And yes, PBK is a very high step in the Masonic pyramid, far above the Freemies. From the Scottish Rite Journal:
(T)he very first fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, was heavily influenced by the Craft: "A Masonic lodge had existed in Williamsburg as early as in the 1750s, and in 1773 it received a charter from the grand lodge in England…. Thomas Smith belonged to the Williamsburg lodge before joining Heath as one of the five Phi Beta Kappa founders... Nine other members of the society joined the Masonic lodge during the next year."Indeed, it was the pressure of the Anti-Masonic movement that influenced changes in PBK, such as the end of secrecy and later, the admittance of women.
The anti-Masonic agitation of the 1820s led to much discussion at Dartmouth, Harvard, and Yale of the Phi Beta Kappa oath. In 1831 the Alpha at Harvard, under the leadership of Edward Everett, Joseph Story, and John Quincy Adams, removed the requirement of secrecy.But anti-Masons simply went from the frying pan to the fire, since the changes in PBK brought about the creation of Skull and Bones:
Phi Beta Kappa dropped its secret society aspect in 1832 and became an "open honorary organization," and "[in] protest, apparently, William H. Russell, valedictorian of 1833, got Alphonso Taft and thirteen other members of '33 to form what is now perhaps the most famous secret society in the United States."Though disputed, many researchers believe that PBK was simply the American branch of the Bavarian Illuminati:
Some historians dispute any link between the Bavarian Illuminati and Phi Beta Kappa, and thus Skull and Bones. The argument is that Adam Weishaupt didn't form his group until May of 1776 and that in the ensuing six months there wasn't enough time for communication...Whether affiliated or not, or secretive or not, these high-level college fraternities are Masonic to the core, though it's very much a kind of Un-Freemasonry. Not just any bozo can join. These organizations exist to groom the most ambitious students to a lifetime of loyalty and service to the fraternity, and in return they enjoy all of the privileges and advantages that the governmental and corporate elite can offer.
However, other researchers assert quite plainly that Phi Beta Kappa is the "Bavarian Illuminati, ... spread to America"; and "the Masonic Order probably influenced the founding of the Society at William and Mary."
A.F. & A.M. may get all of the attention (and the abuse), but it draws its ranks largely from the professions, law enforcement and occupations like engineering. As I've said several times on The Secret Sun, the real power lies elsewhere.