From Se, apart, and cernere, separate, the Latins had secretum, suggesting something separated from other things, apart from com-mon kndwledge, hidden, covered, isolated, hence “secrecy.” There is a fundamental difference between “secret” and “hidden,” far whereas the latter may mean that nobody knows where a thing is, nothing can be secret e without at least one person knowing it. The secrets of Freemasonry are known to all Masons, therefore are not hidden; they are secrets only in the sense that they are not known to profanes. A similar word is “occult,” which means a thing naturally secret, one, as it were, that secretes itself, so that few can know about it. See also the paragraphs on “clandestine” and “mystery” in the preceding pages. There is also another less familiar word in Masonry meaning hidden, covered up, concealed, secret; it is pronounced “hail” but is spelled “hele.”
- Source: 100 Words in Masonry
SECRECY AND SILENCE
These virtues constitute the very essence of all Masonic character; they are the safeguard of the Institution, giving to it all its security and perpetuity, and are enforced by frequent admonitions in all the Degrees, from the lowest to the highest. The Entered Apprentice begins his Masonic career by learning the duty of secrecy and silence. Hence it is appropriate that in that Degree which is the consummation of initiation, in which the whole cycle of Masonic science is completed, the abstruse machinery of symbolism should be employed to impress the same important virtues on the mind of the neophyte or newcomer. The same principles of secrecy and silence existed in all the ancient Mysteries and systems of worship. When Aristotle was asked what thing appeared to him to be most difficult of performance, he replied, "To be secret and silent."
"If we turn our eyes back to antiquity," says Calcott (Candid Disquisition, page 50), "we shall find that the old Egyptians had so great a regard for silence and secrecy in the mysteries of their religion, that they set up the god Harpocrates, to whom they paid peculiar honor and veneration, who was represented with the right hand placed near the heart, and the left down by his side, covered with a skin before, full of eyes and ears, to signify, that of many things to be seen and heard, few are to be published."
Apulcius, who was an initiate in the Mysteries of Isis, says: "By no peril will I ever be compelled to disclose to the uninitiated the things that I have had intrusted to me on condition of silence." Lobeck, in his Aglaophamus, has collected several examples of the reluctance with which the ancients approached a mystical-subject, and the manner in which they shrank from divulging any explanation or fable which had been related to them at the Mysteries, under the seal of secrecy and silence.
Lastly, in the school of Pythagoras, these lessons were taught by the Sage to his disciples. A novitiate of five years was imposed upon each pupil, which period was to be passed in total silence, and in religious and philosophical contemplation. And at length, when he was admitted to full fellowship in the society, an oath of secrecy was administered to him on the sacred tetractys, which was equivalent to the Jewish Tetragrammaton.
Silence and secrecy are called "the cardinal virtues of a Select Master," in the Ninth or Select Master's Degree of the American Rite.
Among the Egyptians the sign of Silence was made by pressing the index finger of the right hand on the lips. It was thus that they represented Harpocrates, the god of silence, whose statue was placed at the entrance of all temples of Isis and Serapis, to indicate that Silence and secrecy were to be preserved as to all that occurred within.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
An old Greek philosopher, when asked what he regarded as the most
valuable quality to win and the most difficult to keep, he replied:
"To be Secret and Silent." If secrecy was difficult in the olden
times, it is doubly difficult today, in the loud and noisy world in
which we live, where privacy is almost unknown.
Secrecy is, indeed, a priceless but rare virtue, so little effort is
made to teach and practice it. The world of today is a whispering
gallery where everything is heard, a hall of mirrors where nothing is
hid. If the ancient worshipped a God of silence, we seem about to
set up an Altar to the God of Gossip.
Some one has said that if Masonry did no more than train its men to
preserve sacredly the secrets of others confided to them as such -
except where a higher duty demands disclosure - it would be doing a
great work, and one which not only justifies its existence, but
entitles it to the respect of mankind.
Anyway, no Mason needs to be told the value of secrecy.
Without it, Masonry would cease to exist, or else become something so
different from what it is as to be unrecognizable. For that reason,
if no other, the very first lesson taught a candidate, and impressed
upon him at every turn in unforgettable ways, is the duty of secrecy.
Yet, strictly speaking, Masonry is not a secret society, if by that
we mean a society whose very existence is hidden. Everybody knows
that the Masonic Fraternity exists, and no effort is made to hide
that fact. Its organization is known; its Temples stand in our
cities; its members are proud to be know as Masons. Anyone may
obtain from the records of a Grand Lodge, if not from the printed
reports of Lodges, the names of the members of the Craft.
Nor can it be said that Masonry has any secret truth to teach,
unknown to the best wisdom of the race. Most of the talk about
esoteric Masonry misses the mark. When the story is told the only
secret turns out to be some odd theory, some fanciful philosophy, of
no real importance. The wisdom of Masonry is hidden, not because it
is subtle, but because it is simple. Its secret is profound, not
As in mathematics, there are primary figures, and in music
fundamental notes, upon which everything rests, so Masonry is built
upon the broad, deep, lofty truths upon which life itself stands. It
lives, moves, and has its being in those truths. They are mysteries,
indeed, as life and duty and death are mysteries; to know them is to
be truly wise; and to teach them in their full import is the ideal at
which Masonry aims.
Masonry, then, is not a secret society; it is a private order. In
the quiet of the tiled lodge, shut away from the noise and clatter of
the world, in an air of reverence and friendship, it teaches us the
truths that make us men, upon which faith and character must rest if
they are to endure the wind and weather of life. So rare is its
utter simplicity that to many it is as much a secret as though it
were hid behind a seven-fold veil, or buried in the depths of the
What is the secret in Masonry? The "Method" of its teaching, the
atmosphere it creates, the spirit it breaths into our hearts, and the
tie it spins and weaves between men; in other words, the lodge and
its ceremonies and obligations, its signs. tokens and words - its
power to evoke what is most secret and hidden in the hearts of men.
No one can explain how this is done. We only know that it is done,
and guard as a priceless treasure the method by which it is wrought.
It is the fashion of some to say that our ceremonies, signs and
tokens are of little value; but it is not true. They are of profound
importance, and we cannot be too careful in protecting them from
profanation and abuse. The famous eulogy of the signs and tokens of
Masonry by Benjamin Franklin was not idle eloquence. It is justified
by the facts, and ought to be known and remembered:
"These signs and tokens are of no small value; they speak a universal
language, and act as a password to the attention and support of the
initiated in all parts of the world. They cannot be lost so long as
memory retains its power. Let the possessor of them be expatriated,
ship-wrecked or imprisoned; let him be stripped of everything he has
in the world; still these credentials remain and are available for
use as circumstances require.
"The great effects which they have produced are established by the
most incontestable facts of history. They have stayed the uplifted
hand of the Destroyer; they have softened the aspirates of the
tyrant; they have mitigated the horrors of captivity; they have
subdued the rancor of malevolence; and broken down the barriers of
political animosity and sectarian alienation.
"On the field of battle, in the solitude of the uncultivated forests,
or in the busy haunts of the crowded city, they have made men of the
most hostile feelings, and most distant religions, and the most
diversified conditions, rush to the aid of each other, and feel a
social joy and satisfaction that they have been able to afford relief
to a brother Mason."
What is equally true, and no less valuable, is that in the ordinary
walks of everyday life they unite men and hold them together in a
manner unique and holy. They open a door out of the loneliness in
which every man lives. They form a tie uniting us to help one
another, and others, in ways too many to name or count. They form a
net-work of fellowship, friendship, and fraternity around the world.
They add something lovely and fine to the life of each of us, without
which we should be poorer indeed.
Still let us never forget that it is the spirit that gives life; the
letter alone is empty. An old home means a thousand beautiful things
to those who were brought up in it. Its very scenery and setting are
sacred. The ground on which it stands is holy. But if a stranger
buys it, these sacred things mean nothing to him. The spirit is
gone, the glory has faded. Just so with the lodge. If it were
opened to the curious gaze of the world, its beauty would be
blighted, its power gone.
The secret of Masonry, like the secret of life, can be known only by
those who seek it, serve it and live it. It cannot be uttered; it
can only be felt and acted. It is, in fact, an open secret, and each
man knows it according to his quest and capacity. Like all the
things most worth knowing, no one can know it for another and no one
can know it alone. It is known only in fellowship, by the touch of
life upon life, spirit upon spirit, knee to knee, breast to breast
and hand to hand.
For that reason, no one need be alarmed about any book written to
expose Masonry. It is utterly harmless. The real secret of Masonry
cannot be learned by prying eyes or curious inquiry. We do well to
protect the privacy of the lodge; but the secret of Masonry can be
known only by those who are ready and worthy to receive it. Only a
pure heart and an honest mind can know it, though they be adepts in
all signs and tokens of every rite of the Craft.
Indeed, so far from trying to hide its secret, Masonry is all the
time trying to give it to the world, in the only way in which it can
be given, through a certain quality of soul and character which it
labors to create and build up. To the making of men, helping self-
discovery and self development, all the offices of Masonry are
dedicated. It is a quarry in which the rough stones of manhood are
polished for use and beauty.
If Masonry uses the illusion of secrecy, it is because it knows that
it is the nature of man to seek what is hidden and to desire what is
forbidden. Even God hides from us, that in seeking Him amid the
shadows of life we may find both Him and ourselves. The man who does
not care enough for God to seek Him will never find Him, though He is
not far away from any one of us.
One who looks at Masonry in this way will find that his Masonic life
is a great adventure. It is a perpetual discovery. There is
something new at every turn, something new in himself as life deepens
with the years; something new in Masonry as its meaning unfolds. The
man who finds its degrees tedious and its Ritual a rigmarole only
betrays the measure of his own mind.
If a man knows God and man to the uttermost, even Masonry has nothing
to teach him. As a fact the wisest man knows very little. The way
is dim and no one can see very far. We are seekers after truth, and
God has so made us that we cannot find the truths alone, but only in
the love and service of our fellow men. Here is the real secret, and
to learn it is to have the key to the meaning and joy of life.
Truth is not a gift; it is a trophy. To know it we must be true, to
find it we must seek, to learn it we must be humble; and to keep it
we must have a clear mind, a courageous heart, and the brotherly love
to use it in the service of man.