Secret Societies

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.
Related to Secret Societies: illuminati, Conspiracy theories

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.


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


References in periodicals archive ?
The book was translated into English by 1799 and was widely read among European leaders, contributing to widespread awareness of the secret machinations of secret societies in those days that has largely been lost in contemporary times.
In Societes secretes, her third chapter, Baron describes Balzac's France as exceptionally rich in secret societies, including the Freemasons, the Jansenists, the orders of Knights Templar and Hospitaller, the Charbonnerie, the Rosicrucians, and the Congregation, but she also shows the writer's intensely personal attraction to the dreams of altruism, brotherhood, intimacy, and collective power evoked by his own fictional secret societies.
Nevertheless, the book is well written, accessible and a welcome addition to the historical examination of secret societies in the west of Ireland and their links with the better-known organisations in Ulster and Leinster.
His father is head of the secret societies already named.
His vision was both practical--"formed upon purely business principles" the Knights provided insurance payments to widows and orphans--and pastoral: The group created an attractive alternative to the popular secret societies and lodges that could weaken a man's Catholic identity.
The paranoid tradition that invokes secret societies is particularly problematic in this respect; as Allen's example demonstrates, these narratives have frequently been deployed by archconservative groups with a demonizing, racist agenda.
During its 2002 meeting in Lambeth, the legal advisers of 17 member churches identified 15 current legal issues affecting various provinces of the communion, among them the applicability of civil law standards to the church, arbitrary action by bishops, secret societies, marriage and polygamy, inter-Anglican relations (recognition of ministry and territorial jurisdiction), among others.
At one point, Mario asks Leonardo if he is interested in codes, or secret societies, or the Holy Grail--but that's just a humorous aside.
Featuring an exclusive interview with Congressman Ron Paul, Webs Of Power: Government Agencies, Secret Societies & Elite Legacies is a straightforward indictment on the cravings for power and to forment chaos as expressed by songwriter and journalist Erik Fortman.
In Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America, Mark Carnes contends that the popularity of fraternal secret societies in the late 19th century was a response to the extreme gender divide within Victorian society.
The success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday, 2003) is leading many readers to his prequel novel, Angels & Demons, another thriller that depicts secret societies and apocryphal mysteries from Renaissance church history.
Daural (1961/1989) demonstrated that secret societies have existed since the beginning of written history.