The Secret Society of Bohemian Club

From the Lecture Series: The Real History of Secret Societies

By Richard B. Spence, Ph.D., University of Idaho

Many secret societies identify themselves as “elite.” They exclusively recruit wealthy and powerful men, who are given a chance to meet similarly rich and influential fellows. With some prominent members like Henry Kissinger and Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush I and II, one of the elite secret societies is the Bohemian Club.

The Bohemian Club's City Clubhouse, viewed from the corner of Taylor Street and Post Street.
The Bohemian Club got its name from the term bohemian which was used to refer to a wandering reporter. Initially, all the members of this club were newspapermen. (Image: Wikophile1/CC BY-SA 4.0/ Public domain)

The Emergence of the Bohemian Club

In 1872, the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle witnessed the emergence of a secret society called the Bohemian Club. At that time, bohemian was a term used to refer to a wandering reporter. It was used to name the club because at first, all members were newspapermen. The club’s honorary members included painters and writers, but after a short time, it initiated wealthy businessmen because it was appealing to them for its reputation and exclusiveness. Although artists and journalists remained in the club, CEOs and politicians were dominant by the beginning of the 20th century.

Plaque showing an owl, the moon, and text.
The owl became the emblem of the Bohemian Club. (Image: Binksternet/Public domain)

The club’s emblem was an owl, and its motto was “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here.” It was a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream that meant bringing work into the club was not allowed.

The Bohemians possibly chose their emblem based on a secret society called Schlaraffia, a German order founded in Bohemia around 1859. The Germans who immigrated to the US took it to San Francisco. Artists, actors, and musicians were the primary members of Schlaraffia, which chose the Owl of Bohemia as its totem and parodied Masonic rituals. Both the Bohemian Club and Schlaraffia focused on having fun. So, it would be safe to assume that the Bohemians were initially the American version of Schlaraffia.

But there is another possibility about the origin of the Bohemian Club. There was another occult secret society called the Sath-Bhai in Prague. Also known as Asiatic Brethren, it had a combination of Jewish Kabbalah, alchemy, and ritual magic. Just like any other secret society with crossover in membership in different orders, Sath-Bhai members belonged to Schlaraffia simultaneously.

So, it is plausible that the Bohemian Club borrowed principles and rituals form both these societies. As Bohemian Club evolved its rituals over time, during the 1920s, the owl statue emerged, and the Cremation of Care appeared later.

This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

The Cremation of Care

The Cremation of Care is a ritual involving the gathering of men with elaborate robes at the base of a 40-foot stone owl. They put a human-shaped figure made of wicker on an altar and set it on fire. Music and chanting follow. It is the opening ceremony of an annual summer retreat in the Bohemian Grove that takes three weeks, with around 2000 men present.

The ritual appears to be a mock human sacrifice, which has led some people to believe that it is a pagan cult in the form of a men’s club. Some adherents to conspiracy theories, including Alex Jones, believe it is a remnant of the cult of Moloch. Moloch was a god to whom people sacrificed children by burning them. This cult was called the ancient Canaanite, Luciferian, and Babylonian mystery religion. But the Bohemian Grove members insist that their ceremonies are merely for fun, dismissing any connection with Moloch worshipping or Druid rites or Bavarian Illuminati.

Learn more about ancient mystery cults.

Prominent Members of the Club

The portrait of Herbert C. Hoover, President of the United States of America.
The influence of President Herbert Hoover made recruitment to the Bohemian Club more exclusive. (Image: Library of Congress/Public domain)

After 1930, membership and rituals became more exclusive, which is attributed to the influence of Herbert Hoover, the then president of the US. Other prominent members of the club included Henry Luce, the publisher, and David Rockefeller. Walt Disney visited the club as a guest in 1936, which inspired parts of his 1937 animation Snow White, especially the scoring scene.

Richard Nixon was another guest who was asked to give a “lakeside talk” to the Grove in 1967. This visit was so inspiring for him that he mentioned it as ,“the first milestone on my road to the presidency.” A recorded phone conversation reveals another opinion of Nixon about the Grove. He said the Grove festivities were “the most faggy goddamn thing you could imagine.”

Although the influence of the Bohemian Club might be blown out of proportion, it does seem to have some reality to it. People who share similar interests gather in secret societies and turn them into a source of different activities like insider trading and even revolutions. When powerful and wealthy men join these societies, their activities even get more unpredictable. They do bring their work and trade inside the society, no matter if it is allowed or not. Many societies intersect with each other, with shared members in various orders.

Learn more about secret societies: the never-ending story.

Common Question about the Secret Society of Bohemian Club

Q: Who were the members of the Bohemian Club?

Initially, the newspapermen were the members of the Bohemian Club. Its honorary members were artists and writers. But its exclusiveness and reputation appealed to businessmen. Although artists and journalists remained in the club, CEOs and politicians were dominant by the beginning of the 20th century.

Q: What is the Cremation of Care?

The Cremation of Care is a ritual observed by the Bohemian Club. It involves burning a human-shaped wicker figure, chanting, and music. It is the opening ceremony of an annual summer retreat that takes three weeks.

Q: Was Walt Disney a member of the Bohemian Club?

Walt Disney was not a member of the Bohemian Club. However, he visited the club as a guest in 1936. That visit inspired parts of his 1937 animation Snow White, especially the scoring scene.

Q: What is the motto of the Bohemian Club?

The motto of the Bohemian Club is Weaving Spiders Come Not Here. It is a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and means members should not bring work into the club meetings.

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