The Initiate's blog

The word "swear" has a common meaning in current society, as words that aren't spoken in polite company or flat-out cursing. These may be crude, vulgar or sacrilegious. I find that Masons use a more traditional meaning for the word. In Masonic ritual it means an emphatic and solemn promise. I am more accustomed to the contemporary meaning so I had to think about how this is used in the words of the Obligation of the Entered Apprentice.

Even the meaning of a similar word "oath" has evolved over the centuries of Masonic ritual. Somewhere along my circuitous path of religious and spiritual instruction I adopted the premise that a man's word was a bond - that a promise was equivalent to a binding oath - that to swear on a statement was tainted by the more recent uses of that word and both vulgar and unnecessary. Maybe this came from studying ideas from Quakerism or maybe even some New Thought Christian principles. Ultimately, it came to me that to say, "I sincerely promise…" is redundant, for how could a promise be anything less than sincere. Even in my wedding ceremony, a promise felt binding. For me to say, "I will do that." is similarly binding.

So, as any Master Mason knows, to swear is a traditional part of Masonic ritual - in the long-lost meaning of the emphatic promise. And I had to think about whether I felt comfortable with that word and using it as part of a sincere promise.

As I consider my Obligation of an Entered Apprentice I hold to the following statement from a article "They Lied on Their Knees" by R. W. William A Carpenter, 1985 Grand Master of Masons in Pennsylvania.

Taking an oath and an obligation is a binding and serious thing. Accepting and fulfilling an oath and an obligation is an honorable thing. Not adhering to an oath and an obligation is disgraceful and dishonorable.

I was searching some of the image banks for photos of masonic oath, or promising or swearing. The results were surprising. Some photos showed the "fingers crossed" behind the back. Many other images were from wedding ceremonies. (We know how abiding some of those promises are.) Nothing I found truly reflected the emphatic promise of a person in a way that an initiate states his solemn obligation. Is that a reflection of a dilution of the words? Humans in a complex society are interesting, at least.

So, it doesn't matter to me whether I simply promise or take an oath or swear. They all mean the same to me. So what I promise, whatever the words, whether standing, sitting or kneeling, are one and the same. I accept each oath, and I shall adhere to it.

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