Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence on American Society - exclusive excerpt

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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.


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  1. Anders Brevik in a “Templar costume?” He’s wearing (horrendously) tweaked out Marine Corps dress blues. Did I miss something?

    1. Breivik believed it to be the uniform of a Justiciar Knight Commander of the Reformed Knights Templar.

    2.  Yes, he was a self described knights Templar member and racist – you missed the part where they described knights Templar garb.

    3.  You might be confused because there was an actual group called the Knights Templar, way back in the Middle Ages, who–like the Masons–were a somewhat secretive group who both incorporated ancient symbols and rituals into their order and were in turn responsible for propagating those symbols throughout Western civilization, thus giving rise to any number of conspiracy theories. (For example, Robert Anton Wilson, much celebrated on this blog, made them a cornerstone of the Illuminatus trilogy.) Lots of subsequent groups therefore borrowed their name, if not their authentic style, in an attempt to steal a little of that gravitas for themselves; in reality, Breivik is as much a Templar as I am Batman.

      1. Well, right, and that was my point. This isn’t anymore a Knights Templar costume than my jeans and button down shirt are a Batman costume, but I presume most readers wouldn’t go along with a caption branding my outfit a “Batman costume.” If it’s a confused/inauthentic/bastshit crazy version of Templar garb (and/or if all modern Templar costumes fall in this category), shouldn’t there be some mention?

        1. Maybe you missed the paragraph referring to the Knights Templar “subset” of Freemasonry, not the mediaeval religious order that has been (well officially anyway) defunct for 700 years.

          1. No, I’m aware the modern “Knights Templar” are a Freemason (re-)invention, but he wasn’t actually part of this subset of Freemasonry, nor is he actually sporting its garb. As much as the modern spin-off is phony, I don’t see how this counts as “Templar costume,” and I really think the post ought to be clear on this point.

  2. I’m boggled that BoingBoing is being used to promote such a piece of hurtful and hateful nonsense. What’s next? Linking to Rush Limbaugh’s rants against Sandra fluke as good fun?

    If the rest of the book is as poorly researched and sensationalist as this excerpt, I wouldn’t waste any money on it.

    Want a book about the reality of Freemasonry in America, its history and present? Try Jay Kinney’s “The Masonic Myth”

    Yes, I’m a Mason, as are 2 million American men. I found this posting gratuitously offensive.


    1. As a Mason, I see nothing hurtful or offensive about the above material. Masonry, and ne0-masonic/rosicrucian/neo-rosicrucian (Golden Dawn, OTO, et al) orders have a wide and varied history. We must accept myriad interpretations and variations upon the histories of these Orders. Frequently the lines and borders between these groups cross…for better or for worse. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter much, does it? There is not one group which can lay even titular claim as “the” true Order. Further, what any one person says about any other person or persons in any of the various Orders is highly irrelevant to your own (or my own) personal belief. Our history is not inherently sacred or relevant outside of the context of one’s own personal interpretations of the Mysteries our Order(s) transmit(s) through Allegory. Besides, we all know Masons have long-lost the Word and should get over it :-)

      1. An allegorical interpretation of the word needs always to be preserved against a fundamentalist interpretation. No big secret there, I think. There is still the revealed Catholic interpretation.

    2. I think the ephemera shown here is fascinating but perhaps it should be burned so as not to offend sensitive people.

    3. pgt, my only read on the subject has been The Hiram Key. Asking if you’re familiar with the book and if you would plus-or-minus its accuracy.

      1. My Mom was a Job’s Daughter, too. She had a doll dressed up in all the regalia, and a silver cake slice engraved with “Queen Jacquie.” As a kid, recently emigrated from Canada to the UK, I was under the mistaken impression (which I shared enthusiastically with all my school chums) that my mother was once Queen of Canada.

  3. Many years ago . . . 1989, I think . . . I was in Las Vegas for a trade show. We were put up in the dowdy old Sahara. The hotel was also hosting a Shriner convention! There were lots of old geezers in those elaborate costumes and fezzes.

    I rode in an elevator with a couple of them. Paraphrasing:

    “So, I  hear Milt was made Grand Potentate.”

    “Yeah, I wouldn’t want that. Being Grand Potentate is a hell of a lot work.”

    1. I don’t know much about the group, but here in the Cincinnati area they sponsor a well-respected medical center specializing in treatment of severely burned children.

      It would be hard to come up with a more worthy effort than that. And besides, any guys who take themselves so unseriously that their primary public persona are elderly larks driving miniature cars wearing fezzes are like something RAW would adore.

  4. What killed these groups was the Prosperity Gospel, in that being wealthy was not just the entitlement to the connected upper class of business owners, management and the guilded trades like law, medicine and engineering, it is God’s will that EVERYONE be wealthy. Wealth is a class in an of itself and it is your divine right, regardless of how you get it, to have it. Pay slave wages, scam Medicaid, using Visa cards to may Mastercard bills, hollow out healthy companies, selling cheesy knick knacks at the race track, cooking meth, it’s all legit in the Lord’s eyes if you show up to church in a new BMW, drop $500 into the collection plate and head home to watch the game in your illegal-alien built McMansion, fuck that snooty faggy neighbor next door with his mid-price Buick, line manager job at the plant and Shriners bumper sticker, your money’s as good as his.

  5. Ritual America is not meant to hurt the feelings of Freemasons. Freemasons were huge in American culture, and Ritual America acknowledges its many accomplishments. Freemasonry was only one of hundreds of fraternal orders discussed in this book. 

    Jay Kinney’s book is quite a bit different from Ritual America in respect to its design and emphasis. Ritual America largely emphasizes pro-Masonic material, but American history includes much in regard to anti-masonic material, including for the first third political party and current misguided and crazy anti-Illuminati stuff.

    In regard to Anders Brevik, after the mass murder of 70-plus children, he was officially removed from the Templar group in Norway that he belonged to. A simple Google search will verify this.

    If there is any misinformation in the excerpt of Ritual America above, please call our attention to it, and please source the correct info.


    Adam Parfrey

    1. I’m not going to go through the whole post, much less the whole book – it doesn’t merit that level of attention. However, two points, demonstrating your level of fact-checking.

      1. You’ve misspelled Breivik’s name throughout. Is this error also in your book?

      2. He wasn’t removed from a ‘Templar Group in Norway”. He was kicked out of the Norwegian Freemasons, where he was an inactive member, apparently attending only one meeting in the four years after taking his degrees in 2007. It’s not unusual for men to join the Masons, discover it wasn’t what they thought, and stop attending.

      He and a handful of his fascist buddies apparently did create their own group of “Knights Templar” in 2002, in London, without any connection of to freemasonry. That is apparently where the photo in the fanciful uniform comes from.

      Here’s some actual Masonic Knights Templar, with the correct uniform.


      Not quite the same. I don’t think I’m the one who needs to do a ‘simple Google search’. The above data is mostly from Wikipedia.


      1. Correct Uniform? Why would Breivik pretend to be a member of an American Masonic lodge? Find me a picture of Norwegian Knights Templar “in correct uniform” and then we can talk.

      2. In Hoc Signo Vinces.

        What is an actual Masonic Knights Templar?  Some authorities would argue that Masonic association with the Knights Templar is spurious at best. What charter to operate does the Lodge of the MKT hold?

        But, you are correct, nowhere can I find that Breivik was ever removed from a Templar organization..and he was only removed from his Lodge after the attacks.

  6. As a 23 year Mason and twice past master,  I always get a kick out of authors who pen wildly inaccurate tomes about Masonry and it’s history without having any personal lodge affiliation or experience. 

    My verdict about the book?  Amusing and with some great, old-timey graphics!
    But because of it’s out of context and half clarified descriptions, it would not be used for any serious, scholarly reference work.

  7. Hi Art, . I realize that Ritual Amerca was not sent to Scottish Rite headquarters for approval. Your premise is that if one does not physically experience being a Mason, then if you publish any material that concerns Masonry, it’s “wildly inaccurate.”  Please provide any wild inaccuracies to me, and I’ll do my best to correct them, that is, if they actually exist. We can be emailed @ info@feralhouse.com….  BTW, for the sake of knowing what it’s like to join a fraternal order, I was indoctrinated into Odd Fellows of Waxahachie TX. Ritual America does not profess to be academic, but a vastly illustrated layman’s guide to ignored aspects of American history.

  8. Does one have to be a President to write about Presidents? BTW, how can one properly write about Freemasonry after being sworn to an oath not to reveal an of its secrets?

    1.  Hello, Adam,  The vast contents of the Livingston Masonic Library in NYC bear testament to authors who write about masonry who are not members of the craft themselves.  The history and philosophy is public knowledge.

  9.  The only Mason I know is in his early thirties, from the West Bank, and manages a convenience store I walk to through a hole in a fence and a dirt trail across an abandoned hot tub showroom and pool supply place.

    Funny thing is, this guy has only lived in the US for eight years, and is a leader in his lodge mostly because he is only one of five people under sixty. He’s also Druze, and thus had the opportunity to go to special schools in Israel. That’s where he learned English and formal Hebrew.

    But everyone knows the Masons, The Elks, and The Sons of Hermann are on the wane. Sure, they still have the burn clinics and orthopedic hospitals, but look at their parade. See any young people?

    No,  in these times, the Moonies, The Family at the C Street House, and the fundie infiltration of the military are much more powerful.

    Don’t believe me about the Moonies:

  10. As a mason, and past master, and a Shriner, and a 32degre Scottish Rite, and a Senior Demolay, I would ask all masons to stop badgering this man.  He wrote a book from his perspective, he makes no SCHOLARLY claims, he cites no EXPLICIT interviews.  By defneding the craft, you per-suppose there is something to defend.  This book is a book, nothing more, nothing less.  If you don’t want to read it don’t, but lets please stop the thumb sucking over a piece of work that was clearly meant to be entertainment, not a Scholarly thesis.

  11. the booze at the lodge is cheaper, you get to drink for free or half price if  you bar-tend. Getting out of the house and drinking that’s the secret.

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