The History of Secret Societies

Taught by Erik L. Arneson

Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Priory of Sion, the Klu Klux Klan: why do secret societies remain such an enigma? From the mystery schools of Ancient Greece to the hidden rituals of the Skull and Bones, these organizations are often the subject of wild speculation, conspiracy theories, and legendary histories. Explore centuries of pseudo-history and misinformation to learn the true history of these mysterious organizations, both real and fictitious. Explore the role of secret societies in politics, religion, and history; their many different roles in public and private life; and the complex dynamic between them and general society.

Week 1 (August 5): Foundations
- What is a secret society? We define a secret society and discuss broad categories into which they can be placed.
- How did secret societies begin, and what was their role in society?
- What is a legendary history? Why do secret societies have them and hold on to them?
- How do conspiracy theories represent and misrepresent secret societies? Are any of them true?

Week 2 (August 12): Religion and Revolution
- How did the mystery schools and initiation play a part in ancient religion and society?
- How did the relationship between secret societies and religion change over time?
- How have secret societies influenced social and political change?
- What role did secret societies play in European and American revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries?

Week 3 (August 19): Social Change in the 19th and 20th centuries
- How have secret societies contributed to social stagnation? We will look at how they have been used to oppress social, religious, and racial minorities.
- How did secret societies positively benefit society? Benefit societies, fraternal orders, and mutual aid.
- Secret societies and the public good: public education, public libraries, religious freedom, and social equality.

Week 4 (August 26): Secret Societies today

- Have secret societies survived? What are they like now?
- Do secret societies hold any relevance in modern society?
- What does the future hold for secret societies?

Erik L. Arneson is a long-time student of secret societies + an expert on their history and ritual.