Masonic Education

The Master’s Collar
Presented by W. Bro. Stuart W. Howard at True Britons on 09/13/2010

W. Sir and Brethren,

Take a good look at this collar. It is made exactly according to the specifications laid down in The Constitution of Grand Lodge (article 391, p. 126). While the collars of the other officers are more or less triangular with the jewel affixed to the bottommost point, this collar is circular in form, to remind us the Freemasonry encircles the globe. The sky blue of the fabric is associated with the colour we ascribe to the heavens and, more recently, according to the astronauts, to Earth itself. In some Lodges, the metallics of this collar are cast in gold metal rather than the more common silver to remind us the Lodge has passed the century mark in its history. The metallics form a chain to remind us that the Brethren of any Lodge derive their strength from being linked to each other, and that each Brother must therefore take care not to be the weak link of that chain.

The chain is made up of eight five-pointed stars, or pentagrams, each within a circular wreath, and eight serpent emblems. Each star suggests the five points of fellowship upon which we were all raised and which govern our conduct toward each other. The star also reminds us of the star which first appeared in the East, “that bright morning star whose rising gives peace and salvation to the faithful and obedient of the human race.”

The stars and serpents are so arranged that one of the stars is located in the centre of the chest of the wearer, and from it is suspended the square, which is the Master’s particular jewel – a symbol always facing us when we sit in Lodge, reminding us to harmonize our lives and actions with the principles of morality and virtue.

We can all appreciate the use of stars in this collar, but what about the serpents or snakes? For my money, the serpent of snake has been the victim of a lot of bad press because of his part in the temptation of Adam and Eve, recounted in Genesis, Chapter 3. This story borrows from legends existing all over the ancient world that the serpent was wise, intelligent and, as Genesis says, “crafty.” Now the serpent in Genesis went wrong, but you will find in Egyptian and Greek culture the use of the snake as a symbol of wisdom. The wand of Mercury, messenger of the gods, called caduceus, bore a snake entwined upon it. The practitioners of the medical arts and sciences have adopted this symbol, not because the snake may have been evil but because he was wise. And don’t forget when Moses and Aaron went to confront Pharaoh: the Lord caused Aaron’s staff to become a serpent when he threw it on the ground (Exodus 7:9).

In more recent times, in the medieval Tudor and Stuart periods of English history, the Lord Chancellor of England had powers very like our modern Prime Minister. His bade of office was “The Collar of SS” – a collar comprised of golden snakes laid side by side, all of which adds up to this: that while the stars represent brotherly love, relief and truth, the snakes represent the wisdom and astuteness required for the ruling of a Lodge. A mathematician might observe that the coiling of each snake of the collar resembles the symbol for infinity (resembling the figure “8” turned on its side). Mystics claim that a serpent with its tail in its mouth, as these snakes here, represents eternity. These particulars of the snake on this collar remind us that the wisdom of the creator is infinite and that, in our lives and actions, we should keep eternity in view.

Finally, I should like to say a word about collars in general. Why do our officers wear collars rather than coronets, or special sashes or cloaks or badges? We do not find collars in the vestments of the Priests of Solomon’s temple. In ancient times, a collar was placed on a slave so that he could be controlled by chain. Perhaps domesticated animals like dogs and horses wore collars before human beings did. Thus, the collar was originally a sign of subordination. In elaborate social structures, the higher the responsibility of the slave, or vassal, the more elaborate his collar. The most elaborate of all were worn by the nobility to symbolize their subordination to the Monarch. Hence, The Collar of SS worn by the Lord Chancellor of England.

The authority of the Worshipful Master, as symbolized by the collar, is one of those, quoting from The Work, “distinctions necessary to preserve subordination among Masons and to reward merit and ability.” But, while the Master sits in the Chair of Solomon and rules the Lodge with his gavel, his collar says the he is the chief servant of the Lodge. By oath he is held in this servitude for one year. The collar is not his, but belongs to the Lodge. And when his successor is elected, the collar, the yoke of service, is lifted from his shoulders and placed upon the new Master. This is why some restrictions are placed on when and where the collar may be worn. For when and where the collar is worn, the Lodge is at Work and takes its Centre from the circle of the collar.