For people on the outside of Freemasonry, the lodge’s closely guarded secrets are a topic of fascination. Many conspiracy theories have been developed about the events and ceremonies that occur within the lodge, most of which are way off the mark.
While the advent of the Internet in the modern age has meant many of the secrets of Freemasonry have been divulged, there are still elements of the fraternity that remain a closely guarded secret from those on the outside.
In this post, we take a look at many of the secrets of the Masonic lodge and understand why brothers promise to keep them a secret from those on the outside.
As always, this writing does not represent the views and opinions of Freemasons Community, but is merely the reflections of one Mason.
The Masonic Oath
Although much information about Freemasonry has been revealed in recent years, there are some secrets that are protected by Masons and not shared with the outside world. When becoming a Mason, for example, each brother has to recite the Masonic Oath, part of which goes as follows:
[I] most solemnly and sincerely promise and swear, that I will hail, ever conceal, and never reveal any of the secrets, arts, parts, point or points, of the Master Mason’s Degree, to any person or persons whomsoever, except that it be a true and lawful brother of this Degree, or in a regularly constituted Lodge of Master Masons, nor unto him, or them, until by strict trial, due examination, or lawful information, I shall have found him, or them, as lawfully entitled to the same as I am myself.
The Masonic Oath is hugely significant, as it is represents a Masons’ integrity and is an example of their strong bond to all other brothers within the fraternity. In Freemasonry, a brother’s word is of paramount importance, so revealing the secrets of the ceremonies and rituals within the lodge after reciting the Masonic Oath is not permitted. The Oath forms the foundation from which many of the essential Masonic lessons are taught, as it ensures that many of the secrets that are revealed will be kept within the fraternity and not shared widely.
Before we can understand the reason why many Masonic practices are shrouded in intrigue and kept as closely guarded secrets, we must first understand the purpose of the Masonic rituals carried out within lodges across the world.
Many of the Masonic rituals performed within lodges teach brothers about the important symbolism of the Masonic tools and traditions. Throughout all Masonic lodges are symbolic tools that are reflective of the tools of medieval stonemasons.
In modern-day Freemasonry, these tools have a purely symbolic meaning, but in the times of the stonemasons, they were practical tools used to build grand structures like cathedrals and were used by Masons to perfect their trade.
Throughout a brother’s Masonic journey, the tools are presented through the medium of Masonic ritual, consisting of lectures and allegorical plays that utilize many of the tools and instruments of the medieval stonemasons.
Within Freemasonry, there are three core degrees: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. As a brother transitions from one Masonic degree to the next, he is taught different rituals that help him learn more about Freemasonry.
The allegory of the Masonic ritual is centered on the building of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and the story of its chief architect, Hiram Abiff. This is the teaching underpinning much of Freemasonry within Blue Lodge Freemasonry, but it’s important to note that other degrees base their rituals on other allegories and stories of significance.
Such further degrees are associated with the Scottish rite, for example. While they are not compulsory, they are an option for Masons who wish to progress as far as they can through Freemasonry and become enlightened.
The importance of symbolism within Masonic rituals
The Masonic rituals are presented through the help of the many symbols of Freemasonry. At the centre of every lodge, a Holy book is placed with reference to a particularly relevant text. The Holy book is often a Bible, but it could as easily be the Quran, Tanakh, or Vedas.
This is because Freemasonry is not a religion and is not associated with any religious body of any kind. The Holy Book is present because Masons must profess a belief in a Supreme Being before being accepted as an Entered Apprentice.
Moreover, many of the stories that form the basis of the Masonic rituals can be found in the Holy books of the major Abrahamic religions. Commonly, Masons are also believers in one of these core religions.
Within Freemasonry, the Supreme Being is never referred to as God as he is in many of the Holy scriptures. Instead, he is known as the Great Architect of the Universe, which is in keeping with the geometrical and architectural theme of Freemasonry.
Furthermore, such reference ensures that the Supreme Being is not tied to a particular religion’s conception of God and to avoid any potential conflict or disagreement that may arise from such an understanding.
In keeping with the essential religious symbolism of the Masonic rituals, King Solomon’s Temple is a central symbol of Freemasonry. It is said that the first three Grand Masters were King Solomon, King Hiram I of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff, who was the architect who built the temple.
Some of the Masonic initiation rites include the re-enactment of a scene set on the Temple Mount while it was under construction, such is the importance of King Solomon’s Temple within Freemasonry.
Therefore, during particular rituals, the Masonic Lodge actually becomes representative of King Solomon’s Temple itself. Many of the objects within represent the tools that helped construct the temple as well as specific architectural structures.
Common within lodges are symbols of the pillars of Boaz and Jachin through which every initiate must pass as they begin their Masonic journey.
In addition to tools and symbols used to represent King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, some lodges use tracing boards, which are painted or printed illustrations that depict the various symbolic emblems of Freemasonry.
These are instructional tools used by Master Masons to educate brothers about the critical symbolism within Masonic rituals and articulate the significance of a particular object or tool.
The secrecy of the Masonic rituals
While those outside of Freemasonry know about the existence of the Masonic rituals and particular symbols within the lodge, they don’t know anything in great detail and aren’t privy to the particulars of many of the Masonic allegories.
Indeed, many Masons greet each other in ways that are unique to the fraternity. Specific handshakes and handgrips indicate that a man is a Mason, and the type of handshake is unknown to those on the outside.
In addition to the practice of the Masonic Rituals within lodges, many conspiracy theorists use the code of secrecy within Freemasonry to spread rumour and speculation about the different types of rituals and ceremonies performed within lodges.
Many erroneously speculate that some ceremonies are sinister in nature, often including blood sacrifices of new initiates. Such rumour has allowed conspiracy theories to abound, despite them having no grounding in truth whatsoever.
As has been touched upon, in the modern-day, it’s challenging for Masons to keep details of all of their Masonic rituals and practices a secret, as there are so many members, each of which has access to the Internet and social media.
However, the Masonic Oath is of great importance to brothers, and they recite it intending to keep it. The first known attempt of someone who tried to reveal the secrets of Masonic rituals was William Morgan in 1826.
Morgan was preparing the publication of a book that was due to reveal many of the secret rituals of Freemasonry. This event is shrouded in mystery, as an attempt was made to burn down the publishing house before the book could be published. Moreover, William Morgan was arrested on charges of petty larceny shortly after and subsequently disappeared, never to be seen again. At the time, it was seen as an attempt by Masons to keep their rituals a secret, although precisely what happened to William Morgan has never been proven.
Conclusion: the closely guarded secrets of the Masonic lodge
As has been explored in this post, when men become Masons, they take a Masonic Oath in which they promise not to reveal the secrets of the Masonic rituals to those outside the fraternity. This is done to preserve the sanctity of the allegories and teachings of Freemasonry and ensure that men have reason to join the lodge.
Although we know that many of the rituals are rooted in the religious scriptures, little is known about the exact details of them. And perhaps this is the way it should stay, as it is the prerogative of brothers to closely guard the secrets that have formed the inner teachings of Freemasonry for generations.