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Friday, October 25, 2013

Odd Fellows and Knights

While traveling through Hyde Park, Vermont a couple of weeks ago, I stopped at the Village Cemetery to take some pictures, and I was struck by all of the strange Veteran grave medallions and flags that were in this grave yard. Some of them are identifiable, others - not so much.  One thing was certain, this town was bursting with pride for those who gave the "ultimate sacrifice".  I also learned about the "I.O.O.F.", and the "Knights of Pythias" grave medallions and flags, which was an interesting twist to this adventure!

I.O.O..F.  Grave Marker (see below)


An example of an Independent Order of Odd Fellows flag (See definition, below)

"Several theories aim to explain the meaning of the name "Odd Fellows". One is that they were called "odd" because in the beginning of Odd Fellowship in the 18th century, at the time of industrialization, it was rather odd to find people who followed noble values such as benevolence, charity and fraternalism.

A variation on that theory states: "The Odd Fellows, at least according to one story, got its curious name from the fact that it was a lodge that opened its doors to the working class who at that time did not ordinarily belong to fraternal orders—and were thus 'odd'. This may or may not be true as the Odd Fellows have been around for a long time and a good many things get lost in the fog of history." Another theory states that Odd Fellows were people who engaged in miscellaneous or "odd" trades. In the 18th century, major trades were organized in guilds or other forms of syndicate, but smaller trades did not have any social or financial security. For that reason, people who exercised unusual trades joined together to form a larger group of "odd" fellows. Finally, a slightly different version of this second theory states: "By the 13th century, the tradesmen's Guilds had become established and prosperous. During the 14th Century, with the growth of trade, the guild 'Masters' moved to protect their power (and wealth) by restricting access to the Guilds. In response, the less experienced (and less wealthy) 'Fellows' set up their own rival Guilds. In smaller towns and villages, there weren't enough Fellows from the same trade to set up a local Guild, so Fellows from a number of trades banded together to form a local Guild of Fellows from an odd assortment of trades. Hence, Guilds of Odd Fellows.

"The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is a global altruistic and benevolent fraternal organization derived from the British Oddfellows service organizations of the 17th century. There are a number of explanations of the origin of the name – for example:  

    In 17th century England, it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and of pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind. Those who belonged to such an organization were called "Odd Fellows".

The Order is also known as "The Three Link Fraternity", referring to the Order's "Triple Links" logo - three links contain the letters F, L and T, (Friendship, Love and Truth).

The word "Independent" in the organization's name was given by the English parent organization as part of the chartered title of the new North American chapter:

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was founded on the North American Continent in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 26, 1819 when Thomas Wildey and four members of the Order from England instituted Washington Lodge No. 1. This lodge received its charter from Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England.

Odd Fellowship became the first fraternity in the U.S. to include both men and women when it adopted the "Beautiful Rebekah Degree" on September 20, 1851. This degree is based on teachings found in the Holy Bible, and was written by the Honorable Schuyler Colfax who was Vice President of the United States during the period 1868-1873. Odd Fellows and Rebekahs were also the first U.S. fraternal organizations to establish homes for senior members and for orphaned children." 

"The Knights of Pythias is a fraternal organization and secret society founded at Washington, DC, on 19 February 1864.  Knights of Pythias in a parade in Racine, Wisconsin, ca. 1910
The Knights of Pythias was the first fraternal organization to receive a charter under an act of the United States Congress.  It was founded by Justus H. Rathbone, who had been inspired by a play by the Irish poet John Banim about the legend of Damon and Pythias. This legend illustrates the ideals of loyalty, honor and friendship that are the center of the order. The order has over 2,000 lodges in the United States and around the world, with a total membership of over 50,000 in 2003. Some lodges meet in structures referred to as Pythian Castles.


Early in the group's history, when a man was inducted into the Knights of Pythias he received a ceremonial sword.  Such swords might be given to a Pythian by family members, business associates, or others as a token of esteem. In recent decades, rather than require each member to own a sword, the local chapter maintains a collection of swords for use by its members. Long, narrow swords are generally used in public during parades and drills, while short swords are used in displays.
Markings on swords varied widely. Most swords were inscribed with the acronym "FCB," which stands for the Pythian motto ("Friendship, Charity, Benevolence"). Images on swords were also somewhat common, and included: A man, woman and child (symbolic of Pythias saying good-bye to his family); a man looking out of a building, with a group of people below (symbolic of Damon's pending execution); a man between some pillars, pulling them down (similar to Samson destroying his enemy's temple); or various types of weapons (swords, axes, hammers, etc.). A full Knight of the Pythian order often inscribed his sword with the image of a knight's helmet with a lion on the crest. Many also carried the image of a sprig of myrtle (the Pythian symbol of love) or a falcon (the Pythian symbol of vigilance).


The structure of the Knights of Pythias is three tiered. The local units used to be called "Castles", but overtime came to be called "Subordinate Lodges". State and provincial organizations are called "Grand Lodges" and the national structure is called the "Supreme Lodge" and meets in convention biennially. The officers of the Supreme Lodge include the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Prelate, Secretary, Treasurer, Master at Arms, Inner Guard and Outer Guard.

The order's auxiliaries are the Pythian Sisters, and two youth organizations: the Pythian Sunshine Girls and the Junior Order of Princes of Syracuse for boys.

The Knights of Pythias also has a side degree, the Dramatic Order of the Knights of Khorassan,  which itself has a female auxiliary, the Nomads of Avrudaka.  Finally, members who have obtained the Knight Degree may join the Uniformed Rank, which participated in parades and other processions. Swords owned by a member of the Uniformed Rank might be inscribed with the acronym, "UR," a dove, or a lily. (The Uniformed Rank was banned in the organization in the 1950s.)


Membership has historically been open to white males in good health, who believe in a Supreme Being. Maimed individuals were not admitted until 1875. Though the whites only clause was officially adopted in 1871, no black members had been admitted since the founding of the Order. The question of repealing the whites only clause came up in the 1964 and 1968 Supreme Lodges, but was not definitively acted upon. The Order remained whites only until at least 1979. Members are accepted by blackball ballot.  In the early 1920s the Order had nearly a million members, however by 1979 this number had declined to less that 200,000.


Once an initiate is accepted, he must go through a mandatory initiation rite. This includes being blindfolded, kneeling before an altar, and swearing a series of oaths. The candidate must also endure a set of tests to measure his honor and character.

The degrees of Pythian Knighthood in a subordinate lodge (or "Castle") are:




In 1877 the Order adopted an optional fourth degree, called the Endowment Rank, which provided fraternal insurance benefits. In 1930 this department split from the Knights of Pythias and became a mutual life insurance company, later known as the American United Insurance Company.

A member must be at least 18 years of age. He cannot be a professional gambler, or involved with illegal drugs or alcohol and he must have a belief in a Supreme Being. The oath taken by members:

 'I declare upon honor that I believe in a Supreme Being, that I am not a professional gambler, or unlawfully engaged in the wholesale or retail sale of intoxicating liquors or narcotics; and that I believe in the maintenance of the order and the upholding of constituted authority in the government in which I live. Moreover, I declare upon honor that I am not a Communist or Fascist; that I do not advocate nor am I a member of any organization that advocates the overthrow of the Government of the Country of which I am a Citizen, by force or violence or other unlawful means; and that I do not seek by force or violence to deny to other persons their rights under the laws of such country.'


The Order provides for "worthy Pythians in distress" and has given aid to victims of national or sectional disasters. It runs camps for under-privileged youth and homes for aged members. It has sponsored scholarship funds, blood drives, highway safety programs and the Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation."

Source: - Wiki