Letter of the month: April 2006*
*This is actually an old Usenet posting to alt.freemasonry asking a
very common question: What's the deal with Masonic secrecy,
anyway? The question comes up all the time, and I hope to make
this reply more visible by including it in the letters column.
Subject: Re: WHY ALL THE SECRECY?
In article <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
|> Please read the original post again. I said I have
|> close relatives who are very secretive about the
|> meetings, etc. I am of the same beliefs as they (as far
|> as I know) and still they exclude their own flesh and
|> blood. That is not right. You can say it is. It is
|> not "tabloid" of me to inquire about a family member.
|> You talk about rights, and I agree. I, you, anyone out
|> there should have the right to ASK questions. If that
|> right is denied; all of us, Mason and Non, will soon be
|> in a lot more trouble than we want. Would you be the
|> one to decide who can and can't question something?
|> That's what it seems you are saying. I don't agree you
|> should tell me what I can ask. LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE.
I am going to assume that you are sincere in wanting to know more about
us, so I will try to answer your question about Masonic "secrecy" in a
clear and sincere way.
Are there Masonic Secrets? Why are Masons Secretive?
Masons are secretive for several reasons:
- misunderstanding of their own Fraternity
- desire for privacy
- formal obligation to protect a few methods of recognition
Why do many Masons not understand more of their own rituals?
Many Masons are not very educated about their own fraternity, so they
have the mistaken impression that almost everything about us is a
secret. This is not true, and it is too bad that so many Masons do not
The main thing that happens in lodge meetings (besides the ordinary
business of running any organization, like reading minutes, announcing
who's sick or celebrating a family event, paying bills, that kind of
stuff) the most important item is the conferring of Masonic degrees on a
candidate or candidates. These ceremonies are almost entirely
not secret, although they are not widely discussed.
Since these ceremonies were written in their present form sometime
between 1723 and 1800, the language is fairly ornate and the style is
complex -- lots of nice long sentences woven with dependent clauses,
sprinkled with archaic words, etc. So even though the ritual uses
emblems, pictures, and symbols to teach the lessons and ideals of the
Fraternity, a lot of candidates come away with only the vaguest idea of
"what happened", and it's only by repeated attendance and study that
they begin to really understand, and undergo the real initiation in
their own life, as a Mason.
Therefore some Masons, who have not received enough of a Masonic
education, or not being sure of what parts of our teachings are secret
and which are not, play it safe, and regard everything that
happens in lodge as completely secret. It's too bad, and many of us are
working to improve the level of Masonic knowledge of our own brethren,
but we do respect that the combination of that language "barrier", the
unusual and "old-fashioned" methods of instruction (symbols,
memorization, recitation) can make it hard for many of us.
Desire for Privacy
Please post to this group and tell us:
- How much money you make in a year
- What you talked about the last time you spoke with your best friend
- What financial or other help you have ever given friends or family
members who were in difficult circumstances.
- Some details of your sexual habits: (Do you have a wife or lover?
When was the last time the two of you were intimate? Do you masturbate?
How often? Do you prefer men or women?)
- Your street address and what hours you are not going to be home in
the next month.
- Do you and your parents/relatives ever argue? What about?
Oh? You don't want to post that to a public forum? It isn't really
any of our business, is it? Of course not! Those are all areas of your
life that you regard as private. They aren't evil, or criminal, but
they are yours, and the fact that you want to keep them private
doesn't imply that you are up to anything bad.
Any mentally healthy person has some regard for his own privacy, and
in any free society, people enjoy a good deal of control of what matters
they wish to keep private.
Masonry, and any Masonic lodge, has matters that it considers private
or personal, and so does not discuss them with the outside world. Some
of these concern the personal affairs of members:
- Bro. Joe Bleaux is getting over surgery for colon cancer and is
embarrassed about coming to meetings
- Bro. Phred Phaxter is upset that Bro. Dave Dontell forgot his
anniversary party and someone ought to try to patch things up between
the two of them
- Bro. Will Keeptryin has hit a bad patch financially and has asked
me, as master of the lodge, to let him pay only half dues this year. I
offered to forgive the dues entirely, but Bro. Will insists that since
he can afford to pay half, he wants to do what he can. (And in our
lodge by-laws, the Master wouldn't even be allowed to repeat this
discussion with any of the other members, except for our Treasurer and
Secretary, so that they can take the appropriate actions to mark him
Paid-up for the year.)
- Bro. Sam Fergettit is getting older, and his wife called the
service committee chairman to ask that somebody who lives near him start
offering to drive him to meetings, because he'd feel funny admitting
that he needs the help, but she worries about him driving at night.
Get the idea? These aren't official "secrets" but we're brothers,
and this is our personal business.
Also under the idea of privacy are matters that we're not allowed to
discuss because of Grand Lodge rules or our own by-laws: if Tom Deadbeat
applies to become a member of my lodge, and some members of the lodge
have a good reason to vote against his admission, they don't even have
to tell the other members why they voted to reject him, in
fact, they aren't allowed to formally announce in lodge how they voted.
And if they do happen to mention their reasons to another brother in
private, neither of them is allowed to discuss those reasons, or the
results of the vote, in public, outside the lodge. In this way, we
protect the privacy even of people we reject for admission.
Privacy also affects how and when we discuss some ritual matters that
aren't "secret" in the strictest sense of the word. If I'm meeting with
a serious student of Masonry who is not him/herself a Mason, there are
many things about or ritual and symbols that I would discuss with them,
but that I still wouldn't throw open to public discussion in a forum
like this. It just wouldn't feel right to do so.
And there are matters of ritual that I might discuss with an outsider
but not (ahead of time) with one of our own candidates, simply to
preserve the sense of surprise and delight that accompany the opening of
these matters in the correct order and in the proper context.
The Real "Secrets"
Finally, yes Freemasonry does have some real "secrets". They are
usually called the "modes of recognition", and they are the ways that
one Mason can prove himself to another.
They are secret in that I and every other Mason have promised very
seriously and sincerely never to give them to anyone who isn't a Mason.
As Master of a lodge, I teach these modes of recognition to our
candidates, and as an instructor in a Lodge of Instruction, I meet with
candidates from various lodges, and make sure that they have learned
them and remember them correctly. But I will not tell them to you or
anyone else not entitled to them. Period. I promised I wouldn't. I
gave my word.
Of course, there have been many cases through history of Masons who
did not take their promises seriously, and who have revealed those
secret modes of recognition. There are many many books printed which
contain them. I'm not going to help you find them. If you did find
one, though, and you read through it eagerly, skipping all that stuff
about moral lessons and history, looking for the "big secrets", you'd
find them, and you'd say "What a stupid and inconsequential bunch of
crap! Those are the big secrets? Who cares?" And in a sense, you'd be
absolutely right. They are only important because
- they let Masons prove themselves to each other
- they are concrete representations of our promises to each other and
Without that context, they are meaningless.
If you want to know more about Freemasonry and your relatives won't
tell you, you can ask them to read this note and tell you what they
agree with and disagree with in it. That could help get a discussion
If you are seriously interested in learning more about us because you
might want to join, tell them that, and they will probably be more
willing to tell you something about the Craft. You can also learn a lot
more by reading the discussions here and by browsing the various Masonic
resources on the internet (my URL is at the end of this message).
On the other hand, if you have already that you do not like Masonry
because of... well, for any reason, and you know that you are
determined in it and not willing to change your opinion based on
knowledge and evidence, then you should not expect us to want to open
our hearts to you in friendship and trust. That's fair, isn't it?
You have to make up your mind.
Up to the Letters: Main page
All the way UP to A Page About
Freemasonry main page.