Masonic Secret Handshake

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The secret Masonic handshake is a special type of handshake shared between freemasons. The handshake has special significance for masons and also allows masons to recognize each other. Even though popular culture makes a great deal out of the secrecy of Masonic handshakes – and other so-called “secret” handshakes belonging to social groups and fraternities – in fact Masonic handshakes are not so secret. They are described in many books and pamphlets that are widely available.

In fact, there is not even one secret Masonic handshake that is recognized by all masons. Each Masonic degree has its own handshake, full of symbolism and its own unique attributes. The special grip or handshake of an entered apprentice, for example, consists of pressing the thumb against the top of the joint of the first knuckle. This handshake is known sometimes as the “Boaz.” When the entered apprentice first receives his degree, the Worshipful Master gives the new mason this handshake as a sign of “brotherly love and friendship.”


Shibboleth Handshake

Shibboleth handshake
Shibboleth handshake
The secret Masonic handshake of the fellow craft degree is quite different. It begins as a regular handshake, but then one mason presses his thumb against the area between the first and second knuckle joints of the first two fingers of the other person. The second mason reciprocates the gestures by pressing his thumb against the area between the first and second knuckle joints of the first two fingers of the other mason. This handshake is sometimes referred to as "Shibboleth.”

Tubalcain Handshake

The secret Masonic handshake of the master mason degree begins with one mason pressing his thumb in the space between the second and third knuckles of the right hand. At this point, the other mason moves his thumb to the same spot on the other mason’s hand. They each press their thumbs firmly into the space between the second and third knuckles of their hands. This handshake or grip is sometimes referred to as "Tubalcain.”

Ma-Ha-Bone Handshake

The Master Mason also has a handshake or grip known as the “Ma-Ha-Bone.” This involves interlacing the thumbs of both hands when two masons meet and shake (with their right hands). One mason presses his fingers against the other mason’s wrist. The other mason presses the tops of his fingers against the other mason’s hand in a similar gesture. This secret handshake is also known as the Strong Grip of the Master Mason or the Lion's Paw.

Boaz Handshake

The handshake of an entered apprentice is the first handshake that a new mason learns. This handshake, also known as "Boaz," is made by pressing one’s thumb on the top of the first knuckle joint of the Mason one is shaking hands with. The other mason then presses his thumb against the apprentice mason’s knuckle. When the apprentice mason first takes his oath, he is first given this handshake by The Worshipful Master during the taking of the degree.

Jachin Handshake

The Jachin Handshake, also known as the Real Grip Of A Fellow Craft, is the handshake of the Fellow Craft mason, or the mason who has attained the Fellow Craft degree. In this handshake, the mason takes another mason by the right hand. Initially, the handshake is much like an ordinary handshake, but then the mason presses the top of his thumb very firmly on the second knuckle of the mason he is shaking hands with. The second mason then responds by pressing his own thumb against the corresponding knuckle of the first mason’s hand.

Celebrities and the Masonic Handshake

Quite frequently, celebrities, and high-ranking political officials are caught in photos giving what appears to be Masonic handshakes. Often, this sparks some controversy and questioning, as people wonder whether the celebrities are in fact Masons. The Internet is in fact full of photos and discussions about whether specific celebrities and officials are masons or not. President Barack Obama, Ron Paul, Gordon Brown, George Bush, George W. Bush, John McCain, and other persons of note have all been photographed giving handshakes which were later discussed online as being Masonic handshakes. In most cases, the link between these individuals and Freemasonry was not established officially.

Non-Masons and the Masonic Handshake

With the advent of the Internet, almost anyone can learn how to give a Masonic handshake. This has led to some speculation about the effectiveness of the Masonic handshake in contemporary culture. Some non-Masons claim that they have given the Masonic handshake and have managed to “fool” Masons into thinking that they, too, were part of Freemasonry. Some Masons claim that there are subtle differences between handshakes learned online and the types of handshakes learned by Masons taking a degree. At the very least, giving a Masonic handshake when one is not a Mason is considered impolite.

Other Historic uses of Masonic Handshakes

Some historians have speculated that Masonic handshakes may have had several uses in early days. For example, when some countries began to outlaw or band Freemasonry, Masonic handshakes could be a subtle way for Freemasons to continue to identify and support one another, without calling attention to their affiliations. In some countries, Freemasons continued to meet in secret and a secret handshake was a perfect way to express affiliation and support without alerting authorities. Handshakes are very commonplace and in themselves are not suspicious. At the same time, Masonic handshakes have very subtle differences which often cannot be noted simply by looking. Thus, Masons in countries hostile to Freemasonry could identify each other in a very public yet subtle way.

Freemasons Handshake Theories

Secret Masonic handshakes are one way that masons can recognize each other, even without speaking. They can also be a way for masons to express their solidarity or their union as masons. As part of Masonic rituals, secret handshakes are ways for masons to express fraternity and friendship as well as respect for each other.

Many people have theories about how secret Masonic handshakes developed, but many historians believe that initially the handshakes were meant to prove that a mason was qualified. In the early days of Freemasonry, when most Freemasons were masons (working with stone), there were no certificates or accreditation and when masons moved from one place to the next it was not always easy to tell which mason was qualified for what job. When a mason apprenticed with a master mason, the master mason would teach him a secret handshake, reflective of the degree of learning the apprentice mason acquired. When the mason traveled for work and gave another master mason or foreman the secret handshake, that person would know that the apprentice had learned a certain degree of masonry (and the subsequent handshake) from a master mason.

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