In this episode we look at the definition of what the masonic apron represents. Of the many emblems of Freemasonry, none is more iconic that the lambskin apron.
Alien outside of the lodge, under the tiled lodge it represents the totality of what it means to be a Mason. It’s said to be more noble than the Roman Eagle or the Golden Fleece, the Masonic apron is literally, the badge of a mason carried with him into the next existence.
Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, says of the apron:
There is no one of the symbols of Speculative Masonry more important in its teachings, or more interesting in its history, than the lambskin, or white leather apron. Commencing its lessons at an early period in the Mason’s progress, it is impressed upon his memory as the first gift which he receives, the first symbol which is explained to him, and the first tangible evidence which he possesses of his admission. Whatever may be his future advancement in the “royal art,” into whatsoever deeper arcana his devotion to the mystic institution or his thirst for knowledge may subsequently lead him, with the lambskin apron — his first investiture — he never parts. Changing, perhaps, its form and its decorations, and conveying at each step some new but still beautiful allusion, its substance is still there, and it continues to claim the honored title by which it was first made known to him, on the night of his initiation, as “the badge of a Mason.”
Aquila, better known in Masonic parlance as the Roman Eagle, was considered in ancient times to be a symbol of strength, courage, and immortality. The signa militaria[i] of the Roman military under Gaius Marius (104 BC), the war standard was made of silver or bronze and served more as a holy war relic than mere militaristic emblem of the Roman Legions.
Wells, in his Masonic short talk of 1915, says of the eagle that as it was adopted by the Romans upon their banners it
…signified magnanimity and fortitude, or as in the ancient Sacred Writings, swiftness and courage.
In antiquity, the Romans were not the first to make use of the eagle as an emblem of war, as, Wells cites, the Persians, under Cyrus the Younger[ii], had borne the Eagle upon their spears as a standard.[iii]
In a more modern parlance France, Russia, Prussia, Germany, and the United States have each in turn adopted the Eagle, variously, as a National symbol of identity adorning the U.S. dollar, today, in a style reminiscent of its depiction on similar Roman coinage from when it was adopted into western material culture.
Albert Mackey in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry says of the eagle that it is a symbol of great antiquity calling into reference Egyptian, Greek, and Persia symbolism where the bird was sacred to the sun.
Among the Pagans it was an emblem of Jupiter, and with the Druids it was a symbol of their supreme god. In the Scriptures, a distinguished reference is in many instances made to the eagle; especially do we find Moses (Exodus xix, 4) representing Jehovah as saying, in allusion to the belief that this bird assists its feeble young in their flight by bearing them upon its own pinions, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” Not less elevated was the symbolism of the eagle among the Pagans. Thus, Cicero, speaking of the myth of Ganymede carried up to Jove on an eagle’s back, says that it teaches us that the truly wise, irradiated by the shining light of virtue, become more and more like God, until by wisdom they are borne aloft and soar to Him.
While Mackey goes deep into the meanings behind the eagle, the suggestion that the Masonic Apron is more noble than the Roman Eagle implies that its receipt is an honor, greater than being a member of the famed Roman Legion which may lend itself to some pull to particular military association with Masonry today. An interesting consideration of the Roman Legion was their early and then later composition.
In the early period of the empire, the legion was composed of levied soldiers who supplied their own equipment that would form as needed disbanding when not. Essentially, to serve meant you were a citizen of the empire. When the Rome army began to experience inadequate staffing because of income or property qualifications of its citizenry, Consul Gaius Marius removed the prequalifications of service (wealth and social class) allowing all free people of the empire eligible for the army. This change created the first volunteer professional standing army. That openness to everyone regardless of class of social standing is a parallel we find amongst the ranks of Freemasonry today.
Some suggest that the Roman Eagle was a European Trade Symbol coming from the Hanseatic League. A confederation of merchant guilds that stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period (c. 13th to 17th centuries), the Hanseatic league evolved to protect economic interests and diplomatic privileges along trade routes, cities and countries where its members did business. . One Masonic source says of the Hanseatic League that,
…its members had their Headquarters at Lubeck, and adopted the Arms of Lubeck which at this time was the Roman Eagle and appears on the Seal of the Hanse. They also called themselves Knights of the Holy Roman Empire.[iv]
The Leagues coat of arms is of a double headed eagle, rather than an Aquila eagle, so this connection to the Apron seems less legitimate other than its being a pre-enlightenment trade guild, similar to the guild of the Golden Fleece.[v][vi]
An interesting parallel in the Hanseatic League connection is the guilds factory rules which one could find Masonic parallels including:
No man older than fifty years or younger than eighteen winters could be received.
Anyone who committed what had been forbidden was to be cast out, and driven from the community.
No one should have a woman within the burgh
be absent from it for three nights
These rules helped the league work in foreign countries as they “… formed among the alien populations in which they were placed semi-monastic establishments”[vii]
Yet, in this double headed eagle, we can still find some parallels to draw with the Roman Eagle.
Mackey says of the emblem,
The Eagle Displayed, that is, with extended wings, as if in the act of dying, has always, from the majestic character of the bird, been deemed an emblem of imperial power. Marius, the consul, first consecrated the eagle, about eight years before the Christian era, to be the sole Roman standard at the head of every legion, and hence it became the standard of the Roman Empire ever afterward.
As the single-headed Eagle was thus adopted as the symbol of imperial power, the double-headed Eagle naturally became the representative of a double empire; and on the division of the Roman dominions into the eastern and western empire, which were afterward consolidated by the Carlovingian race into what was ever after called the Holy Roman Empire, the double-headed Eagle was assumed as the emblem of this double empire; one head looking, as it were, to the West, or Rome, and the other to the East, or Byzantium.
He goes on to enumerate the orders of knighthoods that adopted the double headed eagle including, The Prussian Order of the Black Eagle and the Order of the Red Eagle, both, Mackey says, are “outgrowths of the original symbol of the Roman Eagle.”
Of the double headed eagle, Mackey goes on to say that its adoption was probably first introduced as a symbol into Freemasonry in 1758. He says,
In that year the Body calling itself the Council of Emperors of the East and West was established in Paris. The double-headed eagle as likely to have been assumed by this Council in reference to the double Jurisdiction which it claimed, and which is represented so distinctly in its title.
The most ornamental, not to say the most ostentatious feature of the insignia of the Supreme Council, 33 , of the Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite, is the double-headed eagle, surmounted by an imperial crown. This device seems to have been adopted some time after 1755 by the grade known as the Emperors of the East and West; a sufficiently pretentious title. This seems to have been its first appearance in connection with Freemasonry, but history of the high grades has been subjected to such distortion that it is difficult to accept unreservedly any assertion put forward regarding them. From this imperial grade, the double-headed eagle came to the “Sovereign Prince Masons” of the Rite of Perfection. The Rite of Perfection with its twenty-five Degrees was amplified in 1801, at Charleston, United States of America, into the Ancient and Accepted Rite of 33, with the double-headed eagle for its most distinctive emblem. When this emblem was first adopted by the high grades it had been in use as a symbol of power for 5000 years, or so. No heraldic bearing, no emblematic device anywhere today can boast such antiquity. It was in use a thousand years before the Exodus from Egypt, and more than 2000 years before the building of King Solomon’s Temple.
The quote, which is quite extensive, gives a sort of psudo-parrallel to antiquity linking the Scottish-Rite double headed eagle to the Babylonian era through a pair of terra cotta cylinders[viii] that depicts a proto-eagle in the form of a lion headed bird.
The long quote reads:
The story of our Eagle has been told by the eminent Assyriologist, M. Thureau Dangin, in the volume of Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie (1904). Among the most important discoveries for which we are indebted to the late M. de Sarzec, were two large terra cotta cylinders covered with many hundred lines of archaic cuneiform characters These cylinders were found in the brick mounds of Tello, which has been identified with certainty as the City of Lagash, the dominant center of Southern Babylonian ere Babylon had imposed its name and rule on the country.
The cylinders are now in the Louvre (see below) and have been deciphered by M. Thureau Dangin, who displays to our wondering eyes the emblem of power that was already centuries old when Babylon gave its name to Babylonia. The cylinder in question is a foundation record deposited by one Gudea, Ruler of the City of Lagash, to mark the building of the temple, about the year 3000 B.C., as nearly as the date could be fixed. The foundation record was deposited just as our medals, coins and metallic plates are deposited today, when the corner stone is laid with Masonic honors. It must be born in mind that in this ease, the word cornerstone may be employed only in a conventional sense, for in Babylonia all edifices, temples, palaces, and towers alike, were built of brick. But the custom of laying foundation deposits was general, whatever the building material might be, and we shall presently see what functions are attributed, by another eminent scholar, to the foundation chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.
The contents of this inscription are of the utmost value to the oriental scholar, but may be briefly dismissed for our present purpose. Suffice it to say, that the King begins by reciting that a great drought had fallen upon the land. ” The waters of the Tigris,” he says, ” fell low and the store of provender ran short in this my city,” saying that he feared it was 3 visitation from the gods, to whom he determined to submit his evil ease and that of his people. The reader familiar with Babylonian methods that pervade the Books of the Captivity will not be surprised to learn that the King dreamed a dream, in which the will of the gods was revealed by direct personal intervention and interlocution. In the dream there came unto the King “a Divine Man, whose stature reached from earth to heaven, and whose head was crowned with the crown of a god, surmounted by the Storm Bird that extended its wings over Lagash, the land thereof.” This Storm Bird, no other than our double-headed eagle, was the totem as ethnologists and anthropologists are fain to call it, of the mighty Sumerian City of Lagash, and stood proudly forth the visible emblem of its power and domination. This double-headed eagle of Lagash is the oldest Royal Crest in the world.
As time rolled on, it passed from the Sumerians to the men of Akhad. From the men of Akhad to the Hittites, from the denizens of Asia Minor to the Seliukian Sultans, from whom it was brought by Crusaders to the Emperors of the East and West, whose successors today are the Hapsburgs and Romanoffs, as well as to the Masonic Emperors of the East and West, whose successors today are the Supreme Council, 33, that have inherited the insignia of the Site of Perfection.
Interesting in its attempt at drawing a parallel to antiquity, in a modern context, it is challenging to find the same level of depth to so abstract an emblem, especially one that is superior to the other. But, a final consideration to include would be a symbolic one, for which we turn to Cirlot, from his Dictionary of Symbols[ix].
In his work, he suggests the symbol of the eagle as a symbol of height “… of the Spirit, as the sun, and of the spiritual principals in general” suggesting it linked to the symbolism found in Egyptian hieroglyphics, where “the Eagle represents the letter A–the first—pertaining to the warmth of life, the origin, the day.”
Cirlot writes “…the eagle is also identified with the father figure” representing heroic nobility. And, in religious terms, In the Vedic tradition, the eagle as the Messenger or in other art forms as “the emblem of the Thunderbolt.”
According to St. Jerome the Eagle is the emblem of the Ascension and of prayer. Since it can fly higher than any other bird, it is regarded as an expression of Divine Majesty. It is said to dominate and destroy baser forces. Thus making it the symbol of Imperial power.
Truly, the Lambskin Apron is greater and more noble emblem of strength, courage and power than the imperial symbol of powers, Aquilla, the Roman Eagle.
Masonic tradition informs us that the lamb skin apron is more ancient than the Golden Fleece. Ancient being the operative word, just what exactly does that implication imply and how is the Golden Fleece remembered in more contemporary times as it may relate to the apron given to the newly raised entered apprentice?
In Greek tradition, the fleece of the Ram Chrysomallus, was the object of Jason and the Argonauts expedition.
The mythological story of the Golden Fleece begins in the telling of the story about Phrixus and Helle who were the children of the goddess Nephele (a cloud nymph) and Athamus. The two part ways allowing Athamas to remarry Ino, who, in turn, becomes jealous of her step children, Phrixus and Helle, hatching a plot to do them in. Ino destroys a seed crop and then sends messengers to consult with the oracle at Delphi on what to do. To put her plan into motion, Ino persuading the messengers to return from the Oracles with prophecy that to restore the fertility of the fields Phrixus would need to be sacrificed.
Nephele, seeing the ruse, sends a golden ram to rescue her children, losing daughter Helle in the process as she falls into the Hellespont (known today as Dardanelles, which is a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara). Phrixus, makes the trip safely arriving at Colchis where he marries the daughter of King Aeetes. In celebration of the rescue and the marriage, Phrixus sacrificed the winged golden fleeced ram to Poseidon returning its soul to the deity in turn creating the constellation Aries.
In his appreciation, Phricus gives the pelt (the Golden Fleece) to Aeetes, the king of Colchis, who placed the in an oak tree defended by bulls with hoofs of brass and breath of fire. It was also guarded by a dragon with teeth which could become warriors when planted in the ground. Here it remained until Jason and his band of Argonauts arrived to claim it.
So goes the story of the Ancient Golden Fleece. Thought to be the oldest of Greek poems, Argonautica Orphica, and the telling of Jason’s quest to capture the Fleece appears to originate somewhere in the 5th or 6th century CE. The Hellenistic epic Argonautica dates to a period of the 3rd century BCE.
Wells, in his Builder article on the subject, mentions a knightly order called the Order of the Golden Fleece which was a celebrated Order of Knighthood in Austria and Spain, founded by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy and the Netherlands, at Bruges, on the tenth of January, 1429, on the occasion of his marriage with Isabella, daughter of King John I. of Portugal.
This Order was instituted for the protection of the Roman Catholic Church, and the fleece was assumed for its emblem, from being a staple commodity of the Low Countries. The founder made himself Grand Master of the Order, a dignity appointed to descend to his successors; and the number of knights, at first limited to twenty-four, was subsequently increased.
Contests arose between Spain and Austria as to the possession of this Order of Knighthood, which were finally adjusted by introducing the Order into both countries. In Austria the Emperor may now create any number of Knights of the Golden Fleece from the nobility. If Protestants, the consent of the Pope is required. In Spain, Princes, Grandees, and personages of peculiar merit are alone eligible to membership in this Order.
It’s said that the Duke’s stated reason for founding the Order was:
for the reverence of God and the maintenance of our Christian Faith, and to honor and exalt the noble order of knighthood, and also …to do honor to old knights; …so that those who are at present still capable and strong of body and do each day the deeds pertaining to chivalry shall have cause to continue from good to better; and .. so that those knights and gentlemen who shall see worn the order … should honor those who wear it, and be encouraged to employ themselves in noble deeds…
An interesting biography exists on the Order through an association, La Confrérie Amicale de la Toison d’Or, dedicated to preserve its history. It says of the Order that the the meaning behind the use of the Fleece goes deeper than merely being a Hero’s Quest, saying,
It is clear from the icon of Jason on the early Golden Fleece insignia that the daring voyage of the Argo to bring back the sacred Golden Fleece from the edge of man’s known world touched Philipp deeply and helped inspire his dreams. The Argonauts were few in number, carefully selected for their nobility and talents and dedicated to the most noble of causes that also held religious and humanitarian importance. It is these values that we see in the statutes of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
Given the use in the degree as an ancient symbol, it seems unlikely that the knightly order is the point of reference within the Masonic degree. More likely is the mention of the fleece in the aspect of the Hero’s Quest, including allegories to jealousy, selfishness and sacrifice.
Wells goes on, saying,
The legend of the Golden Fleece, for which the Argonauts searched, is like the story of Masonry, a search for that which was lost. It is familiar to most readers of poetry and myths, and is interesting as being among the first known voyages of discovery.
Interestingly, Jason went on the quest for the Fleece in order to reclaim his kingdom from Pelias, an almost Biblical parallel to the story of Moses suggesting a deeper borrowing of Greek tradition in the writing of the Old Testament narrative.
Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences (1914), says of the Fleece that it is “…evidently not to the Argonautic expedition in search of the golden fleece, nor to the deluge…but to certain decorations of honor with which the apron is compared” suggesting instead that the “…Order of the Golden Fleece was of high repute as an Order of Knighthood. It was established in Flanders, in 1429, by the Duke of Burgundy, who selected the fleece for its badge because wool was the staple production of the country. It has ever been considered…one of the most illustrious Orders in Europe” making it the “the highest decoration that can be bestowed upon a subject by a sovereign of Great Britain. But the Masons may have been also influenced in their selection of a reference to the Golden Fleece, by the fact that in the Middle Ages it was one of the most important symbols of the Hermetic philosophers.”
Interesting here that Mackey traces the distinction of the Fleece to the chivalric order and not the more widespread mythology of the ancient world. One line of thought that deserves greater exploration is the importance of the Golden Fleece to the Hermetic philosophers and what, if any connections that bears to Freemasonry.
As an aside, there is some (Masonic) suggestion that the Golden Fleece story suggests the bringing of sheep husbandry, grain, or wisdom to Greece from the east or the panning for gold with sheep’s wool in the ancient world.
The Golden Fleece has made its way into the material culture such that it exists in several iterations in film and in video games. In the World of Warcraft MMORPG universe as a unique drop trinket that “May cause extra gold to drop whenever you kill a target that yields experience or honor and is a sign of wealth and status amongst the Saurok.” which perhaps supports the notion of it being a symbol of authority and kingship. It also made an appearance in the game God of War II where it can be seen hanging from the mouth of a cursed Cerberus that had devoured Jason.
The quest for the fleece was also the subject in the 2013 film Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. In the film, the teen Argonauts quest to find the Golden Fleece (with the power to heal anything) to rescue their diefic haven from oblivion.
In a more modern parlance for those wanting to undertake the quest for the ancient wool, artists Piotr Khrisanov and Jakov Matusovski have recreated the mythical Golden Fleece in Sochi, Russia. The monument aims to bring back the symbol of prosperity to the Black Sea town near where Jason and his crew went searching for the fleece in Caucasus. Made of bronze and covered in a layer of gold, it’s suggested that it weighs roughly 5 tons. A sister monument will be erected in the Greek city of Volos, which is believed to be where the Argonauts had set out for their campaign.
However you look at the Golden Fleece, in past or present telling, it still remains an emblem younger than the apron of a Mason.
 THE ORPHIC ARGONAUTICA – Pseudo-Orpheus 4th c. CE or laterm translated by Jason Colavito (2011)  Argonautica Orphica – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argonautica_Orphica  The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Argonautica, by Apollonius Rhodius  Excerpts of The Presentation of the Apron by Br. John W. Wells, from the Builder Magazine October, 1915
So it was with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to interview Patrick Craddock of The Craftsman’s Apron.
In Colonial America Freemasons created their own aprons. Their wives or friends or a local shop would sew exactly what they wanted to display on their apron. Most Freemasons in our early history wore custom made aprons. As we became an industrialized nation the art of sewing was lost by many households and Masonic aprons were mass produced in factories just like shirts and pants. Standardized machine made Masonic aprons became the staple of most Masonic Lodges.
Craddock takes us back to the true art of hand crafted Masonic aprons.
Craddock believes that how a Mason presents himself is vitally important to his character, his development and how he sees himself and feels about himself as a person.
“Your own journey in Masonry should have proven that the apron is the most important symbol to the Craft as it is the physical representation of what the Craft is.”
“To a thoughtful Brother the apron should remain the focal point of his self examination and reflection – and should be the focus of continued reflection and self examination – year after year – as he grows and matures in life and in Masonry. He will consider what it means to be worn with dignity and honor. He will reflect on his actions and will consider the apron as a reminder, or standard, for his actions and deeds.”
“It is often said that dress is the first impression of identity that one person conveys to another. It is for this same reason your apron should be considered every time you enter the Lodge.”
“Have you ever attended a Lodge and worn a borrowed apron pulled from a drawer or box outside the door of the Lodge? Have you ever seen that one apron with coffee stains on it? If you grab one of those old worn out loaner aprons from the box and tie it around your waist as you hurry into the Lodge room, do you ‘wear it with pleasure to yourself and honor to the Fraternity?’”
“We suggest that the best way to start a period of introspection is by donning an apron of exceptional quality and beauty, an apron that YOU purchased for YOUR own use, an apron that you have a personal and intimate relationship with. It is YOUR “badge of a Mason” and the one piece of regalia that you should take the most pride in. It may be a plain lambskin of elegant proportion or it may be heavily decorated – but it should never be made of cheap material or shoddy construction. Your apron is the most identifiable way to express your commitment to Masonry.”
Brother Craddock is in the enviable position of having turned a hobby into a business.
It all started in 1991 when Craddock was performing in Civil War Reenactments. The one thing he felt he was lacking was a decent period Masonic apron. The more he looked for one the more he came up empty. Finally the only way left for him was to create his own.
That first apron brought rave reviews and requests from other Brothers for one of their own. For 20 years Craddock hand crafted aprons operating a hobby strictly by word of mouth. Two years ago he gave up his day job to devote full time to making aprons.
Craddock starts with a real Lambskin that is hand cut. He employs a seamstress who hand sews his aprons. Then he himself applies the design. The apron can be round or square.
Craddock’s first apron was a hand painted creation. Today he still does hand painted aprons. In fact a hand painted apron customized to the individual is called a Bespoke Apron. But hand painted aprons are time consuming and cannot be produced in great numbers by one artisan. So Craddock now also creates original designs digitally using a commercial grade museum art reproduction system. This is a lower cost option that is still an original Craddock design and can be customized with Lodge Name or other wording and other options. Stock aprons are another digitally painted apron available and these can also be personalized. Again they are original Craddock designs but the designs have already been produced and a template can print out the design without having to go through the process of first creation.
Bullion Embroidered Aprons
Not all aprons are painted aprons. Craddock also produces bullion embroidered aprons. On bullion aprons spun bullion wire is formed into individual decorative pieces and then applied to the apron.
There is yet a third type of apron Craddock makes, a combination apron both painted and bullion. York Rite and Scottish Rite aprons are also available. He will create wherever your vision takes you.
Some Masonic artisans are brilliant creators but they fail miserably at presenting and marketing themselves. Not Craddock. He has created a very professional website that can be converted into 15 different languages at the click of the mouse, an instant chat feature where questions can be immediately answered, a rotating main message that adds flair to the site and ample examples of his creations.
On this beautiful and functional website you will learn that Craddock also makes Lodge officers aprons sold by the set, officer’s collars, Masonic shirts and ties and a Masonic ring of his design. He has recently added some Masonic gifts of unique creation.
Craddock is sitting Worshipful Master of Conlegium Ritus Austeri No. 779, Nashville, TN a Traditional Observance Lodge chartered in 2009. He says about his Lodge:
“We have set high standards for ourselves and work hard to try and surpass those and keep raising the bar on those standards. We require each of our members to attend Lodge in white tie and tails. We do not require our visitors to wear tie and tails, but we do expect them to wear a dark business suit – at a minimum. Another interesting thing about our Lodge is that we have custom Lodge member’s aprons. All members of CRA wear the same apron. We do not wear officer aprons. The officers wear the jewel of their office on custom designed collars. CRA has only twenty members, we meet quarterly, and we average 90% attendance by our members. As a charter member I was one of 16 men, of like mind, who knew we wanted to experience Lodge with the standards we have set for ourselves. I was Raised in O.D.Smith Lodge No. 33, in Oxford, MS. I was a 21 year old undergraduate student when I approached the door of the Lodge.”
Craddock possesses superior historical credentials. His education includes a BA in American History (Univ. of Miss., 1989), MA in History with an Emphasis in Historic Preservation (Mid. Tenn. State Univ., 1992), and M.Phil in 19th Century Military History (Univ. College of Wales [Aberystwyth], 2001).
He is a York Rite and Scottish Rite member, a member of the Masonic Society and a Board member of the Masonic Restoration Foundation. He has been written up in the Northern Light Magazine, The Plumbline, The Masonic Art Exchange, The Scottish Rite Journal of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction and one of which he is most proud a prominent part in a video (included here) that the Grand Lodge of California made for the Henry W Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry.
You are apt to run into Patrick Craddock for not only is he a gifted Masonic artisan but also an articulate lecturer. He travels often and sets up a vending table for The Craftsman’s Apron at various Masonic conferences and symposiums across the nation. He offers two lectures.
“Admit Him if Properly Clothed: The Evolution of the Masonic Apron in America 1740 to Present” is a PowerPoint presentation with about 100 images that documents the changes and evolutions of the Masonic apron as well as the influences that created those changes. The other presentation is called “Worthy of Being Worn: The Importance of Masonic Regalia”. This presentation is more philosophical and encourages the viewer to think more about his apron and why it should be a more personal piece of regalia. Craddock has lectured in: TN, CA, AL, IN, NY, NH, PA, VA, & D.C.
Successful people are multi- talented and multi-faceted people. If you take a look at Brothers David Naughton-Shires and Ryan Flynn you will notice that they have interests and expertise in a wide range of different areas. What they do in one field is buttressed by what they know in another. When you combine a working knowledge of mathematics, science, history and religion with such sub headings of scholarship perhaps such as numerology, sacred geometry, historical preservation, symbology, ancient mystery schools, Gnosticism, computer science and other such studies, you become a well rounded person able to pull from other areas for your vision.
Patrick Craddock is another such person following in the mold of other successful multi talented Freemasons. He is a Craftsman, a Masonic artisan but he is also a historian, a lecturer and speaker, website designer, graphic artist and a very knowledgeable Freemason.
This background is vitally important for Craddock’s business. For when a prospective customer doesn’t quite know what he wants, Craddock can shape and define his vision. Quality, expertise, experience, education and knowledge all go into making The Craftsman’s Apron the best place to go to purchase a Masonic Apron.
“A beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.”
The above quote is the description of Masonry that is most often given to the initiate in order to describe the nature of the institution. It is so oft repeated that I suppose many Freemasons don’t give much thought to its meaning. However, when examined closely this description of our order gives us a clear picture of the purpose of our fraternity.
Let us take the first part of the phrase: “A beautiful system of morality.” This is fairly easy to understand. Freemasonry is school of moral instruction. Throughout the three degrees, the initiate is taught numerous lessons on the subject of morality. These degrees discuss many different aspects of that concept including the physical and spiritual components of morality. In many ways, religion serves a similar role in a man’s life. Every religion teaches man to walk upright before God, gives him a sense of good and evil, and encourages him to pursue righteous ventures throughout his life. While Masonry is not a religion, it shares the purpose of moral instruction. However, Masonry’s method of teaching morality is very peculiar in modern times.
At this point, let us shift our focus to the following words: “veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” The word ‘allegory’ is described by the dictionary as being “a symbolical narrative.”
A sketch of George Washington’s Masonic apron which features some of Masonry’s deep symbolism.
A symbolical narrative is any story crafted in order to portray a deeper meaning. The Masonic symbols in the legend of the Third Degree, Aesop’s Fables, and Jesus’ parables are all examples of allegory. Masonry uses allegorical tales throughout the Symbolic Lodge, York Rite, and Scottish Rite in order to teach its system of morality. In addition to the legends of each degree, a multitude of symbols are used to illustrate and reinforce the concepts of the degrees. This is where Masonry differs from many modern systems of moral instruction. Today, most religions and philosophies convey their moral teachings through a series of long lectures presented either written or orally. They utilize very little symbolism in order to educate their followers. Albert Mackey explains this in The Symbolism of Freemasonry.
“The older the religion, the more symbolism abounds. Modern religions may convey their dogmas in abstract propositions; ancient religions always conveyed them in symbols. Thus there is more symbolism in the Egyptian religion than in the Jewish, more in the Jewish than in the Christian, more in the Christian than in the Mohammedan, and, lastly, more in the Roman than in the Protestant.”
Masonry as an organization may only be a few centuries old, but its philosophical lessons can claim the most ancient of lineages. The moral education found inside the lodge is similar to that taught by any great religion, initiatic order, or school of philosophy. Take a second to think about your personal Masonic journey. Consider the moment when you were brought to light and received your first symbolic instruction. Think about how the solemn and deep language of symbolism enhanced your experience. Now imagine that the same lessons had been explained to you without the use of allegory or illustrated symbols. If you realize that the symbolic instruction provided a greater understanding of those moral precepts, you have discovered the true nature of Freemasonry.
The core of Freemasonry, and its Masonic symbols, is its allegorical and symbolic instruction. Without it, the order would not exist for it would have no purpose. It is Masonry’s language of symbolism that makes it appeal to the candid and industrious inquirer. It is Masonry’s allegorical legends that expose those ancient truths concealed within the fraternity. Symbolic instruction is our language, it is our identity, and it unveils the whole of Freemasonry.
The other morning, I was enjoying my daily shaving ritual. As I lathered the shaving soap with my badger hair brush and spread the rich, white lather over my jaw, I thought about how my morning shave had become a daily routine of renewal and purification. When I took my razor in hand and removed the stubble of the previous 24 hours, I was not only refreshing the appearance of my face, but I was also symbolically divesting myself of the previous day’s imperfections. This allowed me to begin the day anew, with a clean slate and a clean face.
In many ways, this is my personal Rite of Purification.
The Rite of Purification has long been an important part of spiritual ceremonies. For those of us who have grown up in Judeo-Christian religions, this rite was most often manifested in the form of baptism or purification by water. In fact, in the book of Exodus we discover that purification by water was an important part of Jewish custom.
Then the Lord said to Moses ‘Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the Lord by fire, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.’ Ex. 30:17-21)
I found it odd that Masonic tradition dictates that the Tabernacle was a model for King Solomon’s Temple and that this temple was a model for Masonic lodges, and yet I had witnessed no such rite in the craft degrees. In fact, the first time I consciously took part in a Rite of Purification in Masonry was in the 14th Degree of the Scottish Rite where I was required to rinse my hands in a basin filled with water. However, that was certainly not the first time that I had been symbolically purified before taking part in a Masonic ceremony.
If we rid ourselves of the narrow view of purification being accomplished through some sort of baptism with water, we can see that the preparation of the candidates for each degree of Masonry is in fact a Rite of Purification. Wilmhurst says:
Every system of real Initiation, whether of the past or present, is divided into three clear-cut stages; since before anyone can pass from his natural darkness to the Light supernal and discover the Blazing Star or Glory at his own center, there are three distinct tasks to be achieved. They are as follows: first, the turning away from the attractions of the outer world, involving detachment from the allurements of all that is meant by “money and metals,” and the purification and subdual of the bodily and sensual tendencies…This work of detachment and self-purification is our Entered Apprentice work, and to it, as you know, is theoretically allotted the long period of seven years.1
Therefore, divesting ourselves of our outer apparel and removing our possessions of worldly value from our bodies is essentially a Rite of Purification. This symbolically removes the superfluities of the profane world and prepares us to enter the Tabernacle. But as we widen our view of the right of purification, we can see that we are not only purified prior to receiving the degrees. In fact, we take part in a Rite of Purification every time that we step into the place that Exodus terms “the Tent of Meeting.”
The Mason’s apron is a lamb skin or white leather apron, which is described as “an emblem of innocence.” Its color is white, which is the emblem of purity. Every time that we adorn the Mason’s apron we are clothing ourselves with a garment which represents our symbolic purification. However, merely wearing the apron does not complete this action, we must also mentally purify ourselves. Much as the purification through water by the Hebrews before entering the Tabernacle was an admonition to keep one’s thoughts and desires pure in that Holy place, so should the wear of the apron remind us to keep our thoughts and desires pure within our Tabernacle, which is the tiled lodge room.
By doing so, we complete our own Rite of Purification every time that we proceed to enter the quarry and work for the benefit of the craft.