A word used by Freemasons to refer to non-Masons. Although probably not intended as a pejorative, it nonetheless comes across as such due to how the meaning of the word has changed over the years. Within the context of Masonic ritual the word maintains value, however outside the lodge it should not be used.
- Source: MasonicDictionary.com
This has a technical meaning in Masonry, nevertheless it adheres closely to the original significance of the word. Fanum was the Latin for temple; pro meant “before,” in the sense of “outside of.” It is the picture of man standing on the outside, not permitted to enter. It has tlfis same sense in Masonry; the “profane” are those men and women who stand outside of Masonry. The word here, of course, has nothing to do with profanity in the sense of sacrilegious language.
- Source: 100 Words in Masonry
Articles On The Profane On This Page
There is no word whose technical and proper meaning differs more than this. In its ordinary use profane signifies one who is irreligious and irreverent, but in its technical adaptation it is applied to one who is ignorant of sacred rites. The word is compounded of the two Latin words pro and fanum, and literally means before or outside of the temple; and hence, a profanes among the ancients was one who was not allowed to enter the temple and behold the mysteries. "Those," says Vossius, "were called profane who were not initiated in the sacred rites, but to whom it was allowed only to stand before the temple-profane-not to enter it and take part in the solemnities." The Greek equivalent, had a similar reference; for its root is found in a threshold, as if it denoted one who was not permitted to pass the threshold of the temple. In the celebrated hymn of Orpheus, which it is said was sung at the Mysteries of Eleusis, we meet with this phrase, meaning I speak to those to whom it is lawful, but close the doors against the profane. When the mysteries were about to begin, the Greeks used the solemn formula, and the Romans, Procul, O procul este, profani, both meaning, Far hence, O far hence, be ye, ye outsiders! (see Vergil, Aeneid, book vi, line 258).
Hence the original and inoffensive signification of profane is that of being uninitiated; and it is in this sense that it is used in Freemasonry, simply to designate one who has not been initiated as a Freemason. The word profane is not recognized as a noun substantive in the general usage of the language, but it has been adopted as a technical term in the dialect of Freemasonry, in the same relative sense in which the word layman is used in the professions of law and divinity.
Accepted as the word is for general use among Freemasons, its ancient meaning "outside the Temple, an outsider," may be misunderstood. A peculiar instance of this sort came up for consideration in 1926 at the Grand Lodge of the Philippine Islands. One of the Lodges objected to the use of the word profane, in either English or Spanish, when reference is made to persons not Freemasons, because it "has no proper place in modern Masonry." Accordingly the Grand Lodge adopted this resolution:
That the use of the word profane when reference is made to persons not Masons be avoided wherever possible ban the use of some other word or expression in its stead, such as un-initiated and non-Mason.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
Why do Masons speak of those outside the Order as Profane? Such is the question of a young Mason who does not like to have it implied that he is sacred and his father "profane," as this manner of speech seems to say. The answer is that a Mason, by his initiation, is set apart, symbolically, to a dedicated life, devoted to moral truth, spiritual faith and human service. If he is a Mason in spirit, in fact, he is committed to a life that is sacred in its purpose and ideal, and while he should not regard others as "profane," in the ordinary use of that word, he must regard himself as obligated to a life of chastity, charity, and goodwill. The word has also a further allusion.
Why do we regard the street as profane and the Lodge-room as sacred? Because anything may go on in the street cat, a cow, a dog may litter it, fight in it, defile it. Not so a Lodge-room. There such things are excluded, and the place is set apart to high axed beautiful uses. Just so, a man who is really a Mason will regard his mind as a sanctuary from which unclean thoughts, dirty motives, unjust suspicions, unworthy ambitions are excluded. Some thoughts cannot gain admission, no matter how many knocks they give at the door. The filthy jest, the irreverent oath, the slimy slander against his fellow will be regarded as a Cowan, an eavesdropper, and will be treated accordingly. Truly, this matter of being a Mason is something more than ritual and the wearing of a pin.
- Source: The Builder May 1917
ENLIGHTENING THE PROFANE
Profane - from “pro,” without “fanum,” temple.
Literally one “before,” or “outside the temple.” In the Masonic
sense a “profane” is one who has not been initiated.
“No, I’m not a Mason. I’ve never been asked to join!”
How many times has this been said, usually with some indignation, in
answer to the question, “Are you a Mason?”
It comes to some men with a shock of distinct surprise that
Freemasonry asks no man to join her ranks. In this refusal to
proselyte - nay, in the distant prohibition of any proselyting -
Freemasonry, curiously enough, joins hands with Brahminism, the
religion of much of the Orient, which has the distinction among
religions of attempting to make no converts. In its refusal to seek
membership, Freemasonry stand alone among organizations.
The reasons are dual: First, Freemasonry, greater than any man, no
matter how important he may be, confers honor upon her initiates.
She is never honored by any man seeking her mysteries. Second, it is
an essential part of Freemasonry that a man come of “his own free
will and accord.” The Fraternity obligates a candidate for all time.
“Once a Mason, always a Mason” is a truth, no matter how little
interest the member may take, no matter if he demits, no matter if he
be dropped N.P.D. or even expelled; he cannot “un-make” himself as a
Mason, nor can he avoid moral responsibility for the obligations he
Could any man say: “I joined under a misapprehension, I was over
persuaded, I was argued into membership,” he might think himself
possessed of just such a cause and a reason for a failure to live up
to the obligations which no longer interest him. But no man does so
join. He must declare in his petition, and around a dozen times
during the course of his progress through the degrees, that his
application is voluntary. Were any persuasion used upon him before
he signed his petition, he could not truthfully state that his entry
was “of his own free will and accord.”
This is pretty well grounded in most Freemasons. But sometimes it
has the untoward effect of making a Mason Chary of giving legitimate
information about the Fraternity, properly sought for a worthy
purpose. It is highly improper to say to one’s friend “I wish you’d
join my lodge, I’d like to see you enjoy the advantages of
Freemasonry.” It is wholly legitimate to answer a serious question
asked by some man who is considering making an application.
Some good brethren when asked questions about Masonry by the profane
are puzzled as to just how much they may tell. Knowing well certain
matters of which they must not speak, they are not always sure just
where these end, and where begins that which may not be told.
Much more is tellable than is secret. Literally thousands and
multiplied thousands of books have been written on and about the
Ancient Craft; the Aporetta, or secrets of Freemasonry, could they be
written at all, might be compressed within a few pages.
Let us suppose then, that we are asked by a sincere man: “Tell me
something of Freemasonry. I think I would like to be a Freemason,
but I know very little about it.”
Such a query is the key which may legitimately unlock our lips about
those outward matters concerning the Fraternity which all the world
We may begin by assuring the questioner that Freemasonry brings as
many duties and responsibilities as it does pleasures and rewards.
The Freemason becomes a link in a chain; he must be as strong as the
next link or we want him not. He who looks to the Fraternity to
provides all, give all, and receive nothing, should apply to some
It is legitimate to explain the structure of Freemasonry to a
seriously interested questioner. Freemasons gather together in
lodges; local organizations chartered by, and holding existence under
the Grand Lodge of the State in which they live and are. A lodge
comes into being when the Grand Master gives a dispensation to meet,
U.D. (Under Dispensation); it becomes a “regular” lodge when its
Charter is granted by the Grand Lodge.
It is no secret that a lodge has a Master, two Wardens, two Deacons,
a Secretary and a Treasurer, etc. It is not, perhaps, necessary to
go at length into the several duties of these officers, but it may be
wise to explain the essential difference between a Worshipful Master
of a Lodge, and the President or other presiding officer of secular
bodies. A Master, once installed, may not be removed by his
brethren, only by the Grand Master or the Grand Lodge. Within bounds
he is all powerful in his Lodge; not the servant of his brethren, as
is the presiding officer of a club, but literally the “Master,” with
power to control and limit debate, put or not put motions, open and
close Lodge at his pleasure, call special meetings, and so on. All
such matters are set forth in printed books and usually in the code
or Ahiman Rezon of the Grand Lodge.
Lodges naturally and rightly attempt to guard their West Gates
against the entry of men who desire only to receive Masonic charity.
For this reason it is natural to look with especially careful eyes at
the petition of the elderly man. When a man of mature years inquires
regarding Freemasonry, we may well explain that while a Mason’s
Charity is as boundless as his ability, Freemasonry. is not, per se,
an eleemosynary institution. It does not exist primarily for
charitable purposes, nor is charity its greatest work. In many
Jurisdictions are Masonic Homes, Hospitals, Schools, Charity
Foundations intended for unfortunate members of the Fraternity, their
widows and orphans - sometimes their mothers and sisters. They are
not designed for the relief of the poor who are not members of the
Fraternity, and those unconnected to members by blood ties.
Therefore the man who desires to become a Mason that he may take
advantage of its charity is turned back long before he reaches the
West Gate. The more an applicant appears as if he may in the future
need help, the more carefully does the investigating committee work
to discover the facts.
Totally misunderstanding the purpose and spirit of Freemasonry some
men seek it for business advantages. Freemasons naturally frown upon
such petitions. But scorn should not be meted out to an ignorant
profane seeking knowledge. A man may be a good citizen, a good
churchman, a good businessman and yet know nothing of Freemasonry.
If such a one, in the course of his inquiry regarding the Fraternity,
exhibits an interest in the business advantages which may inure to
him through membership in a lodge, it is legitimate to explain -
courteously but with emphasis - that Freemasonry is not a Board of
Trade, a Chamber of Commerce, a Luncheon or Commercial Club; and that
it makes no effort to aid its members in commercial relations. The
man who wants to become a Freemason because he thinks Freemasonry can
help him can never be a good Mason. He who desires Freemasonry
because he thinks he can help his fellows is already a Mason in his
Other things being equal, Masons usually prefer to have business
relations with their brethren, in the same way a man may prefer to
buy footwear from his blood brother who is in the shoe business. But
no one will pay his blood brother ten dollars a pair for shoes he can
buy for half price from a non-relative!
It is unquestionable true, and may be stated to the serious inquirer,
that Freemasonry does play a quiet and unostentatious part in the
business lives of its members. But it should be emphasized that this
is a by-product of mutual friendship and association, and the he who
seeks Freemasonry for this alone will be bitterly disappointed. We
all know of popular members of our lodge who win and keep the
business of their brethren because of their likability. But we also
know that this is not the result of any effort by the successful
brother to win that which is freely given him. The brother who
attempts to make his lodge association a feeder for his vocation is
invariably hit by the boomerang of an aroused antipathy which hurts
as much as he hoped to be helped.
All this may be explained to the inquirer. We may well quote a part
of the Charge to an Entered Apprentice, as it is printed in most
Jurisdictions: “If, in the circle of your acquaintance, you find a
person desirous of being initiated into Masonry, be particularly
attentive not to recommend him, unless you are convinced that he will
conform to our rules, the honor, glory and reputation of the
Fraternity may be firmly established, and the world at large
convinced of its good effects.”
Often a Mason is asked by a profane: “What does Masonry stand for?
What does it do?”
It is much more difficult to explain to one without the mystic circle
what Masonry “does,” than what it is. What Masonry “stands for”
should be easy for any Freemason to explain. We may inform the
inquirer that the Fraternity “stands for” country, home and public
school; for law and order; and decency; for honor, morality and
religion; for brotherhood, relief and the inculcation of truth.
Parts of our ritual are printed in books and in monitors. There is
nothing secret about this; while we do not go about spouting non-
secret ritual upon all occasions; there is no reason why we should
not and many reasons why we should, to be able to point out by such
quotations some of the principles of Masonry.
The essential matter is to give a true picture of the Fraternity to
all who express a desire for it. Freemasonry is not a “secret
society” - although it is often incorrectly so called - but a
“society with secrets” which is quite another matter. In a “secret
society” the membership, existence and whereabouts is a secret.
Freemasonry’s membership, existence or whereabouts is no secret. Men
proudly wear the emblems on their coats and watch chains. Many Grand
Lodges publish lists of their members. Most Grand Lodges maintain
card systems of all Masons in their Jurisdictions, so that it is
possible to ascertain whether or not a certain John Smith is a Mason.
Our Temples are proud buildings, well built, handsome monuments for
all the world to see. Our printed Proceedings are to be had in every
library. Newspapers carry notices of lodge matters, A flourishing
Masonic Press carries news of the Craft far and wide. Obviously, we
are not “secret” although we possess jealously guarded “secrets.”
Any profane has a natural right to know something about Masonry that
he may decide whether it is an organization with which he wishes to
associate. If we refrain from advertising our activities it is not
because they are secret, but because they are private; not because
they must not be told when there is a reason for telling them, but
because we do not wish to persuade any man to our doors. We want him
to come, if he comes at all, from an inherent desire, from having
conceived a regard for the Fraternity, from his belief that he has
something to offer Masonry and that Masonry has something to offer
Such a man naturally asks questions of Freemasons.
Once he has made inquiry, the door is opened and we may tell him
much. Let us make sure that what we tell him is less, rather than
more than the truth. Let us never soil our gentle Craft with horrid
tales of goats and “buttings” of “backing down” and “third degree”
tortures. Let us speak up like men and Masons and say roundly that
there is nothing in Ancient Craft Masonry which is undignified,
humorous, funny or playful; let us assure him with solemnity that our
ceremonies are beautiful, impressive and instructive; and that behind
and beyond the outward form of the degrees is a spiritual truth, a
body of inner knowledge, an arena of wisdom which benefits any man
who receives it, and in direct proportion to his ability to see
behind the symbol to the reality.
Let us minimize the pleasures, and stress the duties when talking to
a profane who wishes to learn of our lodges and their work. True,
the “innocent mirth” of Freemasonry, to quote the “Old Charge,” is of
interest and value to us all. Many a lodge is not only a center of
union but a center of social intercourse in its home town. Its
amusements and entertainments may be, and often are, of real value to
the community. But a lodge does not exist merely to entertain and to
amuse; in talking to the profane inquirer, let us lay less emphasis
on the by-products of play, and draw his attention more to the
serious and worthwhile sides of lodge life; charity, instruction,
fellowship, mutual trust and dependence; religion without bias or
doctrine - in other words, brotherhood.
So shall we give an intelligent and Masonic answer to an intelligent
and Masonic question, and, perhaps, lay the foundation on which the
bridge will be built over which a new initiate may walk from the
North of darkness into the East of Masonic Light!