Inside The World's Most Secret Societies

Admit it. You’ve probably fantasized about your own Eyes Wide Shut moment; being a part of an elite, mysterious (and possibly evil) secret organization. Whether it’s the fantasy of an exclusive club that will give you ultimate power and influence, or a nightmare of an exclusive club that will give a select few ultimate power and influence, people have always been intrigued by secret societies. They’re cloaked in conspiracy theories, have cool histories, and always keep people wondering what exactly they’re up to that the rest of us can’t see. Money, power, influence, aliens, even today secret societies flourish through the Internet, groups like Anonymous, crackpot conspiracy theorists, and stories of mysterious inbox invitations.

Do these secret societies run the world (and Beyonce and Jay Z)? Probably not. But you never know.

Skull and Bones
Are you really a “secret society” if you’re famous? Because pretty much everyone seems to know not only of the confirmed existence of the Skull and Bones society, but also some idea of who members, called Bonesmen, are. Founded at Yale University in 1832, we’ve come to associate Skull and Bones as an elite club that is rumored to open the doors to wealth and success to its members due to a huge network across various professions and industries. It is said that in exchange for lifetime membership, the chosen ones have to swear allegiance to never share the group’s secrets and give a portion of their estate to Skull and Bones. Members include the 27th President, William Howard Taft, current Secretary of State, John Kerry, and former presidents and father and son, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Interestingly, Skull and Bones was exclusively male all the way until the 1990’s when it (begrudgingly) began admitting women too. Not content to just one secret society amidst the ivy-decorated buildings, there are actually multiple societies like Skull and Bones on many Ivy League campuses, all with important, wealthy, and influential members as well.

The Bilderberg Group
The Bilderberg Group is an annual invite-only, days-long meeting for politicians and CEOs across tech, finance, academia and media from Europe and North America. No recording devices are allowed and no minutes are ever recorded. Whoa…huge red flag, right? Are the conspiracy theorists finally onto something here? Not quite. The Bilderberg Group was started in 1954 to improve relations between Europe and North America by bringing leaders together to discuss current affairs, but they don’t make any policy proposals or vote on anything. The list of participants and the agenda are made public. This year, Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet (the parent company of Google), John Micklethwait, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, and Peter Thiel, a VC and Silicon Valley legend (and the guy who helped Hulk Hogan sue Gawker out of existence) will attend. The privacy is to allow everyone to speak freely without consequences to their countries or positions. So, it’s more like a retreat weekend with your elite bros than world domination plotting. But then again, we can’t imagine they’re just discussing fantasy football right?

The Illuminati
Scroll through social media on any day of the week and you can find a significant number of people warning everyone about The Illuminati. The group has been tied to every conspiracy theory out there, and its history has really morphed into a mix of fact and fiction. Founded in Bavaria in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, The Illuminati was established to help counter a lot of the religious influence that dictated public life at the time. It likely fell apart around the very late 1700’s. Over centuries, though, it has become known as a shadowy organization still in existence hell-bent on ruling the world; they’re pulling the strings and we’re just the puppets. Back to social media: public figures and entertainers are always being accused of being members. Obviously, this kind of thing makes for good stories, too. The Illuminati was the focus of the book Angels & Demons by Dan Brown, the sequel to The Da Vinci Code. In it, a physicist is found murdered with the world “Illuminati” branded into his chest. Is Tom Hanks both an actor in a movie about the Illuminati and a member of the Illuminati? Sounds suspicious, but we can only speculate.

The Freemasons
Technically-speaking, freemasonry is a fraternity, but it did have to operate in secret shortly after it was founded in 1717 in London. (The Catholic Church considered it a religion and said church members couldn’t join.) It was created as an organization for stonemasons but eventually became a social society that spread across the world. It also has a pretty impressive membership list, including George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Mozart, Ben Franklin, and Harry Houdini. It has the kind of setup that most people imagine when they think about a secret society: ritualistic ceremonies, code words, complex hierarchies, and handshakes. At more than six million members worldwide, it’s clear that getting in isn’t all that hard but with deep roots that extend back to the most basic levels of the founding of our country (there's a reason there is freemason iconography on US currency) it’s hard not to acknowledge its importance.

The Rosicrucians
There’s a lot of debate about whether the Rosicrucians existed as a group with actual members or whether it was just a set of ideas from a book that people seemingly latched on to and tried to spread (Like Scientology?). The latter isn’t that interesting, so let’s go with the legend for a moment. A German doctor named Christian Rosenkreuz traveled to the Middle East in the 15th century, studied alchemy, science and the occult, and later shared what he learned with a few German men, who would become the first Rosicrucians. The purpose of the group was to use its newfound enlightenment to force change in the world. While some scholars don’t even think Rosenkreuz was a real person, the story of exclusive knowledge being passed on to a select group probably laid the groundwork for what we know as “secret societies” today. In fact, the Rosicrucians likely inspired the Freemasons, so shout out to the real secret OG’s.

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