Secret societies are the source of intrigue and mystery, and are often blamed for troublesome events and conspiracies. When one thinks of secret societies, the usual imagery consists of hooded robes, basically Satanic or unintelligible symbols and odd rituals with sacrifices and offerings. Alternatively, some might visualize some old, rich white men meeting in secluded mansions and businesses. Movies like The Da Vinci Code, National Treasure and Angels and Demons probably reinforce these images.
These groups seem to be a strange mix of ritual, money and deception. The stuff of conspiracy books and documentaries, which seem to be everywhere on the internet and TV. Are there really clusters of either wealthy or plain, strange people making plans and pulling strings behind world-changing events? Do they want world destruction, complete economic control or maybe just a secure place to practice their beliefs? It’s rather hard to prove, as they are secret after all. Whether it be ancient codes, handshakes or even symbols and jewelry, there are many ways a society can try and maintain its secrecy and the identity of its members. Some of these societies claim to have a much older background, and the older they are, the more secret history there is to know.
But how truly secret are these secret societies?
15 Opus Dei
Ever watched The Da Vinci Code? Many people had not even heard of Opus Dei before the movie was released, and discussion of the secret society was at an all-time high due to the film. Opus Dei, which is Latin for ‘Work of God’ is the more popular name for The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei. Though it is a fairly public society, accusations and conspiracies are ripe regarding the Opus Dei as a dangerous cult that works as a shadow arm of the Vatican, committing crimes on its behalf with fanatic members who engage in self-mutilation as a form of penance. Others argue that the Opus Dei works against the Catholic Church, infiltrating it from the inside.
14 Priory of Sion
Another favorite from The Da Vinci Code, the movie portrays the Priory of Sion as a group that protects the heir of Jesus, with one of their main branches being the Knights Templar, who were supposedly the main protectors, dating back to 1099. This aligns with many theories about the group, while others involve the Priory simply being a hoax by Frenchman Pierre Plantard in order to create controversy about Christian principles such as the bloodline of Jesus Christ, boasting members such as Isaac Newton and Leonardo Da Vinci.
13 Thuggee of India
Apparently based in South India, this secretive group of thieves and assassins were last documented in the early 1800s. What was interesting was the way they would leave their signature when committing crimes, which was the creative usage of a kerchief as a noose to strangle and kill victims before emptying them of their valuables. Unlike a lot of secret societies, the Thuggee almost exclusively initiated from the criminal underclass, rather than among the rich and prosperous.
12 United Ancient Order of Druids
Talk about loving the Earth. Founded in 1781, this fraternal society has its roots in pagan religions, with its main members being called druids, based on enchanted figures of nature from Celtic mythology. Similarly to Freemasons, they have masters and lodges and were primarily made up of artisans, carpenters and merchants in London, England. There are no strange, neo-magic rituals to find here, as the Ancient Order claims to be non-religious and apparently believe in the values of friendship and benevolence.
11 Improved Order of Red Men
Fancy playing dress up? This secret society happens to be another fraternity of mostly Americans whose mode of dress is based on Native American regalia and accessories. Their titles and stages also have Native American names like Sachem, Tribes and Great Chiefs. Originally a bigger group called the Sons of Liberty, they were involved in the Boston Tea Party in 1773, protesting the English tea tax by dumping tea shipments into the sea in a planned attack. The Improved Order of Red Men emerged from some former Sons of Liberty members who went their separate ways and is still active today, claiming to be America’s oldest fraternal organization.
10 Ordo Templi Orientis
One of the most famous members of this secretive group is the madman Aleister Crowley. Frequently labelled as a cult, the Ordo Templi Orientis is also related to the Gnostic Christian Church, which happens to be one of their branches and practices the Law of Thelema. The Law of Thelema in its essence is the belief that ‘one should do as they will’ or ‘do what thou wilt’. It is basically the right to live life the way someone prefers to, whether it be eating, drinking, dressing or whatever other activity and not to interfere with others who are doing the same. But of course, there is a lot more symbolism and theology to that.
The Rosicrucians were a society with an emphasis on philosophy, specifically ancient doctrines and was founded by Christian Rozenkreuz from German medieval times. This group believes in the secrets and sacred knowledge of humanity from ancient religions and cultures, with plenty of ancient Egyptian references such as the god of wisdom Thoth. Rosicrucians made waves through Europe in the 17th century by being known as a brotherhood of sages, hermits and alchemists who mixed science and mysticism together, which was basically the ultimate taboo against the Church. Though the original society is believed to have faded into anonymity, there are still smaller groups who still believe and practice Rosicrucian traditions.
8 Hashashin or Assassins
If you have ever heard of the popular game franchise Assassins Creed, or even played it, chances are you already know plenty about this mysterious order of assassins, originally called Nizari Ismailis. Like many other sects, the Assassins’ origins were in the Crusades era, an Islamic sect of fighters that clashed against invading Christian forces. Many of its original records have unfortunately been destroyed by Mongols during the 13th century, following the defeat of their main headquarters Alamut. Though it is known the Order of Assassins were stealthy fighters, whose methods of attack were through assassinations of prominent adversaries in the form of assignments, causing great fear and intimidation to their enemies.
7 Council of Nine
Satanist church, control freak businessmen or old Greek cult? The Council of Nine is a term for many different groups, but one prominent theory is that The Council of Nine is a New Age cult, whose name could be a play on the Ennead, a council of the nine most powerful, major ancient Egyptian gods. Some assert that the Council of Nine are a group of wealthy and influential individuals plotting world domination (especially if you are really into the Marvel universe), while some allege that the group consists of otherworldly beings (out of time and space) disguised as normal individuals that consider themselves to be destined to rule the Earth. Whew.
6 Dragon Court
Okay, this is not about Arthur or the Round Table. This exclusive and powerful fraternity emerged from the Holy Roman Empire in its final days during the 12th century, as an attempt to unify different leaders, both royal and aristocratic, to try and restore power. One of its acclaimed founders is Vlad the Impaler, the man behind the great Dracula story, who was supposedly in league with the Holy Roman Emperor. The Dragon Court’s aim was not only to locate Jesus’ bloodline like the Priory of Sion and the Templars but to gain supernatural powers through practices like alchemy, vampirism and mysticism. Seems like Dracula had a lot more up his sleeve.
5 1001 Club
Surely every group has an aim, we just don’t know about this one. The 1001 Club, was formed by biologist Sir James Huxley along with other royal figures like Prince Phillip of England and Prince Bernhard of Netherlands. Other than the group comprising of highly influential individuals having infrequent meetings, which are barely even mentioned in newspapers and magazines, there is little to no information on the 1001 Club. Now that is truly secretive.
4 Thule Society
With the educational trend focusing on World War Two and Nazism rising to new heights within the recent decades, it is surprising that not many know about the Nazis’ own secret society- the Thule Society. Grounded in occult beliefs, it is the main perpetrator in the study of the legendary Aryan race, the key aspect of Hitler’s argument for ethnic cleansing. The group speculated that the Aryan Race was a long-gone ancient civilization of people with light hair and eyes based in Northern Europe with a capital called Hyperborea. Though technically a study group, the Thule Society was notorious for its Nazi sympathizer memberships; members like Rudolf Hess, Hans Frank and most likely Hitler himself. Unsurprising.
3 Skull and Bones
Just go to Yale University. The Skull and Bones is a secret society that still clearly exists within Yale University, founded in 1832 specifically for students. The rituals and secrets of the society constantly spark intrigue, with its most inner sanctum being labelled The Tomb; a mysterious windowless, gothic building. But its power transcends Yale campus, as many Skull and Bones members, called Bonesmen, are now influential political figures. Some of these names include George Bush (and his father before him), John Kerry, Austan Goolsbee and many others.
2 The Bilderberg Group
Only the political elite are welcome. A highly exclusive secret society, the Bilderberg group only has approximately 120-150 members, whom attend its annual, private conference. Now on its 62nd year, the Bilderberg only invites the wealthiest- like bankers, politicians and CEOs. What they discuss at the conference is a mystery. World domination? Alien hierarchy? Wealth consolidation to keep the poor, poor? Who knows? These are just some of the theories floating around.
1 Knights of the Golden Circle
If this society was so active and successful today, we’d still have slaves. The Knights of the Golden Circle was a secret society stemming from 19th century Northern America with the aim of establishing slave states across the American continent and beyond. Ideally, the Knights wanted areas such as Cuba, South America and much of the Carribbean, with mainly coloured and/or black populations, to be exclusively slave states. It is rumoured that the secret society shrunk immensely and began to operate underground after the Civil War.