The Secret History of Skull and Bones

Posted by Sarah Seippel on

Where did Skull and Crossbones Originate?

The Skull and crossbones symbol is a symbol consisting of a human skull and two longer bones crossed together either underneath or behind the skull.  The design dates to the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages.  The Templars were a wealthy and powerful Catholic military order endorsed by the Catholic Church in 1129.  According to Masonic legend, the skull and crossbones are that of Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights.  The rumor is that Molay was burned alive by the Church, and when three Templars came looking for his bones, the only remains were his skull and femurs.  This became a symbol for remembering death, earning the name “The Jolly Rodger”.

Funerary Symbol

Toward the Late Middle Ages, Christians frequently adopted the Skull and Crossbones to symbolize death, or ore specifically the passing from life.  The symbol has been discovered in Christian catacombs and crypts throughout Rome, Italy.  It also came to be a representation for the Latin phrase Memento mori. “What You Are, We Once Were, What We Are, You Will Be”.  It remembers the death but also it reminds the living to be a good Christian before it is too late.

The symbolize extends from beyond the catacombs and crypts.  The Skull and Crossbones symbol is a universal symbol, often warning for possible death, decorating the lapels of the SS, and by appearing on the labels of poisonous materials.  Additionally, there are the vanitas paintings, still life that includes a skull among other inanimate objects.  These paintings represent death and ephemerality as a reminder of the inevitable. The difference between a vanitas and a memento mori is that the memento mori has some religious affiliation.

Significance With WWII

In the German language, the skull and crossbones word is "Totenkopf", meaning "dead's head".  The symbol is an old international symbol for death, danger, or the dead.  During the Nazi era, Hitler's Schutzstaffel adopted the a particular version of the symbol as a common hate symbol.   

 

The Organization

The Skull and Crossbones is not just a symbol for death.  Rumor has it that there is also a secret society in America at Yale University.  The organization is called “Skull and Bones” and was founded in 1832 at Yale University.  The organization prevails through generations by tapping a total of fifteen seniors each year, all who are expected to be some of the most powerful, influential members of society.  The induction into the society is one of the mysterious and interesting components of the rumor, not because of how obscene the stories are but because there is no record of which one is actually true versus which is an exaggeration.  There are a few variations of the story that the imitation takes place inside of a coffin.  In some versions, initiates are carried in the coffin through a crypt to the chant of “reborn, “reborn”.  Other versions describe the initiates having to lie naked and describe their sexual history to their future brothers and then having to wrestle other initiates in piles of mud.  Despite the true initiation process, the group clearly takes the symbolism seriously.  Why is this?  Many conspiracy theories believe that this secret society was created to build a modern Illuminati to carry out a dystopia in the country.  What do you think?

 

Sources:

How the Skull is an Ally in Art- Art and Archives

Inside Skull & Bones, The Elite "Openly Secret" Society With Highly Influential Members- Jacob Shelton


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