Follow Here To Purchase Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence on American Society: A Visual Guide

Authors: Adam Parfrey and Craig Heimbichner
Publisher: Feral House
ISBN: 978-1-936239-14-6

Early in 2012, objectionable hazing practices by fraternities at Dartmouth were called into question by Andrew Lohse, a former pledge who published his concerns as an op-ed in the school paper The Dartmouth, where he described pledges being forced to eat vomit-laced omelets, swim in excrement and perform a number of other humiliating and potentially dangerous acts.

Lohse was profiled in the March issue of Rolling Stone and defamed by defensive college administrators and fraternity members discounting his claims. In spite of their differing perspectives, all parties are familiar with the pervasiveness of hazing on college campuses nationwide, in spite of laws against it.

In May 2012 Florida A&M announced that its famed Marching 100 Band would disband until anti-hazing measures could be put into place after Drum Major Robert Champion was beaten to death on a bus in a November 2011 hazing incident.

Where does hazing originate and why does it have such dominion in our nation’s most distinctive universities?

For clues to these questions we can look to Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence on American Society: A Visual Guide, which suggests that the historic national influence of fraternal orders is often overlooked or underestimated because of the familiarity of its guises.

The book is an 8.5 by 11, 337 page collection of photographs, illustrations, and primary source excerpts that provide an overview of select fraternal orders in the U.S. The authors have arranged the material engagingly with provocative chapter titles and a tongue in cheek tone that belies their more sinister suggestions.

Ritual America catalogs, in the words of the authors, “The peculiar realities of a country molded by the oddball Orders that came to shape an America divided by race, class, gender, trade, country of origin and religious belief.”

It presents the ubiquitous insignia and accessories of Freemasonry: the square and compass, The G, the white leather apron, the pin and the hoodwink.

The book provides an overview of other select orders with their wide ranging beliefs and sometimes conflicting aims from advocating temperance to performing bacchanalian rites on a regular basis.

The pages offer a glimpse into the stunning array of fraternal orders, many of which continue to meet regularly. Details of these orders are offered, from the mundane and innocuous, such as the pancake breakfasts served by The Knights of Columbus or the life insurance sold by Woodmen of the World.

Also present are more disturbing articles, such as photos of rallies of the Ku Klux Klan and the Improved Order of the Red Men, which until 1974 banned the participation of American Indians.

Excerpts include the esoteric writings of Aleister Crowley and an angry exchange of letters between vying heads of the Church of Satan as well as an alleged first-person account of the bizarre sexual practices of L. Ron Hubbard, as described by a victim.

Mentioned and profiled to varying degrees are famous Masons from Presidents George Washington and Lyndon Johnson , to Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover, to actors Danny Thomas and John Wayne.

Women play only a small part in this story, but women of note are included, such as Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society and the Grand Commander of Le Droit Humain, as well as other prominent sisters, including the spiritualist Fox sisters.

Secret orders have naturally been incorporated into our popular culture. In particular the Illuminati has captured our national imagination making appearances in the novels of Dan Brown and the movies based on them.

Mention of the Illuminati seems to carry cred in the lyrics of certain rappers. Lady Gaga purports to have dreams about the Illuminati, and Lindsay Lohan once tweeted about being stalked by them.

More charming are the retro nods, such as Laurel and Hardy in Sons of the Deserts or Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble as members of the Royal Order of the Water Buffalo.

The hundreds of photos and drawings bring to life the vast range of secret orders and their wildly divergent interests from debauchery (Shriners in diapers pedaling tricycles) to spirituality (a gorgeous full color image of the Order of the Eastern Star seems imbued with higher purpose).

Elaborate and colorful costumes and an appreciation of pageantry are on display throughout. Images touting manhood and virility appear in advertisements of various orders extending a friendly hand to potential brothers.

Many of the images are ambiguous, such as the “widely reproduced” illustration of “a father fingering a devoted wolf cub’s apron to usher him into deeper Masonic ties,” or the billboard featuring a police officer performing mouth to mouth on a child, with the bold lettered pronouncement “Some call him Pig! I call him OFFICER & SIR!!”

Numerous illustrations relate to hazing. There are depictions of men being paddled, electrically shocked, and forced to drink goat’s blood. Some are obviously staged photos of violent hazing rituals, with initiates bounds in ropes and tied to a band saw or placed under a guillotine.

Pages from catalogs offer for sale “fraternal paraphernalia,” including handcuffs and shackles, electric carpets, the striking maul and headman’s axes. One caption refers to hazing as “the Order’s initiatory sadism,” which may shed some light on why hazing is bound to continue in any number of our higher institutions. These practices are held sacred and are protected by people, or more accurately, brothers, of influence.

Ritual America offers a fascinating informational and pictorial overview that leaves the deeper questions regarding fraternal orders and their influence in the United States unanswered, but certainly confirms the theory it sets out to: Wherever you go, there They are..


Follow Here To Purchase Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence on American Society: A Visual Guide