Secret Societies – Obscure Organizations With a Special Purpose
Throughout history, people with similar ideas and interests have come together for specific purposes. However, sometimes their aims must be kept hidden from others. Thus, the group becomes a “secret society.” Secret societies have existed for thousands of years, and many are still around today. They are usually fraternal organizations. This means their members adopt artificial family ties upon initiation. It does not imply all secret societies are exclusive to males. In fact, there are several notable organizations which initiate female members, and even a few all-female societies.
Secret societies have often been treated with suspicion. This dates as far back as the ancient Greeks, who referred to these groups as those that met sub rosa or “under the rose.” To the Greeks, the rose was a symbol of silence, and meetings held beneath a hung rose were sworn to secrecy. Since then, such societies have been founded in virtually every culture. Many secret societies revolved around religious or military orders. Most notable, perhaps, are the societies of knights from medieval Europe. Among these, the Templars have developed a particularly important historical reputation that includes several accounts relating the knights to conspiracy theories. Although knights were not secretive about their affiliations, the procedures, practices, and beliefs of these orders were generally kept under cover and maintained a level of mystery.
The ultimate goal of most secret societies is to protect some sort of special, or even sacred, knowledge. Thus, membership into a secret society is generally restricted and requires a special initiation. In some cases, members cannot even admit their association with a secret society. In addition to initiation rites, secret societies often participate in other special rituals. Many practices are reported to be painful and dangerous to members. However, these claims are likely exaggerated to some extent.
Some secret societies have developed a well-known reputation. For example, the Skull and Bones society at Yale University has had many prominent members, including several U.S. presidents. Perhaps the most famous secret society in America is the Free Masons. Many of the founders of the United States, including George Washington and James Monroe, were members of this society. Additionally, at least fifteen American presidents were a part of the Free Masons. The Free Masons are said to have permeated every level of American society. There are even supposed Free Mason symbols on U.S. currency; specifically, the pyramid and the all-seeing eye.
Since, some secret societies have exercised significant power both financially and politically. Thus, they may be perceived as a threat by an established government. For example, most secret societies are banned in Poland. Additionally, some groups have been proven a danger to society. In the United States, the Ku Klux Klan is notorious for being a secret society whose public acts of prejudice and violence made them little more than a band of racist criminals. However, the power they exercised prevented many members from ever receiving legal prosecution.
Secret societies continue to impact our world politically, financially, and religiously. They are the target of numerous theories on conspiracies and paranormal events. Thus, they frequently appear in both fiction and non-fiction media. In fact, several societies have claimed fame through references in popular culture. However, there are still those societies whose actions are not far-reaching and whose members simply seek social interaction. Either way, it seems secret societies are an inherent part of human society destined to continue their existence.