The Order of Skull and Bones

Its members assure outsiders that Skull and Bones is simply a college fraternity that taps fifteen rich boys each year to undergo an initiation that’s nothing but “mumbo-jumbo.” Conspiracists are certain that the occult-based secret society worships the absolute power of the state and the New World Order.

When William Huntington Russell returned to Yale from his studies in Germany in 1832, his head was filled with the philosophy of reason as taught by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel at the University of Berlin. In Hegel’s worldview, the state is Absolute Reason and individuals must give their total obedience to it. The state has supreme rights over individuals, and individuals must recognize that their supreme duty is to the state.

Neither Hitler’s fascism nor Lenin’s communism would quarrel with the precepts of Hegelianism. Russell also returned to Yale with the notion of establishing a chapter of a corps in Germany. He called it the “Order of Scull and Bones,” later changed to Skull and Bones.

The society,which Russell formed with Alphonso Taft (class of 1833),exists only at Yale,and only fifteen juniors are selected by senior members to be initiated into the next year’s membership. Each fortunate initiate is gifted with $15,000 and a grandfather clock.

Skull and Bones is not your typical beerswilling,goof-off fraternity. The initiates’ vows have to do with support of one another in the achievement of worldly and highly material success after graduation. William Russell (1833) rose to the military rank of general and became a state legislator in Connecticut. Alphonso Taft was appointed U.S. attorney general,then secretary of war,ambassador to Austria,and ambassador to Russia. His son, William Howard Taft (1887),was elected to the U.S. presidency in 1909 and later became chief justice of the Supreme Court,the only person to have achieved both positions.

The “Tomb” was constructed in 1856. It was the same vine-covered, windowless brownstone hall where Skull and Bones still holds its mysterious occult rites. Almost from the very beginning, a mystique grew up around Skull and Bones, as might be expected in a university community that suddenly has within its confines a “secret society.” Professors objected because of its secrecy in a nation that prizes its recognition of equality and its contempt of elitism.

As early as 1873 a New Haven newspaper published an article that condemned the society as an “obnoxious, deadly evil” with an increasing “arrogance and self-fancied superiority.”

In the 2004 election, the United States had two “Bonesmen” squaring off as presidential opponents. Both George W. Bush and John Kerry are members of the secret society, and Bush has brought five fellow Bonesmen to join his administration, the most recent being William Donaldson (1953) to serve as the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ron Rosenbaum, author and columnist for the New York Observer , probably spoke for the majority of Americans when he told CBS News (June 13, 2004) that he believed there to be “a deep and legitimate distrust in America for power and privilege that are cloaked in secrecy.” Rosenbaum argued that we are supposed to do things out in the open in America.

Rosenbaum, a Yale classmate of George W. Bush, admitted to a thirty-year obsession with Skull and Bones. The columnist said that he actually lived near the “Tomb” and passed it all the time. When the initiation rites were being conducted, he said, he could hear “strange cries and whispers” coming from the sepulchral, windowless building.

Another Yale graduate, Alexandra Robbins, claims that in her book Secrets of the Tomb she managed to penetrate the avowed wall of silence that surrounds the society. In her opinion, the sounds that Rosenbaum heard were likely “mumbo-jumbo,” a silly ritual that means something only to the people who are in the society. “There is a devil, a Don Quixote, and a Pope who has one footsheathed in a white monogrammed slipper resting on a stone skull,”

Robbins told Morley Safer of CBS News. “The initiates are led into the room one at a time. And once an initiate is inside, the Bonesmen shriek at him.” After enduring the shrieking, the initiate is shoved to his knees in front of Quixote as the assembled Bonesmen fall silent. Quixote then lifts his sword and taps the initiate on his left shoulder and says, “By order of our order, I dub thee knight of Euloga.” According to tradition, Prescott Bush (George W. Bush’s grandfather) and some fellow Bonesmen robbed the grave of the great Apache chief Geronimo and took home his skull as a relic for the tomb.

Accounts are mixed as to whether the skull was returned to the Apache nation. The family names to be found on the roster of Skull and Bones truly represents the powerful, the wealthy, the elite—the aristocracy of the United States: Rockefeller, Goodyear, Harriman, Whitney, Lord, Taft, Jay, Bundy, Weyerhauser, Pinchot, Sloane, Stimson, Phelps, Perkins, Pillsbury, Kellogg, Vanderbilt, Bush, Lovett, and so on.

In his book America’s Secret Establishment , Anthony Sutton detailed some of the chains of influence and power that enable the Bonesmen to accomplish conspiratorial plots. W. C. Whitney (1863) married Flora Payne of the Standard Oil dynasty and became secretary of the navy. Elihu Root, Whitney’s personal attorney, hired Henry Stimson (1888) directly out of law school. Root later became secretary of war, and Stimson was appointed to that position by William Howard Taft in 1911.

Later Stimson was President Calvin Coolidge’s (1923–29) governor-general of the Philippine Islands, President Herbert Hoover’s (1929–33) secretary of state, and secretary of war during the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–45) and Harry S. Truman (1945–53). Stimson’s personal assistant and point man for the Manhattan Project was Holister Bundy (’09), whose two sons William (’39) and McGeorge (’40), both Bonesmen, went on to high ranks in the CIA, the Department of Defense, the State Department, and as special assistants to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

The Bundy brothers exercised considerable influence on the information flow during the Vietnam War, and William went on to be appointed editor of Foreign Affairs , the quarterly of the Council of Foreign Affairs. McGeorge became president of the Ford Foundation. See how the “chain” of influence passed on from Bonesman to Bonesman works? Let’s take another chain,the HarrimanBush links.

Averell Harriman (’13),revered elder statesman of the Democratic Party,his brother Roland (’17),Prescott Bush (’17),and four other Bonesmen from the class of 1917 dominated two major investment bank firms, Guaranty Trust and Brown Brothers,both of which were heavily involved in financing Hitler’s regime and,at the same time,the advancement of Communism in Russia.

Skull and Bones began with an admiration of the Hegelian ideal of sublimation of the individual to the state,and some Bonesmen continue that ideal,working to achieve a New World Order. Averell Harriman,as minister to Great Britain in charge of the Lend-Lease program for both Britain and the Soviet Union,shipped entire factories into Russia—and,according to some conspiracy researchers,was responsible for the transfer of nuclear secrets,plutonium,and U.S. currency printing plates to the USSR.

In 1942 the U.S. government,acting under the Trading with the Enemy Act,seized the property of Prescott Bush on the grounds that he was fronting for the Nazis. However, after World War II had ended,Prescott Bush became a U.S. senator from Connecticut and a favourite golfing partner of President Dwight Eisenhower,who,as commander in chief of the Allied forces,had directed the European invasion that defeated the Nazi regime.

Prescott also claimed personal credit as one of the eastern money men behind Richard M. Nixon’s rise to political power and for persuading Ike to add Tricky Dick to the ticket as vice presidential candidate. Is Skull and Bones simply a college fraternity drawing upon old traditions copied from a German student secret society,tapping fifteen rich boys each year to undergo an initiation that’s nothing but “mumbo-jumbo”? Or is there something sinister in the occult-based,sanitized Satanism that worships the absolute power of the state and the New World Order?

Sources :

  • Millegan,Kris. “The Order of Skull and Bones: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know,but Were Afraid to Ask.” skullbones.htm.
  • Robbins,Alexandra. Skull and Bones: The Ivy League and the Hidden Paths of Power . Boston: Back Bay Books,2003.
  • “Skull and Bones.” ,June 13,2004. 60minutes/printable576332.shtml.
  • Sutton,Anthony. America’s Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull and Bones . 1983; reprint,Walterville,OR: Trine Day,2003.


Conspiracies and Secret Societies : The Complete Dossier – Written by Brad Steiger and Sherry Steiger
Copyright 2006 by Visible Ink Press®

The most notorious college fraternity in America, the Skull and Bones Society was founded in 1832 at Yale University by valedictorian William H. Russell and 14 other undergraduates. Russell had taken time off from his Yale studies to travel in Germany, and apparently encountered a college society there that he used as a model for his new fraternity. Originally called the Eulogian Club, after its invented patron Eulogia, goddess of eloquence, the fraternity in 1833 took the pirate skull and crossbones flag as its symbol, and so became known as Skull and Bones. Like other college fraternities, it has an initiation ceremony consisting of roughly equal parts nineteenth-century melodrama and undergraduate pranks. Skull and Bones came out of a long history of similar organizations at Yale. The oldest known Yale student society, a literary society called Crotonia (after the location of Pythagoras’s school in ancient Italy), was in existence before 1750. Skull and Bones, however, was the first to limit its membership. Each year, 15 members of the incoming senior class were (and are) selected for admission by vote of the existing members. Membership was restricted to male students until 1991, when the first female members were initiated. See Yale secret societies.

The society’s headquarters, or “tomb” in Yale slang, was built in 1856 in the location it still occupies, on High Street in New Haven, Connecticut. Current members, or “knights,” meet there on Thursday and Sunday nights for dinner and society activities; former members, or “patriarchs,” are welcome to attend when in town, and several annual events attract large numbers back to Yale and events at the tomb. The society also owns Deer Island in the St Lawrence River, used as a vacation spot by knights, patriarchs, and their families.

As the oldest and most prestigious student society at one of America’s top universities, Skull and Bones has attracted its share of members who went on to become important figures in politics and business, and three US presidents – William Howard Taft (president 1909–13), George Bush (president 1989–93), and George W. Bush (president 2000–) – were members during their time at Yale. All this is business as usual for upper-class college fraternities, and can easily be exceeded by other secret societies. The society’s total of presidents measures up poorly, for example, next to the 14 presidents who have been Freemasons, or even the 5 who have been Elks. See Benevolent Protective Order of Elks; Freemasonry.

In the eyes of some recent conspiracy theorists, however, the two Bush presidencies made Skull and Bones “America’s most powerful secret society.” One popular book on secret societies claims that Skull and Bones forms the inner circle of the Council on Foreign Relations, an elite think-tank that is among the most popular targets for American conspiracy theorists. The Bush family connection to Skull and Bones has also brought the fraternity to center stage in many accounts of the New World Order. This sinister reputation doubtless delights the society’s undergraduate members. See Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); New World Order.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006