Like a lot of writers, I love reading about secret societies and their symbols, passwords, and rituals. Most of us have heard of the Freemasons, the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucian order, and the Illuminati.
People get a lot of silly ideas about all of these groups. Some websites argue that all secret societies worship Satan, while other people believe that celebrities like Beyoncé and Jay-Z are Illuminati members. But secret societies are interesting enough without making things up.
Here are five that fascinate me. My guess is that you’ve heard of a couple of them, but not all of them!
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
Sometimes they just referred to themselves as The Golden Dawn. These guys should not be confused with the racist political party in modern-day Greece. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, The Golden Dawn was a big secret society in Great Britain focused on magic and the occult.
I learned about the group from a biography on the poet W.B. Yeats, a true mystic who believed in fairies, talked with the dead, and performed ritual magic.
The Golden Dawn embraced varied pagan and Judeo-Christian beliefs, particularly the Kabbalah and Roisicrucianism. Women were equal members from the beginning, in 1888. In fact, the German countess Anna Sprengel, who supposedly had the ability to talk to supernatural beings called The Secret Chiefs, helped found it.
One of its most notorious members was Aleister Crowley. He was a mean guy and the people in The Golden Dawn didn’t like him very much, least of all Mr. Yeats. Mr. Crowley parted ways with the group, allegedly became a Freemason, and became an influential leader of Ordo Templi Orientis, often referred to as O.T.O.
This contemporary secret society has, on four different occasions in the last few years, shared complicated puzzles and games online to recruit “highly intelligent individuals.” Clues have shown up on the Internet (including on Twitter), in pages of unpublished books, and in physical locations around the world.
Supposedly, some people who have solved the puzzles have been given a personality test and admitted into the secret society. Are they a bunch of elite hackers? Some kind of cult? Who knows? If you’d like to read more about them, this 2014 Fast Company article is a good place to start. Interestingly enough, in 2014, the U.S. Navy issued a bunch of cryptographic puzzles in the same vein as Cicada 3301.
The Horseman’s Word
This group from people who work with horses began in the early nineteenth century in Scotland and spread into eastern England. Like many other secret societies, it branched off of Freemasonry.
They held dramatic initiation ceremonies in stables and barns during a full moon. They weren’t kidding around with their oaths, either:
So help me Lord to keep my secrets and perform my duties as a horseman. If I break any of them – even the last of them – I wish no less than to be done to me than my heart be torn from my breast by two wild horses, and my body quartered in four and swung on chains, and the wild birds of the air left to pick my bones, and these then taken down and buried in the sands of the sea, where the tide ebbs and flows twice every twenty four hours – to show I am a deceiver of the faith. Amen.
According to rumor, the initiation included a symbolic handshake with the Devil. As I said before, there are many false stories about secret societies and Satan worship, so I have my doubts on this point. Initiates received a spoken magic word that supposedly gave the person magical power over horses, or made them into “horse whisperers.” People in the secret society also shared lots of practical tricks of the trade.
Order of Chaeronea
In 1897 in Germany, George Ives founded this secret society for homosexuals. Oscar Wilde was rumored to be an early recruit. Most of the members were men, but there were a few lesbians.
Mr. Ives, who described himself as an “evolutionary anarchist,” was a poet who referred to gay rights as “the Cause.” He named his secret society after the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 B.C., in which Philip II of Macedon and his forces destroyed the Sacred Band of Thebes, an army of 150 gay male couples.
The Order of Chaeronea was mostly a political group, but also had spiritual and mystical components. No doubt it served as a support network as well.
The Bilderberg Group
I feel like all the Illuminati conspiracy theorists should really join the people spreading conspiracy theories about these guys. There’s a lot more to go on, for one thing. The Bilderberg Group is small – maybe 120 to 150 people – and comprised mostly of captains of industry, heads of state, and bankers from Europe and North America.
When they started meeting in the mid-1950s, their goal was basically to discourage future world wars. Who knows what they talk about in their yearly conferences now? The French businessman Henri de Castries is the current chairman of the steering committee.
Do you know more about any of these secret societies, or is there one you would like to tell us about? Let us know in the comments! Thanks for reading!