In modern times the so-called Roman salute was immortalized by Jacques-Louis David in his The Oath of the Horatii from 1786. Today the gesture is foremost associated with the Nazis. Less well-known is the fact that until 1941 the Roman salute was likewise used in American civil religion and performed when pledging allegiance to “the stars and stripes”. The idea to pick up the old Roman way of greeting – most certainly imagined with the help of David’s painting – seems to have came up within a group of Christian socialists. Included in this group was the Baptist minister Francis Bellamy who broadcasted the use of the salute, allegedly suggested by a friend in the early years of 1890s, thereby giving rise to the nickname “the Bellamy salute”.
I have however encountered an earlier use of the Roman salute among the Knights of Labor. This Christian socialist/humanist secret order was tremendously influential in ths US, especially in the 1880s. In the very first outline to their imperative ritual manual Adelphon Kruptos, a handwritten draft from sometimes between 1869 and 1874, probably written by Uriah Smith Stephens, we learn that the knights had a special secret “covenant sign”: “The (officer) W.A. will call all in the room up and to a rest or military attention, when prayer may be offered by any one designated by the W.A. or by the (officer) D.A.S. Place all eyes on the W.A. and all give the covenant sign in five motions to a rest.” In the marginal of the draft, this ritual element is described as “officers and appis(?) make pentagon”. A couple of pages later it is explained this way: “In five motion 1 left hand on right breast, 2 right hand raised closed, 3 open right hand palm in front, 4 right hand down to side, 5 left hand down to the side, in military rest pause a moment.”
I’ll bet Francis and his friends once were knights! It is also noteworthy, that, if I am correctly informed, Francis Bellamy was the cousin of Edward Bellamy, the author of the extremely influential socialist utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000–1887 from 1888.
The path transferring the Roman salute of David and French republicanism to fascism and Nazism, is said to go through the Italian epic movie Cabiria from 1914 (that I haven’t yet watched). The author to the screenplay was the fascinating Gabriele d’Annunzio, who in his short-lived republic of Italian Regency of Carnaro mixed proto-fascist themes with radical syndicalism.
Conspiracy theories about occult origins of socialism circulate on the Internet. Socialists who have been initiated into freemasonry or accidental similarities between socialist and esoteric iconography are taken as proof of an occult, virtually satanic, genesis of the worker’s movement. Not everything in these far-fetched theories is false however, as the existence of The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor may indicate. Right now I am in particular curious about the origin of the anarchist A, the one encircled.
As is well known, the most visible masonic emblem is the G (for God, that at least seems to be the most common exoteric interpretation) in the middle of a square and compasses. Look now at the emblem for the Spanish branch of the First International.* We find in it something halfway between a pair of compasses and an A – “A” for Asociation/Association, I take it. It’s like the pair of compasses (and maybe the square/ruler) builds the letter. (There is probably also a plumb bob.)
Inspired by the masons, the above-mentioned Knights of Labor used an emblem called Great Seal of Knighthood, depicting simply an encircled triangle. (Here represented in the animated Sherlock Holmes and the Valley of Fear from 1984 as the ominous emblem of The Eminent Order of Freemen.) The triangle is a good start on the way to the letter A as in the anarchist A… After the collapse of the Knights of Labor, the anarcho-syndicalist IWW entered the American radical scene. Was it perhaps in this milleau that the anarchist A was first drawn? Has the anarchist A actually been formed from the freemasonry square and compasses? Or is this only coincidences and the anarchist A actually, as have seen suggested here and there, a later invention, independent of everything esoteric? (Have you noticed the incessant presence of the @? Obviously the covert, miniscule form of the anarchist A, a fact that clearly demonstrates the final, worldwide victory for masonic satanism…)
* I’ve tried to check the authenticity of the emblem. The stated source for it is “La masonería y el movimiento obrero: imagos e ideas para una reflexion teórica” by historian Alberto Valín Fernández. Even though I know one or two words in Spanish, reading Galician is not my thing. I however observe that no emblem is reproduced in the article and that we probably should look into ”The Order of Eternal Progress: the quasi-masonic roots of the First International in the United States» by Mark Lause, presented at the conference “’We Band of Brothers’: Freemasonry in radical and social movement 1700-2000” held in Sheffield in 2004.
The Holy and Nobel Order of the Knight of Labor was a (proto-)socialist order, spread all over USA in the late 19th century. The order had something like 750 000 initiated members, males and females, whites and blacks, skilled and unskilled workers.* Despite its huge impact on the American worker’s movement, this romantic and mythic socialist order is today, due mainly to the biased historiography of victorious form of socialism, largely forgotten.
The emblems/pins/charms (I am uncertain about the correct term) display the triangle (trinity) of God surrounded by the circle of humanity. If the knights follow the rules of European heraldry, the lozenge-shaped emblems/pins/charms was probably intended for women. The “SOMA” written on one of them is the acronym for the motto of the order: “Secrecy, Obedience, and Mutual Assistance”.
* Best book about the K of L is without doubt Robert E. Weir’s Beyond labor’s veil: the culture of the Knights of Labor. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press(1996). ** From Irons, Charles F. & Charles A. Russell (no year, probably 1895). Illustrated Catalogue of Solid Gold. Society Emblems, Pins, Buttons and Charms. Providence: Irons & Russell, updated version of an earlier version by Irons alone.