It’s been almost a year since I delved into the mysteries of secret societies like the Z.Z.R.R.Z.Z. Today I’m here to say: baby, I’m back. I found a stupid logo, unearthed my trusty copy of the Cyclopædia of Fraternities and dished up a healthy serving of cynicism and mockery. Prepare yourselves for the glory that is the Order of the Eastern Star.
My part of this story began at this year’s Dickens Fair in San Francisco. Whilst dallying amid the ascots, cravats and assorted sundry neckties, I happened upon an ascot pin in the shape of a multi-colored star. Each point had its own symbol and in the middle were the letters “FATAL”. I suspected it might be a pin belonging to an interesting society, so of course I nabbed it. But who would make such a thing? Did Hell’s Angels have an official ascot pin? Did members of a suicide cult need something to keep their neckwear in place for the coroner’s report?
When I got home I managed to track down the logo as belonging to the Order of the Eastern Star. The OES is a society that accepts women as members, which might seem enlightened in a world where most societies were for men only. But the OES will only accept women who are direct relatives of a (male) Freemason, giving the OES a rather creepy subservience to the biggest boys’ club in the world. The OES, however, sees that envelope and just keeps on a-pushin’. They idolize five “heroines” (read: push-overs) from the Bible for their desirable characteristics: Adah (respect to the binding force of a vow), Ruth (devotion to religious principles), Esther (fidelity toward kindred and friends), Martha (undeviating faith in the hour of trial) and Electa (patience and submission under wrongs).1 These gals all feature in the Bible doing their thang, but the foremost — and my own favorite — has to be Adah.
Who was Adah? She is Jephthah’s daughter from Judges, and although she is never named in the Bible, the slap-happy OES has given her the monicker Adah. Jephthah needed to give the Ammonites a good smiting, so he promised God that if he was successful, he would make a burnt offering out of the first person to walk through the door of his house to greet his return. I’m not sure who Jephthah was expecting to come greet him. A bank robber, perhaps, or a gang of murderers on horseback? In truth it was neither of these — it was his only daughter Adah. Now let’s not paint Jephthah as a complete monster. He did let Adah go cry on a mountain for two months to “bewail her virginity” before he set fire to that dame.2
Each heroine has a point of the star in her honor and a symbol of her work, such as a bale of wheat, a wineglass or a crown. It is, however, the legend along the inside pentagram that ices this cake: “FATAL”. This word reminds sisters that “it would be fatal to the character of any lady for truth who should disclose the secrets of these degrees unlawfully”. FATAL doubles as an acronym urging them to be “fairest among ten thousand, altogether lovely”3. Let us leave the idea that women have to aspire to stand around and look pretty — that’s too easy to tear down. I love the acronym itself. Claiming FATAL stands for something poetic is like saying RABIES stands for “Rare Admiration of Beauty In Every Situation” or COLOSTOMY BAG stands for “Cerulean Orchids Lie On Shimmering Tresses Of Marigold Yellow — Bananarama Are Goddesses”.
The ladies of the OES were even thoughtful enough to publish a volume titled Favorite Tested Recipes for the benefit of “a long-suffering and dyspeptic public”. This book publishes recipes for mouth-watering extravagances such as “Economical Fruit Cake”, “Cookies That Are As Good Or Better Than Macaroons” and seven different kinds of oatmeal cookies. In addition to the delicious recipes, they also taunt us with delicious quotes along the lines of “Oh, eggs, within thine oval shell, / What palate tickling joys do dwell.” Or better yet:
“Oh, weary mothers, mixing dough,
Don’t you wish that food would grow?
Your lips would smile I know to see,
A cookie bush or pancake tree.”
But let’s not pretend that the women of the Order of the Eastern Star have done nothing useful with their time on Earth. As you can clearly see, they have manufactured a top-quality ascot pin with which I can saunter around the streets of Berkeley looking every bit as stylish and sophisticated as Adah, whose father gambled her life on a bet with God and then burnt her alive.
- Lowe, Thomas. Adoptive Masonry Illustrated Eastern Star Ritual. Kessinger Publishing, 2003. Print.
- Macoy, Robert. Manual of the Order of the Eastern Star. Kessinger Publishing, 2003. Print.
- Stevens, Albert C. The Cyclopædia of Fraternities. New York: Hamilton Printing and Publishing, 1899. Print.
- Stevens, Dagmar J., Baker, Mabel and Stevens, Esther. Favorite Tested Recipes of the members of Humboldt Park Chapter O. E. S. and Their Friends. Chicago: Humboldt Park Chapter OES, c. 1918. Print.