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Masonic Blue
Leon Zeldis, FPS, 33°
PSGC, Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite for the State of Israel
Honorary Adjunct Grand Master


Blue is the color traditionally connected with the three Craft or Symbolic degrees of Freemasonry. It appears not only on the Mason's apron, but also in the decoration of the Lodge room or Temple. Why this particular color should have been chosen for our Craft is not clear, and various explanations have been advanced in the past, based mostly on moral or religious considerations, or on pseudo-historical speculation.
The purpose of this paper is to attempt to find a rational explanation for the choice of blue, based on demonstrable facts.

Traditional Theories
Although many years ago one respected Masonic author flatly declared that 'there is no recognized scheme or science of colors in Freemasonry', other scholars have proposed different explanations for the choice of certain hues. The best known theory was first proposed by Bro. F.J.W. Crowe, who suggested that the deep-blue color of the regalia worn by Officers of the Grand Lodge of England was borrowed from the ribbon of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. When the 'Garter' was instituted, about 1348, its color was light blue — like the color of the regalia in private English Lodges — but soon after the accession of George I, in 1714, this light blue was changed to the present deep blue shade.
The same author connects the crimson worn by Grand Stewards to the ribbon of the Order of the Bath, revived by George I in 1725, while the Grand Lodge of Scotland presumably took its green from the Order of the Thistle, restored by James II in 1687 and reestablished by Queen Anne in 1703. Following the same line of thought, the author then proceeds to suggest that the light blue regalia of the Grand Lodge of Ireland anticipated the light blue of the Order of St. Patrick, founded by George III in 1783. Bro. Crowe's theories received the support of Bro. Henry Sadler, another well-known Masonic writer, and are approvingly quoted by Bro. Bernard E. Jones in a chapter of his Freemason's Guide and Compendium entitled 'Masonic Colors and their Symbolism'.
The flimsy factual basis for these assumptions is a reference to 'Garter blue silk' to describe the exact shade of blue, that appears in an order for aprons dated 1734. Three years earlier, the minutes of the Grand Lodge of 17th March, 1731, state that 'The Grand Master, his Deputy and Wardens shall wear their jewels in Gold or Gilt pendant to blue ribbons about their necks, and white leather aprons lined with blue silk'. No specific shade was laid down, but on the strength of the reference mentioned above, it is assumed that it was the deep blue — also known in England as Oxford blue — then used for the regalia of the Order of the Garter. At the same time, Masons in Private Lodges were still enjoined to wear plain white aprons.

White, the Original Color
This brings us to the first incontrovertible fact that can assist us in our research. The fact that white was the color of the apron (which was the only item of 'regalia' then known) universally used by Masons before 1732 or thereabouts. As late as 24th June, 1727, a Grand Lodge resolution orders the W.M. and Wardens of all Private Lodges to wear the jewels of Masonry hanging from white ribbons. Moreover, the engraved portrait of Anthony Sayer, the first Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of 1717, copied from a painting by Joseph Highmore, shows the Grand Master wearing a plain white apron without any decoration.
The importance of this fact cannot be overstated. It means that the use of blue in Craft Lodges is not a tradition coming from "time immemorial", but was rather a 'modern' invention, devised after the founding of the Premier Grand Lodge by the same group of Brethren who composed the rituals of the time, who devised the three-degree system and who, in short, fashioned Symbolic Freemasonry as we know it to this day.
Some Grand Lodges continue the tradition, and all Masons, from Apprentice to Grand Master, wear plain white aprons. The Grand Lodge of Washington D.C. is an example, and some European Grand Lodges do likewise.

The Description of Color
Much weight was given by earlier commentators to the fact that the shade of blue to be used by Grand Lodge officers was described as 'Garter Blue'.
As a matter of fact, only in the 19th century was it possible to start measuring color and using scientific definitions based on wavelengths of light. Until then, the accepted method to specify color was to use a sample, or to refer to some accepted example to identify the kind of shade that was meant. This practice continues even today in everyday language.
Thus, we refer to daffodil yellow, lemon, burgundy red, cherry, aqua green, anthracite gray, moss green, and so on. There are hundreds of such names in use, both in the textile industry and in every other field that uses colors. Sometimes the names are allegoric or metaphorical, like 'midnight blue' or 'tango red' but, for the most part, the names of the shades refer to specific material examples. The use of the expression 'Garter blue', then, means nothing more than a description of the shade intended, and any other interpretation is pure speculation. In fact, as already noted, the same shade is also known as 'Oxford blue', and the lighter shade used in the regalia of private Lodges in England is called 'Cambridge blue', but no connection between these two universities and the Craft has ever been put forward.

The Hebrew Connection
No student of Masonic rituals can fail to notice the large number of passwords and 'secret' words used in different ceremonies that appear to have a Hebrew origin. The high esteem in which the Bible was held, the study of Hebrew as a classic language required in order to fully understand the Holy Book, and the many connections between Masonic legends and King Solomon's Temple, they all contributed to this abundance of Hebrew terms. In the course of time some of the words were mispronounced and became corrupted, to the point that a Hebrew speaker of today has difficulty trying to guess what were the original word or words. Others, on the other hand, have passed from one generation to another without change.
The same Brethren active in England during the first half of the 18th century who, as already noted, shaped modern Freemasonry, and many of whom were Huguenots, French Protestants escaping from persecution in France, were well acquainted with Holy Scripture, both in translation and in the original. Therefore, when looking for a reason for the choice of blue in Masonic regalia, we should look in that direction.
Bro. Jones, in the chapter already quoted, also turned his attention to this possibility and mentions the liturgical uses of blue found in the Bible, citing '... thou shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue" (Exodus, 28:31). The Hebrew original uses the word 'tchelet' (pronounced with a soft 'ch' like in German), which means hyacinth blue, and in the Bible this word usually appears together with the word 'argaman', or purple. Jones also remarks that 'to the ancient Jews, blue was a chief religious color — the High Priest has a blue robe, and one of the veils in the tabernacle was of a blue color known as tekelet [sic] (implying perfection). It is said that in ancient days the most solemn oaths were sworn on blue altars.'
It is surprising that, having progressed thus far, Jones and the other writers who have studied the subject did not pursue further this line of inquiry.

Tchelet and Argaman
The color known in the Bible as tchelet has been variously described as dark blue, purple-blue, light-blue and even greenish. The most widely accepted interpretation is that it refers to a shade of sky-blue, the deep blue of southern Mediterranean skies, rather than the pale northern ones. For generations, scholars argued about the exact meaning of 'tchelet and argaman', which appear joined together too often to be mere chance. For example, in Exodus 26:1 instructions are given to make ten curtains for the tabernacle, of fine twisted linen yarns of blue, purple and scarlet. The blue in this verse is 'tchelet', the purple is 'argaman' and the scarlet, which does not concern us for our study (though it is relevant to the symbolism of the Royal Arch), is 'shani'.
The connection between tchelet and argaman was finally solved a few years ago, when scientists in Israel made a chemical study of the dyeing methods and materials used by the Phoenicians, who made the purple of Tyre the best known and most expensive hue in the classical world. The dyestuffs needed were extracted from several kinds of mollusks found in great quantities along the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean and in other parts of the world as well.
It turns out that both colors have similar chemical composition, the difference being that tchelet has an additional bluish colorant (called Indigotin), which is missing in argaman, and that makes it redder than tchelet. The fundamental shade of tchelet, then, is a purplish blue, also known as hyacinth.

The Ephod
Another place where tchelet and argaman appear together is in Exodus 28, where instructions are given on how to make the sacred garments of the High Priest (these were a breastpiece, ephod, robe, woven tunic, turban, and sash or girdle): 'Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn ...' (28:5). The same materials are specifically indicated for the ephod (28:6) and the breastpiece (28:15). The robe was to be all in blue (tchelet) (28:31). It is clear, then, that blue was the dominant color in the clothing of the High Priest. Furthermore, the shape and manner of wearing the ephod made it resemble an apron, particularly the full-length apron we usually associate with other trades, such as baker or smith, and in fact some dictionaries define the ephod as a sort of an apron.
It is highly plausible, then, to imagine our 18th century Brethren deciding to wear blue Masonic aprons in imitation of the blue apron (ephod) worn by the ancient Hebrew priests. Bro. Michael Segall, in a letter published in The Philalethes of December 1994, adds the interesting fact that 'ancient and current Operatives, still active and numerous in France, consider blue as being THEIR color. If we are, as many people think, their successors, that could explain the "blue Masonry" notion'.

Sapphire and the V.S.L.
There are, however, additional reasons to see in blue the perfect color for Masonic regalia.
The Hebrew word root s-p-r (samekh-peh-resh) gives origin to several words with cognate meanings: the verbs and nouns relating to counting, recounting or narrating, and numbering. Cipher and zero come from the same root. This also serves to build the name of the precious blue stone: the sapphire. In fact, the etymology of the word sapphire goes back to the original Hebrew word 'sapir', passing into the European languages through Greek.
Sapphire was the stone beloved of Saturn, and in the Bible, Ezequiel sees G-d sitting on a throne made of sapphire (1:26).
Furthermore, the word 'sphere' in Hebrew has the same root (in Hebrew, the letters f and p are one). The celestial spheres are of azure or 'tchelet', as indicated above. The color and the sphere of heavens have the same name.
Finally, s-p-r pronounced 'sefer' means book, and the quintessential book is the Book of Books, The Bible.
We have now completed our search. There is a clear, direct connection between blue and both the vestments of the Priests in the Temple of Jerusalem, and the V.S.L., held in such veneration in our Lodges.
No other color could have been chosen, because no other color has such a plethora of meanings and symbolism dear to the heart of a Freemason. White was retained for the E.A. and F.C. degrees, by virtue of its semantic connections with innocence and initiation, but blue became the irreplaceable attribute of the Master Mason.

1. Arthur Edward Waite, A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, London 1921, vol. 1, p. 113.
2. 'Colors in Freemasonry', Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, vol. 17 (1904), pp. 3-11.
3. Bernard E. Jones, Freemason's Guide and Compendium, G.G. Harrap, London 1950, p. 470.
4. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, Carta, Jerusalem, 1987, s.v. 'Tchelet'.
5. Israel Ziderman, 'The Difference between Tchelet and Argaman' (in Hebrew), Yalkut, Nº 104, Jerusalem, January 1985, p. 38.
6. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 1981, s.v. 'Ephod'.