Saturday, November 19, 2011

To Keep a Secret: The Need for Mystery

     Over the past few decades, as media exposure has increased exponentially via the internet and other modes of communication, many groups that harbor secrets have come under scrutiny.  There have always been those who wish to "tell all" and reveal a group's secrets - think of the infamous Morgan Affair - but exposés have always had a limited audience while publication and dissemination have been limited.  This is no longer the case.  Information spreads like wildfire, and the more erroneous the information, the faster it seems to spread.  In the face of this challenge, many organizations that have secret teachings, rituals, etc., have begun to fear that by keeping secrets they will appear somehow nefarious or evil.  They have adopted something of an "open-door" policy, as if to say, "Feel free to look; nothing sinister going on here, no (metaphorical) skeletons in our closet!"  The desire to defend against the kind of misinformation that secrecy may breed is understandable, but this kind of apologetics may actually do more harm than good to the organization, due to the nature of the human psyche.
     Human beings are drawn the forbidden, and to information that is withheld from the uninitiated.  We are like Kipling's mongoose, Riki Tiki Tavi, whose motto was "Run and find out", even if that ardent curiosity led him into a den of vipers.  The surest way to pique a man's interest is to forbid him the answers he wants.
     The Order of the Arrow, a pseudo-Masonic Scouting organization recognizes this, and places the following stricture at the beginning of every copy of their ceremonial scripts: "Safeguard This Pamphlet: The Order of the Arrow recognizing the attractiveness of the unknown, utilized the form of mystery."  This phenomenon may be seen quite clearly in the recent popularity of the novels of Dan Brown.  Though he begins each with a disclaimer that his books are works of pure fiction, he puts together a perfect combination of truth, half-truth, and hints of hidden knowledge, that draws his readers in, promising to make them initiates of those mysteries if they persevere in reading his books.  That this combination works is evidenced by the hundreds of books and television programs produced in the wake of "The DaVinci Code", professing to reveal the "truth" behind it all, and people couldn't seem to get enough of it.  It wasn't the adventure story in Brown's book that fired the imagination; it was the mystery.
     It should be obvious then to see why the "open-door" policy is damaging to organizations like Masonry:  When the trappings of ritual, regalia, tradition, and myth are stripped away, and the core secrets are laid bare to prying unworthy eyes, the power of mystery dissipates like a mist.  The secrets may be simple, but their strength and ability to change men for the better is that they are secrets, and must be sought after and worked for before they are attained and valued.  If we reveal our secrets for only the asking thereof, we are, in essence, telling the world that we do not value them ourselves, and we can no longer ask others to do so.
     On the other hand, if we are unrepentant about the fact that we do in fact have secrets, we will continue to draw to us those men who are true seekers of truth, those willing to labor for the gaining of it, while idle speculators and contrivers will waste away in vanity.
     We do not need to apologize for the fact that we keep secrets.  We are a mystery school; secrecy is an inborn part of our nature.  There will always be those who hate us, misunderstand us, and oppose us, whether we reveal ourselves to them or not.  The Craft has not only survived without apology for hundreds of years, but thrived because of a strict maintenance of our secrets.  There is no excuse for a change of this attitude and policy now.

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