March 5, 2007
There is a portion in our Obligation that goes, “…I will always hele, forever conceal and never reveal, any of the secret arts, parts or points". We have all said it. We have memorized it for our proficiency and have recited it, perfectly. I’ll bet you know what I am going to ask. You’re right! What does it mean? What does it mean to “always hele”? What are “the secret arts, parts or points”?
For the longest time, I gave the meaning of the phrase, “always hele” a mental shrug. I figured I’d say it because I was supposed to say it, but I didn’t know what it meant and to tell the truth, I didn’t really care. There was other stuff in the Obligation that sounded more important, stuff that I could understand without having to do too much thinking - and with all the memorization going on, there wasn’t that much room left over for thinking. Same thing for the arts, parts or points. I decided that those words meant “Masonic stuff”, stuff that eventually I’d learn about, somehow. But, it bothered me to be saying something, solemnly swearing to something, that I was unsure about. I figured I owed it to Masonry and myself to stop being mentally lazy and to find out.
Now, for the answers to these questions you have to do some research because you won’t find the explanations in the Ritual or the Monitor. I found the “Masonic Encyclopedia”, written by Albert G. Mackey about 120 years ago. Now, I know that not everyone has a copy sitting in the bookshelf, but it can be found at the Scottish Rite Temple, downtown, along with a bunch of other great Masonic books. If you haven’t been there, you should go.
Anyhow, I found out that “I will always HELE”, with the spelling H-E-L-E, comes from the Anglo Saxon word, “helan”, meaning to keep safe or secure, especially by hiding. We are saying, I will keep safe and secure, forever conceal and never reveal, any of the hidden mysteries of Freemasonry. Got it.
I found out that the next part of the phrase, “any of the secret ARTS, PARTS, OR POINTS”, has three distinct meanings:
You have to dig a little deeper to figure out what those definitions mean. Arts refers to the preparation of the candidate, the due form of standing, the steps, the Obligation's Due Form, the Due Guard, Sign, Token, and Word of the degree, including the symbolism and the associated explanations.
Parts refers to Masonry’s degree structure. Swearing to safeguard this one may seem a bit problematic. We know that there are open source books, pamphlets, and even official internet sites that explain the degrees and structure of Masonry. Apparently, there was greater secrecy about this in the past, but it’s common knowledge, now. But, Parts also includes the actual conduct of the degree ceremony and the Masonic symbols for each degree and their meanings. This includes the sequence of events in a degree ceremony; what was done, when, and by whom. Lastly, it includes the symbolism and meaning of the Square, the Compasses, the Working tools, Jewels, Lights, the Apron, and the content of the Lectures. So, despite some openness, the Masonic knowledge illustrating these Parts does need to be safeguarded.
Points refers to the clauses in our Obligation. You know, until I looked this up, I didn’t think of the Obligation as a contract with clauses, but I guess that makes sense when you think about it. Let’s look at the clauses. The first one is the Secrecy Clause, also called the Tie Clause. This is the part we’ve been talking about.
Then there’s the Positives or Affirmatives Clause. In this clause we find out what the Mason must do.
Next, is the Negatives Clause, or what the Mason must not do. This is the “I will not” paragraph. Finally, there is the Penalties Clause, or what a Mason agrees will happen under violation of the preceding clauses. This is the “binding myself under no less a penalty” paragraph.
So, now we know the details of what we must keep safe, concealed, and never reveal. This one short phrase proves that there are many “hidden mysteries” in Freemasonry. We just didn’t realize that some were hidden right up front in the Obligation, did we?
Br. Stephen C. Harrington