I recently came across a website selling downloadable rituals described as "Text legible by anyone + Full text accessible with the Word of the degree", for which a small fee was being assessed.
There are many angles by which one could approach this. First, the offering the text of the degrees for money to anyone who comes along seems to go against the spirit of the first degree obligation, although the digital format is perhaps considered by some to be technically outside the domain of such tangible written materials. No matter how you work it, it is creating an opportunity for someone to obtain the remaining ritual secrets of Masonry, as a "prize", if they are able to locate just one secret elsewhere. Second, it has already been done. The ritual is out. It's all over the net for anyone who tries hard enough to find it, not to mention being published in numerous books. The difference? If you engage in this type of action, it is upon your head. Being true to your obligations is about personal integrity and character, something that you can never lose by someone else divulging their secrets, nor by everyone else in the world knowing these secrets, but only by you doing so yourself. While these are concerns, I'm interested in focusing here on that "one" secret that can be used to obtain all the others.
On the way out to our Lodge picnic, we passed through three gates on an access road to get to the old Masonic park which our Lodge owns. Joking, it was suggested that we set up a little box at each gate with a rubber hand concealed in it, where one must give the appropriate grip in order for the gate to be automatically unlocked and opened.
My objection to both of these ideas is similar: If you test someone mechanically, they can try and try until they get it right. Also, there is no human discernment involved, which could become wary and fend off such a cowan without ever even engaging in the test.
Extending this further, let us presume for the sake of argument that the word of an Entered Apprentice is Aardvark (a neutral word, I hope, as it is obviously not employed in such a manner by any order.) The problem is, if a cowan or eavesdropper comes along and says: "I know the word is Aardvark, and it is my intention to let every man know this." And you come along after and say, "Do not reveal this Masonic secret, it is direspectful, dishonorable, etc.," what have you done? You have done nothing but confirm the accuracy of his claim. Was he the one who revealed the secret? No. He has no secret to reveal, since he did not acquire it under a solemn obligation, (or if he did, it was feigned), but you are under obligation, and by confirming his exposure, you become the one who has truly revealed a Masonic secret. The honorable thing to do is that which is taught in the charges: Ignore them utterly. On the other hand, you should not engage in any type of guessing or disavowing game, either. If another comes and says the word is actually Chicken, and you say, "The word is not Chicken." You are only aiding the cowan in making advances towards the correct word. This "Chicken" argument is a matter which also requires discernment, because sometimes the claim can be so wildly outrageous that it is impossible, and perhaps no harm at all could come from setting someone straight, or setting that persons audience straight, at least. Usually in such a case, however, the fact that the word presented is false is readily apparent to anyone with any sense of discernment at all, so maybe it is better left untouched, so that the supposed exposer may be free to embarass himself and lose credibility entirely through his own actions.
Perhaps the Masonic Secrets can never truly be revealed. Being the embodiment of good character and integrity, as soon as one undertakes to expose them they become immediately lost to that person and only a hollow shell remains.
Steps to the Endowment.
10 months ago