An English academic has uncovered new details of the Orange Order’s ‘riding the goat’ initiation rituals, which involve acts of violence to hammer home the order’s strict secrecy.
In an article published recently in the London Times, Dr Joseph Webster described the ceremony after carrying ot interviews with members of the organisation in Scotland.
The initiations involve new members being blindfolded, wrapped in a blanket and made to kneel on a coffin where they are “roughly kicked and tossed in a part of the ritual called ‘Riding the Goat’”, he said.
In order to move to a higher level in the masonic-style institution, the brethren must have their “naked left breast pricked three times with a sword” while blindfolded and barefoot as a reminder “not to divulge the secrets they are about to receive”.
While disaffected members have leaked similar accounts in the past, it is understood to be the first time a study has been published by an anthropologist.
Joseph Webster, a lecturer in religion at Cambridge University, spent years interviewing members of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland. He said he was not permitted to see the ritual, but saw props used in the ‘goat’ ceremony, which includes being whipped with spiky branches while members make bleating noises.
The new research tallies with that of author William Brown’s 2003 book ‘An Army With Banners - The Real Face of Orangeism’.
Mr Brown said that the word ‘goat’ is a reverse acronym standing for ‘The Ark of God’, a reference to the biblical ‘Ark of the Covenant’, said to have been built by Moses to encase the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.
He wrote: “The idea here is that the new initiate will receive enlightenment by introduction to the secret mysteries by means of a ritual that involves seven stages – the Oath; the Preparation; the Reception; the Travel; Riding the Goat; the Blood Curse; and the Enlightenment.
“Each stage of this Occult based neo-Masonic ritual contains gruesome and pagan elements, but its fifth stage ‘riding the goat’ is the ritual’s centrepiece.”
Mr Brown revealed that during the early stages of the ritual, some of the candidate’s clothing is removed and he is blindfolded.
During the ‘travel stage’ he is branded on his breast by a sharp heated implement symbolising a pricked conscience should he divulge the order’s secrets.
He is then forced to kneel and pray for deliverance before being walked around a room barefoot three times on a floor strewn with brambles or ashes.
The candidate is then violently whipped on the legs as onlookers bleat like animals in anticipation of the next stage - ‘riding the goat’.
During this phase of the ritual the candidate is made to climb a three stepped structure known to Orangemen as Jacob’s Ladder. At the third step the candidate reaches a coffin on which he is forced to kneel and asked to put his trust in God.
He is then suddenly and violently pushed backwards onto a canvass blanket and tossed about roughly.
Mr Brown says that participants can be injured and there are examples of people dying due to the “traumatic experience”.
“Still lying in the blanket, the initiate is tossed, bumped about, and roughed up before being bundled in a sheet and carried to the north-west corner for the sixth stage of the ritual,” he said.
“This warns him of a barbarous three-fold blood curse that will follow if he violates his oath of secrecy.”
The candidate is advised that the penalty for divulging secrets includes having his throat cut, tongue removed and body buried in the sea. His heart will also be pulled out and fed to the birds and other animals. He will then be cut in half and the bowels removed and burned to ashes, “which are then scattered to the four winds of heaven”.
Despite multiple complaints, it is understood no police investigation has ever been held into the Order’s initiation practices.