If there was one phrase I could expunge from the lips of every Mason (and especially, with all due respect, grand masters) it is "We have no secrets, except a few funny handshakes." That is not true, and it does terrible disservice to the fraternity. Yet I keep seeing it in story after story that appears in the press about the fraternity.
Somehow we've come to the conclusion that secrecy is a bad thing that makes the public suspicious. It makes reporters suspicious. It makes suspicious people more suspicious. Nevertheless, it is one of our most treasured possessions that makes us different from the Rotary, the Lions and the American Legion.
Please, brethren, STOP SAYING WE HAVE NO SECRETS. We have secrets. We have lots of them. And it really is okay to say, "I'm sorry, there are things I just cannot tell you."
Masonic secrecy is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the fraternity. Freemasonry teaches its philosophy to its members through symbolism, and secrecy is actually a symbol of honor.
Originally, the medieval stonemason guilds kept the practices and knowledge of their skilled trade as closely guarded secrets, to protect the value of their livelihood, and to ensure only qualified men were employed. Likewise, passwords and secret signs were developed so members of the guild in different parts of the country could recognize each other, even if they had never met.
These traditions have been retained by the modern Freemasons. If a person can’t be trusted to keep a simple secret like a password or a handshake, his word isn’t really trustworthy. He is not an honorable person.
There are other secrets, besides these modes of recognition. Some have to do with the specifics of Masonic rituals and ceremonies of initiation. Others are more personal, and different for each Freemason. Most of all, like all initiatic experiences in the world, the real secrets of Freemasonry are the effects its teachings and ceremonies have on the individual, and how he applies them to his life.
From The Meaning Of Masonry by W.L. Wilshurst:
"We know that even the elementary and superficial secrets of the Order must not be communicated to unqualified persons, and the reason for this injunction is not so much because those secrets have any special value, but because that silence is intended to be typical of that which applies to the greater, deeper secrets, some of which, for appropriate reasons, must not be communicated, and some of which indeed are not communicable at all, because they transcend the power of communication."
(Image: Own your own "Shhh" plaque as a reminder: from Atlas Signs and Plaques.)