Mystical Seven (Wesleyan)

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This article is about the intercollegiate society originally founded at Wesleyan University. For the University of Missouri secret society, see Mystical Seven (Missouri).
Mystical Seven
Founded: July 17, 1837
Wesleyan University
Founders:

Hamilton Brewer,
Francis A. Bates,
Sidera Chase,
David B. Jennings,
John H. Rolston,
Samuel Henry Ward,
Hiram Willey.

Temples: Eleven, of which two currently exist.
Official Colors: Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, & Red; or simply White

     

The Mystical Seven is a society founded in 1837 at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut that currently is in existence as two separate groups. Publicly, members are called Mystics.

Early history[edit]

The Mystical Seven was founded in 1837, just six years after the founding of Wesleyan University. It was officially recognized by the university on October 16, 1837.[1] It was Wesleyan's first society, founded a half year before Eclectic (May 1838). Of the seven founding members, senior Hamilton Brewer was recognized as primus inter pares behind the establishment of the society. The members met each week at their meeting space in the furnished attic of Wesleyan's North College. The society began Wesleyan's first student publication, The Classic, in 1840.[2]

The Mystical Seven is always referred to as a society, but it is one of the early college fraternities. Through the 1840s and 1850s it was a peer organization with Wesleyan's Eclectic Society, Psi Upsilon, Alpha Delta Phi and Chi Psi. However, instead of Greek references, it chose Hebraic. I.K.A. at Trinity (1829), and Skull and Bones at Yale (1832), were other nearby non-Greek inspired college fraternities.

From about 1856 to 1865 the Mystical Seven was partners in the Alpha Eating Club with the Eclectic Society.[3]

The society was especially known for the quality of its arcana. "Never have I seen anything so original, so quaint, so completely unique, or irresistible in its solemn humor, as the Mystical Seven initiation and the ceremonies of its meetings."[4] A similar commentator noted that the Mystical Seven, "in some respects [was] among the most ambitious efforts at creating a college secret society with a good ritual."[5]

The Mystical Seven also had a serious academic and philosophical aspect, including public events like bringing Ralph Waldo Emerson to speak at the campus, or later Orestes Brownson, whose address to the society was later published as "Social Reform: An Address Before the Society of the Mystical Seven".[6]

The Mystical Seven was the first college fraternal organization to admit women, and initiated several during the 1840s. Later a law was enacted in the society that allowed the wife of a member to become initiated at that member's discretion.

The Mystical Seven expanded to several other universities. The chapters of the society were recognized as "temples", with the "Temple of the Wand" being the parent chapter at Wesleyan. In 1841, the first temple was founded outside of Wesleyan, when Mystical Seven was established at Emory University.[2] Henry Branham brought the society from Wesleyan to Emory, and there interested in membership the president of the university, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, the humorist author of Georgia Scenes. Branham later became Longstreet's son-in-law. Longstreet, his two daughters, and his two sons-in-law were all eventually made Mystics. When Longstreet moved his family to Oxford, Mississippi to become president of the University of Mississippi, they created the Temple of the Star at Mississippi.[7] Historical accounts conflict as to whether or not the Temple of the Wand recognized the legitimacy of any of the other temples founded throughout southern universities. Most were established by one another, with Emory being the only one that may have had a direct tie back to the Wesleyan temple.[8]

The Transylvania temple was destroyed in the Mexican War.[citation needed] The Wesleyan, Emory, Centenary, and Georgia temples did not survive the Civil War. The Genesee temple did not survive the closing of the college. The Mississippi temple did not survive campus politics.

The Mississippi temple did create the Virginia temple, but did not pass to it the traditions of the society.

Influences on other organizations[edit]

Since the Mystical Seven introduced the idea of the college fraternity into the South, it had considerable influence on the development of organizations in the Antebellum South. All private college societies were, for a time, called 'Mystic Associations' in Georgia.[9] A competitor society called W.W.W. was designed on principles more similar to the Mystical Seven than to Northern college fraternities.[10] It has also been assumed that a society for adult men, not connected to colleges and universities, called the Order of Heptasophs, was at least organized on principles parallel to the Mystical Seven, if not by alumni of the Mystical Seven themselves. The resemblances of the ceremonies of the two societies "cannot be given at length; but they leave little room for doubt that...the Heptasophs or Seven Wise Men...is an indirect descendent of the Mystical Seven college fraternity."[11]

Mystic Seven Fraternity and Phi Theta Alpha[edit]

In the early 1880s, the Virginia temple was virtually alone. In 1884, it created chapters at North Carolina and Davidson. In the following year, it reconstituted itself as the Mystic Seven Fraternity, and also used the name Phi Theta Alpha.[12] This new society was led by Cooper D. Schmidt. The fraternity had lost almost all the traditions of the older society. It also had a publication, The Mystic Messenger, which published articles including annual reports and history of the society, and some questioned why the society even had such a distinctive, non-Greek letter name. This three-chapter organization began negotiations with Beta Theta Pi in 1888, and merged with Beta Theta Pi in 1889.[13]

Subsequent history at Wesleyan[edit]

The Mystical Seven society became dormant at Wesleyan in 1861;[14] it had not been meeting as a society since 1858. In 1867, a petitioning group for a Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter claimed initiation into the Mystical Seven for the purposes of securing a DKE charter, which was successful.[15]

Later, in 1868, the DKE members formed a new society called Owl & Wand, which was to be a senior society and use the premises of the old Mystical Seven (the attic of North College). As a senior society, it took as members individuals who were already members of four-year college fraternities,[16] and was considered an 'honorary'. In 1890, the Owl & Wand group, without any knowledge of the workings of the Mystical Seven or an intent to restore them, claimed to be the older society.[17] The senior society died off in the 1960s. In 1970-71, some Mystical Seven alumni restarted the society, and at a time when historically single-sex student groups were pressured to become coed, the new Mystical Seven embraced this change, which helped it to survive a decade that was detrimental to many other student societies and fraternities. The society as it was rebuilt in the 1970s has continued on successfully to the present day.

During the 1980s, a group of students also decided to re-establish the original society. Much work was employed in reconstructing the practices of the original society including the addition of much written material from several sources. The two Mystical Seven groups clashed during 1990, (and again in 2001), in a dispute over which group was legitimate. Today, the two groups continue to co-exist with little interaction with one another.

The meeting place of the senior society Mystical Seven on Wyllys Avenue, known as the Mystic Templum, was gutted by fire in 1995. The building remained boarded up until it was razed in the summer of 2007. The seven-sided building, with seven-sashed windows and a seven-paneled door, had originally been dedicated in 1912.

Notable alumni[edit]

Wesleyan Alumni:[18][19]

Other Alumni

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Price, 25.
  2. ^ a b Judson, Robert (2002-04-19). "Secret societies: past & present". Wesleyan Argus. 
  3. ^ Alumni Record of Wesleyan University, Annals, Frank W. Nicholson, ed., 1883 edition, pg. xcviii
  4. ^ Price, 16.
  5. ^ Stevens, 356.
  6. ^ Social Reform: An Address Before the Society of the Mystical Seven, August 7, 1844. Boston: Waite, Pearce, & Co. 1844. p. 42. 
  7. ^ a b Sansing, David G. (1999). The University of Mississippi: A Sesquicentennial History. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. p. 63. 
  8. ^ Wyatt-Greene, Benjamin. "Mystical 7: A History". Wesleyan History Project. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  9. ^ "James R. Thomas". Emory University Housing. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  10. ^ Stevens, 364.
  11. ^ Stevens, 179.
  12. ^ Constitution of the Mystic Seven Fraternity. Charlottesville, Virginia: Blakey & Prout, Steam Book & Job Printers. 1885. , available at University of Illinois fraternity archives; see finding aid at http://www.library.uiuc.edu/archives/uasfa/4102055.pdf
  13. ^ Catalogue of Beta Theta Pi (9 ed.). 1917. pp. vi. 
  14. ^ Stevens, 178.
  15. ^ See the 1866 Olla Podrida.
  16. ^ See the May 1868 Wesleyan Argus.
  17. ^ See the 1889 Olla Podrida.
  18. ^ Price, 54 ff.
  19. ^ Careers published in Nicolson, F. W., Orange Judd, eds. (1883). Alumni Record of Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn.. Middletown, Connecticut: Press of Avery Rand. 
  20. ^ Wade, John Donald (1924). Augustus Baldwin Longstreet: A Study of the Development of Culture in the South. New York: Macmillan. pp. 254–264. 

References[edit]

  • Price, Carl Fowler (1937). The Mystical Seven, Wesleyan University, 1837-1937. Middletown, Connecticut: James D. Young. 
  • Stevens, Albert C. (1907). Cyclopedia of Fraternities: A Compilation of Existing Authentic Information and the Results of Original Investigation as to the Origin, Derivation, Founders, Development, Aims, Emblems, Character, and Personnel of More Than Six Hundred Secret Societies in the United States. E. B. Treat and Company.