The Masonic Goat - Fiction or Fantasy?
||Our first experience upon entering the Lodge as apprentices is to be warned about the Goat. Even before we are informed of 'in whom we should put our trust', we are given knowing looks followed by such comments as; " he's going to get the goat" or " you are going to ride the goat" or even "look out for the goat". It is a good thing that we are informed that we place our trust in God, since some poor unfortunate entered apprentice could understandably be forgiven for replying; " In the Goat". The origin of this humorous initiatory jest about the Goat is
shrouded by the veils of time. Several Older brethren I have
conferred with seem to have no idea of where or when it originated.
It could have originally been imported from America by that
practical joker and fellow Mason; Benjamin Franklin. Or it could
be a unique recent development of post World War II Masonry.
Certainly I can find no references to the Goat or even "riding the
Goat" in Mackay's Masonic Encyclopedia, Duncan's Ritual, Morals and
Dogma by Albert Pike or even FreeMasonry and its Etiquette by
William Preston Campbell-Everden. Even such anti-Masonic writers
as Walton Hannah (Darkness Visible and Christian by Degree) make no
reference to it, and it would certainly be something he would not
be loathe to use to slander the Craft.
|With such sparse reference sources available we could easily
dismiss our Goat as a simple joke, a hangover from those other
fraternities that abound on college and university campuses across
this great nation. In fact a bit of school boy prank amongst pals.
Thus dismissed as a bit of tom-foolery I wouldn't have much of a
paper to present this evening. Yet can we dismiss our ancient
friend who has played such a great role in the myths and legends,
of all religions and cultures of Western Europe? The Goat dates
back to the very earliest primordial memories of Man. And perhaps
even used as a joke within the Lodge it would do us well to look at
him as a totem or symbol of the Great Work. In fact if you will
bear with me I think I shall be able to prove to you that, using
the training we are recommended as Fellow Craft Masons, we can find
that the humble Goat too reflects the truth of Masonry "veiled in
allegory and illustrated by symbols".
The Goat is known to all of us through the ancient science of
Astrology first developed by the Chaldeans, or as they are commonly
known; Babylonians. The Goat symbolizes male fertility, and is
known, to even those who peruse the daily astrology columns of the
local newspaper, as representing the astrological sign of
Capricorn; Dec. 22 to January 22. Capricorn is a combination of
both a Goat and and a fish. According to J.E.. Cirlot in his
Dictionary of Symbols; this dual aspect refers to the dual
tendencies of life towards the abyss ( or water) " or chaos of the
beginning of time, and " the heights or mountains " or order and
malkuth (the earth) as symbolized by the goat aspect.
In fact the very same Babylonians who gave us this symbol of
Capricorn and the science of Astrology were the first Temple
builders, and the goat for them symbolised the essence of the
Temple or Lodge. An animal usually found climbing in the
mountains. Thus from the first ziggurats to the Temple of Solomon
even to later Churches the Goat was seen as symbol of Man striving
to reach God through his building of Temples that represented
mountains. Since in all religions Gods abode is symbolized by
What a better symbol to attribute to our own striving to understand
the G.A.O.T.U. then a Goat. Here too we find an anagram for
According to a research monograph on the Dionysian Artificers and
Early Masonry edited by Manly P. Hall, the symbolism of the goat
relates to the pre-christian God Pan, Dionysius. The Goat-God was
accepted by the later Greek Mystery Schools as the symbol of the
Temple Builders. In fact the Dionysian Artificers was such a
mystery school. They viewed practical Temple Construction as a
source of understanding the mystery of Nature and God; thus being
one of the early esoteric schools from which Masonry has inherited
certain symbols and teachings. Most specifically this Greek
Mystery School developed the Ionic Column which are introduced to
us in the Fellow Craft degree. Once again this column which acted
as the corner stone of Greek Architecture literally holds up the
temple; the very support for the Mountain or home of God.
The Ionic Column is a later development over the Doric, having
developed in the 7th Century B.C., it allowed for more filagree
work in its base and at its top. It is seen as being more feminine
than the masculine Doric Column.
"The Dionysian Artificers or architects were an association of
scientific men, who were incorporated by command of the Kings of Pergamus into a corporate body. They had the city of Teas given to
them. The members of this association were intimately connected
with the Dionysian mysteries, were distinguished from the
uninitiated inhabitants of Teos by their Science and by words and
signs by which they could recognize their Brethren of the Order.
Like Freemasons they were divided into Lodges which were
characterized by different names. Such is the nature of that
association of architects, who erected those splendid edifices in
Ionia, whose ruins even afford us instructions, while they excite
our surprise. If it be possible to prove the identity of any two
societies, from the coincidence of their external forms, we are
authorized to conclude that the Fraternity of Ionian architects and
the Fraternity of Freemasons are exactly the same" says Dr. R. Swineburne Clymer in his book: Ancient Mystic Oriental Masonry.
Besides representing the Temple or Home of the gods, the goat
represents the active male sexual or fertility aspect of nature.
As Capricorn he rules the returning sun, from the darkness of
winter solstice. In the sign of the Goat/Capricorn the sun begins
to resume its ascent towards the spring Equinox. As well the goat
horn is a hallow phallic symbol, represented even today as the cup
of plenty or cornucopia which we see represented in the Lodge.
Says J. E. Cirlot; " In mythology it was the goat Almathea who fed
the infant Jupiter an milk. Given that the general symbolism of
the horn is strength, and that the goat has maternal implications,
and in addition that the shape of the horn (phallic outside and
hollow inside) endows it with complex symbolism (including that of
the lingam or symbol of generation) it is easy to understand its
allegorical use as the horn of abundance. Plobb points out also
that the cornucopia is an expression of prosperity deriving from
its association with the Zodiacal sign of Capricorn."
The androgenous symbolism of the horn of plenty is typical of the
symbolism of the goat in general. While the Greek Goat Gods Pan
and Dionysius were male, we look at the goat as an animal in
masculine terms while it is both male and female. The
identification of the the male goat in by his beard, since both
genders have horns. The phrase " by my beard, or " he pulled my
beard " as well as the style of beard called a 'goatee' all relate
to the goat.
The goat-Gods Pan and Dionysius in Greek mythology represent the
forest and unbridled nature; lust in the case of Pan and Drinking,
and fertility in the case of Dionysius. Hence from the OED we have
the term for a lecherous older man; "you old Goat". Pan is
represented as being half human, half goat with horns, and would
later be used in medieval times to represent the devil.
Ironically the horns on the head of Michaelangelo's statue of Moses
are also Goat horns, symbolising not the devil but the power of
nature and natures God; Fiat Lux. For in the bible it states that
Moses was beheld by his people as having two rays of Light
springing forth from his head.
"Hark! My Beloved! here he comes, bounding over the mountains,
leaping over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young
"My beloved is mine and I am his; he delights in the lilies. While
the day is cool and shadows are dispersing, turn my beloved, and
show yourself a gazelle or a young wild goat on the hills where
"How beautiful you are my dearest, how beautiful! Your eyes behind
your veil are like doves, your hair like a flock of goats streaming
down Mount Gilead."
The Song of Songs (Which is Solomons).
Herein as well in the Old Testament we find the beautiful love poem
which views the goat as symbolizing nature, and fertility as it did
in pre-Christian times. In the Song of Songs both lovers refer to
each other as goats. As to be expected since the lovers in this
poem are a shepherd and shepherdess herding goats!!! And we have
the symbolism of the goats in relationship to sacred mountains or
temples. It is enough to mention that this song is known as
Solomon's who plays such an important role in Freemasonry.
In medieval times clerical knights and military orders made up of
priests during the crusades differentiated themselves from regular
knights by riding upon goats rather than horses. This tradition
can be seen in the Knights Templar who would ride horses but two
knights to one horse, thus representing their clerical origins.
Need I relate the most obvious use of the goat known to all Master
Masons? The Scapegoat. An animal who leads the others to slaughter
now commonly used to reier to the unwitting victim of some malice.
It is obvious that the initiate stands in for Hiram Abiff and takes
his blows accordingly. In referring to the goat perhaps we are
unconsciously warning the entered apprentice of his ultimate end in
his sojourn through the Degrees.
As I mentioned earlier the Boat and the Goat-God Pan became equated
with the devil in medieval Christianity. But to medieval
occultists especially Rosicrucians the goat symbolized the
elemental energies of the earth, the sign of Saturn and the
alchemical element derived therefrom.
In the Tarot it is the Major Arcana card #15 the Devil, who shows
a goat headed deity with a man and women chained to him. The
symbolism is that of people who strive for material rather than
The Goat of Mendes or Baphomet whom the Templars were accused of
worshipping is a Goat Headed deity, being formed of both male and
female principles, with a Caduceus of Mercury for its phallus. One
arm points up and one down , with the latin ' Solve et Coagula'
written on them. This is not the christian devil but a symbol of
the ancient alchemists representing the fact that nature and
natures God is a combination and balance of male and female forces,
light and darkness, moisture and dryness. The very principle of
Hermes Trismegitus; As Above So Below" is what is symbolized by
Another Goat headed deity worship by the ancient pagan Celtic
peoples was Cernnunos the horned god of the Wood. Today in
witchcraft covens the goat head is seen to symbolize this ancient
Unfortunately to the those who remain in the dark, these goat
deities are seen as something evil rather than as the symbol of the
earth, fertility, the prima mater, and the first principle.
Freemasonry in its past like its predecessor the Knights Templar
have been accused of being in league with the Devil, being a
satanic tool etc. That has arisen from the fact that FreeMasons by
their initiation into the Light have been eager to research and
study the Mystical symbols of the past and present, without fear or
irrational prejudice. In times past of religious persecution and
superstition the Mystical Mason has treaded the path of heresy in
search of the Light of Truth.
I hope that this paper has afforded us all a broader view of
meaning and depth of the symbolism of even something as simple as
"our little joke", about the Goat.