Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence on American Society - exclusive excerpt
Mar 6, 2012
A brief look behind Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence on American Society, a Visual Guide. by Adam Parfrey
One of the most exciting secondhand store moments ever: discovering a beautifully preserved 19th century Masonic uniform with dozens of buttons, embroidered crosses, a skull and bones apron, official belt, and pointy "Chapeau" hat topped with white ostrich feathers.
The store owner told me the costume was from "Knights of Pythias," a 19th century fraternal order that loved its uniforms, and marching around in them. Like a couple other faux-Masonic Orders that referred to themselves as "Knights," the Pythians confused its historical inspiration. Damon and Pythias came from ancient Greek mythology, and the added "Knights" referred to medieval anti-Islam crusaders battling for the crown and Christianity.
Later I came to discover the uniform was in fact from the Knights Templar, a Masonic subset that also loved its uniforms, and marching around in them.
More recently Knights (or Knight) Templar uniforms were worn by the similarly anti-Islamic mass murderer Anders Brevik and a particularly murderous Mexican drug gang.
Anders Brevik in Templar costume:
In the '90s, my own Knights Templar costume saw action in a pictorial satire for The Nose magazine (a West Coast Spy magazine), which pictured me as conspiratorial Freemason whispering into Bill Clinton's ear in an elevator, and holding its apron on the moon, accompanied by 32-degree Scottish Rite Mason Jay Kinney's pug dog.
I guess you could say that I've had an obsession with things fraternal for decades. Fezzes, twilight language, obtuse rituals, bizarre initiations, all of it. I finally attempted make sense of all I had collected from both pro- and anti-Masonic perspectives. Author Craig Heimbichner helped me with it.
You might ask, why include the Anti-Masonic material? After all, isn't that the stuff of Papal vendettas, Third Reich anti-Semitism and other forms of tin-hatted lunacy? Perhaps, but whether we like it or not, the first third party in United States was the historically important Anti-Masonic Party, which for a time resulted in the near decimation of American Freemasonry.
With all the Dan Brown bestsellers and Nicolas Cage adventure movies this past decade, we've been subjected to a magic carpet ride of literary and filmic exploitation: dull reissues, crackpot conspiracies, and tomes that seem like directives from headquarters to deny involvement in many aspects of American history that freemasons had been delighted to take credit for not too long ago.
With designer Sean Tejaratchi (of Craphound fame) our goal was to produce a visually enhanced guide of a time when one out of every three male Americans belonged to a secret society. The book has more than four hundred images, and contributors who include the great Robert Anton Wilson (who wrote about Adam Weishaupt and The Illuminati a few months before he passed).
The Masonic Origins of Baseball
The original baseball stars number among the Who's Who of Baseball. The image below is of Babe Ruth receiving a shave in an Omaha Nebraska hotel room in 1922 when the Babe played an exhibition game for the Woodmen of the World, a popular fraternal order that later become an insurance company.
The Shriners, which at one time could only be joined by Masons who completed 32 degrees of the Scottish Rite, is considered a "fun" Masonic offshoot known for its yearly conventions in which good citizens became party monsters with impunity. The famous Laurel and Hardy movie, Sons of the Desert, was a hilarious take-off on Shriners whoring and drinking shenanigans. Shriners are also known for their Crippled Children Hospitals and clown competitions. The archetypal clip art below was taken from a 1928 copy of the long-running Shriners magazine, The Crescent.
The difficult esoterica demanded by some fraternal orders were made fun of by "burlesque orders," the source of Munchers of Hard Tack, seen below:
A page from this delightful 1905 catalogue of hazing pranks from the DeMoulin Brothers reveals the sort of humor prospective fraternal members were subjected to.
Cornerstone Ritual Ceremonies
Jim Tresner, a well-regarded Scottish Rite Mason, wrote in his book, From Sacrifice to Symbol: The Story of Cornerstones and Stability Rites, that the Cornerstone Ritual, seen below with a trowel-wielding president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is a replacement ceremony for blood sacrifices that once blessed new buildings "into the 1700s."
Shriners Love Islam
In light of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, it's strange to see Shriners, represented by the American military below, celebrate participating an Order in which their initiation required their obligation to utter a bloodthirsty oath which one hand on a Koran.
Hating the Masons
Anti-Masonic books, this one below from the late 19th century, often displayed overt ridicule, particularly of initiation ceremonies.
Though many fraternal orders had bars and public drinking rituals, some were teetotalers, like this British temperance order, promoted in its publication below.
The Third Reich Joins Anti-Masonry
The conspiratorial pamphlet from the Third Reich, and an image from it in the next page accuses Freemasonry as being a Jewish front, one that required Goyim to demean themselves in lodges with a Mogen David hanging above the door.
Masonic groups often promoted themselves with postcards that pictured hot girls of the time who loved a Mason's discretion.
The Mason's humorous identification with the goat was in part a laugh at Catholic conspiracy and a means to make fun of the strange fraternal rituals and demands.
Some researchers claim that The Royal Order of the Jesters, which demands membership in the Shriners to join, is the highest level fraternal order of all. The Jesters' icon is The Billiken, an early 20th century good luck token. Lately some Jesters members were imprisoned for promoting prostitution.
Adam Parfrey writes, edits and publishes through Feral House and Process Media. Most recently his work is seen in Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence on American Society, A Visual Guide. This Fall, Feral House will be publishing a book-length version of online cartoon Hipster Hitler by James Carr and Archana Kumar. Feral House has also recently published The Weird World of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds by Mike Howlett, and Siegel and Shuster's Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero, from the Creators of Superman. Cori Silberman, a producer of Mad Men, has optioned the Funnyman book for a movie.