Secret Societies are sometimes seen as religious, philosophical or
spiritual sects that confer upon their initiates a certain mystery; the
mystery is patiently and meticulously maintained and gradually made
accessible, in succeeding stages, through the performance of secret rites
designed to purify the fortunate elect. At other times, secret societies
are seen as seditious political organizations, clandestine economic
associations, criminal groups, ideological movements with revolutionary
intentions, or occult interest groups. They may also be viewed as agencies
for mutual aid, support, brotherhood, charity or good works.
In order to attract the attention of the curious or the spiritualistic, a
group generally need only indulge in clandestine activities (eg, the
FREEMASONS), have an unusual series of rites and customs (many social
clubs), or maintain a certain secrecy around initiation ceremonies (some
Native groups). Myth-makers capitalize on one's interest in the immaterial
and supernatural to maintain in initiates and aspirants the superrational
element necessary for any lasting socialization.
Historically, all secret societies, whether brotherhoods, trade guilds,
mystery societies, initiating associations and spiritualist societies or,
more simply, closed associations with specific economic, political or
religious purpose, have or have had their own oaths, rituals, customs and
secret languages to promote and maintain necessary group solidarity. All
have adopted signs of recognition and passwords, rhythmic chants and other
ways of reminding one another of their society's moral conditions of
behaviour. All have developed and followed successive stages to the
attainment of secret knowledge or power, periods of apprenticeship and
trial, and an often intricate hierarchy. All have evolved internal
ceremonies capable of separating the neophyte from the member of long
standing, the profane from the chosen. All have identified themselves with
certain moral principles and beliefs that distinguish them from that which
surrounds them and is therefore foreign or subordinate to them. All have
given a sacred significance to their existence.
It is therefore not very helpful to attempt to differentiate between secret
societies and other organizations on the basis of distinctions of place
(primitive societies, Western societies), culture (Caribbean, Germanic,
Slavic or American Protestant societies), religion (ORDRE DE JACQUES-
CARTIER, ORANGE ORDER), nationality (Amerindian, Spanish, Italian, Irish or
French) or sex (witches or high priests).
Secret societies have been in existence at least since the date of the
earliest known writings. Some have served utilitarian ends, others
speculative; some have been visible, others invisible, except to government
information services, which have always been aware of their existence. Each
has based its existence on a secret, the secret of its mystery, purpose,
direction, ritual or, more generally, its organization. ULTIMATELY, WHAT
HAS AT ALL TIMES AND IN ALL PLACES DISTINGUISHED SECRET SOCIETIES FROM
OTHER ASSOCIATIONS IS THAT THE FORMER ARE ORGANIZED IN A MANNER PARALLEL
TO, BUT OFTEN ABOVE, OFFICIAL FORMS OF GOVERNMENT, WHATEVER THOSE FORMS MAY
BE. [emaphsis by Redelfs]
In Canada, secret societies were often founded by ethnic groups,
particularly the Irish; the Whiteboys and the United Irishmen were active
before 1812 and the FENIANS (Irish Republican Brotherhood) during the
Confederation period. Farm and labour organizations like the Grange and
KNIGHTS OF LABOR began as secret societies. Today, the best-known societies
are the Freemasons, Orange Order, Ordre de Jacques- Cartier, Opus Dei and,
at certain periods, the KU KLUX KLAN.
See also NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS.
Author: G.-RAYMOND LALIBERTÉ
The 1998 Canadian Encyclopedia, 09-06-1997.
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