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.