants of Noah's other sons.


2. Abraham, Isaac and the sacrifice (Genesis 22)

    Emblems:  none.  2 banners.

God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his son.  In consequence of Abraham's loyalty, God finds him a substitute sacrifice.  Isaac escapes.


3. Jacob's dream:  the promise of Canaanite land (Genesis 25 28)

    Emblem: seven stepped ladder.  5 banners.

God promises the land of Canaan to Jacob in a dream.  Jacob, unlike his hairy brother Esau, refuses to marry Canaanite women.


4. Joseph rules in Egypt (Genesis 37 50)

    Emblems:  skull and crossbones,  coffin, `in memoria mortua'.  8 banners

Jacob's favourite son, Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers.  Because he has favour with God, Joseph escapes death, becomes servant to the king and rules over Egypt.


5. Moses escapes from the Egyptians (Book of Exodus)

    Emblems:  Aaron's rod, Moses, the burning bush, tablets of stone.  22 banners.

The Hebrews are enslaved by the Egyptians and their male offspring are thrown into the Nile.  The child Moses escapes, and finally leads his people out of Egypt.  God gives him the law on tablets of stone.


6. Joshua conquers Jericho (Joshua 2 6)

    Emblems:  trumpets,  corn, twelve stones. 1 banner.

With the help of a Canaanite harlot, Rahab, the Israelites conquer Jericho.  Rahab and her family escape from the slaughter.


7. The two and a half tribes (Joshua 22)

    Emblem: Three triangles marked `R', `G' and `M'.  No banners.

When the Israelites conquer the land of Canaan, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh are given land away from the other tribes.  When they built an altar, the main body of tribes construe this as rebellion.  Nevertheless, they stay faithful. Eventually, the altar is interpreted as a sign of the bond between the separated groups.


8. Gideon's chosen few (Judges 6 7)

    Emblems:  none.  1 banner.

Gideon selects a small band to defeat the numerically superior Midianites.


9. Ruth and Naomi (Book of Ruth)

    Emblems:  none.  1 banner.

In time of famine, an Israelite woman, Naomi, goes to live among the Moabites.  Her sons marry local women.  When the famine recedes and Naomi returns home, one of her daughters in law, Ruth, insists on returning with her.  Ruth remarries in Israel and her son becomes grandfather to King David.


10.        David defeats Goliath (1 Samuel 17 18)

    Emblems:  five stones, a sling.  45 banners.

David the shepherd boy defeats the giant Philistine Goliath with a sling.


11.        Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 16 19)

    Emblem:  a hand. 19 banners.

When King Ahab marries a foreign woman and worships Baal, Elijah proclaims a drought.  Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a contest.  When they lose, they are slaughtered, and the drought ends.  God rescues Elijah from his enemies.  He later ascends to heaven in a chariot of fire.


12.        Jehu's purge (2 Kings 10 12)

    Emblem:  an arrow (sometimes piercing a heart).  No banners.

Jehu kills the apostate Ahab's son with an arrow, defeats the prophets of Baal and restores the temple.


13.        Daniel (Daniel 2, 3, 5 and 6)

    Emblem:  a balance. 12 banners.

When some Jews refuse to worship a golden image, they are put in a furnace from which, however, they escape unscathed.  Daniel, because of his prophetic abilities, becomes ruler over Babylon.  When, however, he prays to God, he is fed to the lions.  He emerges unhurt.


14.        New Testament references (Matthew 3, John 19 21)

    Emblem:  a red cross.  6 banners.

Matthew 3 tells of the escape by Jesus from the slaughter of the innocents.  John 19 21 is an account of Christ's victory over death at the resurrection.


It is clear enough that these fourteen texts do not deal with identical or even precisely similar situations, but that there are strong resemblances between them.  The dominant pattern is of an individual or group of people who have found favour in the eyes of God confronting alien peoples.  These aliens are not all of the same kind.  Some are wicked people, as in the story of Noah; some are upholders of a rival religion; others are merely foreigners.

Another major theme is faithfulness.  When God chooses someone, who, in return, has been loyal to God, then that person will prosper.  Perhaps he will be rescued from God's wrath; perhaps the rescue will be from the wrath of his enemies.  He may gain a victory sometimes against the overwhelming strength of his opponent.  When a heathen or foreigner changes allegiance and becomes loyal to God (as with Rahab or Ruth), that person may also be saved and may prosper.  Where, as with Ahab, one of God's chosen people turns to a foreign religion, he must expect ruin.  The different texts therefore all explore variations upon the same theme, the encounter between God's chosen people and heathens or foreigners or the wicked.

The remaining three groups of texts do not significantly alter the picture.  Rather they provide a frame for the main body of texts.  They are as follows:


15.        Adam and Eve (Genesis 2 3)

    Emblem: gardener's tools,  Adam and Even, angel with flaming sword.

The text tells of Adam and Eve, the forbidden fruit, and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.


16.        The building of Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 5 8, 2 Chronicles 2 8)

    Emblems: a royal blue apron, square and compasses, builder's tools. 7 banners.

The texts elaborate at great length the building of the Temple.


17.        The City of God (Revelation 21)  This text is found with the other New Testament references (number 14 above).

    Emblem: red cross.  1 banner.

John the Divine has a vision of the City of God.


18.  Star and Garter (Exodus 28, Hebrews 7, Genesis 14, 18ff, Revelation 5)

    Emblem:  seven  pointed star, (formerly) a garter.  No banners.


These texts are unusual here in that they are not really stories.  Exodus 28 gives a detailed account of the levitical priesthood, describing the garments worn by Aaron the Levite and his descendants, the priests of Israel.  Hebrews 7 recalls how Melchisedek, king of Salem, and priest of God, blessed Abraham and was given tithes in return (Genesis 14, 18ff).  The Epistle to the Hebrews explains that, like Melchisedek, one need not be a descendant of Aaron to be a priest, but merely a believer.

The first story, that of Adam and Eve, provides a setting and explanation for the frankly depressing scenario of conflict, destruction and alienation to which even the chosen people are subject in this world. The building of the Temple rounds off the story of the sojourners in the desert.  And the final glimpse of the City of God concludes that of those who travail in the world today.

The references labelled `Star and Garter' (the name of a degree), based in the Epistle to the Hebrews, make an allegedly anti Catholic point.  This is that the priesthood, since Christ, consists not of the descendants of Aaron, but of those who are faithful to Christ.  For this reason, Hebrews is sometimes called 'the Protestant epistle'.

It is worth pointing out that, although these texts are, indeed, biblical, they concern themselves only with certain themes, avoiding others.

Consider some the themes which are omitted.  Most glaring of all is the great Pauline emphasis upon sin and redemption which is so important, for example, to the fundamentalists (above Chapter 7).  There are indeed sinners in the above narratives.  These sinners, however, are not redeemed of their sins.  Rather, their most common role in the various narratives is as villains.  They are there to be to be defeated, not saved.  There is little reference here to `loving one's neighbour', or `turning the other cheek'.  The `wisdom' literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) is excluded.  Where there are prophecies and prophets, (Joseph, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, Revelation), the prophecies provide mere incidents in the more important superordinate narratives.  Nowhere are there speculations or insights into the timing or nature of Christ's second coming.  Missing are the sufferings of Job, the sexuality of Solomon's Song and Hosea's marital problems.  There is no reference to those who grind the faces of the poor (Isaiah 3, 15) nor to camels who cannot climb through the eyes of needles (Matthew 19, 24).  Black banner pictures and emblems point, in short, to an unrepresentative or biased sample of the Bible as a whole.

This does not, however, mean that the Black Institution is non Christian.  Christian critics of Freemasonry often point to the Old Testament bias of that organization.  They say it is theologically Jewish rather than Christian (eg Hanna 1963; McCormick 1984).  I do not argue this kind of case here.

At least in principle, but often in practice, Blackmen are also churchgoers.  They do not see Black rites as a substitute for church services.  Whatever Christianity they fail to pick up in the preceptory, they no doubt hope to learn in church.  Moreover, whatever teachings are absent from Black ritual and symbolism, what remains is still genuinely biblical.  The themes elicited by the Black rites and in the public symbols are major and legitimate biblical themes.  The Black Institution, nevertheless, has a very distinctive emphasis.

The texts' most prevailing theme is of God's chosen people confronting those who are apostate, alien, heathen or merely wicked.  Since the texts are encountered in an institution whose prime declared purpose is to reinforce Protestantism against Catholicism their significance is unambiguous.  One could hardly fail to recognize the similarity between the situation of the Ulster Protestant and that of the heroes of the various stories.

Like the Israelites in Canaan, Ulster Protestants have been given, and now occupy, an alien land.  The foreigners whose land they occupy are, like the Canaanites, the Midianites, the Philistines, and others, adherents of an alien religion.  Like Jacob, they steadfastly avoid marrying the daughters of their enemies.  Like the heroes of the stories, they lay great stress on loyalty, both to their religion and to the crown.



Black symbolism invites the Blackman to see himself and his fellow Ulster Protestants as similar to God's chosen people in the Bible.  One should not, however, draw conclusions which are too radical.  If one were to ask a Blackman directly whether he believed himself to be one of God's chosen people, he would probably respond with appropriate embarrassment.  The idea of having been 'chosen' by God, however, is one which has some significance in Protestant thought in Ulster and it takes a variety of forms.

At its mildest, individuals will maintain that, when they do God's work, they do so by the grace of God.  This implies that they have been 'chosen' by God to do His work. Sometimes, such an image is meant only lightly.  In others, however, as Chapter Six showed, this idea is powerfully and literally intended.

One version of this opinion occurs among 'conservative' Presbyterians. Such people adopt a view which they attribute to Calvin, namely that they are of the 'elect'.  This is but another way of saying that they have been chosen by God.

A group of people in Northern Ireland, small, but influential, are called British Israelites.  These hold that the peoples of the United Kingdom (and hence those of the USA and the white Commonwealth) are descendants of the ancient Israelites.

The British Israelite version of history begins with the division of Solomon's kingdom into two parts.  The southern kingdom of Judah, they say, was conquered by the Babylonians, and the history of this people, the Jews, appears in the later books of the Bible.   The remaining ten tribes of Israel who made up the Northern Kingdom, were lost.  British Israelites say they were dispersed through Northern Europe.  There, as Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings and Normans, they reassembled in Britain and Ireland to form the British people.

At the time of the Babylonian exile, the prophet Jeremiah set off northwards.  He carried with him the Ark of the Covenant and also the Stone which had provided a pillow when Jacob had his dream at Bethel.   Jeremiah travelled with the daughters of Zedekiah, the last pre exilic King of Judah.  They landed in Carrickfergus in County Antrim.

One of these daughters, Temar Tephi, married the Israelitish High King of Ireland, Eochaidu.  British Israelites have traced the descent of the present queen, Elizabeth II, through James I of Scotland and the Irish king, Fergus the Great, to Eochaidu and Tamar tephi and thence to King David.

The stone, which came from Bethel and which was used at the coronations of Irish and Scottish kings, now rests beneath the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey.  For the British Israelites, the people of Britain (and especially those who are loyal both to the Queen and to the Protestant faith) are, in an Old Testament sense, God's Chosen People.

The symbolism of the Black Institution, therefore, reflects a more general tendency in Ulster Protestantism.  This conceives that Ulster Protestants, or perhaps a select group of such Protestants, have an especially close relationship to God.  The relationship is defined in two ways.  The first says that they are beneath God's protection.  The second says that they are the instrument of God's will (see Chapters 7 and 8 above).

The symbols and rituals of the Royal Black Institution are not, however, narrowly dogmatic. They do not just provide a set of beliefs which rigidly define the place of Protestants in Ulster or in the world.  Rather their emblems and images relate to a fairly big set of quite different stories.   These, in turn, can serve as metaphors, generating more immediate operational frames to define practical circumstances.  As such the stories have a direct bearing on the practical construction of Ulster Protestant identity.

The Black banners, emblems and rites do not refer merely to an arbitrary collection of Bible stories.  Rather, they tell of a people who had inherited a promised land which had once belonged to someone else.  By confining their Bible study to this narrow range of texts, they can perceive Ulster Protestants as in some sense God's chosen people.  In this framework, the Black Knights may feel themselves to be, like the followers of Gideon, 'God's Chosen Few'.



1. Freemasonry in Ireland is similarly divided among different but interrelated bodies.  The essence of Freemasonry is Craft Masonry.  Craft Masonry has the three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason.  Craft lodges are controlled directly by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland.  The Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Ireland controls the Mark Master and the Royal Arch degrees.  The Grand Council controls the Knight of the Sword, the Knight of the East and the Knight of the East and West degrees. The Order of the Temple and Great Priory of Ireland governs the Knight Templar, the Mediterranean Pass and Knight of Malta degrees.  The Grand Chapter of Prince Masons of Ireland is the ruling body of the degree of Knight of the Eagle and Pelican and Prince Grand Rose Croix of Heredom.  This degree is the same as the eighteenth degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite as worked elsewhere.  The Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree, Ancient and Accepted Rite for Ireland controls the degree of Knight of the Sun (28th Degree), Philosophical Mason Knight Kadosh (30th Degree), Grand Inspector Inquisitor Commander (31st Degree), Prince of the Royal Secret (32nd Degree), and Sovereign Grand Inspector General (33rd Degree).

1. 2  They are called, respectively Royal Black, Royal Scarlet, Royal Mark, Apron and Royal Blue, Royal White, Royal Green, Royal Gold, Star and Garter, Crimson Arrow, Link and Chain, and Red Cross.

2. This collection (Ulster Folk and Transport Museum photographic slide archive BF149 240 BG1 176) is a complete record of the banners on display in these places. The flapping of banners, the necessity of changing film and other contingencies of a fast flowing public parade created only occasional omissions.  Necessary choices between banner pictures were determined by the need to photograph a range of different designs.