The obligation is that which binds you to the secrets and ideals of the order you are joining. They are different for every organization, as well as every degree, but for the most part, they are the same. I will not go over the exact wording here, but if you feel so inclined, they are not hard to look up online. However if you are joining or thinking of joining a Masonic body, do not look up the obligation beforehand. While I have never done this, I have spoken with many people who have, and they often feel that some of the “magic” of the moment is gone.
Often, many significant others of Masons who are not in Masonic bodies are concerned about what is in the obligation. I would like to take this time to go over what each obligation contains, just to give you peace of mind. Please remember that this is just a general overview, and that obligations can vary fairly wildly from state to state.
Obligation of an Entered Apprentice
This obligation is super long, however, it really only contains three things. That the candidate swears to:
Never reveal the secrets except to a confirmed brother.
- Never reveal the secrets except in a regular Lodge (where they will presumably be revealed to someone else)
- Never to write the secrets down so that they may be known to non-members.
Pretty simple right?
In the Fellowcraft degree, the candidate swears to:
- To never reveal the secrets, except those entitled to them (I.e. New members)
- To answer the signs – signs are a way that members can recognize each other
- To obey summons – to Lodge, etc
- To maintain the lessons taught in the first degree
The Master Mason degree is really just more of the same. The candidate swears to:
- To never reveal the secrets, except to a known Brother or in Lodge
- To adhere to the principals of the square and compasses
- To answer signs
- To obey summons, with the exception of illness and pressing emergencies
- To maintain and uphold the five points of fellowship as applied to another Brother:
Hand – friendship and support to him
Feet – unite in mutual defense and support with him
Posture of daily supplication – see to his needs, weaknesses and necessities
Breast – safeguard his secrets
Except for offences contrary to civil and religious law
Honour – preserve his honour and repel slanders on his name
There are some mini obligations within the degrees, these are usually referred to as charges. The topics of the charges are:
4. Principles (including secrecy, behaviour, fidelity and integrity and fellowship)
5. Charity and benevolence
6. Harmony and peace
7. Care and diligence
8. Work ethic
9. Education (including the VSL, Masonic knowledge and the Liberal Arts and Sciences)
10. Civil duties
11. The Virtues
12. Equality and Justice
16. Usages and Customs
17. Laws and Regulations
18. Offences of Brethren
21. Instruction and assistance for inferiors
22. Improvement of morals
Really, in all of the Masonic organizations, the obligation contains about the same thing. Usually it’s less intense than the ones listed here.
So, what about these secrets they are swearing to not reveal? It’s gotta be something super duper secret right? Well, it’s not really. While the rituals themselves are secretive, it’s not anything you can’t find online. The only thing you may have a hard time finding is referred to as the secret work, these are signs (gestures), phrases, and handshakes used for one member to be able to recognize another outside of Lodge. Even these you can find to some extent, I know for sure the secret work of OES is embarrassingly available. (But it is handy for when I forget something). Usually though, recognition goes something like, “hey are you a Mason?” Truth be told, if you don’t know someone outside of your Lodge, chances are you wont have much reason to discuss Masonic secrets with them; people who are non-Masons trying to learn secrets from a Mason are often painfully obvious.
There are, of course, consequences for breaking your obligation. Within the ritual, it still contains the original punishments for breaking the oath. Yes, it is true the punishments outlined are physical in nature, often having something to do with the sign or position for the degree received; for example (and no, this is not in the ritual), cutting off a hand for stealing. While many of these punishments seem harsh, the important thing to remember is that these are an allegory. The Nebraska Monitor states, “ The obligations of Freemasonry contain the reference to certain physical penalties, which are symbolic in nature and are intended only to impart the historical lessens [sic] of fidelity.” It is terribly important to remember that the only punishment that can actually be given to a Freemason for violating his obligation is reprimand, suspension, or expulsion.