It turned out that this papal prohibition was directed mainly at the Freemasons, or Masons, as they are commonly known. Without going into a long discussion of Freemasonry, it is worth pointing out that Hitler had 80,000 to 200,000 of them killed during World War II.
I never gave the warnings about secret societies much thought until my father told me that my grandfather was a Mason. He showed me the Mason's ring my grandfather wore. My grandfather was even a Knight Templar, a high level in the Masons. I told my dad about how Masonry was forbidden, and he explained that my grandfather was not a "Catholic", but a "Baptist." The Hamilton side of his family was from "Scotland," emigrating to "Northern Ireland" and then the "U.S" in the mid 1800s, settling in Ohio. Some of them fought in the Civil War, and then moved farther west, becoming farmers in Illinois. As people have done since there were people, my grandfather fell in love with and married someone outside his native group, in his case an "Irish" "Catholic" woman, my grandmother, and their children were raised as "Catholics."
Secret societies external to Catholicism may be forbidden, but American Catholic men have their own secret society to join, the Knights of Columbus. By one of the definitions in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (I love spelling this word out. Remember Jiminy Cricket?), "Today, we understand by a secret society, a society with secrets, having a ritual demanding an oath of allegiance and secrecy, prescribing ceremonies of a religious character, such as the use of the Bible, either by extracts therefrom or by its being placed an altar within a lodge-room, by the use of prayers, of hymns, of religious signs and symbols, special funeral services, etc."
The Knights of Columbus may not be quite so secret as the Masons or other organizations, but it is an organization that has a certain exclusivity (male Catholic men), has a hierarchy, rituals, and symbols that are similar to secret societies everywhere. I happened across a darkly fascinating paranoid website about secret societies that implicates the K of C in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Nowadays the Catholic Church has an even more secret and extreme organization, Opus Dei. "Conservative" would be a conservative description of this group, which supported Mussolini, Franco, and Pinochet. Its founder, Josemaría Escrivá, is alleged to be an admirer of Adolf Hitler. The current pope has high praise for Opus Dei.
When the subject of secret societies aroused my curiosity I began to realize that I have been a member of many secret societies in my life. The first that I can remember was a club I started with neighborhood kids when I was nine years old. The house we lived in had an old barn in the back yard, and with about eight boys I hung out with I came up with the idea of a club that would meet in the barn loft. We had no idea of what the club was for or what we would do, except for one rule: no girls allowed.
This gave us exclusivity, but not much else. We met in the barn loft a couple of times, but couldn't think of anything we wanted to do, so the club disbanded. I fell out of the barn loft one day, and though not hurt badly, the barn was torn down shortly afterward.
A few years later a couple of other secret societies became available to me: being an altar boy, and joining the patrol boys, students who would stop traffic before and after school, guiding other students across nearby streets. I didn't get very far in the altar boys, for which I am ever thankful. As we have found out in recent years, it is the altar boys whom are the prime targets of pedophile priests. I marched in a few processions, "served" in some kind of ceremony, but never did the full altar boy ritual of "serving mass."
The boys who were full-fledged altar boys behaved as if they were special, that their membership in the exclusive group gave them high status, an elite among the other students. I can't remember why I quit being an aspiring altar boy, but I think it was mostly that I didn't think there was anything special about it, and I had a healthy wariness of priests from an early age.
I was a patrol boy for only about a semester, and lost interest. We had your own patrol belts, similar to a military web belt, with a strap that went over one shoulder. We got to leave class early to man, er, boy our positions. If you goofed off in class, your patrol boy privilege was rescinded, and your corner, in the nuns' infinite wisdom, was left unattended. I almost got run over one day by a car I was trying to stop, and that was the end of that gig.
Then came the Boy Scouts. I had been a Cub Scout when I lived in Nebraska, and joined the Boy Scouts when I was eleven. I loved the scouts. We learned all kinds of neat things about nature, skills like cooking, canoeing, and shooting a rifle, and spent a couple of weeks in the summer at the area boy scout camp. Our troop always stayed at the same cabin, "Trapper's Lodge," and we competed with other troops in neatness of the campsite, marching, swimming, archery, marksmanship, knot-tying, and other skills. I was our troop's only contestant in knot-tying, because I was the only one who knew all the knots, but I finished in last place. I was a slow knot-tier. I was a good swimmer, though, and anchored the relay team, bringing our team from last to second place.
The Boy Scouts have their own secret society, the Order of the Arrow. It is an honor society of scouts who " best exemplify the Boy Scout Oath and Scout Law in their daily lives." I was elected when I was thirteen, largely because I was a senior scout, having been to scout camp three years running.
The elections are by secret ballot, and the new members are selected in a faux-Native American ritual around a bonfire, with an older scout playing the role of the great chief Allowat Sakima tapping the inductees on the shoulder from behind. The new inductees are whisked away, taken to a secluded spot to sleep in the wild alone, and then spend three days in silence and "arduous toil," after which they are inducted into full membership, given an Order of the Arrow sash, a patch to be worn on their uniform pocket, and a membership card.
Like the Masons and the Knights of Columbus, the Order of the Arrow has ascending degrees of membership. The first level is "Ordeal" membership, which you get after passing the "ordeal" - the night in the woods and the three days of silence and arduous toil. The next level is "Brotherhood," which I didn't bother to take, and the highest level is "Vigil." Not having ascended to anything higher than "Ordeal," I don't know or remember anything about what those levels mean. Like deeper levels of any "secret" organization, they are gained by time "served," passing tests of one kind or another, and induction rituals.
In high school there were a number of clubs to join, but the only one that mattered to boys was the Lettermen's Club. You gained membership by earning a varsity letter in one of the four sports the school offered: football, basketball, baseball, and track. I lettered in football, though I mostly sat the bench, and in track, in which I had some success as a mile runner. The only distinction of club membership was that you went through the initiation ceremony, mostly consisting of having "red hot" salve rubbed all over you, along with lard and some other substances that had a pungent smell like garbage. The club never met, never did anything except pose for a yearbook picture. It was secret only in the sense that the initiation was secret, exclusive to club members.
When I was in college I joined one of the two fraternities on campus, the "Inns of Court," nominally a pre-law/political science fraternity. It was in practice a social fraternity, and served mainly to have parties. We had a room in the basement of the student center, which served as a daily meeting place in lieu of having a house.
The group met on a monthly basis, had typical fraternity initiations with lots of hazing of "pledges," some secret rituals, and sponsored a concert every year. The ones I remember were pianist Peter Nero and folk group the Chad Mitchell Trio. There were occasional law-related activities, like serving on mock juries at the nearby William Mitchell Law School, and visiting speakers were brought in on occasion. In an attempt to have a "Greek" posture the fraternity took on an alternate name, Iota Omega Chi, signifying the letters of the name Inns of Court, and even had sweatshirts, beer mugs, fraternity pins, and other paraphernalia made up as souvenirs. I still have the beer mug stashed away somewhere.
I wrote in previous posts about how I ran around with a rough crowd in one of the units I served with in the Army - combat veterans, bikers, various anti-army, anti-war types. They were consistently getting in trouble - getting in fights in downtown Heidelberg, Germany, where I was stationed, being AWOL, using drugs, etc. It was 1970. Members of the unit I was assigned to, the 503d Transportation Company, hung out at a bar in downtown Heidelberg called "The Ponderosa." Fights broke out there on a regular basis - with GIs from other units, local Germans, Turkish and Yugoslav immigrant workers, and sometimes with MPs who were called in to break up the fights.
I was an "Orderly room" clerk for the 503d, and by various means was able to minimize the punishment of GIs in trouble, or find ways of outsmarting the Army authorities.
One of the bikers was a member of the Hells Angels chapter in Monterey, California. He was in the National Guard, and was placed on active duty for missing meetings. Before being activated he was part of the stage "security" at the infamous Altamont concert in 1969 (read about it here).
The Hells Angel guy was a remote character, pretty much living in his own world - addicted to morphine and other drugs, a vicious fighter, ready for battle at all times. He was untrustworthy - stole my Army field jacket and my roommate's watch to sell for drugs. He was not without his human qualities, though, and fixed my car for free a couple of times. I knew him well enough to see him in his weaker moments, where he was embarrassed about being a drug addict, and said he wanted to go to "Vietnam" to "serve my country."
Like many Hells Angels, as documented by Hunter Thompson (Or was it Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test?), he was an "Okie," a product of the Dust Bowl migration of Oklahoma farmers and others forced to move west to find work in the 1930s. The novel by John Steinbeck, "Grapes of Wrath," and the movie of the same name chronicle the struggle of the migrants.
Another of the bikers was a member of the Outlaws, in Detroit. He was also a combat veteran, wounded in "Vietnam." Our first sergeant hated him, mainly because the biker backed him down. The first sergeant tried to have the Detroit guy shipped out to a Signal unit, in Kaiserslautern, of all places - I had been stationed there, and hated the place. The Detroit guy would be climbing utility poles, repairing phone lines. He had fallen out of a helicopter in "Vietnam," hurting his back, and had a "medical profile" that said he could do no driving or any other strenuous activity. He came to me with his orders, almost in tears. I told him to take his profile and his orders to Spec 5 S*#%e in S-1 (Personnel), and tell him that I sent him. He got his orders rescinded. The first sergeant came in a few minutes later, and he was almost in tears. I had to do some fast talking, feigning outrage. &%*$#*#@ told me that night, "Hams, you made this the happiest day of my life!" No one has ever said that to me before or since, so it was a pretty good day for me too. No one else has ever called me "Hams" either.
I liked the Detroit guy better than the Hells Angel, though I still look back on those days with more than a bit of horror. He was a character, funny, lively, and a better fighter than the Hells Angel - beat him up one night after an all-day session of drinking "double bocks" - a dark German beer that was 38% alcohol. It took him about three seconds to have the Hells Angel on the ground. Afterwards they were all sorrowful, making up. It was totally weird. The Detroit guy had a personality like rocker Ted Nugent, but Ted Nugent would be no match for &%*$#*#@.
The Detroit Outlaw entertained everyone with his "Vietnam" derived skills in shotgunning, which he did with a coat sleeve, and in his own concoction, the "Heidelberger" - a huge, cigar+ shaped mixture of tobacco and other natural agricultural products, which caused some to reach new heights of universal peace and brotherhood of mankind.
Bikers like to mess with each other. I'll never forget the night he and another Harley-type were going at it in the hallway of the barracks. The other guy, a big biker from Needles, California, was wielding a huge knife he had made, while the Detroit guy had a bullwhip. I kept trying to settle them down, but when that energy gets going, it's hard to stop. They each had to have their fun, but the Detroit guy enjoyed it more. He could break a beer bottle and stick it in someone's face without hesitation. The Hell's Angel guy's favorite weapon was a straight razor. They didn't play around in fights.
The best fighter of them all was my good friend Mitch, from Greensboro, North Carolina. He was not a biker, but a veteran of the 199th Infantry Brigade, a unit that suffered some of the heaviest casualties in "Vietnam." If you put "Platoon," "Full Metal Jacket," and "Apocalypse Now" together, you would have a sense of the combat he went through. He just happened to be around for one of the fights in the Ponderosa, and the biker from Detroit mistakenly hit him across the face with a bar stool, breaking his lip wide open. It didn't slow him down a bit. He fought five guys at a time and beat them all. His only weapons were his fists. He also was not a criminal, which distinguished him from the bikers.
One of the things I remember Mitch saying about combat was "I don't care who you are. When you get into your first firefight, you shit your pants." Another was "We had whole companies wiped out." The toughest person I have ever known in my life, he felt bad about having killed people. A friend from his home town got him assigned to the 503d to finish out his time in the Army, and he became an orderly room clerk. We had some wild times, both at work and at various haunts around Heidelberg. We went out one night to a "German" restaurant ("Gasthaus"), and it was priceless to hear him order in his southern drawl, "Swai schnitzel," holding up two fingers. The grin on his face was even more priceless. He eventually got a three-month "early out" to start a business selling worms for fish bait. It qualified as seasonal employment, enough of a ruse to get him out of the Army. As with all the great people I have known in my life, we'll meet again in the Great Beyond.
My friendships with these various tough guys came in handy for me. I had a protected status, and was able to do my "underground" activities with relative safety. To them I was from the realm of literacy, unawed by the authority and power of the Army command structure. I found ways to outsmart the NCOs and officers of my unit without them knowing it, and even turned down an "Article 15" ordered by a full colonel, and won, a story for another time. I actually felt sorry for the "C.O." when I told him I wouldn't sign the Article 15. It was like hitting him in the stomach.
I stayed out of trouble, and even made rank, advancing to E5 (Specialist 5, or "Spec 5"), which qualified me for a two man room. It became a gathering place for my biker friends and a few others. Our sergeants ("lifers") got drunk at the NCO club every day after work, and didn't dare enter the barracks after duty hours, so we were free to relax as we saw fit, enjoying various exotic imports from "Turkey," "Lebanon," and "Morocco."
Lest anyone think that we were lawless miscreants who were a plague on our fine military, I should say a word about the context in which we served. Our nation's ruling elite was embroiled in an illegal and immoral intervention in a small but resource rich country in southeast Asia. The most heinous forms of mass murder and torture known to man, except nuclear weapons, were inflicted on this poor country, all in the name of "stopping Communism." Estimates are as high as 5.1 million people killed in this endeavor.
A corrupt war like this inevitably has corrupting effects on the military. In the 503d Transportation Company, for instance, the first sergeant was running a used car business out of the company motor pool. Army mechanics were forced to work on salvage cars the first sergeant was able to procure with the assistance of the local military police unit. I witnessed sales being arranged in the company orderly room, where members of the unit were offered promotions if they bought cars, often cars they repaired themselves. Once they bought the cars, the promotions never materialized. The first sergeant was a total crook, and ran the company entirely on the basis of favoritism, threats and intimidation. I got along with him because he was semi-literate, and I did part of his job for him, like making out the duty roster, a chart of who was assigned to what duties on a daily basis. Anything that required the intelligent use of the written declarative sentence, I did for him.
Everyone I served with performed their jobs at a high level of dedication and skill. At least all the "first-termers" - draftees and enlistees. The "lifers" were another story. Among the NCO corps, they were almost universally in the advanced stages of alcoholism, red-faced, out of shape, semi-literate, and barely able to perform. It may have been different in the "combat arms" - Infantry, Artillary, and Armor - but in the rear-echelon branches that I served in, the career military was a joke.
The bikers were not such great soldiers. The Hells Angel was a drug addict, and he got worse as time went on. Eventually he was transferred to a company that had a "goon platoon" - washouts, mentally ill soldiers, people that were pending medical or less than honorable discharges. They were given menial janitorial and grounds maintenance tasks to do. Every morning they would be in "formation" with their mops, brooms, and shovels. It was pretty demeaning, but the military is not exactly a system for heightened levels of human interaction.
I suppose there is some poetic justice in putting a habitual criminal in such company, but it was a sad thing to see for all of them. One pathetic character from the 503d, "Hoss," was put in the "goon platoon" for being a screwup. He joined the Army at 17 to avoid going to prison for marijuana possession - should never have been in the Army. There were thousands like him during the "Vietnam" war.
The Hells Angels and similar motorcycle gangs are another form of secret society, with their own rituals, practices, symbols, hierarchy, and sense of being "special," an "elite." They are apolitical, except for issues related to motorcycle riding, and are mainly known for drug related crimes and violence. They are similar to groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Posse Comitatus, and other white supremacist organizations in their lower-class roots, but they identify themselves as social outcasts, one-percenters, outlaws.
In 1976 I moved into the Siddha Yoga ashram of Swami Muktananda in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I thought I had finally found a true path in life - a sadguru (true guru), a community of fellow seekers, and a structure of spiritual practices that would lead to enlightenment, or self-realization, the term used by the group. Very soon it became clear that there was an inner circle of people that met in secret all the time with the local underguru, Russell Kruckman, then known as Shankar, soon to be anointed as Swami Shankarananda.
I eventually winged a job as an electrician and later a plumber at the main Siddha Yoga ashram in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Swami Muktananda, known affectionately as Baba, was the guru, the supposed enlightened one, and the inner circle around him was larger and even more exclusive than what I had seen in Ann Arbor. Palace intrigue was rampant, and proximity to the guru was measured by how much "secret" inside information one was privy to.
I wasn't privy to any inside information. Shortly before Muktananda died in 1982, a scandal broke out about his sexual abuse of a number of young girls. At the former Borscht Belt hotel that was the Siddha Yoga ashram, much of the second floor wing above Muktananda's quarters was reserved for about ten-or-so girls aged twelve to fourteen. One day during the summer of 1982 I was sent up there to retrieve a gold chain and locket from the bathroom sink drain in one of the rooms. I removed the sink trap, and there the chain and locket was. I gave it to the pretty 12 year old girl who owned it. She was ungrateful, and when I asked her how she got such a beautiful piece of jewelry, she arrogantly said, "Baba gave it to me."
Naive me, I thought little of the episode. Some time later I mentioned to the woman who worked in the plumbing shop office how curious it was that so many young teenage girls all lived in the same wing of the ashram. She coyly replied, "Those are Baba's princesses." I asked her what she meant, and she would say no more. Just a smirky grin. It was special knowledge that was not meant for me. I was not an insider. The special knowledge was that these girls were being molested. A secret shared among the pretenders to power. If you knew "Baba" was molesting pubescent girls, then you were "close to the guru." For some - actually more than some - a whiff of power was enough to fool them into thinking they were someone special. Maybe even "self-realized."
Dumb me, I believed Muktananda's denials, at least until I did my own research on the subject. Eventually the exposé in Coevolution Quarterly reached me, and I began to have doubts.
I stayed involved with the Siddha Yoga organization for a couple of years after he died, but gradually became disenchanted, and by 1985 was completely disinvolved. SYDA was a positive experience for me overall, grounding me in meditative practice and attitude. It also gave me an easy way to pull up stakes and move to such places as Michigan, India, Texas, New York, and Hawaii.
I was lucky not to have been corrupted by the temptations of power and prestige. I also was lucky to know when it was time to leave. For those still seeking of power and prestige in the Siddha Foundation, I can only say good luck. See what it gets you.
What all these organizations have in common is that they are groups that set themselves apart from society at large, identifying themselves as some kind of elite. They are either groups within groups - like Opus Dei or the Wahhabi Muslims - or groups within society as a whole, like the Masons or the Ku Klux Klan. Al Qaida, such as it really exists, is another secret society, with its roots in "Wahhabism," and developed under the tutelage of the "CIA" to conduct guerrilla actions against the "Soviet" invaders in "Afghanistan" in the 1980s.
Or the Project for the New American Century. Or, for that matter, the Bush criminal regime. The best way, I believe, to understand the Bush criminal regime is to see it as a secret society, not vastly different from Skull and Bones, the Yale secret organization Bush belonged to during his college days. Unmoved by public opinion, Bush and his minions are pushing the country headlong into another foolish war. They see themselves as an elite, knowing better than the rest of us, having secret "knowledge" that qualifies them to start wars, and justifies them in their criminal plans and activities. It matters not a whit to them that their secret "knowledge" is fake and criminal. Its very secrecy gives it an aura of power and truth, as far as the BCF is concerned.
There is no question that the Bush regime is obsessed with secrecy. It has resisted investigations into its behavior related to the attacks of September 11, 2001, to the intelligence that "justified" the invasion and occupation of "Iraq," to the torture at the Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo, to extraordinary rendition, to the spying on American citizens, to the corruption of the Department of Justice, to the negligence related to Hurricane Katrina, and now to the plans for starting a war with "Iran."
I can say from experience that it is natural for people to form secret societies, to form special groups within groups, and to find ways of establishing elites of various kinds. The Army has its airborne, rangers, airborne rangers ("I wanna be an airborne ranger..live that life of death and danger...airborne...all the way...up the hill...over the hill"), the Delta Force, and of course the Special Forces. The Navy has its Seals. The Marines already consider themselves an elite force, and the Air Force doesn't seem to need one, though Christian fundamentalism has made inroads into the Air Force command structure.
I felt like a member of an elite when I was studying the manly art of projector repair target="_blank", finessing the Army out of turning me into a killer (or a kilee). My fellow projector repair students quashed that notion. They were some of the most unremarkable people I have ever known (Except one guy - David Benally, a Navajo from Arizona, who competed in the All Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association (AIRCA). He was pretty quiet, but a good guy. After Christmas leave I asked him what he did when he was home. He said he got on a horse and rode into the mountains. On projector repair graduation night a bunch of us went out drinking. One of the fellow graduates called him a drunken Indian, and ended up on the floor in a split second. I don't remember where Benally was sent, but it wasn't Germany. He probably remained stateside). Two of my fellow graduates cried on the plane ride to "Germany." Crying, because they were being sent to "Germany." The fact that fortune shined on them, that they weren't being sent to "Vietnam" was completely beyond their infantile range of vision. We made for a pretty feckless elite, and had no secrets to conceal.
The Bush criminal regime, though, is not a harmless elite. They are a world-threatening elite. A secret society of sociopaths, they mean harm for you and me, and for the rest of the planet as well. Their wars do no one any good, including themselves, but they are locked on a course of criminality in the manner of a Ponzi scheme, hoping to cover the previous crime with the next.
It would seem that the Bush criminal operation can't be stopped, but I beg to differ. The support structure for the Bush criminal regime - the corporations and news media - is entrenched, and they amount to secret societies of their own. They have hierarchies, rituals (office parties, conferences, meetings, presentations, memos, awards banquets, press releases, PR campaigns, marketing strategies, etc.), and secrets. Fake tough guys like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity play a psychotic game of posturing as macho men, and I think that they look at themselves as self-identified members of their own secret society - the pretend Hell's Angels of broadcast media - Fox News.
I believe that something will happen to stop the Bush criminal regime in its tracks before it is able to launch an attack against "Iran." The "eliteness" of the Bush regime is mighty fragile, depending on the fellow-corruption of the entire U.S. military command, and on the corruption of all the intelligence agencies. I suspect that these various public servants have all had enough of Bush and his putrid little gang.
This time around, all it will take is relentless pressure. It all depends on the health of Dick Cheney, and he does not have infinite strength. He is old, has a bad heart, and the cumulative effect of a life of crime has to be weighing on him. Bush appears to be reverting to his addictive ways, his speech often slurring badly, and his incoherence is becoming more severe. They are known liars and manipulators, and their efforts to create a propaganda momentum are continually being thwarted.
Put another way, these people are just men (and a couple of women), and not very good ones. They are not elite, not masterminds, and not a force for good. They do have secrets, but these can be found out once their criminal plans are foiled. Then we can go about the business of inducting them into a new secret society - that of the international maximum security prisoner. The possibilities for ritual abound.
Here's some California Okie music: Click, click, click, and click.
Here's some California USA music: Click, click, and click.
One more for good measure: Click.
And one more for the Bush crime family to watch: Click.
This song comes up often when I think of those Army days.
One more for the road: Click.