Secret Societies


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Secret Societies

 

a late form of men’s societies. Secret societies arose with the decline of the primitive communal system and were used by the clan or tribal elite to establish its domination over the rest of the clan or tribe. The terms “secret societies” and “men’s societies” are often used synonymously.

Judging from extant survivals, secret societies apparently existed all over the world, and many tribes of North America, Oceania, and tropical Africa had secret societies until modern times. As a rule, large expenditures were required to gain admission to a secret society and particularly to attain a high social rank within it; in effect, as secret societies developed, they became societies of the rich, freeing their members from the authority of the clan or tribe and protecting their property and their influential position. This was achieved both by sheer terror and by subjecting the uninitiated to the psychological effect of mysterious assemblies, rituals, and terrifying cults.

Secret societies were among the mechanisms serving to destroy the clans’ and tribes’ system of popular rule and to create a political power separate from the people. In some places, for example in West Africa, secret societies were still retained in the early class societies, where they provided support for statehood, then still weak. At the same time, at all stages of development, secret societies usually retained such functions of early men’s societies as preparing young men for family and public life and ensuring the domination of men over women.

REFERENCES

Pershits, A. I., A. L. Mongait, and V. P. Alekseev. Istoriia pervobytnogo obshchestva, 2nd ed. [Moscow, 1974.]
Schurtz, H. Altersklassen und Mannerbiinde. Berlin, 1902.

A. I. PERSHITS

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