General Ahiman Rezon, by Daniel Sickels, , at sacred-texts.com
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ONE of the most notable features of Freemasonry—one, certainly, which attracts, more than any thing else, the attention of the profane world—is that vail of mystery—that awful secrecy—behind which it moves and acts. From the earliest periods, this has invariably been a distinctive characteristic of the institution; and to-day, as of old, the first obligation of a Mason—his supreme duty—is that of silence and secrecy. Why is this? Why did Freemasonry, in the beginning, adopt the principle of secrecy, as a vital one? and why has it so persistently adhered to it, through all the changes that have swept over the earth, and transformed all things else?
The enemies of Freemasonry, like THOMAS PAINE and others, pretend that they have found the origin of Masonic secrecy in the fact that the esoteric doctrines of the Order were antagonistic to the prevailing opinions, and therefore could not safely be professed before the world. Hence, according to them, the retiring into silence and secrecy was simply an act of cowardice, to escape the danger that might follow the open and honest promulgation of an unpopular doctrine! Some distinguished Masonic writers have also—strange as it may appear—professed the same theory. We must nevertheless pronounce it an exceedingly shallow and unphilosophical one. The obligation of secrecy does not owe its origin to any such cause. That origin must be found, and can only be found, in the intrinsic value and divine excellence of the principle of secrecy itself. Among the ancients, silence and secrecy were considered virtues of the highest order. The Egyptians worshiped Harpocrates, the
god of secrecy, raised altars in his name, and wreathed them with garlands of flowers. Among the ancient Romans, too, these virtues were not less esteemed; and a distinguished Latin poet tells us, "Est et fideli tuta silentio merces:"—"for faithful silence, also, there is a sure reward."
Mystery has charms for all men, and is closely allied to the spiritual part of man's nature. The entire fabric of the universe is founded on secrecy; and the great Life-force which vivifies, moves, and beautifies the whole, is the profoundest of all mysteries. We cannot, indeed, fix our eyes on a single point in creation which does not shade off into mystery, and touch the realms of Eternal Silence. As the fathers of Freemasonry discovered that all life and beauty were elaborated in Night and Mystery, they made the Institution, in this respect, conform to the divine order of Nature. In the Pythagorean Freemasonry, silence and secrecy were religious duties, and held to be the most fruitful sources of intellectual and moral improvement. A distinguished modern writer * repeats the same idea in quaint but forcible language:—"Thoughts will not work, except in silence; neither will virtue work, except in secrecy: Like other plants, virtue will not grow, unless its roots be hidden, buried from the light of the sun. Let the sun shine on it—nay, do but look at it privily thyself—the root withers, and no flowers will glad thee."
In the grand mythology of ancient Scandinavia, there is a remarkable myth, called the Yggdrasil-Tree, or Ever-blooming Ash, whose top rose to the highest heavens, and whose roots struck down through the regions of everlasting gloom and night. From age to age, its branches, loaded with benedictions, spread out over all worlds, the delight of gods and men, diffusing life and beauty and fragrance through the universe. And all this glory, and these capabilities to bless, were the fruit of the mysterious and secret labors of the sacred Nornas, who perpetually watered its roots from the deep-hidden wells, and thus preserved its vigor and vitality.
The Yggdrasil-Tree is a beautiful symbolical representation of Freemasonry, and illustrates well the character of Masonic secrecy. Like that tree, in the youth of Humanity, the Mystic Order arose among the nations of the earth, and its ever-green branches spread over the world; and, by the vital power of its secret ministry, it diffused order, and beauty, and virtue, and civilization over all lands.
Another reason why Freemasonry regards secrecy as a fundamental principle is, because a unity, harmony, and strength can be secured thereby, which cannot be obtained in any other way. Secrecy has a mystic, binding, almost supernatural force, and unites men more closely together than all other means combined. The common possession of a secret by a considerable number of people, produces a family-feeling. There is something profoundly mystical in this, no doubt; but it is, nevertheless, a fact. Suppose two men, strangers, traveling in a distant country, should by some accident be brought together for a few brief moments, during which they happen to be the involuntary witnesses of some terrible deed, a deed which circumstances demand shall remain a secret between them for ever. In all the wide world, only these two men, and they strangers to each other, know the secret. They separate; continents and oceans, and many eventful years, divide them; but they cannot forget each other, nor the dread mystery which binds them together as with an iron chain. Neither time nor distance can weaken that mighty bond. In that, they are for ever one.
It is not, then, for any vain or frivolous purpose that Masonry appeals to the principle of secrecy, but, rather, because it creates a family-feeling, insures unity, and throws the charm of mystery and poetry around the Order, making its labors easy and its obligations pleasant.
IN the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light. and there was light.
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Light is one of the requirements of a candidate at his initiation; and the material light which is afforded him is succeeded by an intellectual illumination, which serves to enlighten his path on the journey from this world to the next.
62:* THOMAS CARLYLE—Sartor Resartus.