A head covering worn by the Master of the Lodge, traditional in American Masonry, but virtually unthinkable in the rest of the world.
- Source: MasonicDictionary.com
Articles On The Hat On This Page
To uncover the head in the presence of superiors has been, among all Christian nations, held as a mark of respect and reverence. The Eastern nations uncover the feet when they enter a place of worship; the Western uncover the head. The converse of this is also true; and to keep the head covered while all around are uncovered is a token of superiority of rank or office. The king remains covered, the courtiers standing around him take off their hats.
To wear the hat in an assemblage has been thus done as a sign of equality and it is so worn in the English Parliament and in certain Masonic Lodges on the Continent of Europe. So very common is the ceremonial use of the hat when at labor by the presiding officers of a Masonic Body in the United States and to a far less frequent extent elsewhere, Bristol, in England, where a hat is worn being an exception to the general rule there, that one naturally looks for instances of any similar character in other directions. Among the Romans we are told in Fiske's Classical Antiquities (page 237) that they prayed with the head covered or veiled, capite velato. The woolen cap, the pileus (page 298) was allowed only to the free by birth or manumission, but forbidden to slaves. Fiske says (page 289):
The liberating of slaves took place in several ways. The most ancient mode seems to have been by will manumissio per testamentum, on the decease of the master. There were two other modes, censu, and per vindictam; the former was when the slave, with the master's consent, was enrolled in the taxation list as a freedman, the latter was a formal and public enfranchisement before the praetor. In the last case, the master appeared with his slave, before the tribunal, and commenced the ceremony by striking him with a rod, vindicta; thus treating him as still his slave. Then a protector or defender, assertor liberntatis steps forward and requests the liberation of the Slave by saying hunc hominen liberum esse aio, jure Quiritium, the last nord referring to the inhabitants of Cures a Sabine town, after the union of the Romans and Sabines, being equivalent to meaning citizenship.
The first of the two similar expressions was followed by the other, indicating that it was the owners will the slave should be freed. Then the master, who has hitherto kept hold of the slave, lets him go, e manu emittebat, and gives up his right over him with the words, hunc hominem libertum esse volo. A declaration by the praeter that the slave should be free formed the conclusion. To confirm this manumission the freed slave sometimes went to Terracina and received in the temple of Feronia a cap or hat, pious, as a badge of liberty. The slave to be freed must not be under twenty years of age, nor the person setting him free under thirty.
The goddess of fruits, nurseries, and groves, Feronia, had a Temple on Mount Soracte where a grove was especially sacred to her. She was honored as the patroness of enfranchised slaves, who ordinarily received their liberty in her Temple.
Another, and a custom that prevails in our own times, is mentioned by Dr. George C. Williamson, Cunous Survivals (page 92), writing of the House of Commons, 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'!"
Pascal's Provincial Letters, American edition of 1850 translated by Rev. Thomas McCrie of Edinburgh, Scotland (page 79), gives a curious reference to the old Paris proverb about voting without speaking, Il opine du bonnet comme un moine en sorbonne, means literally: "He votes with his cap like a monk in the Sorbonne" alluding to the custom in that place of learning of taking off the cap when a member was not disposed to speak, or in token of agreement with the rest (see also Nicole i, page 184, Ludovici Montaltii Litterae Provintciales).
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
HAT, THE MASTER'S
History has more than one device for creating its romantic effects, but none more surprising than inversion which is to have something occur where its opposite would be expected. The universal American custom of the Master's Hat is such an inversion (see page 445); for it is not the custom in contemporary England, where ancient usages are to be expected, yet is required in America, where custom has least weight. American Masons can be glad that this inversion has occurred because there is in craft practice in general and in Masonic practice in particular no custom more honored or more ancient.
The Greeks crowned their poets, their victorious generals, and the winners of the games with wreaths; at Delphi with one of apple boughs, at Olympia with laurel, at Corinth with pine. Even the gods in time came to be represented with a wreath of light or sun rays, the corona, origin of the saints' halo. At a Roman general's Triumph he was crowned with a laurel wreath, called corona triumphalts; in later times a wreath of gold A citizen who had won a peace-time triumph received an ovation, and a crown for his head. Anglo-Saxons had similar customs; so also the French, who crowned graduates of their Universities with caps; and the Italians who set a cap of fur on a man's head when he was made Duke (not the same as duce!). In England a Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, and Baron received a cap. So also did the alderman or master of a gild or a City Company. Such a cap came to be called "a cap of maintenance," and the coat of arms of the City of London is topped with such a cap. The helmet in military arms is an adaptation of the same custom; the King's "cap" is a six-barred helmet. While Henry VIII was still loyal to the Vatican he was presented with a consecrated cap of maintenance by Pope Leo X. The wearing of such a cap, with its ceremonial significance, was so closely connected with the ceremonial wearing of a sword that the two became enshrines together in the phrase "cap and sword."
It would thus appear that the wreath, cap, or hat began as a badge of honor; perhaps it became afterwards identified with the idea of authority, and then with the idea of a presiding officer, because in so many cases it was the head or chief or leader who was honored. The Master's Hat has both ideas combined in it; it represents his authority to preside; it represents also the fact that he has received the highest honors of his Lodge and it is because it thus is a symbol of that honor that he will not, if he rightly understands his art, take it off and put it aside, as if the honor meant nothing to him; certainly he will not lay it on the floor.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
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 medieval 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 to 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 adapted to the innovation.
When the initiatory rites in a medieval 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 lodge with covered heads. (1) 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 purchase 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.
By the expression "putting hands in a hat," was also meant a mutual oath between persons to a confederation or conspiracy. But the most important signification of this covering for the head was its use as a symbol of power and authority, and in such sense it was oftentimes set up as a signal of compulsory assemblage. When thus elevated or fixed upon a pedestal, it convened the people of the neighborhood. Gessler's well-known emblem of subjection and superiority, was a hat erected on a pole or column. Ancient Germans shared the symbolism of this article with the Romans, who also regarded it as a type of freedom or as a release from servitude. (2) Upon the death of Nero, so much joy was manifested by the populace, that, in the excess of their delight, they rushed about the eternal city with hats on.
Gothic justices wore a cap or suitable head-dress when presiding over court, as emblematic of authority, and manifestly the people wore their hats while attending the tribunal as symbols of personal liberty. (3) And with this typical allusion general 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 medieval 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!
--Fort--Antiquities of Freemasonry.
- Source: The Builder - May 1917
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 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 stretch of a point, be considered a Landmark.
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
During the days of chivalry, knights often wore full armor in public,
and usually when going upon private journeys. To open a visor 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 King’s.
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
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 a 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 backward - a custom which obtains
even today in ceremonial audiences in England - that none might “turn
his back on the sovereign.” The very bowing of the head in the
presence of authority confessed either fearlessness of an unseen
blow, or his willingness 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
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 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) wa cocked hat into the Lodge room. In Lodge Moria 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 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, Wor. Brother Gotthelf Greiner states, of German
Masons;” . . .it is the invariable custom for brethren in Lodge to
wear 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
It is to be noted that the Ahiman Rezon of Pennsylvania specifies
that at Masonic funerals all the brethren should wear black hats,
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
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 Mason’s Craft in the middle ages, the
brethren on a cathedral building project were occasionally permitted
to hold their meetings in the cathedral they built, or, if it 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 hat!
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, Pallier (Wardens), and dear fellows!’
Whereupon the Master, or in his absence the Pallier, 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 proceeding ceremony, it is evident that neither the Master not
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 deter-mining the
“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
Lodge 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 of 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 them
allegiance were 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 his 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.
What kind of a hat should a Master wear? Here also is neither law
nor rule except for those of good taste. Fashion and custom rule all
our clothing, including our hats. The gentleman in dark cutaway
coat, gray stripped 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
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, black and white shoes
and a silk hat, is incongruous, at the 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
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 in that
Jurisdiction, inclusive of a large, heavily gold-encrusted 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 Grand 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!
On closing the one hundred fiftieth Communication of the Grand Lodge
of New York, Grand Master Charles S. Johnson (now Grand Secretary)
“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 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 continue
even in these modern days.”