Skull and Bones

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This article is about a secret society. For the pirate flag see Jolly Roger; for the international poison symbol see skull and crossbones.

Skull and Bones (also known as "Chapter 322" and "Brotherhood of Death") is a secret society at Yale University. It is said to be the first such Yale society, established by William Huntington Russell and Alphonso Taft in December, 1832; Phi Beta Kappa, however, was a secret society when the Yale chapter was formed on December 8, 1779. By the late 19th century, the most prestigious of these societies were Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, and Wolf's Head. Others included Book and Snake and Berzelius. Today, Scroll and Key and Skull and Bones are primary rivals.

Criticism of Skull and Bones members has centered upon concentration of wealth, elitism, opium dealing, subversion of the educational process at Yale, war profiteering, and especially nuclear war profiteering. In the exposť "Fleshing out Skull and Bones" (ISBN 0-9720207-2-1), author Kris Millegan and others offer evidence that Skull and Bones exerts massive and undue influence upon the foreign policy of the United States.



Existing members choose fifteen new Skull and Bones members during their junior year. Many of the details of Skull and Bones membership, initiation and practices are subject to speculation, for the reason that they are kept closely secret by almost all members (often called Bonesmen). However, the Society published membership lists until 1971, and the following listing is based upon those lists at the Yale Library.

F. Trubee Davison (1918) was Director of Personnel at the CIA in the early years. Some of the other "Bonesmen" connected with the intelligence community are:

Some other prominent Bonesmen include:


Members of Skull and Bones include George H. W. Bush and his son George W. Bush, President of the United States, and Senator John Kerry (who ran for the office of President of the United States in the 2004 election). The wealth and success of its members past and present has enabled the establishment of the Russell Trust Association, which holds the society's real estate. It has been alleged that graduating members are given large amounts of money by the society, with conditions attached.

The "Tomb"
The "Tomb"

Members are forbidden from revealing affiliation until their graduation, at which point they are permitted to wear Skull and Bones pins in public. Lists of purported members are readily available and may be located with a simple Internet search, though some have questioned the accuracy of such lists. The rituals of Skull and Bones take place in the organization's campus building, which is called the Tomb, adjoining Jonathan Edwards College. Ron Rosenbaum, author and columnist for the New York Observer alleged that Prescott Bush, George W. Bush's grandfather, and a band of Bonesmen, robbed the grave of Geronimo in 1918, taking the skull of the Apache Chief and bringing it back to be kept in the tomb[1] ( While most members are supposedly Christian, no particular religious affiliation is said to be required for membership.

Controversy and conspiracy theories

There are three distinct aspects of controversy that deal with secret societies, among these being their rituals and their connections to power. The most interesting among them however, is their intended philosophy. Particular to Skull and Bones is the appearance that it indoctrinates its members to a philosophy that idolizes death and the attainment of power by killing. This, when connected to the fact that a seemingly disproportionate number of Skull and Bones members go on to important positions in the intelligence community (like the CIA), reported to use torture and murder to achieve its ends (see, for instance, the Phoenix Program), raise for some the intuition that the core philosophy of the fraternity itself is designed to engender among its members an allegiance to unwholesome or immoral interests and ideals.

It is important to note that senior members choose their Skull and Bones successors based on their expected future success; Bush and Kerry, in particular, are members of prominent families. And many alumni of Yale and the other universities—especially Ivy League schools and highly selective liberal arts colleges including Amherst, Swarthmore, and Williams—have also gone on to similarly prominent careers, without involvement in secret societies. Others may instead pursue highly successful careers in education, banking, law, industry, and government.

Some have argued Skull and Bones is little more than any other college or university fraternity. Some honor societies at other universities, such as the Order of the Bull's Blood, Sword and Serpent and Cap and Skull at Rutgers University, the Bishop James Madison Society at the College of William and Mary and the Iron Arrow Honor Society at the University of Miami, were reportedly inspired by the Skull and Bones, or provide similar prestigious, elite recognition of students.

Another area of interest is the aspect of specific ritual acts, which members take part of. Of the few accounts of such rituals, some are claimed to be related or similar to Satanic practices. In general, these tend to occupy a popular cultural mythos, generally having little to do with reality. (Satanism, for example at times could have been a term used by conservative Christians for pagan-like rituals, as in Druidism or Wicca.)

More plausible and supported, however, are accounts (as with many fraternities) of rites-of-passage related to sexuality, conquering fear, and group trust. Among the reports is an initiation rite, wherein a pledge spends a night naked in a coffin while telling other members of their sexual encounters.

The video of a purported Skull and Bones ritual, taken by journalist Ron Rosenbaum, shows hooded, masked figures participating in what looks like an initiation rite. Some have suggested similarities to The Blair Witch Project, the Roswell UFO Incident, and similarly fictional films or recordings.

On December 11, 1909, the New York Times reported that Harold Phelps Stokes, a former member of Skull and Bones, had donated a mummy to the society which he acquired on his visit to Egypt with another member, Allan Klots. The article noted that "Klots and Harold Stokes appear to have thought that the mummy would be a picturesque addition to the paraphernalia of Skull and Bones...."

The conspiracy theories and stories surrounding Skull and Bones was the subject of a fictional film The Skulls, which has had at least two sequels and rather mixed reviews.


Skull and Bones are said within the mysticism community to be a subdivision of a larger society known as the 'Black Lodge', which is diametrically opposed to the Great White Lodge. Some have alleged that the society has ties to the Thule Society, which was involved in the foundation of Nazi Germany, as well as the Vril Society, also a society deeply involved in Nazism.


  • "It's so secret, we can't talk about it." (George W. Bush in a February 8, 2004 interview; with Tim Russert [2] (
  • "Not much, because it's a secret." (John Kerry in an August 31, 2003 interview; with Tim Russert, on what his and Bush's membership "tells us" [3] (

See also

External links



Further Reading

  • Secrets of the Tomb by Alexandra Robbins (ISBN 0-31-672091-7)
  • America's Secret Establishment by Antony C. Sutton

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