The Knights of Pythias

Based on a story of good friends, the Knights of Pythias believe friendship can change the world.

Abraham Lincoln

A Brief History of the Knights of Pythias

The Knights of Pythias are a fraternal organization that started in Washington D.C. in the United States on February 19th, 1864. Justice H. Rathbone and 12 other members created an order based on the ideals of loyalty, honor, and friendship.

Rathbone was inspired by a play written by Irish poet John Banim in 1821 that depicted the legend of Damon and Pythias. The Knights of Pythias’ lessons and rituals are based on the story. Damon and Pythias were members of the Pythagorean Brotherhood and had to overcome rigorous tests. This is reflected in the initiations and rituals of the Brotherhood.

The organization of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia happened on April 8th, 1864, and the Supreme Lodge was created on August 11th, 1868. The Knights of Pythias were the first fraternal organization to receive a charter under an act of the U.S. Congress. The suggestion to apply for a charter came from none other than Abraham Lincoln.

The Story of Damon and Pythias

Damon and Pythias were in Syracuse when Pythias angered King Dionysius and was sentenced to death.

Damon tried his best to free his friend but to no avail. Pythias was upset that he would not be able to say goodbye to his family, so Damon went to the King and begged for him to allow Pythias to do so. Dionysius allowed it but said if Pythias weren’t back in time, Damon would die in his place.

At first, Pythias refused but eventually went home to say goodbye to his family. On the way back to Syracuse, he was caught by thieves and tied to a tree but managed to escape. Then he encountered a dangerous swollen river and had to cross a desert.

Pythias arrived just in time, released his friend, and told the guards to bind him instead. Dionysius was so touched by the friendship and the devotion they showed for each other that he let them both go.

Vows and Symbolism

The Knights of Pythias are an international non-sectarian order committed to helping people. Every sentence of their ritual vows has meaning, and every paragraph is an inspiring lesson.


The Bible is considered the Supreme Book of Law as Rathbone would swear in all new members on the Bible given to him by his mother. Knights are also awarded a pendant with the enamel letters “FCB.” They stand for Friendship, Charity, and Benevolence, the three guiding principles of the Knights of Pythias.

Also on the pendant are a skull and crossbones, representing the symbolic idea of death and rebirth and the members’ secrecy. You can also find a triangle with a knight and a shield with the letters “FCB” surrounded by weapons. Sometimes there is a falcon that represents vigilance.

Principles of the Knights of Pythias

The Knights of Pythias have three guiding principles: Friendship, Charity, and Benevolence. They aim to promote cooperation and friendship and believe one way to happiness is through service to humankind.

They make benevolence, kindness, generosity, and tolerance a reality in their daily lives and place home ties at the top of their list of priorities. Knights of Pythias are interested in public affairs and are eager to enhance their community. They respect and honor the law of the land and seek to expand their circle of influence by associating with people of like-minded interests and energy.

They believe that friendship is an essential ingredient in life and that they are working for the betterment of humanity. They uphold these principles in their actions but also through contributions of time, money, and supplies. The Knights of Pythias don’t try and shape other people’s beliefs but rather work towards true friendship, respect, and kindness.


There are three levels of ritual in the Order of the Knights of Pythias.

New initiates are called Pages, and part of the initiation ritual is being asked if they believe in a Supreme Being and are of sound body and mind. This ritual involves secrecy, a coffin, a skeleton, crossed swords, and a Bible. These items represent death and resurrection. Initiates are also blindfolded.

The next ritual is to become an Esquire. This ritual asks initiates to promise not to write down any secret work of the Order. This ritual is tricky, and initiates are then asked to fill in the motto of the Order. If they remember their oath not to write anything down, they pass, but if they fail, a mock trial is held.

The next phase is to become a Knight, which often involves wearing a shield and a helmet while their admission to the Order is publicly debated.

Female Auxiliary

The Pythian Sisters are an independent auxiliary of the Knights of Pythias organized in Warsaw, Indiana, on October 22nd, 1858. It was dedicated by the Knight Joseph Addison Hill, who prepared the ritualistic forms, ceremonies, and emblems.

Different colors represent the Pythian Sisters’ principles. White stands for Purity, red for Love, yellow for Equality, and blue for Fidelity. Purity is reached through honorable motives, actions, and thought. Love represents service, guidance, trust, and tolerance. Equality requires sharing rights and responsibilities. Fidelity means having a faithful, steadfast, and loyal relationship with God and each other.

The Pythian Sisters respect all religions and are not aligned with any one faith. To be admitted, you should be over 16, English-speaking, and believe in a Supreme Being. The Pythian Sisters believe they can bring together women of diverse backgrounds to share knowledge and friendship.

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