The Masonic Apron
By; Bro. Mike Doucette
One the most iconic symbols of Freemasonry worldwide is the apron. It is the one item required to be worn by Masons in Lodge, as not all brothers around the world are required to wear suits or rings, however; even if a brother forgets his apron, the symbol is required in Lodge, even if it is represented by a handkerchief or a pulled out shirt front. It is considered the badge of Masonry and has contributed to a popular nickname, ‘SAS, Secret Apron Society’.
The aprons given to us in this Grand Lodge and many other grand jurisdictions are mass-produced and sold by regalia companies. These modern aprons are comparatively late inventions, they came into use in the eighteenth century. Aprons before this were pieces of leather cut to fit the particular brother, with rope or string attached or cut with handles to allow for tying. When speculative Masonry came into popularity the aprons were decorated by the individual brothers with symbols important to them. Despite softer materials from being available possibly as of 1740 onward, the leather aprons survived in use until at least 1811. March 17th, 1721 was the first official mention of blue silk trimming for aprons, reserved for Grand Officers (United Grand Lodge). Despite this resolution blue-edged aprons became fairly common with rank and file members of the Craft from about 1745 on.
Uniformity and regularity of material, design, form and decoration were not officially insisted upon by the United Grand Lodge until 1814. The pattern agreed upon in England is essentially the same pattern we see in Ontario today.
The square shape is an ancient symbol being used by many cultures. A square is considered a symbol of stasis, fixation, foundation as well as home, earth, community and grounding. It is used as a symbol of the heart in Islam. It also represents some key concepts particular to every culture,
the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west), the four major season (winter, spring, summer, autumn), the four cosmic elements (sun, moon, planets, stars), the four common phases of human life (birth, child, adult, death) and the four prime elements (fire, earth, air, water).
The triangular flap or a triangular shape is found on most aprons that I have seen. The triangle is also an ancient symbol used by many cultures, found in Christianity, Celtic, Egyptian and many more cultures. In the studies of geometry it is considered the strongest and simplest shape in creation. As a symbol it is viewed as representing gender, creativity, harmony, proportion and ascension, culmination, illumination, integration and subjectivity as well as manifestation. The triangle being a three sided shape is also seen as the symbol for the many trinities. The waxing, waning and full moons, the spirit, mind and body, the father, son and holy spirit. Also, the mother, father and child, the past, present and future, power, intellect and love, thought, feeling and emotion, as well as mother, maiden and crone, love, truth and wisdom, creator, destroyer and sustainer, creation, preservation and destruction. One interesting note, the ancient Greeks, saw the triangle as the delta glyph, the symbol of a doorway.
The band and snake clasp are used in Ontario to hold the apron around the body. The snake itself has been viewed as a symbol by many cultures, however; a snake or dragon rounded into a circle, biting its own tail is the Ouroborous. It is said to have originated as ancient Egyptian iconography, representing the cycle of life, death and rebirth, and continuity. The snake itself is seen by many cultures as a symbol of rebirth, intellect, protection and fertility, as well occult (hidden) knowledge, balance, intuition and patience. The circle formed by the band and clasp wrapped around a brothers body has been used by countless cultures and it has a number of different meanings. An entire essay could be written on this wonderful symbol. Some of the meanings are focus, unity, cycles, infinity and inclusion, as well as wholeness, nurturing, initiation, perfection and centering.
The Entered Apprentice apron is the first given to a Mason. Made up of simple shapes and colour and represents a foundation. The triangle, creation or the doorway and the square, foundation and stability. The EA aprons in Ontario are white leather or cloth. White is considered a symbol of peace, cleansing, illumination, purity, innocence and the highest understanding. This apron represents a new beginning on the Masonic path, an entrance into the light from darkness. The white land skin being used as a symbol of peace and goodwill is said to have been used by priests of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
The Fellowcraft apron is an Entered Apprentice apron with two rosettes. This is to mark the flourishing of the Mason into a more educated and advanced brother and is used to mark the progress in understanding, both of virtue and the liberal arts and sciences. A rosette is a rose-shaped arrangement of ribbon or other material and used as an ornament or badge. In Mesopotamian culture it represented Ishtar the mother goddess and is seen as marking a transition. It was also used in Minoan Crete and by Buddhists. It is also used in modern military awards and in political and sporting events.
A Master Masons apron is a Fellowcraft’s apron with tassels, three rosettes and a bordered blue edge. They are more ornate and denotes the brother’s temple developing. The colour blue, represents trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence and intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven, it is also associated with tranquility and calmness. However, light blue is the colour of a Master Mason’s apron. Light blue represents health, healing, tranquility, understanding and softness. Tassels hang from it with seven chains on each. The number seven could represent the seven liberal arts and sciences, seven representing a perfect number in Lodge and to the Pythagoreans, the seven altars constantly burned to Mithra, or the seven branched candle holder used in Jewish tradition.
The Worshipful Master’s apron looks much the same as a Master Mason’s except the rosettes are replaced with three Taus. It is the symbol of the creator, the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the Greek letter Tau (T). It is universally used by the ancients as a symbol for the ongoing Eternal Life. The Hebrews more particularly saw it as a symbol of salvation.
At the Grand Lodge level the aprons become even more ornate with other decorations in gold, symbols of wheat and laurels, three Taus, working tools and the sun on the Grand Master’s apron. Gold representing eternity, perfection, clarity, wisdom and virtue. The colour white is still present, however; the light blue is replaced by dark blue. Dark blue represents knowledge, power, integrity, and seriousness.
An Entered Apprentice apron is also laid on the coffin of a brother who has passed. In some jurisdictions a specific funeral apron is used, being white with a black border. Black representing mystery, elegance and death, it being used by many as a color of mourning.
Aprons are the first gift given to a Mason by the Lodge and are used throughout many branches of the fraternity. In our ceremony we are taught that they are the badges of innocence and the bond of friendships. As a brother progresses through the different Masonic bodies some aprons become more ornate, some even letting go of the white colour. Aprons represent a brother’s temple, building up from their foundation, an ornate palace of knowledge, virtue and wisdom and should be honoured a venerated as such.
From the “Sunday Masonic Paper” January 20, 2019