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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Vegans, Vinyl and Masonic Aprons

"The lambskin, or white leather apron, is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason..." 
So goes the Masonic description of the aprons we Freemasons wear in the rituals commonly used throughout North America and most of the world.

Like nearly everything else in Freemasonry, the white lambskin apron is symbolic of a pure, spotless and unblemished character to which we all aspire to achieve in our own lives. It comes from the Torah/Old Testament accounts of the Passover sacrifice of the paschal lamb, which was to be a young, unblemished male lamb or goat. In Christianity, Christ was called the Lamb of God by John the Baptist, and His crucifixion, death and resurrection fulfilled the Passover sacrifice by dying for the sins of the world.

And so, our Masonic lambskin is emblematic of the lamb's symbol of innocence and purity.  It is given to us as Entered Apprentices, and we are told to wear it throughout an honorable life, to keep it unspotted and unblemished by the world, and that it is to be laid to rest with our eternal remains when we pass away.

A peculiar article appeared in The Scottish Sun yesterday, announcing that the Grand Lodge of Scotland has broken its 280-year tradition and is now "allowing vegans" to join the fraternity by permitting *gasp* vinyl Masonic aprons. 

Exclamation point.

Who knew vegans WEREN'T allowed to join in Scotland? I'm no pescatarian, but something seems fishy about this story. It's either a solution in search of a minor brouhaha, or somebody had a slow news day and tried to manufacture a headline.

VEGANS will now be allowed to become Freemasons in a move that has seen the Grand Lodge of Scotland change centuries-old traditions.

For years, masons have work lambskin aprons while taking part in rituals - but a vegan alternative is now being offered.
Lambine, an artificial fabric that imitates lambskin, is available for those wishing to join the Lodge without using animal products.
A spokesperson for the Grand Lodge, which once included Robert Burns in its ranks, said there were no reason why vegans could not join the 280-year-old fraternal organisation.
In a social media post seen by The Times, they said: "Many lodges now use vinyl [aprons]. Please remember that it is symbolic and does not need to be real."
And the Freemasons' sister organisation down south, the United Grand Lodge of England, has been allowing vegans and vegetarians to use lambine for decades. 
"Our Districts, which are spread across areas such as Asia and Africa include thousands of members from a variety of religions which are primarily vegetarian.
"Since the 1960s both vegan and vegetarian Freemasons of the United Grand Lodge of England have been able to use lambine regalia, which is made from a high grade, soft feel plastic as an alternative to traditional regalia.
"We sold 1,200 lambine aprons in 2019 and 1,900 traditional aprons so they are a popular options here."
However, some masons were not too keen on the idea of breaking tradition.
Speaking to The Times, Gordon Kilgour, a lodge member from Glasgow, said: "In the address to the apron would the ritual be changed from 'You will observe that it is made from the skin of a lamb' to 'You will notice that it is made of vinyl?"
And Sotiris Sakellarios, a Greek mason, said: "Some traditions and symbolism should remain intact."


A spokesperson said: "We have 200,000 members and a 300 history of welcoming people from all walks of life, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation or socio-economic position in society.

I hate to break it to the Sun, The Times, Brothers Kilgour and Sakellarios, or anyone else, but non-lambskin Masonic aprons have been around since at least 1717 and probably before. While there are early, oddly-shaped white leather Masonic aprons in museums, many of the earliest surviving American and European aprons from the mid-1700s are silk, and often hand-painted with extensive decoration. 

Different from Scottish, English and European traditions, it's common in the U.S. for a Mason to be given a plain, white lambskin apron as an EA — frequently with a storage tube for safekeeping — that he never again wears after his MM degree conferral. Instead, American lodges usually provide stacks of plain, white cloth aprons to members and visitors for general lodge meetings, and only officers have more elaborate aprons that accompany each position. Our original leather apron is meant to be stored away until our death, and our families are to be informed of what is to be done with it when we depart for the Celestial Lodge.

As for the vegan glories of "Lambine,"  white vinyl Masonic aprons have been marketed in the US for decades. Vinyl's been around for a long time - it was developed in the 1930s, and vinyl leather substitute was marketed under the name of Naugahyde starting in 1936, along with the mythological 'Nauga." 

 The J.P. Luther Company in Wisconsin (where they raise plenty of sheep, by the way) has been selling aprons made of "Luthertex" for well over 30 years now, and probably longer. In truth, vinyl aprons are far more durable and long-lasting than actual lambskin, which is very susceptible to yellowing and cracking. Examining hundred year old lambskin aprons that haven't been stored very carefully can be a depressing exercise, because the leather dries out when improperly stored. It's also devilishly difficult to clean if it gets stained, marked or scratched. Vinyl is also considerably less expensive the lambskin leather. And it survives being rolled up or folded in a small apron case or tube better than the real macoy does.

So I suspect the large proportion of vinyl vs. leather aprons sold as cited in the article has almost zero to do with welcoming vegans into Freemasonry and almost everything to do with budget and practicality. Nevertheless, if this dramatic change of heart brings unforeseen hordes of vegan petitioners pounding on the doors of Scotland's venerable lodges heretofore kept away by our perceived cruelty to sheep, who am I to scoff?


  1. Good article, however, there's no reason to not wear the apron presented to the newly made Mason.

    1. That's a great observation! Ritual doesn't say, "Your's to roll up and keep in the back of a closet until you die and then to still remain undetected until long after your funeral!"

      My home Lodge, in Ohio, has a meeting, annually, when the Brethren are invited to locate and wear their aprons, and I'll adopt the practice, if I'm fortunate enough to be in the East next year, in Colorado.

  2. I am in Canada. Were there not early American aprons made of silk, with images painted on them?
    My first vinyl apron was for the Royal Arch degree. I was surprised, is all. We use our aprons at every meeting and I think the vinyl one will age and crack long before the lambskin one has to be replaced.


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