11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About

Mike Wood - August 18, 2017

We all love a secret. There can be few better feelings than knowing something that everyone else doesn’t, so it stands to reason that over the years, groups have formed that create mythologies based around the keeping and creating of secrets. Whether they be malicious in nature or simply clubbable, we are fascinated by secret societies and the clandestine activities with which they fill their time.

Over the last millennia, societies have formed that purport to hold the secrets of the world in their grasp. On our list, you will find the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians, who used their knowledge to further the ambitions of their own members and the Knights Templar and the Assassins, who used their knowledge of banking and violence respectively make themselves all powerful and indeed, to precipitate their own downfall.

You will find religious sects like Opus Dei, closed off the world, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who claimed to hold magical powers alongside political groups such as the Black Hand and the Carbonari, who made real gains to change the map of the world as we know it today. Finally, we will cover the modern-day conspiracy theory favorites of the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group and the Skulls & Bones society, who shape that modern world or don’t, depending on your point of view. Let us talk you through the misty world of secret societies: just remember not to tell anyone else about it…

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About

1 – Freemasons

When we’re dealing with secret societies, perhaps it is best to start with least secret of them all. After all, everyone has heard of the Freemasons, they’re active in most Western countries and by conservative estimates can boast somewhere in the region of 5 million members worldwide. Their members are generally open about their membership, their meeting points are not hidden and they even do public charity drives.

So far, so golf club. The difference of the craft, as some masons refer to their organization, is that what they do as a group, their codes and their internal rules are completely opaque and secret. This, allied to the highly influential nature of their membership, has often seen them cast as a benign force in the community, a self-interested group that helps its own member get on in life at the expense of others. When such a group of influential people meet in secret and make oaths to each other in secret, then the rest of us tend to become suspicious.

The origins of Freemasonry were far more innocuous. The mason part of freemasonry derives from their beginnings as a secret society of stonemasons, whose professional knowledge was required to be secret for their profession to exist. Those skilled in masonry could not go out and share what it was that they did to build stone buildings, for if they did, everyone would know how to do it and their trade would swiftly become obsolete. If you knew how to plumb your own toilet, you’d never call a plumber again. At its very inception, the Freemasons were more like a labor union than a secret society.

The development of the society, however, moved them into murkier territory. When individual groups of Masons amalgamated in the earth 18th century, their influence grew exponentially and they spread across Europe and along the lines of the British Empire. The high status of some Masons, the shady nature of their activities and the legion of clandestine connections between members lead those outside the organization to fear, suspect and accuse Freemasonry of everything from being a separate religion, a Satanic cult and a secret world government.

14 US Presidents have been Masons (the most recent was Gerald Ford) including George Washington and John Hancock. In the United Kingdom and particularly Scotland, Masons are seen as a group that controls aspects of the judiciary and the high levels of the police, particularly by the Irish community, who rank it along with non-secret groups such as the Orange Order as anti-Catholic organizations. Indeed, while membership is theoretically open to Catholics, the Church itself has repeatedly condemned Freemasonry and threatens anyone who joins with ex-communication.

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About
The symbol of the modern day Rosicrucians. The Rosicrucian Order, AMORC.

2 – Rosicrucians

A society that springs from the same time period and the same religious background as the Freemasons is the Rosicrucians, a similarly secretive organization. Indeed, Rosicrucianism is seen as one of the major influencers on the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, one of the various ways by which Masonry is organized around the world.

The Rosicrucians, like the Masons too, are openly secret: their existence, in general, is not concealed, their members are openly known to be Rosicrucians – they even briefly put advertisements in newspapers claiming to offer insights into the nature of life that could assist with memory and strengthen will power. They’ve been going for well over 100 years in their current forms around the world, which are diverse and diffuse but can chart an ideological history that begins in the murky mists of time. Or the early 17th century, depending on who you believe.

What is generally accepted is that the people who would go on to call themselves Rosicrucians formed around two separate texts, published over nine years from 1607 onwards in the Holy Roman Empire. They told of the life and legend of 14th-century figure called Christian Rosenkreutz, a doctor and supposed traveler who had ventured to the Middle East and returned with knowledge of Eastern esotericism, drawing on Islamic, Jewish, Kabbalistic and Zoroastrian traditions.

With nobody willing to take him up on his new found wisdom on his return, Rosenkreutz was said to have founded the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross to further his beliefs. Their members had to be doctors, single and willing to help the sick for no return. When the Rosicrucian Manifesto was published in the 1600s, immediate comparisons were made with the works of various philosophers of the time, notable hermeticists such as John Dee and Heinrich Khunrath, who held that there was one religion, given by God to man and that all religions were derivations of that.

The manifestos claimed the existence of a secret society descended from Rosenkreutz and moreover, that the membership was filled with sages and alchemists. One enthusiast, the Scottish poet Henry Adamson, wrote:

“For what we do presage is not in grosse,
For we are brethren of the Rosie Crosse;
We have the Mason Word and second sight,
Things for to come we can foretell aright.”

The Society’s existence was oft-debated, but the legacy of the image of the rosy cross was to fill literature of the time, and the influence of their symbols on other groups, particularly the Freemasons, was huge. The manifesto’s mentions of a “universal reformation of mankind” to come from a knowledge of science that would only be released when society was intellectually ready to cope with it may not have yet happened, but perhaps the Rosicrucians are still sitting on the information and waiting for their moment.

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About
Hugues de Payns, a Knight Templar. Pinterest

3 – Knights Templar

When we go back from the Freemasons to the Rosicrucians, the next logical step is to retreat yet further through history to the Knights Templar. The trouble there, however, is that the secret society that bears the name of the Knights Templar is merely inspired by the original organization.

The original Knights Templar was a military order of Catholic knights that had long been linked with all kinds of heretic behavior and malign influence. They were one of the most powerful organizations within Christendom, largely due to their international infrastructure and ability to regulate finances across the breadth of medieval Europe. They wore all white mantles and bore shields with a large red (rosy if you will) cross.

If you went to fight in a crusade in the Holy Land and needed to know that your wealth from back home was being kept safe, you could entrust it to a Templar Knight: they were sworn to perpetual poverty and thus had no use for money. Their reach allowed wealthy pilgrims to deposit money with a local Templar, who would give them a document that could then be used to draw out money on the other side, protecting them from bandits en route, similar to modern-day checking systems.

Of course, while the individual members were not rich, the organization itself became fantastically wealthy. Their secretive nature – with rumors of occult initiation rites involving an organization with such riches did not make them universally popular, however, and when the Crusades wound down, their international network came under suspicion.

On Friday the 13th 1307 (the origin of that superstition), King Philip IV of France – in massive debt to Templar banks – ordered hundreds of Templars to be arrested. They were accused of homosexuality, idolatry, apostasy and spitting on the cross. Plenty was tortured and later that year, Pope Clement V, who at the time was based in Avignon, France, issued a Papal Bull that called for the arrest of every Templar in Christendom. The order was dissolved and countless Templars were burned at the stake.

The name would live on, however, and long be associated with a heady mix of secrecy, piety and international influence. It wasn’t surprising that the Rosicrucians took the image of the red cross from the shields of the Templars for their cause, or that later, the Masons adopted some of their traditions.

The modern secret society known as the Knights Templar is confined to the highest levels of the Freemasons. It does not purport to have any connection to the original organization, but instead to be inspired by the ethics of the Knights Templar. To become a Knight Templar, one must already be a Master Mason – the highest echelon of Masonry – before passing through at least two other higher orders. They will still wear the iconic white robe with red cross, too, for special occasions, and there is a noted crossover between the high levels of Masonry – including a degree called the Knight of Rose-Croix – and the even-higher-level Knights Templar.

All very confusing, but as they’re secret societies, we’ll assume that they’re meant to be.

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About
Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. Opus Dei

4 – Opus Dei

While we’re scraping around the darker corners of the Catholic Church and its many differing orders, it would seem amiss not to cover the weird world of Opus Dei. Whether Opus Dei might legitimately be called a secret society or not is moot: while it might not consider itself a secret society, it is certainly a society and certainly incredibly secretive, which more than qualifies it for this article.

Unlike the previous secret organizations, however, it is not millennia or centuries-old, despite the Latin name. Opus Dei was formed in 1928 by Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish Catholic priest and later saint. His goal was to create an institution that proved that all people could be called to holy works and that everyone could ingratiate sanctity into their everyday lives. In essence, everyone should be as saintly as possible, all the time. Noble stuff, for sure.

When Opus Dei was approved as a part of the Catholic Church in 1950, it was already coming in for some severe criticism from other quarters of the church and society at large. A leading Jesuit, Wlodomir Ledochowski, compared it openly to Masonry and protested the secretive nature of Opus Dei’s operations while others pointed out the closeness of Father Escriva to the fascist regime of General Franco in his native Spain.

The global controversy surrounding came from the publication of The Da Vinci Code. While the controversial aspects of Opus Dei depicted in the book and later film had always been there, the subsequent publicity was far from wanted by the organization. The practice of mortification of the flesh, that is, self-harm, is not a new thing to Catholicism or indeed to other religions, but seems at odds with modern methods of worship. Admittedly the way that Paul Bettany’s albino monk in the film is shown to whip himself is far more extreme than that practiced by real Opus Dei members, but the existence of it at all does jar.

Members do not openly declare themselves to be members of Opus Dei and indeed, are not allowed to reveal membership unless allowed to do so by a superior. The conditions in which many members live have come under scrutiny too: some 20% live in closed residential centers that are heavily regimented in lifestyle and contact with the outside world is censored. Critics claim that those who enter the residential centers may well do so of their own free will, but once inside, they are discouraged from contacting family members and friends in the outside world and thus may not be able to leave as and when they want to.

Of course, traditionalist Catholic organizations such as Opus Dei are big believers in the so-called “sign of contradiction”, by which the place where God truly dwells will be the most criticized. The way in which Opus Dei stands askance from the modern world and, indeed, the majority of the modern church, will not bother them one jot.

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About
A contemporary depiction of the Assassins. HistoryNet

5 – Assassins

Christians certainly do not have a monopoly on secret societies. One of the most notorious secret organization of all time sprung up around the same era as the Knights Templar but was very much on the other side of the argument as far as the Crusades were concerned.

The Assassins, now known as the Nizari, are one of the oldest sects within Islam and boast around 15 to 20 million adherents worldwide. Nowadays, they are known for their tolerance, their reasoned approach to religious study and their commitment to social justice, but in the maelstrom of the medieval Middle East, they were widely revered and feared as masters of killing and psychological warfare. Indeed, they gave the English language the word “assassin”, so they must have been quite good at it.

It would be inaccurate to label all Assassins as, well, assassins. The sect, known in Arabic as al-Hashashin, was just one of many competing groups in the early days of Islam, but it was a subsection of their number that gave the whole group the notoriety. The Fedayeen were the military wing of the sect and those tasked with the actual dirty work of killing their enemies. Fedayeen, literally translating as “those willing to sacrifice themselves for God” were drawn from the lower orders of society and were seen by the hierarchy of the Nizari movement as largely expendable, but were trained in the arts of assassination, using subversion, precision and theatre to maximize the political weight of their attacks.

The reasoning behind it was simple. The Nizari lacked a standing army of note and a dispersed territory: they would have stood no chance of surviving a conventional war, either with the other Muslim groups that inhabited the Middle East or with the crusading Christians. Thus, it behooved them to organize a way of fighting that hit right to the heart of their enemy’s fear. It was one thing for a Sultan, Caliph or Pope to send their army into battle in a far-off land, but another indeed to have the war brought to them on such a personal level. Assassins could sneak into the centers of power, undetected by all and trusted by many, before striking their blow – often in public, so that everyone would know who did it. They managed to account for two Caliphs, a litany of viziers, sultans and Christian knights over their three centuries of operation, so their capabilities were undoubted.

They prioritized linguistics – one had to learn a language to successfully go undercover – and cultural knowledge, as well as practical skills that assisted their attacks. Secrecy was of course paramount. The Assassins survived for hundreds of years despite defying almost all rules of conventional Mediaeval warfare and gained a practical influence in the Holy Land that vastly outstripped their numbers and territories, before falling to the Mongols in the 13th century.

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About

6 – Black Hand

In the thread of political assassins drawn from secret societies, one cannot continue without mentioning arguably the most famous – certainly the most deadly – assassinations of all time, and the group behind it. The name Gavrilo Princip might not mean much to the wider public at large, but he struck probably the greatest blow in human history in terms of pure deaths caused by starting the First World War.

While his act might have been heavily parodied – “I heard the war started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich because he was hungry” said the dimwitted Baldrick in the classic World War One sitcom Blackadder – the actions of Princip on June 28th, 1914 in assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, would spark a conflict that killed in excess of 15 million people and define the modern era of history.

The secret society that spawned Princip was known as the Black Hand, although its proper (and, let’s face it, cooler) name was Unification or Death. Princip was actually a member of Young Bosnia, a different revolutionary organization, but the political fallout of his actions fell on the Black Hand and thus it is them that we will discuss. The Black Hand had been formed in 1911 by a group of army officers who had already managed to knock off the Serbian king and queen back in 1903 and had more latterly devoted themselves to the cause of Yugoslavism, that is the unification of the lands that would later become Yugoslavia into Serbia, creating a wider Yugoslavian state.

The Black Hand were driven by a desire to bring together the lands inhabited by Serbs – though there were many non-Serbs involved, such as Princip – and to banish the Austrians from the Balkans. They were well versed in tactics of assassination and organized in clandestine cells of three to five members, many of whom were already trained officers within the Serbian Army. Their membership ran from the Crown Prince of Serbia, Alexander, down to lowly students.

When Franz Ferdinand was killed in 1914 in Sarajevo, Bosnia, the blame immediately fell on the Black Hand. The Austrians had already brought in martial law and suppressed Serbian organizations the year before, but the reaction to the death of the heir to their throne was even harsher. Austria withdrew diplomatic relations with Serbia and on July 28, declared war on the country. Unbeknownst to the Austro-Hungarians, the Serbs had a secret treaty with the Russians and the French that committed them to respond to any attack against Serbia. Thus they were drawn in, along with the British and the Germans, into the conflagration that would go on to last four years and kill millions.

For what it’s worth, Princip got his wish. While he would die in a prison camp, by the end of the war, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia would exist and the Austro-Hungarian Empire would crumble into dissolution.

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About
A meeting of Carbonari. Timetoast

7 – Carbonari

The Black Hand were far from the first clandestine political group to spring up with the intention of unifying their lands. Indeed, one of their principal inspirations was the Carbonari or “charcoal makers”, who had trodden the self-same path from unknown secret society to the nationally-relevant political organization around a hundred years before in the south of Italy.

The Carbonari could be considered something of a middle point between the Freemasons and the Black Hand. Like the Freemasons, they ostensibly were a trade society, or at least, they gave themselves the air of a trade union of charcoal burners, calling themselves as such and holding their meetings in “baracca” or huts, similar to that used by firewood collectors. Similar to the Masons, they organized into two groups, Apprentices and Masters, and indeed inductees who were already Masons could skip the apprentice period and go straight in as Masters. Also like the Freemasons, they drew the ire of the Catholic Church, which was all-powerful in southern Italy at the time.

Their similarities to the Black Hand – or more, the Black Hand’s similarities to the Carbonari – were all political. They might have given the impression of a trade guild, but the Carbonari were very much politically motivated: they grew in the aftermath of the French Revolution and were heavily influenced by its ideas, placing the liberal values and emphasis on national unity, written constitutions and codified rights at their core. Italian Nationalism would later become a major tenet of their activities too, though when they first came to prominence in the early 1800s, there was and never had been any Italy, rather a mishmash of regional entities and the ever-present Papal States around Rome.

Despite their secret status, the existence of the Carbonari was well known. When the time came to fight for their ideals, they were not backward in coming forwards to challenge the powers of the day. In 1821 they rose against Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies. They managed to force him to accept a liberal constitution and a parliament before marching on towards the north, only for the Italian establishment to ask for support from the Austrians, who crushed the Carbonari. In the aftermath, the Pope banned secret societies and excommunicated anyone associated with them.

The Carbonari would not be done yet. In 1830 they rose again, this time in support of Louis Philippe of France, who had been placed in power by a popular uprising in Paris. They tried to convince the Duke of Modena, Francis IV, to join their uprising (particularly against the Pope and the Papal States) and in return offered him the position of King of Italy. Francis, however, double-crossed the Carbonari and the rebellion was snuffed out the day before it was due to begin.

Among the ranks of the Carbonari, however, were Guiseppe Garibaldi – the man who would later unite Italy – and Giuseppe Manzini, another of the fathers of the Italian nations, as well as French and American Revolutionary hero the Marquis de Lafayette and English Romantic poet Lord Byron.

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About
The seal of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Hermetic Library

8 – Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

If our previous secret societies were based on political and societal goals, then we must take something of a departure to discuss our next group. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn took cues from the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians – indeed their three founders were members of both the Masons and the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, the English wing of the Rosicrucians – but where they went with them is quite unlike any of the other societies previously discussed.

We’ve come across the idea of hermetics before, but the manner in which the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn went about furthering the unity of origin of all existing religions bears little resemblance what Christian Rosenkreutz et al had in mind. In fact, it might be better to think of the Golden Dawn as the progenitor to many modern religions, particularly those based on the occult, as they provide the origin of many of the symbols, rituals and practices that now mark the Wicca movement and modern occultism.

The origin of the Golden Dawn might have come from three Rosicrucian Masons, but their interests were very much based on the supernatural rather than the traditionally religious. Founders William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Lidell MacGregor Mathers were brought together by a fascination with magic, esotericism (the study of mysticism) and the pagan traditions of Western Europe. They placed a strong focus on studying the so-called Cypher Manuscripts, in which it was said was written spells by which one could learn to understand the four elements as well as alchemy, astronomy, tarot and other magical skills.

From the founding of the First Temple in London in 1888, the movement grew quickly and became something of a fad in late-Victorian Britain. Women were admitted alongside men and would go on to be some of the most famous and influential members, anathema to the patriarchal order of the time. Within a decade of foundation, the Golden Dawn could boast temples in Edinburgh and Paris as well as plenty of English towns, while membership included notables of the time such as future Nobel Prize-winning poet William Butler Yeats, Dracula creator Bram Stoker and Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle as well as Aleister Crowley, one of the most famous occultists of all time.

The Golden Dawn would collapse almost as quickly as it had risen. The founders gradually left: Westcott ceded control to Mathers in 1896 after his colleagues discovered his membership, while Mathers himself was marginalized as other members thought he had become too close to Crowley, who was considered strange even within a group of committed occultists. Yeats expressed his dissatisfaction with the direction of the order in 1901 and resigned, leaving Mathers flying the flag for the Golden Dawn into the 20th Century.

The organization would limp on – there is still a group in existence to this day – but it would never regain the power and status that it held at the turn of the 20th century.

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About
An Illuminati Symbol. Complex

9 – The Illuminati

One group that has maintained its power into the modern-day – if you believe it exists to start with – is the Illuminati. Like so many of our clandestine organizations, the Illuminati charts itself back to the 18th century, when the likes of the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians and the Carbonari were also finding their feet. They began life as an order of rationalists in a conservatively Christian society – Bavaria, in their case – that wanted to negate the influence of religion in public life and curb the power of the authoritarian German order. Naturally, this sort of behavior did not endear them to the ruling class of the time and necessitated that movement towards a secretive organizational structure.

Nevertheless, the Bavarian Illuminati persisted and grew, forming a network of political liberals and reformers that spread out from their home base in Ingolstadt, Bavaria across southern Germany. They had degrees like Masons, pseudonyms to maintain secrecy and a sophisticated system of spying on each other that was designed to keep everyone honest and deter police informers. The original grouping in Bavaria clashed with the Freemasons, from whom they regularly stole members, and the Rosicrucians, whom they considered not to be revolutionary enough in their zeal for a rational, technocratic society. Eventually, the anti-monarchical nature of the Illuminati caught up with them and in 1785, all secret societies were banned by Duke Karl Theodor of Bavaria and their membership fizzled out.

So far, so normal as far as eighteenth-century secret societies go. What marks out the Illuminati is not so much their origins, but where they (supposedly) are today. Despite going into abeyance in the last 18th century, many considered that the Illuminati were merely dormant rather than dead. They were blamed in some royalist quarters for the French Revolution – they certainly did share goals of Robespierre and Lafayette – and generally became to go-to bogeyman for all conservative fears.

The appeal of a secret society on which all the ills of the world could be blamed has not diminished over the years, and arguably the myth of the Illuminati is now more powerful than the real group ever was. Their goals – technocratic world government by the rational, rich and smart – could not have been better constructed for the modern-day conspiracy nut. The fears of the Illuminati began to manifest themselves in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolutions in Europe, which had largely won the goals of the original secret society, and only grew as the organization itself ceased to be.

Right-wing conspiracy theorists have long pointed to an unseen hand and in both the United States and in Europe, writers pointed to the Illuminati as a cabal of (often Jewish) bankers and moneymen who controlled finance and thus the world. Of course, there was very little to the rumors, which were often virulently anti-semitic in their origin and goals, but nothing fuels a conspiracy theory like its adherents being told that they’re miles wrong – and so it persists to this day.

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About
Humans Are Free

10 – Bilderberg Group

If one was actually searching for a secret society that controls the banks, the financial sector and all world governments, then you wouldn’t have to look much further than the Bilderberg Group. They definitely exist, which makes them a step up on the Illuminati, and their membership reads like a who’s who of the powerful, the shady and the wealthy. What’s more, it was literally created with the intention of getting the world’s most influential people into one place with the intention of making the globe smaller and more amenable to business. If you were suspicious of a New World Order, then that one-world government came into existence in the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands in 1954.

Of course, that is just the most conspiracy-compatible version of events. When the group that founded the Bilderberg Group – which included a Prince of the Netherland, the head of the CIA, a former Prime Minister of Belgium and the chairman of Unilever – conceived the idea, their stated aim was to roll back what they perceived a wave of anti-American feeling in Western Europe. To that end, they convened a meeting of fifty leading figures from eleven of their European neighbors, plus another eleven Americans. The meeting was such a success that they decided to do it all over again the next year in the United States, and indeed, for every subsequent year in an ever-changing location.

What might have begun as a proto New World Order or pro-American meeting of friends, depending on your opinion, has certainly blossomed. Nowadays, it looks more like a summit of international leaders rather than a meeting of friends in a Dutch hotel. A steering committee decides on a location and invites the cream of political leaders, corporate heads, financiers and academics to a totally secret, heavily policed discussion of the world at large. With one of the most exclusive guest lists imaginable – just shy of 150 people are allowed to attend – and a rigid code of omerta surrounding goings-on, it isn’t hard to see why many consider the Bilderberg Group to be the living embodiment of the New World Order.

An interesting aspect of the myriad criticisms of the Bilderberg Group is that both right and left have wildly differing conspiracy theories about what the intentions of the group are. For the wing-nutted and swivel-eyed, the Bilderberg Group represents the triumph of the one world government, the unelected tyranny of the few and the crushing of the free market by the already monied corporations, while on the dreadlocked, hemp-shirted side of the argument, the Bilderberg Group is the ultimate capitalist stitch up, in which government and corporation become one and exist to maximize profit and shaft the working man. Or maybe it’s just a nice garden party for rich people. Who knows?

11 Mysterious Secret Societies That People Know Very Little About
Business Insider

11 – Skull & Bones

In terms of powerful secret societies, the Bilderberg Group is top of the pile, but if it’s a combination of secrecy, weirdness and status that you’re after, then the Skull & Bones might well top the lot. On the surface, the Skulls & Bones might just be a silly game played by spoiled students at one of the world’s most prestigious universities, Yale, but look a little deeper and you had found an alumni that certainly suggests something a little more sinister. There are three Presidents – William Howard Taft plus the two Bushes – two Supreme Court judges (three if you count Taft again) as well as several Secretaries of Defence, media tycoons and corporate leaders aplenty.

The origins of the Skull & Bones are, by the standards of the United States, ancient. They were first convened in 1832 by William Huntington Russell, a founder of the Republican Party, and Alphonso Taft, father of William Howard and himself once a member of the US cabinet. They scurried along barely noticed until the 1870s when a former Yale student wrote of it in his autobiography. The rituals of the society that are known somewhat cryptic: they use Yale’s “Tap Day” to invite a select group of 15 men and women whom they suspect will be notables in later life or on campus to become members. Once invited, the inductees are taken to The Tomb, as the meeting place of the Skull & Bones is known.

Members have never been anonymous – the society releases the names of the new invitees every year – but what takes place within the four walls of The Tomb and on the society’s private retreat, Deer Island, is to this day shrouded in secrecy. Members are required to take on society pseudonyms, usually taken from antiquity and classical literature, and use a complex numerical code by which clocks are set to 5 minutes ahead of the real-time and special importance is placed on the number 322.

The origins of this are unclear, though speculation holds that it is something to do with the Lamian War in Greek antiquity or an original founding chapter of the organization that existed before the Yale group was created, possibly in Germany. Wilder conspiracy theories have it that the society holds several famous skulls in The Tomb, with former President Martin van Buren, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and Native American leader Geronimo are just some of the skulls speculated.

Indeed, there are some that hold the Skulls & Bones to be the first incarnation of the American branch of the Illuminati. Aside from the timings – the Illuminati went into abeyance in 1785 and the Skulls & Bones did not come into existence until 1832 – there seems to be little to link the two, other than that they have both had some seriously influential people come through their ranks over the years. What seems more likely is that it is a simple student society at a university that already has a lot of students who go on to great things – it is, after all, hard to see a group that includes the likes of Paul Giamatti and Michael Cerveris among the alumni to be too dangerous…


Sources For Further Reading:

NYTimes – The Secret World of Opus Dei

History Channel – 7 Things You May Not Know About Freemasons

Business Insider – 14 US Presidents Who Were Members Of One Of The Most Mysterious And Powerful Secret Societies In History

The Atlantic – What It’s Like to Join the Freemasons

News Week – Shadows in The Shadows: The Rosicrucians, A Fake Secret Society, Had A Real Impact on The World

The National Archives – The Templars’ ‘Curse’ On the King of France

The Connexion – The Knights Templar – A Christian Military Force Crushed by A French King

America Magazine – Opus Dei in the United States

World History Encyclopedia – The Assassins

Encyclopedia Britannica – Gavrilo Princip

Smithsonian Magazine – The Origin of the Tale that Gavrilo Princip Was Eating a Sandwich When He Assassinated Franz Ferdinand

The Guardian – Gavrilo Princip: Hero or Villain?

ThoughtCo – The Black Hand: Serbian Terrorists Spark WWI

The Washington Post – What Everyone Gets Wrong About the Start Of World War I

History Extra – Why Europe’s Great Year of Revolution In 1848 Failed

BBC – The Birthplace of The Illuminati

Spy Scape – Secrets of The Illuminati: The Top-Secret Society with Plans to Rule the World

The Week – Who Are the Illuminati – And What Do They Control?

BBC News – Just Who Exactly Is Going to The Bilderberg Meeting?

New England Historical Society – Skull and Bones, or 7 Fast Facts About Yale’s Secret Society

The Washington Post – A Look Inside Yale’s Secret Societies — And Why They May No Longer Matter

Courant – Yale’s Secret Societies Go Bump in The Tap Night