Secret societies drink blood, worship crab gods

Few institutions are more unique to, and more inseparable from the Yale experience than our secret societies. Though they are the source of much gossip and speculation on news programs and conspiracy Web sites across the country, to us, the societies are a familiar part of campus life. We encounter their scattered meeting places as we hurry between equally pointless discussion sections, their windowless tomb facades silently charging the air around them with an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.

Towards the middle of April, we see the chosen few being herded around by black-cloaked figures, performing a series of bizarre and humiliating tasks before finally being allowed into the rarefied (if somewhat musty) air of the society tomb. How I wish I were among them!

It pains me to see the conflicted attitudes that many of my colleagues hold towards Yale’s secret societies. They love to talk about what they perceive to be the silly mythology surrounding the societies, and giggle through screenings of The Skulls. They tell me that while they’re wary of the rampant elitism of the society system, they would surely join if they got into one of the really good ones. Not one of them seems to be particularly excited at the prospect of masturbating in a coffin while reciting their sexual histories to a chorus of shrieking seniors in grotesque animal masks.

I’m not like those people. I don’t delude myself about the secret society experience.

Rather, I take it for what it is: a great way to meet interesting new people, participate in some neat Satanic rituals, and engage in a nefarious global conspiracy of unspeakable proportions.

Of course, there is a good deal of misinformation about what secret societies actually do. I’ve often heard that societies are relatively tame organizations whose members spend much of their time giving “biographies,” a dressed-up term for sitting around and telling each other their life stories — but this is obviously a myth made up to placate outsiders. If it were true, then secret society membership would be so unbearably tedious that the current seniors would do best to stop bringing in new recruits out of mercy.

That I am able to see through this sham is a testament to my potential as a secret society member. Yes, my sparse array of life experiences and meaningful connections would make me something of a “project,” but I have several talents that will prove invaluable to any malignant, ritualistic cabal bent on world domination. I’ve been told that I wear flowing black cloaks incredibly well, and I have a good, loud voice for shouting obscenities and profaning various deities.

I also have a strong predisposition towards nepotism; phrases like “Old Boys’ Club,” and “backroom deal,” thrill me in ways that I cannot fully explain. I’m looking forward to pledging my undying allegiance to whatever god, conspiracy, or supernatural force that my prospective secret society specifies. I know that each society has its favorite, be it the Bavarian Illuminati, Satan, Eulogia, the Freemasons or a giant anthropomorphic crab-god. I’m not picky. So long as it’s evil, it’s fine by me.

Just as workplaces value enthusiasm in their new college recruits, so too should secret societies select those who show the right mindset for their undertakings. For instance, I imagine that many people would be squeamish about the “branding” process, in which each neophyte has the symbol of their society burned into their skin with a hot iron. But I look at the big picture. I know that if I undergo this painful procedure, then a year down the road, it will be my turn to inflict it on others — a prospect that brings me no small amount of pleasure.

On the topic of rituals, I know that each society has a well-established set of them, but after so many years, they could use some freshening up. Fortunately for that society which is wise enough to tap me, I would be glad to apply my not-inconsiderable ingenuity to devise exciting new ceremonies.

In fact, I’ve thought of a few already. It might be fun, for example, if we all stripped naked and bathed in the blood of a freshly slaughtered pig while shouting the preamble to the United States Constitution backwards. Alternately, we could strap goats’ horns to our heads and prance around whispering elaborate blasphemies in each other’s ears while the head of the proceedings, wearing a lifelike Mother Theresa mask, reads aloud the most profane passages of the Satanic Verses. I have another idea, which involves a cat of nine tails, avocados, saran wrap and an assortment of major holy texts, but my editor tells me that it is far too obscene to print.

Did I mention that I’m a columnist for the Yale Daily News? Please let me into your secret society.

Michael Zink is a junior in Saybrook College. His column runs on alternate Fridays.


  • Yale '02 Alum

    Does the author realize that any slight chance of being tapped that he may have had has now completely evaporated?? Or perhaps he knew that he was not in the running in the first place…

  • Hieronymus

    First off, I find it unlikely for you to be faced with the "join/no-join" dilemma; huzzah for you!

    Second, do you know how many times this article has been written? Do you think you are the FIRST to secretly wish that you were SO cool that you would REJECT the invitation that you will never receive and live a life void of regret?

    Third, given that you know nothing about the purpose of or goings-on inside a secret society, how original do you think it is to speculate in the way that you do?

    Your world--as is the world of most college students and, sadly, most ppl overall these days--consists of "me, me, me." You are neither the first nor last, you are not alone, misunderstood, or even unique (btw: the foregoing does not preclude your or anyone's eventual ability to add meaningfully to positive events; it is merely a statement of statistical and qualitative fact).

    Oi veh; jealous much?

  • Old Blue '73

    Trumpeting ridiculous myths, labeling some of the reality tedious, and generally being cynical about Senior Societies, secret or or not, is what all those societies want in their membership I'm sure.

  • Anonymous


  • yale '08

    i like how zink just wrote hundreds of words asking to be let into a secret soceity. I suppose we can now cross him off our list.

  • A.C.

    Maybe, like most other people of a truly independent spirit, he doesn't get all excited about the idea of going through silly rituals just to enjoy free dinner and drinks with really pretentious people.

  • Black Bonesman

    And you're officially off the list…

  • Suzie Que

    He's putting you on, pal. The running? Please. No one in their right mind would want to partricipate in such juvenile activities.

    I think GWB is sorry he was pressured into the S&B.

    These clubs is Cults and enslave members into a misplaced loyalty.

    Weaklings need the group. No thanks.

  • y'07

    I'm getting the distinct sense he doesn't care. Not all of us care about secret clubs with like totally awesome clubhouses that sorry you can't come into unless you know the secret password after, oh, you know, elementary school.

    But I'm sure you're going to console yourself by reminding yourself that I'm a loser too who probably no one wanted to tap, oh my god.

    Frankly, the societies give Yale a bad name. There's no explanation for joining one beyond "Yeah, I drank the Kool Aid." I'd be interested in what you've got to offer, though, y02. Or were you one of the ones who "wasn't in the running in the first place," and that STILL makes you feel bad about yourself more than five years later?

  • Anonymous

    He'd get into my secret society. I love saran wrap-related rituals.

  • Anonymous

    Are you kidding me? Do you honestly think the author wants to be tapped?

  • Anonymoose

    The author will definitely not be tapped for membership in our "Bull and Scones" society. Though I understand he has a penchant for beef, I doubt that he could endure the 3 hour initiation trial, which involves gorging on BBQ and quickbreads. Eat your heart out, Zink..

  • Alum

    What an absurd piece. I don't for a fact that there was at least one Christian in the Skull & Bones class of 2003, and he would not worship any crab, no matter how much political power the society would be willing to confer on him. I think that Zink is thinking only of the new, lame societies that don't even have a tomb, and knows nothing about the prestigious ones.

  • Cracker@Yale

    I don't see what the big deal is… if you're white you shouldn't even worry about whether or not you'll get tapped for Skull and Bones. You won't. The domination of Af-Am House and South Asian Society seats prohibit it.

  • thumbs up

    this was hilarious. i don't he'd write this if he actually wanted to be tapped. all the pretentious alums (hieronymous, you need to get a life and some happy pills) putting him down are just proving his point.

  • Anonymous

    Was Bull and Scones the one with "Huck Farvard, Bight Writes, Surfee Ducks," as their motto? Or was the motto "Vux et Laritas?"

  • Alum

    The "big deal" about societies, if there is one, is that for much of the 20th century, these societies had been consistently doing an excellent job of tapping the juniors who had demonstrated the greatest accomplishments during their years at Yale (e.g., William F. Buckley, Henry Luce, Joe Lieberman). But over the past 10-20 years, this has changed, and now there is very little that distinguishes your average society member (even the top ones) from your average Yale grad. Very, very sad.

  • DoodleLover

    #17, I beg to differ. Senior societies, at least the serious ones, still tap students based on their promise. The truth is, one can’t expect to find more than a handful of men and women who are as extraordinary as Luce, Buckley and Lieberman in a given class. These juniors stand out (and are actively sought by societies) out independent of their campus “titles” - chairman of the YDN, captain of the football team, etc. - if they happen to have one. Perhaps in the old days, running for the Chairman of YDN was an expected (and oft-obeyed) rule of thumb for the intellectual leaders of each class. This is no longer the case. Those students with extraordinary talents (and I do not use this term lightly) are often too busy to participate in a typical undergraduate scene, including senior societies. Who would have time to devote to the Daily News when she is interning for the Economist? Why should a great singer join the Whiffenpoofs when his professional career is already so demanding? How can a soon-to-be-world-class violinist join Yale symphony orchestra when she’s practicing 10 hours a day, and is already affiliated with a graduate or professional level orchestra? Nonetheless, virtually all of these extraordinary men and women in a given class are invited to join, as far as I know. They are the ones who often reject the system.

    If the quality of society membership has declined, it’s not because we have degenerated into a drunk, pot-smoking and date-raping bunch that no longer cares about the prestige of our organizations, as you (and other old alums) seem to imply. Admission of women and departure from certain traditions - such as trying to get token position taps - made us more interesting as a whole.

  • ThurstonHowell

    He can be MY Gilligan!

  • Not For All X Not

    There is a probably some truth to what the DoodleLover notes later in DL's post, but a statement such as: "The truth is, one can’t expect to find more than a handful of men and women who are as extraordinary as Luce, Buckley and Lieberman in a given class" goes to the very heart of the laughable conceit that lies at the heart of discussions about secret societies, that is, that they somehow are even capable of discerning the "intellectual leaders of each class." Do any of you have any idea who Murray Gell-Mann '48 is? Gell-Mann was never tapped for any secret society: "I wasn't elected to any senior society, but I was very interested those secret organizations." See, Do any of you really believe any "Chairman of YDN" or Bonesman in the entire history of Yale is truly the intellectual equal of the 1969 Nobel Prize Winner in Physics? Joe Lieberman v. a Nobel Prize Winner, on intellect, that is laughable. Buckley, to his credit, acknowledged that he was not a genius while Gell-Mann clear is one. Would anyone in Keys be the intellectual superior of the algebraist, John G. Thompson '55, I'm sure you've all heard of him, winner of the Field's Medal in 1970? The Secret Societies had and have I'm sure some very very smart and talented people. But no orgy of self-congratulation can hide the fact that there are "Yale intellects" who are outsiders to the Secret Societies, intellects clearly every bit as powerful as any in the Societies' memberships and arguably towering over any in some cases. I would be the first to concede that few of these people can come even close to the social or cultural influence of Secret Society members, but no one should kid themselves -- The Societies are, in many senses, just as the word implies, social and not all intellects at Yale are so inclined.

  • anon

    wow, I love the comments that are like "hahaha we don't want you anyway!"

    is it not abundantly clear that this is satire? memo to those who haughtily turn down mr.zink here: he doesn't look up to you.

  • DoodleLover

    #20, your point is very well taken. As I implied in the previous post, I am not entirely certain that positions such as Chairman of the YDN ever represented the finest journalistic/intellectual talent in the old days. A lot of alums tell me so, and I was willing to concede this point.

    Scholastic potential - such as one's potential for the Nobel Prize or the Fields Medal - is perhaps one of the most difficult things to measure in an undergraduate. First of all, I would argue that winning the Nobel Prize is not necessarily a confirmation of one's genius, at least not in the conventional sense. Even if I were to concede that point, I would argue that it's unfair to ask a group of 22 year olds to detect and select this kind of unseen potential among a group of 21 year olds, unless there are obvious signs. Many Nobel Prize winners describe their undergraduate selves as "unremarkable B-average students with no clear direction." Nobel-worthy breakthroughs are seldom developed during one's undergraduate years, especially if the subject matter is outside the purely theoretical realm.

    No one is arguing that societies capture the best and the brightest. My point was that they try and sometimes succeed. If you are a remarkable scholar as an undergraduate, you are likely to be noticed and offered an election. If you think getting a 3.8 GPA in MB&B and getting into Johns Hopkins Medical School makes you are remarkable scholar, then you are definitely mistaken.

  • emeritus

    Tap this guy. He would keep the club amused. I found senior society membership a bit over-rated back in the 70s, but it was a different place to go for dinner twice a week & it made senior year less boring than it might have been. But a night in the tomb couldn't hold a candle to a class taught by Brisman or Sewall or Gilman. Hate to say it, but Yale is about its faculty, not about its crypts.

  • Hieronymus

    My point: y'all have no idea the importance and power of "fraternal organizations." No, they do not install presidents, but the percentage of Life that is "who you know" is truly frightening (sorry,folks; 'tis true--but should be no surprise), and the value of fostering relationships (over, even, pure individual genius) only becomes more apparent over time.

    So, what do secret societies do? Speed along the learning process. That's all; nothing more.

    Y'all will--eventually--understand and exploit the "alumni network" (yes, even you Libs who eschew such quaint notions; indeed, you most of all); those in the crypts or frats or Freemasonry or whatever will merely be further along the curve. 'Course, they'll be mighty helpful and solicitous when you--finally--realize what it's all about.

    Laugh, ridicule all you want (I, too, did so in my time; indeed, I can remember when the Pope's latest pronouncements re: "pollution"(!) would'dve caused in me whoops of laughter!), but those of you with an eye to the future take note: "Provide, provide."

  • Not For All X Not

    DoodleL – regarding your point “First of all, I would argue that winning the Nobel Prize is not necessarily a confirmation of one's genius, at least not in the conventional sense”, touché! I failed to acknowledge the very real similarities in the Nobel selection process particularly in the “big science done by massive teams/labs” areas– the Nobel is a social phenomenon as well after all—and selection for secret societies, though I would in fact argue that most Nobelists in Physics (my not mentioning Economics is wholly intentional) are geniuses by anyone’s standards, and I would certainly put Gell-Mann in that category as, I suspect most anyone who has met him or who has an advanced degree in Physics would do also. Lieberman I still claim would suffer by comparison on intellect. Anyone want to argue the other side of this? Likewise, I think one would be hard put to argue Field’s Medal winners are not all geniuses, but again, it might take advanced training in the field to appreciate this.
    Which brings us to another of your excellent point. I wholeheartedly agree with your well-put point about the difficulties of prediction of performance, so much so that I will quote it:” Scholastic potential - such as one's potential for the Nobel Prize or the Fields Medal - is perhaps one of the most difficult things to measure in an undergraduate. … I would argue that it's unfair to ask a group of 22 year olds to detect and select this kind of unseen potential among a group of 21 year olds.” The prediction issue is not unfamiliar of course. Getting into Yale is to be “tapped” into a club of sorts – here Hieronymous at Post 24 is particularly instructive regarding the effects of such memberships—and itself is fraught with the same issues of prediction. I would argue, however, if you were to ask any group of mathematics majors who had the greatest mathematical intellect in their class they would answer nearly immediately and in near perfect agreement and the prediction by those math majors at 20 or 21 of intellectual success in the field would, I believe, be, in the main, borne out by the future– that is just the nature of the field. But I suspect what you say about Secret Societies not capturing the best and the brightest is exactly true, and moreover, their membership would not have the skill to do so had they wanted.
    As to your characterization of the 3.8 GPA MB&B major who gets into Johns JHU Med School, you must be clairvoyant for, with a slight variation on the GPA and perhaps med school (I was thinking 3.75 and allowing UCSF also) this sort represents from my real life experience (and I know more than a few who ended up being well-to-do MDs, with what few scholars who resulted producing “scholarship” with the quotation marks well-deserved) “high-class, highly compensated, high-societal-success intellectual-mediocrities” The ones I know seem to have come rather easily to be at peace with this with little protest and perhaps, even less imagination. Perhaps the consolation of the large house and the frighteningly nearly ubiquitous BMW helped (I can count at least 4 of these vehicle among my doctor Yale classmate friends).

  • AnotherDoodleLover

    "If you think getting a 3.8 GPA in MB&B and getting into Johns Hopkins Medical School makes you are remarkable scholar, then you are definitely mistaken."

    What is your definition of "scholar?"

    In my experience, taps are the most socially connected students, especially those with outstanding extracurricular achievement. Clearly that measures a different skill set than scholarly excellence.

    If the societies tend to eschew MB&B majors, it is strictly out of social prejudice and intellectual provinciality. It's a question of "with whom would I prefer to spend my Thursdays and Sundays?"

  • @ emeritus

    hear hear! brisman is a hero.

  • Anonymous

    This article is excellent. I'd have to agree with #21. Zink obviously could not care less about these so called "secret" societies. The entire point to this article was to show how idiotic and barbarian the stereotypical views of the societies are.