The beginnings of the Mystical 7, and most American college fraternities, can be traced to the influence of Freemasonry in early American society.
Freemasonic influence had peeked directly after the revolution, and a few Greek Letter societies, including Phi Beta Kappa at William and Mary in 1776, and Kappa Alpha at Union College in 1825, were formed in rough emulation of the Masonic structure.
Wesleyan History Project | 2002 Archive
Mystical 7: A History
by Benjamin Wyatt-Greene
The definitive “Cyclopaedia of Fraternities,” first published by Albert C. Stevens in 1907 contains a short, two-line entry: “The Mystical 7, which is now thought to be dead, was in some respects one of the most remarkable and most ambitious college societies in the country.”1 Confusion over whether the Mystical Seven Society is dead has continued for well over a century and controversy still exists as to what present-day organization represents its legitimate philosophical heir, with histories occasionally being re-interpreted and re-written to support competing claims. However the relevant fact that emerges from research is that the Mystical 7 played an active part in a number of the major philosophical and educational movements of the 19th century and spawned and influenced a number of organizations and societies, some of which continue to exist today. Records exist detailing the correspondences and inner workings of the society, but its larger historical and philosophical progression has never been objectively catalogued in any detail. It is this wider scope which I am trying to explore and I would therefore refer readers to my end notes, my bibliography, and the Wesleyan University Archives if they wish to research specific traditions and symbols within the normal functionings of the society.
The beginnings of the Mystical 7, and most American college fraternities, can be traced to the influence of Freemasonry in early American society. Freemasonic influence had peeked directly after the revolution, and a few Greek Letter societies, including Phi Beta Kappa at William and Mary in 1776, and Kappa Alpha at Union College in 1825, were formed in rough emulation of the Masonic structure.2 The pivotal Morgan incident of 1826, where a group of Freemasons were suspected of killing a member of their lodge who threatened to publish society secrets, lead to an outbreak of antimasonic propaganda and heralded in a decade of widespread suppression of masonic lodges. One of the results of this suppression was that many of the condemned masonic secrets, rituals, and structures were published for the first time in the mainstream press.3 The unintended consequence of this informational watershed was that a number of otherwise ignorant citizens became educated in and interested in exploring the traditions of Freemasonry. Chief among these interested parties were groups of students in the young and burgeoning American college system.4 The antimasonic suppression and exposition had been strongest in New York and New England, and it was accordingly in these areas that the first neo-masonic orders were founded once the ferocity of the antimasonic rhetoric began to cool in the mid 1830s.
The Mystical 7 was the first major college secret society to be formed after the Morgan Incident. It is nearly indisputable that the dearth of masonic information influenced the early formation of the Mystical 7. The writings of the early mystics make occasional reference to their “new form of masonry” and many of the early cauldron covers can be specifically matched to ritual etchings in published masonic texts.5 It is likely that the very idea of natural symbolism within the Mystic Star is derivative from masonic sources. Furthermore, it can be speculated that one major reason why Hebrew, as opposed to the more prevalent Greek, was used as the emblematic language of the society was the prevalence of Hebrew script in the higher rites of the masonic order. The masonic framework was undoubtedly a structure to which the mystics melded their philosophical and literary interests.
Wesleyan University was founded in 1831 as the first major Methodist College in the United States. Wilbur Fisk, a Methodist preacher who had successfully revived the Wesleyan Academy in Massachusetts during the late 1820’s was chosen as the first President.6 By 1833 there are indications of at least two literary societies on the Wesleyan Campus.7 It is likely that these societies fulfilled a literary function that has, in this century, been largely incorporated into the academic curriculum. College courses during the early 19th century were generally taught in the British lecture-examination model, and therefore creative students were given little opportunity to present their own ideas and writings.8 The early literary societies at Wesleyan provided a built-in audience for the literary presentations of students and due to their semi-exclusive nature functioned as basic social clubs as well.
In the beginning of June 1837 seven Wesleyan students drafted a proposal to found the first temple of a new secret literary society called the Mystical 7. The proposal was submitted to President Wilbur Fisk, along with a draft copy of the society’s constitution. Fisk waited for five months, but eventually gave his approval once he received assurances that the purpose of the society was to promote the “social, intellectual, and moral improvement of its members.”9 He specified, in what was perhaps a satirical joke based on the proposed name or perhaps a religious reference, “I should prefer however that the meetings be held on the seventh day of every week.” The Mystics promptly complied with his order by passing a resolution officially changing the beginning of the week to Saturday, so that Friday, the day on which they had generally gathered during the proceeding five months, became the seventh day. It was from this basis that the distinctive mystic manner of keeping time may have originated.
The oral tradition of the Mystical Seven holds that Hamilton Brewer, the oldest of the founding mystics, began the society when “a mystical thought” entered his head. It is known that Brewer held the honorary position of Chief Priest and Law-Giver of the society for his entire life and lived in Middletown until his death in 1855. He is buried in the old cemetery behind McConaughy Dining Hall, where his stone still stands. However, other than these facts, “the Brewer” as he came to be called, remains a mysterious and enigmatic figure. Little is known about his personal beliefs or influences in founding the society. Unlike most of the other Mystics, there are no writings signed by him in the records of the society, and only one short piece commonly attributed to his pen. Legends about the Brewer have been passed down through the history of the society, but as of yet few of these have been verified by historical research.
“…the relevant fact that emerges from research is that the Mystical 7 played an active part in a number of the major philosophical and educational movements of the 19th century and spawned and influenced a number of organizations and societies, some of which continue to exist today…” abstract
Secret societies are a relic of a more undemocratic age. Like the guild system in medieval Europe, they often strangle the body of knowledge they are supposed to nourish. For example, the Mystical Seven maintain a body of writings and other materials in the form of a “cauldron.”
The first heptagram was used as a symbol in the Kabbalah, and later by Aleister Crowley and the Ordo Templi Orientis where it was known as the Star (or Seal) of Babalon. In alchemy, a seven-sided star can refer to the seven planets which were known to ancient alchemists.
Septagram in the Thelemic Pantheon
Aleister Crowley chose the Septragram to be his glyph for Babalon, the “Great Whore”, his vision of the synthesis of the Universe in many ways.
The significance of the number seven should be obvious in most occult writings. Seven represents the triumph of Matter over Spirit 4/3 or Spirit over Matter 3/4, depending on your viewpoint. The Septagram as symbol of balance is unerring. It shows all seven major planetary energies in the form of the seven ancient planets of the philosophers in equipoise.