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Secrecy, Silence, Circumspection

In his article on this subject on page 920 Albert G. Mackey followed the clues of the Ancient Mysteries. The use of such clues has a value even if a student is unable to find any historical connection between the old Mystery Cults which were destroyed along with the Roman Empire, and Freemasonry, the first beginnings of which were not made for some seven or so centuries after that destruction, because the data Mackey cites show that secrecy has often been used by societies of the most honored and exalted reputation. Secrecy in and of itself is neither good nor bad; those adjectives can only apply to the use to which it is put. It was argued by the American Anti-Masons of 1826-1850 that Freemasonry would not have secrets did it not carry on practices which could not endure inspection.

They abandoned their argument after everything in the Craft had been exposed, inspected, and published countless times; they could have abandoned it sooner had they only paused to think that each of them had secrets of his own, had privacies in his family, that he discussed matters in confidence with associates, that there are secret formulas in science and in business, that any committee or board of directors meeting in executive session is meeting in t secrecy--that the world's diplomacy seldom lets the peoples concerned know what it is doing.

When the normally everlasting uses of secrecy are so common, the Anti-Masons had no grounds to accuse Masons of crimes merely because Masons were using for their Own purposes what every man and every family and almost every association uses every day for unexceptionable purposes. Freemasonry is not a secret society; everybody knows that it exists; its rooms and temples are public and are conspicuously marked; it has printed its Constitutions and each year it publishes its Proceedings; in the United States it has maintained as many as 120 journals or magazines at one time; many tens of thousands of books have been written about it, and it maintains hundreds of libraries. Freemasonry is a society with secrets, but is not a secret society.

Silence has no necessary connection with secrecy; may or may not be its corollary. Silence is often maintained in the most public places and for the most public purposes; spectators sit silent in courtroom and in the theater, the congregation sits silent in church or synagogue, the audience sits silent while the orator speaks, the general maintains silence about his battle plans. There are secrets in nature which scientists search out; the silences of nature are of a different kind, the silence of the seas, the silence of the wilderness, the silence of the desert.

A Masonic Lodge is not a club, a forum, a public gathering, a debating society, or a platform meeting, but is a lodge--a unique form of organization; it is organized within and without, from top to bottom; each member has his place or station in it, and no man is foot-loose; from beginning to end it goes according to a fixed procedure, and conducts its affairs according to a strict Order of Business; anything extraneous or irrelevant to that procedure is out of order, and the Master cannot permit it to be brought on the floor because he is not a presiding officer who can act according to his own will but an installed officer and therefore can act only as the rules governing his office compel him to act.

It is for this reason that the Fraternity maintains silence about the outside world at times when almost every other society or association is most vocal, and naturally so--in a time of political crisis, at the making of a war, in periods of social upheaval, etc. The young Italian Fascists hoodlums who broke into Lodge rooms were agog because of what they expected to find--a weird machinery, an alehemists' laboratory, a magicians' den, what not; they were astounded to find nothing but an empty room. The Fraternity was in silence.

A historian of the Craft goes through analogous experience; he reads through Lodge Minutes or Grand Lodge Proceeding (or Chapters, Consistories, Councils, Commanderies) expecting to find records there of an old excitement about the Revolutionary War, or the Civil War, or the Anti-Masonic Crusade, or the World Wars; he finds only a silence.

Paradoxically enough there is neither silence nor secrecy within the walls. The nervous Pope Leo XIII who all his days was afraid of bogeys, wrote into his Encyclical against Freemasons on April 20, 1884: "Nay, there are in them many secrets which are by law carefully concealed not only from the profane, but also from many associated [members viz., the lost and intimate intentions, the hidden and unknown chiefs, the hidden and secret meetings, the resolutions and methods and means by which they will be carried into execution." Leo had been misinformed. The Fraternity maintains neither secrecy nor silence within itself about its own affairs; everything that is lawfully carried on in a Lodge is carried on without silence and in the full light. Grand Officers live in glass houses; a Master acts in the presence of his Lodge--if it is not there he cannot even declare it open.

Nothing is hidden from any member. Any member of a Lodge is privileged by the laws to demand any information about what is done by his Lodge. There are no "hidden and unknown chiefs" (the Pope must have had the Italian Black Hand Society in mind) because every "chief" is elected by ballot, and he has nowhere to hide.

Silence is connected with circumspection in a phrase which Masons have learned by heart. Circumspection is a self-defining word, being a contraction of two Latin terms slightly altered, and meaning "to look around," to make sure of having the facts before making a decision or beginning an action. In Freemasonry it is used in a sense somewhat different from its use elsewhere, having a peculiarity in our nomenclature which is the expression of the "peculiarity" (or uniqueness) of Freemasonry itself. It means that Freemasonry follows a path which was surveyed long ago and staked out with the Ancient Landmarks; it is one that Freemasons themselves understand but not outsiders; in consequence it is easy for outsiders to misunderstand Freemasonry, or to be misled by appearances, or to attribute to it purposes it does not have, hence the Craft must act circumspectly, taking such facts into consideration, and in order not to misrepresent itself. For centuries before the first Grand Lodge, Masons like men everywhere had a great fondness for pageants and processions, and this was especially true in London, where the old Mason Company often spent large sums of money on costumes, music, floats, etc., and great throngs would stand for hours to watch the spectacle.

This ancient custom was continued by Lodges for some years after 1717-- the Grand Lodge went in a body, in full regalia, to bring the newly elected Grand Master from his home to the Grand Lodge room for his installation; Lodges went in procession in regalia to attend church, theater, corner-stone laying, etc. But by the middle of the century a great change came over London crowds and London street manners; gangs of hoodlums roved about, drunkards were everywhere, and these crowds began to hoot and throw stones and to run through processions, and to break them up; and there grew up the custom of holding "mock" processions, roistering, ribald, derisive, coarse, in order to ridicule something or somebody. The Grand Lodge ordered a complete discontinuance of Masonic processions when the public began to take Masonry to be a roistering, irreverent society of drinkers and mockers because it appeared on the streets. That was an act of circumspection. It was a case of "Don't do it," "Don't say it," and as it works out in practice that usually is what circumspection calls for, therefore it has become connected with secrecy and silence.

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