OK, I am going to wade into a controversial topic here. Firstly let me state my own position clearly: if ever I swore an oath of secrecy, I would never break it ever. However: I see no reason at all why I should keep secret something which is demonstrably public knowledge – it would be an absurdity. So for example if I was chatting about some ritual of an order of which I may or may not be a member with someone, I would be quite happy to discourse at length upon what may be gleaned from published books etc, but it would never occur to me to say something like “Last sunday the Order of XXXX met at such&such Hotel in London to perform YYYY Ritual and there were present His Royal High Prince —-, the famous chef and director of Norwich City FC —–, and —- straight from the premiere of her new movie Salt.” This would quite clearly be going too far. 😉
That being said, here are my most recent ruminations.
Imagine for one moment, that you are an Evil magician, an initiate of the left-hand path, someone who can’t be trusted, etc. In short – a character from one of my novels. Imagine further that you want to form your own magical order, of which you are the head (naturally), in which you intend to engage in all manner of vile and evil practices – the kind of thing that will get you in trouble with the police if they find out. How do you go about recruiting new members, and running such an order?
Clearly, anyone you do recruit, being an evil person like yourself, cannot be trusted. Hence, what you would have to do is to limit the amount of knowledge that a recruit is first given on joining, only admitting them to further portions of knowledge after they have proved reliable and trustworthy. Furthermore, you would swear them to secrecy on first joining, pointing out that the penalties for breaking their oath of secrecy are terrible and severe. Finally, in order to protect the identities of those already in the order including yourself, you might insist on everyone only being known by a pseudonym.
You see what I am getting at? The structure of a strictly hierarchical magical society, with terrible oaths of secrecy and what-not, is geared not towards white magicians but black magicians. They are the mechanisms which would be used to run a successful black-magical order, not a white-magical one.
In a white-magical order, the teachings of the various grades are not anything to be ashamed of, therefore there would not be such a necessity to keep things strictly secret. One would expect Privacy yes, because otherwise the order would not have any integrity. Also, the fact that the attendees go through very personal experiences when participating in magic.
So: an oath of secrecy which aims at respecting the sensitivity of the members is good. An oath of secrecy which aims at enforcing slavish cult-like obedience is bad. And an oath of secrecy which binds someone to keeping secret that which is palpably public knowledge is a load of complete and utter bollocks.