Masonic Miscellanies – Riding the Goat!

Many Freemasons will have come across the phrase ‘riding the goat’, and will no doubt have been the butt of a joke about it (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) But what does it mean and where did the phrase come from?

An article on the Phoenix Masonry website, sheds light on the origins of the terminology:

The humorous idea that riding the goat constitutes a part of the ceremonies of initiation in a Masonic Lodge is just a Joke and has its real origin in the superstition of antiquity. 

The old Greeks and Romans portrayed their mystical god Pan in horns and hoof and shaggy hide and called him goat-footed.  

When the demonology of the classics was adopted and modified by the early Christians, Pan gave way to Satan, who naturally inherited his attributes; so that to the common mind the Devil was represented by a he-goat, and his best known marks were the horns, the beard, and the cloven hoofs. 

Then came the witch stories of the Middle Ages, and the belief in the witch orgies, where, it was said, the Devil appeared riding on a goat. 

These orgies of the witches, where, amid fearfully blasphemous ceremonies, they practiced initiation into their Satanic Rites, became, to the vulgar and illiterate, the type of the Masonic Mysteries; for, as Doctor Oliver says, it was in England a common belief that the Freemasons were accustomed in their Lodges “to raise the Devil.” 

So the riding of the goat, which was believed to be practiced by the witches, was transferred to the Freemasons; and the sayings and jokes about it remain to this day, although the belief has long since died out. 

The Lodge Goat and Goat Rides book above plays on the joke of riding the goat and plays on the humorous side of Lodge life.

There is a fascinating, more academic paper on the subject by William D. Moore entitled ‘Riding the Goat Secrecy, Masculinity, and Fraternal High Jinks in the United States, 1845–1930’, which you can read in full at

A similar, yet rather fanciful description was written in The New Age Magazine (a Masonic magazine published by the Supreme Council of the Thirty-Third Degree Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States) in 1913:

OUR FRIEND, THE GOAT PROBABLY no preconception of the Masonic initiation is more deeply founded in the mind of the candidate than that, at some period of the novitiate, he will be placed astride a large and woolly goat.

It was so with me and, from the time my petition went in until I first made alarm at the inner door of the preparation room, I frequently congratulated myself on the length of nether extremity with which Mother Nature had endowed me, thereby enhancing my chances of giving a creditable performance before the assembled brethren.

That this is the general view of the uninitiated is well-known, and the expression, “riding the goat”, is symbolic not only of Masonic initiations but of entrance to any of the large family of secret societies.

The origin of the expression is most interesting, not only as showing the connection of modern Masonry with the esoteric fraternities of the dim past, but also as showing how those ancient students drew allegory from the visible manifestations of the glorious works of our perpetual Grand Master.


Amon-ra [Amon] (L’esprit des quatre éléments, l’ame du monde matériel) Illustration by Léon-Jean-Joseph Dubois, Pantheon Egyptien, 1823
IMAGE LINKED:  The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1823 – 1825. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Great Ammon [Amun], the father of all the gods, was master of light, life, purity and-joy. His symbol was the sun. He alone reigned perpetually in heaven, surrounded by the souls of those mortals who had qualified for this reward by a blameless life on earth.

Typhon was the power of evil and at constant warfare with Ammon for possession not only of the souls of men but even for the rule of heaven itself. Ammon was surrounded by a pantheon of minor gods, not distinct and independent, but mere divisions of the attributes of the supreme god-head itself.

As moderns worship the Father, Son and Holy Ghost—the three in one— so the ancients subdivided the powers of Ammon and accorded to a lesser deity the rule over each particular power.

Khem was master of the life-giving principles for all created things, whether animal or vegetable, and was said to visit the earth in the form of a goat.

The myth has it that, during the Golden Age, when he was more worthy of the honor, the gods frequently left their celestial abode and mingled with man on the earth; that, on one such occasion, while they were feasting on the banks of the Nile, they saw approaching the dread Typhon, the terrible, whose abode was said to be the desert of Sahara.

To escape his onslaught the gods, led by Khem, plunged into the Nile and swam across to safety.

That part of the body of Khem which was beneath the waters turned into a fish, and in this form Ammon, in commemoration of the event, turned Khem into the constellation Capricornus—depicted in all books of astronomy to this day as a goat with the body of a fish—and made him perpetually one of the twelve signs of the zodiac.

His position in the heavens is near the extreme south, in fact the ancient astrologists styled Capricorn the South Gate of the Heavens.

The sun, the earthly symbol of Ammon, during the autumn months moves nearer and nearer to the South Gate as power wanes and, at the very lowest ebb of that power (the winter solstice of December 21st) comes in conjunction with the first point of the sign of Capricorn.

Here for six days he imbibes the life-giving and rejuvenating principles of Khem and then starts forth on his return journey, “riding the goat”, until he reaches the highest point in the heavens marked by the signs of Leo, whose strong grip is supposed to have elevated him to his full power of might and strength.

Even so, the candidate for Masonry, attacked by the powers of evil and with resistance at the lowest ebb, comes in contact with the goat and turns his face toward better things until the strong grip of the Lion elevates him to the full power and strength of perfect man- hood.

By a process of evolution the god Khem became Bacchus and, later, Pan of the Grecian mythology, but still retained his place in the zodiac and his earth-visiting form of the goat.

Pan is from a Greek word signifying “all things”, and relates to the life principle which animates all works of the Great Creator.

Pan was more particularly the god of the rural districts and loved to haunt the bosky dells and murmuring mountain streams, where his weird music chimed so harmoniously with the song of nature.

Then, when a mortal heard the pipes of Pan and felt the thrill of awe trickle from the roots of his hair to the ends of his toes, that mortal was said to be in a state of “panic”.

If the noise increased in volume and the mortal terror in proportion, it was said to be “pandemonium”, or “a devil of a panic”. Nowadays, under a like siege of imaginary terrors, the mortal would fearsomely look about him and say “that sure gets my goat”.

From the constellation of the zodiac and the apparent movements of the sun in its course was evolved the Osirian legend of the Egyptians which was the great-grandfather, we might call it, of another legend with which we are more familiar.

Osiris represented the sun and by a conspiracy of the twelve months he was slain and buried in the dead grass and leaves of the winter solstice.

His partial resurrection in April and May, as evidenced by the interspersed warm and cool days of those months, is symbolized by the two unsuccessful attempts of King Hiram, who later uses the strong grip of the Lion (the month of June in the ancient zodiac) with unqualified success, and thus we see the resurrected sun raised to its greatest height in the heavens on June 21 of each succeeding year.

Though it is in the sign of the Lion he attains his greatest perfection it was by contact with the sign of the Goat that he gained his first impulse to ascend and it was with the Goat that he left behind the burden of sin and evil which bound him amidst the rubbish of an ill-spent life, just as the Israelites of a later date bound their sins upon the back of a goat and drove it forth into the wilderness.

And so, I trust, it may be with us—that the goat which bore us into the full fellowship of the mystic tie has borne out with him all the vices and superfluities that hampered our career as a pro- fane, and that we may continue to gain eminence until, in time, we are fitted, as our friend, the Goat, for a perpetual place among the celestial constellations. Aegyptus.

Source: The New Age Magazine, vol. 18, 1913, pp378-9.

The Bucking Goat and the Fuzzy Wonder

However, the use of the phrase ‘riding the goat’ with regards to Freemasonry, stems from the late 19th/early 20th century practice by many fraternal societies of using bizarre contraptions manufactured by De Moulin Bros & Co, Illinois.

De Moulin produced paraphernalia and supplies for groups such as the Odd Fellows, or ‘Side-Degrees’.

The use of ‘the goat’, was just one of many ‘initiation’ activities deemed to be a bit of light-hearted fun – a form of hazing-lite!

These initiation ‘rituals’ or ‘trials’ became public knowledge, and so it was assumed that Freemasonry, as a fraternal – and supposedly secret – society, were using the same methods, ergo ‘riding the goat’ became synonymous with being a Mason.

Please note that these kind of activities – or hazing – have NEVER been used in bona fide Masonic lodges.


Cover of the 1930 edition of the DeMoulin Bros. & Co. catalogue ‘Burlesque and Side Degree Specialties, Paraphernalia and Costumes’.
IMAGE LINKED:  Phoenix Masonry Masonic Museum

These mechanical or ‘goat-riding trikes’ were manufactured by De Moulin especially for Fraternal Societies, such as the Odd Fellows, Maccabees, and Shriners.

‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the best of men’

A book entitled ‘The Lodge Goat: Goat Rides, Butts and Goat Hairs. Gathered from the Lodge Rooms of every Fraternal Order. More than a thousand anecdotes, incidents and illustrations from the Humorous Side of Lodge Life’ was written in 1902 by James Pettibone. It was a (slightly disturbing) insight into the shenanigans of Fraternal Societies, with just a hint of anti-Masonic sentiment.

Are you a Mason?

Soon the concept of ‘riding the goat’ supposedly associated with Masonry seeped into popular culture. One such example was a farcical comedy called ‘Are You A Mason?’ which appeared on Broadway in New York City in 1901.

The three act play by Leo Dietrichstein was playing in London, England, as late as 1911, it was adapted and translated from an original German farce, ‘Die Logenbrüder’ (The Freemason) by Carl Laufs and Curt Kratz.

The scenario of ‘Riding the Goat’ appeared in the script:

Eva (Wife) – Tell me dear, how did you get along?

Perry (Husband) – I missed you dreadfully.

Eva – No, no I mean with your Initiation. How did you get through?

Perry – First rate. It was all very solemn and impressive.

Eva – Now tell me, weren’t you just a wee bit frightened?

Perry – Frightened? Why should I be?

Eva – Well, I’ve been told they have a sort of chamber of horrors – full of skeletons and bones and skulls, with trap doors and secret passages – a procession of masked men with sharp pointed daggers – riding on black goats; but come on tell me all about it – I’m just dying to hear it all!

Perry – I am sorry, but we are pledged to inviolable secrecy! I will acknowledge one thing though – I got bow-legged riding the goats.

It was also more famously satirised in a series of Masonic postcards originating from the early 1900s. Among the most collectible are those entitled, ‘Are You A Mason?’

The first set of six cards were copyrighted by Irvin M. Kline in 1907. They were published by the Macoy Publishing Company, New York City.

They were originally printed in black and white with some sections coloured in yellow. Within a few years, identical pictures appeared in full colour, printed in Great Britain by the Millar and Lang company in their ‘National Series’.

The first six cards included:

These later versions included a whole host of images revolving around the theme of ‘goats’!

Postcard images via Phoenix Masonry – however, these images are variously in the public domain.

Bobby Bumps Starts a Lodge – a 1916 cartoon featuring ‘the goat’.

[Note: there are some cultural references of the era, which some viewers may find offensive]

Further Reading:


‘Riding the Goat Secrecy, Masculinity, and Fraternal High Jinks in the United States, 1845–1930’ – William D. Moore.

Abstract: The idea that candidates undergoing initiation into American fraternal groups were forced to ride goats was ubiquitous in the decades surrounding the beginning of the twentieth century.

In this period, Americans presented the lodge goat in literary, visual, and three‐dimensional manifestations. This interdisciplinary article charts the development and use of this fraternal symbol between 1845 and 1930.

It argues that the goat, originally wielded by the enemies of fraternalism to represent the dangers associated with secret behavior, came to be embraced and celebrated by fraternalists and that the animal’s meaning shifted as concepts of American masculinity were transformed.

Copyright: ©2007 by The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Inc. All rights reserved. Winterthur Portfolio, Volume 41, Number 2/3Summer/Autumn 2007.


The Freemasons for Dummies Blog has a great article which covers all this and more on the subject of ‘the goat’.

The Lodge Goat

by  James Pettibone  (Author)

Excerpt from The Lodge Goat: Goat Rides, Butts and Goat Hairs, Gathered From the Lodge Rooms of Every Fraternal Order; More Than a Thousand Anecdotes, Incidents and Illustrations From the Humorous Side of Lodge Life

MY dear reader, – In appearing before you under the cover of this book, and exposing to profane view a few of the profound secrets of a long and eventful career in connection with the Lodges of various Secret Fraternities, I feel I can safely do so without incurring the disapproval of my F raters, and that I shall be greeted with their cordial and unqualified indorsement instead.

In this intrusion upon a general public, I am sure I shall meet, and renew the acquaintance of, a host of old and valued friends, with recollections of past associations and of agreeable intercourse, which none of us can forget, nor do we regret.

About the Publisher

Forgotten Books publishes hundreds of thousands of rare and classic books. Find more at

This book is a reproduction of an important historical work. Forgotten Books uses state-of-the-art technology to digitally reconstruct the work, preserving the original format whilst repairing imperfections present in the aged copy.

In rare cases, an imperfection in the original, such as a blemish or missing page, may be replicated in our edition.

We do, however, repair the vast majority of imperfections successfully; any imperfections that remain are intentionally left to preserve the state of such historical works.


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