secret society

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Acronyms, Wikipedia.
Related to secret society: Freemason

secret society,

organization of initiated persons whose members, purposes, and rituals are kept secret. Human groups throughout history have maintained secret societies. The ceremonies of initiation into such a society typically begin with an oath pledging secrecy as to all proceedings of the society, ascribing special obligations to its members, and assenting to penalties for violation of the oath. This is followed by tests of the candidate's worthiness, including physical courage and even painful mutilations. A dominant theme in the initiation trials of most of these societies is the symbolism of death and rebirth. After the candidate has passed the prescribed tests, the secret knowledge is transmitted to him. Secret societies have served as schools in which the elders instruct the young men in the ways of their society. These initiations are reminiscent of coming-of-age ceremonies. Women have comparable societies, but theirs have never matched those of men in number. (A notable exception was the Hung Society of China, a secret society of women that lasted over 1,500 years.) The mysteriesmysteries,
in Greek and Roman religion, some important secret cults. The conventional religions of both Greeks and Romans were alike in consisting principally of propitiation and prayers for the good of the city-state, the tribe, or the family, and only secondarily of the person.
..... Click the link for more information.
, or secret rites and doctrines, of the Egyptians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and other ancient peoples were transmitted solely through secret societies. In modern civilizations secret societies such as FreemasonryFreemasonry,
teachings and practices of the secret fraternal order officially known as the Free and Accepted Masons, or Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. Organizational Structure
..... Click the link for more information.
 are numerous. They usually offer various types of mutual aid for their members; there are, for example, special obligations to members who are ill and to the families of deceased members. Some historic secret societies, such as the Bavarian Illuminati, have been the object of massive paranoid speculation, accused of conspiring for world political domination; but the model of the secret society, with its emphasis on absolute commitment and secret truths that set the initiate apart, has been used to explain various political groups from terrorists to Cold Warriors. Some secret societies, e.g., the MafiaMafia
, name given to a number of organized groups of Sicilian brigands in the 19th and 20th cent. Unlike the Camorra in Naples, the Mafia had no hierarchic organization; each group operated on its own.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and the Ku Klux KlanKu Klux Klan
, designation mainly given to two distinct secret societies that played a part in American history, although other less important groups have also used the name.
..... Click the link for more information.
, under the guise of fraternal benevolence, have defended the interests of their members by violence. See also fraternal ordersfraternal orders,
organizations whose members are usually bound by oath and who make extensive use of secret ritual in the conduct of their meetings. Most fraternal orders are limited to members of one sex, although some include both men and women.
..... Click the link for more information.
, fraternityfraternity and sorority,
in American colleges, a student society formed for social purposes, into which members are initiated by invitation and occasionally by a period of trial known as hazing.
..... Click the link for more information.


See J. H. Lepper, Famous Secret Societies (1932); A. Daraul, A History of Secret Societies (1962); J. M. Roberts, The Mythology of the Secret Societies (1972).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The complaint filed by the Department of Justice alleged "in 2015, Raniere created a secret society within Nxivm called 'DOS,' which loosely translated to 'Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions,' or 'The Vow.' DOS operated with levels of women 'slaves' headed by 'masters.' Slaves were expected to recruit slaves of their own (thus becoming masters themselves), who in turn owed service not only to their own masters but also to masters above them in the DOS pyramid.
But we do not have to speculate about this secret society, for I have obtained, at great personal risk, the following leaked minutes from the society's meeting on Inauguration Day last year:
The secret society of self-styled "Illuminated" ones became incredibly influential by attracting influential men and, particularly, by infiltrating the Masonic lodges of Europe, from Paris and Berlin to St.
Johnson got the notion of a secret society from cyber pillow-talk between two top FBI officials having an affair, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
"The Garda Siochana as I have found out from my dealings with them, over an eight-year period now, I have found them to be to a great extent somehow a secret society.
Matt Monroe and The Secret Society is available in both print and ebook format.
Let us all pray for some genuine inspiration rather than an easy European option in selecting a genuine successor to St Peter rather than preserving an all-too-convenient secret society bent on perpetuating its own power base.
A couple of wooden figures, Enrico David's Spring Session Men, 2003, seemed to be caught up in a mysterious dance in front of a huge table piled with documents about an imaginary male secret society. In the following rooms, one could find Brice Dellsperger's video Body Double 22, 2010, a burlesque remake of Eyes Wide Shut; Donghee Koo's16-mm film transferred to DVD, Overloaded Echo, 2006, shows a bunch of world-weary people gathered around a naked man who seems about to be sacrificed or punished.
The mysterious cryptogram, bound in gold and green brocade paper, reveals the rituals and political leanings of an 18th century secret society in Germany.
Internationally recognized local artist Scott Holloway will host an opening reception for his new show at Secret Society Tattoo from 7 to 10 p.m.
In a secret society, he works out schemes for radical reform, never guessing the risks he runs.
These include the hidden tunnel beneath the Vatican; Area 51 in Nevada; the former chapter-house of Valencia Cathedral in Spain, where it is claimed that the Holy Grail is held; the island of Montecristo and its treasure; Wewelsburg Castle in Germany, the headquarters of Heinrich Himmler's SS; Disneyland's Club 33, the private retreat designed by Walt Disney before his death; the cavern of Beati Paoli, a secret society of assassins in Sicily; the "Arctic Eden," where seeds of all the world's plants are stored as a precaution against ecological disaster; and university secret societies like Yale's Skull and Bones society.