Secrecy and silence are virtues that constitute the very essence of all Masonic character; they are the safeguard of the institution, giving to it its security and its perpetuity, and are enforced by frequent admonitions in all the degrees, from the lowest to the highest. The phrase ‘branded as a wilfully perjured individual, void of all moral worth’ springs to mind as a penalty for breaking that silence. The Entered Apprentice begins his Masonic career by learning the duty of secrecy and silence. Hence it is appropriate that in that degree, the whole abstruse machinery of symbolism is employed to impress the same important virtues on the mind of the candidate.
The same principles of secrecy and silence existed in all the ancient mysteries and systems of worship. When Aristotle was asked what things appeared to him to be the most difficult of performance, he replied, “To be secret and silent”.
Among the Egyptians, pressing the index finger of the right hand on the lips made the sign of silence. It was thus that they represented Harpocrates, the god of silence, whose statue was placed at the entrance to all temples of Isis and Serapis to indicate that silence and secrecy were to be preserved as to all that occurred within.
The secrecy, which Freemasonry maintains is merely that which is practiced by all individuals. The secrecy which Masonry practices is merely intended as a safeguard to the Institution in order that it may have proper security. Freemasonry is a secret society only so far as its signs, legends, traditions and methods of teaching its science of morality, are concerned. As to its design, its object, its moral and religious tenets, and its various doctrines, it is just as open as any other society or assemblage of men.
In the year 1848 in the National Assembly of France, an interpretation was sought of that portion of the law relating to secret societies. After much investigation, the conclusion was reached that Freemasonry was not a secret society; that a society might have a secret and yet not be a secret society. As a result of lengthy discussions, a secret society was interpreted to be one that seeks to conceal its existence and its objects, and this as such, does not apply to Freemasonry.
As Freemasonry continues to evolve, it is gradually removing itself from the perception of it being a secret society, which has distinguished it in past years. Such is being dispelled in order to, properly, give the Fraternity a perception of practical value in the world.
Gradually a desire is appearing to have the Order better understood and to secure for it proper recognition as an Institution which, while maintaining an element of retirement sufficient to lift it out of the commonplace and preserve it from being regarded as of a light and trivial character, effects a better moral and social community, but in no sense secretive or clandestine.
In 1880 The Prince of Wales said “We have among us secrets concealed from those who are not Masons, but they are lawful and honourable, and not opposed to either the laws of God, or man. They were entrusted to Masons in ancient times, and, having been artfully transmitted to us, it is our duty to convey them inviolate to our posterity.
The design, the object, the moral and religious tenets and doctrines of Freemasonry are those of an open society. Disraeli once said that sensible men are all of the same religion and, when asked what that was replied, that sensible men never tell.
The arms of the United Grand Lodge of England bear the motto, Audi Vide Tace – hear, see, be silent. It can truly be said that we have, in the past, carried our secrecy to extremes and that some candidates have been lost to us because family members in the Craft did not suggest (or ask), that other family members join them in the brotherhood.
This has happened often and I feel many young men were bitterly disappointed not to have been asked to join, and even worse, felt that they must have been unworthy.
This is where proper solicitation can be made to someone we know and love, as opposed to improper solicitation which, here, needs no explanation.
It is becoming harder to maintain an air of secrecy concerning Freemasonry, with the internet available to pour forth copious volumes of material to anyone who takes the time to enquire. The material available is a mixed blessing: to genuine researchers it is a means by which they can acquire valuable research data quite readily; to casual enquirers the websites present information and misinformation because there is no filter to stop garbage being loaded into and extracted from a spurious site as genuine facts about Freemasonry. And finally to a potential candidate who is curious, the knowledge acquired from websites can be detrimental in a number of ways: when (and if) he takes the first step his sense of awe and wonder can be diminished; he can be provided with misinformation that may take some while to eradicate if he joins; and sadly what he sees on the website might deter him from Freemasonry altogether. Worldwide, Freemasonry is perceived by the public as being secretive and it is shunned by religious fundamentalists who are believed to have initiated the rumour that Freemasonry is a separate religion.
Freemasonrys silence in not contradicting these rumours and has been taken by their critics, in ignorance, as proof of guilt, thus giving rise to further false rumours regarding the brotherhoods activities.
A secret is something concealed or hidden. A mystery is’something hidden literally, the lips and eyes are closed so far as the mystery is concerned. We hele our secrets, that is, we cover them up, or conceal them and do not reveal them to the common light. Secret things, or things secret except to the few, are sometimes said to be cryptic; in Freemasonry,we associate the word with a crypt or vault, a hiding place.
In the ceilings of some of the Lodge rooms in which our early brethren met was a painted, (or modelled) rose. The significance being that everything done and said by the brethren “under the rose, or sub rosa, was secret, a matter of strict confidence between them all.
To sum up let us agree that secrecy and silence are essential to Freemasonry. Let our charitable works be seen but not heard of as boasting. Let the way we live our lives be the most eloquent testimony to Freemasonry and its influence on us and when others chide us for being secretive, let us remember those words of the Prince of Wales: “that they are lawful and honourable and not opposed to either the laws of God or Mane”.
Be proud to be a Freemason and do not make a secret of that pride.