By Bro. JOHN RODGERS MAGILL
The Master Mason – October 1926
“TO him who in the love of Nature holds communion with her visible forms,” sang William Cullen Bryant in Thanatopsis, “she speaks a various language.” Paraphrasing, we might say: To him who in the love of Masonry holds communion with her mystic lore she speaks a various language.”
The language of Masonry is symbolism. It at once preserves her mysteries inviolate from the profane and indelibly stamps them upon the minds and hearts of those members of the Craft who are earnestly seeking f or light. The very word badge is full of mystic meaning. The dictionary says that a badge is a mark, sign, token or symbol to denote the occupation, allegiance, association or achievements of the person by whom it is worn.
What, then, is the Badge of a Mason?
The uninitiated will doubtless reply that it is the square and compasses. As illustrative of the extent to which these instruments are known as symbols of Masonry, it will be recalled that in 1873 the Commissioner of Patents denied the application of a flour manufacturer for permission to use them as a trade-mark. He gave as his reason the fact that “there can be no doubt that this device, so commonly worn and employed by Masons, has an established mystic significance, universally recognized as existing. Whether comprehended or not, is not material to the issue.” And we know that this device is appropriately so worn and employed by members of this great Fraternity, for it is the proper Masonic emblem of their profession.
But we know that the Badge of a Mason is not some device wrought in precious metals, set perhaps with costly jewels. To us the simple Lamb Skin, or White Leather Apron, the emblem of innocence, is the distinguished Badge of a Mason.
THE apron is the oldest article of apparel of which we have any record. We are told that our first parents made for themselves aprons of fig leaves when they were in the Garden of Eden. Some of us believe in the story literally, while in this day of modernism some may perhaps regard it as merely a beautiful allegory. But however we may accept it, we should not fail to grasp one great truth that it teaches – that the obligation to work accompanies the wearing of the apron.
Aside from the Scriptural story of the Garden of Eden, there are evidences without number as to the antiquity of the apron. Archeologists delve back into the remote periods of time before the written history of man began and bring to light from far beneath the soil crude carvings and engravings showing man clad in aprons of various materials and patterns. Later, when records begin to assume al more systematic form, we find history replete with references to the apron. From this information we learn that this humble garment of the working man has been used as a mystic symbol or vesture by’ practically all the peoples of the earth from the earliest times. It appears in various forms – sometimes very similar to its lowly prototype, in some cases transformed into a girdle, and again we find it elaborated into a robe.
A girdle formed a part of the investure of the Israelitish priesthood. The Jewish sect of the Essenes clothed its novices with white robes. In Persia the candidate for admission into the Mysteries of Mithras was invested with a white apron. A girdle, called the “Sacred Zennar,” was substituted for the apron in the initiations practiced in Hindustan. I certain rites of initiation practiced by the Japanese, the candidate is invested with a white apron. In the Scandinavian Rites a white shield was used instead of an apron, prompted, it has been suggested, by the martial spirit of the people, but it was accompanied by a charge similar to that of the Masonic apron.
Throughout the ages the apron has been an honorary badge of distinction, and by its variations the wearer’s degree of preferment has been made known to the world. In the Jewish priesthood the superior orders wore elaborately decorated and richly ornamented girdles, while the inferior priests wore plain white. The Indian, Jewish, Egyptian, Persian and Ethiopian aprons are said to have been equally superb, though each was dissimilar in design from the others.
WHILE in primitive times the apron was used as an ecclesiastical rather than a civil decoration, yet it sometimes served as a national emblem. The royal standard of Persia, for instance, was originally an apron. However, the more common use of the apron was in connection with the worship of a supreme being, it having been used in this manner by practically every people of the ancient world.
The Masonic apron as we have it today was handed down to us from the builders of the Pyramids of Egypt, to whom we are indebted for much of our symbolism. It is not mere empty verbiage when we are told that geometry, the first and noblest of the sciences, is the basis on which the superstructure of Masonry is erected. Through this science we are enabled to interpret the symbolism of the ancients and to discern that the mysteries upon which this great superstructure was erected were hoary with age when Hiram Abiff began his apprenticeship. By its aid we find that the knowledge of these mysteries existed not only in the old world, but on the American continents as well. The museums of this country are full of geometrical evidence connecting the aborigines of the American continents with the ancient old-world worshipers of Jehovah, the Great Architect. Many of the American cliff-dweller pictures in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute are of a Masonic nature, and much of a Masonic significance is to be found in the Peruvian collection of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
For instance, in the design of the ancient ceremonial cloaks, or ponchos, of the Peruvians, we find the Pythagorean Triangle, the basis of the Forty-seventh problem of Euclid. This was the sacred triangle of the Egyptians, the symbol of their “Sun-God,” who was known as the “Eye of Heaven.” This figure is the original of the Egyptian amulet, the “Eye of Horus,” known to us Masons as the “All-Seeing Eye” whom the sun, moon, and stars obey. Two of these triangles, placed back to back, form the flap of our Masonic apron.
Perhaps the greatest surprise that comes to us as we investigate these prehistoric peoples of our own hemisphere lies in the fact that the stone statues of the Sun-God of the ancient American Mayas, found on the sites of the ruined cities of Yucatan, always show that deity clothed in an apron very similar to that used by this great Fraternity.
TWO things are necessary to the preservation of the symbolic character of the Badge of a Mason – its color and its material.
A Mason’s apron should be white, pure and spotless, which color has always been a symbol of purity to all peoples.
It must be White Lamb Skin. The lamb has always been recognized as an emblem of innocence, and we are told in the first degree that by the lamb skin the Mason is reminded of that purity of life and rectitude of conduct which is so essentially necessary to his gaining admission to the Celestial Lodge above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe forever presides.
The apron is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, of a Mason’s connection with the terrestrial lodge, being presented to him upon his entrance into the Fraternity and deposited in his grave when he takes his dimit to the Celestial Lodge above.
This emblem of innocence and purity, is the Badge of a Mason – more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle; and, when worthily worn, more honorable than the Star and Garter, or any other order that could be conferred upon you at this or any future period.
The Operative Mason wears his apron to protect his clothing from soil or damage incident to his calling; but we, as Speculative Masons, are taught to wear it for a more noble and glorious purpose: that its pure and spotless surface may be to us an ever present reminder of a purity of life and conduct, a never ending argument for nobler deeds, for higher thoughts, for greater achievements.
“The Lamb Skin is an emblem of innocence and the Badge of a Mason.” When we received it we were charged to wear it with pleasure to ourselves and honor to the Fraternity. What a precious privilege; what a great responsibility! Yet the two are inseparable, for we can wear the apron with pleasure to ourselves only when we wear it with honor to the Fraternity. And the pleasure of wearing the apron lies not in idle display, but in wearing it as an emblem of the pure and spotless heart which should be the goal of every Mason, bearing ever in mind that we have in our keeping the honor and reputation of this great Fraternity. We make our profession openly and the world is watching us; let us then preserve this badge unspotted and unsullied, thus wearing it with honor to the Fraternity.
Wear worthily this thy Masonic badge, While still thy body toils to build thy soul A mansion bright, beyond the gates of death, No edifice that crumbles back to clay, But a glorious house eternal in the skies.
TO every true member of the Craft the apron should be a constant reminder of his duty and privilege to worship according to the dictates of his conscience that God in whom he professed belief before he was admitted to this Order. Of a truth, Masonry is religious, but it does not seek to displace religion. On the contrary, it admonishes its members to pay their devotions to their Creator. The flesh is weak and temptations are many. Without belief in prayer and faith in God no Mason could hope to live a life even approximating that typified by his Badge.
BUT the apron is something more than an emblem of innocence and purity – it has yet another meaning, one more obvious, yet often lost sight of. We have seen that it was worn by the Operative Mason while engaged in his occupation. The apron is, therefore, a symbol of service. When we donned the Masonic apron we thereby assumed an obligation to work. Then we became Master Masons that we might receive Master’s wages, not the wages of a beginner or apprentice; and to receive the wages of a Master we must do the work of a Master, otherwise we shall receive little when we appear before the Senior Warden in the Grand Lodge above and ask for our wages, if any be due.
We very appropriately wear the apron when we attend the funeral of a brother, for we are thus reminded that there shall come a time when our own weary feet shall come to the end of their toilsome; journey, and from our grasp shalt drop the working tools of life. And on these sad occasions we look upon the snow-white surface of the Lamb Skin and feel renewed within us the hope that when our spiritual bodies shall stand naked and alone before the Great White Throne, it shall be our portion to hear from Him who sitteth as the Judge Supreme, the welcome words: “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”