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Secrets? What Secrets?

Every Freemason has solemnly sworn never to reveal any of the secrets of mysteries of Masonry – but what exactly do we mean by that?

There is no doubt that in medieval times the secrets of the operative masons were very practical indeed. They included the methods of proving uprights and horizontals, the knowledge of tools and their uses, and perhaps the most important – the ability to make an angle of ninety degrees to ensure that a stone was square.

These secrets took a considerable time to learn and involved a long apprenticeship followed by years as a Craftsman before eventually perhaps becoming a Master of the Art. Only in that way could the true Mystery – or Mastery – of an operative mason be preserved and passed on to future generations. But of course then, as now, there were unscrupulous cowboy builders – they were called ‘Cowan’s’ in those days – who would offer to build or repair a structure without possessing the genuine knowledge.

Such men would sometimes endeavour to infiltrate lodges of operative masons and try to obtain the secrets the easy way, without being worthily recommended and properly prepared. It was to prevent such conduct that passwords and tokens were entrusted to genuine masons so that they could identify themselves if for instance, they moved to another town and sought work there. These words and tokens were not, in themselves, the “secrets” of Masonry, rather they acted as guards to those secrets.

However, we are not all operative, but free and accepted, or speculative Masons. So what are the secrets that we pledge ourselves to keep inviolate?

Words, signs, and tokens? Yes, of course, but these are a mere detail; they are only the guards to our privileges. The true secret of modern Freemasonry cannot be defined in such simple terms. In fact, the real secret of Freemasonry cannot be described at all; it is something that can only be learned by experience, by humility and patience.

Well now, our critics would say, if that is true, what is the point of going on talking about secrecy?

Now that the words and signs, in fact the whole ritual, can be studied in practically any public library or bookshop, what is there left to keep secret about?

There is no easy answer to this, but I would say that it can be summed up under one word: Trust. Masons trust each other because they share & trust the same obligations.

I was once approached by a newspaper reporter – a lady journalist – who wanted to ask me some questions; “Is it true,” she inquired, “that Masons do such-and-such? And do they really say this-and-that?” and so on & so on.

I thought a minute and then said, “Well, before I go on, if I tell you something in strict confidence, would you be prepared to keep it to yourself, and not publish it?"

“Oh, of course,” said the lady, “if it’s in confidence.”

“Now you really mean that?” I persisted. “You believe that if one gives one’s word, one should keep it?”

“Oh yes,” she replied.

“Well,” I said, “if you can understand that, then you will understand why I can’t tell you anything.”

It is really a test of trustworthiness that we obligate our candidates to secrecy. If they keep this promise about little things, then we know we can have confidence in them about greater things.

To quote from the Bible: “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much.”

When I was made a Boy Scout – many years ago – we went through a bit of ritual that I remember to this day;

Question: Do you know what “your honour” means?

Answer: Yes, it means that I can be trusted.

This is followed by the obligation:

"On my Honour I promised to do my best, to do my duty to God and the King (that was George V of course) to help other people at all times and to obey the Scout Law.”

It seems to me that there is very little difference between that and the promise of a Freemason; it is just another way of putting the need for confidence and trust.

A man who is prepared to give away what he has promised to “conceal and never reveal” is not fit to be called a Mason, or a member of any society of men who prize honour and virtue.

Books have been written – usually by non-Masons – quoting so-called “confidential” which they claim to have learned from former members of a Masonic Lodge.

It is only traitors and perjurers who will break their vow of silence, and such men are not to be trusted.

The privilege of being accepted as a member of a Masonic Lodge is offered to worthy men – and we trust, to worthy men alone; only in this way, the trust we place in each other can be intensified and enlarged.

As posted on The Educator and re-posted here with permission. By Canon Richard Tydeman; Rec’d from Bro. Kevan – St. George’s Lodge No. 41, A.F. & A.M., G.R.B.C. & Y..


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