A possible explanation of the H.O.C.O.

By Gene “Dickhead” Duncker, PXP


            How many time have you witnessed the initiation ceremony of our Ancient and Honorable Order?   Now, ask yourself  “How many times has it been done correctly?”  Those two numbers vary greatly, don’t they?  I submit that it isn’t done right, because it isn’t understood for its true nature - a comedy sketch.  Our H.O.C.O. is one long joke, meant to be performed and enjoyed instead of  just read and endured.

            There’s much evidence of this theory.  As you read on, it will become clear to you.  It would help greatly if you were familiar with the ceremony, or have a copy available to which you can refer.  One is available for you at: http://www.stichtingargus.nl/vrijmetselarij/ecv_r.html . Over the years, some chapters have made additions and/or deletions to the original script.  So, the version with which you are most familiar may be a bit different.  No big deal.  The idea is to get as much humor out of the play as possible, not just because you slurred your words while drunk.

      Let’s face it, our entire existence is based on humbuggery, tomfoolery and frivolity.  That was the original purpose of E Clampus Vitus, to act as a comedic foil for the stuffed-shirt fraternal organizations of the 1800's.  All our offices, decorations, protocols and ceremonies, even our history are rip-offs of those held sacred by the “secret societies” of that day.  We were the “Mad Magazine” and “Saturday Night Live” of the period.  Everything we did was for laughs. What better way to introduce a new brother to that mindset than through a funny play?  And, when he’s done, he becomes a “Chairman Of the Most Important Committee”, or a COMIC, for short.

      To a comedian, timing is the most important aspect of his craft.  We’ve all been victims to the overextended joke, the one where it take too long to get to the punch line.  Now, think about the passing of the staff of relief.  There’s a long build-up of the importance of doing it right, the power of the staff, its historical and fraternal significance, blah-blah, blah.  As it goes around the circle, the crescendo builds, the suspense gets more intense, the PBCs become more involved.  Then, we do the most juvenile, stupid, mindless thing possible - tell “the chosen one” to shove it up his ass.  The comedy is in the letdown.  It’s the “relief” of having the other shoe drop without serious consequences.   Like a pie in the face, it’s insult without injury.  It’s a big, bad practical joke.

      The use of timing is important in the oath of secrecy, also.  The oath is meant to be given in a truncated, staccato manner to build a cadence of one or two syllables per response.  Then, when all are comfortable with that rhythm, you spring on them, “Or by gesticulation of any part of my body.”(read all at once and VERY rapidly).  It catches them completely off guard, hopefully striking a funny bone.  It is through this misdirection of their attention that we keep the PBCs on their toes.

      Another comedic device found in our imposing ceremony is “double entendre”, or the use of words with two meanings.  Lo Hung Whang is a Chinese name but also a physical attribute envied by most Clampers.  Hop Mee  is not only her name, but an invitation as well.  The question about mounting a “wild ass” is almost too obvious to mention, as are the signs of the well and sick jackass. Their “hidden” meanings really aren’t hidden much at all.  Masters of this art, like Groucho Marx and Mae West, made careers out of saying clean things that sounded dirty.  Remember that E Clampus Vitus came into being during the Victorian era, when society was more genteel.  Any  reference to sex was hidden behind a veil of decency, no matter how thin the veil.

      There are other wordplay devices used throughout the ritual meant to bring a smile to one’s face.   “Have you irrevocably obtained your own consent....?” was the line that tipped me off when I was initiated.  When I heard the Roisterous Iscutis ask that query, I laughed out loud,  knowing there was no danger to me or my fellow PBCs.  The name “Dumbellicus” (when pronounced properly) is another laugh-getter. Also, the various names referring to the PBCs are meant to sound onerous, but actually be humorous.  It is a form of hyperbole or exaggeration. Calling them “embryonic brothers”, “grotesque impotents” and “pitiable wretches” with the proper emphasis and voice raises the level of suspense, much like the famous “slowly I turned” gag of vaudeville.  More hyperbole can be found in the exaggerated claims we make as to Adam and the many historical figures cited as past members of our fraternity.

  Slapstick, or physical comedy, is evident in the three ordeals used to test the mettle of the PBCs.  These are a parody of the Masonic initiation rites, which are quite solemn and serious.  Instead, we have the initiates perform outrageous gyrations under the false auspices of historical significance.  All that’s missing is the banana peel on the ground.           

     We brothers of E Clampus Vitus should be grateful to those who originally penned the ritual performed in the Hall Of Comparative Ovations.  They put a lot of creativity and humor in the ceremony.  It must have been quite difficult to make it both acceptable to their society and funny at the same time.  Their memory deserves that it be done right!  We need to bring to fruition this marvelous and witty creation.

  But, to do this takes preparation.  You must be ready to perform the sketch, not just read it.  You must know your lines well enough to pronounce the words correctly and understand their meaning within the context of the play.  The Latin phrases, as well as words like “imperturbable” and “ignominious” should fall trippingly from the tongue.  This means you need to rehearse your part.  You should speak the words out loud, so you know the best reading of the line.  If you don’t know what a word means, ask someone - or look it up yourself!  Of course, being sober enough to understand what you’re doing in essential to a good performance.

  Maybe your chapter needs a producer/director for your H.O.C.O.   This person should be extremely familiar with the entire production.  He should preferably have some theatrical experience, beyond the role of a barnyard animal in the third grade.   Perhaps the Vice Humbug or some other officer should begin early on the day of the initiation to determine the cast, distribute the scripts and be sure the actors are qualified for their roles.  Then, during the ceremony, he should be the one to direct the various actors in their roles.  He’s the one who knows which part comes next, when the PBCs should stop marching around, when the Hewgag gets blown, etc.  And, everyone should be following his direction!

      It’s obvious that not all officers of ECV are good performers, or even competent readers.  The part of the Humbug, Clampatriarch or GNR can be played by anyone.  After all, the PBCs are blindfolded.  They have no idea what’s happening in the real world.  If your chapter is big enough, maybe a permanent company of players could perform your ritual at each clampout.    You could even have understudies like they do in real theater. 

  There are many ways to get to the desired end.  Try some of these mentioned, or design your own plan.  Be creative!  That’s what this whole damned E Clampus Vitus thing is about, isn’t it?

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