The obligations constitute an area of Masonry that commonly gets misunderstood.
New members make solemn promises concerning their conduct in Lodge and in society. Each member also promises to keep confidential the traditional methods of proving that he is a Freemason which he would use when visiting a lodge where he is not known. Freemasons do not swear allegiances to each other or to Freemasonry. Freemasons promise to support others in times of need, but only if that support does not conflict with their duties to God, the law, their family or with their responsibilities as a citizen.
Specifics of the Masonic Obligation
Each degree has an accompanying oath or obligation which the candidate is required to take. I admit to knowing little about the Masonic obligations prior to becoming a Freemason and believe this is an area where more should be explained to non-Masons. A good description is included at www.masonicdictionary.com.
“The Masonic obligation is that moral one which, although it cannot be enforced by the courts of law, is binding on the party who makes it, in conscience and according to moral justice… Its various clauses, in which different duties are prescribed, are called its points, which are either affirmative or negative... The affirmative points are those which require certain acts to be performed; the negative points are those which forbid certain other acts to be done. The whole of them is preceded by a general point of secrecy, common to all the Degrees, and this point is called the tie.”
To help explain further, each Mason promises to keep the secrets of each degree. This has a historical significance as well as demonstrating that lessons must build one upon the other. You don’t send a child directly to 4th grade, without first teaching him/her the alphabet and how to read. The same applies to a Masonic education. One must learn the preliminary lessons to establish a basis for further understanding. Thus, a Mason promises not to reveal certain aspects of a degree until a candidate professes a desire and willingness to accept the responsibilities of possessing this knowledge.
The penalty of the obligation offers a symbolical representation of what any good man could expect to feel if he doesn’t live by the moral lessons taught in the ceremonies. A deeper study in this area will also reward one with greater insights as to how choosing not to live according to good moral laws impedes personal growth.