Improved Order of Red men
The precise date of foundation of the Red Men is debatable; the Improved Order was founded in Baltimore in 1834. It is a fraternal, social, insurance, and political society in the United States for men over 18 who profess a belief in a Supreme Being. The organization publishes Red Man three times a year. There were 38,000 members in 1995.
There are or have been several varieties of Red Men, all of whom were by tradition white; until recently American Indians were banned from admission. The original Society of Red Men, now apparently extinct, was founded in Pennsylvania about 1813, but dissolved in disrepute because of a reputation for drunkenness among its members. The anti-Freemasonry sentiments caused by the Morgan Affair did nothing to improve the Red Men’s standing in the community, and the Improved Order of Red Men appears to have been a completely new organization.
The Red Men itself claims that the organization was founded not in 1813 or 1834, but in 1765, and that it is the oldest secret society in the United States, a continuation of the Sons of Liberty, who antedated the Revolutionary War. There is, however, no good evidence for this, though the present order does share some rituals and terms with such early American secret societies as the Sons of Liberty.
The stated aim of the Red Men is “to perpetuate the beautiful legends and traditions of a vanishing race and to keep alive its customs, ceremonies and philosophies.” Despite this, the order’s ethnology is more patronizing and eclectic than accurate. In the Improved Order, the “Sachem” declares at the beginning of each meeting,
The primitive Red Men ever recognized a Supreme Being controlling the destiny of their Tribes. No important matter was ever undertaken without an invocation for its guidance and protection. We, as improved Red Men, wisely follow their example and imitate their reverence. Therefore, Brothers, you will now rise while our beloved Prophet invokes the Great Spirit on our behalf.
He then offers a prayer to the Great Spirit of the Universe. A formal lodge meeting is opened with the lighting of the Sacred Fire, and closes with its extinction.
“Tribes” meet in “Wigwams” (lodges) to initiate “pale-faces” in return for “wampum,” and officers include the following (the tribal names in parentheses denote the origins of the terms):
Great Inchonee: Supreme head of the order
Sachem: Tribe head (Algonquian/Narraganset)
Prophet: “Religious” leader
Senior Sagamore: Lesser chief (Algonquian/Penobscott)
Junior Sagamore: Lesser chief (Algonquian/Penobscott)
Chief of Records
Collector of Wampum (Wampum is an Algonquian word)
Keeper of Wampum
The months of the year are also given Indian or pseudo-Indian names, but they do not work according to a lunar calendar; instead, they correspond to regular Gregorian months. They are:
Cold Moon January
Snow Moon February
Worm Moon March
Plant Moon April
Flower Moon May
Hot Moon June
Buck Moon July
Sturgeon Moon August
Corn Moon September
Traveling Moon October
Beaver Moon November
Hunting Moon December
Rather astonishingly, the Improved Order of Red Men uses alongside the Gregorian calendar its own system of reckoning, based on the “discovery” of the Americas by Columbus in 1492; 1992 was, therefore, the year 500 of the I.O.R.M calendar.
The rituals are based on white perceptions of some northeastern Native American tribes, especially those of the Algonquian linguistic group. There are three degrees, Adoptive, Warrior, and Chief. There is also a non-initiatory Beneficiary Degree for insurance. The Adoption and Warrior degrees illustrate the order’s line of thought. For the Adoption degree, a hunting expedition (made up of Wigwam members) has stopped for the night, when a lost paleface comes upon their camp. He is captured, taken back to the main encampment, and tied to a stake to be killed. At the instigation of the Prophet, the tribe changes its mind and adopts him into the tribe, giving him a new tribal name based on an animal or bird, or on some trait of character. He takes the following oath:
I, [Name], being desirous of becoming acquainted with the mysteries of the Improved Order of Red Men, do hereby solemnly promise and declare, that I will keep secret from all persons, except such as I shall prove to be Improved Red Men, all signs, passwords, and other matters that are to be kept secret.
And I do further promise, that I will never attempt to kindle a council fire unless I am duly and regularly authorized to do so, or assist or participate in any council the fire of which has been kindled by a suspended or expelled brother, or any other person not authorized by the Great Council of the United States to kindle the same.
To all this I promise and pledge my sacred honor, without intending any evasion whatever. So help me the Great Spirit.
For the Warrior degree, the familiar Masonic touches are employed: The coat is removed and a blindfold is applied. The candidate carries a bow and arrow, and the ritual is based upon a meeting between him and a Junior Sagamore, who asks for a sign of recognition and then, later in the ceremony, hands him a bundle of arrows tied in a snakeskin. At the advice of his guide, the candidate spits upon the arrows and throws them at the Sagamore’s feet. This is the signal for the Junior Sagamore to say:
Warriors, behold! he hurls them from him in
Contempt. Seize him, and with
Your clubs beat Out his forfeit life.
First bind him fast, and my faithful knife shall
Let forth the purple Current from his veins
And dry it quickly up. Seize him, I say,
And let the unpitying torture rack his limbs.
Once again, he is tied to a stake, and the Junior Sagamore is about to drive the knife into his heart just as he “notices” a token, which the candidate has earlier received from the Sachem.
The third or Chiefs degree is an adaptation of the Hiram Abif legend in Indian guise — including the use of a pipe of peace.
Apart from its customary fraternal activities, the I.O.R.M. espouses a right-wing conservative political agenda.
In 1935 there were apparently well over half a million Improved Red Men and Pocahontases. By 1965, the number had dropped below 85,000. The Degree of Pocahontas is the female auxiliary: the Degree of Hiawatha is for boys; and the Degree of Anona is for girls.