Minerval seals of the Bavarian Illuminati. These pendants, worn around the necks of Minerval initiates, featured the Owl of Minerva . Also known as the Owl of Wisdom, this symbol is still found today in powerful places: around the White House, hidden on the dollar bill or on the insignia of the Bohemian Club. The term Minerval is derived from Minerva who was the Roman goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic, and the music. She is often depicted with her sacred creature, an owl, which symbolizes her ties to wisdom. An ancient symbol of the mysteries, Minerva is prominently featured in places such as the Library of Congress and the Great Seal of California.
Skull & Bones
On High Street, in the middle of the Yale University campus, stands a cold-looking, nearly windowless Greco-Egyptian building with padlocked iron doors. This is the home of Yale’s most famous secret society, Skull and Bones, and it is also, in a sense, one of the many homes of the family of George W. Bush, Yale ’68. Bush men have been Yale men and Bonesmen for generations. Prescott Bush, George W.’s grandfather, Yale ’17, was a legendary Bonesman; he was a member of the band that stole for the society what became one of its most treasured artifacts: a skull that was said to be that of the Apache chief Geronimo. Prescott Bush, one of a great many Bonesmen who went on to lives of power and renown, became a U.S. senator. George Herbert Walker Bush, George W.’s father, Yale ’48, was also a Bonesman, and he, too, made a conspicuous success of himself.
THE story of Skull and Bones begins in December of 1832. Upset (according to one account) by changes in the Phi Beta Kappa election process, a Yale senior named William Russell and a group of classmates decided to form the Eulogian Club as an American chapter of a German student organization. The club paid obeisance to Eulogia, the goddess of eloquence, who took her place in the pantheon upon the death of the orator Demosthenes, in 322 B.C., and who is said to have returned in a kind of Second Coming on the occasion of the society’s inception. The Yale society fastened a picture of its symbol — a skull and crossbones — to the door of the chapel where it met. Today the number 322, recalling the date of Demosthenes’ death, appears on society stationery. The number has such mystical overtones that in 1967 a graduate student with no ties to Skull and Bones donated $322,000 to the society. (The number 322 has also been a particular favorite of conspiracy-minded hunters for evidence of Skull and Bones’s global connections. It was the combination to Averell Harriman’s briefcase when he carried classified dispatches between London and Moscow during World War II. Antony C. Sutton claims that 322 doubles as a reminder of the society’s mother organization in Germany; the American group, founded in 1832, is the second chapter — thus 32-2.) In 1856 Daniel Coit Gilman, who went on to become the founding president of Johns Hopkins University, officially incorporated the society as the Russell Trust Association, and Skull and Bones moved into the space it still occupies. The Bones tomb is forbidding only on the outside. Marina Moscovici, a Connecticut conservator who recently spent six years restoring fifteen paintings from the Skull and Bones building, describes the atmosphere inside as “funny spooky.” She says, “Sort of like the Addams Family, it’s campy in an old British men’s-smoking-club way. It’s not glamorous by any means.” “Bones is like a college dorm room,” a 1980s Bonesman told me. “Ours was a place that used to be really nice but felt kind of beat up, lived in. There were socks underneath the couch, old half-deflated soccer balls lying around.” Dozens of skeletons and skulls, human and animal, dangle from the walls, on which German and Latin phrases have been chiseled (“Whether poor or rich, all are equal in death”), among moose heads, sconces, medieval armor, antlers, boating flags, manuscripts, statuettes of Demosthenes, and a pair of boots that one member wore throughout his active duty with American forces in France during World War II. The gravestone of Elihu Yale, the eponymous eighteenth-century merchant, was stolen years ago from its proper setting in Wrexham, Wales, and is displayed in a glass case, in a room with purple walls. As noted, for many years the society has possessed a skull that members call Geronimo. In the 1980s, under pressure from Ned Anderson, a former Apache tribal chairman in Arizona, the society produced the skull in question. The skull didn’t match Anderson’s records, and it was returned to the society’s tomb. Anderson wasn’t finished. He reportedly took the issue up with his congressman, John McCain; McCain tried to arrange a meeting between Anderson and George Bush, who was then the Vice President. Bush wasn’t interested, and the matter was dropped. “We still call it Geronimo anyway,” a Bonesman says. The issue of Geronimo’s skull never surfaced in the public record during the bitter contest between McCain and George W. for the Republican nomination. The most private room in the building, known as the Inner Temple, or (this will be no surprise) Room 322, is approximately fourteen feet square and guarded by a locked iron door. Inside, a case contains a skeleton that Bonesmen refer to as Madame Pompadour. Compartments in the case guard the society’s cherished manuscripts, including the secrecy oath and instructions for conducting an initiation. The initiation ceremony, held in April, involves as many alumni, or “patriarchs,” as possible, one of whom in each instance serves as the supervisor, known as Uncle Toby. The Inner Temple is cleared of furniture except for two chairs and a table, and Bonesmen past and present assemble: Uncle Toby in a robe; the shortest senior, or “Little Devil,” in a satanic costume; a Bonesman with a deep voice in a Don Quixote costume; one in papal vestments; another dressed as Elihu Yale; four of the brawniest in the role of “shakers”; and a crew of extras wearing skeleton costumes and carrying noisemakers. According to the initiation script, Uncle Toby “sounds like the only sane person in the room.” As an initiate enters the room, patriarchs standing outside the Inner Temple shout, “Who is it?” The shakers bellow the initiate’s name, which the patriarchs echo. The shakers push the initiate toward the table, where the secrecy oath has been placed, and he is enjoined to “Read! Read! Read!” The shakers then half-carry the initiate to a picture of Eulogia, and the Bonesmen shriek, “Eulogia! Eulogia! Eulogia!” After another trip to the oath, the shakers fire the initiate toward a picture of a woman that Bonesmen call Connubial Bliss. Rituals along these lines go on for quite some time, recalling a cross between haunted-house antics and a human pinball game — “like something from a Harry Potter novel,” in the words of one Bonesman, now an engineer. It is perhaps worth noting, in light of George W.’s controversial episode at Bob Jones University and the specter of anti-Catholicism, that at one point in the proceedings every initiate kisses the slippered toe of the “Pope.” At last the initiate is formally dubbed a Knight of Eulogia. Amid more raucous ritual he is cast from the room into the waiting arms of the patriarchs.