A secret society is a club or an organization whose activities, events, inner functioning, or membership are concealed from non-members – though some would dispute this definition. The society may or may not attempt to conceal its existence. The term usually excludes covert groups, such as intelligence agencies or guerrilla warfare insurgencies, that hide their activities and memberships but maintain a public presence.
Even though many of these secret societies often have some religious component to them, many Christian churches forbid their members from joining secret societies. Citing Biblically: “Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing” – John 18:20.
The objectives are various in nature and may include; religious, political, social clubs, business, criminal, and benevolent activities. By no means is this a complete list (it is very long), here are a few to give the reader an idea of what we are talking about:
Illuminati – is a name given to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically, the name usually refers to the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment-era secret society founded on 1 May 1776. The society’s goals were to oppose superstition, obscurantism, religious influence over public life, and abuses of state power.
Skull and Bones – is an undergraduate senior secret student society at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The oldest senior class society at the university, Skull, and Bones has become a cultural institution known for its powerful alumni and various conspiracy theories.
Elks – The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE; also often known as the Elks Lodge or simply The Elks) is an American fraternal order founded in 1868 originally as a social club in New York City.
Odd Fellows – is an international fraternity consisting of lodges first documented in 1730 in London. The first known lodge was called Loyal Aristarcus Lodge No. 9, suggesting there were earlier ones in the 18th century. Notwithstanding, convivial meetings were held “in much revelry and, often as not, the calling of the Watch to restore order.”
Freemasonry – consists of fraternal organizations that trace their origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons that from the end of the fourteenth century regulated the qualifications of stonemasons and their interaction with authorities and clients.
Orange Order – a Protestant fraternal order in Northern Ireland. It also has lodges in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and throughout the Commonwealth and United States.
Foresters Friendly Society – is a British friendly society that was formed in 1834 as the Ancient Order of Foresters. As of 31 December 2016, the society had approximately 75,000 members.
Patriotic Order Sons of America – is an American patriotic fraternal society that traces its origins to the anti-alien riots of the 1840s. Found in 1847 in Philadelphia, the P.O.S. of A. once had “camps” or chapters in 20 states. At its peak, there were more than 600 camps nationwide. Today, the society maintains a presence only in Pennsylvania where it has 14 camps.
Opus Dei – is an institution of the Catholic Church which teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity.
Brethren of Purity – a secret society of Muslim philosophers in Basra, Iraq, in the 8th or 10th century CE.
Fraternities and sororities – are social organizations at colleges and universities. A form of the social fraternity, they are prominent in the United States, Canada, and the Philippines, with much smaller numbers existing in France and elsewhere.
Chinese Communist Party – 90 years of China’s Communist Party – from secret society to “harmonious society.”
Club 33 – is a set of private clubs located in three of the Disney Parks … 😉 .
As all masons are acutely aware, membership throughout the masonic organization has been declining for some time. Blue lodges are closing or consolidating with other area lodges, Scottish Rite valleys are selling their large buildings and moving to much smaller buildings or are going mobile by conducting meetings in area blue lodges or hotels and event venues. The York Rite and even the much-heralded Shrine temples are downsizing as well.
My own lodge once boosted membership of over 400 members. Today membership rests just under half that number and is declining by 5 members per year on average. Estimates show my lodge will cease to be financially viable by 2030 if not sooner. The state Grand Lodge as a whole is declining by 1200 members per year and will cease to be financially viable by 2050 if not sooner. Since the year 2000, nearly 20 lodges have either closed or consolidated with other lodges, due to declining membership.
Because many of these organizations are secret, exact numbers are always difficult to come by. But the trend is clear, secret societies are in decline, even though the conspiracy theories about them seem to be on the upswing. For sure some are still active, but in general, these organizations are more about networking for personal gain rather than holding to any ideology.
So why the decline? Most likely for the same reason, we see society itself starting to unravel. We see this as well in the huge political divides in many countries. It boils down to trust. The fraternity in these secrete societies bear no contracts – rather trust in the fraternity. If there is no personal gain to be had and there is no trust that the personal gain could be achieved, not many will want to join. The internet as well has been difficult for secret societies – it tends to expose the secrecy.
News Forecasters ask, what is the future of secret societies and what will they look like?
Secret societies have been around since the dawn of man – they will continue, as least in the mid-term. Except for the form of them will change. Secret societies will become smaller and only for the elites of society – mirroring the wealth inequality we see in our economies. To absolve the trust issue, initiations and rituals will become more nefarious. Getting members to do acts that bind them to the organization – NXIVM “Sex Cult” is an example of this.
If you are considering joining one of these groups, you will have to consider these issues accordingly.