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10 Secret Societies That Are More Than Just Conspiracy8

By Chris Littler

10 Secret Societies That Are More Than Just Conspiracy

Spanning back into antiquity, secret societies have been a part of civilization – usually wealthy men with above average intelligence and deep pockets wanting to convene without the burden of bearing social norms. Sometimes they sought to perform bizarre rituals. Sometimes they made lofty political plans with far-reaching, and oftentimes murderous, implications. Sometimes they just wanted to drink and smoke and get away from their wives. Regardless of what they were actually doing behind closed doors, these secret brotherhoods have always mesmerized us non-members. Why? Because people love a good secret.

It seems like the secret society has turned into entertainment fodder over the past thirty years. Any action movie worth its salt these days has a secret society that’s pulling the bad guy’s strings – a group of villains who will stop at nothing to prevent whatever it is the hero is trying to accomplish. Most often, the implications of their success means bad times for humanity, like in the series Hard Drive 13, where the Interplanetary Security Department seeks to silence anyone who finds out about the government’s involvement with UFOs

It’s easy to rally against a conglomerate of evil men, but real life isn’t so black and white. There are real secret societies out there that we know very little about. Some have been around for hundreds of years. What have they been up to since then? That’s still not quite clear.

Hard Drive 13 – Secrets, Episode 1

1. The Freemasons

Freemasonry is less a secret society and more a worldwide scattering of secret clubs operating under a single banner. Freemasons believe in, and operate solely with, a sense of moral righteousness and charity, but most importantly, they believe in enriching things with the ritualistic use of architectural symbolism that borrows heavily from the tools of a medieval operative stonemason. Confused? It’s just like a religion, but instead of the allegories being explained by a priest, the members of Freemasonry are meant to interpret these symbols in whatever way they wish. Freemasons operate out of lodges that can be found in nearly every city in the English-speaking world, and, true to their ancient roots, they refuse to let women inside.

2. Cosa Nostra

With all the tell-all biographies and dramatizations and Tony Sopranos, it’s hard to imagine the Mafia as a secret society – but a secret society it remains. The Cosa Nostra, translated as “our thing,” the original name of the Sicilian mafia, is a criminal brotherhood with its roots in mid-19th century Italy. Like the Freemasons, the Cosa Nostra has its own hierarchy and customs, and doesn’t operate under one figurehead. Instead, each cell operates its own racket independently, skimming a little off the surface of every profitable enterprise, and embezzling millions out of the main street crowd under the faulty promise of “protection.” Unlike the Freemasons, the Cosa Nostra has a nasty habit of going to war with itself.

3. The Illuminati

Founded in 1776, the Bavarian Perfectibilists, a group of freethinkers hoping to emulate the Freemasons, created a society dedicated to furthering social liberties. Though several prominent writers and politicians joined, skepticism about what the Perfectibilists were really hoping to achieve rose almost instantly. Many believed, and still do, that these “Illuminati” hoped one day to overthrow the governments of the European states. They were subsequently banned from meeting – though not before they caused the French Revolution (supposedly). Still, there are many groups in modern-day society that claim to be direct descendents of the Bavarians, and are suspected, as most secret societies are, of trying to destroy everything that is good and true in the world and replace it with a bureaucratic collectivist one-world government.

4. Skull and Bones

According to Time magazine, “Conspiracy theories about the Skull and Bones Society are almost as old as the society itself.” And for good reason. Yale University’s creepiest secret society has had a plethora of extremely powerful men pass through its doors: President George H.W. Bush, President George W. Bush, President William Howard Taft, “mother of the Central Intelligence Agency” Robert A. Lovett, the co-founders of Time Magazine, and a Supreme Court Justice or two. With that many well-connected men appearing in their facebook, people are bound to assume that the society is responsible for everything from the Kennedy assassination to the creation of the nuclear weapon. Odds are, the “Bonesmen,” as they lovingly call themselves, haven’t utilized their fraternity for nefarious purposes, but it’s much more fun to think they’re planning interplanetary war on campus, rather than just playing beer pong.

5. The Sons of Liberty

The Sons of Liberty might be the only secret society on this list whose name is literally true. Formed in the American colonies shortly after the French-Indian war, and comprised of notable revolutionaries such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere, the Sons of Liberty were the secret society that eventually blossomed into the not-so-secret society that demanded “no taxation without representation” from the British Crown – and we all know how that ended up. In fact, The Sons of Liberty were responsible for nearly every inciting incident you hear about in the annals of American history leading up to the Revolutionary War – the burning of the HMS Gaspee, the Battle of Golden Hill, and the Boston Tea Party. And no secret society would be complete without a turncoat or two, and the Sons of Liberty might claim ownership of the most famous: none other than Benedict Arnold.

6. The Knights of the Golden Circle

George W.L. Bickley, a Virginia-born “adventurer,” founded the Knights of the Golden Circle in 1854 with the hopes of providing a force strong enough to assist America in the annexation of the southern part of Mexico and the Caribbean. His intent was to use these new states as “slave states,” and extend pro-slavery interest as far south as the equator. This being the 1850’s, Bickley found tremendous support for this idea, especially in Texas, where he was able to found a whopping thirty-two chapters. The Knights were able to scrounge up enough soldiers to attempt an ill-fated invasion of Mexico from Texas, the failure marking the beginning of the end for the secret society. Hatred for the Knights was widespread in the North, with tensions mounting in the capital when Secretary of State William H. Seward suggested that former President Franklin Pierce was an active member.

7. The Black Hand

Unity or Death was the Black Hand’s motto. It was also their aim. The society, which was founded in 1911 Serbia, hoped to unite all South Slav populations annexed by Austria-Hungary, and its members were willing to do whatever it took to get it done. The Serbians hated the Austrians so much that they conspired and carried out a plan to murder their own King. The bloodshed didn’t end there, sadly. In 1914, their leader, Dragutin Dimitrijevic, handcrafted the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent of Austria – setting in motion a chain of events that led to the dawn of the first World War. It’s a chilling reminder that it only takes a small group of committed individuals to change the world.

8. The Thule Society

Conspiracies revolving around Hitler’s obsession with the occult can be traced back to his relationship with the Munich-based Thule Society, a group of Germans interested in studying the narrow world of Germanic Antiquity. They believed in a lost landmass near Greenland (or Iceland; they could never decide) that was once the home of the Aryan race. The idea of an ancient Aryan homeland intrigued the embittered and war-battered members of the society, but not as much as it did a young Adolf Hitler. Seen as a redeemer of the German people, the Thules backed his Deutsche Arbeiterparei, the organization that eventually became the Nazi party, and were among his first “disciples” – eventually becoming not so secret.

9. Hashshadin

By far the most fun (and brutal) entry on this list, the Hashshadin take their name from their policy of consuming hashish before carrying out political killings. The practice was founded by the first Hashshadin grandfather, Hasan-I Sabbah, who created the society to further his own political agenda as well as get revenge on those who had wronged him. According to an intrepid Italian explorer named Marco Polo, Sabbah used the promise of hashish to keep his followers loyal and in line, making him one of the first drug lords and terrorist leaders.

10. The Church of Scientology

The Church of Scientology is a church, first and foremost, which pretty much guarantees its existence as a secret society. Like the closed-door meetings of the Catholic Church or the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Church of Scientology only allows those who have proven themselves worthy to attend and, hopefully, reach clarity. Scientology has come under attack for its cult-like practice of “disconnection,” in which a family member is forcibly removed from a loved one under the pretence of that loved one being a “suppressant.” It’s the kind of old-school religious nonsense that may have flown back in the old days, but today, it’s viewed as cultish and invites scrutiny and ridicule and questions.

Hard Drive 13 – Firewall, Episode 2

Hard Drive 13 – Classified Stenography, Episode 2

Chris Littler lives in Hollywood. He has a degree in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, one of the most prestigious writing programs in America, which he totally plans to hang on the wall when he has a Study. Chris currently covers video games at UGO.com when he’s not performing improv at iO, and is currently writing a one-hour TV pilot with his friend Wes. Like everyone else you know, he has an album available to purchase on iTunes and has lots of things to say on his blog: chrislittler[dot]com.

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Must Reads 4/23/2014