A STUDY OF ANCIENT AND MODERN SECRET MEDICAL FRATERNITIES

A STUDY OF ANCIENT AND MODERN SECRET 
MEDICAL FRATERNITIES. 

Roland G. Curtin, M. D. 
1907 
History informs us that the study of the ancient history 
of medicine and surgery commences with the Deluge, when 
the first recorded surgical operation was performed, that of 
the rite of circumcision. As time wore oi^the records be- 
came more frequent, explicit, and authoritative. With the 
beginning of Medicine the secrecy enjoined upon those prac- 
tising the healing art was such as to prevent a free dissem- 
ination of information to the public, and the absence of later 
facilities also prevented its being spread among the masses. 
At first there was a coalescence of the functions of priest and 
physician : so that among the ancients, religion played an 
important part in the rise of medicine, astronomy, chemistry, 
and other sciences. 

The priests were the sole possessors of all knowledge, 
medicinal lore among the rest. Through fraternal rules, 
they concealed among themselves all information by throw- 
ing a cloud of superstition and mystery over their practices. 
In the Old Testament we are informed that one of the chief 
employments of the priests, except to attending sacrifices 
and the services of the temple, was to distinguish the sev- 
eral sorts of leprosy, and uncleanness, which they con- 
trolled in several ways. First came cures by imagination, 
invocation, exorcism, astrology, amulets, charms, and talis- 
mans, and later, cures with remedies, drugs, surgery, exter- 
nal applications, etc., and later, cures with remedies. 

Almost every one is inclined to the belief that secret 
medical fraternities are of very recent origin; but I think 
that when one studies the subjecfthey will acknowledge that 
such is not the case. I, too, was of the opinion that secret 
medical societies were a new fad until I began to study the 
subject carefully. I give you the result of my researches, 


( 


V 


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4 

which carry these organizations far back into the most an- 
cient civilized times, far beyond the Christian Era. They 
seem to be as old as medicine itself, dating back to the 
earliest ages. The modern “Greek-letter medical fraterni- 
ties” are only a few years old, being an outgrowth of the 
educational movements in the medical schools at the pres- 
ent time. They are based upon the general plan of the old 
Greek-letter societies of the ordinary collegians. They all 
are essentially % American institution^ 

Medical fraternities have truly an ancestral right to 
claim a Grecian origin; as in that country medicine was 
developed as a separate cult, and largely through medical 
fraternities. As before stated, the beginning of medicine 
was associated with witchcraft, mystery, ancKsorcery. The 
knowledge that the practitioner of medicintjn ancient times 
ImmI was held by a small body of men, who were oath-bound 
to keep their knowledge among their brethren and appren- 
ticed novitiates. The initiate was obliged to take a solemn 
vow not to reveal to an outsider anything taught him by 
his masters, thereby making the body a secret medical fra- 
ternity. 

We can truly say that secret fraternal medical organiza- 
tions have been in existence since the earliest times. These 
men were priestfcin the dual role of ministers of religion 
and ministers of science, the latter including medicine, chem- 
istry, astronomy, and all allied branches, as well as the 
worship of the Deity and the moral elevation of the people. 
These scientific men were banded together for the purpose 
of keeping information secret, and for affording assistance 
and protection to one another. These orders might be said 
to be the earlier secret medical fraternities ; for we can safely 
say that up to that time of Pythagoras all secret organiza- 
tions that included priestcraft, mysticism, science, and 
brotherhood were, to some extent, oathbound medical or- 
ganizations. 

These fraternal societies of a secret character have been 


5 


a part of the history of the world, and their study is a 
part of ancient medical history ; as alchemy led up to chem- 
istry, and morality was a hygienic study. Organized bodies 
have aided civilization, and in early times their advent was 
coincident with the nation’s progress. The arts and sciences 
represent morality and general education, and have all been 
improved ; and their triumphs have been extoled by orators, 
poets, historians and statesmen. We can say that history 
shows that medicine has always kept pace with civilization 
and refinement; and we find that when one was at a stand- 
still, so were the others. 

The Hindoos, so far as history indicates, seem to have 
been the first people to be advanced in medicine; and from 
them the Arabs disseminated it to other countries. 

The Assyrians were very learned, and the Egyptians 
received from them much information that was never prop- 
erly accredited to them. 

Moses was initiated into the “mysteries” and secrets 
of this priestly order in Egypt. In his writings, about three 
thousand years before Christ, we find many allusions to 
medicine as practiced by the Jews, the priests being the 
practitioners. They were very particular as to cleanliness, 
as a preventive of contagions diseases, and directed the 
first use of earth for the disinfection of excrement. Their 
rules were simple and hygienic in character, interspersed 
with and assisted by ceremonies. The Biblical chronology 
assures us that the Egyptian emigrants carried the arts to 
Greece, two or three centuries before the time of Moses. 

The early medical institutions of Greece were copied 
from those in Egypt; and, further, the older Greeks, in 
search of knowledge of all kinds, theoretical and practical, 
visited Egypt and Phoenicia as the fountain-heads of all 
culture and science. These seekers after information were 
obliged to submit to the initiation ceremonies before they 
were allowed to pry into the secrets of the Egyptians. These 
ceremonies consisted largely of magic and incantation. The 


6 


scientific medicine of the early wise men of Egypt con- 
sisted almost entirely of a knowledge of anatomy; the use 
of drugs and remedies, applied externally; and hygienic 
teaching. Pythagoras, the Asclepiads, Hippocrates, and, in 
fact, all Greek medicine, were indebted to Egypt for the 
foundation principles. 

Solomon reigned from 1015 to 975 B. C. He intro- 
duced masonry to the Hebrews through the agency of the 
Tyrian architects. This fraternity built Solomon’s Temple. 
We are informed that these masons always saluted one 
another in a courteous manner, calling each other brothers ; 
and that they were kind and charitable to those that were 
masons. 

The ancients were great travelers, especially the crafts- 
men. They went from country to country, building tem- 
ples and other structures, or engaging in commerce. Mem- 
bership in a secret body was very important, giving them 
an introduction to strangers, and constituting a bond of 
union that inspired confidence and insured fair treatment. 

From the time of Solomon, all the great architectural 
work of civilized countries was done by these traveling 
members of the “fraternities,” as they were called. They 
made all the great architectural wonders of the whole civil- 
ized world, especially in the Sardinian States and Spain. 
They built Herculaneum, and Pompeii ; the Parthenon ; the 
temples in Paris; and the historic buildings in Rome, Co- 
logne, Milan. Rouen, and Amiens. These were all con- 
structed by the “fraternities,” or colleges of priestly archi- 
tects. This body of brothers were not in any sense medical 
men. but were an outgrowth of a medical fraternity. 

Mysteries. — Previously to the advent of the Christian 
Church the work of all morality and advancement of the 
civilized nations was carried on by organizations called the 
“Mysteries,” under the veil of mystery and secrecy. The 
arts and sciences were nurtured by the initiated, as well as 
the truths of religion, morality, and virtue. The object 


7 


was to improve those already members of the sect, uniting 
them by additional bonds to inculcate religious teachings, 
such as humanity and morality. They had the Eleusinian 
Mysteries, Mysteries of Mithra. These bodies were called 
Indian, Egyptian, Orphic, Cabirian, Phrygian Eleusinian, 
Dionysian, Pythagorean, and Esculapian Mysteries. Civil- 
ization advanced under these organizations. The neophytes 
were impressed with wholesome truths, viz. : that there is 
one God, a resurrection, the dignity of the soul, the brevity 
and vanity of life, and, finally, that retributive justice 
awaited the unfaithful and the erring. 

In the ancient “Mysteries,” the opening ceremonies 
were solemn and impressive. The sacred herald commenced 
the ceremonies with the solemn formula, “Depart hence, ye 
profane,” to which was added a proclamation forbidding the 
use of any language that might be deemed of an unfavor- 
able character to the approaching rites. 

They then carried the neophyte through gloom and sor- 
row to light and joy, from ignorance to science, from bar- 
barism to civilization, from weakness to strength; reaching 
forward toward perfection; putting virtue in place of vice, 
and truths where errors were enthroned. Their idea was 
that true repose is after toil and sacrifice. The whole theme 
was intended to stimulate moral energy and elevate the in- 
dividual. The ancients claimed that they originated in and 
were guided by a divinity. Arrien stated that the “Myster- 
ies” were established by the ancients to perfect education, 
and to reform manners. A study of the subject induces the 
belief that thev fostered science and the arts, and advanced 
civilization. Plence, we cannot otherwise conclude, that 
medicine, a collateral branch of science, was advanced under 
the wing of these secret bodies. Therefore, they were, to 
some extent, medical fraternities. 

The “Oprhic Mysteries” was an Egyptian rite. It 
was an organization before the Trojan War, instituted by 


8 


Eumolpuis in 1356 B. C., and afterwards united with the 
Pythagoreans. The Oprhic Mysteries became the founda- 
tion of Greek civilization, and through their influence, the 
uncouth tribes of Greece were trained in the habits of civil- 
ized life, united in towns, and instructed in useful arts. 
These rites were the foundation of the '“Eleusinian Myster- 
ies.” 

The Mysteries of Eleusis, are said to have taught 
the immorality of the soul and the sublime truths of natural 
religion. 

Heckethorn classifies secret societies under the following 
heads: (i) Religious (Egyptian Eleusinian Mysteries); 
(2) military; (3) judiciary; (4) scientific (alchemists); 
(5) civil; and (6) political. As medical fraternalists, we 
would, I think, come under the scientific, or No. 4. 

The Asclepiads. — Before the Pythagorean fraternity, 
the Asclepiads flourished, receiving their initial medical 
knowledge from the Egyptian. The followers of Pythag- 
oras were the first to break away from the field of general 
science and stand forth as physicians, visiting the sick in 
their houses. The followers of Aesculapius posed as priests ; 
but the religious part of their labors seemed to be for 
the purpose of influencing the minds of their patients, 
so that they could better control them by the power of super- 
stition, They were eminently physicians. Aesculapius was 
the “God of Medicine,” and they were his followers; and 
were supposed to be his descendants, always calling him 
“father.” That they formed a secret medical fraternity is 
proved by their oath. In this they swore by Apollo the Phy- 
sician, Aesculapius, Hygiea, Panacea, and all the gods and 
goddesses, according to their ability and judgment, to keep 
their oath and their stipulation. They swore to honor and 
love their medical teacher; to relieve his necessities, if re- 
quired; to treat his offspring as brothers, and teach them 
medicine without reward ; also to teach his own children, and 


9 


no others. Second, to follow a prescribed regimen. Third, to 
consider the benefit of the patient. Fourth, not to use deadly 
medicines. Fifth, to avoid producing abortions. Sixth, to 
live in purity and holiness. Seventh, to abstain from mak- 
ing mischief in houses of patients; and not to seduce fe- 
males in the family, slave or free. Eighth, to keep secrecy 
regarding family affairs. Ninth, to pray that while they 
continued to keep this oath inviolate, that they might be 
granted to enjoy life and the product of the art, respected 
by all men, in all times; but that should they trespass and 
violate the oath, that the reverse might be their lot. The 
part of the oath requiring the initiates to be descendants 
of those already priests was relaxed, so that others not of 
the old priestly families could be initiated. The Asclepiads 
considered all cures in these temples were miracles wrought 
by the gfods. 

Pythagoras. — In our study of fraternities that fost- 
ered early medicine, Pythagoras and his followers come as 
an important factor, in its early development. The date of 
the birth of this remarkable man is variously given by 
different writers as 569 and 580 B. C. ; and so with his death 
(489 and 471 B. C.). A study of his life is of marked 
historical interest. He was justly celebrated as an astron- 
omer, philosopher, and physician. He was born on the 
Island of SajJ^, which is in the Aegean Sea. As a young 
man, he was an athlete; but, hearing Perecydes lecture 
on the immortality of the soul, he became interested in the 
subject, and ever afterward devoted his attention to philo- 
sophy. This subject, later on, led him into medicine. Being 
of an important family and under a tyrant who looked with 
suspicion on those of that station in life that left home, he 
fled from home at night to prevent the foiling of his plans. 
He reached the shores of Lesbos, and traveled many years 
for educational purposes, learning the customs, manners, 
traditions, symbols, and mysteries in Asia Minor, Phoenicia, 


lO 


Chaldea, Egypt and other countries. He first learned from 
the Brahmin and Magi, and was instructed in the secrets of 
their worship, laws and doctrines. In Egypt, he gained 
physiological information and borrowed from the Egyptians 
the knowledge of the use of medicine, together with their 
rigid rules for the preservation of health, which were later 
made a part of the duties of his disciples. Pythagoras was 
the last celebrated sage to travel in distant lands for knowl- 
edge. 

On returning to his own country, he found unfavorable 
conditions existing, which so unsettled him, that he 
journeyed to the Peloponnesus, where he was royally re- 
ceived. He there assisted in the Olympian games. From 
the Peloponnesus, he went to Crotona, in Asia Minor, to 
study still further in medicine. 

Up to the time of Pythagoras, medicine, or the healing 
art, was closely identified with and subservient to the wor- 
ship of the gods. Pythagoras had been largely educated in 
Egypt, when medicine was mixed up with the superstition 
of the time, such as magic, dream-interpretation, assistance 
from the gods; but he educated his disciples so that when 
this sect was broken up, some of his followers finally became 
the first persons to become unadulterated physicians. Some 
of these became celebrated in history. Alcmaeon was the 
first anatomist, and wrote of the diseases of the age. 
Empedocles, another of the Pythagoreans, Was not only a 
successful physician, but also a divine poet, and a legislator. 
These men were not surgeons, but used internal remedies, 
ointments and fomentations. It was Pythagoras that intro- 
duced reforms that added vigor to the Crotonians. We are 
informed that his venerable figure, engaging manners and 
irresistible eloquence gained all hearts ; and that his hearers 
believed him to be a messenger from the gods. It is said 
that he encouraged them in this belief and used it as a power 
in his work. 


II 


At Crotona, Pythagoras surrounded himself with dis- 
ciples, who flocked to him, after having sold all their be- 
longings, the proceeds of which they placed in the common 
fund for the use of the sect. This seems to have been the 
first oath-bound fraternity having for its object the sole 
study of science and medicine, these subjects having for- 
merly been associated with religion, and the priesthood. It 
is said that this sect put the priests in the shade as regards 
poetry and knowledge. Pythagoras required his followers, 
now called Pythagoreans, to go through a severe initiation 
lasting five or six years. In the preliminary trial, they were 
required to abstain from conversation. If we had such a 
preliminary training for physicians to-day, probably we 
should be saved much mortification. (See the testimony 
from the courts). The heads of the Phythagoreans taught 
that body to be silent, in order that they might keep the 
valuable secrets that had been imparted to them from the 
outside world. Secrecy was regarded by them as the most 
sublime, as well as the rarest virtue. Aristotle was asked 
what was the most difficult thing in life, and he answered : 
“To be secret and silent.” St. Ambrose, in his Offices, 
placed the gift of silence as the foundation of virtue. 

They partook in common of a frugal diet; helped the 
“Master” ; executed orders ; and led a pure, simple, temper- 
ate life. They wore a simple costume and they used a sym- 
bolic language among themselves, and were silent in public. 
They were so secret that Pythagoras transmitted the doc- 
trines of his sect in hieroglyphic writing only. 

After his preparation, the novitiate was initiated into 
the mysteries of the order. Pythagoras expected his dis- 
ciples to watch over their own health and that of others, 
and to attend to the adoration of the gods. 

Historians tell us that their symbolic language was the 
same as the sacred dialect of the Egyptians. His people lived 
in a brotherly manner, obeying orders as a unit. They al- 


12 


ways kept busy, each with his prescribed duty. They de- 
voted themselves to the preservation of harmony between 
soul and body, and lived in a common habitation, and 
dressed uniformly. They were cleanly, bathing often. They 
kept the hair short and shaved frequently. Regular exercise 
was taken, and sobriety was imposed. Their food was 
simple, and no over-indulgence was allowed. Pythagoras 
warned them not to search for homes, as it tended to wean 
them from the order. 

■After a time, the populace began to sneer at them, later 
to oppress them, and then to mob and persecute them. Fi- 
nally they fled to places of hiding, in order to save their 
lives. After a time, the Pythagoreans dissolved ; and a large 
number took up the practice of medicine. On account of 
their visiting the patients at their homes, which they were 
the first to do, they were called “Periodic,” or “ambulant” 
physicians ; in contradistinction to the Asclepiads. who at- 
tended patients in the temples only. These physicians, rem- 
nants of the Pythagorean school, appear to be the first to 
limit themselves to the practice of medicine. The little we 
know about their secrets was revealed by the fragments left 
after the breaking up of the order, which relieved the mem- 
bers from secrecy. These fragments show that they were not 
ignorant, but quite scientific, as their later history indicates. 
The age of tables and papyri, which preceded printing, was 
not favorable to the general dissemination of information ; 
as only a restricted few had access to them. This fraternity, 
having been the exponents of medicine and philosophy, 
makes them of interest to us in this connection. That they 
were learned is evidenced by the fact that some of their 
medical theories are still discussed; and, further by the 
wise sage who taught them science and the healing art. It 
was he who first demonstrated the forty-seventh proposition 
of the first book of Euclid. He taught the doctrine of celestial 
motion. His demise occurred about 487 B. C, and his 


3 


Iioiisc after his death became a sacred temple. He was the 
real founder of the healing art in Greece, and the surround- 
ing countries. It was Hippocrates that liberated medicine 
from priestcraft, the grossest superstition, and philosophy. 
One writer tells us that medicine was only finally severed 
from theology when physicians were allowed to marry. 

Hippocrates was a medical-fraternity man, born '460 
B. C, about twenty-nine years after the death of Pythagoras. 
He died 370 B. C., having reached his ninetieth year. He 
like Pythagoras and many others studied in Greece, and 
finished their medical education in Egypt. After which he 
returned to Greece and began teaching medicine at Cos. 
He was an Asclepiad, and the most eminent member of this 
medical aggregation, being entitled by birth to membership, 
as his father and grandfather had both been Asclepiads. He 
later devoted considerable time to a study of the votive- 
tablets at Cos, making use of the medical information thus 
gained in his writings. He seems to have been the first 
Asclepiad to break his oath, so far as spreading his medical 
knowledge to the outside world. 

Soranus tells us that Hippocrates was initiated into the 
Mysteries of Ceres (an oath-bound order of distinction) 
for havinsf delivered Athens and other Greek cities from 
a devastating plague. 

Paper was rare and expensive in Greece, during his 
time, so the Greeks learned to use papyrus from the Egypt- 
ians. Hippocrates, we are informed, largely used in his 
writings, tablets covered with a film of wax and the skins 
of animals. He was called “the divine old man,” and 
“the Father of Physic.” He was the first medical man to 
fight the superstition so prevalent at that time, as well as 
the trammels of false theories. 

Herodotus was the first physician to demand a fee ; be- 
fore this time, physicians were presented with a fee. 

The Essenes (150 B. C.). — The Essenes, or Thera- 


*4 


peutae, were a mysterious sect of the Jews in Judea and 
Syria, of which little was known to the outside world. They 
apparently formed a secret organization, and were some- 
times called Thereapeutists, or healers. They were one of 
three sects, the others being the Pharisees and the Sad- 
ducees. The Essenes are not mentioned in the Bible; 
Josephus tells all we know about them. They were in ex- 
istence 150 years before Christ and continued after his ad- 
vent. 

The word Essene (pleural, Essenes) is from the Greek 
csaya physician, or Chaldean to heal ; Hebrew, asa. Roset 
says that the word comes from essen, the breast-plate of the 
Jewish high-priest, a name probably to disarm suspicion. 
The Therap)eutae were men, contemplative, or speculative, 
the Essenes working but little. They were renowned for 
their strictness and abstinence (morality and virtue). Jose- 
phus tells us that they studied the ancient writers success- 
fully with regard to those things useful to the body and the 
soul, and that they thus acquired knowledge of 
remedies for diseases, and learned the virtues of 
plants, stones, and metals. From this and their names, 
it would seem that this body of men was engaged in the im- 
provement of medicine. Like other oath-bound mysterious 
organizations, they had a novitiate of three or more years. 
They dressed and appeared like monks. De Quincey finds 
in Essenism a saintly scheme of ethics, a Christianity be- 
fore Christ and, consequently, without Christ. 

Many think that this order of the Essen, or Essenes, 
grew out of the Cabirian rites. The Cabirian, or Phrygian, 
rite was mentioned by Herodotus and Strabo, and is sup- 
posed to be the original of all “mysteries.” Hiram, King 
of Tyre, was a high-priest in this order; and it is said that 
through him the initiation was incorporated into Masonry. 
Their ceremonies were performed in their sacred grottoes 
at night. 


15 


The Essenes seem to have been an outgrowth of this 
rite which possessed the principles of Zoroaster, They cul- 
tivated, it is said, the physical sciences, and especially medi- 
cine. This organization was opposed to the Jewish priest- 
hood; hence, the necessity of secrecy. They were distin- 
guished for their silence; for they went about peaceably, 
noiselessly, without ostentation or any attempt to add to 
their number. Hence, they were less known than the more 
numerous sects. They were faithful to their rulers, orderly, 
truthful, sober, just, and humane; and they were bound by 
a solemn oath to humility and secrecy. They had to be 
mature in age, and to go through three years of probation, 
during which they were obliged to be temperate, chaste, 
moral, and virtuous, and led a severely self-mortified life. 
This sect is of interest to us in our study of medical frater- 
nities. 

The Druidic and Odinic Mysteries were quite similar; 
the latter were named after Odin, the Supreme. God of the 
Scandinavians, (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland.). 
The rite was of oriental orign, and druidical in character. 

The Druids. History tells us that the druidical 
fraternity of Great Britain probably had its origin from the 
Pythagoreans or the Patriarchs or Brahmins. It is gen- 
erally thought that they came from India. Like the Egyp- 
tian, Cabiric, Scandinavian, Eleusinian, and Primal Ameri- 
can, they were fire-worshippers. They also worshipped the 
forests particularly the oak tree. The name “Druid” is 
derived from the Celtic word deru, which meant the oak. 
The Druids were learned Celts, organized into a mystic so- 
ciety. They seem to have come from France to Wales, and 
then to England and Ireland, at a period unknown to his- 
torians. They communed with the gods, claimed magical 
arts, cured diseases and wounds, and arrogated to them- 
selves other supernatural powers. They had great reverence 
for the mistletoe, a parasitis plant usually found on the 


l6 


oak, using it for their great curative agent, and they con- 
sidered it a panacea. At a certain period of the year, the 
Arch-Druid, ascended the oak, and with a golden knife, 
cut off the plant. If any other implement was used, the 
plant was not worthy of reverence, and was not effective 
as a curative agent. 

The Druids claimed the exclusive right to practice 
medicine. Their wonderful knowledge was apparently 
largely mythical. The echo of the mountain was the voice 
of a spirit; the roaring of the tempest was worshipped as 
a manifestation of the spirit of the hill. The forest was the 
Druids’ temple, and its shade was solemn and sacred; and 
they were forbidden to cut down the trees. They adored 
the Supreme Being in silence and with veneration. The 
ceremony of their initiation was as follows: 

The initiate was first embraced by the old Druids. This 
seemed to be proper, as only males were admitted to the 
body. The initiate was then invested with a coat that 
reached nearly to his heels. This garment was the distinc- 
tion of the rank of priesthood. 

This interesting body was all-powerful, not only with 
the people, but also among the national rulers. They pre- 
sided over the councils that decided for war or peace, set- 
tled property-claims, appointed officers for the public at 
large, and fulfilled many other important functions. Their 
doctrines were, (i) to adore the gods, (2) to do injury to 
no one, and (3) to be brave. 

They were succeeded by the Rosy Cross Brothers, or 
Rosicrucians, a body of f raters founded in the sixteenth 
century, with the object of reforming the church, as well 
as the state and individuals. They advanced all the sciences, 
especially medicine, and claimed to be Masters of the 
“Philosophers stone,” and to have a secret remedy by which 
they could cure all diseases. In this body, medicine was 
associated with religion and astronomy. 


7 


The alchemists were a secret organization. Alchymy 
was the art of changing base metals into gold. The most 
desired things in this world are comforts and luxuries, at- 
tainable by means of gold, and freedom from disease and 
long life. The key to these two wished for things was 
sought after by the Alchemists, who hoped to discover the 
art of making gold and the magic liquor that would secure 
perpetual youth, the “Elixir of Life”, and these efforts gave 
birth to the so-called science of alchemy. They used sym- 
bols and mystical images to conceal their knowledge from 
the uninitiated. They were not, per se, imposters, but earn- 
est searchers after truth; and were brought into disrepute 
by persons who swindled the public under the guise of being 
seekers after truth. 

Christians. — Upon the advent of our Lord, there was 
much antipathy shown toward His followers; and, for pro- 
tection, they formed a secret brotherhood. For the condi- 
tions were such, the enmity of the people was aroused. Feel- 
ing ran high, through ignorance, jealousy, intolerance, and 
suspicion. They had a secret ritual, used for their religious 
rites and for guarding themselves from enemies. This 
secret Christian body was called the Disciplina Arcana. 

Before the era of Christianity in Greece, all moral and 
religious teaching was administered by the Mysterious 
sects; hence, they were antagonistic, and the rulers objected 
to the Christian holding sway. 

The twelve Apostles was a brotherhood having for its 
object the advancement of the Christian religion. They 
went about in the Master’s service, healing the sick ; so that 
they were, in a sense, secondarily a medical fraternity. 

By the foregoing study, we find that almost all of the 
prominent ancient brotherhoods or sects were in some de- 
gree secret medical fraternities, but not wholly so. There 
have been since the beginning of history oath-bound bodies 
called brethren that have fostered the sciences, including 


i8 

medicine; religion, including morality. Their initiations 
seem to have been somewhat similar in character, and plan 
only varying with the ideas of the sages or governing body. 
Masonary of to-day has been traced back to the time of the 
building of the Pyramids, and King Solomen’s Temple, to 
Pythagoras and the Druids. Whether this is true or not 
cannot be positively proved, nor can it be denied; but I am 
sure that the same ideas and forms can be traced all down 
the preceding centuries, so that if they are not the same 
body, they are certainly an embodiment of the ideas of the 
ancient brotherhoods. These have been handed down to 
us, the same as the sciences, art, morality, and civilization, 
which we all possess by inheritance. The most of those 
who, doubtless, are sceptical, on account of their sparse 
information on the subject, would be convinced upon study- 
ing the subject. 

The rites of almost all had degrees, and a period of 
probation or preparatory stage followed by an initiation 
with signs and symbols by which they recognized one 
another. The neophyte in the “Mysteries” was instructed 
in morality and religion, and was subjected to startling im- 
pressions, sometimes even of a terrifying character which 
was intended to excite the fear of the initiate who was about 
to take the oath binding him to secrecy and allegiance. 
The teaching was largely religious, moral and scientific, such 
as passing from darkness and gloom to light and joy — all 
of which was to instruct him, and at the same time, to de- 
velop his character. 

Fraternity in Philadelphia (1819). — Coming 
down to modern times, we are reminded of a medical 
fraternity in Philadelphia, in 1819-20. At the University of 
Pennsylvania Chapter Banquet, in 1899, Brother H. C. 
Wood detailed to us in his post-prandial address the history 
of a secret medical fraternity that existed in Philadelphia, 
the facts concerning which were given to him by Professor 
George B. Wood, M. D. 


19 


In 1819-20, some of the most prominent members of 
the medical profession became embroiled in a bitter fight. 
They vented their spleen by writing scurrilous letters, pub- 
lished broad-sides, and reviled one another in articles pub- < 
lished in the newspapers. Finally a noted professor caned 
a fellow-practitioner in the public streets. A challenge fol- 
lowed the caning, and a duel was averted only by the prompt 
arrest of the two parties by an officer of the law. 

At this juncture, some of the peaceable, dignified, self- 
respecting, and thoughtful physicians, tired of the undigni- 
fied proceedings, resolved to put a stop to the wrangling of 
these belligerants, feeling that it was detrimental to the good 
name and influence of the profession at large. A secret 
medical fraternity was organized, and a plan was formed 
which soon put a stop to all the trouble. This oath-bound 
body made the offending physicians feel that the profession 
was against them, and that they were in the minority and 
very unpopular. Soon the atmosphere was cleared, and 
good feeling was restored; and, as the result, the medical 
profession in Philadelphia since that time probably has been 
more harmonious than in any large city in the world. 

This was the first secret medical fraternity in Phila- 
delphia, and perhaps the first in America. When its object 
had been attained, it was disbanded. 

This small, but respectable body illustrates the value 
of quiet, earnest, united action, and the great good that 
can be attained by an efficient body, working intelligently. 
No one knew of the existence of this organization, outside 
of the membership. This combined action was absolutely 
necessary; as the standing of the participants was such that 
independent action would have, in all probability, only added 
to the number of the contestants, and increased the bitter- 
ness of the belligerant doctors, who would have considered 
individual action meddlesome. When, however, they found 
so many determined men expostulating with them and de- 


20 


nouncing them, they desisted. We arc now enjoying the 
heritage left by these fraters ; for it is probably the influence 
of such a state of feeling that has made a success of the 
medical fraternities and other medical organizations in 
Philadelphia. 

Medical Societies allied to Secret Fraternities 
IN Philadelphia. — For the last forty or fifty years, we 
have had in Philadelphia, many medical clubs. While not 
secret, they are social and fraternal. They have been formed 
for various purposes, but their two main objects have been 
medical education and sociabilty. 

We have had the Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and 
J. Aitkin Meigs Medical Clubs; the West Philadelphia Medi- 
cal Book Qub and Library; the Medical Gub of Philadel- 
phia, with over eight hundred members. All these organi- 
zations meet at stated periods, and have professional inter- 
course, with dining and social features added. These bodies 
have brought the doctors of the neighborhood together, 
making them better acquainted, more ethical, and possessed 
of more good feeling. 

Such clubs are a benefit to the members, as well as to 
the general public; for questions of public sanitation are 
often discussed, and any prevailing disease is talked of ; and 
other medical information is disseminated by means of 
papers, addresses, etc. 

These bodies are quite particular in the selection of 
their members, which insures gfood work. They certainly 
bring about harmony, where ill feeling often previously 
had prevailed. 

Let us inquire into the uses and attraction of secret 
organizations in the past : 

1. Practical fraternity, or brotherhood. 

2. Mutual protection, as well as assistance at home and 
abroad. 

3. A new home-circle, even when in foreign lands. 


21 


4- To keep secret their private methods among the few, 
educating and teaching novices and initiates only. 

5. To have a permanent place for their valuable 
archives, which were on tablets, papyri, etc. 

6. To have a directing head to govern their actions and 
to punish the wayward, idle and wicked. 

They were the mainsprings of progress in the world. 
Has any great work at any time ever been accomplished 
without organization? 

These medical fraternities, as now fashioned, are not 
for political purposes ; they are not organized to extort 
money from the public, nor to impose upon the patients, 
or to build up a medical oligarchy ; they are not for the pur- 
pKDse of interfering with the right of anyone to practise, poor 
or rich, male or female, black or white. In other words, they 
are not a medical monarchy, to meddle with the rights of 
others in any way. They are professional schools whereby 
the general public are benefitted, for when able doctors as- 
semble, they talk of medicine, public sanitation and set 
their associates to thinking ; when doctors talk about dicease 
and its treatment, those who hear them are stimulated to 
thought and observation which prevent stagnation in their 
work. Physicians should be always students; in order to 
be such it is necessary to associate with their equals or su- 
periors. They are improved by a medical atmosphere, and 
when out of it they cease to be students. 

These societies mean “getting together” of those in the 
same path of study, and rousing friendly rivalry ; encourage- 
ing honorable ambition to excel; and extending a helping 
and guiding hand to the younger neophyte, who perhaps 
has just left his fireside for the first time. 

They are intended to gather together a body of selected 
men, and to teach studiousness, morality and gentility. 
They were organized by congenial spirits, for social and 
fraternal purposes, improving the minds and raising the 


22 


Standard of excellence in the meniliers ; to promote hannony 
and maintain respectability, and by precept and example, to 
instruct the members, graduates and under-graduates, in 
ethics and humanity. In other words, to elevate the profes- 
sion by protecting it from its enemies, from without and 
within its ranks. It affords a place where reforms in the 
profession which can be planned, free from the presence 
of the unethical, immoral and unclean, towards which per- 
haps the shafts are to be directed. 

From the foregoing, I feel that we can say that Moses, 
lemhotep, Solomon, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, and the 
Asclepiads were fellow-fraters of ours, having belonged to 
secret medical fraternities. One writer of note, in his work 
on secret societies, has said that in ancient times secret so- 
cieties were useful and important, but that now they are use- 
less and on the wane ; but their presence in all ages, in their 
various forms and combinations, seems to prove their im- 
portance to the profession. Let us investigate the statistics 
in regard to the principal secret organizations in the United 
States and Canada in 1906, and we shall find that seventeen 
of the largest secret organizations outside of the labor-so- 
cieties, which are the largest in this region, have a member- 
ship of nearly seven millions, or about one-twelfth of the 
whole population of the United States. They certainly are 
not diminishing. 

Modem Greek-letter societies are essentially of Ameri- 
can College origin. The collegians needed a closer alliance 
with their fellow-students, and they formed these societies. 
The old ones still flourish ; new ones are formed. Medical 
students had their clubs, but no national society, until the 
courses were prolonged from two years of four months 
each to three years of seven or eight months each. Almost 
every large medical school began a fraternity, so that at 
this time their members are found all over the United 
States and Canada. 


i 


C' 


23 


At the end of the nineteenth century, came the Greek 
medical fraternities of the medical colleges, composed of the 
medical students. The extension of the courses to four 
years first made them a need. The influence of the college 
fraternities did not follow the students into the medical at- 
mosphere. The prolongation of the courses called for 
friendly fraternal communion among the students, which 
the two short terms of five months each did not warrant. 
The students also wished to be associated with the older 
graduates, and they were added; so that now most of the 
professors are members of some medical fraternity. The 
modern irruption of Greek-letter medical fraternities seems 
appropriate, for Greece was the place where the science of 
medicine was liberated from superstition and developed into 
a separate vocation. 

Some persons object to secrect societies. This might 
be answered by saying that each family has its secrets, and 
so have bank-officers and individuals. They do not tell all 
their private affairs. In fact, we all have secrets ; and some 
of us require to be sworn to secrecy. To show the good 
work that may be accomplished by a secret organization, 
I might cite the history of a religious society called the 
Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed, which was organized 
by Count Zinzindorf, and a half of a dozen of his students, 
in 1739. It was the foundation of the Moravians, a de- 
nomination which has probably accomplished more mission- 
ary work for its numbers, than any other body of Cluia- 
tians. Its work spreads over the whole civilized world. Its 
motto was engraved in a ring. “No one lives to himself.” 
Can the enemy of fratemalism say that the secret society had 
the effect of making its members narrow minded 
and selfish? Nature has its secrets, or mysteries, 
too, illustrated by the development of the ovum 
and the seed,' and the chemistry of the silent 
laboratory of the cell. Secrecy has its attractions to human 


24 


iJ33 


beings; and some that are weak are ready to obey the de- 
mand of a society that keeps them alive to their duty, the 
oath of the society acting in the s^e way as the vow of the 
church. It brings about unity, an j unity demands organiza- 
tion ; and organization developes strength. 

A good initiation should be a moral show, attractive, 
and, at the same time, instructive, and elevating; a theatrical 
performance for those that could not pay for a worthy 
theatrical show. They become wedded to the parts played : 
First, because they have to take the parts of the play; sec- 
ondly, because they have been through the “ordeals,” and 
like to observe their effects upon others; thirdly, they are 
familiar with the play, and know when it is well done, — 
the amateur actor is watched in his development ; fourthly, 
the evening diversion is attractive after a hard day’s work ; 
and fifthly, they receive a cordial welcome from their 
brethren, who would, perhaps, be less cordial if the meeting 
were outside the chapter, or lodge room, owing to social and 
business relations. They must meet on a level. They have 
the benificent influence of fraternal good-feeling, which is 
engendered by close, friendly intercourse. 

General medical societies do much good, but fraternities 
go further; and when men have real or supposed wrongs, 
the best way is to come together, and have an understand- 
ing. In this way, prejudice is often banished, and ethical 
breaches closed and prevented. 

A good medical organization has a stimulating effect 
upon the scientific activities of the mass as well as upon the 
individual. The public is also benefitted when a body of 
competent medical men are looking after the health of the 
community, combatting the spread of disease by examining 
into the causes and demanding the aid of the public in pass- 
ing proper laws for the purpose of protecting the health 
of the people.