By: John R. Heisner

Before going any farther with this article, let’s be very clear about something: Masonry does have secrets. What are they? First, every one of the 54,581 Master Masons who are members of the California Grand Lodge, as well as Master Masons anywhere situated throughout the world can quickly recognize each other by means of certain signs and words that are not made known to people who are not Master Masons. Masonry refers to those signs and words as modes of recognition. Secondly, Masonry employs a ritual to teach lessons about virtue and morality, as well as to impart knowledge that is not intentionally made known to non-Masons. Therefore, the relevant question to be asked is not whether or not Masonry has secrets, or what they are, but why those secrets raise suspicions that Masonry is a dangerous organization that should be avoided.

Be Afraid – Be Very Afraid

Fear is a human emotion as well as a tool used by some to perpetuate a special agenda. Psychologists and psychiatrists around the world have dealt with fear among their patients for centuries. Politicians, diplomats, military leaders and even people with a social agenda have recognized the power of fear. By instilling fear among their citizens, politicians can acquire power; diplomats can persuade others to act as they desire them to act; military leaders can discipline their own troops and attain an advantage over their enemies; and people with a social agenda can scare others into accepting what they have to offer, or rejecting anything that is in conflict with what the agenda offers.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have written for years about the causes of fear, which today are generally well known. Xenophobia, or the fear of strangers is one. Perceived threats to social identity is another. Biases and prejudices can also play a significant role. But perhaps the one cause that surmounts all others is being confronted by the “unknown.”

While the causes of fear are better known today than ever before, the cures remain elusive. The best cure known requires the exercise of tremendous self discipline. It entails facing that about which one is fearful and challenging yourself to no longer permit it to control of your emotions. There are no pills to swallow, or injections to receive that will eliminate your fears. You must be the one to take of that matter and take charge of your own emotions.

When it comes to fearing the unknown, it does help to understand why whatever it is that is unknown to you is unknown in the first instance. There is no reason why anyone should fear Masonry’s secret modes of recognition, or its ritual. Both have been around for centuries and neither has resulted in harm to anyone. Moreover, no harm will ever come to you if you never learn anything more about those secrets than what you learn from this article.

Secrets vs. Secret Societies

A universally recognized definition of the word secret is: “something kept hidden from others.” Another that is equally well accepted is: “something that remains beyond understanding or explanation.” And yet another definition that is actually more relevant to Masonry is: “something that is shared only among the initiated.”

Even though we now know that Masonry has secrets and even understand the nature of those secrets some may persist in either fearing the institution, or rejecting it as an organization that can be trusted. For the matter of whether or not Masonry has secrets is most often really as a question about whether or not Masonry poses a threat to something or someone. In truth, there are reasons for some to fear Masonry. But if you are not involved in tyranny, the promotion of intolerance, the undermining of faith, hope and charity, or are intent upon inculcating hate and ignorance, there is nothing for you to fear.

A more serious question to consider is whether or not Masonry constitutes something known as a secret society. It is not, but making that simple statement is not likely sufficient to satisfy the more skeptical readers. In fact, if you consult an encyclopedic definition of the term, you could easily conclude that Masonry is a secret society. Does it matter one way or the other? That depends upon several things, perhaps the most important being whether or not something illegal or subversive is actually at work.

One definition indicates that fraternal organizations with secret ceremonies and means of secretly recognizing the members are secret societies. That definition would clearly include Masonry. Requiring members to take oaths to keep secret matters pertaining to the organization also applies to Masonry and is another attribute of a secret society. Those attributes alone are enough for some people to feel threatened.

In an address he made to ANPA in 1961, President John F. Kennedy said that the very word “secrecy” is repugnant to a free and open society, such as the United States of America. He must not have been including the CIA, FBI, or United States Military among his concerns, for each requires secrecy, extracts oaths from its employees to maintain secrecy and even goes so far as to file lawsuits against those breaching their vows. But, President Kennedy’s selectivity can be understood when viewed in a different context.

Some secret societies maintain secrecy ostensibly for the purpose of benefiting mankind, or enhancing the chances for survival. Others seek to uproot governments, enslave people, or assist in perpetrating wars and crimes. For us the question then is not whether something is a secret society, but whether or not is a threat to do evil.

“You Shall Be Known by the Fruits of Your Labor”

There is a very old saying about deciding whether or not something is fish or fowl. It simply means that when you or some institution could actually be one of several possibilities, you must decide what it is you will be known for. What, then, is Masonry with its secrets and secret society status? Is it fish, or fowl? Is it an institution working for the positive advancement of mankind, or a threat to human existence?

Masonry offers numerous organizations that men and women may join. It also sponsors various Youth Orders for our young boys and girls. Each one of those organizations is involved in projects intended to give back to the community, promoted education, heal the sick, care for the elderly, or assist the widows and orphans of deceased Masons. For this article, we will focus solely upon the projects sponsored by the California Grand Lodge.

Two distinct Constitutional Boards, the California Masonic Foundation (CMF) and the Masonic Homes of California (MHC) administer some of the more visible charitable activities in Masonry other than the famously popular Shrine Hospitals which are known by most people around the world. Using well-planned and well-articulated criteria, the CMF dispenses approximately $1 Million in annual scholarships to deserving students. It also serves as the nerve center for implementing the Grand Lodge’s public schools strategic plan initiative. MHC operates and administers two brick-and-mortar licensed residential care facilities in Covina and Union City. It also provides for in-home social services and monetary support ranging from extending stipends for food to introducing Masons and their families to other services available in the community. Recently, MHC added a Masonic Youth Center in San Francisco to address the need for assisting minors and their families cope with a host of social ills that unfortunately all too frequently beset our Masonic families.

Each of the Masonic lodges situated in various communities throughout California and chartered by the California Grand Lodge act as a first line of defense in providing relief to Masons, their widows and orphans. Those same individual lodges organize to support local public schools, fund and support the activities of Masonic Youth Orders, identify and publicly recognize law enforcement officers and encourage their members to become active in as many community organizations as each member has the time and talent to commit. In addition, the lodge members bear the responsibility for fielding requests for membership (no person will ever be invited to join – he must ask and apply), reviewing the qualifications and character of potential candidates, bringing those who meet the qualifications into Masonry, initiate them, pass them and raise them through each of the three degrees of Masonry and attend to the business of wisely investing and properly managing the funds of the lodge.