Vol. XIX No. 12 — December 1941

The Secret

No man reaches the stars, but the attempt to reach sometimes results in progress. This Bulletin is an attempt to express the inexpressible, and, as such, is doomed to failure from the start. But the very attempt may enable some reader, as it enables this writer, to come a step nearer telling to himself what may never, in this world, be told to another.

The majority of those not Freemasons suppose that the order has some Great Secret, some hidden knowledge the possession of which marks off the possessor from his fellows and, perhaps, gives him access to resources not possessed by the uninitiated. A majority of Freemans undoubtedly consider that the secrets of the order taught in a lodge are the component parts of The Secret and find a contented satisfaction in their knowledge.

Yet to many of these there is a wistful dissatisfaction, a feeling of frustration, a sense of something missing, when a mental review is had of the hidden arcana of the Ancient Craft. Sometimes this developes into a certainty that The Secret is as yet to be revealed. It is for such as these that these words are written.

In laying the foundation for any enduring structure, the debris, the loose earth, the top soil, must first be cleared away. As a foundation, then, for a discussion of The Secret, it seems wise first to consider what it is not.

It is not in the modes of recognition, by which a Freemason may know his brother. A thousand organizations have such means, and have had them since the first warring tribe thrust a stick into mud to carry aloft in battle that friend might be known from foe.

The Secret is not in either the Lost or the Substitute Word. Confusion in thought always follows the use of loose terminology, and the use of word (meaning one or a few syllables) when word meaning a truth, a power, a fundamental verity is meant, is such a confusion. A writer on the Ancient Craft phrased it:

The Hiramic Legend is the glory of Freemasonry; the search for that which was lost is the glory of life.

Never may we find it here. You shall gaze through microscope and telescope and catch no sight of its shadow. You shall travel in many lands and far and see it not. You shall listen to all the words of all the tongues which all men have ever spoken and will speak — the Lost Word is not heard. Were it but a word, how easy to invent another! But it is not a word, but The Word, the great secret, the unknowableness which the Great Architect sets before his children, a will o’ the wisp to follow, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Never here is it to be found, but the search for it is the reason for life.

The Sublime Degree teaches that in another life it may be found. “That is why it is the Sublime Degree.1

In the Old Testament, JHVH, now written Jehovah, was the High Priests sole knowledge, and he could pronounce it but once a year and only when in solitude. But it cannot be imagined that those who wrote the Books of the Old Testament believed that it was the mere three syllables which possessed the secret of God, but rather that they expressed in short form the knowledge of Diety which was man’s greatest blessing and asset. It is in the same way that the master’s word must be considered; a knowledge, a consciousness, a sense of oneness with the eternal verities, rather than as one, or a few, syllables.

The Secret is certainly not the Legend of Hiram. That is as old as mankind, and in a thousand forms has been told and retold, in as many religions, philosophies, beliefs. The Masonic Legend of Hiram is peculiarly Freemasonry’s own, yet in its analysis is but that which has been used from the beginning to teach the essential fact that truth triumphs over error, goodness over sin, altruism over selfishness. If indeed the Legend of Hiram is The Secret, then Freemasons have no more right to claim it than all the rest of the world.

The Secret cannot be in the manner of conferring degrees. These have changed with the years; they have expanded from one degree to three; they have been altered, added to, subtracted from; ritual committees and custodians have tinkered, edited, “improved.” If the manner of conferring degrees is The Secret, then it is something modem, new, and comparatively valueless.

Nor can The Secret be considered to be the obligations, secret though they are. For these but teach certain fundamentals of decent life and living; they are a succession of “I will” and "I will not,” rather than a succession of “This is,” and "This is not.” Moreover, if the secret were to be found in modes of recognition, words, either substitute or master's, legend of Hiram, manner of conferring degrees or the obligations, then the many exposes of Freemasonry would have flung the secret to the world and there would be no more reason for the order.

Ritual, important, vital though it is to Freemasonry, is certainly not a factor of The Secret. Many organizations have rituals. Freemasonry’s rituals are as different as there are jurisdictions; no two alike, all teach the same story, but teach it each in a different way. Most Freemasons close their eyes to the fact that many rituals have been printed; it does not take a very clever profane to read the ciphers which some jurisdictions permit, which others forbid. If the ritual of Freemasonry could disclose its Secret, all the world would have it in short order. Ritual is the thread on which are strung the truths of Freemasonry, but a man might forget every word of the ritual and, had The Secret ever been in his heart, still possess it.

The Landmarks do not conceal The Secret. No one really knows just what the Landmarks are. The statement is made advisedly in the face of the fact that a majority of grand lodges have “adopted” certain pronouncements and called them Landmarks. The inescapable facts remain that what is a Landmark in one jurisdiction is not so in its neighbor’s; a sufficient proof — since Landmarks, whatever they are, must be universal really to be Landmarks and not mere ukases of law — that the adopted truism is not necessarily a Landmark.

Many jurisdictions refuse to list the Landmarks at all; others list some, declaring they are not exclusive. Some which have declared for a certain set of Masonic truths as Landmarks now wish they had not, but do not know how to change. They are in much the same position as a country which “adopted” a certain set of principles and declared “these and no others are the laws of nature,” or a nation which adopted a certain set of laws and declared “these and no others are the laws of civilization.” No, The Secret of Freemasonry is not in its Landmarks; even if universal agreement could decide upon an exclusive list of Landmarks, they would not contain the Secret, for they would be public, and what is public, is, obviously, not secret.

All of these fundamental parts of the Fraternity are important. These are the means of preparing the heart and mind to receive The Secret; they are steps leading to the Sanctum Sanctorum, where The Secret may be heard. But they are not The Secret, itself.

What, then, is The Secret?

It is something which cannot be told. He who has it cannot broadcast it to his neighbor. It is far too ethereal for words. None of the half million words in the English language are sufficient, either alone or in any combination — not even if they are all used — to express music so another may hear it, the perfume of a rose so another may smell it, the glory of a sunset so another may see it. Music, perfume, color must be experienced to be known; they are not tellable.

A small child learns that one, added to two, makes three; two, added to four, makes six. Older, he learns that A added to B makes C, and discovers that knowing the real value of any two of these, gives him the knowledge to discover the third. Still more advanced, he learns that D multiplied by pi produces C—D being diameter, pi being 3.14159+, and C being circumference of a circle. In geometry he learns of the magic Forty-Seventh Problem of Euclid — that if X and Y are at a ninety degree angle from each other, the square root of X2 plus Y1 always equals Z, the hypotenuse of a right angled triangle. And so the student may go on into trigonometry, the binomial theorem, celestial mechanics and perhaps graduate into the class of twelve men in the world who are said to be able to understand the Einstein theory. None of the twelve are able to tell what they know so the lesser student can comprehend, not because of unwillingness to teach, but because of inability to learn.

In much the same way, then, The Secret of Freemasonry is not tellable in words. It cannot be communicated from mind to mind. There are no words for it; he who knows it may have every willingness to express it so others can understand it; may write books about it, sing it, shout it, intone it, broadcast it with all his power and vocabulary, and fail as miserably as this Bulletin must fail to convey even its smallest part.

Some parts of The Secret may be inadequately expressed in words, but even when all these parts are set down, the total falls far short of reality. The sunset is beautiful, the rose smells gloriously, the symphony is magnificent — you neither see nor smell nor hear as a result of the words.

One part of The Secret may be found in a manner or method of thought. The Freemason who takes the teachings of his order into his daily life cannot think of his neighbor in exactly the same terms as his profane neighbor thinks of him. If brotherhood is an intangible it exists none the less that it is not material, visible, has no weight or substance. It cannot seriously be doubted that if all men thought of all men as brethren, there would be no more war, poverty, unhappiness caused by man to men in this world. Not all Freemasons can or do think of all Freemasons as brethren, let alone the rest of the world. We are so taught; we so profess; we endeavor so to practice. But human nature is normally selfish and self-centered, and performance falls infinitely far short of theory. Those Freemasons who make brotherhood a part of their daily lives may well have come into possession of a part of The Secret.

Another part may be styled a certain philosophy of life. There are so many of these philosophies, and so many are good, at least in part, that it is practically impossible to separate those which arise from Freemasonry from those which come from any practice of the virtues of civilized man. He who is compassionate to the unfortunate, charitable to the erring, not only willing but anxious to serve his fellowmen for the pure love of doing something that may even hurt himself to benefit others; he to whom the Golden Rule is a rule of life and not something to be said in church; he may possess a part of The Secret in his heart.

Freemasonry in some form is very old; far older than written history of the order admits. The Mother Grand Lodge of 1717, the Regius Poem of 1390, the meeting in York in A.D. 926, the Roman Collegia of the second century after Christ, take it back nearly two thousand years. But before that the Ancient Mysteries, the civilizations which rose and fell and were buried centuries before the Hyskos Kings in Egypt, all show some traces of origins of some parts of the order as we know it today. If we set any comparatively modern period to Speculative Freemasonry — let us say that the Regius Poem told of a Craft which really began in a.d. 926 — even then we have an enormous antiquity. The sense of being a part in a human chain which extends back through the years; through wars, pestilences, upheavals, risings and fallings of civilizations and empires, unbroken and unbreakable, is perhaps a part of The Secret in mens hearts. Every one of us has touched hands with men who have touched hands with men now dead, who in their turn touched hands with older men who died, and so on, back, back to one who touched hands with Washington, with Desaugliers; with Anthony Sayer, with the old monk who copied the manuscript from whence came the Regius Poem, with that king of whom it was there written “of Speculatyf he was a Master.” The feeling of being a part of an endless line of devoted brethren, all of whom in one way or another have knelt as we have knelt, who have pledged as we have pledged, who have lived and died as Freemasons as we live and must die — this, if not a part of The Secret, is at least closely akin to it and cannot be unconsidered in trying to evaluate it.

Probably an important part of The Secret is to be found in one of the great fundamental teachings of the order; tire consciousness of God, as opposed to the teaching of a God. Jehovah, Vishnu, Muhammad, Christ are not the Dieties of Freemasonry — it is as true to say that all are the Dieties of Freemasonry, since The Great Architect of the Universe can be named by any Freemason with any title he will. Gentile and Jew, Muslim and Christian, Spiritualist, Christian Scientist, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian; all religions in Freemasonry meet on a common ground of belief in God, leaving the description and understanding of that God, each man to determine for himself. The Great Architect of the Universe can be Nature to one, Great First Cause to another, Cosmic Urge to a third, or Christ or Allah to others — it matters not. This consciousness of the Great Architect, which is so emphatically the foundation of Freemasonry, can well be a part of The Secret, though that consciousness is so difficult if not impossible to define in words.

One of the factors which make The Secret different from any other is the fact that it may have different parts for different men.

But having listed certain things which The Secret is not, and a few which to some may form a part of it, a real exposition of The Secret is as far off as before. For these things that have been mentioned are describable, even if lamely, in words. The Secret is no more to be phrased than is God to be defined. To define God is to place limitation, since all definitions limit. No conception of God which limits Him can be true, since our first conception of tire Great Architect is that of the unlim- itable. Similarly, The Secret is not a matter of limit by any definition or description. Its only limits are in the education, the consciousness, the heart of its possessor.

As set forth at the first paragraph of this Bulletin, these phrases must fail in any way to define The Secret. The best it can be hoped for the words is that they may point out a path by following which some brother may reach the road, which, winding and twisting, turning and leading apparently nowhere, may eventually reach that height from which The Secret may be seen.

Many roads may wind around a mountain — up, up, up. Eventually, if they go far enough, they must meet at the top. In the same way, he who follows any of the roads here dimly outlined, may, in time, come to the mountain top of truth. There, only for himself, never for another, he may find The Secret.

Lucky is he who, at any time in his life, can say of The Secret of Freemasonry: “I think I know.”

  1. Carl H. Claudy, Introduction to Freemasonry: Master Mason (1931) ↩︎

The Masonic Service Association of North America