the master's hat
Why does the Master wear a hat?
How many times do newly raised brethren ask the question, and how few of the
brethren interrogated can give a satisfactory answer! Usually the reply is: "Oh,
that's an old symbol," or, "That's one of the Landmarks." But, as a matter of
fact, wearing a hat in Lodge is symbolic only as all custom with regard to
headgear are symbolic, and certainly no custom which has suffered so many
changes and reversals as this, can, by any stretching of a point, be considered
Ceremonies connected with clothing are very ancient, dating at least from the
era in which the first captives in tribal wars were stripped of all their
clothing, partly that their captors might possess it, partly as a symbol of the
complete subjugation of the slave state. Among some peoples today, stripping
part of the clothing is still a sign of respect; the Tahitians uncover to the
waist as a sign of reverence to a king; Asiatics bare the feet; Japanese take
off a slipper for ceremonious salute. Worshippers in ancient Greece and Rome
remove their sandals in a house of worship, as do East Indians today.
During the days of chivalry, knights often wore full armor in public, and
usually when going upon private journeys. To open the vizor was a form of
greeting which said, in effect: "I do not expect a sword thrust in the mouth
from you." A knight removed his helmet before a friend as a token that he feared
no blow, and always in the presence of a king, as a symbol that his life was the
Moderns remove the hat as a sign of respect in greeting a friend, always when
speaking to or meeting a lady, a survival of the ancient custom of uncovering as
a symbol of trust, or subjectivity to a higher authority.
That monarchs wear crowns-or hats as a right when all others are uncovered, has
been sung by poets of all ages. In Scott's Lady of the Lake, Ellen Douglas is
taken to see the king, little suspecting who he is:
"On many a splendid garb she gazed-
Then turned bewildered and amazed
For all stood bare; and in the room
Fitz-James alone wore cap and plume.
To him each lady's look was lent,
On him each courtier's eye was bent;
Midst furs and silks and jewels sheen
He stood, in simple Lincoln green,
The center of the glittering ring
And Snowden's knight is Scotland's King!"
The king never uncovered. He wore his crown where he would, even in the House
of God. All had to uncover before the king, as all had to retreat from his
presence by moving backwards custom which obtains today in ceremonial audiences
in England-that none might "turn his back on his Sovereign." The very bowing of
the head without hat is a survival; the savage who lowered his head in the
presence of authority confessed either fearlessness of an unseen blow, or his
wiIlingness to receive it from his liege lord.
Not always does the removal of the hat indicate respect. Orthodox Jews remain
covered in their synagogues; early Quakers wore hats in their houses of worship;
women do not remove their hats in some churches. Romans prayed with covered
heads; indeed, Romans forbade the head-covering to a slave, a wooden cap (pileus)
being only for citizens. After a Roman owner liberated a slave, the manumitted
man often went to the Temple of Feronia, on Mt. Suracte, if indeed, he did not
receive his freedom in her Temple. Feronia, the goddess of fruits, nurseries and
groves, was especially honored as the patroness of enfranchised slaves, and in
her Temple the manumitted received a cap.
Dr. George C. Williamson (Curious Survivals) says of the House of Commons in
London: "A member has to wear his hat when he is to address the House and there
is often confusion when the member is unable to find his hat at the moment, and
to put it on, before he addresses the speaker, but, were he to rise without his
hat, he would be greeted immediately with cries of 'Order, order!"
Just when or where originated the custom of a Master wearing a hat as a sign of
authority is an unsolved question. It is easy enough to "guess" that it began
from operative Masons of the middle ages aping the customs of the court, and
requiring all Fellows of the Craft to uncover before the Master Mason. But
guessing is not proving.
Oliver is quoted as saying: "Among the Romans the hat was a sign of freedom.
Formerly Masons wore them as a symbol of freedom and brotherly equality. In
English and American Lodges it is now exclusively an attribute of the Master's
costume." Oliver as a historian is open to question; certainly hats are not
generally worn by Masters in England now. But this quotation indicates that
English Masters formerly did, which is born out by some notable exceptions of
today; Bristol, for instance and Lodge Newstead, 47, in the Province of
Nottingham, where the Master wears a silk hat at Lodge ceremonies. In the Royal
Sussex Lodge of Hospitality (Bristol) the Master carries (not wears) a cocked
hat into the Lodge room. In Lodge Maria the transfer of the hat from outgoing to
incoming Master has for many years been a part of Installation.
There are extant some rituals of French Masonry of 1787, apparently authentic,
which seem to give a true picture of the ritual and practices of French brethren
of the time. Masonic students are agreed that while doubtless French Masons did
dramatize some of the English ritual and made certain changes in the old English
ceremonies which the better fitted the Latin temperament, on the whole these
rituals contain much that was originally English Masonic practice.
In the old French ritual of 1787, in the third degree, each Master is required
to wear a hat. The word "master" here has the double significance; Master of the
Lodge and Master Mason. This has led to some confusion in translating the real
meaning of the rituals. But in this particular instance the context is made
clear by some old prints, showing French brethren in a Lodge in which all
present wear hats except the candidate.
Writing in 1896, Swor. Brother Gotthelf Greiner states, of German Masons; " . .
it is the invariable custom for brethren in Lodge to wear high silk hats (which
are raised during prayer and when the name of the G.A.O.T.U. is invoked). In
that country, it (the wearing of the hat) is not a distinction confined to those
of any particular standing." It is to be noted that the Ahiman Rezon of
Pennsylvania specifies that at Masonic funerals all the brethren should wear
Contrast these instances of all brethren wearing hats (except the candidate)
with one :of the articles of the Statutes of the Chapter of Clermont (1755)
which reads: "Only the Master of a Lodge and the Scots Masters are permitted to
remain covered." Confirming this, an old eighteenth century catch question
(which survives in some of our Lodges to this day) is:
Q. "Where does the Master hang his hat ?"
A. "On Nature's peg."
Some fanciful theories have been advanced to account for the Master's hat.
Among these may be mentioned this curious idea; because of a supposed
unpopularity of the Masons' Craft in the middle ages, the brethren on a
cathedral building projects were occasionally permitted to hold their meetings
in the cathedral they built, or, if that was not sufficiently advanced, in a
nearby monastery. The monks, being learned men, were often made Masters of the
various builders Lodges, and continued to wear their mitres, as was their
custom. From this is supposed. to have arisen the custom of a Master wearing a
Fort, in his Antiquities of Freemasonry, writes: "During the Middle Ages, when a
traveling Fellow approached a Lodge of Masons in prescribed form, he first
exclaimed: 'May God bless, direct and prosper you, Master, Pallirer (Wardens),
and dear Fellows!' Whereupon the Master, or in his absence the Pallirer, was
instructed by the ordinance of Torgau to thank him in reply, in order that the
visiting brother might see who was custodian of the Lodge. And having obtained
suitable assistance, the wandering craftsman removed his hat and thanked the
brethren with an established formula. From the preceding ceremony, it is evident
that neither the Master nor the Wardens of a mediaeval German lodge were
distinguishable by distinctive tokens while at mechanical labor; otherwise, no
regulation was essential or obligatory upon the officers to make proper response
to a visitor for the purpose of determining the Master.
"Curiously enough, the implication is direct and clear that the Masons of
ancient times, when regularly convened for work, and during the formal reception
of a traveler, pursued their daily avocation and attended the usual Masonic
demands, within closed portals, with covered heads. At the present day the
custom has materially changed, and, with one exception, the members of a Lodge
at labor noticeably divest themselves of their hats. This is unquestionably a
transformation of recent origin, and with it the, instruction usually incident
to the distinction has been adopted to the innovation.
"When the initiatory rites in a mediaeval Lodge were performed, the Master was
not thus prominently contrasted with his brethren. I speak with especial
emphasis upon this point, because the esoteric and sublime signification
involved in the Master's hat has been recklessly perverted and destroyed. It was
typical, during the Middle Ages, of superiority, and was so interpreted in the
ceremonies of initiation by the Masons of France at the termination of the
eighteenth century, all of whom sat in open Iodge with covered heads. (At the
conclusion of the rites in French lodges, the Master handed the candidate his
hat, and said: 'For the future. you shall be covered in a Master's Lodge.' This
very ancient usage is a sign of liberty and superiority.) Among the Germans,
this article was used as a symbol of transfer of chattels, and landed property.
The judge held a hat in his hands; the purchaser must receive it from him, and
with it the title passed. Frequently the ceremony perfecting a sale was
performed by the contract parties thrusting their hands into a hat, and upon
withdrawing them the estate changed owners.
"Gothic justices wore a cap or suitable headdress when presiding over court, as
emblematic of authority, and manifestly the people wore their hats while
attending the tribunal as symbols or personal liberty. (In an engraving, dating
from the 15th century, given in Lacroxi, op. cit. p. 379, all persons attendant
upon court are presented with heads covered). And with this typical allusion
generally acquiescence originally harmonized; but the distinctive and
exceptional feature of a Master's head-dress contains the secret symbolism of
authority at the present day, while mediaeval Masons worked with covered heads
as a sign of freedom. Both customs, descended from a remote Teutonic antiquity,
have long since, dissipated their vital forces, while the ordinary
interpretation possesses less significance than a dilapidated mile-post!"
By all of which it may be seen that we really know very little, and must guess a
great deal, as to the origin of the custom. But in the light of history and the
etiquette of various ages, the most probable theory seems to be that a Master
wears a hat today in imitation of the rulers of olden times who wore hat or
crown while those who owed them allegiance uncovered. Turning from history to
practice, a question often asked is: "When should the Worshipful Master remove
his hat?" The answer must come from taste rather than law. Some Masters are
veritable "hat snatchers", pulling off their headgear whenever they speak from
the East. There seems little more reason for a Master to divest himself of this
badge of office when -addressing a brother, than to remove his apron or jewel.
The Master's hat is not used as a head covering designed for warmth and
protection from the weather, but as a badge of authority. Good taste would
dictate its lifting when the Master speaks of or to Deity, of death, during the
reading of passages of Scripture, and in the presence of the Grand Master. In
other words, the Master's hat is doffed in the presence of superior authority.
It is customary for Masters to wear their hats when conducting funerals, raising
them, of course, during the prayer. But equally common usage makes the Master
remove his hat when services are held in a House of Worship. What kind of a hat
should a Master wear Here also is neither law nor rule except those of good
taste. Fashion and custom rule all our clothing, including our hats,. The
gentleman in dark cutaway coat, gray striped trousers, a black and white tie,
gray gloves and spats, who appeared at the White House wearing a golf cap, might
easily be mistaken for a lunatic; he who tried to step to bat on the diamond
with a derby would certainly receive Bronx cheers if not pop bottles!
Lodges in which the officers appear in evening clothes, either "swallow tails"
or dinner coats, naturally expect Masters to use black silk hats. Lodges where
less formality is practiced frequently see Masters in silk hats, but the results
are sometimes anomalous. The spectacle of a brother in white trousers, a blue
shirt, no coat, suspenders, black and white shoes and a silk hat, is
incongruous, at least. At a Lodge meeting in hot weather in informal clothes the
Master is better dressed with a straw hat than the more formal silk. Lodges in
which officers wear ordinary business clothes should look with approbation on
the felt or derby.
The Grand Master in Massachusetts wears a three cornered cockade hat at the
solemn ceremonies of St. John's Day in Winter, survival of the custom begun in
the days when Paul Revere was Grand Master. But the official costume of a Grand
Master in that Jurisdiction, inclusive of a large, heavily gold-incrusted apron,
collar, gauntlets and jewels, removes any feeling of incongruity from the
appearance of this old custom; the Massachusetts Grand Master does not wear his
cockade when visiting other Grand Lodges.
That the Master should wear his hat, and not let the old custom go by default,
merely for personal convenience, goes without saying. But it has been said. In
closing the One Hundred Fiftieth Communication of the Grand Lodge of New York,
Grand Master Charles S. Johnson (now Grand Secretary) said; "I want to call your
attention to the fact that I have been wearing a hat during this Communication.
I have done it on purpose - not because I have any desire to wear a hat like
this, but I want you men in the Lodge to see to it that the ancient custom of a
Master wearing a hat shall not be dispensed with. I have found as I have gone
around the State, again and again, that in many Lodges there is no attempt on
the part of the Master to fulfill this ancient tradition of our Fraternity. It
is a very interesting tradition in our organization, and I think it is one that
we ought not to lose; and, therefore, I have set you the example, and I ask you
in your respective Lodges throughout the State and the City of New York, to see
that this old tradition, which has been so honoured in the past, shall be
continued even in these modern days."
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