SECRETS AND SECRECY
A Greek Philosopher once said that it is difficult to become known as a keeper of secrets and even more difficult to retain that reputation. It's interesting that even in that time, people understood how unique keeping a secret is and valued this attribute so highly. They also obviously recognized human nature and how we all seem to instantly want to share with others something that has been told to us in confidence. I suppose some of us perceive information as power, and of course others can't perceive the amount of power we posses unless we tell them those things only we have the privilege of knowing.
We as Freemasons learn about secrecy in the very first Degree. It is impressed upon us the importance's of keeping secrets, especially those given to us by a fellow brother. Someone once said that if Freemasonry's only success was to teach the value of secrecy, then it would have done a great service for mankind. There is no doubt in my mind that most of us in the fraternity have learned this lesson very well. It is good that we have, as the principal of secrecy has become one of those values that is implicitly understood between Brethren within the fraternity. In my mind this is certainly not a bad start for the basic building blocks of understanding between brothers.
It is interesting how this falls out in the dealings that Freemasons have in today's society. Most of us are not recognized as Freemasons or it is not understood how our principals guide us in dealing with secrecy. Today's business culture illustrates my point. Some people actually use secrets to disseminate information in a business organization. It is their way of delivering a message without being seen as the originator of the message. They tell certain people about something they want known. They say it is a "secret" and shortly after that, through the jungle telegraph the entire organization knows about it. Imagine the frustration these people experience when they tell a Freemason and the "secret' is never heard about again.
It shouldn't be a surprise to any of use that a fraternity that expounds the virtues of keeping a confidence should be accused of being secret. Although we've said this a thousand times — "We're not a secret society, we're a private Fraternity with a small number of secrets" our penchant for the principal of secrecy, will probably result in our saying this statement for some time to come. We tend to add to this perception of outsiders because of our reluctance to talk about our "secrets" All of us should be aware that in fact, we have almost no secrets that are unknown outside our fraternity. Our rituals, symbols, etc. are available to anyone who really wants to know.
You'd be amazed at how much information is available at your local library. I've also been told that the entire works of Freemasonry is filed away for posterity in the American Library of Congress. Of course the average person might have difficulty in recognizing Masonic information spread amongst the billion or so bits of other gems of knowledge.
I believe the real secret of Masonry is not to be found in our rituals or symbols or other things that make op the surroundings of our Lodges. Most of us are unable to express the real secret of Masonry to an outsider so that it would make sense to them. How do you explain to an outsider that it is in the delivery - not the specific information, knowledge, light or how ever you want to define it that set Masonry apart. A man has to experience it. No one can whisper this secret in another's ear. Each one of us has found the secrets through his own personal journey by way of our rituals, passed along the way through loving hands of Brethren who have passed this way themselves. Is it any wonder that our secrets are so impossible to impart to others? This is the final contributor to why we are perceived as a "secret" society and so it should be now and in the future.
References: Masonic Harvest, Carl Claudy (1948)