On the grounds of the prestigious Yale university lies the “Tomb” also known as The Skull and Bones Hall. Inside the Tomb, members of a the Skull and Bones society meet to discuss their plans and ambitions. The Skull and Bones members have been meeting at the Tomb since 1832.
The Skull and Bones society has a legacy of turning out some of the world’s most powerful men, and like most secret societies, a tremendous amount of lore. Like other secret societies, separating fact from fiction can be difficult.
What is their purpose? Who are the Skull and Bones members? What are the Skull and Bones rituals?
While secret societies at Yale University have existed prior to Skull and Bones, none appear to have turned out as many men of influence and power.
So how did it all start?
Bonesmen: The Beginning of Skull and Bones (it’s actually Scull and Bones)
What if you were the valedictorian at Yale University and got snubbed by the most prestigious secret society on campus? That’s exactly what happened to William Huntington Russell.
His response, was to create a new society – a senior society. Along with another classman, Alfonso Taft, Russell founded “The Order of the Scull and Bones” in December of 1832.
In case you didn’t notice, it really was spelled “Scull” instead of “Skull” though the society in modern times is known by the former. Members and Yale students simply refer to the society as “Bones”.
Where did the 322 Come From?
There are a couple of different theories on the meaning of the 322 in the logo of the Skull and Bones.
The most popular theory is that the number refers to the date of death of Demosthenes, an ancient Greek politician and orator who died in 322 BC. Why Scull and Bones would have chosen Demosthenes as an idol is a mystery.
Another, less popular theory, is that Skull and Bones is the 2nd chapter of a German secret society known as the Bavarian Illuminati. The number is a play on the year of formation, 32, and the number 2 which stands for the 2nd chapter.
For conspiracy theorists, a relationship between the Illuminati and the Yale secret society is an exciting proposition. The Illuminati are purported to have control over all the important global organizations with members reaching the highest levels of government, business, and religion.
Why all the Death Stuff and Tomb?
Bones members contend that keeping reminders of mortality is an important part of the society.
The tomb’s artifacts of death serve as a consistent reminder that members get only one life to make their mark on the world.
The society aims to turn out persons of great influence and power. People who sit by and let life pass them by are not typically these types of people.
As a result, the Bonesmen are constantly reminded that one day, their time to be great will expire.
What are the Skull and Bones Rituals?
Initiation into Scull and Bones is by invite only. Every spring, members of the Junior class are ‘tapped’ with an invite by the senior class members. Almost no one ever says no to the invitation.
Only a scant 15 invites are made each year. This makes Bones extremely exclusive.
Skull and Bones is so tiny. That’s what makes this staggering. There are only 15 people a year, which means there are about 800 living members at any one time. ~Alexandra Robbins in a 2003 CBS Interview
During the initiation ceremony, new members must lay inside a coffin completely nude. Whilst doing so, they must recant their entire sexual history to their fellow members.
Skull and Bones members say that by exposing the most intimate secrets of their lives to each other in such a vulnerable position fosters camaraderie and loyalty.
Who are the Skull and Bones Society Members?
The list of Skull and Bones members reads like a who’s who of American politics and business.
William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, was a Bonesman. In fact, he was the son of Bones founder Alfonso Taft.
While Taft was the first member to reach the highest office in the land, he wouldn’t be the last. Other Bonesmen who ascended to the presidency include George H. W. Bush (41) and George W. Bush (43).
The Bonesmen, however, don’t just aim for the presidency. Other notable members include John F. Kerry, Percy Rockefeller, and H. J. Heinze II of Heinze ketchup.
What is Their Purpose?
They way in which the Skull and Bones society recruits members puts the group out of reach for almost everyone except the very elite. In addition to having to attend one of the most difficult Universities, you must also be hand-selected by existing members.
The primary purpose of Skull and Bones is to help their members reach positions of prominence. In turn, those members use their influence to help elevate other members. In a way, the society is similar to the Freemasons, albeit much more exclusive.
During his time as President, George W. Bush had at least 5 Bonesmen as part of his administration.
There are many, however, who believe the Yale secret society has other, more nefarious ambitions.
Skull and Bones Society: Lore and Conspiracy
Like all secret societies, Skull and Bones frequently comes up in conspiracy theories. The deep secrecy and elitism makes it pretty easy for inquisitive minds to forge answers that aren’t always based in reality.
An entire book could be written about the various conspiracy theories surrounding Scull and Bones. And while some of it might seem utterly crazy, given the positions occupied by it’s members, some of them are not entirely implausible.
Skull and Bones is an Extension of The Illuminati
Ah yes, the Illuminati. The secret society that’s so secret, everyone has heard of it.
For the conspiracy-minded, the connections between Skull and Bones and the Illuminati is quite natural. When you consider that many Bonesmen have also been suspected Illuminati members, the link appears fairly obvious.
To add to the fire are all the pictures and images out there showing Skull and Bones members flashing alleged Illuminati signs.
One must tread lightly, however. While the Skull and Bones Society officially exists and has publicly known meetings places, the Illuminati is predominantly myth. That’s not to say I think the Illuminati doesn’t exist. But, aside from total hoaxes, there’s little evidence that the Illuminati is as large or powerful as some conspiracy theorists believe.
The reality is that, if the Illuminati exists, it’s more likely they’d be the ones answering to the Bonesmen.
They Stole the Skull of Geronimo
Legend has it that Prescott Bush, Bonesman and father of George H. W. Bush, broke into Geronimo’s tomb and stole his remains.
This is probably one of the more believable pieces of lore surrounding the organization.
One of the worst-kept secrets amongst the Yale secret societies was the affinity for ‘crookery’. Each society attempted to continuously outdo the others with such thefts and pranks.
The story also states that Geronimo’s skull is still kept within the Skull and Bones Tomb.
This legend was lent credence in 2009 when 20 of Gernomo’s descendants filed a lawsuit against Skull and Bones for return of their ancestor’s remains. The lawsuit essentially went nowhere with US District Judge Roberts ruling that the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act only applied to grave robberies that took place after the law was enacted in 1990. Geronimo’s remains were allegedly taken in 1918.
Supreme Secrecy & Final Thoughts
Skull and bones members are sworn to secrecy. If someone mentions the Skull and Bones society in the presence of a member, that member is expected to immediately leave the conversation.
With such secrecy, it’s only natural for the general public to foster a high level of distrust. Combined with the elitism that leaves behind most citizens, a perfect storm for conspiracy theories is generated.
The Skull and Bones society has earned much of this distrust and conspiracy-laden reputation. The real question to consider, is whether any of this is unexpected behavior from any elitist social network.
Scull and Bones aims to do what many professional networks have aimed to do for hundreds of years. From the local neighborhood Moose Lodges to the larger groups of Freemason associations, groups of people come together in agreements to help each other out all the time.
It just so happens that Skull and Bones is really successful at it. Are they hellbent on world domination? Maybe. It could be, however, just a side-effect of putting lots of your people in high places.
Sources & Additional Reading:
Wikipedia: Skull and Bones
Yale Daily News: Yale’s Secret Social Fabric
Business Insider: The 15 most Powerful Member of ‘Skull and Bones’
All That’s Interesting: The Secret History Of The Skull And Bones Society — And The Powerful Men Behind It
CBS News: Skull and Bones | Secret Yale Society Includes America’s Power Elite
Featured (and final) Image Credit: All Day Inspiration
Sharif Jameel is a business owner, IT professional, runner, & musician. His professional certifications include CASP, Sec+, Net+, MCSA, & ITIL and others. He's also the guitar player for the Baltimore-based cover band, Liquifaction.