SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.X June, 1932 No.6
"An emblem of innocence and the badge of a mason; more ancient than
the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, more honorable that the Star and
Garter, or any other order that can be conferred upon you at this or
any future period, by any King, Prince, Potentate, or any other
person, except he be a Mason. "
In these few words Freemasonry expresses the honor she pays to this
symbol of the Ancient Craft.
The Order of the Golden Fleece was founded by Philip, Duke of
Burgundy, in 1429.
The Roman Eagle was Rome’s symbol and ensign of power and might a
hundred years before Christ.
The Order of the Star was created by John II of France in the middle
of the Fourteenth Century.
The Order of the Garter was founded by Edward III of England in 1349
for himself and twenty-five Knights of the Garter.
That the Masonic Apron is more ancient than these is a provable fact.
In averring that it is more honorable, the premise "when worthily
worn " is understood. The Apron is "more honorable than the Star and
Garter " when all that it teaches is exemplified in the life of the
Essentially the Masonic Apron is the badge of honorable labor. The
right to wear it is given only to tried and tested men. Much has
been written on these meanings of the symbol, but more has been
devoted to trying to read into its modern shape and size - wholly
fortuitous and an accident of convenience - a so-called "higher
symbolism " which no matter how beautiful it may be, has no real
connection with its "Masonic " significance.
So many well-intentioned brethren read into the Masonic Apron
meanings invented out of whole cloth, that any attempt to put in a
few words the essential facts about this familiar symbol of the
Fraternity, either by what is said or left unsaid, is certain to meet
with some opposition!
It is not possible to "prove " that George Washington did "not " throw
a silver coin across the Rappahannock, or that he did "not " cut down
a cherry tree with his little hatchet. Yet historians believe both
It is not possible to "prove " that no intentional symbolism was
intended when the present square or oblong shape of the Masonic Apron
was adopted (within the last hundred and fifty years), nor that the
conventionalized triangular flap in "not " an allusion to the Forty-
seventh Problem and the earliest symbol of Deity (triangle), nor that
the combination of the four and three corners does not refer to the
Pythagorean "perfect number " seven. But hard-headed historians, who
accept nothing without evidence and think more of evidence than of
inspirational discourses, do not believe our ancient brethren had in
mind any such symbolism as many scientific writers have stated.
The view-point of the Masonic student is that enough real and ancient
symbolism is in the apron, enough sanctity in its age, enough mystery
in its descent, to make unnecessary any recourse to geometrical
astronomical, astrological or other explanations for shape and angles
which old gravings and documents plainly show to be a wholly modern
conventionalizing of what in the builder’s art was a wholly
As Freemasons use it the apron is more than a mere descendant of a
protecting garment of other clothing, just as Freemasons are more
than descendants of the builders of the late Middle Ages. If we
accept the Comancine theory (and no one has disproved it) we have a
right to consider ourselves at least collaterally descended from the
"Collegia " of ancient Rome. If we accept the evidence of sign and
symbol, truth and doctrine, arcane and hidden mystery; Freemasonry is
the modern repository of a hundred remains of as many ancient
mysteries, religions and philosophies.
As the apron of all sorts, sizes and colors was an article of sacred
investure in many of these, so is it in ours. What is truly
important is the apron itself; what is less important is its size and
shape, its method of wearing. Material and color are symbolic, but a
Freemasons may be - and has been many - "properly clothed " with a
handkerchief tucked about his middle, and it is common practice to
make presentation aprons, most elaborately designed and embellished,
without using leather at all, let alone lambskin.
Mackey believed color and material to be of paramount importance, and
inveighed as vigorously as his gentle spirit would permit against
decorations, tassels, paintings, embroideries, etc. Most Grand
Lodges follow the great authority as far as the Craft is concerned,
but relax strict requirements as to size, shape, color and material
for lodge officers and Grand Lodge officers. Even so meticulous a
Grand Lodge as New Jersey, for instance, which prescribe size and
shape and absence of decoration, does admit the deep purple edge for
Grand Lodge officers.
It is a far cry from the "lambskin or white leather apron " of the
Entered Apprentice, to such an eye-filling garget as is worn by the
grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts - an apron so heavily
encrusted with gold leaf, gold lace, gold thread, etc., that the
garment must be worn on a belt, carried flat in a case, weighs about
ten pounds, and can be made successfully only by one firm and that
At least as many particular lodges cloth their officers in
embroidered and decorated aprons, as those which do not. The Past
Master’s apron bearing a pair of compasses on the arc of a quadrant,
may be found at all prices in any Masonic regalia catalogue. So if,
as Mackey contended, only the plain white leather apron is truly
correct, those who go contrary to his dictum have at least the
respectability of numbers and long custom.
Universal Masonic experience proves the apron to be among the most
important of those symbols which teach the Masonic doctrine. The
Apprentice receives it through the Rite of Investure during his
first degree, when he is taught to wear it in a special manner. The
brother appearing for his Fellowcraft Degree is clothed with it worn
as an Apprentice; later he learns a new way to wear it. Finally, as
a Master Mason, he learns how such Craftsmen should wear the "badge
of a Mason. "
That various Jurisdictions are at odds on what is here correct is
less important than it seems. Many teach that the Master Mason
should wear his apron with corner tucked up, as a symbol that he is
the "Master, " and does not need to use the tools of a Fellowcraft,
but instead, directs the work. As many more teach that the
Fellowcraft wears his apron with corner up, as a symbol that he is
not yet a "Master, " and therefore does not have a right to wear the
apron full spread, as a Master Mason should! Into what is "really "
correct this paper cannot go; Jeremy Cross, in earlier editions of
his "True Masonic Chart " shows a picture of a Master Mason wearing
his apron with the corner tucked up.
What is universal, and important, is that all three - Entered
Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason - do wear their aprons in
different ways. All are Masons, hence wear the badge of a Mason; one
has progressed further than another, and therefore wears his apron
differently as a sign that he has learned more.
Incidentally, it may be noted that aprons seldom are, but always
should be, worn on the outside of the coat, not hidden beneath it.
Alas, comfort and convenience - and, in urban lodges, the evening
dress of officers and some members - have led to the careless habit
of wearing the apron not in full view, as a badge of honor and of
service, but concealed, as if it were a matter of small moment.
The use of the apron is very old - far older than as a garment to
protect the clothing of the operative craftsmen, or to provide him
with a convenient receptacle in which to keep his tools.
Girdles. or aprons, were part of the clothing of the Priests of
Israel. Candidates for the mysteries of Mithras in Persia were
invested with aprons. The ancient Japanese used aprons in religious
worship. Oliver, noted Masonic scholar of the last century, no
longer followed as a historian but venerated for his research and his
Masonic industry, says of the apron:
"The apron appears to have been, in ancient times, an honorary badge
of distinction. In the Jewish economy, none but the superior orders
of the priesthood were permitted to adorn themselves with ornamented
girdles, which were made of blue, purple and crimson; decorated with
gold upon a ground of fine white linen; while the inferior priests
wore only white. The Indian, the Persian, the Jewish, the Ethiopian
and the Egyptian aprons, though equally superb, all bore a character
distinct from each other. Some were plain white, others striped with
blue, purple and crimson; some were of wrought gold, others adorned
and decorated with superb tassels and fringes.
"In a word, though the "principal honor " of the apron may consist in
its reference to innocence of conduct and purity of heart, yet it
certainly appears through all ages to have been a most exalted badge
of distinction. In primitive times it was rather an ecclesiastical
than a civil decoration, although in some cases the pron was elevated
to great superiority as a national trophy. The Royal Standard of
Persia was originally "an apron " in form and dimensions. At this
day, it is connected with ecclesiastical honors; for the chief
dignitaries of the Christian church, wherever a legitimate
establishment, with the necessary degrees of rank and subordination,
is formed, are invested with aprons as a peculiar badge of
distinction; which is a collateral proof of the fact that Freemasonry
was originally incorporated with the various systems of Divine
Worship used by every people in the ancient world. Freemasonry
retains the symbol or shadow; it cannot have renounced the reality or
Mackey’s dictum about the color and the material of the Masonic
apron, if as often honored in the breach as in the observance, bears
rereading. The great Masonic scholar said:
The color of a Freemason’s apron should be pure unspotted white.
This color has, in all ages and countries, been esteemed an emblem of
innocence and purity. It was with this reference that a portion of
the vestments of the Jewish priesthood was directed to be white. In
the Ancient Mysteries the candidate was always clothed in white.
"The priests of the Romans, " says Festus, "were accustomed to wear
white garments when they sacrificed. " In the Scandinavian Rites it
has been seen that the shield presented to the candidate was white.
The Druids changed the color of the garment presented to their
initiates with each degree; white, however, was the color appropriate
to the last, or degree of perfection. And it was, according to their
ritual, intended to teach the aspirant that none were admitted to the
honor but such as were cleansed from all impurities both of body and
"In the early ages of the Christian church a white garment was always
placed upon the catechumen who had been newly baptized, to denote
that he had been cleansed from his former sins, and was henceforth to
lead a life of purity. Hence, it was presented to him with
this solemn charge:
"Receive the white and undefiled garment, and produce it unspotted
before the tribunal of
our Lord, Jesus Christ,that you may obtain eternal life. "
"From these instances we learn that white apparel was anciently used
as an emblem of purity, and for this reason the color has been
preserved in the apron of the Freemason.
"A Freemason’s apron must be made of Lambskin. No other substance,
such as linen, silk or satin could be substituted without entirely
destroying the emblematical character of the apron, for the material
of the Freemason’s apron constitutes one of the most important
symbols of his profession. The lamb has always been considered as an
appropriate emblem of innocence. Hence, we are taught, in the ritual
of the First Degree, that "by the lambskin, the Mason is reminded of
the purity of life and rectitude of conduct which is so essentially
necessary to his gaining admission into the Celestial Lodge above,
where the Supreme Architect of the Universe forever presides. "
Words grow and change in meaning with the years; a familiar example
is the word "profane " which Masons use in its ancient sense, meaning
"one not initiated " or "one outside the Temple. " In common usage,
profane means blasphemous. So has the word "innocence " changed in
meaning. Originally it connoted "to do no hurt. " Now it means lack
of knowledge of evil - as an innocent child; the presence of
virginity - as an innocent girl; also, the state of being free from
guilt of any act contrary to law, human or Divine.
"An Emblem of Innocence " is not, Masonically, "an emblem of
ignorance. " Rather do we use the original meaning of the word, and
make of the apron an emblem of one who does no injury to others.
This symbolism is carried out both by the color and material; white
has always been the color of purity, and the lamb has always been a
symbol of harmlessness and gentleness. Haywood says:
"The innocence of a Mason is his gentleness, chivalrous determination
to do no moral evil to any person, man or woman, or babe; his patient
forbearance of the crudeness and ignorance of men, his charitable
forgiveness of his brethren when they willfully or unconsciously do
him evil; his dedication to a spiritual knighthood in behalf of the
value and virtues of humanity by which alone man rises above the
brutes and the world is carried forward on the upward way. "
The lambskin apron presented to the initiate during his entered
Apprentice Degree should be for all his life a very precious
possession; the outward and visible symbol of an inward and spiritual
tie. Many, perhaps most, Masons leave their original aprons safely
at home, and wear the cotton drill substitutes provided by many
lodges for their members. But here again the outward and evident
drill apron is but the symbol of the presentation lambskin symbol;
the symbol kept safely against the day when, at long last, the
members of a lodge can do no more for their brother but lay him away
under its protecting and comforting folds.
Truly he has been a real Mason, in the best sense of that great word,
who has worn his lambskin apron during his manhood "with pleasure to
himself, and honor to the Fraternity. "