The Mason's Apron


THE MASON'S APRON

by William Harvey

INSTALLED MASTERS ASSOCIATION OF ALBERTA

JULY 1932


Probably the earliest moment at which a candidate for Freemasonry
recognises that he is really and truly a brother of the Craft is when he is
approached and invested with the distinguishing badge of a Freemason.
Whatever other information as to the Fraternity he may have gleamed from
the outer world, he has certainly learned that Freemasons clothe
themselves with aprons, and now when one of these articles of attire is girt
about his waist he must realize that he is really within the pale of the
Brotherhood. The Charge that follows the investiture - whether it be simple
dignified little address that reads like a passage from Holy Writ or the more
elaborate appeal which draws its colour from the honers of Masonry and
the jewels of the Eastern Potentate - cannot fail to impress him with the fact
that the Fraternity looks upon the apron as a badge neither to be lightly
conferred nor to be worn with indifference.

As the apron is common to all Degrees so it may be said with perfect truth,
that it is the most comprehensive symbol of our faith as well as the clearest
evidence of our long descent. In a very material way it links us to those
operative masons with whom we claim the closest kinship; and to whom
we look as our immediate ancestors, but when it is invested with the
attributes of innocence and purity it connects us in a community of thought
and aspiration with the followers of every religion and the expounders of
every moral system that has sought to elevate man.

The initiate is told that the badge is more ancient than the Golden Fleece
or Roman Eagle. Indeed- it is probably the oldest article of clothing in the
world, and there is general agreement in the view that it was devised to
preserve just that purity and innocence of which the Freemason regards it
as an emblem. Our first parents in their first act of self-conscious pride
wove fig leaves together to cover their nakedness, and this desire to cover
the organs of creation is found as a natural instinct even among savage
races. The grass skirt of the South Sea Islanders, the body cloths of the
natives of India and Africa, and the conventional attire of civilised peoples
may all be traced to this one primal instinct that it is good that a sense of
innocence should be preserved.

It may have been just because of this moral significance that the apron was
imported into religion and became one of the vestments of the priesthood. 
It is found as an article of the accepted dress of the priests of the Jewish
faith, as well as of the officials of many other religions.  The suggestion has
been made that the apron is allied to the girdle of the prophets - the girdle
of Elijah in the Old Testament, and the girdle of John the Baptist in the
New. Both of these were of leather while it is also recorded that on one
occasion Isaiah wore a girdle of Hair-cloth; and that; on another occasion;
Jeremiah donned one of linen.  And it may have been that the priests
borrowed the idea from the garments of the gods.  Dr.Albert G. Mackey
tells us in his "lexicon of Freemasonry" that all the ancient statues of the
heathen gods which have been unearthed in Greece and Asia" and America
are decorated with superb aprons.

If the Masonic apron is derived from early ecclesiastical clothing so also is
our prevailing colour.  We read in the Book of Revelation that white is an
emblem of purity and thus has it been esteemed in all ages.  The Arch-
Druid clothed himself in white ere he cut the sacred mistletoe; the priest of
the Roman gods wore a vestment of white during the hour of sacrifice, and
the priests of the Hebrew people wore ephods of white while engaged in
the service of the sanctuary.  These varying faiths met on the one common
ground of making the white garment a symbol of the need that men should
be pure in heart if they would enter into the presence of God.

Those Masonic students who like to trace all our Speculative system to the
work of our Operative brethren say that as the craftsman wore an apron to
protect his clothing from being soiled at work, so the Speculative brother
dons it as a symbol of his desire to be kept unspotted from the world. But
it has a longer lineage and a closer affinity with moral and spiritual purity
than anything that can be drawn from the leather apron of the humble
worker with mallet and chisel.  Down through the ages a white garment has
been the distinguishing feature of initiation.  In the Mysteries of Mithras in
Persia the candidate was invested with a white apron, as he also was in
certain Japanese initiations.  The garment of Initiation in Greece was of the
same hue, because, says Cicero' white is a colour most acceptable to the
gods.  As an emblem of holiness' the Essenians arrayed their postulant in
a white robe which was bordered with a fringe of blue ribbon; and it may
be a survival of this border that we have in the blue binding of some of our
"working" aprons.  If we pass from heathen to Christian practice we find the
same colour in evidence. It was customary in the primitive Christian Church
for baptised converts to be impressively clothed with a white garment, and
in that vision of the Grand Lodge above vouchsafed to the Apostle John at
Patmos, we are told that there was "a great multitude, which no man could
number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes."

I have said that the apron is the most comprehensive symbol of our faith,
and if on the one hand it is derived from the garment which the Divine
Creator bestowed upon fallen man in Eden, and on the other is an emblem
of the robes of Paradise that have been washed and made white in the
blood of the Lamb; then surely it is the fitting badge of the whole human
race in their age-long march from darkness unto light.

And as that march of the whole creation is epitomised in the life of every
individual it is fitting that the paran should be presented to the young
Mason in the First Degree since his admission into the Craft in a state of
helpless indigence is an emblematical representation of the entrance of all
men on their moral existence.

The Masonic Apron worn by the Initiate like everything else in our elaborate
ceremonial, must conform to certain standards. It should be of pure white
lambskin from fourteen to sixteen inches wide, and from twelve to fourteen
inches deep with either a semi-circular or a triangular flap which falls to
about four inches at its greatest depth. Often it is embellished with the
name and number of the Lodge, but it should be without ornament of any
kind.  The young Mason, accepting the plain and undecorated apron as his
chart, may trace upon it his upward career in the craft. When he reaches
the Second Degree he may embellish it with two rosettes at the bottom,
and when he becomes a Master Mason he may add a third rosette, line
and edge it with silk of that colour adopted by his Lodge; and further adorn
it by adding tassels. The origin of Tassels and Rosettes has given rise to
considerable discussion. It has been suggested that the tassels have been
evolved from two long ribbons by which early aprons were girt about the
body. These ribbons passed round the waist and were tied under the flap,
with the ends pendant in front.  The ends were ornamented with silver
fringe; and had become so characteristic that when the strap and buckle
arrangement was devised; they were retained, being gathered in the form
of tassels and placed one on either side.  No satisfactory explanation of the
origin of rosettes has been furnished. One theory is that they represent the
point within the circle with which all Freemasons are familiar, but it is not
generally accepted. Other details, always in the way of more elaborate
decoration, are added according to the taste of the wearer.  Sometimes the
rosette bears a five-pointed star in relief. Occasionally the flap is
embellished with the Compasses and Square and the sacred symbol in the
center. Now and again we find it ornamented with the Sun; the Moon, the
Seven Stars, and the All-Seeing Eye. There does not appear to be any limit
to the scheme of decoration which a brother may adopt so long as he
confines himself to purely Masonic symbols. Office of course carries with
it, its own ornaments.  The apron of every office-bearer should display the
particular jewel of his office; and in the case of a W.M. or P.M. the two
rosettes at the bottom are replaced with Levels or Inverted "Taus" while the
rosette on the flap gives way to the compasses and square enclosing the
Sun and resting upon the segment of a circle, all which denote the rank of
the brother.

But, no matter what the decoration or the rank it denotes every brother -
even the Grand Master upon whose honoured shoulders rests the purple
of the Fraternity - must bear in mind that no adornment can add anything
to the moral grandeur of the symbol and that the badge of a Mason is
found not in fine gold nor in silken fabric, but in the pure and spotless
surface of the lambskin which is the common mark - as it should be the
common object of veneration - of every member of our ancient and
honourable fraternity.

The thoughtful Freemason who lingers over the Charge which is addressed
to him at his investiture cannot fail to appreciate that the apron is an
emblem of all that is highest and best in human life.  Bro.  W. Harry
Rylands, in an article on the "Masonic Apron," which he contributed to the
"Transactions of the Lodge Quatuor Coronati," says that he has found
nothing which would lead him to believe that much of the symbolism of the
Freemason's apron which is commonly received at the present time is of
very early date.  He inclines to the view that it may have come in when the
newer symbolism was introduced as otherwise it would be difficult to
account for so many aprons being made of silk, velvet, satin, cloth, canvas
and even chamois-leather; which he suggests, with a touch of subtle
humour, might be called the "skin of the goat." But while lambskin and the
moral teaching deduced therefrom may belong to modern Freemasonry;
Dr. Oliver tells us that in ancient days the apron or girdle of whatever
material composed was universally received as a symbol of truths and all
nations have ever regarded Truth as serenely throned upon a mountain
high above the strife and turmoil of men and the warrings of races. Locke,
the author of "The Human Understanding," writing to Anthony Collins, says,
to love truth for truth's sake is the principle part of human perfection in this
world; and the seed-plot of all other virtues." We are told that the apron is
the bridge of innocence and the bond of friendship. What is Innocence but
the kindly smile an the face of Truth? And there cannot be Friendship
worthy of the name either between people or between nations that has not
Truth as its one and only foundation.  Friendship based upon anything else
is but an apple of Sodom - fair to look upon and false when put to the test.

In addition to being the badge of Innocence and the bond of Friendship,
the apron is an ever present reminder of that purity of life and action which
should at all times characterise a Freemason.  The outer world, because it
does not know us; regards us with rather dubious eyes. We are constantly
wrapt about with an air of Mystery, and occasionally invested with an
unworthy tradition; and if we were to seek to persuade the uninitiated that
our mission was the uplifting of humanity they might smile in derision, and
point a mocking finger.  These things need not cause us to blush for the
badge we don, nor deter us from our work in raising the Temple of
Character. Our legends tell us that the Master Architect was slain by men
who could not appreciate the value of Truth and Honour, and the greatest
Builder the world has ever seen was crucified at the behest of a mob who
were blind to His great purpose.  But the presence of the three unworthy
workmen at the Temple detracts in no way from the grandeur of the House
which Solomon raised to Jehovah; just as the treachery of Judas; the
denial of Peter, or the desertion of John in the Galilean drama dims not the
glory of the sacrifice on Calvary. So if; in building the great temple of
Brotherhood, we meet with Masons who are not always true to their great
ideals, there is to rejection upon the work to which we are called and no
justification for the sneer and contempt with which many people, in their
ignorance, regard Freemasonry. At the same it is obvious that; if we would
be true to the emblem which is our earliest tangible possession as
Craftsmen, we must convince the world by exemplary conduct that merit
is our title to the privileges we enjoy.

The Apron has inspired many, more or less indifferent poets to sing its
praises, and, generally speaking; the effusions, like almost all Masonic
verse, have hardly been worth the paper upon which they were printed. I
came across some stanzas the other day entitled; "The White Leather
Apron," and while the poem as a whole was neither better nor worse than
the generality of such things, I thought there was one quatrain that struck
a rather inspiring note.  After dwelling upon the fact that the badge was
more ancient than the Golden Fleece and more powerful than the
Field-Marshall's baton, the poet proceeded:-

"Tis the shield of the orphan, the emblem of love;
'Tis the charter of faith from the Grand Lodge above;
While the high and the low, in its whiteness arrayed.
Of one blood and one kin by its magic is made.

When first invested it we are conjured to let its pure and spotless surface
be to us an ever present reminder of rectitude of life and purity of conduct;
a never-failing argument for higher thoughts, nobler deeds and greater
achievements. What is all this but an appeal to the best that is in us to
make this world a better place for ourselves and our fellow-man? The
Freemason knows no party in politics, nor does he confess any creed in
religion, for, in theory as a member of a community, and in practice as an
individual, he is willing to avail himself of whatever he can find in any party;
and in every faith that tends to the uplifting of humanity.  He takes the
Temple of King Solomon as a symbol of that Temple of Ideals to the
building of which be is called, but he does so only because he is a
member of a brotherhood that has sought to give concrete form to its
intangible design. Others are engaged in building the same Temple and are
working with the same materials, for the stones are Truth, Honour,
Friendship and Purity, and the cement is Peace, Harmony and Brotherly
Love. It may be said, therefore, that all men are builders in a common
cause, and yet in a very special sense the work is individual.  In the
erection of the Temple of Character it is not what other man do that counts.
Other man may lay their courses well and truly but the work will reflect no
credit upon us when the Master Architect comes to compare what we have
done with what we were given to do. And it is just here that Freemasonry
as an institution discharges its great function. By wealth of symbol and
illustration it seeks to guide and direct its members in the paths of virtue
and science, ever teaching them that the greatest happiness is found in
doing good. "Any good deed that I can do;" wrote someone who would not
have dishonoured Freemasonry, "or any kindness that I can show, let me
do it now: let me not defer it or neglect it; for I shall not pass this way
again.

And that is the thought that should be in the mind of every brother who
would prove himself worthy to wear the badge that is consecrated to
goodness and virtue by centuries of usage. He has worn the apron in vain
who has not learned that our ancient Fraternity exists to shed the light of
love upon this darksome world. In the Third Degree we are taught that a
day will come when the apron will be put off never again to be worn on this
side of eternity, and as there will be no building to be done by us when it
is "laid to rest beneath the silent clods of the valley," it should be a constant
reminder to us of the truth of the lines of Burns, our immortal bard and
brother:-

A few days may - a few years must -
Repose us in the silent dust: 
The voice of Nature loudly cries,
And many a message from the skies,
That something in us never dies,
That on this frail, uncertain state
Hang matters of eternal weight;
That future life in worlds unknown
Must take its hue from this alone;
Let us th' important NOW employ,
And live as those who never die.

 
Further extracts from our question department.

Please give an explanation of the word "HELE."

A. From the Anglo-Saxon verb Helan! to cover, hide or conceal.  And this
word is rendered by the Latin verb, Tegere, to cover or roof over. "To Heal
a house," is a common phrase in Sussex, England; and in the West of
England; he that covers a house with slates is called a Healer. Wherefore
to Heal means the same thing as to Tile - itself symbolic, as meaning
primarily, to cover a house with tiles, - and means to cover, hide or
conceal.


Q. - Is the Ritual a Landmark?


A. - There are so many variations of our ceremonial that the actual ritual
cannot be considered a 'Landmark'.  Those parts "not proper to be written"
may constitute landmarks.

Q. - In the invocation of the E.A. Degree do "The secrets of our Mc. Art"
refer to those which we obligate ourselves not to divulge?

A.- No. The Ss. of our Mc. Art are the property of the earnest individual M.
who, by studying and applying our principles and tenets makes himself of
greater service to mankind. The secrets that great leaders possess in such
degree that "they draw all men unto them".  The secrets which enable one
to influence his fellows for good.