In this edition of Symbols and Symbolism, we look at a reading from Albert G. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the subject of Riding the Goat.
Goat riding is one of those superstition that permeates most every corner of fraternal initiation. Not exclusively a Masonic institution, goat riding or making candidates “ride the goat” has been an aspect of hazing fueled initiation meant to scare and embarrass neophytes and initiates joining the institution. Yet, the practice seems to have a more succinct history involving ancient pagan practice and ritual.
The vulgar idea that “riding the goat” constitutes a part of the ceremonies of initiation in a Masonic Lodge has its real origin in the superstition of antiquity. The old Greeks and Romans portrayed their mystical god Pan in horns and hoof and shaggy hide, and called him “goat-footed.” When the demonology of the classics was adopted and modified by the early Christians, Pan gave way to Satan, who naturally inherited his attributes; so that to the common mind the Devil was represented by a he-goat, and his best known marks were the horns, the beard, and the cloven hoofs. Then came the witch stories of the Middle Ages, and the belief in the witch orgies, where, it was said, the Devil appeared riding on a goat. These orgies of the witches, where, amid fearfully blasphemous ceremonies, they practiced initiation into their Satanic Rites, became, to the vulgar and the illiterate, the type of the Masonic Mysteries; for, as Dr. Oliver says, it was in England a common belief that the Freemasons were accustomed in their Lodges “to raise the Devil.” So the “riding of the goat,” which was believed to be practiced by the witches, was transferred to the Freemasons; and the saying remains to this day although the belief has very long since died out.