The ‘cloak and daggers’ nature of secret societies make them an endlessly intriguing – but persistently elusive – topic in the media. These Secret societies are usually clubs or organizations whose inner workings are highly classified, accessibly only to the elite members who generally have to go through considerable hazing. Of course, depending on the nature of the society and the tact of its members, they conceal their secrets with varying degrees of success. Secret societies are usually marked by the desire to conceal the group from the general public, a lack of clarity on membership figures and finances, involvement in the exchange of off-the-record information and clandestine rituals between members which reinforce a kinship and solidarity. Historically and anthropologically, secret societies were generally brotherhoods, encouraging traditional ‘male bonding’ and networking.
The covert nature of secret societies has inspired several novels and movies depicting the societies as ominous, even sinister – ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and ‘Skulls’ are two memorable examples. Many of these societies are generally believed to be formed with a certain religious or political agenda, and this combine with the inherent mystery of such groups has meant they’ve been the subject of innumerable conspiracy theories. In reality , of course, these groups may well be a lot more innocuous but reliable information that’s filtered through on some of the known groups seems to indicate that in some cases the truth is stranger than fiction.
Over the centuries, secret societies have appeared and disappeared – but some have managed to stay, thanks to the many legends associated with them. We have a list of the top five oldest and most high-profile conspiracy-laden secret societies throughout history.
5. Rosicrucian Order – 1607
The brainchild of a group of German Protestants, the Rosicrucian (Rose-Cross) Order is believed to have emerged in the early 1600s after the publication of at least two critical documents, namely Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis – or ‘The Fame of the Brotherhood of RC’ – and Confessio Fraternitatis, or the Confession of the Brotherhood. The first document narrates the life of a mysterious alchemist who travelled to different parts of the world gathering secret knowledge. The second document tells of a secret brotherhood of alchemists prepared to change the political and religious face of Europe. When pamphlets began to circulate around Europe in the 17th century, there was a distinct buzz about this group of alchemists who would transform the artistic and scientific and cultural landscape of the time.
While shrouded in mystery to this day, allusions to the brotherhood in literature from the time imply the movement was based on the search for knowledge through experimentation, but it’s unclear whether the group intended to partake in literal alchemical experimentation or more of a epistemological alchemy. It’s said that Rosicrucianism contributed to the emergence of Freemasonry in later years and today, there are several Rosicrucian groups that claim to be direct descendants of the original order.
Famous Members: Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Walt DisneyNext: 4. Freemasons – 1717