By V.W. Bro. G. T. Girdler, Nov. 3rd, 1911;
Published by: UNITED MASTERS LODGE No. 167;
Auckland, New Zealand;

In giving this paper on the subject of Masonic Symbols I find it very difficult, with the disconnected material at my disposal, to trace out and select facts that will help us to unravel the mysteries of the past; so that if I refer to things that at first do not seem to bear on the subject I must ask your patience, - while I endeavour to piece together the fragmentary knowledge we have in our Masonic library, to show what I think is the line of evolution of our beloved badge.

The illustrations I show have symbols of other doctrines, but tonight I shall deal with the apron alone.

From the time man first appeared on earth he has endeavoured to find out what was the cause of his existence, but in vain. He was therefore compelled to interpret what he saw about him into powers of good and evil. He saw animal and vegetable life appear and prosper or a time, then disappear, and then, after a period, reappear. He could only reason that there was some unseen guiding power at work, but what it was he did not know. So he had to fall back upon something he could see, hear, or touch. He therefore turned all things to nature into unknown gods.

From the earliest days Fetishes have been recognised as the symbols of some protective power or god. Thus, a stone was the symbol of eternal duration. The frog a living symbol of the power of transformation, for early man saw the change from the tadpole to the frog. The serpent was the emblem of the power of renewal of life, because they saw the serpent sloughed into skin, and was apparently born again with bright colours.

The swordfish became the emblem of the god of destruction, whose symbol was a sword. The crocodile was the symbol of the power of god, which could see, but was himself unseen, because the crocodile had the power of watching through the water its prey on land.

The first great mother, "Apt," who was worshipped as the Mistress of Protection, was symbolised by the hippopotamus, because of its strength and power above and under water. It became the god which protected sailors, fishermen, and dwellers near the waters.

Many figures of the hippopotamus have been found in the tombs of the prehistoric Egyptians, carved in ivory and red stone, which was believed to be the blood of the goddess Isis. At first the figure of the entire totemicanimal was used. Later on parts of bone, skin or teeth, were worn as amulets, and served to image the protective power of the god when worn on the person ofhte living or buried with the mummy of the dead.

The progress of the evolution related in the Egyptian Ritual, or Book of the Dead, seems to have been as follows:
1st. Animals were named, and their various characteristics recognised as powers in themselves, and then afterwards were adopted by mankind as living visible emblems of forces in which they were superior to mankind. Such as the strength of the lion, the power of the crocodile to live on land or water, the wonderful sight of the birds, the acute sense of smell and hearing in animals, etc. These were recognised as natural phenomena.
2nd. Animals were adopted into the human family as totemic types. Elaborate religious ceremonies gave them sanctity of the blood covenant, and made them typically one flesh with their human brother. Each family or tribe took some animal as their totem or blood brother, which became the protector of the tribe, and its image was adopted as a badge of distinction or the primeval coat-of-arms.

Thus the various tribes or families became known as "the ravens," "the jackals," "the serpents," etc. The blood brotherhood with animals was not based on any belief that they were on a level with man, but with the belief that men were able to assimilate the powers of the totemic animals.

The typical character of the totemic powers continued in various ways. "Putting on the skin" was a mode of giving the blood brother the superhuman powers of the beast. Hence, in going into battle they wore the skin and acted the roll of the animal. In Like manner the warrior god Shu (the Egyptian god Mars) goes into battle wearing the head of a lioness.

The moon god is clothed in the skin of the great ape, symbolic of human rage. The medicine man wrapped himself up in the skin of his totem for the purpose of communicating with the spirits of the dead.

A few years ago there was found in the tomb of one of the Egyptian rulers, who lived ten thousand years ago, a copy of the Egyptian Ritual, or Book of the Dead. In the third passage in the chapter 143 is a petition to Amen Ra by the deceased:- "Hail! Amen! Let me make supplication unto Thee, for I know Thy name, and They transformation is in my mouth and Thy skin before mine eyes. Come I pray Thee, place Thine heir and Thine image, myself, in the everlasting underworld. Grant that all my members may repose in the underworld. Let my whole body become like unto a god. Let me escape from the evil chamber. Let me not lie imprisoned therein, for I worship Thy name. Thou last made me a skin. Thou hast understood my speech. Thou knowest exceeding well. Hidden is Thy name, and I have made for Thee a skin."

This primitive drama is not yet played out. Many of the ancient rites and doctrines can be identified as survivals in religious rituals.

A startling illustration of this may be seen in a collection of English hymns (1754) where these lines occur:
What great glory could there be
Than to be clothed with God?
He drew his skin upon my skin,
His blood upon my blood.

The Manes, or spirits of the dead, believed that the skin buried with them would be their totem in the other life. In chapter 14.5, page 31, of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the speaker, who has just been baptised and anointed in process of regeneration, when he is transformed into the likeness of Horus, says:
"He is given the skin of a cat for his badge, the cat being the seer in the dark. The skin shows he is no longer dead and blind, but is the risen Horus with the second sight."

The Red Indians place the skirt of their totem beside the dying or dead for the soul to depart properly clothed. The god Bebi was the god who presided over the powers of reproduction, and was always represented wearing an apron of some animal.

A skin, in the Book of the Dead, means "renewal," "repetition," "resurrection from another life."

In the V.S.L., frequent reference is made to skin. Job said, "He escaped by the skin of his teeth." It has been a common custom for the dead to be buried in the skin of an animal, or in the boots and shoes made from the skin of an animal.

When the Duke of Wellington was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral his boots were taken with him to the tomb, and in a sense he was buried in the skin.

Napoleon, when dying, asked for his boots to be put on, and he died with them on.

The significance of the skin is everywhere the same. The slipper thrown after the newly-wedded has the same meaning. Leather is made from skin, and that denotes a renewal of life, so that act expresses the desire of the couple to be blessed with children.

The custom of making covenants, and swearing oaths of skin parchment, was swearing by the future life - the hope of immortality and the Eternal God.

The mode of assuming power by wearing the skin of an animal still continues. The correct dress of a magician or sorcerer is a robe of fox skin, a breast-plate of parchment and a skin girdle. The wearing of skin in our law-courts, colleges, and pulpits is another survival.

The sloughed skin of the serpent, and the skin of the bag or caul humans are born in, are still bought and sold for about five pounds, as a protection against dangers on land and sea.

In our Order, when a brother is called away, his apron is buried with him to symbolise that on the day of resurrection he may appear before the G.A. properly clothed in his own skin.

The ancient Egyptians at first wore only a girdle of skin round the loins. Later it became necessary to make a special distinction for the priests, rulers, and gods, so a piece of the skin of the totemic animal was hung down in front. Later on, when the priest- kings were evolved, they added the tail of a lioness to hang down behind.

At a much later date in the world's history, in the insignia of the Pharaohs, the girdle, the apron and tail were all made of lion skin. In chapter 100 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, it states:- "The Manes, or spirits of the dead, consisted of the clothed and naked. Those who passed the judgment hall were clothed with the skin of the righteous, the stole of Ra."

When clothed they came out singing, "I range within the garden of Horeb. I have fastened my stole upon me; I am the girdled one." In some of the plates of the judgment scene there is a second skin, called the Nem skin, suspended over signs which represent the soul. The word Nem means "another," a "second," also "to repeat."

This Nem skin is the second skin covering, or investiture, and hangs on a vignette to signify the soul, so that the Nem skin means "another garment for the soul."

On page 165 of the Egyptian Ritual it relates:- "That the god, called the concealer of skins, that is the hider of the bodies of the dead, is also called the god of transformation, and is said to have skins always ready for - those who have been found worthy of a new lease of life."

The evolution of the apron then seems to be as follows:- 1st.The girdle only. A single cord knotted round the loins served as an amulet and was not an article of clothing. It was considered the thread concealed their nakedness. (Primitive art in Egypt.)
2nd. The addition of a piece of skin in front.
3rd. The addition of the tail of the totemic animal behind.

The last two were restricted to the leaders, and tabooed to the lower orders.

A negro [Black] was restricted to the girdle only, as a negro was said to have no soul. The prophet Jeremiah may have referred to this fact when he asked: "Can an Ethiopian change his skin?" He could not because he was not allowed to wear a skin.

In the Book of the Dead it says: "The first god Ptah built the universe on the square . . . and placed the sacred triangle upon it." In their diagrams they show four gods on the square and three gods on the triangle.

Although we have no connected history of the progress through the ages to the present, there can be little doubt that nations, whether they tattooed their own skins, or wore skins of animals at their ceremonies, were only carrying on the earlier Egyptian belief in the immortality of the soul, the day of judgment, and the reward or punishment hereafter, according to man's conduct in this life.

The sketches show the gradual development in the ornamentation of the apron, and teaches us that from the first it was an emblem of the highest religious conception, and indicated that the wearer had passed through the valley of the shadow of death - the judgment seat - and his soul admitted to participate in a newer and better life.

Bro. Crowe, in a lecture in Lodge Quaturor Coronati, says:- "There can be no doubt that the original and distinguishing badge of a Freemason was the apron, and in all the antient mysteries images and statutes in all parts of the world were uniformly decorated with superb aprons, and initiates to the mysteries in India, China, and Persia were all invested with white aprons."

To trace the growth of the modern apron we must realise some of the forces that guided its evolution.

History teaches us that modern masonry is distinctly of English growth, and was evolved side by side with our English national church, to which it is strangely alike in its titles and ceremonies.

The foundations of modern Masonry were laid on the fragments of the old Anglo-Saxon religion of the Druids, which had many traces of Egyptian origin. During the last nine centuries Britain has undergone great changes of thought, due to foreign influences.

The first was the advent of foreign culture with masons and architects who followed the Norman conqueror, and who built the vast cathedrals and castles, the ruins of which may be found all over Britain.

The second was the invasion of France by the British, and the spoil brought home form the conquered cities, with the captured knights and soldiers, led to the rapid advance of French literature and architecture.

The third was the ward of the Crusades, when the Crusaders attempted to capture the Holy Land from the Saracens, where they - - founded and adopted the great religious and military orders - the Knights of Malta, the Grand Templars, and other Masonic Orders.

The returning soldiers brought back with them from the Holy Lake treasures looted form the cities and mosques of the Saracens, many of these treasures having been originally looted from the Egyptian and Assyrian cities. The Moorish masons and architects they brought back have also left their mark.

The fourth was the advent of German teachings and art at the time of the Reformation, which made such a vast change in the evolution of the English Church. The introduction of German guilds, masons, and artists, of whose works many remains are still in existence, and have left such a lasting influence.

The fifth step was taken at the time of the fierce fighting which led to the downfall of the Spanish Inquisition, and the capture of the cities of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts by adventurous travelers like Raleigh, Drake, Frobisher, and others, who raided and looted the cities of Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, and Africa impartially, most of treasures from the cities and churches, together with images of gods, priests and captives, and added to the English stores of antient treasures.

The last great event was the Commonwealth, which settled the nation into three national churches - English, Scottish and Roman Catholic; the three nations - English, Scottish and Irish - with their three Grand Lodges.

We have no knowledge of the causes that led the three Grand Lodges to differ with regard to the shape of the fall of the apron, but there must have been some different traditional history which led the English to adopt the triangular, the Scottish the rounded, and the Irish the squarish flaps, and change the symbolism of the Egyptian emblem of immortality, and cause the English to adopt the lower part of the cross of Osiris as the present Tau, or the Irish to take the handle of the emblem or immortality, and the Scottish (the G in the S & C) and the golden fringe, copying the Nem Skin with the golden rays seen on the aprons of those who have passed the Judgment Seat of Osiris.

The modern apron, during the 16th and 17th century, was made of all sorts of material - skin, linen, cotton, satin, velvet, and skins - and was coloured and ornamented to suit the taste and purse of the wearer, and it was not until the union of the three Grant Lodges the present apron with the tassels was adopted.

Tassels: There is no doubt tassels were evolved with the sash, and the evolutionis well show in the sketches.

The Taw was the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and is marked on the Moabite Stone, and on Jewish and Phoenician coins. It was evolved from the ancient Egyptian emblem of life and immortality. The early Christians of Egypt adopted it, but afterwards altered its shape to the cross, as shown in sketches.

The English Grand Lodge turned it upside down, and adapted it on their aprons as the Level. Many writers state the Scottish turned it into their national St. Andrew's Cross. If this be so the animosity that existed between the English, Scottish and Irish nations before and after the Union into the British nation may account for its absence from the Scottish and Irish aprons until very recent times.

The evolution of the Rosette is shown in the sketches.

The symbol of the present tassel may have arisen at the end of the Dark Ages, when the attributes of the G.A. of the U. was said to be:
1. The Spirit of Wisdom.
2. " " " Understanding.
3. " " " Strength.
4. " " " Knowledge.
5. " " " Council.
6. " " " Piety.
7. " " " the fear of the Lord.

And was depicted on the church windows of the 18th century by seven rays of light, or seven doves; and it is possible that the seven strings to the modern tassel may have a similar symbolic meaning.

If you examine the sketches I think you must be convinced that the Egyptian Nem Skin is exactly the same as the Scottish flap. The sketches also show the evolution of the English and Scottish apron; but I can find at present few sketches of the Irish.

Bro. Crowe says, in Vol. 5, L.Q.C.:- "In Ireland, although Grand Lodge was formed in 1829, there is not, and Bro. A. St. George, Deputy-Grand Secretary, informs me that, to his knowledge, there never has been any definition of the pattern of its clothing laid down in its constitution, and the first and only authoritative statement appears in a book entitled 'Clothing and Insignia,' with coloured plates, published in 1860, and states that until recent times a W.M., in order to be properly clothed, was always attired in a red cloak and a chimney-pot hat and apron."

I trust these few remarks will help us to realise, when we put on our skins, the truth in the grand words we listened to when we were first invested:-.
"It is more ancient than the Golden Fleece, or Roman Eagle; more honourable than the Garter, or any other Order in existence, being the Badge of Innocence, and the Bond of Friendship."

W.Bro. Josiah Martin, in addressing to this paper suggests that after a brother has been raised to the Third Degree, and restored to his personal comforts, and presented to the S.W. to receive some further mark of the W.M.'s favour, could now be addressed in the following terms:-

"The Apron of a M.M. with which you have been invested is symbolic of our antient institution. It is intended ever to keep before you the fundamental principles of your obligation to our Order. It was worn by the Master of the Mysteries of Ancient Egypt to signify that the animal nature of man was to be subordinate to and controlled by the intelligence, and the will.

At your initiation you were informed that the Apron was 'the badge of innocence and the bond of friendship' this is symbolised by the substance - the skin of a lamb (the emblem of innocence) and by the band or belt which clasped around you by your brother the S.W., unites you within us the 'bond of friendship.'

The three rosettes on the Apron mark the three degrees through which you have passed, and on each you will notice 'the point within a circle' which denotes your place and duty with the fraternity.

The four corners are to remind you of the four cardinal virtues of Freemasonry, viz., Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice.

In the First Degree you were taught that 'squares, levels, and perpendiculars were true and proper signs to know a Mason by.

The ribbon border, which surrounds the Apron, takes these forms, and will serve to remind you of that lesson.

The two pendant tassels will also constantly keep before you the two grand Masonic Ornaments - Benevolence and Charity.

The five points of Fellowship are here represented by the five points of the apron and flap. We recognise them in our ritual as Unity, Fraternity, Sympathy, Confidence, and Trust, which have already been amply illustrated as:
Unity - the brother's hand to hand greeting
Fraternity - mutual support - foot to foot.
Sympathy - the sign of remembrance in prayer-knee to knee.
Confidence - the test of secrecy - breast to breast.
Trust - the whispered word.

Confidence and Trust are the supporting corners; Unity and Sympathy the dependant links; Fraternity the central principle.

The mystic Masonic numbers are 3, 5 and 7.
The symbol of the 1st degree is 3, the sign of Unity.
The symbol of the 2nd degree is 5, the sign of Power
The symbol of the 3rd degree is 7, the sign of Perfection

These are expressed by the 3 rosettes, the 5 points and the 7 small tassels pendant to each Ornament.

White, blue and silver have their mystic signification.
White is a symbol of Truth.
Blue is a symbol of Honor.
Silver is a symbol of Virtue.

The whole denotes that as M. M.'s, Truth, Honour and Virtue should ever actuate our lives and guard our passions."