We left off at that part of the story ‘Are You A Mason’ by looking at some postcards and the Play of the same name. A prominent feature of both was the inclusion of the goat – but why is this?
Most of us at some time will have heard the good humoured banter with the Candidate referring to the goat in the Ceremonies but I wonder if the person making the reference knows the origin of the goat in the context to which they refer?
Since ancient times and in Greek and Roman mythology the goat has been equated with the devil.
But why was the goat referenced and printed on the ‘Are You A Mason’ postcards?
According to the Asst Librarian, Great Queen Street (2011), ‘the depiction of the goat was reference to the popular and vulgar anti Masonic misconception that an element of devil-worship took place at Masonic Initiation ceremonies’.
He also quoted the Rev. Dr George Oliver (1782 – 1867), the prolific Masonic author, in one of his papers ‘that there was in England a common belief that Freemasons were accustomed to raise the devil in their Lodges’.
He went on to say that it is these references that led to the depiction of the goat.
And according to the Curator of the Library & Museum (2010) the goat became a standard joke because of the use of a mechanical goat in the games played with the new members outside the ritual.
I had not heard of this before, or since, but perhaps this card is a hypothetical representation of ‘Riding the goat’?
Caption reads; The poor old Mason’s goat is dead. He’s getting a ride on the kid instead’.
Let’s get away from the unfounded references to the goat and look at another humerous example of ‘Riding the goat’, of which there are a number.
Freemasonry was not the only Fraternal Order to be lampooned by the cartoonist – the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks received similar attention.
The Board of Grand Stewards Festival held at the Savoy, London, 28th April 1999 produced a booklet entitled ‘Humour and Freemasonry’.
The comment in the booklet was that the ability to see the humorous side of our activities is a sign of a healthy and civilised society and because of its ‘mystery’, Freemasonry from its earliest days has attracted public curiosity which has stimulated the wit of the cartoonist. Many have shown topicality combined with a warm humour that has appealed to Freemasons themselves.
The painter and Freemason William Hogarth was a Steward for the 1735 Festival and painted the picture ‘Night’ on the front cover of the booklet.
Within the booklet there is one postcard showing the goat – and in addition the red hot poker!
Here are four cartoons from the booklet:
WM – ‘Take special care Bro Salamander that you place one letter on each cheek. I trust this solemn Ceremony will make a lasting impression’.
Bro Salamander – ‘Never fear Mr Right Worshipful – practice has steadied my hand amazingly. Mr Candidate hold your rump a little higher if you please – it is just a mere flea bite’.
DC (?) – You are now one of the Elect and are to have a Seat (when your Bottom is healed) among the Disciples of St John’.
Caption reads; ‘An inspiring sermon, Vicar – see you later at the Lodge’.
In line with reporting, the cartoons picked up on the signs and grips etc depicting increasingly complex and probably physically impossible ways of Brethren exchanging the grips.
St Jame’s Street – Mark Mason’s Hall?
Caption reads; “Sometimes on a cold morning, I wish I’d never joined the Freemason’s,”
Caption reads; Couldn’t we make an exception – just this once?’
Visitors to the Library and Museum at Great Queen Street often express surprise when cartoons are displayed. As commentary in the booklet says – ‘Freemasonry should be enjoyable or there is little point to it. Part of that enjoyment is surely an appreciation of the possibility of a humorous interpretation by other of some of our practices if taken out of context’.
The Mark Degree also features in the postcards; here are some examples with different publishers presenting different artwork.
Caption reads; ‘A Candidate getting the Mark Degree. He’s marked all over as you can see’ – note the various Masonic symbols.
As well as the artwork it is also interesting to read the written message.
Dear Brother, Just a Post Card to let you know I have not forgot you. Hope you are all about right now. I will soon be able to go to the fishing again. Most of the Peats will be home by this time I hope. This is the way to tell the Mason so if you see Andrew Smith or Bengie as we called him, coming down the Good Road with a goat in full chase you will know he’s a full Mason. Has Uncle Tom been at the small fishing this year or have you been. How is Hunter and his gramophone getting on? I will perhaps send you some snaps of West Kilbride if I take any. With love I remain your loving brother, Jimmy.
Dated August 1920, Govanhill, Glasgow
And lastly with regards to the Mark Degree – that poker again!
In the concluding look at the ‘Are You A Mason’ postcards we can see how the Initiation, Passing and Raising together with Signs, Grips and Password are depicted.
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