Silence, Symbols and Secrets of Freemasonry
Jacques Huyghebaert (Brussels -
non-Freemason, one common question is to find out whether, as often stated,
Freemasonry is a secret society and that question is often further linked with
a pre-existing suspicion that any form of secrecy may represent a danger for
the government, the society and the individuals.
Freemasons, we know that these fears are unfounded .
All of us,
having been non-Masons until the day we were initiated into Freemasonry, we
also know that anyone who sincerely wants to find out about Freemasonry can do
so. What we did, sure others can do !
We can also
assume that the overwhelming majority of all those who call themselves
Freemasons, would resign and dissociate themselves from Freemasonry, if they
were ever to find out that Freemasonry is or would become incompatible with
the moral duties they owe to God, their country, their neighbour and
Freemasonry was the evil organisation its enemies accuse it to be, I have no
doubt that Freemasons would be the first to desert the Order.
To those who
are not coming with sincere questions but with defamatory allegations,
Freemasonry has traditionnally responded only with silence and disdain. Not
worth, spending any time ...
these attacks have been part of a wider scheme to crush all liberties, for
example under the Nazi and the Communist regimes, and when Freemasons have
been hunted down, jailed and sometimes murdered along with other groups
persecuted for various reasons, they are known to have readily joined in
opposing and fighting the oppressors to regain their lost freedom.
tragic circumstances, masonic secret, mutual trust and brotherly love take a
noble signification - which we should be proud of.
in Freemasonry, we are enjoined to follow the example of that truly
distinguished man, who choose rather to lie down his life than forfeit his
Yet, in those
countries where freedom, lawful authority and peace prevail, non-Masons and
sometimes even Freemasons question the need for secrecy and secrets in
ritual states that "these secrets allude to Freemasonry alone." What is meant
by this sentence can only be discovered and fully understood, by becoming a
From the very
moment when, he is first led into the lodge, on the day of his initiation, to
the moment of his solemn obligation, to the moment when he is taught the
traditional penalty, to the moment he is given the signs, grips and words, the
candidate is constantly warned and instructed about his essential duty to keep
inviolate all the secrets of Freemasonry.
along his Masonic career and life, regardless of the number of degrees and
high positions he may receive, every Freemason will constantly be reminded on
the first and most important of the Masonic virtues.
Secrecy : Why
? Why is it necessary, What does it mean ?
The answer to
this important question is to be found not without, but within Freemasonry.
understood the Masonic concept of secret needs to be related to other aspects
of Freemasonry ; they are triple :
SYMBOLS and SECRETS.
secret is what the Entered Apprentice actually promises to observe. What
secrets does he know ? .... none !
So it is not
secret, but instead silence that matters.
continental European lodges, the Entered Apprentice Mason is informed that
Masonic tradition requires that he refrains from speaking while the lodge is
at work. By doing so, he is taught his first "secret" in Masonry, which is
that by being silent while his senior Brothers speak, he may discover what is
more important : to listen. By doing so, he will need to submit his
passions and he will eventually improve himself in Masonry.
it should be remarked that silence has another important role, which has been
analysed by the French ethnologist, Jean Jamin in a work entitled " Les lois
du silence" (The laws of silence), a study dedicated to the social importance
of secret in African tribal societies
remarks that, in the traditional sense, an African initiation is much more and
admission ceremony rather than an event during which where actual secrets are
: some mere words and signs, all senseless and childish in appearence, are a
bitter disappointment after the long and painful often physical ordeal the
candidates have been going through. The real reward for the neophytes is not
being now acquainted with some mysterious secrets, but having been admitted
into a very respected and small group.
purpose of an African initiation, he states, consists simply in placing the
newly admitted members in a position where only two options are possible : to
remain silent or to betray.
ethnologist, goes on, the role of the solemn promise of silence that is
imposed upon all the African initiates, is to create a strong bond between the
neophytes and the group they now belong. By doing so, he concludes, "secret "
has been conferred a real though in fact social existence.
also a topic to be found in "The Imperial Animal" a book written by Lionel
Tiger and Robin Fox, two American ethnologists.
conclusions are very similar to those reached by Jamin :
initiations are part of a classical pattern of behaviour in all primitive
2 the main
activity of groups conferring initiations consist in secret but apparently
futile ceremonies at the occasion of admission of new members and when moving
up the ladder within a strong hierarchically structured group;
outsiders the image is that initiation is a high mark of favour reserved to
only very few and that membership includes access to secrets.
4 Secrecy is
considered by the initiates to be a traditional way to ensure loyality and
teaching of Freemasonry is said to be symbolic.
Freemason to discover the "secrets" of Freemasonry consists mainly in studying
the "hidden" sense of symbols and allegories that can be observed in the Lodge
and during the Masonic ritual and ceremonies.
Entered Apprentice may be inclined to believe that these ancient symbols are
meaningless, that the ceremonies have now become antiquated if not simply
ridiculous, and he might be tempted to reject too hastily that what lies
beyond the field of his still profane understanding.
But if the
secret teaching behind Masonic symbols is simply to convey a moral message,
however wise and respectable it may be, why this need to keep secret what
should be made available for the benefit of all ?
can be compared to a series of keys, allowing to open doors and enter
precious keys should not be given to the ignorant man for he would not know
how to use them, nor to the intolerant man for he would misuse them, nor to
the overambitious man for he would desecrate them.
threathened by force or otherwise to give the secrets of Freemasonry, the
Mason will know that none of these secrets can be unduly obtained, for above
the solemn obligation to silence, is a material impossibility to betray these
secrets. Some words, grips and signs have been published over 250 years ago,
they can be repeated by anyone, but one has to be prepared to grasp their
meaning, to see their significance, to hear their message.
It is like
the famous Greek Mathematician Euclides, who was taken to the court of Pharaoh
in Alexandria and threathened to be put to death by Ptolemy Philadelphos, in
the 3rd century B.C., if he persisted in refusing to give the secrets of
Geometry. To Pharaoh, Euclides is said to have answered that putting him to
death would not have made Pharao any wiser, for the only way for him to
obtain these secrets was to learn Geometry like he had done.
symbols are the keys to a long, difficult but rewarding spiritual journey, it
is a thorny road which we have to travel by ourselves. Our Brethren can help
us, but at the end of the day, nobody can do it in our stead.
does not consist in receiving any type of knowledge that can be written or
said, or perceived by the five senses of human nature, but is an introduction
to a type of totally different knowledge, where the Brother will learn mainly
to use his heart to conceive the beauties of Freemasonry.
will remain neither occult, nor secret, for the intention of of the Fraternity
has never been to hide, but only to transmit through the succession of ages,
the most excellent tenets of our Institution.
The sense of
symbols, first very obscure, will progressively became clearer, and those
words that the young Entered Apprentice can only spell with difficulty, will
be read later with ease if he patiently perseveres.
He is guided
symbolically when he is given the first letter of the word. But he has to
discover the second letter himself. In due time, the third letter will be
communicated to him in order that he may uncover the next.
approach, held in high esteem among the peoples of Antiquity, is still used
today by Freemasons but has nothing to do with a craving for secret or
mystery, nor has this method become obsolete.
contrary, far superior to the confusion of words and of languages, Masonic
symbols, so expressive, are more fitting than ever to to imprint upon the
memory wise and serious truths.
Let us hear
what Dr. Albert Schweitzer had to say about this :
" When truth,
knowledge or wisdom cease to be understood, they do not live any longer in our
knowledge is reduced to a mere dogma that is blindly accepted, it may appear
to survive for some time, while its rules are still being slavishly observed.
But as its underlying coherence and justification is being lost, truth is soon
distorted and breaks into pieces, in the same way that the dead body decays
and falls apart under the effects of putrefaction."
is communicated directly, without requiring any effort from the recipient, it
will not leave a lasting impression, for most human beings live day by day and
are not capable of forming their own opinions ".
"So, it is
necessary that all elevated ideas, be created again and again by each one of
us in ourselves. Only when we attempt to follow with trust the inner road of
our individual thought, can we hope to attain living truth"
profound reflection does not fall into subjectivism."
by the force of its own intellectual power, notions that Tradition regards as
true and attempts to transform them into knowledge".
spiritual path the Masonic ritual alludes, when it states to the candidate at
his initiation that he will need to go the same way as all Brothers have done,
who have gone this way before him.
individual work, Freemasons can contribute to the construction of a better
world. By their ideas and the example of their life, Freemasons can help in
spreading more fraternal human relations.
sincerely in search of "that which was lost", enlightened by the Wisdom of
Silence, fortified by the Strength of Symbols, each Freemason has the inner
capability to reconstruct the Beauty of Secrets in his heart.
Lithuania - May 31, 1993