It really isn’t “secretive,” although it sometimes has that reputation. Freemasons certainly don’t make a secret of the fact that they are members of the fraternity. We wear rings, lapel pins, ball caps, golf shirts and tie tacks with Masonic emblems like the Square and Compasses, the best known Masonic symbols. Masonic buildings are clearly marked and are openly listed online and in the phone book. Lodge activities are not secret; picnics and other events are even listed in the newspapers, especially in smaller towns. Many lodges have answering machines which give the upcoming lodge activities.
However, there are some Masonic secrets, and they fall into two categories:
The first are the ways in which a man can identify himself as a Mason — grips and passwords. We keep these private for reasons of tradition and practicality. It is not at all unknown for unscrupulous people to try to pass themselves off as Masons in order to get assistance under false pretenses. They also serve to distinguish Masons that are progressing through their degrees and Masonic education.
The second group is harder to describe, but they are the ones Masons usually mean if they talk about “Masonic secrets.” They are secrets because they literally cannot be talked about and cannot be put into words. They are the changes that happen to a man when he really accepts responsibility for his own life and truly decides that his real happiness is in helping others.
It’s a wonderful feeling and it’s something you simply can’t explain to another person. That’s why we sometimes say that Masonic secrets cannot (rather than “may not”) be told. Try telling someone exactly what you feel when you see a beautiful sunset, or when you hear beautiful music. It suddenly stirs pleasant memories that represent significant times or events in your life.
“Secret societies” became very popular in North America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of them were modeled on Freemasonry and made a great point of having many “secrets.” Freemasonry is not a secret society; rather, it is a society of men that maintains its privacy.