My wife was going through old family papers when she found a letter from 1904 on paper with the letterhead of the Improved Order of Heptasophs. Naturally, she showed it to me, and upon investigation I discovered the organization had its own Wikipedia article, as did the original Order of Heptasophs, “a fraternal organization established in New Orleans, Louisiana in April 1852. The name is derived from Greek roots meaning seven and wise and means the seven wise men.” Well, “is intended to mean” might be more accurate, but never mind — what a great word! The names of fraternal organizations are a wonderfully variegated lot, from the Ancient Order of Druids to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (with its offshoot the Ancient Mystic Order of Samaritans), the Fraternal Order of Owls, and the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, but the Heptasophs need yield to none of them in a contest of splendiferousness. (If you’re curious, the Improved Order broke away in 1878 over the vital issue of death benefits.)


  1. The two Wikipedia articles tell quite the tale. The original Order of Heptasophs claimed roots in the wise men of ancient Persia; the Improved Order devoted itself to life insurance, merging with the Fraternal Aid Union, which later became the Standard Life Association, then Standard Mutual Life.

    From Zoroaster to insurance salesmen — I suppose that might count as Improvement in some people’s minds.

  2. Are you acquainted with the International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, founded in 1892 and still operating today?

  3. I was not, but now I am!

  4. David Marjanović says

    The Fraternal Order of Police comes to mind, along with their peculiar inability to understand they’re supposed to be a union…

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    The Ancient Mystical Order of Samaritans is successor by merger to a number of different IOOF-adjacent groups, of which my favorite is the sadly-defunct Imperial Order of Muscovites (which used a Slavic theme for its Exotic-Orientalism as opposed to the Near-Eastern theme more common for this Shrineresque genre). One of my great-grandfathers was a big muckamuck in the IOOF, but I don’t know which if any of the wacky adjacent groups he may have been involved in.

  6. Still in existence today is The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, which has passed through several different stages, but at no time took itself very seriously. Nowadays it interests itself in memorializing some of the more disreputable aspects of the history of the American West.

    I frequently walk past an IOOF lodge, but I have never seen anything happening there. Perhaps I go at the wrong time of day. IOOF used to operate a substantial retirement home near here.

  7. jack morava says

    As a Master of Gnomons and a Texian, I humbly recommend Charles Portis’s

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masters_of_Atlantis .

  8. Ah, good call — I’ve got it, and now I’m looking forward even more to reading it!

  9. ə de vivre says

    My brain got its Ancient Greek wires crossed and I confused ‘hepta’ with ‘herpeto.’ I was disappointed to discover that this post was not about the wisdom of the lizard-people. However, I am currently accepting applications to join my new secret society, The Dignified and Ancient Order of the Herpetosophs.

  10. I thought the Chinese triads and tongs might have interesting names but they turn out to be rather boring. The largest triad in Hongkong is Sun Yee On (Chinese: 新義安), or the New Righteousness and Peace Commercial and Industrial Guild. There is a Wikipedia list of Chinese criminal organisations but the names aren’t terribly interesting.

    14K Group 十四K. 14K Baai Lo 十四K 湃廬 14K Chung 十四K 忠字堆 …
    Long Zi Group 龙子字頭 Long Zi Tong 龙子堂 Long Zi Kongsi 龙子會館 …
    Luen Group 聯字頭 Luen Kung Lok 聯公樂 Luen Lok Tong 聯樂堂(單耳) …
    Wo Group 和字頭 Wo Shing Wo 和勝和 …
    Ah Kong Company 阿公党
    Ang Bin Hoay 昂斌會
    Ang Soon Tong 洪顺堂
    Big Circle Gang 大圈幫

    To get an idea of the Chinese names, Long Zi means ‘sons of the dragon’, Luen means ‘union’, Wo means ‘peace, harmony’…..

    Don’t even ask about the Japanese yakuza.

  11. Trond Engen says

    I believe David Marjanović is the Grand Master of The New and Revised Order of Sauropods..

  12. “Sororoptimist” is a memorable one to me

  13. One “or” too many.

  14. Oops. I thought that was the organization that thinks positively about the Hungarian investor born György Schwartz.

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