Secrecy: What's the Big Deal?


Traveling Templar
Here is my latest article concerning the opposition to the secret or private nature of Freemasonry:

One of the biggest criticisms I see held against Freemasonry is that we are a "secret society" and that devious and sinister plots are conspired in our meetings. The Fraternities response is that we are rather a private organization with secrets. I would agree with the Masonic response as true secret societies are ones that don't disclose membership, allow members to wear insignia, hold public ceremonies, or, particularly in America, display their meeting places so prominently. Their primary argument is that secrecy is naturally wrong and that nothing good can come from meeting in secret. Aside from the illogical assumption, this anti-secrecy belief overlooks the relationship of secrecy and human nature as well as the need for secrecy in a free society.

Before I continue any further I would like to focus first on the word "secret". The word "secret" comes from the Latin secretus which means to set apart or hide. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a secret society is "any of various oath-bound societies often devoted to brotherhood, moral discipline, and mutual assistance." This is a fair description of Freemasonry, although I still disagree that we [Freemasonry] are a secret society -- maybe it's my bias. I do agree that Freemasonry is a private organization that possesses secrets. It is important to note that privacy is synonymous with secrecy. Privacy is the "quality or state of being apart from company and observation." Privacy is a natural right as everyone has a right to hide or conceal that which they possess or own whether it is a person, place, thing, belief or ideal.

As anti-Masons are as diverse as the fraternity is, they denounce secrecy and secrets for a variety of reasons; most simply believe that keeping secrets and secrecy is wrong as it is indicative of plotting against benevolent governments and religious organizations. Even when faced with the proposition that secrecy is the same thing as privacy, many still denounce it often for irrational reasons. Regardless, whether one calls it secrecy or privacy, everyone has a need for it and that is the main focus of this article. Understandably, our secrecy is what feeds their argument as without information they are left with only their imagination and rumors to guide them as to what occurs within the walls of Masonic bodies. Even when faced with the facts they will still stand by the fact that they don't like our private nature.

Now it is laughable to think Freemasonry is truly secret as one only needs to go to a library or get onto the internet to find a vast amount of information regarding our Fraternity, although more often than not some websites information is and was exaggerated and sensationalized. Even many of our own writings are published publicly and open for non-Masons to read. If so much is published why do we keep them private? There are many reasons why we Freemasons continue our private nature and the keeping of secrets. Freemasonry was traditionally extremely private during eras of totalitarianism out of obvious necessity as free-thinking and liberal ideas were seen as dangerous, condemned by tyrants, and forced from public view.

Overlooking the traditional need for secrecy anti-Masons often state, "If you have nothing hide, why keep it secret?" This is indicative of a nosy personality and one counter to liberty. Many seek to know what a Mason knows without the effort, without going through the process and earning the information which devalues the information, and would mean nothing to the unworthy and uninitiated.

In his article "Why Secrecy", Bro. Roger Firestone 33° stated:

Another major reason why secrecy is advocated for the knowledge imparted by Freemasonry is to impart the lesson that our teachings are valuable. We leave many inexpensive items lying carelessly about our homes and offices, whereas truly valuable items are kept locked in safe deposit boxes or other repositories, or are carried with us at all times. In Poe's story, "The Purloined Letter," many hiding places are searched for the letter; having been left in plain view, it is overlooked as worthless. Since knowledge, per se, cannot be locked up physically, keeping it secret is the method used to restrict its circulation and ownership. If the teachings of Freemasonry were made available to anyone as a matter of routine, it would indicate to both members and outsiders that we attach only a modest value to them. Instead, we have spent centuries of effort keeping the truths of Masonry secret and passing them down the generations by memory. This should convince us that what we have labored so hard to possess is valuable indeed.
Bro. Firestone goes on to talk about the psychology of secrecy and secret societies. With further research I find several journal articles on this very subject covering the rise of "secret societies", secrecy and relationships, and how secrecy builds trust.

As history shows, when the world is out of balance the solution will arise in the needed form. In his article called The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies, Georg Simmel states:

As a general proposition, the secret society emerges everywhere as correlate of despotism and of police control. It acts as protection alike of defense and of offense against the violent pressure of central powers. This is true, not alone in political relations, but in the same way within the church, the school, and the family.

Bob Franks

Past District Deputy Grand Lecturer
Secret Society, huh?
Right now, I'm wearing a Masonic ring, and a Masonic watch, and I'm on vacation. I have the emblem on the back bumper of my car, and today, driving 150+ miles and back, I wore my Square and Compasses hat.
My lodge building has a 2 foot (that's about 60 cm.) Masonic Square and Compasses on the front, where several thousand cars pass by in sight of it on the highway.
Big secret, huh?

I agree however, with Brother S. Brent Morris, PhD, who said the substance of the secrets is not the important part, nor whether or not they are known by a profane, "...but I will not tell you, because I have promised that I would not."
If a man cannot be entrusted to keep the secrets of Masonry, how could he be trusted with anything?



Lodge Chaplain & arms dealer
I see the secrecy as not so much a carry over from the days as a show of trust. If a person can be trusted with the modes of recognition, then other trusts are easier to establish. MY new job is with a company that is run by a Brother and all but one of the employees is also a Brother, and the one that isn't one was DeMolay and would be 3rd generation Mason when he decides to join. With Freemasonry as a basis there is an assumed level of trust and caring.


Husband, father, son, Mason.
I have to agree with my esteemed Brothers. It's not that we are keeping secrets as much as we are keeping our word. Honor and integrity have meaning and life. That's the whole point. Trust is palpable.