Secret societies. They're the intriguing subjects of countless movies and books, and have stirred up apparently endless interest among us outsiders who are fascinated in what goes on behind these very closed doors. Conspiracies generally hold that most of these societies are up to no good. The groups themselves continue to remain tight lipped about their activities, fueling the ravenous rumor mill. These days, most of us are baffled as to what's true and what's entirely a figment of conspiracy theorists' imaginations and Hollywood fictionalisations.
Since our knowledge of these “secret” societies tends to come from movies, television shows, and books, there isn't much entirely reliable and verifiable information to go on when trying to prove not only the function of these groups and their activities, but their existence. Indeed, the claims around these societies and the rumours about their member lists can be so surprising and even alarming that it can all seem too much to be true.
Just how real are the infamous societies we've all heard of? In general, the pop culture references we all have for these societies are miles from the reality. Here, we're aiming to blast through some of the rumours and find the seeds of truth that have sprouted the reputations of world's most mysterious secret societies. So, the next time someone brings up “The DaVinci Code” in conversation, you can step in and show off your extra knowledge of the truth behind the novel's outlandish claims.
10 Opus Dei
If you've read or seen “The DaVinci Code”, then you're probably familiar with the Opus Dei organization, a secret society dedicated to protecting the secrets of the Catholic Church and the supposed bloodline of Jesus Christ. In real life, Opus Dei was an organization founded in 1928 with blessings from the Pope. It is, in fact, dedicated to the belief that everyone is called to holiness, which includes celibacy. The group has come under fire in the past for being overly strict in their principles, but no particularly sinister behaviour or motive has been confirmed. The Catholic Church forbids the formation of secret societies as well as membership of such groups.
9 The Bilderberg Group
The Bilderberg Group is a rather interesting case. Nobody denies their existence and they'll even let the public know the topics of their meetings - but you're not invited to attend. The Bilderberg meetings started in 1954 at the Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands and have continued ever since. The invitation list is exclusive, comprising some of the most powerful people in the world - from the IMF's top officials to presidents to EU leaders. Guests are protected by high ranking security. What's said in the meetings or who said what will never be revealed. Of course, this often leads to speculation and wild conspiracy theories.
The reality is less exciting: The Group meets to informally discuss 'megatrends and major issues facing the world', and guests are free to share the information they learn at the conference as long as sources remain anonymous.
The Rosicrucians group is believed to have been founded around the 1600s by a group of German protestants who wanted to change the face of Europe as well as the political agenda of its leaders. As a group organized by Protestants, the Rosicrucians would have been perceived as very dangerous at the time - the pervasive and powerful religion in Europe at the time was, of course, Catholicism. At the time, the 'secret' aspect of the society was likely a protection against prosecution from the Catholic church, rather than an indication of any sinister goings on. The Rosicrucians still exist today with several groups around the world, each claiming to be closely tied to the original group. Nowadays, it's largely an informal title adopted by various groups of religious and philosophical people - there isn't much mysterious about that.
7 Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
Also known as the “Golden Dawn”, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was an organization founded in the late 19th century that was dedicated to the study of the occult, the paranormal, and metaphysics. The organization regarded itself as a magical order, and had famous members such as Bram Stoker, who is known for writing “Dracula”. Today, groups bearing the same still exist - although none are directly linked to the original lineage. Members still have to pass a number of initiations to move through 'outer order' steps before being accepted into the secret inner order, but it's no longer a particularly exclusive group. According to the Llewellyn Encyclopedia, today 'more people than ever have access to Golden Dawn teachings. Numerous individuals now actively refer to themselves as practicing Golden Dawn magicians.'
6 The Knights of the Golden Circle
This organization was truly a secret society in its time, and it's speculated that the group may still exist. The Knights of the Golden Circle was a pro-slavery organization founded in the mid-nineteenth century and was very active before and during the Civil War. The group originally wanted to annex a “golden circle” of territories in Mexico, which would have then been divided into 25 slave states. If it was speculated that you may have been a member of the group, you were imprisoned. After the Civil War ended, a few historians believe the group moved underground. Speculation abounded that the group planned to fund a second civil war and were continuing as a fringe, secret society. The truth? No activities of the K.G.C. have ever come to light and most reliable sources say the group ceased to be in 1916.
5 Ordo Templi Orientis
The Ordo Templi Orientis or the O.T.O. is an international fraternal religious organization. The group is modeled after the Freemasonry structure, and one of the most well known members was British author and occultist Aleister Crowley, who was also a leader of the organization. When it comes to “stereotypical” secret societies, people may think of the cloaks, daggers, and what not. In fact, that image came from the OTO, as they base their membership on initiatory practices with the goal of creating close bonds and brotherhood. The group is centred around a degree of occultism, and it's ongoing today with a few factions battling to establish legitimate lineage with the original group (believed to have been founded in the late 19th century in Germany).
4 Order of the Dragon
The Order of the Dragon was a society of knights and military members who were of noble blood, dedicated to defending Christianity and destroying anyone who went against the Cross. It was founded by Sigismund in 1408, who was the king of Hungary and later became the emperor of Europe. One of the groups most famous members was Vlad II Dracul, who was the father of Vlad the Impaler (better known to us as the figure who inspired “Dracula”).
Freemasonry features at the center of many conspiracy theories. The concept of Freemasons was created when four small groups of stonemasons came together to create the Grand Masonic Lodge. When it comes to secret societies, Freemasons perfected the concept of having secret passwords (actually created as a way for traveling masons to find jobs), as well as secret handshakes. It is said that masons stick together and help each other out, no matter where they are around the world, meaning that high-ranking members have a ready-made base of powerful contacts the world over.
2 Skull and Bones
The Order of the Skull and Bones isn't quite as bad ass as many would tend to believe. In fact, it's a student society at Yale University, and was originally known as the Brotherhood of Death. One thing that's undeniable is that the group has very powerful alumni: Both of the Bush presidents were members and other members have moved on to fame, fortune, and powerful political status. The group meets every Thursday and Sunday at a building that they call “The Tomb”, and it is believed that the group aims to mould future leaders of politics and members of the CIA (which they have vehemently denied). The group was founded in 1832, and only an elite few gain membership.
1 The Illuminati
The Illuminati continues to be the centerpoint of mystery and controversy. Yet, evidence suggests that there isn't even a functioning Illuminati in the world at present. The Bavarian Illuminati was founded on May 1st, 1776 by Adam Weishaupt. The group’s goal was to oppose the abuse of state power, keep religious influence away from politics and further women’s rights. The present-day 'Illuminati' springing from the minds of conspiracy theorists is said to be a group that has influence or control over powerful systems like banks and governments. High profile celebs are typically associated with the group, but there is - as yet - literally no concrete evidence that the society is functioning today. Either they're very good at remaining secret, or the Illuminati is a fantastical concept with no current basis in reality.