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Five Secret Societies That Have Remained Shrouded in Mystery

December 11, 2019 in History

By Jessica Pearce Rotondi

From the Knights Templar to the Freemasons to Skull and Bones, here’s what we know (and don’t know) about secret societies through history.

Secret societies have flourished throughout history and count ?

2. The Freemasons

The steps of Freemasonry.

The freemasons loom large in American history—after all, 13 of the 39 men who signed the U.S. Constitution were Masons. Founding Fathers like George Washington, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Paul Revere all counted themselves as members of the fraternal order. But who are the freemasons?

The freemasons can trace their routes to the Middle Ages in Europe, a time when most craftsmen were organized into local guilds. Cathedral builders, by nature of their profession, had to travel from city to city. They identified one another via signs of their trade, like the builder’s square and compass in Freemasonry’s now-iconic symbol.

The earliest reference to masons is in the Regius Poem, or Halliwell Manuscript, which was published in 1390, but Freemasonry as we know it today was founded in 1717, when four London lodges merged to form England’s first Grand Lodge. Freemasonry quickly spread across Europe and to the American colonies.

Freemason Beliefs

Freemasonry is not a religion, though members are encouraged to believe in a Supreme Being, or “Grand Architect of the Universe.” Masonic temples and secret rituals have brought them into conflict with the Catholic Church. The Church first condemned the freemasons in 1738 and has gone on to issue around 20 decrees against them. In 1985, Roman Catholic Bishops restated over 200 years’ worth of these strictures in the face of an increased number of Catholics joining the order.

The Church wasn’t their only enemy; the secrecy of the masons garnered such distrust in early America that it inspired America’s first “third party”: The Anti-Masonic Party.

Are There Freemasons Today?

A depiction of a Masonic ritual taking place in a New York Masonic lodge, circa 1900.

Freemasons exist today, and their public image has been greatly influenced by the high profile charity work of the Shriners, a subset of freemasons also known as “the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.” The Shriners were founded by freemasons in 1870 at New York City’s Knickerbocker College and continue their volunteer work today.

How Do You Become a Freemason?

The rituals around becoming a freemason are shrouded …read more


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