Secret handshakes are a very distinctive form of handshake used to identify and convey affiliation to a particular organization, social status, or subculture. The origins of secret handshakes have yet to be traced back to any specific date or origin, but are believed to be as old as any other form of greeting. Secret handshakes have been used the world over since time immemorial as a method of discrete identification.
Modern usage of secret handshakes are usually less formal. The common manifestation of such is used among youth and adolescents and is known as the “fist bump”. The fist bump, performed by touching two closed fists, is used quite frequently in the modern youth culture as a less formal greeting as the handshake. It can be said that it is the most common form of greeting among college age students and younger. The common handshake is still used among them of course, but as a more sincere and formal greeting, typically to convey a deeper sense of respect and gravitas.
Freemasons are the most notable of organizations which still implement and regularly use secret handshakes. The origin of the secret handshake as used by Freemasons can be traced back to the ancient operative stonemason trade guilds. Ancient stonemasons used a complex system of ranks or skill levels within their trade. As the young apprentices progressed toward mastering their trade, they were given a higher level of responsibility and required a greater degree of skill and workmanship within their trade. Over time, with the gain of experience and the advancement of geometry and architecture, came more efficient ways of performing important tasks. These became known as “trade secrets” or “tricks of the trade”. As workers progressed in trade and accumulated a regular need and use for these trade secrets, it became necessary to be able to identify (sometimes discreetly) what their skill level or rank was. This was needed to determine what trade secrets one was entitled to learn and master, as well as what wage they may be entitled to. Accordingly, it is said that a system of secret handshakes was implemented within the craft to allow the stonemasons to be recognized among new work crews and building sites. Freemasons, now considered “speculative stonemasons”, still use a similar method today as a way of identifying membership and status.