All Jokes Aside

by Midnight Freemason Emeritus Contributor
Bro. Aaron R. Gardner, 32ยบ

Why do we use a goat in our jokes about Freemasonry? Our Fraternity is scrutinized due to having secrets. This [Fraternity] is against God according to many religious organizations. But, so much of our ritual and requirements involve the belief and fear of a higher power, or of God. We pray to the Grand Architect or designer of the Universe. Many of our brethren follow a Christian theology and have taken oaths on the Holy Bible.

So, why is it so many God fearing men, in the Biblical sense, make jokes about our beloved fraternity, that incorporates a symbol of impurity, like the goat?

It is true that our fraternity embraces symbols that have previously been revered and celebrated, but in today’s society may be demonized. It is in our nature to understand symbols for all they mean, and to have an uncommon knowledge of them and their esoteric knowledge.

Case in point would be the Pillars at the Temple. We know their names, we know the meaning of their names, we know how tall they are, and what was or is inside them. But, we also know the symbol attributed to the Holy Saints John and how they may represent the longest and shortest day in the year. We also know that what happens between those days and those pillars, there renewing and decaying of life. We as Freemasons have that “esoteric” knowledge. That is why you will see a point within a circle between these very pillars. You will also see a point between John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. We have knowledge of the connections between all these symbols. We have the knowledge that the point within the circle, which we have already attributed to life, has another meaning outside of life.

It is the astrological symbol for the Sun. The “heavenly body” that gives life to this world we call Earth. It is the alchemical symbol for gold. It is a symbol of life’s beginning and the resurrection of life. The symbolism has some beautiful understanding to it. Without our knowledge and implications on these symbols, they would mean nothing to the ritual. We bring the knowledge of the past and our current to apply a meaning to the pillars and the point within a circle. Lovely, revered meanings, and we apply them to the knowledge of Freemasonry, so the craft can be upheld and appreciated.

Then we attribute the symbol of nefarious meanings to our beloved craft, the goat. Perhaps it is how similar the abbreviation of the Grand Architect of the Universe is to the word goat. The lettering of the animal is just a transposed lettering of the abbreviation with one less letter. I can assume the attribution of a goat to our fraternity is by a mistake of the profane. However, even this assumption is hard pressed for truth. GATOU is an abbreviation standing for the designer of the Macrocosm, or the Architect as we would call the deity. Is is an abbreviated form of a highly respected, well appreciated attribution to God.

Where as a goat has notoriously been a symbol of lust. A deadly sin according to Christian understanding, and a vice according to Greek philosophy. Origins likely attributed to an Egyptian practice of forcing slaves to commit beasitality in worship of the Goat of Mendez, otherwise known as Baphomet.

Throughout history goats have had nefarious meanings. Even if there is something beautiful about its symbolism for fertility, with as many men in our fraternity who subscribe to Christian values, the Bible has attributed negative to actual goats in the Old Testament. Named after the demon Azazel, a goat would take on all the sins of the people performing a sacrificial ritual to the Abrahamic God. While one goat is slaughtered, another takes the sins and walks away. This is where the term scapegoat comes from. Possibly even, why we still see good people being punished while bad people seem unharmed.

Yet again, as my long time friend and brother, the late Jim Tresner would remind me, the symbols mean nothing without the people who apply the meaning to these symbols. Maybe if it means nothing to me, then it can lose its symbolism.

Alas, the knowledge of what and where the ideas of goats comes from, still makes me cringe when hearing “Ride the Goat”. I try to forget about it. I can't help but think that it's as if our very own brethren are demonizing the craft, although unwittingly. We have enough ignorant enemies from without the craft; we don’t need them from within.



  1. The Scapegoat

    Many animals have played curious parts in secular history and in religion. The Russian Bear, the British Lion, the American Eagle are all national emblems. The Lamb plays an important part in Christianity and in Freemasonry. The Bull is sacred in India as was the Cat in ancient Egypt. But in the rituals of all lands and climes and ages, no goat is found in Freemasonry, except in ridicule.

    Witches and Devils

    In northern Europe, the wood spirit wore Goat’s horns, ears and legs. Pan, the Arcadian god, is represented as a man but with horns and long ears, and the lower half of his body in the form of a goat. He plays a pipe made of reeds and had a terrifying appearance at times. The word ‘Panic’ comes from the terror he inspired. Out of mythology, the god Pan evolved into Satan. Thus Satan has Pan’s horns and tail, and in early England the Devil was supposed to ride upon a goat. Even today, the goat retains this ancient character as in the expressions, ‘act the goat’ and ‘to separate the sheep from the goats’.

    In Leviticus Ch. 16 v. 10 we read, ‘But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness’. The idea was widespread, that the sins of a people might be transferred to a goat which, driven into the wilderness to die, carried away moral trespasses. In the middle ages, men believed that the Devil took the form of a goat in order to work unnoticed. Satan thus had horns and a tail. Witch stories of the middle ages told of a Devil riding on a goat. Many believed that in the mysteries of masonic working, Freemasons were accustomed to ‘raise the Devil’ and so, riding the goat, a practice of witches, was transferred to Freemasons.

    Two organisations in the early 18th. century were formed to bring ridicule to freemasonry, the Gormorgons in 1724 and the Scald Miserables in 1741. They held mock processions and these two societies did much to spread the idea that Masons ‘raised the Devil’ and ‘rode upon the Goat’. The belief that in the making of a mason the candidate must ride upon the goat had widespread popular support. In my early days in the Craft there was the occasional reference to riding the goat, which for myself I always took as no more than a joke without any substance or foundation. However, such humour merely diminishes the sincerity and importance of the lessons that are conveyed to the candidate by the ritual.

    Some believe that masonic initiations are humorous , concerned with horseplay, a form of college rag and if the same idea is carried into the Lodge Room the sublime symbolism of the ceremony is ruined. It is a pity that an Order so concerned with high ideals, brotherly love and character building should be so demeaned by ridicule. It is, therefore, the duty of every mason to vigorously discourage all inappropriate expressions and concepts, and to foster a reverence for the teachings of the Craft and to find in our ceremonies only uplift and inspiration. Only then will the Order have it’s true understanding, both with it’s members and with those outside the fraternity.

    ( An article from the ‘Masonic Square’ March 1982 )

  2. There are another two explanations of the 'GOAT' theories that I am aware of.
    The first being that we Masons used to refer to the Great Architect Of The Universe as 'God Of All Things' The letters G.O.A.T. of which were printed on our V.S.L.

    Secondly, Our Grand Lodge Certificates used to be printed on a paper produced by a company that had a goat or goats head as a symbol. And had watermarks of the said symbol on the paper they produced.

    When confronted by the profane I just give them these two explanations. and leave it up to them to make up their own minds.


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