Genuine secret societies have existed for centuries, conducting their business in darkened back rooms and, more often than not, exerting a mysterious influence upon our culture. Through history there have been many secret societies and conspiracy theories about those societies.
From political organisations to college frats, these groups require their members to conceal their activities, and sometimes their identities, from the public. Go behind closed doors as we examine the 10 most Elite secret societies in history.
10. Ordo Templi Orientis
Ordo Templi Orientis is a mystic organization that was started in the early twentieth century. The group was established along the same lines as the less secretive Freemasons, and supposedly relies on ritual and occult practices as a means for members to move from one level of prestige to another within the organization. The general philosophy of the group was a belief in new age esoteric principles and practices as a method of realizing one’s true identity. Famed occultist and all-around eccentric Aleister Crowley composed much of the group’s lore, including a manifesto called the Mysteria Mystica Maxima, and he later became its head. After his death, the influence and popularity of Ordo Templi Orientis began to wane, but it still exists today and has various chapters scattered across the world, chiefly in the United States, the U.K., and other parts of Europe. As Aleister Crowley’s popularity as a new age figure has continued to grow, more and more of the teachings of the Ordo Templi Orientis have come to light. As such, the group makes much less of an attempt to be secretive today than it did in the past. This doesn’t mean that they don’t still have some bizarre practices. Chief among these is the group’s fixation on the sexual, especially their teachings on the “adoration of the phallus” and the magic of masturbation.
9. Bilderberg Group
No famous members, but attendees have included Ben Bernanke, the royal families of Spain and the Netherlands, World Bank officials, and representatives from major corporations The Bilderberg Group is not a secret society per se, but it does operate under a similar veil of mystery, which has made it the subject of countless conspiracy theories and criticisms. The group was started in 1954, and since then it has convened every year as an exclusive, invitation-only conference of various world leaders, captains of industry, and media moguls. The group was originally started as a means of addressing a streak of anti-Americanism that was spreading through Europe following WWII, but over the years it appears to have morphed into a more broad discussion on reaching mutual understanding between cultures. The Bilderberg Group has become controversial for one key reason: no press is allowed in the conference and no significant details concerning the topics discussed are ever officially released to the public. That kind of secrecy, along with the intense security of the meeting sites, which often feature armed guards, police, and even fighter jets patrolling the skies overhead, has produced a number of conspiracy theories centered on the conference. The most popular is that the group tries to steer the direction of public policy, financial markets, and media in certain prescribed directions of their choosing, perhaps even with the goal of forming a so-called “one world government.” These claims have been brushed aside by the group, which claims global understanding and the end of nuclear proliferation as its main goals.
8. The Knights Templar
The Knights Templar (full name: The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta) is a modern off-shoot of Masonry and does not have a direct tie to the original Knights Templar – a religious military group formed in the 12th century. Members of the Masonic Knights Templar do not claim a direct connection to the medieval group, but merely a borrowing of ideas and symbols. In order to become a member of this group, you must already be a Christian Master Mason. This organization is a distinct one, and is not just a higher degree of Masonry. Despite Freemasonry’s general disclaimer that no one Masonic organization claims a direct heritage to the medieval Knights Templar, certain degrees and orders are obviously patterned after the medieval Order. These are best described as “commemorative orders” or degrees. Nevertheless, in spite of the fraternity’s official disclaimers, some Masons, non-Masons, and even anti-Masons insist that certain Masonic rites or degrees originally had direct Templar influence.
7. The order of the Golden Dawn
The order of the Golden Dawn was created by Dr. William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott, and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. All three were Freemasons and members of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (an organization with ties to Masonry). It is considered by many to be a forerunner of the Ordo Templi Orientis and a majority of modern Occult groups. The belief system of the Golden Dawn is largely taken from Christian mysticism, Qabalah, Hermeticism, the religion of Ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, Alchemy, Theosophy, Magic, and Renaissance writings. William Yeats, and Aleister Crowly are two of the more famous members of the group. The fundamental documents of the order are known as the Cipher Documents. These were translated into English using a cipher attributed to Johannes Trithemius. The documents are a series of 60 folios containing magic rituals. The basic structure of many of these rituals appear to originate with Rosicrucianism. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the origins of these documents.
6. The Black Hand
The Black Hand was a secret society of anti-imperialist political revolutionaries that was started in Serbia in 1912. It formed as an offshoot from Narodna Adbrona, a group that sought to unite all of the Slavic people of Europe under one country. This required the separation of Serbia from the monarchy of Austria-Hungary, which had annexed the country some years before. With this in mind, the group began disseminating anti-Austrian propaganda and training saboteurs and assassins to disrupt political rule within the province. Their plan was to incite a war between Serbia and Austria, which would give them a chance to free their country and unite the different Slavic nations as one. Black Hand would be all but forgotten today if not for their unlikely involvement in one of the biggest events of the twentieth century. In 1914, the group engineered the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The job was badly botched, and was only completed when a low-level hood named Gavrilo Princip stumbled upon the Archduke’s car and shot him to death at close range (see photo). Still, the results of the assassination were catastrophic. Within days, Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia, and after the allies of both countries joined the fray, the small dispute managed to escalate into WWI. The aftermath of WWI eventually led to WWII, and this led to the Cold War, which makes the Black Hand one of the most strangely influential forces of the twentieth century.
5. The Hashshashin
The Hashshashin, or Nizari, were a mysterious band of Muslim assassins that operated in the Middle East during the 13th century. The group was made up of Shia Muslims who broke off from a bigger sect and banded together in order to establish a utopian Shi’ite state. Because their number was small, the group used guerilla tactics in their battle against their enemies, including espionage, sabotage, and, most famously, political assassination. The Hashshashin would plant highly trained moles inside enemy strongholds, with instructions to only attack when the time was right. They were known for their extreme discretion in minimizing civilian casualties, as well as their penchant for using stealth to intimidate their targets. As the story goes, enemy leaders would often wake in the morning to find a Hashshashin dagger lying on their pillow, along with a note saying “you are in our grip.” Their legend soon grew, and before the Mongols finally destroyed the group, they became well known contract killers, supposedly performing jobs for the likes of King Richard the Lionheart. Around the time of their downfall, the library that contained all Nizari records was destroyed, so much of what is known about them today has taken on the status of myth. The most controversial legend centers of the group’s use of drugs and other intoxicants– “Hashshashin” translates roughly as “Hashish user”–which some have said were employed by the members in battle. This has been widely discredited, but the term “Hashshashin” as it refers to the Nizari is believed to be the origin of the modern word “assassin.”
4. The Knights of the Golden Circle
The Knights of the Golden Circle was a secret society that flourished in the U.S. during the American Civil War. In the beginning, the group sought to encourage the annexation of Mexico and the West Indies, which they believed would help the waning slave trade to once again flourish. But once the Civil War started, the group switched its focus from colonialism to fervent support of the newly established Confederate government. The Knights soon had thousands of followers, many of whom formed guerilla armies and began raiding Union strongholds in the West. In the Northern states, the mysterious order had an even bigger impact. Many newspapers and public figures engaged in witch-hunts where they accused supposed Southern sympathizers, including President Franklin Pierce, of being members of the Knights of the Golden Circle. Unlike most secret societies, the Golden Circle didn’t just concern itself with clandestine meetings and mysterious plans. Instead, the group often formed renegade armies and bands of bushwhackers in order to forward their agenda by force. In 1860, a group of the Knights made a failed attempt to invade Mexico. During the war, they robbed stagecoaches and attempted a blockade of the harbor in San Francisco, and a group of them even managed to briefly take control of southern New Mexico.
3. The Order of the Skull and Bones
The Order of Skull and Bones, a Yale University society, was originally known as the Brotherhood of Death. It is one of the oldest student secret societies in the United States. It was founded in 1832 and membership is open to an elite few. The society uses masonic inspired rituals to this day. Members meet every Thursday and Sunday of each week in a building they call the “Tomb”. According to Judy Schiff, Chief Archivist at the Yale University Library, the names of the members were not kept secret until the 1970s, but the rituals always have been. Both of the Bush presidents were members of the society while studying at Yale, and a number of other members have gone on to great fame and fortune. The society is surrounded by conspiracy theories; the most popular of which is probably the idea that the CIA was built on members from the group. The CIA released a statement in 2007 (coinciding with the popularity of the film The Good Shepherd) in which it denied that the group was an incubator for the CIA. You can read that document here.
The Grand Masonic Lodge was created in 1717 when four small groups of lodges joined together. Membership levels were initially first and second degree, but in the 1750s this was expanded to create the third degree which caused a split in the group. When a person reaches the third degree, they are called a Master Mason. Masons conduct their regular meetings in a ritualized style. This includes many references to architectural symbols such as the compass and square. They refer to God as “The Great Architect of the Universe”. The three degrees of Masonry are: 1: Entered Apprentice, this makes you a basic member of the group. 2: Fellow Craft, this is an intermediate degree in which you are meant to develop further knowledge of Masonry. 3: Master Mason, this degree is necessary for participating in most masonic activities. Some rites (such as the Scottish rite) list up to 33 degrees of membership. Masons use signs and handshakes to gain admission to their meetings, as well as to identify themselves to other people who may be Masons. The signs and handshakes often differ from one jurisdiction to another and are often changed or updated. This protects the group from people finding out how to gain admission under false pretenses. Masons also wear stylized clothing based upon the clothing worn by stone masons from the middle ages. The most well known of these is the apron. In order to become a Mason, you must generally be recommended by a current mason. In some cases you must be recommended three times before you can join. You have to be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Many religions frown upon membership of the Masons, and the Roman Catholic Church forbids Catholics to join under pain of excommunication.
1. The Illuminati
A movement of freethinkers that were the most radical offshoot of The Enlightenment — whose followers were given the name Illuminati (but who called themselves “Perfectibilists”) — was founded on May 1, 1776 in Ingolstadt (Upper Bavaria), by Jesuit-taught Adam Weishaupt. This group is now known as the Bavarian Illuminati. While it was not legally allowed to operate, many influential intellectuals and progressive politicians counted themselves as members. Even though there were some known Freemasons in the membership, it was not considered to be endorsed by Masonry. The fact that the Illuminati did not require a belief in a supreme being made them particularly popular amongst atheists. This, and the fact that most members were humanists, is the reason for the widespread belief that the Illuminati wants to overthrow organized religion. Internal panic over the succession of a new leader, and government attempts to outlaw the group saw to it collapsing entirely in the late 1700s. Despite this, conspiracy theorists such as David Icke and Was Penre, have argued that the Bavarian Illuminati survived, possibly to this day, though very little reliable evidence can be found to support the idea that Weishaupt’s group survived into the 19th century. It has even been suggested that the Skull and Bones club is an American branch of the Illuminati. Many people believe that the Illuminati is still operating and managing the main actions of the governments of the world. It is believed that they wish to create a One World Government based on humanist and atheist principles.
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