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The Independent Magazine for Freemasons

Secret Societies

An unbiased history of our desire for secret knowledge

By: David V. Barrett


This book looks at clandestine organisations from the Ancient World to the present day, exploring the allure and the hidden history of esoteric religious beliefs. Looking more closely at the societies that preserve secrets and investigating how they have come to gain a hold upon the popular imagination; perhaps fuelling our desire for secret knowledge.


The contents have been well researched and the book is very readable, being clear, concise and informative, also with a little humour. It looks at conspiracy theories in an unbiased way, with time spent exploring some of the myths created by either the organisations themselves or from conspiracy theorists and showing how the facts just don’t always stand up to the claims.


The author begins by explaining that most of us love to hear secrets or be involved in something that is secret, which is probably quite true. Stating that most secret societies have some sort of religious basis and that the history of secret societies is the history of esoteric religion and the history of magic! He examines the definitions and caveats he will use to provide the foundation for the rest of the references throughout his book; and there is an interesting (Barrett) definition of a secret society, with which such societies are supposed exhibit some or all five of the following:


• Carefully graded and progressive teachings.


• Available only to selected individuals.


• Leading to hidden (and ‘unique’) truths.


• And to personal benefits beyond the reach and even the understanding of the uninitiated.


• Practice of rituals which non-members are not permitted to observe, or even to know the details of.


Will readers agree with such a definition? There will certainly be many organisations in the world which will exhibit some of these characteristics whether they are a secret society or not!


Logically, he continues with religions and how even early Christianity was essentially covert, members requiring ways of distinguishing between friend and foe; these methods becoming the template as to which group one belonged to.


The author refers to “The Roots” and makes mention of Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, Pythagoras and Neo-Platonism; and goes on to give his best explanation as to where esoteric beliefs originated, beginning in the cradles of civilization, to the Egyptians, Greeks, Zoroastrians, and others.


There is a chapter with the title “From the Renaissance to the Age of Reason” with reference to witches, astrology, alchemy, the Hermetic Philosophers, the Illuminati and other matters, but then we come to what this book would appear to be really about, Freemasonry; and it must be said that much of the information about the Fraternity has been well published over the years!


The author draws attention to the fact that some of the secret societies which he discusses do not regard themselves as such and points out that although Freemasonry prefers to keep its rituals secret; most of them have been published anyway. Many Freemasons may ask why therefore, Freemasonry is considered a secret society; and why there are books published considering it as such! It is also a fact that for many years now there have been exposés of Freemasonry and it’s so called secrets; exposés dating back to the 1700’s. Today there are books and web sites which not only explain Freemasonry in much detail, but show the so-called secrets!


Reference is also made to the Knights Templar, Rosicrucian’s and Cathars, but often just in how they relate to Freemasonry. Barrett makes mention of others groups such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Mafia, the KKK, secret government agencies, and so on, but the latter references appear to be little more than padding for the book.


The author draws attention to Stephen Knight’s book The Brotherhood (1983) where the content was not only poorly argued but included so much unsubstantiated twaddle as to be almost wholly unbelievable. But then followed Martin Short’s far better written, but more vicious Inside the Brotherhood (1989). These books caused Freemasonry to be in the news, and to stay in the news for some years. However, there would appear to have been a beneficial result in which the governing bodies of English Freemasonry officially dropped the no-reply attitude which had caused the Fraternity to close in on itself. Senior Freemasons were prepared to talk to the press and were far more open.


Although not agreeing with all the conclusions made, I found it to be an informative and interesting book which was well researched. I also enjoyed the accuracy and many of the quotes and references made throughout; and finished with a better understanding of how the secret societies I perhaps knew little about originated and how they function. But are all the organizations mentioned in the book really secret societies? And is it really an unbiased history!


David V. Barrett has been a teacher of Religious studies and English, an intelligence analyst for the British and American governments, and a journalist.


Mike Karn


Publisher: Robinson

Price: £8.99

ISBN: 9781845296155

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