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What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

“Far off, most secret, and inviolate Rose, enfold me in my hour of hours.” William Butler Yeats in “The Secret Rose.”

“If you would wish another to keep your secret, first keep it yourself.” Seneca

“What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.”

When I see or hear this saying in a commercial or on a bill board I think of Freemasonry and my Masonic Lodge, and how we, as Masons, are sometimes vilified by some for being members of a so-called secret organization. Well if some really think Freemasonry is a secret organization it sure is a poorly kept secret. However, what I get from this now popular saying from the good people in the Las Vegas Tourist Bureau is that people like secrecy; that is if they are in on the secret.

That now semi-famous saying gets me to thinking about something else too. I also remember one of the virtues of a Mason; Silence and Circumspection. You remember that I’m sure, from the third section of the lecture of the third degree (or the third lecture as some would call it.) It is represented by the book of constitutions guarded by the Tyler’s Sword. As Masons we are taught that Silence and Circumspection are truly Masonic Virtues. However, they are also virtues exercised by the world at large. But the way the world at large applies the virtue of silence, and the way it is regarded, is different than the way Masonry imparts it to the initiated.

The virtues of silence and circumspections are represented by the Book of Constitutions being guarded by the Tyler’s Sword, and this symbolism reminds us that we should be ever watchful in our thoughts, words and actions. It is reminiscent of the explanation of the Cardinal Virtues of Temperance, Fortitude, and Prudence. Aristotle was once asked what thing appeared to him to be the most difficult of performance, he replied, ‘to be secret and silent.’[i] Well it is not difficult for a Mason who understands the lessons of Freemasonry, and if he does he is one to whom “the burdened heart may pour out its sorrows; to whom distress may prefer its suit; whose hand is guided by justice, and whose heart is expanded by benevolence.” A Freemason may be one who can help in a situation and a secret is safe with him.

Many of us like Roses, they are a great flower, and some of us grow roses as a hobby. There are many symbolic meanings attached to the Rose, but one symbol attached to it, according to the Masonic Concordance of the Holy Bible and some other sources, is that it is a symbol for silence and circumspection, (secrecy, confidentiality.) One example goes back to Rome. The Romans used the phrase ‘sub rosa,’ meaning under the rose to let people know that what happened there stayed there. This was sometimes communicated without saying a word by there being a Rose suspended by the host over the banquet table this would remind everyone present that anything said under it must be kept silent.

This custom of ‘sub-rosa’ was also observed in ancient Germany. In Germany a Rose might be painted in a beautiful ceiling mural as a symbol to remind occupants and guests that whatever they may see or hear a guest do under the influence of wine was ‘under the rose’ and must not be revealed.

While we in Masonry may not have a Rose painted or hung in our Lodges there are things in Masonry that Masons would want to regard with silence and circumspection. The things we, as Masons, would like to keep private would basically come into only six areas:

1. What is discussed in Lodge, including the Treasurer’s and Secretary’s reports
2. How a Mason votes, and what he voted on.
3. The manner in which the degrees are conferred, and what they contain.
4. The means whereby one Mason may make himself know to another Mason.
5. The signs, the words, the grips, and the passwords, are considered essential to keep private, they are shared and known only to the initiated.
6. Any discussions, comments, or conversations in Lodge are not to be repeated; because those conversations, comments or discussions are meant only for the Masons who are present.

Those things are not much different than what businesses, corporate boards, families and individuals would like to keep private. These organizations, as well as we Freemasons, make it a practice to share their confidences only with those who have a need or right to know. We in Freemasonry talk about what we want to keep private more than the other organizations I’ve mentioned do, but they all are pretty much the same.

However, unlike some of those other organizations we also talk about what Freemasonry stands for, and we should, because there is no need to be secretive or bashful about what we as Masons, or our fraternity stands for. In fact, we are quite proud of it.

In my mind secrecy isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself. In fact, secrecy in many instances isn’t secrecy at all. Sometimes what we might think is secrecy is only not sharing information until we are either qualified to receive it, or in some instances capable of understanding the information.

To give you a couple of examples from the Great light of Masonry: In the story of the birth of Sampson, (which begins in Judges 13,) Samson’s Father asks the Angel of the Lord for his name: “He replied, why do you ask my name? It is beyond your understanding.” NIV Judges 13:18. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” NIV Deuteronomy 29:29. Part of the explanation of this Bible Verse is that “some things are unnecessary for us to know until we are more mature.” “This verse shows that although God has not told us everything there is to know about obeying him, he has told us enough.”[ii]

To me these references to secrecy from the Great Light of Masonry show that secrecy, silence and circumspection, by themselves is not a bad thing. And that when the proper time arrives, and I am capable of understanding, I will then learn the information I thought was secret.

However, you and I know; an uninitiated, resourceful, person can find some of that information on the Internet or in book stores; but he won’t learn it from us. And that is the key –that’s the big difference -. A person can learn from the Internet and books, but that knowledge without practicing Freemasonry, without the fellowship of Freemasons, and without the guidance of a Mentor will not avail him of the understanding that you and I as Freemasons have, and are capable of passing on to our Brethren.

“May kindness and brotherly affection distinguish your conduct as men and as Masons. And may the tenets of our profession be transmitted through your Lodge, pure and unimpaired, from generation to generation.” From the charge at the installation of officers in Minnesota.

From the Great light of Masonry = “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12: 13 & 14 NRSV

[i] Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and Kindred Sciences, by Brother Albert Mackey – Brother Robert Clegg edition, Volume 2 - 1929
[ii] For a full explanation see the note for verse 29:29 in the Life Application Study Bible NIV by Zondervan

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Last modified: March 22, 2014