More than 600 secret societies in the US, documented in 1899
August 29, 2015 1:04 PM   Subscribe

If you take Adam Parfrey's definition of a secret society as a social group that demands an oath of allegiance to join, and then consider that such societies include labor unions, business groups, rural/agrarian organizations, religious and occult organizations, sobriety groups, drinking groups, immigrants, anti-immigrant organizations, philosophy and science (including optometry) (previously), and groups for "persons of quality" who wanted to engage in "immoral acts." With that introduction, here is The Cyclopædia of Fraternities; a compilation of existing authentic information and the results of original investigation as to more than six hundred secret societies in the United States, written by Albert Clark Stevens and published in 1899, in full on Archive.org.
posted by filthy light thief (33 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bonus tidbits: because some aspects of secret societies are far from secret, you could order secret society pins from the jewelry section of the 1912 edition of the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog (#124). A few years earlier, the Secret Society and Emblem Charms section was a a two-page spread (via a metal detecting forum).

Also, if you want more of the conspiracy theory side of things, here's King-Kill/ 33, James Shelby Downard's Vision, mentioned in the article on The Atlantic on the secret history of secret societies. Sadly, I could not find the "vintage catalog targeted at secret societies" where they got the amazing "Drinking the Goats Blood" illustration.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:14 PM on August 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: "persons of quality" who wanted to engage in "immoral acts."
posted by idiopath at 1:17 PM on August 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


A secret society is more than an organization that requires an oath of allegiance. That kinda forgoes the "secret" part of that title.
posted by tunewell at 1:31 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Very neat.

Page 345 has a "Genealogical Chart of Earlier Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa." The preceding page begins:
Heckethorn* and some others attribute the founding, in 1776, of Phi Beta Kappa, the mother of American college Greek-letter fra-ternities, to the Illuminati, of Weishaupt, in Bavaria, but this is undoubtedly mere con-jecture. The Illuminati itself was founded in 1776, and it is hardly likely that a few boys at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, in those days of extremely infre-quent letter-writing and trans-Atlantic voyages, were inspired in their formation of a Greek-letter secret society by the illustrious foreigner whose name is linked to an order which for a short time was grafted upon Freemasonry and then dis-appeared forever.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:33 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, the cover's been blown off the "secret service " for a little while kow too.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:34 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a member of a labor union, I'm part of a secret society? Huh. Ok, sure.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:38 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


More recently, John Michael Greer published the Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies, which is fun to poke through.
posted by usonian at 1:50 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


A secret society is more than an organization that requires an oath of allegiance. That kinda forgoes the "secret" part of that title.

I think there is a range of secrecy for these societies. Some operate largely in the public, but maintain some level of privacy (secrecy) from the uninitiated (Freemasonry, Bilderberg). Then there are those groups who have names given to them, because they have not publicly acknowledged they operate or even meet (Illuminati).

As a member of a labor union, I'm part of a secret society? Huh. Ok, sure.

An interesting point from the Wired article on the secret optometry-focused group whose manual was only decoded in 2011 was that some of the secrecy of various societies came because they were acting and thinking counter to the public norm, which could have actually gotten the members in trouble. See the defunct Knights of Labor. And keep in mind, The Cyclopædia of Fraternities is from 1899, when child labor was still taking place in the US, and laws were being passed to require "adequate light in work rooms." Unions were still fighting against businesses to get laws passed that we now take for granted.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:50 PM on August 29, 2015 [5 favorites]




Oh, and on a hunch I went looking in the DeMoulin Brothers & Company's "Burlesque and Side Degree Specialties, Paraphernalia and Costumes" catalog. Sure enough, there's "Drinking the Goat's Blood" on page 32.
posted by usonian at 1:55 PM on August 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


As a member of a labor union, I'm part of a secret society?
It used to be necessary... now it's becoming so again (especially Teachers Unions)
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:59 PM on August 29, 2015


The first rule of a Secret Society...
posted by Splunge at 2:25 PM on August 29, 2015


I tried to find the raccoons but they aren't in there.

Found 'em here.

Independent Order of Odd Fellows claims to be going strong. Are there any odd fellows on metafilter? You folks have the most awesome name.
posted by bukvich at 2:27 PM on August 29, 2015


And that's just the ones we know about!
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:32 PM on August 29, 2015


secret society, secret society
posted by The Whelk at 2:52 PM on August 29, 2015


usonian: Oh, and on a hunch I went looking in the DeMoulin Brothers & Company's "Burlesque and Side Degree Specialties, Paraphernalia and Costumes" catalog. Sure enough, there's "Drinking the Goat's Blood" on page 32.
The 1930 DeMoulin Bros. & Co.
Fraternal Supply Catalog No. 439
Burlesque and Side Degree Specialties;
Paraphenalia and Costumes

Stunt Props, Tricks, Pranks, Practical Jokes, Humor, Magic, Goat Riding Carts, Paddling Machines, Electric Carpets and much, much, more!!!
Such companies today have really fallen in the quality of product. For example, Harry Klitzner Company: Masonic Store is promoting Elks polo shirts, and Los Angeles Fraternal Supply Company, Inc. is touting a Masonic baseball cap. Fer reals guys? You went from drinking goat blood to casual sportwear?


robocop is bleeding: An inside glimpse into how the Illuminati were born.
Entfuhrentanz, Geburt der Trauer - Blockprint on Wood by Drew Meger

A carving commemorating the Illuminati’s pact with otherworldy agents in 1538 - the right to abduct and experiment was exchanged for technology and power.
"Geburt der Trauer" translates to "born of grief," what does "Entfuhrentanz" mean?

(Oh, they're modern creations, bother. Kudos for the style.)
posted by filthy light thief at 3:56 PM on August 29, 2015


I think I'm not allowed by-the-bylaw to post this link
Thinkin Fellers Union local 282
posted by Golem XIV at 4:00 PM on August 29, 2015


"Entfuhrentanz" looks like it literally would translate to 'kidnapping dance'. It might have a different actual meaning in german, but I suspect not.

You're right on the 'born of grief', but it might also read as 'this will bring [the] grief' as in:'this dance of kidnapping wil be that which will birth [the] grief'. All depending on where the emphasis is laid.
posted by MacD at 5:24 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Crap, sorry for the extra post, but I've always wanted to mention this: the Trilateral Commision has also always been listed by the conspiracy crowd. I've worked at one of their meetings, and I'm sorry to say it's just like the Rotary, minus the charity: a group of very rich and/or powerful people having dinner and talking on a topic.

Or maybe it's more like a TED talk, minus the self-congratulation and creepy cultlike membership fee structure.
posted by MacD at 5:34 PM on August 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nothing to see here. Everyone just move along, please.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 5:37 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


My favorite pop culture exploration of the pop culture version of secret societies, from True Stories.
posted by idiopath at 5:52 PM on August 29, 2015


MacD: "Entfuhrentanz" looks like it literally would translate to 'kidnapping dance'. It might have a different actual meaning in german, but I suspect not.

You're right on the 'born of grief', but it might also read as 'this will bring [the] grief' as in:'this dance of kidnapping wil be that which will birth [the] grief'. All depending on where the emphasis is laid.


Thanks for the info! Also from the woodblock, the alien being is holding a rolled piece of paper or something that reads "ERTRAG" or "profitable."
posted by filthy light thief at 6:22 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, dat seal. I'm down for a KoL reboot.
posted by phooky at 6:43 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Secret societies, occult sex dungeons, underground jazz clubs, and all such exclusive gatherings of cool people always get me a little because as an awkward shut-in I never get invited to anything ever.

When I usually find out about these things, the founding revolutionary ideals have long been co-opted and the original members were dispersed/shot years ago, and the only people still joining are idle gentry looking for their latest status symbol and/or networking opportunity.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 9:44 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh and

Metafilter: Self-congratulation and creepy cultlike membership fee structure
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 9:45 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am a member of at least two of these societies although I think I owe some back dues at one of them that went to a kegger instead of National.
posted by AugustWest at 10:09 PM on August 29, 2015


Freelance Demiurge: as far as I am concerned Fear of Having To Show Up is so much more real than Fear Of Missing Out. If I got invited I would just feel bad about having to make excuses about not going. In theory the clubs are interesting but I could never stand being in one.
posted by idiopath at 10:44 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of disappointed that the old college fraternity didn't rate more than an acknowledgment of our existence. I was hoping there was more to our founding than what they taught us as pledges.
posted by COD at 6:26 AM on August 30, 2015


I would invite you all the join the secret society I formed with my uncle several years back: The Thinking Men of Leisure (women welcome). The Golden Remote is within reach, are you (wo)man enough to grasp it?
posted by MikeMc at 9:16 AM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


COD: I'm kind of disappointed that the old college fraternity didn't rate more than an acknowledgment of our existence. I was hoping there was more to our founding than what they taught us as pledges.

I was always annoyed about how frats and sororities touted their noble histories, but outwardly looked like a bunch of drunken bros and bro-ettes. (Note: this is in part because the most vocal and visible members fit into those categories, while those who did community service and good deeds often went unrecognized.)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2015


While searching for "secret society pins," I found this blog post on the "Pins" Indians, an "ultra-secret" group of pro-Union Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole during the Civil War. That initial blog is focused on Knights of the Golden Circle, a pro-slavery group focused on creating a Golden Circle territory that was pro-slavery, which included the Southern US, Mexico, Central America, northern South America, Cuba, and the rest of the Caribbean. And I'll stop there, or I'll disappear down this rabbit hole.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:45 PM on August 30, 2015


Let us not forget The Sons of Lee Marvin.
posted by usonian at 11:53 AM on August 31, 2015


bukvitch -- A few of the older guys among my relatives were Odd Fellows when I was a kid. I never really knew exactly what it was about, but they seemed to treat it as just a general, basic local social group... maybe do something to raise money for the school occasionally, and a thinly-veiled reason to get out of the house and drink beer and play some cards (or the general equivalent of that).

Glancing at your link, that sounds like pretty much the gist of it. Which, you know, is fine.

There were a few other similar "secret societies" around when I was a kid (in the 70s, in the rural midwest), and that's the vibe I got from many of them. A century+ after their inception, they were mostly just local social groups. (of course, there are obvious exceptions)
posted by markavatar at 9:25 PM on August 31, 2015


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