The powers of the world are often hidden in the form of secret societies. Throughout history, secret and elusive societies have existed all across the world. In every country, corruption and illicit activities have been conducted in secret societies that only a handful of select people were allowed to join. Some of the secret societies still exist today and play a role in governments and control worldwide. In fact, many people believe that the true power and control of the world lies in the hands of these secret societies. The only difficulty about finding out if this is the truth- the societies take the word ‘secret’ quite seriously.
However, over the years some information has been revealed about the most notorious and elusive of secret societies. From the Freemasons to the Illuminati, bits, and pieces of these secret societies’ goals, actions, and organization have been revealed. Some secret societies are open about their existence, while some try to deny that it even exists in the first place. But, the thing that they all have in common is intense secrecy and usually a very specific group of members.
Often, members of secret societies have strong bonds between one another and may even perform rituals or secret rites of passage to strengthen their sense of community even further. What many people don’t know is that secret societies have a rich and intriguing history, dating all the way back to pre-modern cultures. Keep reading to find out about the most notorious secret societies of the world and their history.
10The Original Secret Society Was Called Männerbund
The history of secret societies can be dated all the way back to political and cultural theories that existed in ancient times. Many people believe that the concept of secret societies is based entirely on the ancient concept called the Männerbund. Männerbund is a German word that literally translates to mean “band of men” or “band of warriors.” This concept of having an elite group of men, or an elite group of warriors, was prevalent in many pre-modern cultures. This developed into what we now know as secret societies. Many modern secret societies have similarly limited their members to men, and usually only men of the most elite status and strength.
In ancient times, groups of elite warriors lived all together, separated from regular society in a secretive manner. Many anthropologists and historians have studied this phenomenon and deduced that the tendency to develop elite and secretive groups has been in human culture for hundreds of years. However, nowadays, most secret societies are not focused on warfare or warriors, but rather on science, teachings, or even education.
The term Männerbund was officially introduced in Germany in 1902, and it was originally a German school of thought about how society as a whole should be structured. Evidently, it placed a lot of emphasis on the strength of men and the positives of a masculine society. Throughout the years, the term has taken on different meanings and been attached to a wide array of political and even rebellious movements in Germany and across the world.
9The Illuminati Isn’t Just a Fictitious Group
When you think about secret societies, it’s likely that the first word to come to mind is The Illuminati. The Illuminati is a name that has become synonymous with secrecy, conspiracies, and secret societies in general. It’s hard to tell whether to believe the rumors about The Illuminati. Many conspiracy theorists use The Illuminati to denote a huge, secret group of powers that control the world in the shadows. However, the truth is that The Illuminati was a real secret society that existed in the past. Although it has been linked to other, more modern secret societies and used as a name for plenty of other organizations- the original Illuminati is actually long gone.
In 1776, The Illuminati was established in the Bavarian region of Germany. This was during the Enlightenment era of Europe when the church had much of the power over the state and there was little to no separation between church and state. The goal of the Illuminati was to challenge this power and provide some pushback against the religious influence that had a stronghold over most people.
The Illuminati even noted that they wanted to challenge and control this kind of injustice but to do it without dominating the church or other purveyors. Many politicians and scientists were associated with The Illuminati, and the group was strongly challenged by the Catholic Church. The group was outlawed due to religious backlash, but it continued to function in a more underground manner. Many people even believe that The Illuminati could still be at work today.
8The Oldest Secret Society in The World
Freemasonry is considered to be one of the oldest secret societies in the world. Not to mention, it is a group that is still alive and well today, active in many different countries across the world. However, freemasonry or simply masonry originated in the beginning of the 14th century. Historians and anthropologists today often deem the Freemasons to be the most powerful and ancient of all the secret societies in existence. Originally, the Freemasons consisted of stonemason fraternities that regulated the craft. This quickly developed into something completely different, with a more cult-like appearance to outsiders.
Nowadays, Freemasons have three levels called guilds. These guilds are, respectively, Apprentice, Journeyman or Fellowcraft, and finally Master Mason. Moving from level to level involves being taught the craft of masonry. It is said that the initiation includes lectures as well as a morality play. There are different symbols of Freemasonry that are taught to the Freemasons at each level of their guild.
Although Freemasonry is still an active form of secret society today, it isn’t one massive group of people. There is no international or overseeing body of Freemasons. Each region has its own Grand Lodge that oversees the Freemason studies and activities within their jurisdiction. A Grand Lodge is sometimes called a Grand Orient, and this is the local governing body that Freemasons recognize. Many of the Grand Lodges, although not held together by any higher power, have the same basic principles and policies. Each Grand Lodge is headed up by a person called the Grand Master.
7The UK’s Ancient Order of Druids
Another secret society that is still in operation today, the Ancient Order of Druids is a fraternity that was founded in London, England. Similar to most secret societies, especially those founded in ancient times, this secret society was only open to elite men. The Ancient Order of Druids was established in 1781 and was the first group to use the iconic druid symbol. Druids were depicted as priest-like figures and ended up being a significant part of paganism. The Ancient Order of Druids had a lot of influence on pagan religions in the coming years, but it did not purport any specifically religious views. In fact, the group itself clearly stated that it was not a religious nor a political organization.
The main principles attributed to this group are benevolence, friendliness, and justice. In ancient Celtic religions, druids were magicians and priests who were highly respected in their societies. Druids are even linked to political authority, medicine, and legal authority- they were professionals and beloved by their people. The Ancient Order of Druids aimed to emulate this good reputation and usefulness with the iconography of the druid.
Throughout the years, the Ancient Order of the Druids spread across England, the UK, and many other countries of the world. Today, the group is still alive and well even in places like California and Australia. Each member of the Ancient Order of Druids is required to take a vow of secrecy and accept the group’s motto of “Justice, Philanthropy, and Brotherly Love.”
6Ireland’s Ribbonmen Secret Society
The secret society referred to as the Ribbonmen is related to a movement in Ireland called Ribbonism or Ribandism. The movement originated in 19th-century Ireland when landlords were wreaking havoc on the poor, rural Irish. Ribbonism and the Ribbon Society were developed to rebel against the terrible conditions that poor Irish people were being forced to live it because of the Orange Order, a Protestant ideology. The goal of this secret society was to help people who were being evicted by their landlords or dealing with sudden and devastating changes in the terms of their leases.
Members wore green ribbons, and it’s because of this common symbol that they became known as the Ribbonmen across the country. Many groups of Ribbonmen began to organize themselves by lodges and begin working together with other secret societies, some even in England. The Ribbonmen were widely accepted, and their ideology matched with some of the goals of the Catholic Church at the time. The group called for the separation of Ireland from Great Britain and even participated in some violent riots and violent protests to get their points across.
In general, the Ribbon Society was highly active during the years of 1835 to 1855 and are not active anymore. The clash of the Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as the Ribbonmen and the Orange Order, became what historians now call the Tithe War. This was a violent and deadly time in Ireland. Retaliations between the two groups ended with many deaths and violence, especially in the northern region of Ireland.
5Japan’s Black Dragon Society
Secret societies were also extremely prevalent in the Eastern World, with Japan and China noting a number of large secret societies that had an impact on the culture. One such secret society was called the Black Dragon Society, existing in Japan in 1901. The group was founded as a paramilitary and extremely right-wing group. The Black Dragon Society was founded by a significant martial artist and grew so large that it spread to other countries like the United States, Ethiopia, Turkey, and Morocco, among others. At the beginning, the group’s goal was to help avoid east Asia being taken over by the Russian Empire. Although it was highly associated with criminal activity during its advent, the Black Dragon Society made a conscious effort to distance itself from that reputation.
Many high-ranking military officials joined the ranks of the Black Dragon Society, and the group became a recruiter of spies to help gather intelligence about Korean, Russian, and Chinese activities overseas. Over time, the group continued to used criminal activities since they were some of the only ways to work towards their goals.
Later in history, the Black Dragon Society became a symbol of resistance for African-Americans in the United States. It had a significant influence on black nationalism, and Japanese agents of the Black Dragon Society even supported this influence. In 1946, the group was officially disbanded. The Black Dragon Society was banned by American Occupation authorities, but it was later reconstituted as the far less successful Black Dragon Club.
4China’s Red Lanterns
Another popular Asian secret society was China’s group called the Red Lanterns. The Red Lanterns is one of the rare secret societies that not only included women but was actually solely made up of women. At this time in Chinese history, women fighters were not permitted to join the male groups of boxers. When the Boxer Uprising began and women were still not allowed to join the ranks of fighters, the Red Lanterns secret society was formed.
The Boxer Uprising was an uprising of the Qing dynasty that found against Christian, foreign, and imperialist ideologies that were entering China at the time. The Red Lanterns was founded in 1900 and actually became a popular and mystical group of women boxers. Rumors about the women claimed that they had powers and were able to do things that the men weren’t able to. Other groups called the Blue Lanterns and the Black Lanterns were also developed, for young women and elderly women respectively.
The women even all dressed in a similar manner differently than was the standard for women at the time. They did not bind their feet or put their hair back, and each of them carried the signature red lantern. The women became something of a legend in China, with some people even believing that they were able to leap up to heaven with one wave of their fans. The group was considered a patriotic uprising of fighters, and their goal was to protect fighters and fight back against foreign invaders to the country.
3China’s Society of the Heaven and the Earth
The Society of the Heaven and the Earth originated in China in 1762, also named the Tiandihui or the Hongmen. It is considered a secret society as well as a form of the religious sect that was only open to elite men in Chinese societies. Because of its age, the group also branched off and developed in many other countries under several different names. The group still exists today but its name is often synonymous with organized crime. In Hong Kong, the Tiandihui is actually still illegal. This is rooted in the fact that any form of rebellion or secret society was viewed as a threat when Hong Kong was ruled by the British.
Later in the 19th century, the Society of the Heaven and the Earth even spread significantly across the world and to other continents. The most notable groups outside of China were found in Canada, Australia, and the United States. Today, most of the members of the Society of the Heaven and the Earth are of Chinese descent, and there are 300,000 of them across the globe. Most members are simply from the working class, although there is a significant portion that is a part of Taiwan’s armed forces.
The main ideology of the Society of the Heaven and the Earth is a reverence for historic figure Guan Yu and a significant sense of patriotism. The concept of brotherhood and righteousness is very important to this group. The society has many traditions including a secret handshake that all the members are aware of.
2The Independent Order of Odd Fellows
One of the most interestingly named secret societies, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows originated in the United States in 1819. The group was founded by Thomas Wildey and is considered to be non-political or religious in nature. The original Order of Odd Fellows was actually established in 1700s England, but the American group evolved completely separately. Just like many other secret societies, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows accepted only men into its ranks and was governed by lodges in many different regions.
In 1851, however, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows became the first American fraternity to begin to accept women. Overall, the IOOF was influenced and inspired by Judaism and Christian sources, specifically ethics and charity-related views. There are currently still plenty of IOOF lodges around the United States and around the world. This group may even be the largest secret society operated under one large governing body.
The current objectives of the group are quite similar to their objectives in the past, with an emphasis on social development within and outside of the organization. They aim to lift everyone up to a nobler existence and offer sympathy and help to whoever may need it. Similarly to Freemasonry, the IOOF has degrees of membership which are taught with symbols, lectures, and ceremonies. They place an emphasis on starting a new life and leaving the old one behind, highly encouraging wayward people or travelers to join them. Their stated goals include positive statements like making the world a better place to live.
Fraternitas Saturni is one of the best known and most culturally influential secret societies of all time. Translated from Latin to English, the name means Brotherhood of Saturn and was originally founded in Germany. The group came into existence in 1926, thanks to Eugen Grosche and several other related founders. The group is both a magical group and a secret society, one of the longest continually running of its kind in Germany. The Fraternitas Saturni also operates using degrees, a total of 33 named degrees intended to enhance its members and uplift humankind.
The Brotherhood of Saturn aims to study magic and mysticism as a method of spiritually advancing individuals and societies. The group was founded in Berlin but later outlawed by the Nazi regime in 1936. This secret society had one of the most unique points of view when it came to magic and occultism in Germany. Because of this totally different point of view, most historians consider it to be the most influential of the country’s magic societies. During the reign of the Nazis, most members of Fraternitas Saturni fled the country, but its founder was captured and imprisoned by the government.
However, after the end of World War II, the brotherhood was reunited and continued to develop lodges in many major German cities. They each answered to the original lodge, called the Great Lodge, located in Berlin. Throughout these years, the group had very few members and even underwent some internal conflicts. Today, the group is still active and overseen by the Grand Master Thot.
Secret societies have played an interesting role in the history of many countries across the world. In North America, many past leaders have even been linked to secret societies or involved in them. In the past, secret societies offered a place for intellectuals and scientists to gather and evaluate issues of the day. Nowadays, many secret societies have specific agendas or goals in mind.
The elite joins together in secret societies in order to hold meetings and even enact real power over the countries that they’re in. Throughout history, secret societies have left behind minimal trails of their existence. Usually, their secrets are only revealed through the word of mouth or accidentally stumbled-upon documents from the past. Much of what is known about them must be based on rumors or speculation, in the end.
Although it’s difficult to characterize exactly what private societies can be called secret societies, they are usually called secret if they abide by three specific traits. First of all, it must be an exclusive organization. Secondly, the group must make some sort of claim that they own special or previously undiscovered secrets. Lastly, the group usually shows favor to their members over other people or members of society.
Secret societies are often compared to cults and are likely very similar in the organization. Cults and secret societies have the same kind of exclusivity and claims that they alone have the answers that the world needs. However, usually, cults have a more religious or spiritual nature while secret societies may be more political and strictly scientific.