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Fraternal order

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A fraternal order is a voluntary membership group organised as an order, with an initiation ritual and traits alluding to religious, chivalric or pseudo-chivalric orders, guilds, or secret societies. Fraternal orders typically have secular purposes, serving as social clubs, cultural organizations and providing a form of social welfare through reciprocal aid or charitable work.[1] Many friendly societies, benefit societies and mutual organisations take the form of a fraternal order.

Fraternal societies are often divided geographically into units called lodges or provinces. They sometimes involve a system of awards, medals, decorations, styles, degrees, offices, orders, or other distinctions, often associated with regalia, insignia, initiation and other rituals, secret greetings, signs, passwords, oaths, and more or less elaborate symbolism, as in chivalric orders.


The Freemasons and Odd Fellows emerged in the 18th century in the United Kingdom and the United States. Other examples, which emerged later, include the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, the Independent Order of Rechabites, the Templars of Honor and Temperance, the Independent Order of Foresters, the Knights of Columbus, and the Loyal Order of Moose. Some may have ethnic or religious affiliations, such as Ancient Order of Hibernians or Order of Alhambra for Irish Catholics, or the Orange Order for Irish Protestants. Some orders have a clear political agenda, sometimes radical or militant - for example, the Nativist and anti-Catholic Order of the Star Spangled Banner and Order of United Americans, active in the 1840s US, or the Ku Klux Klan. Some are associated with professions, such as the Fraternal Order of Police, while yet others are focused on academic traditions.[2][3][4]

In the more social type, each lodge is generally responsible for its own affairs, but it is often affiliated to an order such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows or the Independent Order of Foresters. There are typically reciprocal agreements between lodges within an order, so that if members move to other cities or countries, they can join a new lodge without an initiation period.

The ceremonies are fairly uniform throughout an order. Occasionally, a lodge might change the order that it is affiliated to, two orders might merge, or a group of lodges will break away from an order and form a new one. For example, the Independent Order of Foresters was set up in 1874 when it separated from the Ancient Order of Foresters, also called Foresters Friendly Society, which itself was formed from the Royal Foresters Society in 1834.

Consequently, the histories of some fraternal orders and friendly societies are difficult to follow. Often there are different, unrelated organisations with similar names.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shepherd, Sarah H. (May 2024). "Reciprocal Aid: Fraternalism and Early Social Welfare History". Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved May 20, 2024.
  2. ^ "Adventure in Friendship: A History of The National Panhellenic Conference" (PDF). National Panhellenic Conference. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 28, 2013. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  3. ^ "Fraternity Apparel". Archived from the original on November 24, 2016. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  4. ^ 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.