Brother Joel Baker
Novus Veteris Lodge No. 864
October 21, 2017
The ritual of the First Degree specifies the Lamb-skin apron in the following manner (from 2005 publication of the California Cypher);
“It is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a mason; more ancient than the Golden Fleece or the Roman Eagle; more honorable than the Star or Garter, or any distinction that can be conferred upon you, at this or any future period, by King, Price, Potentate, or any other person, and which it is hoped that you will wear with pleasure to yourself and honor to the Fraternity.”
Masonic ritual lists how revered the Apron should be to the first degree initiate. The symbols of the Golden Fleece and Roman Eagle, and honorable orders of the Star and/or Garter are listed as being secondary in their value relative to the Mason’s apron. In my review of the apron there are several discussions regarding the “true” origin of the apron, from historical, religious, to conspiratorial. Instead of reviewing the apron and “what it really means,” I will review the four symbols and organizations to which the apron is compared in the 1st degree ritual.
The Epic of the Golden Fleece
The Golden Fleece in ritual may refer to the Greek epic of Jason and Argonauts or to the Order of the Golden Fleece, a renaissance order of knights and noblemen. I will now review one version of the story and compare the lessons with aspects related to Masonry. The tale of the Golden Fleece predates the literate Greek version found in the “Argonautica,” an epic poem transcribed in the third century BC. There were variations to this tale before and after written Greek became common in the Empire.
The hero Jason begins life as prince of Iolkos, in Eastern Greece. Jason’s uncle Pelias kills Jason’s father Aeson and usurps Aeson’s throne as king. Jason is spared from death by his mother and sent to live with Kheiron. Kheiron is looked at as a “first among all” Centaurs, living on the peninsula mountain of Pelion. Kheiron was a mentor to Jason, and in other Greek myths also tutored Achilles, Theseus, and Heracles.
Upon turning twenty, Jason travels to see Pelias, hoping to take his throne. During the journey, Jason helps an elderly woman across a river. While doing so, he loses one of his sandals in the river. He is unaware that the woman is actually Hera, Queen of the Gods and sister wife of Zeus. He found favor from Hera for his good deed towards her.
Upon arriving in the king’s court, Jason is still only wearing one sandal. Pelias takes notice of this as it was foretold that he would lose his throne to a man with one sandal. Jason demands his rightful place as king. Pelias instead invites Jason to go on a quest, showing his value to be king. Jason’s quest is to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the kingdom of Colchis on the eastern edge of the Black Sea (modern day Georgia).
Figure 1. Jason Returns to See Pelias (L) in a Pompeii Fresco, Kheiron the Centaur (R)
The Golden Fleece was the carcass of a flying golden fleeced ram given to Phryxus and Helle by Zeus. Phrixus was an ancestor to Jason. Phryxis and Helle flew east on the ram’s back to escape danger from their step-mother. Helle fell off the ram at the edge of the known world, where the Greeks called the Hellespont (sea of Helle). The Hellespont is today known as the Bosporus straights in Turkey. After flying on to Colchis alone, Phrixus meets king Aeetes and sacrifices the ram to Zeus. The ram’s fleece is given to Aeetes. Aeetes was himself the son of Helios, Greek god of the sun. The sacrificed ram became the constellation Aries. The Golden Fleece was hung on an oak tree in a sacred garden to Ares (Greek god of war), defended by a dragon or serpent. The fleece had the power to heal.
Jason’s travels to Colchis took him beyond the Bosporus into the Black Sea. This was beyond the known world to the Greeks. His ship and crew were named the Argo and Argonauts. The Argonauts included the best men in Greek society. After other adventures along the way, Jason arrives in Colchis and is met with more tasks given by King Aeetes to retrieve the fleece. Aeetes was told that he would lose his kingdom if the fleece left Colchis. Aeetes devised additional feats for Jason to endure. The feats included taming fire-breathing bulls, sowing dragon’s teeth and dealing with the resulting warriors who grow from the ground, and finally putting the guarding dragon to sleep in order to obtain the Golden Fleece. Medea, Aieties’ daughter, assisted Jason out of love given to her by Aphrodite, unknown to her father Aeetes. Medea gave Jason access to her knowledge of magic to help him in his quests. Jason used Medea’s potions and ointments to elude the fire of the bulls’ breath, her strategy with a rock to confuse then defeat the angry soldiers, and her potion to spray the dragon so the dragon would sleep. Jason could then take the Golden Fleece.
Figure 2. Jason obtaining the Golden Fleece from the Oak (L), Jason Delivering the Fleece to Pileus to Become King (R)
Upon obtaining the fleece Medea and Hercules return to Iolkos and become rightful king and queen for some time. Eventually, they are overthrown as Medea’s sorcery is not welcome there. The couple resettled in Corinth. Jason takes the Corinthian princess Creusa as a second wife. Medea’s response to this was to kill Creusa through a cursed dress and kill her own children fathered by Jason. She fled to Athens on a chariot of dragons provided by Helios, her grandfather. Jason resumed his quests and became king of Iolkos once more, but without the love of Medea he grew old, unhappy and was alone. He had fallen out of favor with Hera for breaking his vow to love only Medea in life. He dies alone, resting under the Argo when one of the ship’s timbers crushes him.
Figure 3. Medea’s Flight to Athens as Jason Laments Their Children’s’ Death
The story of the Golden Fleece is familiar with several tales today. Below are similarities to other literary tales or great quests.
- The usurping brother becoming king and the rightful heir taking it back at a later date, (Hamlet, Lion King)
- A quest to find an elusive artifact or treasure which was lost or can be retrievable by a hero or select few, (The search for the Holy Grail, Sword of King Arthur, Search for Atlantis, Finding El Dorado)
- The hero working through tasks and marrying the antagonist’s daughter, (Jacob, Laban and Rachel in OT)
- The hero completing severely hard tasks and traveling long distances to achieve the Greek “Pathos,” virtuous struggle and suffering, which will lead to fame and immortality (Twelve labors of Hercules, Odyssey, Alexander the Great’s military campaigns)
- Explorers traveling beyond the known world (Journeys of Mallart and Hercules, The Renaissance explorers)
In addition to these similarities there are Masonic Lessons to review.
- Jason providing relief to the unknown woman crossing a river not based on outwardly wealth, but because she needed help and he was able to provide it. Hera is grateful to him.
- Jason’s appearance before Pileas, wearing a single sandal, neither barefoot not shod.
- Traveling East to attain that which was lost, an artifact of great value and link to the gods of antiquity.
- Jason’s journeys to find the fleece take him to Colchis, where King Aeetes and princess Medea await him. Aeetes’ father is Helios, the Greek God of Light and the personification of the sun.
- Jason’s task takes him to the East for the Golden Fleece, which is thought to hold great value and healing power. It is not the Fleece that saves him. Medea’s potions and herbs (knowledge) spare Jason from the Bulls’ fire. Medea’s knowledge of confusing the dragons’ teeth warriors with a rock saved Jason from death. Her potion put the guarding dragon to sleep so Jason could obtain the fleece. Her knowledge and magic saved him and gave him the power to obtain the Golden Fleece.
- Jason breaks his word to Medea never to love another. When he strays, he loses favor with the goddess Hera and Medea destroys his life.
- Instead of Jason as the focus, what of Medea? Perceived as a sorceress, she is ostracized for her knowledge by less informed when Queen of Iolkos. Her knowledge of healing, secrets of herbs and potions are spells and sorcery.
Figure 4. Medea (Sandys, 1868)
The Order of the Golden Fleece
The Order of the Golden Fleece was founded in Burgundy in 1430 by the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good. The lands held by Burgundy from that time is modern day Belgium (Flanders and Wallonia), and Northeastern France. The order was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was a Catholic Order of only Burgundian knights and nobles. The order was organized according to 23 knights not including the Duke of Burgundy, acting as Grand Master (24 total). The order would eventually allow 31 and 51 members besides the Grand Master. The order espoused Catholic virtue, with the order’s members praising and policing each other as equals. Regarding charges of treason, heresy, or rebellion, a knight was entitled to a trial by his peers in the order, not the church or royalty.
Figure 5. Grand Master Phillip the Good (L) and Baudouin de Lannoy (R), inducted in 1430
Phillip’s granddaughter and heir Mary of Burgundy married into the Hapsburg Dynasty in 1477. As the Hapsburg’s dynasty split between the Spanish Kings and the Emperors of the Austrian Empire, the Order of the Golden Fleece was reserved by the Kings of both empires as the highest Catholic order bestowed on a knight or nobleman. The last of the Spanish Hapsburgs died in 1700. Both the Spanish and Austrian orders have awarded new members since the early eighteenth century. Today several European heads of state are members of either the Spanish or Austrian Orders of the Golden Fleece.
Figure 6. King Felipe of Spain at his Wedding (L), the Ceremonial Jewel of the Order (R)
Throughout England from medieval to Victorian Times the Golden Fleece was used in Civic Heraldry for cities originally known for textiles or production of Wool. The Golden Fleece represented the wealth of wool production in that area. During the formation of the Grand Lodge of England this signage would have been common. An example from Leeds in Yorkshire is below.
Figure 7. Leeds City Crest and Arms
With regard to Masonry, the idea of trial by your peers in the time of Kings’ absolute power and the Spanish inquisition shows what respect the members had in European Society. Knights of the Order judged each other regarding crimes that were punishable by death outside the order. The order is still accepting members from Europe’s royal houses since 1430. The timelessness of the Golden Fleece from Greek preliterate oral tradition to a Renaissance order of knights to the modern prestige of royal members mirrors lessons learned in the Blue Lodge regarding the timelessness of the craft.
The Roman Eagle, Then to Now
The Roman Eagle or “Aquila” was the heraldic symbol of the Roman Legion, The Roman Republic itself, and Empirical power. The Legion marched under the Eagle spreading Roman civilization through the Mediterranean world as an occupational army. They were the most highly trained regimented force in the empire, often creating self-sufficient garrisons in remote parts of the empire. The Herald was a sign of this strength and honor for the legion. The Roman Eagle as a standard was used to rally troops during battle, as the Eagle herald on a pole was visible throughout the battlefield.
FIGURE 8. Drawing and Modern Example of the Roman Eagle
In his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Albert Mackey gives the following overview of the Roman Eagle below.
“The eagle, as a symbol, is of great antiquity. In Egypt, Greece, and Persia, this 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 19, 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. The heralds explain the eagle as signifying the same thing among birds as the lion does among quadrupeds. It is, they say, the most swift, strong, laborious, generous, and bold of all birds, and for this reason it has been made, both by ancients and moderns, the symbol of majesty.”
This description underscores the Eagle’s use as both a secular and sacred symbol in society. If Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols, the Roman Eagle is a perfect example of a Masonic illustration. The eagle has since antiquity representing the state, divinity, virtue, justice, and power. As Mackey states, the Eagle as a sign of power and majesty did not begin with the Romans. The Egyptians, Greeks and Persians all used Eagles as heralds.
In addition to the familiar Eagle of today tracing its roots back to Rome, the Two-Headed Eagle design familiar to Masons follows a parallel path to the present day. The Hittite empire (1600 BC) made use of double-headed Eagles in their worship and official seals in the ancient Mediterranean. The Byzantine Empire changed the Roman Aquila into the Double Eagle to represent rule over both the West and East Empires.
Since the Roman Empire’s fall the eagle has represented states primarily from European heritage. Single headed Eagles have represented several countries including Italy, Poland, France, USA, Germany (Holy Roman Empire), and Mexico. Double headed Eagles have represented countries including Russia, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, and the Seljuk Turks. The geographic break down between the single and double Eagle as heralds in modern Europe essentially follows the line between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. The Orthodox Church itself uses the Double Eagle for representing the church. The seal represents being linked to Byzantine, with the Crucifix in the right claw and a globe in the left.
Figure 9. Babylonian Eagle with two Snakes (L), Seal of the German Republic (C) and the Seal of the Greek Orthodox Church (R)
Figure 10. Assyrian Eagle Seal (L) and Seljuk Turkish Coin (R), both with Two-Headed Eagle
Figure 11. Royal Coat of Arms of Charles I of Spain, Charles V Holy Roman Emperor
(Note Order of Golden Fleece, Corinthian Pillars of Hercules, Double Eagle, Granada Pomegranate at lower center of arms, “PLVS VLTRA” Motto)
Most Noble Order of the Garter
The Most Noble Order of the Garter was founded as a chivalrous order of knights by King Edward III of England in 1348. Early records of the Order were lost to fire, so the full intent of the Order’s founding are unknown. The order was established to commemorate an event where a female dance partner lost a blue garter on the dance floor. Edward placed the garter on his own leg, responding to chuckling onlookers with “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” (Shame to him who thinks evil of it, or Evil to him who evil thinks).
Figure 12. Coat of Arms for the Order of the Garter and Jewels of the Order
The Order is on the level as there is only one rank, the Knight Companion. Originally the English King and Prince of Wales each had twelve companion knights. In present day, the Queen’s consort and family are included in the rolls but the twelve and twelve rule still applies. There are supernumerary members given membership based on alliance with England or as external heads of state. St. George is the patron saint of the order. During World War II, Emperor Hirohito and Victor Emanuel II were removed. Winston Churchill refused the order initially in 1945 after losing election. “I can hardly accept the Order of the Garter from the king after the people have given me the Order of the Boot.”
Figure 13. Henry Grossmont, Earl (late Duke) of Lancaster (L) and Sir Winston Churchill (R)
The Order of the Star
The French Order of the Star, “Ordre de ‘Etoile” was founded by the French King Jean II (the Good) in 1351. The Order of the Star was a chivalrous order with knights searing to never cede in Battle. Jean wanted an order in France similar to the Order of the Star and Garter in England. The knights of the order could depend on a stipend and housing in old age. The dress of a knight of the Order of Star consisted of an eight-pointed star representing the star of Bethlehem the Maggi followed after Christ’s birth.
In the Battle of Poitiers during the 100 Years War (1356), The English, under the command of Edward the Black Prince, (himself a member of the Order of the Garter), with Gascon allies defeated Jean’s French forces allied with Scots. The defeat of Jean, his imprisonment in Windsor England, and British victories in France led to the disintegration of the order of and capture of Jean led to the Order’s disintegration in the following years.
Figure 14. A Chevalier of the Star (L), the Order of the Star’s founding by King Jean II (R)