|Some dare call it|
|What THEY don't want|
you to know!
A secret society is a society whose membership, proceedings, or teachings are secret: concealed from non-members or otherwise not open to the general public.
Secret societies typically accept new members only by initiation rituals, which frequently bind the initiate by various oaths not to reveal the secrets of the society to non-members. The initiations are sometimes multiplied, so that there are a variety of degrees or additional credentials that the members can achieve or progress through, These may take the form of an inner circle or group of adepts or the elect, sharing further secrets that are not communicated to other members. Secret handshakes, passwords, and other symbols are taught to the initiates, to enable them to be recognized by others without giving away the secret.
The secrecy aspect of the societies is overrated because the secrets are often known or at least similar to other known secret societies. This is especially true for the many organizations (Appendant Bodies and college fraternities) that are derivative of Freemasons, whose rites are well-documented.:33 College fraternities actually need have a large degree of non-secrecy because they compete with each other for new members.:33
Secret societies also frequently feature social networking, and membership in the society acts as a recommendation to members and may cause the members to be preferred over non-members in employment opportunities and appointed positions. Because of these features, secret societies often figure in conspiracy theories.
A variety of mystery religions existed in the ancient world, such as the mysteries of Demeter at Eleusis, of Mithras, and of Orpheus. Initiates underwent a number of secret rituals to join these cults, swearing terrible oaths to keep the proceedings secret and inviolate, and as a result the substance of their beliefs and the nature of their ritual has been almost entirely lost. The gap in knowledge generates a great deal of speculation. Early Christianity, with its initiatory ritual of baptism, resembled these ancient mystery religions in some ways; in which case it is the only widespread survivor.
Actual secret societies
Alleged secret societies
- Hodapp, Christopher; Von Kannon, Alice, Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies. (Wiley, 2008; ISBN 0-470-18408-6).
- Stevens, Alfred C., The cyclopedia of fraternities (Hamilton, 1899)
- The Company he Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities by Nicholas L. Syrett (2009) Chapel Hill University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807832537.
- King, M. L. Jr. The Influence of the Mystery Religions on Christianity (1949 - 1950), University of Stanford
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