The Lambskin Apron



                         The Lambskin Apron
                          By Auri Spigelman

   It was "Lambskin Apron Night" at the Lodge. The brethren excitedly 
unfurled their precious possessions, some for the first time since being 
raised as Master Masons, tied them around their waists and wore them 
with pride. Some of our older brethren were rather reluctant to 
participate, because they mistakenly remembered being told that 'the 
next use of the lambskin apron would be when buried with you in the 
grave.' However, they were reassured when a quick review of our ritual 
and the current edition of the California Masonic Code revealed no such 
admonition!
   What is the value and importance of this Lambskin Apron and why does 
it excite such emotions? An interesting poem, written in 1917 by Brother 
D. L. Clements gives us some insight.

    The white leather apron is more ancient by far
    Than the eagles of Rome, a symbol of war, 
    Or the fleece of pure gold by emperors given,
    A rich decoration for which many have striven. 
    The Garter of England, an Order most rare, 
    Although highly prized, cannot with it compare; 
    It is an emblem of innocence symboled in white, 
    And purity ever brings the greatest delight; 
    With pure thoughts and actions how happy the life 
    How care-free the conscience, unclouded by strife.

    No Potentate ever can upon us bestow 
    An honor so great as this apron doth show; 
    No king on his throne in his highest estate
    Can give us an emblem so cherished or great;
    'Tis the Badge of a Mason more noble to wear
    Than the gold of a mine or the diamond most rare.
    So here's to the lambskin the apron of white,
    That lifts up all equals and all doth unite,
    In the Order so ancient that man cannot say 
    When its teachings began or name its birthday.

    Since its birth, nations young have gone to their tomb
    And cities once great turned to ashes and gloom; 
    Earth's greatest achievements have long passed away
    And peoples have risen and gone to decay. 
    Outliving all these never changing with time
    Are the principles taught in our order sublime. 
    And now my good brother this apron's for you, 
    May you worthily wear it and ever he true 
    To the vows you have made to the lessons most grand
    For these, home and country, we ever will stand.

   The apron is the initial gift of Freemasonry to a candidate. The word 
derives from the French "napron," meaning a cloth, and from the 
expression "a napron" evolved "an apron" in English. The candidate is 
instructed to wear this distinctive badge throughout an honorable 
Masonic life. As we will see, the presentation or Rite of Investiture 
symbolizes the candidate's new life of understanding and inner 
purification.
   Our speculative use of the apron derives from both historical and 
operative sources. From the historical perspective, we learn about 
initiatory and religious functions. The initiate into ancient Orders 
traveled a so-called Rite of Passage, whereby he symbolically matured 
from the naivete or spiritual darkness of the child to "enlightenment" 
as an adult. He became "cleansed of impurities" of both the mind and 
spirit.
   This "redemption" or "regeneration" afforded his placement into a 
milieu of special human fellowship, moral truth and spiritual faith. 
White aprons were worn upon initiation into the ancient mysteries of 
Mithras, the Jewish cult of the Essenes and Chinese secret societies. 
They were worn by ancient Jewish and Druidic high priests. The early 
Christians wore them when baptized. The Persians used it as a national 
banner. It adorned Greek and Egyptians gods. It was used by the Mayans, 
Incas, Aztecs and Hopi Indians, the Vikings, the Zulus and by the 
Anglican clergy. Because men wore them as emblems of their high office 
or position, the apron acquired an aura of authority and respect in many 
diverse cultures. From the religious or mystical standpoint, the white 
apron was regarded as a sign of purity. It covered the lower portion of 
the body, which was associated with uncleanness and immorality. The sash 
or band used to tie the apron separated the upper and lower parts, and 
when worn at prayer, reminded one of the functional priority of heart 
and mind.
   The "mystics" spoke of the four physical (earth, air, fire and water) 
and three spiritual (presence, knowledge and power: symbolic of Deity), 
which add up to the Pythagorean "perfect" number seven. Masons have 
similarly speculated about the symbolic perfection of the seven sides of 
the apron and its flap. When worn by an entered apprentice, the 
"physical" four-sided main portion is separate from the "spiritual" 
three-sided flap. As this new Mason progresses through the degrees and 
becomes "enlightened," the flap descends to the apron, symbolizing 
entrance of his spiritual nature into that of the physical. Then the 
corner turns up, symbolizing an intertwining embrace of the two aspects. 
Another esoteric explanation considers the pentagram, square and 
triangle. If we trace the outlines of the apron for each degree, the 
entered apprentice's has five sides, the fellowcraft's, four sides and 
the master's, three sides (the latter form is now obsolete). In this we 
can find a recurring theme in Masonry, the 47th Problem of Euclid. 
Discovered by Pythagoras, it teaches that in right-angled triangles, the 
square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the two other 
sides. This is the root of geometry and foundation of mathematics, which 
was essential knowledge for our Masonic cathedral builders.
   From the operative perspective, the apron, no doubt, had its 
development for practical reasons and became necessary equipment for the 
medieval stonemasons. The apprentice was a bearer of burdens, carrying 
ashlars and timbers against his body. He needed a large apron, usually 
made of a tough animal hide, to protect him from physical injury and his 
clothes from damage and soiling. The fellowcraft was a hewer in the 
mountains and quarries and required the apron to deflect lime chips and 
stone dust. The master, as overseer of the work, wore his apron with the 
corner turned up, as a mark of his special authority. The apron and 
other clothing, such as cap, collar and gloves, developed into uniforms 
which distinguished members of one guild from another. The mason's apron 
became his specific badge!
   It was in the 17th century when the building of massive edifices 
slowed and membership in the guilds declined that the seeds of modern 
Speculative Masonry were sown. Our founding fathers recognized the 
importance of incorporating the wisdom and experience of both the 
historical and operative perspectives into a new moral system that would 
attract the interest of men whose vocations were not in the operative 
craft. On this basis, how was the apron treated? Let us look to the 
description in our ritual.

LAMBSKIN. The lamb is gentle and harmless. In ancient times it was often 
offered as a sacrifice to the gods, either to please them or as a 
symbolic plea for the expiation of sins. The lamb is therefore 
associated with redemption and purification. The lamb's white color is 
an ancient symbol of purity and cleanliness, of innocence, conscience, 
good character and discipline. It is the color that reflects the most 
light, speculatively the "light of understanding." Alternately, it shows 
stains most plainly, so we must beware if committing misdeeds and acts 
of immortality.
   The origin of the word "candidate" is from the Latin, "candidus" 
meaning white. Candidates for office in ancient Rome often wore white 
togas to proclaim their qualities. Today, we use the word "candid" to 
mean free from prejudice or deception, fair, or an honest and sincere 
expression.

EMBLEM OF INNOCENCE. First let us examine the difference between symbol 
and emblem. A symbol is an idea, sign, device or object which has within 
itself something else, which it guards from false scrutiny, but which it 
may yield, if studied. "Virtues" are symbols, for example. An emblem is 
a symbolic device whose meaning need not be discovered. Its meaning is 
obvious, known and accepted by common agreement. For example, "white 
means purity."
   Innocence originally meant "not to hurt," but in modern times it has 
come to mean "lack of the knowledge of evil." And so the "innocent 
girl," the virgin, is symbolically married in a white dress. Masonry 
teaches us that as adults we cannot ignore evil and we use the word in 
its original context, "to do no hurt," to be harmless, gentle, moral, 
patient, forgiving and having forbearance with men's crudeness and 
ignorance.

BADGE OF A MASON. The badge differs from the symbol or emblem, in that 
it is a conscious mark or sign by which a person (or object) is 
distinguished, making his identity or membership known. The apron is a 
sign to prove rough work, either that physical labor or the Operative or 
the spiritual work of the Speculative Mason. Historically, this badge 
helped to elevate Masonry's status to that of a worthy and honorable 
profession, one of creating and constructing. It did much to change 
societal attitudes toward labor, which was no longer thought relegated 
to slaves or menials. As the badge of Masons, the apron also represents 
their "bond of friendship."
   Since our Speculative history began in 1717, the lambskin has 
undergone many changes in size, shape, length and fabric. We presently 
use an unspotted lambskin 14"-16" wide, 12"-14" long, with the flap apex 
extending 3"-4" from the top. It is properly worn in full view, outside 
the jacket or coat. Ornaments, edgings, rosettes and tassels of varying 
design and color are used for Grand Lodge and Blue Lodge officers, past 
masters, and by the concordant and appendant Masonic orders. While it is 
not within the scope of this essay to describe and discuss these 
differences, this information can be obtained from several of the 
reference papers. [ Uploader Note: Information in the above paragraph 
pertains to Masons who are members of the Grand Lodge of California. 
Variations may exit in other Jurisdictions. ]

MORE ANCIENT THAN THE GOLDEN FLEECE OR ROMAN EAGLE. The Order of the 
Golden Fleece was founded in 1429 by Phillip, the Duke of Burgundy, upon 
his marriage to the Infanta Isabella of Portugal. The "Golden Ram" was 
its badge and alluded to the lost Greek mythologic object sought by 
Jason and the Argonauts. It was the symbol of the triumph of superior 
spiritual strength and purity of the soul. In contrast to Masonry, this 
Order's motto was "wealth, not servile labor." Its original purpose was 
to protect the Church and Catholic faith, but later extended to other 
faiths. It still exists and interestingly, in 1985 King Carlos of Spain, 
conferred the Order on a Moslem, King Hussein of Jordan.
   The Roman Eagle was the ensign of Rome's Imperial power, around the 
1st century B.C., during the second consulship of Gaius Marius. It 
exalted the glory and greatness of the past. It fostered a belief that 
the wisdom gained by experience was the basis of progress and secured 
our present and future happiness. It was thus a source of morale for the 
Roman Legionnaires.

MORE HONORABLE THAN THE STAR OR GARTER. To "bestow honor" was device of 
flattery. It promoted class distinction and special privilege, as well 
as the "Divine Right" of kings.
   The Order of the Star probably alludes to a society founded in 1351 
by John II of France. While it extolled aristocracy, idleness and 
aloofness, King John engaged in acts of despotism and destruction. Its 
insignia was a sliver eight-pointed star, worn on the left breast.
   The Order of the Garter was founded in 1349 by Edward III of England 
and consisted of the King and 25 knights. It promoted chivalry with the 
"proper classes," while the so-called "lower classes" were treated with 
scorn and cruelty.
   Freemasonry exists in striking contrast to these concepts. It teaches 
reverence and service to God. It promotes the pursuit of knowledge, 
self-reliance and devotion to honest work. It stresses the soundness of 
moral principles, integrity, justice, good conscience and "right" 
conduct. It glorifies the building of exemplary character. It dissipates 
discord and dissension by promoting peace, patriotism, brotherhood and 
equal opportunity. Indeed, Freemasonry's supports are "Wisdom Strength 
and Beauty." Its beliefs are "Faith, Hope and Charity." Its tenets are 
"Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth."
   The Lambskin Apron should "continually remind us of that purity of 
life and conduct" required of Masons. Only "when worthily worn" can we 
spiritually merit "gaining admission into the Celestial Lodge above, 
where the Supreme Architect of the Universe presides." We are thus 
taught accountability for our actions here on earth. And, as we strive 
to understand Freemasonry's philosophy and practice its lessons, a 
gradual enlightenment enables us to wear our aprons "with pleasure to 
ourselves and honor to the Fraternity."

AURI SPIGELMAN is junior warden of Composite lodge No. 595, Los Angeles, 
and a member of the Grand Lodge Education Committee.

REFERENCES: Burrows, H. G. "Some Notes on the Apron", Transaction of the 
Masonic Study Society, 1921-22. Blackmer, Rollin C. "The lodge and the 
Craft" Macoy Publishing Co. 1976. Clements, D.L. "The White Leather 
Apron" The Builder, January 1917. Coil, Henry. 'Coil's Masonic 
Encyclopedia," Macoy publishing Co. 1961. Crowe, Fred J W. "Masonic 
Clothing", Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, 1892. Dyer, Colin, "Symbolism in 
Craft Masonry," Lewis Masonic, 1976. Hartlove, Herbert M. "The Masonic 
Apron", Virginia Masonic Herald, 1990. Haywood, H.L. "The Newly Made 
Mason," Masonic History Co., 1960. Haywood, H.L. "Symbolic Masonry: An 
Interpretation of the Three Degrees," Southern Publishers, 1923. 
Johnson, Joseph, "The Inwardness of Masonic Symbolism of the Three 
Degrees." Prestonian Lecture for 1937: In the Collected Prestonian 
Lectures, Lewis Masonic, 1984. Jones, Bernard E. "Freemason's Guide and 
Compendium," 1956. Mackey, Albert G. "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," 
1946. Masonic Service Association, "The Lambskin Apron," Short Talk 
Bulletin November 1927. Short Talk Bulletin, June 1932 "The Apron." 
1932. Meekren, R. J. "Apron," The Builder, 1926. Roberts, Allen E. "The 
Craft and Its Symbols," 1974. Rylands, W.H., "The Masonic Apron," Ars 
Quatuor Coronatorum," 1892. Spalding, William E. "The Masonic Apron: A 
Masterpiece," Philalethes, June 1957. Street, Oliver, D. "Symbolism of 
the Three Degrees," Masonic Service Association, 1924. Worts, F.R. 
"Apron and its Symbolism," Ars Ouatuor Coronatoruum," 1961.

[ UPLOADER NOTE: The Above article appeared in the Winter 1992 issue of 
the California Freemason, a publication of the Grand Lodge of California 
F&AM. It was uploaded by permission of the author and the Grand Lodge of 
California.     Uploader: William N. Wine PM (Sysop, Masonry Forum), 
Compuserve ID# 72435,1512     07/17/93 ]