History

Semi-Secret Societies

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The role of secret societies in American history is often either hyped to occult importance or ignored entirely. Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence on American Society, A Visual Guide (Feral House), by Adam Parfrey and Craig Heimbichner, is an impeccably designed and wide-ranging survey of the topic that indulges in neither sensationalism nor extreme skepticism. Parfrey and Heimbichner cover Freemasons and Oddfellows, Jesters and Rosicrucians. They mine the possible Masonic roots of Mormons and magick.

The overall effect of their diligent research and copious reproductions of old photos, art, pamphlets, and ephemera is to pull the topic back from the eldritch and root it in understandable human aspirations and follies. However much secret brotherhoods buttress their customs with ancient pedigrees and mysterious hugger-mugger, this book mostly paints them as pursuing the very mundane goals of fellowship, one-upmanship, fun, and practical connections. —Brian Doherty