The distinguishing badge of a Freemason is the lambskin apron. After the candidate is
initiated into Brotherhood, the SW, while investing him with the badge, explains to the candidate
that our Brotherhood is more ancient than the Golden Fleece or the Roman Eagle, and more
honorable than the Garter or any other Order in existence.
The ritual does not elaborate further on these orders. Rather, it goes on to explain and
demonstrate that noble Masonic virtue: charity. Even in the Charge After Initiation, which would
seem an appropriate place for some elaboration on these orders, there is no further reference.
The progression of the rituals on these lines is quite right: the objective is to keep the focus
on explaining the Masonic virtues of charity and benevolence rather than a discourse on various
Orders. The inquisitive mind can always separately study these Orders. In this paper, I briefly
explain these orders and contrast them with our own brotherhood.
The Order of Golden Fleece was founded in 1429 by Philips III (“Philips the Good”), Duke of
Burgundy, which consisted of wealthy regions stretching from Flanders to Switzerland. The order
was originally instituted for the protection of the Catholic Church, and initially consisted of
24 knights, later expanded to 33 in 1433, all of them being knights by birth.
One reason for naming the order the Golden Fleece is that Philips made enormous wealth
from the wool trade in the Flanders region. Another reason is that, in his youth, Philips was
inspired by the story of Jason and his Argonauts in the Greek mythology , and wanted to do a
Jason by conquest of the golden east.
In 1477, the daughter of the last Duke of Burgundy married to the Archduke of Austria, and the
sovereignty of the Order passed to the Austrian House of Habsburgs. Another marriage in the next
generation saw the control of the Order passing to the Spanish House of Habsburgs. Over the next
two centuries and a half, there were wars of succession, palace intrigues, and reshaping of
political boundaries in the Europe. In the mélange of these events, the Order was split in 1712
into two, Austrian and Spanish Orders, each contesting the legitimacy of the other.The Austrian Order of Golden Fleece preserved the original practices: ritual admission, solemn
oath and the Sovereign from the Habsburg controlling the Order, which was conferred on only
those, who were Catholics and knights by birth (and hence wealthy). The Spanish Order of Golden
Fleece was more liberal. It conferred the order on non-Catholics and non-Nobles, who were
wealthy, of course.
The insignia of both orders was the golden ram, but there were some minor differences. In the
Spanish Order (figure on the right), only one horn and one eye of the ram could be seen, but the
fleece was in full profile. In the Austrian Order (figure on the left), the ram’s head was
twisted to the front, showing both horns and eyes, with the fleece in profile and swinging loose
in its strap.
Both Orders are controlled by the sovereign with no elections, and admission into it based on
religion, wealth or birth.
Eagle was highly esteemed in ancient Rome. It was the emblem of Jupiter, the Roman God of sky.
Gaius Marius, a Consul, decreed it the symbol of imperial Rome in 102 BC. Depicted with
outstretched wings, it was carried at the head of a staff in the same manner as a banner.
As a symbol, eagle is the most ancient, and more ancient than our Brotherhood. Both Coil’s
Masonic Encyclopedia and Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry state that eagle symbolism appeared
circa 3,000 BC in the ancient Sumerian city of Lagash . Much later, Persians depicted vulture
atop a spear on their flags during wars, and Romans borrowed this symbol from Persians. Prophet
Mohammad adopted Roman Eagle on the flag for his troops.
Why was eagle so distinct a symbol and what was its symbolism? Eagle symbolizes power. More
than its keen sight and alert mind, it is its flight down - sudden, swift and silent - to hunt
its prey that conveys the idea of power. This bird of prey symbolized power, ruthless domination
and victory - three attributes of most interest to the Romans. It is in this sense the phrase
“Roman Eagle” is used, as illustrated by the following excerpt : “Slavery hastened the fall of
the commonwealth of Rome. The power … of the creditor to sell his insolvent debtor, of the
warrior to sell his captive, carried it into the bosom of every family, into the conditions of
every contract, into the heart of every unhappy land that was invaded by the Roman Eagle.”
Many subsequent kingdoms, republics and brotherhoods adopted Roman eagle in one form or
another and with many changes in form and symbolism. Kings of France, Germany, Austria, Albania,
Serbia and the Tsars of Russia used eagle in their royal coat-of-arms. The medieval crusading
Templar Knights used eagle in their banners. In 1701, Frederick I of Prussia founded the Order of
Black Eagle. In the modern times, the United States of America, the current superpower, has bald
eagle in its state insignia.
The eagle used by Romans was the simplest. The eagle used by later kingdoms and empires were
double-headed. Charlemagne, when he was made the Kaiser of Holy Roman Empire, employed in 802 AD
the double-headed eagle to symbolize the amalgamation of eastern and western empires: Roman and
Curiously, the jewel for the Thirty-third Degree (or the Sovereign Grand Inspector-General) of
Scottish rite in freemasonry is also a double-headed eagle (figure on the right above), bearing
the crown on both heads, the talons grasping a wavy sword, with one talon holding the hilt. From
the sword is draped a scroll bearing the motto Deus meumque jus (“In God is my hope”). This
symbols seems to have been adopted in 1758, when a body calling itself the Council of Emperors of
East and West was established in Paris.
Garter, or more properly, The Most Noble Order of the Garter, was instituted in England by
King Edward III in 1348, as a noble fraternity consisting of the King, the Prince of Wales and
twenty-four Knights Companion.
There is a curious story as to how the order was named. The Fair Maid of Kent, while dancing
in the King’s Court, dropped her garter on the floor. To cover her embarrassment and to prevent
the people laughing at the incident, the King picked up the garter and bound it on his leg,
pronouncing Honi Soit qui Mal y Pense (French for “Shame to him who thinks ill of it”). This
explanation seems to have been originated in France, and possibly meant to discredit the Order.
According to Elias Ashmole, the historian of the Order, the Order commemorated the occasion
when King Edward III had given forth his own garter as the signal for the battle of Crecy. It was
intended as the revival of the Round Table from the Arthurian legend. It is possible that the
formation of the Order was a move to gain support for his claim to the French throne. It was
significant that the colors of the garter¾blue embroidered with gold¾correspond to those of the
French Royal Arms. It seems highly likely that the Garter was an assembly of chivalrous men to
aid King Edward of England to become King Edward of France.
The Garter is the highest order of chivalry in England. The holders of the order are entitled
to use the letter “KG” or “LG” after their surnames and titles. Initially, the conferment of
order was restricted to men from the British royal lineage. Over time, the scope was extended to
cover other royals, commoners and even women. Among the commoners, Winston Churchill was its
well-known member. Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk, was the first woman to be admitted in 1990.
How does Freemasonry compare with the Golden Fleece, Roman Eagle and Garter? It is unnecessary
to argue whether our Brotherhood is more ancient or more honorable than them. We may or may not
be, but that is missing the woods for trees.
Golden Fleece, Roman Eagle and Garter are either marginalized or withered in time, as did the
Empires that created them. The Order symbolized by Square & Compasses has survived and even
flourished. This is the substance.
Golden Fleece symbolized wealth, and proved that even the wealthy cannot maintain brotherhood
among them and that they could and would quarrel like thieves in sharing their spoils. The
difference between the two denominations of Golden Fleece was not one of morals, but of
inheritance and sharing the amassed wealth.
Rome represented the finest ideas of Greek civilization. It had democracy, rule of law,
chivalrous and brave men, finest orators, public baths, and organized government. It also had
slavery, power-hungry politicians and demagogues, and conquests and ruthless domination.
Gladiators coexisted with slaves. Scholars mesmerized crowds with oration, and practiced
fornication and pederasty. The republic degenerated and became empire again. The famous
historian, Arnold Toynbee, commented that Rome had its own seed of destruction: its ruthless
domination and power ruined itself at the end.
Garter was no doubt an order of chivalrous men, but its motive was conquest for personal
enlargement, not public good. It does not recognize that all men are at the same level. It
considered that some are higher, not because of their merit and talent, but because of their
birth, ranking or wealth. How can an order be noble if its motto is “Woe be to him that thinks
ill of us”?
In contrast, the order symbolized by Square and Compasses believes in the practice of moral
truth and virtue. It believes in Faith, Hope and Charity; anchored by Brotherly Love Relief and
Truth; and practices the four cardinal virtues of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice.
The member of such an Order, who wears the lambskin apron as a symbol of his innocence, who
maintains the purity of life and actions, will not be erased from the face of the earth, as
history has amply proved.
The story of Jason is a typical Greek tragedy. Jason was the son of Aeson, king of Iolcus.
In a bloody coup, Pelias, who was the brother of Aeson, usurps the throne and kills Aseson and
most of his relations. Jason was secretly carried away to Mount Pelion, where he was reared by
the centaur Chrion. After Jason grows up to an adult, Pelias promises him his kingdom back, if he
brings the Golden Fleece, which was located in the island of Colchis. It was hung there on an oak
tree and guarded by the never-sleeping dragon. Jason mobilizes the bravest Greeks and sets sail
for fetching the Golden Fleece in a ship named Argos (hence the name Argonauts for its
passengers). Jason encounters many difficulties during the voyage, on the island, in retrieving
the Golden Fleece, and on return journey. The story is full of plots and cross plots, and all the
pathos and bathos of a Greek tragedy. In the end, Jason, after years of kingship and debauchery,
turns a wandering mendicant and rests under the shadow of Argos and dies when the prow falls over
An account of Jason’s story, among the non-Greek authors, is Pedraic Colum’s The Golden Fleece
and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achielles. The entire book is available, gratis, under the
Project Gutenberg’s E-text, whose website is http://promo.net/pg/, but also has many mirror
sites. Try with search string “project gutenberg”
Another, better source for downloading Colum’s book is http://bartleby.com. Whereas Project
Gutenberg ‘s material in ASCII text form, Bartelby’s is in HTML format with extensive hypertext
links. One problem with Bartleby’s site is that the book can be downloaded only chapter-wise, not
wholly in one go.
Whereas eagle symbolism is dated to be circa 3,000 BC, Kong Solomon Temple was erected in
972 BC. Source: Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s website. Please refer to the link
George Bancroft, The History of the United States of America as Colonies.
The material supplied by RW Bro R. Ratnaswami and used in compiling this paper is gratefully