Improved Order of Heptasophs

The original Order of Heptasophs was founded in 1852 which marks it as one of the country’s earliest fraternal orders.  According to Axelrod, there may have been predecessor organizations dating back as far as 1837.  The name is derived from Latin roots meaning seven and wise and is generally interpreted to mean seven wise men.

The silver jewel inscribed "Heptasophs or S.W.M." is from the original order which we may assume was unimproved. The S.W.M. is for Seven Wise Men.

The Improved Order of Heptasophs split off from the original order in 1878.  The cause of the split was a disagreement over whether the order should offer life insurance.  Fraternal orders in the late 1800’s were increasingly involved in the life insurance business—their members demanded it—and the IOH reflected that trend.  Like most fraternal life insurance societies, the IOH would gradually become less of a fraternity and more of an insurance company and would lose its fraternal identity in a series of mergers with other insurance companies beginning in 1917.

As other fraternal benefit societies were accustomed to doing at the turn of the Twentieth Century, the IOH also employed the assessment plan. During the 1890's, the order's death benefits ranged from $1000 to $5000. The IOH was one of the first fraternal benefit societies to place its insurance operations under state insurance departments.

Initially, the IOH operated on three levels, but after a few years of ex­periencing a three-level structure, it disbanded the state level and retained only the “Subordinate Conclave” and the “Supreme Conclave.” The society had its head office in Baltimore, Maryland. In May of 1917 the IOH ceased to exist when it merged with the Fraternal Aid Union. The latter changed to Standard Life Association in 1933.  

Because the Heptasophs were never a large order--in 1896 they ranked 28th on a list of the top 36 fraternal orders with a membership of 23,905--and because of their relatively early extinction, all Heptasoph pieces are uncommon to scarce with gold pieces like the ring and Past Archon jewel shown being rare. Original Heptasoph pieces are also much less common than the improved order pieces.

Improved Order of Heptasophs
Initiation Ritual

Archon: Brother Provost, are the portals to our approaches securely guarded?
Provost: Brother Warder, is the Sentinel at his post?
Warder: He is, Brother Provost.
Provost: Brother Archon, our portals are guarded.
Archon: The Inspector will examine the members present in the Conclave term password and the permanent password.
Inspector, after examination, will advance to the centre of the floor, address the Archon, and report: All correct, Brother Archon.
Archon, *  *: The brethren will advance the sign of salutation.
Opening Ode
AIR : “I’ll stand by you ‘til the morning.”
Brothers all, who stand before us,
Mingle freely in our song,
Tune your hearts to join the chorus,
Sound our motto loud and long.
Chorus: We are marching onward proudly,
FRATERNITY, our watchword hail,
WISDOM, also sound it loudly;
TRUTH proclaim, we cannot fail.
Repeat the last two lines.
The I. O. H. is still progressing
North and South, in East and West;
None of nature’s laws transgressing,
Honesty within our breast.
Cho: We are marching onward proudly, etc.
The worthy welcome in our Order,
The hand of fellowship extend,
Protecting all within our border,
The lonely orphan as their friend.
Cho: We are marching onward proudly, etc.
Archon: Listen to the words of our Prelate.
Prelate: Oh! Thou most merciful and good God, Father and Ruler of the Universe, we most humbly and reverently return Thee our sincere thanks for Thy mercy in allowing us once more to assemble here to perform our labors. Be with us in all our deliberations; guide and protect us in all our deeds; give us strength to carry out the teachings and precepts of our Order, and aid us in our efforts to improve our day and generation. Hear us, and answer us, and to Thee be praise evermore. Amen.
All respond: Amen.
Archon: Now I proclaim ... Conclave, No ... Improved Order Heptasophs, open for the transaction of such business as may be legally brought before it.
Archon: *.
Order of Business
1: Calling roll of officers.
2: Reading of Minutes.
3: Does a brother know of a brother or his family in need of relief ?
4: Reports of Investigating Committees, and balloting for candidates.
5: Initiation.
6: Application for membership.
7: Reports of Committees.
8: Reading of Communications.
9: Bills and appropriations disposed of.
10: Unfinished business.
11: Collections of dues and assessments.
12: New business.
13: Good of the Order.
14: Report of Financier.
15. Closing in due form.
NOTE—This Order of Business may be changed to suit the convenience of the Conclave for time being. The order may be printed in the By-Laws of a Conclave, and additions made to it, but no part of the above can be omitted.
Initiatory Work
Note: By resolution of the Supreme Conclave it is optional with Conclaves to use the entire ritual, or only the Obligation, Sitting Past Archon’s Charge and Secret Work. Conclaves so desiring, may therefore proceed as follows:
Introduce the candidate to the Archon, who will obligate him and send him to the Sitting Past Archon, who, after delivering his charge, will recommend him to the Archon for instruction in the secret work. The ceremony may conclude with the customary introduction to the Conclave.
The Sitting Past Archon’s lecture may he curtailed at the option of that officer.
Archon: Inspector, you will retire to the ante room of the Conclave, ascertain if there are any candidates in waiting for initiation, and report.
Inspector retires, and after entering, reports.
Archon: Brother Secretary, has the candidate been duly elected?
Secretary answers.
Archon: Brother Financier, has he paid his initiation fee, and other money, as required by law?
Financier answers.
Archon: We are about to initiate into this Order, Mr. ... The Inspector will please make preparations, and report when all is in readiness.
The room is prepared for initiation, under the care of the Inspector, as he is to take charge of the candidate. If there be more than one, he may select a special conductor for each, conducting the head candidate himself, or entrusting him, also, to a special conductor, as he (the Inspector) may choose. The Inspector and each conductor should carry a staff.
Inspector: Brother Archon, I find the Conclave in readiness for initiation.
Archon: Inspector, you will retire, and introduce the candidate.
The Inspector now retires, accompanied by his suite, if any. On meeting the candidate, he accosts him thus:
Inspector, to the candidate: You have been announced in waiting for the purpose of being initiated into the mysteries of our Order. Were you not of good report you could not have reached this ante-room. As you came info the world ignorant of all things, past, present and future, you are to be blindfolded, to illustrate your condition. It may refer to your actual condition then, or your emblematic condition now. Have you any objections to being blindfolded ?
Candidate answers, and is blindfolded.
Inspector: You will advance with me, do as you are told, and fear no danger. We exact nothing unreasonable, the instructions that will be given, you will appreciate.
The Inspector gives *   *** knocks on the door of the Conclave.
Warder: Who knocks at our inner door.
Inspector: The Inspector with a pilgrim, a candidate for initiation.
Warder: I will report you to the Provost, under whose direction I have charge of this door. Door partially opened. Provost,. an alarm is made at our portal by the Inspector, with a candidate for initiation.
Provost: Let him be admitted.
Warder: I am directed by the Provost, to admit you, enter and be welcome.
The door is opened by the Warder, the Inspector enters with the candidate and proceeds slowly around the room, beating his staff at intervals. The organist may play an appropriate air. After passing twice around, halts before the Provost.
Inspector: You will hear our Provost, listen attentively.
Beloved initiate, we ask no promise that the most upright and honorable man, the best citizen, or the most consistent follower of morality and religion cannot follow and fulfill. It does not conflict with your duties to God, your country, your government, your family or yourself. “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return.” We should never depart from the path of duty prescribed by God to man, that when we quit this world, all will go well with us hereafter, in the world to come. You are brought before us, as a pilgrim in search of the sublime mysteries and teachings of our Order, whose motto is Fraternity, Truth and Wisdom, and whose honorable purposes will be made manifest before you become fully acquainted with its commendable features. You have been blindfolded, in order to illustrate your condition in passing through this life where we meet with great trials, misfortunes, temptations and numerous obstacles, before we reach the end of life’s journey. Being in darkness, you should proceed cautiously, in order to avoid the dangers of the rugged paths before you, and keep clear of the many barriers thrown in your way as you pass along; have faith and courage; proceed with energy and a determination to pass the ordeal in safety, and all will go well with you. A philosopher was asked from whom he received the first lesson in wisdom. He replied, “From the blind man,” who never takes a step until he has first felt the ground before him. The Inspector will now place in your hand a staff which may serve you in a like way. Should your pathway appear doubtful, unsafe or difficult, apply the staff, and examine with it the next step that is to be taken.
The Inspector hands him a staff; he is told to proceed on his journey without fear, but to observe caution. Slight obstructions should be placed, to compel him to use the staff in stepping over them. The Inspector should accompany the candidate, and take him before the Prelate, who stands before an altar or table, in the centre of the room. After the candidate has halted, the Provost will proceed as follows:
Provost: You have had confidence, and have successfully passed the ordeal; the Inspector will present the candidate to the Prelate.
Inspector: Brother Prelate by direction of the Provost, this candidate is presented.
Prelate: My friend, I congratulate you on your remembrance of the instructions given you by, the Provost, and ever bear in mind that the path of life hath two sides; one, rugged and sharp, and the other smooth and pleasant; it depends upon you as to which course you pursue; if the latter you will have a happy life. We now require you to enter into an obligation with us, which will in no wise conflict with your duties as a man or a citizen either religiously, politically or otherwise. Are you willing to take such an obligation?
Candidate answers.
Prelate: *   * .
You will repeat after me.
I, ... , in the presence of Almighty God, and the witnesses here assembled, do, of my own free will and accord, solemnly promise that I will strictly comply with all laws and usages of the Improved Order Heptasophs, established by the Supreme Conclave. I will hold allegiance to the Supreme Conclave, and recognize its authority. I will obey all orders emanating therefrom, so long as they do not conflict with my civil or religious liberty. I will not defraud or wrong any department of the Order, nor any member thereof, nor suffer another to do so, if in my power to prevent it. I will forever keep secret all that may transpire during my initiation. I will never communicate unlawfully to any person any of the words, signs or tokens. I will assist a distressed Brother as far as in my power lies. I will warn a Brother of approaching danger, and use all my endeavors to protect him from harm. I will obey all orders of the Archon of this Conclave, if promulgated to me in a lawful manner, and assist the prosperity of the Order, to the best of my ability. All of which I promise on the honor of a man and a Heptasoph.
You have taken the solemn obligation of our Order, and are bound by the highest principles of honor to observe secrecy, and obey our laws; there is, therefore, no necessity to keep you any longer in darkness. Restore the Brother to light.
Hoodwink removed. A promissory note is prepared, and should be so arranged as to be unseen by the candidate, so that when he signs his name, he will have signed the note. After he has signed, the note is taken to the Archon.
Prelate: Sign your name.
Candidate signs.
Strew the path of duty with bright thoughts and noble purposes, and however many obstructions may be found therein, let the halo which encircles and the air which pervades it, be so bright, and so sweet and pure, as to insure its being recognized as the proper one to pursue. This duty, which is not too much to expect, will be most cheerfully and patiently performed by you, and that in truth and consistency, von will find your highest reward. Conduct the Brother to the Archon.
The candidate is taken to the Archon, who addresses him as follows: It gives me unbounded satisfaction to meet with you on the. floor of this Conclave. You have received admonitions instructive, which we trust may be remembered by you. You have taken an obligation, such as cannot possibly be objectionable to any good man. It was never our intention that a candidate should be permitted to do wrong. The Improved Order Heptasophs teaches nothing that can conflict with the most sacred of duties. On the contrary, it seeks to enforce those duties which, in the hardened struggles of life, men are too prone to forget. Be ever firm and watchful, and ever adhere to principle. Is this your signature?
Promissory note shown.
After the candidate has acknowledged his signature, the Archon will ready the note aloud, when comments should be made thereon by the members.
Archon: My Brother, now mark the lesson we teach. You should never do an act without careful thought, and know what you are doing. See the evidence of the onerous charge you have thoughtlessly assumed; hereafter, never affix your signature to any document, until you have first examined its contents.
The Archon burns the paper and continues: You failed to observe caution when signing your name. Many of us have been alike thoughtless and inconsiderate. We are happy to know, from the character von have sustained, and which has shown you worthy of admission in our Order, that yours has been an error of want of thought and attention, not of principle. Let this lesson make a lasting impression on you. Conduct the Brother to the Sitting Past Archon.
Taken to the Sitting Past Archon.
Inspector: Brother Past Archon, our Archon refers the Brother to you.
Sitting Past Archon:
My Brother, what you have already passed through, teaches important lessons, not easily forgotten. The objects of our Order is to elevate man, and make him the noblest of God’s creation, to dispense that charity taught us by the Great Omniscience, and to prepare for the support of those whom we love so dearly, when it shall please the Great Being to call us hence. Fraternity, Truth and Wisdom, are the principles we advocate. To mingle freely amongst our Brothers and give evidence of true Brotherly love. To guide each other in the way we should go, and to instruct and counsel, so as to enable us to do that which is right. Your devotion to the pure principles and hallowed purposes, to which our motto is dedicated, we feel assured, that in your practice of them, the advantages to you will be made manifest. In faithfully following the teachings of our Order, you will find your greatest satisfaction, your noblest reward, for any sacrifice which you may be required to make. Your offerings upon the altar of self-sacrifice, will cause to ascend a perfume, which shall reach the heart of the weary, lonely, helpless widow and orphan, as a holy and sweet incense. Brief reflection will convince you of the propriety of appropriating to yourself whatever of good may be gathered, from the teachings and examples of others, whilst you should studiously avoid the imitation of that which is inconsistent with the highest moral teachings.
I counsel you, that: In the management of business, be reverently attentive ; in intercourse with others be strictly sincere.
The superior man has a dignified ease without pride; the mean man has a pride without dignified ease.
The firm, the enduring, the simple and the modest, are near to virtue.
He who speaks without modesty, will find it difficult to make his words good.
The way of the superior man is three-fold: Virtuous, he is free from anxieties. Wise, he is free from perplexities; Bold, he is free from fear.
Riches adorn a house, but virtue adorns the person.
If you are grave you will not be treated with disrespect. If you are generous you will win all. If you are sincere, people will repose bust in you. If you are in earnest you will accomplish much.
We are bound together by the ties of Brotherhood. Our Conclaves are organized to protect the worthy and distressed; to protect from the ills of want, the suffering widow and orphan; never to turn a deaf ear to the helpless and deserving. Let us never forget. the duties of Fraternity, Truth and Wisdom, which are the greatest purposes of our organization. Let us practice these noble lessons, and thus do credit to ourselves and honor to the Order. You will now be again conducted to the Archon.
Taken to the Archon.
Inspector: Brother Archon, the candidate is again before you.
Here give the Secret Work.
Archon: I now present you with a copy of our laws, and the Inspector will place upon you the badge you are entitled to wear. As it should be your pride never to soil or dishonor it, so it should be your study never to soil or dishonor the good reputation that has, recommended you to fellowship here.
The Archon gives * *.
And now in the name of the Supreme Conclave, Improved Order Heptasophs, and by virtue of authority vested in me by the Charter of ... Conclave, No ... , I hereby declare and proclaim you to be duly and fully invested with the rights of membership in the Order.
You will now retire, after addressing the chairs, accompanied by the Inspector, and work your way in, to satisfy us that you rememiber the instructions imparted to you. Inspector, instruct the Brother if necessary.
After the candidate has entered and addressed the Chair, the Archon will proceed: Brother, it is with pleasure I greet you ns a member of the Order. I now declare a recess for general introduction.
During the congratulation an Ode may he sung, or a piece of music may be performed by the Organist.
Archon, * *: Brothers, our labors are finished for the evening, our task is done, and we are once more permitted to turn our steps homeward in peace. Before doing so, let us join in singing the Closing ode:
We’ve reached our session’s close to-night,
To join in prayer—and songs delight,
Then let our voices now arise
With echoed cadence from the skies.
Sing, Brothers, sing, while here we stand,
Our Order’s firm united hand,
Free from the power of evil sway,
Rejoicing in the right to-day;
Fraternally in bonds, forsooth,
Of Wisdom, Honor and of Truth.
Now, let our voices in the love
We bear our Archon high above,
Ascend unto the Throne of Light,
With prayers that we no wrong requite.
Chorus -
And as we part in pride of peace,
With hope to prosper and increase,
Let each resolve and vow again,
Our Order’s Honor we’ll maintain.
Chorus -
Archon: Reverently listen to prayer from our Prelate.
Prelate: Supreme and Sovereign Ruler of the world, deign once more to hear the voice of our supplication, and remember us in mercy. We thank Thee for many favors past, and invoke a continuance of them. Go with us to our several homes, save us from all harm during the coming week, shield and protect our families and those who are near to us, and when we have struck our earthly tents here below, receive us into Thy tabernacle above, we ask for Thy name’s sake. Amen.
All respond: Amen.
I now proclaim ... Conclave, No. ..., closed until ... evening, at ... o’clock, when it will be opened for business.




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