Masonry swears its members to secrecy with grisly, 
anatomically explicit oaths. A Master Freemason must "promise and 
swear, that I will not write, print, stamp, stain, hew, cut, 
carve, indent, paint, or engrave" the mysteries of his order 
"under no less penalty than to have my throat cut across, my 
tongue torn out by the roots, and my body buried in the rough 
sands of the sea," according to one version of the oath. Tenth-
degree Masons "consent to have my body opened perpendicularly, and 
to be exposed for eight hours in the open air, that the venomous 
flies may eat my entrails" if they talk. Even the Shriners, a 
"fun" order, may incur "the fearful penalty of having my eyeballs 
pierced to the center with a three-edged blade."
     Be that as it may, the secrets of the Masons are preserved in 
certain arcane tracts, pamphlets, and books. These are sold only 
by Masonic supply houses -- the firms that sell fezzes, banners, 
plaques, jewels, and other regalia to lodges. The supply houses 
take the secrecy seriously. Most will not sell booklets containing 
club secrets to anyone who cannot show a Masonic ID. BIG SECRETS 
came across a Chicago firm, however, that works by mail order. The 
Geo. Lauterer Corporation publishes an illustrated catalog of 
lodge gear. It offers over a hundred Masonic and other fraternal 
manuscripts. We obtained a sampling of titles.
     American Masonry differs in certain particulars from British 
or Continental Masonry. Rituals may vary from lodge to lodge. 
Masonic tracts do not always agree. Except where noted, the 
information below is taken from two of Lauterer's titles, 
Henry Day, and INITIATION STUNTS by Lieutenant Beale Cormack.

The Secret Handshake
It's a regular handshake, except that you press your forefinger 
hard into the other's palm. The thumb presses against the base 
joints of the second and third fingers. It looks pretty much like 
any other handshake; only the person shaking hands can feel the 

The Secret Password
"Tubal-Cain" is the secret password of a Master Mason. But some 
lodges have their own passwords.

The Secret Word
Not to be confused with the password. The Word (always 
capitalized) is so secret that initiates are taught it one letter 
at a time. First they learn A, then O, then M, and finally I. The 
Word is IAOM.
     You never get a straight story as to what it means. As best 
as anyone can figure, it is the ineffable name of God, or some 
approximation thereof. The Word (or Name) is a tongue-twister. It 
takes some practice to get it right. The following pronunciation 
DESTINY by Harold Waldwin Percival:

     The Name is pronounced as follows: It is started by
     opening the lips with an "ee" sound graduating into 
     a broad "a" as the mouth opens wider with lips 
     forming an oval shape and then graduating the sound 
     to "o" as the lips form a circle, and again 
     modulating to an "m" sound as the lips close to a 
     point. This point resolves itself to a point within 
     the head.
          Expressed phonetically the Name is "EE-Ah-Oh-
     Mmm" and is pronounced with one continuous out-
     breathing with a slight nasal tone in the manner 
     described above. It can be correct and properly 
     expressed with its full power only by one who has 
     brought his physical body to a state of 
The Shriners' Recognition Test
According to a Lauterer manuscript, this is how two Shriners 
recognize each other:
Q: Then I presume you are a Noble?
A: I am so accepted by all men of noble birth.
Q: Have you traveled any?
A: I have.
Q: From where to what place have you traveled?
A: Traveled east over the hot burning sands of the desert.
Q: Where were you stopped at?
A: At the devil's pass.
Q: What were you requested to do?
A: I was requested to contribute a few drops of urine.
Q: Why were you requested to do this?
A: As a token of my renouncing the wiles and evils of the world 
   and granted permission to worship at the Shrine.
Q: At what Shrine did you worship?
A: At the Shrine of Islam.
Q: Did you ride?
A: Yes, I rode a camel until I paused to dismount.
Q: Then what did you do with your camel?
A: I tied him.
Q: Where did you tie him?
A: I tied him to a date tree, where all True Shriners should do 
BOTH: Yes, I pulled the Cord, rode the hump, I have traversed 
   the hot arid sands of the desert to find Peace and rest in 
   the quiet shades of the Oasis.


There are two sides to Freemason initiations -- one a 
standardized, sedate ritual; the other a highly variable set of 
hazing stunts.
    Prospective Masons must apply of their own free will. 
Masons may not recruit friends at least not in theory. Proposed 
members are investigated by a committee of lodge members. This 
is often just a formality but may include, for instance, a 
credit report. The committee reports on the candidate at a 
lodge meeting. Members then vote.
    The ballot box is the Lauterer catalog uses white balls and 
black cubes. (Losers are blackcubed, not blackballed.) If there 
is a single negative vote, the ballot is declared foul. The 
lodgemaster (who sees how each member voted) may try to 
convince dissenting members to reconsider. A negative verdict 
on the second ballot is final.
    Successful candidates are invited to the lodge for 
initiation. There are three basic degrees: Entered Apprentice, 
Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. Each has its own ritual.
    Entered Apprentice candidates begin by taking off their 
clothes to prove their gender (women may not become Masons). In 
practice, this means taking off the pants and any jacket. 
Underwear and shirt are kept on, but the shirt is unbuttoned 
and pulled down to bare the left arm, shoulder, and breast.
    The candidate is hoodwinked (blindfolded). A cabletow 
(rope) is placed around the neck. (The Lauterer catalog's 
hoodwink is simply a standard, black satin half-face mask -- 
without eyeholes -- secured with an elastic string. The 
cabletow is a heavy blue rayon cord with tassels at both ends.) 
Ideally, the cabletow is supposed to have four strands to 
symbolize the four senses (they don't count touch). The 
candidate is escorted to a room where three candles are 
burning. One of the lodge members takes a mason's compass or 
other sharp instrument and pricks the candidate's bared skin. 
The candidate is instructed to recite a formula to the effect 
that what he desires most is light. The other lodge members 
remove his hoodwink and cabletow. Before the candidate are 
three candles. He is told that the candles represent the sun, 
the moon, and the master of the lodge.
    The candidate gets a lecture on the symbolism of Masonry. 
Visual aids are used (Lauterer sells a set of three lecture 
charts and a set of 188 35-millimeter slides). He is given a 
"lambskin," a white apron. Lauterer's lambskins are indeed 
genuine lambskin, lined with cotton. They measure 13 inches by 
15 inches or 14 inches by 16 inches. A triangular flap folds 
down like the flap of an envelope. The lambskin is worn in 
front, and a tie (tape or cord with tassels) fastens behind the 
    A member of the lodge pretends to be a collector for a 
needy cause and asks the candidate to donate. Lacking his 
wallet, the candidate must refuse. The moral: Help the less 
fortunate. Then the candidate is allowed to put his clothes 
back on. He is taken before the master of the lodge. The master 
tells him that he is now a Mason. The candidate is given the 
working tools of the Apprentice, a twenty-four-inch gauge and a 
    The second and third degrees follow a similar pattern. Both 
repeat the business with the hoodwink and the cabletow. For the 
Fellow Craft initiation, the right shoulder is bared, and the 
cabletow is tied around the right biceps. In the Master Mason 
initiation, the cabletow is wound around the body three times. 
Each degree has its own lecture on symbolism.
    Then there are the optional degrees. Their initiation 
rituals take the form of short plays starring the candidate and 
other lodge members. The playlets deal with incidents from the 
mythic history of the Masons, such as the building of King 
Solomon's Temple and the murder of Temple architect Hiram 
Abiff. These initiations cost the candidate about $150 a pop, 
so any thirty-second-degree Mason has dropped over $4,000. Once 
a Mason has completed the twenty-nine optional degrees of the 
Scottish rite or the six optional degrees of the York rite, he 
is eligible to become a Shriner -- which means still another 
    Depending on the whim of the other lodge members, 
initiations may include a set of burlesque tests to prove a 
candidate's mettle. These blend sophomoric practical jokes, 
soft S&M, an an electric carpet (the latter "just the item for 
initiations," touts the Lauterer catalog, at $4.75 a square 
foot; jump spark battery extra). Lauterer's INITIATION STUNTS 
booklet describes over thirty tests judged suitable for 
fraternal orders, of which the following is a sample. In all 
cases, candidates are blindfolded. Here's how the Masons keep 
out the wimps:

"Chewing the Rag"
A lodge member criticizes two candidates for speaking: "They 
both talk too much and I fear they will someday betray the 
secrets of our brotherhood." As a lesson, the candidates must 
"chew the rag." The member says that he has a six-foot length 
of string with a raisin tied in the middle. Each candidate gets 
an end of the string. The member instructs the candidates to 
chew the string from their respective ends: The one who gets 
the raisin will be excused from "The Test of the Drowning Man." 
They chew. The "raisin" is really a piece of candy coated with 
Epsom salts. There is no "Test of the Drowning Man."

"Oriental Dance"
Lodge members strip a candidate and put a skirt on him. As 
Oriental music is played, he is forced to dance on the electric 
carpet. This is one of several uses of the carpet, all of which 
are deemed more effective if the candidate does not know about 
the carpet. The electric-shock sensation is not immediately 
identifiable as such, or so the semiwarped reasoning goes. 
Members may warn the blindfolded candidate to "step high" to 
avoid burning desert sands, barbed wire, or snakebites.

"A Trip to the Moon"
A member raps his gavel and orders all to be seated. A second 
member replies that there is no seat for himself and one of the 
candidates. They are told to sit on the floor. They sit on a 
spread blanket. As soon as the candidate is seated, the second 
member steps off the blanket. The candidate is told to sing a 
song. The lodge members protest his singing and demand that he 
be punished. All quietly grab the ends of the blanket and toss 
the candidate in the air.

"The Barber Shop"
A member feels a candidate's chin and calls for a barber. The 
"barber" lathers the candidate, getting foam in his mouth. He 
shaves him with what feels like a very, very rough blade. It's 
a shingle.
"Boxing Match"
Two candidates are selected for a boxing match. Belts are 
strapped around their waists. A six-foot rope connects the 
belts so that candidates do not wander blindly off. The boxers 
are given gloves. Unknown to the candidates, a member also puts 
on gloves and gives them occasional jabs from unexpected 

Two candidates or groups of candidates play tug-of-war. An 
unseen member sets the rope afire in the middle. It burns in 
two, and all fall down -- on the electric carpet, if desired.

"The Thirst"
"This neophyte has asked for a drink of water," a member says. 
Another member replies that there is no water. "Then we must 
make water," says the first. Several members urinate in a bowl, 
making sure that the candidate hears. "It is ready," says a 
member. "Drink, and quench thy thirst." The candidate is handed 
a bowlful of warm water and forced to drink it.

"Punkin Pie"
This is just a forced pie-eating race, with the candidates' 
hands bound behind their backs. Other gustatory stunts involve 
making the blindfolded candidates eat various non- and quasi-
edible materials: INITIATION STUNTS suggests ginger ale 
containing frankfurters and toilet-paper squares.

"The Shampoo"
A candidate is told that he must possess three essentials to be 
a member: keen vision, a sensitive touch, and an acute sense of 
smell. An egg is placed in his hand. "What is in your hand?" he 
is asked. The candidate replies, "An egg." "Correct. Now to 
test your sense of smell -- is it a good egg or a bad egg?" The 
candidate answers. "We'll see if you are correct," the member 
says. He crushes an empty eggshell on the candidate's head and 
pours some water on it. He rubs the "egg" in ˙the candidate's 
hair. Another member holds a bottle of ammonia or other evil-
smelling substance under the candidate's nose.
"The Trained Dog"
A candidate is told that he must meet Fido, the trained dog. An 
authentic dog is brought in. "Fido snarls at neophytes and 
sometimes bites them in the calf of the leg," a member warns. 
Another pinches the candidate's leg. The dog is placed in the 
candidate's lap. The initiation ceremony proceeds with another 
candidate so that the first believes that attention has shifted 
from him. A member sneaks up on the candidate with the dog and 
trickles some warm water in his lap. He may also hold a smell 
bottle under the candidate's nose. "Naughty Fido!" all scold.
    A variation is the "Bung Hole Test," a standard feature of 
Shriner initiations. No dog is required. Two blindfolded 
candidates are directed to opposite ends of a barrel or large 
metal cylinder lying on its side. They are told to crawl into 
the barrel or cylinder. The candidates bump heads in the 
middle. Outside, a lodge member yelps like a dog. Someone 
sprinkles warm water on the candidates' faces through a hole. A 
member yells, "Get that dog out of there! It just pissed in his 

"The Sacred Stone"
The candidate is told that a "sacred stone" is near his feet. 
He must make a sign of deference by bending over and placing 
his forehead as close to the ground as possible. When the 
candidate bends over, a member paddles him with a paddle 
containing an exploding cartridge. "The Little Rose" test is 
the same thing, only the candidate is told to pick a flower.

"The North Pole"
Candidates are forced to climb a greased pole while members 
paddle them. Afterward, a member hands a candidate a piece of 
ice: "Here is your share of the North Pole. Hold on to it as 
long as you can, and pass it on."

"Molten Lead Test"
A member warns the candidate that the next test may be 
dangerous if not performed carefully. Proof of a candidate's 
courage and faith in the order is required, the member 
explains. "Is the lead good and hot?" he asks another member. 
"Yes, red hot," he replies. "If you are not a coward, you must 
plunge your hands into a caldron of red-hot molten lead," the 
member tells the candidate. A large pot is set before the 
candidate. It contains any reasonably humane substitution for 
molten lead. If the candidate refuses to put his hands in the 
pot, the others force him.