I arrived last weekend at a serene spot near the Russian River about 60 miles north of San Francisco, where I was staying with a pal. The small wooden cottages, primarily intended for the respite-seeking crowds rushing northwards from the Bay, are grouped into small clusters among the Redwoods such that along each inward canyon small, isolated cottages can be found, stretching away from the river.
This weekend, I learned of another side of this picturesque outpost. Nestled just a few miles downstream is the illustrious and infamous Bohemian Grove. Contrary to its name, this is not currently a place where hedonism or alternative lifestyles thrive, though it did begin in the 1870s as the Bohemian Club, a place of congregation for artists and people of bohemian build.
After some gradual acquisition of land, the Bohemian Grove became the place in which the “Grovers”/“Bohos” could rejoice, discuss, ponder, knock out a few brain cells and be themselves according to the motto “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here” (i.e. “Don’t bring your work with you”). These alcohol-fueled traditions later became odder rituals, such as the “Cremation of Care” (similar to Burning Man or the pagan-inspired Zozobra ritual) and an annual play.
However, this all changed as the event and location got bought out by businessmen, politicians and people of generally higher social stature. By the 1920s and continuing to this very day, the “bohemian” has been replaced by the suit. Today, some of the most important figures in the nation were, and currently are, members of the all-male club– be it every Republican president since 1923 (many Democratic presidents too), or CEOs representing a vast spectrum of industries. The grove is as VIP as it gets.
Rumors are that some Stanford heads are affiliated, and I have no doubt that there are a fair share of alumni gathering there as well.
Besides being apparently very similar to a frat party (“Bros only!”) and having several cult-like traits, the place becomes truly of interest when you realize that future masters of the universe are not just imbibing as in their University days, in the woods, relieving themselves at will (how often do you imagine they get to do that kind of thing?), but that these prominent figures are bringing their “weavings” with them, contrary to Bohemian Grove’s long-observed motto. This bacchanal is only a small part of the two-week campout, as introductions, agreements, deals and partnerships are integral to this men’s club.
The club and its grove has been the cause of much protest, although, as you can imagine, this fails to achieve much public attention or support. Why shouldn’t these neatly ironed suits have a moment to unbutton? And yet, the disconcerting point remains that they are weaving together handshakes and words that eventually become highly influential outcomes for the masses. After all, secret discussions for the Manhattan Project were held, in part, at the Bohemian Grove.
How to become a member is, to me, unclear. Women are forbidden altogether, which I am sure has attracted a fair amount of protest. The club was actually taken to the California Supreme Court, and they are now required to hire women. This changes little other than the fact that the alcohol-fueled testosterone is now further stoked by the women who work on the event’s staff.
Though the club itself is relatively transparent (or at least has some level of manageability by external forces), the event is still relatively unfamiliar to the public eye. The several infiltrators mainly report the ceremonial aspects or note all the high spirits (both in liquid volumes and emotionally). However, inside hierarchy among the Grovers themselves– Club members are divided into named groups (George Bush is apparently a member of the “Hillbilly” camp)– seems to suggest that these infiltrators could not possibly see or hear the true workings of the higher-ups.
So something is apparently going on in those woods. Not witches, no voodoo, not even debauched teenagers, but just neckties loosening, hands shaking, cigars smoking, and the system following suit with their subsequent hangovers.
No need to worry; carry on.