White Gloves and Amber Light

Robert E. Juthner, Grand Master

This may sound like a rather strange title for a Masonic paper, at least in this jurisdiction. We rarely see white gloves worn in our Lodges and there are certainly no amber lights flashing about. There are, however, exceptions, at least where gloves are concerned, as our Masonic Burial ritual refers to the wearing of white gloves when accompanying the brother's casket, and in the Master Mason's Degree in the York Rite twelve Fellowcrafts come before Most Excellent King Solomon, clothed in white gloves and aprons in token of their innocence. If such is the case then the white gloves, like the white lambskin apron, must have a symbolic import. Obviously then, the wearer did not put them on to appear dressed more elegantly than others; there is a deeper meaning to it. I sometimes wonder when attending one of the few Lodges in our Jurisdiction where the Lodge Officers are wearing white gloves what their motivation for doing so is. Do they do it for symbolic reasons or do they just want to appear "dressed to the hilt"? Why is not every Brother present wearing white gloves also?

In Mackey's "Symbolism of Freemasonry" we can read that "The investiture with the gloves is very closely connected with the investiture with the apron, and the consideration of the one follows the examination of the symbolism of the other.

"In the continental rites of Freemasonry, as practised In France, in Germany, and in other countries of Europe, it is an invariable custom to present the newly-initiated candidate not only, as we do, with a white leathern apron, but also with two pairs of white kid gloves, one a man's pair for himself, and the other a woman's. The latter pair of gloves are to be presented by him in turn to his wife or his betrothed ..." I am today wearing the very same kid gloves with which I was presented on April 26th, 1954, and my wife still has her pair too.

To again quote Mackey: "There is in this, of course, as there is in everything else which pertains to Freemasonry, a symbolism. The gloves given to the candidate for himself are intended to teach him that the acts of a Freemason should be as pure and spotless as the gloves then given to him. In the German Lodges, the word used for acts is of course Handlungen, or handlings, 'the works of his hands,' which makes the symbolic idea more impressive.

"Dr Robert Plot — no friend of Freemasonry, but still a historian of much research — says in his Natural History of Staffordshire, that the Society of Freemasons, in his time (and he wrote in 1660), presented their candidates with gloves for themselves and their wives. This shows that the custom still preserved on the continent of Europe was formerly practised in England although there as well as in America, it is discontinued, which is, perhaps, to be regretted. . .

"The symbolism of the gloves is but a modification of that of the apron. They both signify the same thing; both are allusive to a purification of life. 'Who shall ascend,' says the Psalmist, 'into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.' The apron may be said to refer to the 'pure heart', the gloves to the 'clean hands.' Both are significant of purification which was always symbolized by the ablution which preceded the ancient initiations into the sacred Mysteries. But while our American and English Freemasons have adhered only to the apron, and rejected the gloves as a Masonic symbol, the latter appear to be far more important in symbolic science, because the allusions to pure or clean hands are abundant in all the ancient writers.

There is no doubt that the use of the gloves in Freemasonry is a symbolic idea borrowed from the ancient and universal language of symbolism, and was intended, like the apron, to denote the necessity of purity of life."

You may nod agreement and possibly think that it is a pity that the ritualistic use of the gloves has been discontinued in England and North America and is, therefore, absent from our two authorized workings. It is also rather unlikely that the Committee on the Work will ever feel favourably inclined to issue a ruling for the gloves' reinstatement, unless, of course, there would be a showing of popular demand for such a return to an old custom.

Do you remember the title of this paper? What was it? WHITE GLOVES AND AMBER LIGHT. Having talked about the gloves at length, you have all noticed that I am dealing with symbolism, Masonic symbolism, and, therefore, the concept of the AMBER LIGHT will, of course, be another contemplation of a symbol affecting our lives. But what?

Before I answer this question, let us all agree that symbolism is at the heart of our Masonic teachings. I am sure you have no quarrel with this statement. We all know the many, many symbols, mostly those borrowed from the operative trade, which we have sublimated into lessons of a "nobler and more glorious purpose". The Working Tools of the degrees are a case in point, and so are many more of the tangible things we use in our Lodges and of the more intangible symbolic phrases found in our obligations, lectures and elsewhere in our ceremonies,

I have no intention to go into detail on any of these; neither you nor I have the time to even scratch the surface in this regard today. I would rather step outside the door of the Lodge and look around to see if it is really only in Masonry where we are affected by symbols.

It will not take us long to recognize that this everyday world in which we live is full of symbols. Each letter of the alphabet is a symbol, as is each note of music, enabling us to communicate. The various gestures of our hands and even the blinking of an eye send their symbolic messages to a receiver. They are, in reality, encoded messages which the receiver has the responsibility to decode in order to understand. Trades and professions have their symbols, tying in with their specialized lingos, computers thrive on symbols, and even when your wife just beckons you to follow her you get the message (or at least your interpretation of the symbol).

Driving our automobiles from point A to point B we are constantly surrounded by traffic symbols, understandable to anyone in the world. We know that the red oblique line tells us "NO" in whatever context, that the red light is a very emphatic "DON'T" while the green light tells us "GO", you're safe, you have everybody's approbation, the "go-ahead."

So that brings me back to the title of my paper, WHITE GLOVES AND AMBER LIGHT. What does that amber light mean to us? Oh, I know what it says, but what does it mean? What it says is simply, "watch it, buddy, this is a transition from green to red" — but now we get to what it means to the individual and what his response will be. This is where individual differences come into play. Some of us will take it as the warning it was intended to be, meaning, you have run out of green and as a law- abiding citizen you will, of course, immediately apply the brakes to wait for your turn to proceed. Someone else's reaction may, however, be the opposite: step on the gas and make it!

I do not even intend to go as far as to consider the consequences, but I do want to ask myself, making that amber light fit in with the rest of my Masonic symbolic teachings, "DO I" or "DON'T I"? I trust that all of us, at one time or another, are faced with such an amber light shining into our conscience. Do we, at all times, patiently await our turn to be heralded by the reappearance of the green, or do we, defiantly, step on it, chin thrust forward and may the devil care?

How do we usually act, you and I? Is there, by any chance, a connection between those WHITE GLOVES and the AMBER LIGHT?