Hat, the Master's
History has more than one device for creating its romantic effects, but none more surprising than inversion which is to have something occur where its opposite would be expected. The universal American custom of the Master's Hat is such an inversion (see page 445); for it is not the custom in contemporary England, where ancient usages are to be expected, yet is required in America, where custom has least weight. American Masons can be glad that this inversion has occurred because there is in craft practice in general and in Masonic practice in particular no custom more honored or more ancient.
The Greeks crowned their poets, their victorious generals, and the winners of the games with wreaths; at Delphi with one of apple boughs, at Olympia with laurel, at Corinth with pine. Even the gods in time came to be represented with a wreath of light or sun rays, the corona, origin of the saints' halo. At a Roman general's Triumph he was crowned with a laurel wreath, called corona triumphalts; in later times a wreath of gold A citizen who had won a peace-time triumph received an ovation, and a crown for his head. Anglo-Saxons had similar customs; so also the French, who crowned graduates of their Universities with caps; and the Italians who set a cap of fur on a man's head when he was made Duke (not the same as duce!). In England a Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, and Baron received a cap. So also did the alderman or master of a gild or a City Company. Such a cap came to be called "a cap of maintenance," and the coat of arms of the City of London is topped with such a cap. The helmet in military arms is an adaptation of the same custom; the King's "cap" is a six-barred helmet. While Henry VIII was still loyal to the Vatican he was presented with a consecrated cap of maintenance by Pope Leo X. The wearing of such a cap, with its ceremonial significance, was so closely connected with the ceremonial wearing of a sword that the two became enshrines together in the phrase "cap and sword."
It would thus appear that the wreath, cap, or hat began as a badge of honor; perhaps it became afterwards identified with the idea of authority, and then with the idea of a presiding officer, because in so many cases it was the head or chief or leader who was honored. The Master's Hat has both ideas combined in it; it represents his authority to preside; it represents also the fact that he has received the highest honors of his Lodge and it is because it thus is a symbol of that honor that he will not, if he rightly understands his art, take it off and put it aside, as if the honor meant nothing to him; certainly he will not lay it on the floor.
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