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Secret Societies and Their Use of Skull and Bones Emblem

Historically, symbols have held particular importance to those who use them in order to convey a particular meaning, or in order to reflect a principle or belief system that is pertinent to their culture, belief system or values. The secret symbol of the skull and bones is one such symbol. This symbol is used by a variety of secret societies in order to denote meanings that are distinct to these societies.

The Freemasons and the Skull and Bones Symbol

The esoteric organization of the Freemasons is one secret society that uses the symbol of the human skull and the crossed bones as part of its emblematic culture.

Members of the Freemasons use the skull and bones symbol during initiation ceremonies. As such, the skull and crossed bones emblem is representative of rebirth. This meaning can be linked to the crucifixion of Jesus, which took place at Golgotha, “The Place of the Skull”, as represented by the emblem of the skull. The crossed bones on the other hand, represent the manner in which Jesus died, on the cross. Because Jesus’ blood absolved the sin of his followers, the blood he shed during his death on the cross represents resurrection and everlasting life.

In addition, the Freemasons use this symbol of the skull and crossed bones to represent the transience of the material world. The Freemasons reject material wealth, and instead espouse the principles of brotherly love, relief and truth (similarly paralleled in the French revolutionary slogan of liberté, fraternité, égalité). Members of the Freemasons also promote service to charity and to helping those who are less fortunate.

The Illuminati

The use of the skull and bones symbol in the organization of the Illuminati is believed to be derived from the Freemasons. Members of the Mason group helped to build the foundation of the Illuminati, which was founded in the eighteenth century.

Based on the principles of immortality, omnipotence, transcendental illumination and omnicognizance, the term Illuminati refers most specifically to the Bavarian Enlightenment secret society, although it has been used more broadly to refer to a variety of secret societies, both real and fictional, as well as to refer to conspiratorial groups believed to govern global affairs.

Skull and Bones Society

The Skull and Bones Society of Yale University, situated in Connecticut, is another secret organization that uses the skull and bones symbol as part of its culture.

Based on promoting as many of its members as possible to positions of authority and prestige, the Skull and Bones Society’s use of the skull and bones emblem embodies a variety of theories behind the inception of this symbol into the society’s folklore. Specifically, the inclusion of the number “322” under the image of the human skull and crossed bones has given rise to a number of theories as to its significance. The symbol of the skull and bones itself is believed to be representative of death.

One such theory is that the number “322” refers to the foundation of the organization in 1832, an establishment which was influenced by the inception of similar student-run secret societies popular in Germany in the nineteenth century. Another theory behind the inclusion of this number beneath the symbol is that 322 BCE was the year of the death of orator Demosthenes, which led to the rise to power of Eulogia, goddess of eloquence, who is revered by the Skull and Bones Society.


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