Books & Lit

Secret Societies: Oh no! or … Oh really?


For as long as human civilization has existed, it appears that secret societies have existed. Sometimes they were mainstream society’s priesthoods and knowledge keepers and the secrets they kept from the mainstream were the basis of their power, as they told themselves that they were keeping “the meat for the men and the milk for babes.” Other times they were completely underground organizations unknown or only rumored because of the threat of persecution for what may or may not have been their radical thinking.

Until recently I had absolutely no idea what most of these societies were supposed to have believed. Many a blockbuster movie would have us think that they were sacrificing virgins and offering them up as a tribute to Satan. The problem with finding out what secret societies like the masons believe is that there are/were blood oaths and all sorts of menacing reasons for them to keep their secrets secret. How else do you keep a secret, well, secret? Still, in an era where we (or some of us, at least) praise democracy and transparency is it necessary, or wise to keep such secrets? It’s certainly elitist.

Philip the Fair of France used the whiff of conspiracy and secrecy to set the Inquisition upon and destroy the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple Of Solomon, accusing them of witchcraft, sodomy and all other sorts of rather naughty practices. The Templars, a monastic fighting order, were, in fact, not so poor, and from a modern standpoint are often regarded as the forerunners of our existing banking system. Those that escaped the clutches of the Philip and the Inquisition are also sometimes credited (speculatively as I understand it) with creating freemasonry in Scotland. It’s worth noting that the debt-ridden Philip of France profited handsomely from the trials, confessions and burning of the Templars, which has prompted many people to wonder where the real conspiracy existed.

In more recent times the elected government of Turkey has alleged that a secret group of military and civilian plotters were at work organizing a coup under the code name “Ergenekon.” Hundreds have been arrested and detained. Is this a legitimate case, or merely an attempt by one power to silence the voice of dissent, as critics have countered? I sincerely don’t know, nor am I qualified to comment. All I can say is that either scenario is frightening for its implications.


So, let’s go back and get cosy with the masons. Until a couple of years ago I heard this often maligned group accused of all sorts of devilry up until I stumbled upon a book called The Secret History of the Earth by Jonathan Black.

The Daily Mail heralded it as “the most controversial book of the year”. Then I read the back cover and beheld this passage: ” … here for the first time is a history of the world based upon the beliefs of the secret societies …”

Finally! I thought, someone will tell me what the masons, Rosicrucians, and every other mystery school initiate believed. Of course I quickly plunked down my 29 turkish lira and began to read. Then I read it again.

This book is certainly engaging and entertaining. And I like the fact that its author trumpets the importance and very essential place of imagination in the human universe.

So would I recommend it? Yes, but today with a caveat: it’s not always clear where Mr Black’s imagination begins and ends because it’s not apparent in the book how much of what he’s written is what he believes or what belongs to the”anonymous” source who helped him put it together — a character that now reads a bit too much like the Deus Ex Machina of a supernatural thriller. For many it may feel like a cynical attempt by a publishing exec to cash in on a mix of Dan Brown and mysticism. I certainly hope not.

However, my feeling is that a book doesn’t always have to be factually true to have merit. If it opens up our minds to new ideas or inspires the use of our critical and imaginative faculties, why shouldn’t we consume it? I would also rather know someone’s beliefs, no matter how outlandish or not, then have them censored or hidden from me — thank you very much, angry atheists, I don’t need your vitriol to protect me from becoming a member of a cult. If someone reads a book that doesn’t conform to your ordered, rational universe it doesn’t make them a wide-eyed child or a village idiot.

I think the main problem with The Secret History of The World is its categorization as history/spirituality. The history part does rather diminish the work of scholars who labor to back up their assertions with references and footnotes.


A book I found a couple of years later while doing research on alchemy is Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages. This is a much earlier work, originally published in 1928. But its aims seem much the same as Mr. Black’s. What I prefer about this hefty tome is that I don’t doubt that Mr. Hall believes in what he’s writing. It’s not that I believe his assertions, it’s rather that I don’t feel this is a work that’s been written cynically. It’s not written as a page-turner, and is better as a reference for people who are interested in secret societies’ beliefs and the possible interpretation of their esoteric symbols. It’s categorized as Spirituality/Occult which seems fair.

Now, if I still have your attention I’d also like to recommend David V. Barrett’s A Brief History Of Secret Societies as well as Cults, Conspiracies & Secret Societies by Arthur Goldwag. Mr Goldwag’s work is broken down into three sections, each devoted to the three categories which comprise the title. It’s a good work written in a dry, responsible, and often humorous tone. Mr Barrett’s book is concise and to the point and appears responsibly written and researched, examining the roots, symbols and rituals of secret societies from history to the present day.

What do you think about it all? Would you recommend these or any other books? Let me know.