Cemetery Symbolism Part Two

Many old headstones can be found with symbols of fraternal orders carved into them. Below is a collection of different local orders and their accompanying markings.

Fraternal Organizations

Fraternal and social organizations were very popular in the Victorian Period. It is estimated that 20% of all men belonged to at least one “secret society” by 1900.

These societies (which are all still active) were formed by people from all walks of life, and in death, the symbols of their organizations were often carved onto their gravestones.

Some symbols are more commonly found than others, but all represent the deceased’s dedication to their organization. All these symbols can be found in the Old Auburn Cemetery, which originally started as the final resting place for members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

Background Photo: Delta Chapter, Royal Arch Masons c. 1960


The largest secret society worldwide, a Freemason is a member of a male only order established for mutual help and fellowship with elaborate secret ceremonies.

Square and Compass: the architect’s tools

G or Eye: Geometry under the Great Architect of the Universe

Order of the Eastern Star

Female relatives of Master Freemasons may join the Order of the Eastern Star, which is open to both women and men

Inverted Star: The inversion of the star has no ill meaning. Each point of the star refers to a Biblical heroine.

Independent Order of Odd Fellows

Members of Olive Lodge No. 8 IOOF, Dutch Flat, Cal. July 4, 1925

The command of the I.O.O.F. is to “Visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”

Three-link chain: friendship, love, and truth

Other Odd Fellows Symbols

Hand-in-heart: charity - Rays of sun: Blessings

Handshake: friendship - All seeing eye: God sees all

Daughters of Rebekah

The Rebekahs were initially the female auxiliary of the I.O.O.F, but now allow men to join.

Three-link chain: friendship, love, and truth

R: Rebekah

Dove: Peace

Lily: Virtue

Moon and Stars: Order of nature and the universe

Modern Woodmen of America

A brotherhood and insurance company, the Woodmen protected families after the death of the male provider.

In the late 19th century, the insurance policy included a tombstone. In the shape of a tree stump, they were often further personalized to represent the member’s profession.

This is not an exhaustive list of Victorian-era fraternal organizations, secret societies, religious groups, or clubs, but these are some of the most common and many are still in use today. The Old Auburn Cemetery represents the wide range of rich symbology of Victorian era graves.

To learn more about Victorian grave symbolism, click on the link below to see the first part of this series.

For more on the migratory habits of early Auburn cemeteries, click on the link below.