A few years back, I came across an article about early 20th century Masonic art (artifacts, architecture, ceremonial clothing, etc.), and I was pretty much hooked in. As an independent filmmaker, I deal with fictional stories based on ethereal concepts but, on a personal level, I've always paid attention to beliefs relating to the otherworldly and how those beliefs intertwine with our tangible world. I don't know much about the Masons now, nor Masonic ideals from 100 years ago, but I do know that plenty of their beautifully constructed, period relics–featuring all-seeing eyes, pyramids, hearts, hands, and angel wings–certainly seem like they'd be magical or used for that kind of purpose. There's no question about that.
After a little while spent looking through Google images, I realized that I wanted to purchase some Masonic artifact for a film-related purpose but I wasn't sure what kind of object I wanted or what project, specifically, it would be used for.
But then a project came up out of the blue and I figured that could create an opportunity to utilize one of those artifacts.
Last summer, I shot an experimental short called "Someplace" about a woman who goes missing and the questions surrounding her disappearance.
The film deals with down-to-earth assumptions about where she could have gone and why but then the narrative, towards the middle of the piece, pivots towards outlandish rumors and the woman's fascination with fairy tales. It was written in the script that the lady would encounter 3 or 4 mysterious figures who seemingly stepped out of a Brothers Grimm fable. One of the characters that we briefly see in the film is a character called Glas, an iteration of the Green Man archetype, acting as a sort of Pied Piper for the lead character. I wanted him to appear eternally youthful but ancient, playful yet serious and intimidating.
I don't remember whether or not I saw the robe, through posted pictures, that was used for his costume first and then based the character around the robe or if I decided on the basic details for Glas initially and then hoped that I would be able to find the right something for him to wear. I think, probably, that the character was created to fit the robe….
You never know what you can find online. You can get shoes, electronics, furniture, and….. grimy secret society outfits from the 1800s. This particular item, purchased on eBay, wasn't expensive. It's not in great shape. It's falling apart, possibly rain damaged, torn up in certain spots, and the front of it features a puzzling/problematic brownish-reddish-purplish stain that looks like very old wine or blood splatters. If you think that those bloody wine splatters would scare me off from a visually-stunning bargain like this then you'd be very, very wrong. The damaged robe contains an array of incredible colors, fabrics, designs, symbols (leaves, grapes) and a sequined Sun emblem in a pretty good mood despite the surrounding conditions. I knew that the robe would be an amazing costume for the Glas character. So what if it kind of looks like it was dragged out of the crypt of some medieval Harry Potter wizard? I knew that the gentleman playing Glas–the endeavorous Remy Osborne–wouldn't be concerned. He's not a delicate, easily-scared type of guy.
For a couple of weeks while we were shooting, I had the garment hanging up and airing out in my living room (it's fascinating to look at) and, I admit, that there were a couple of nights that I walked into the dark condo and forgot that I had put it there. So, yeah, for a quick moment or two I got image flashes of a headless occultist floating next to the couch when I flicked on the light switch but, no worries, it was just the antique masonic robe.
The robe wasn't delivered with a backstory printout stuck in the box so I had to make due with the information I was able to dig up about it.
It originally came from the Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can read about this location here:
There seemed to be a lot of stages – shows, that took place at this location and, when the building was no longer being used for its intended purpose, there were plenty of costumes and props left behind in storage. I'm going to take a wild guess that the robe was one of those left-behind costumes and, clearly, hadn't been used in a long time. Somehow it wound up at a boutique in New York (from where I bought it on Ebay) and now it's in Chicago as of August 2019. The Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center was built in 1912, but the robe could be older than that. This means that it may or may not have been custom-stitched for pageants on that specific stage though it was, more than likely, put to use there at some point in the past.
There is no tag inside the robe, like the kind that can be found on other vintage ceremonial pieces, so it may be impossible to be sure of when, where, or why exactly it was made. It's truly mysterious, appropriately enough.
I'm no expert on Masonic symbols but, from what I've researched, the details of the robe probably match in meaning to other widely-recognized uses of color and imagery. The main colors of the robe are green (immortality, life force, thriving nature), white (purity), purple (mastery, elevated status), and yellow/gold (light, divine truth). Leaves and grapes typically mean bounty/harvest and Sun imagery refers to godhead, the ultimate, the source, etc.
Who wore this robe during ceremonies? What did the ceremonies entail?
Or, maybe, the robe was used to dress a character in a story that took place on the Masonic stage and wasn't used for ceremonies per se. It's not difficult to imagine the robe representing a king or emperor within a performed narrative, similar to how a nature king character wears it within the "Someplace" short film.
No, I don't believe that this robe is cursed or anything along those lines. It's simply an unusual, historic artifact. The robe was put to good use within my film but the character who wears it is only in the story for a few short seconds. I wish that we could see the costume more onscreen but the Glas character is meant to be a brief, quick vision; a kind of hallucination.
Whether or not this old, enchanted-looking garment possesses some kind of special energy, or was even meant to, I can't really say. It did, however, contribute some very real visual spark to one of my own works and, as worn-out and damaged as some of the fabric is, the robe couldn't have been more perfectly magical and timeless.