If you have found yourself in the deep, dark holes of the internet, you might have noticed that it is rife with conspiracy. From alien infiltrations, to creatures of the night, to mistaken identities – it seems as if the world out there is all but familiar, and that what we believe to be concrete and verifiable does not constitute what lurks beneath the surface. Some exclusive and official secret societies are no stranger to conspiracy. Truth be told, some of them might be legitimate and are simply private organizations with agendas that are leaning more toward the name of tradition and altruism rather than subterfuge. However, it is no secret that there have been allegations and rumours concerning these secret societies that have led to the proliferation of conspiracies.
There are those who believe in the conspiracy theory that the world is covertly controlled by a powerful society, with their influence covering almost all areas of life, from the media, to business and economics, to politics. Some have even pointed out some notable figures that they suspect are complicit in such a society. While all this might be interesting to discuss, we will not be going down this rabbit hole however, we will focus on those of a particular sort of secret society, which might be more accessible and constant due to their association with reputable universities. Maybe another time – but for now, let us go through several prominent secret societies in world-renowned universities whose members have undoubtedly shaped the world. Note that the brevity required of this article only allows for three societies to be featured, but rest assured, these were chosen for their prominence and variety in location and secrecy.
Skull and Bones - class of 1869.
A prominent student society, namely that of Skull and Bones at Yale University, have had its fair share of controversy throughout the years. Founded in 1832, this elite society have produced influential alumni such as former US President George Bush, and Henry Luce, the founder of Time Magazine. Those who are former Bonesmen are forbidden to disclose any information about their time with Skull and Bones, which has led many to ponder what actually goes on behind closed doors. With Bonesmen going on to take very prominent positions after their time at Yale, and the cloak-and-dagger nature of membership, one can’t help but wonder the exact extent of the influence and association that this society has. Ron Rosenbaum, an author and columnist for the New York Observer, took it upon himself to crack this code of secrecy. His investigation began during his days at Yale as a classmate of George W. Bush. He was never able to infiltrate the society, and their tomblike headquarters, but he did reportedly witness a nocturnal initiation ceremony at the tomb’s courtyard. He states, “A woman holds a knife and pretends to slash the throat of another person lying down before them, and there's screaming and yelling at the neophytes," (Leung, 2003).
The play Posh, about the Bullingdon club, was adapted for the film screen as The Riot Club
Across the Atlantic, at the UK'S Oxford University, the Bullingdon club’s boys are constantly making headlines for their lavish antics and rowdy displays of behaviour. The Bullingdon is an elite dining society founded in 1780, exclusively taking only male members until today. Its former members include current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former Prime Minister David Cameron. The affairs of the club might seem far less covert than others, for they developed quite the reputation for rowdiness, as evidenced by their gratuitous dinner parties and destructive initiation rituals. But the publicity of such acts come arm and arm with the embarrassment and public outrage that they warrant, a blow to the images of the former members once they rise to prominence. Today’s society give far less importance to opulence and elitism, with honesty and accountability being far more attractive values. Fittingly, desire for membership for clubs like the Bullingdon have dwindled. Bell (2019) writes, “Senior university figures are all too conscious of the elitist image these secretive societies help to perpetuate, and there are routine attempts to stamp them out.”
Perhaps one of the most secretive societies, if not the most itself, is the Seven Society at the University of Virginia. It is so secretive that the identity of a member is only disclosed upon their death. “Neither the exact date nor the circumstances of the Seven Society’s formation has been revealed, but its symbol first appeared in the 1905 edition of the student yearbook, Corks and Curls.” (Viccellio, 2012). While it might be impossible to know the inner workings of this society, their public displays of philanthropy are quite remarkable, as evidenced by their generous donations to the university. A famous example is the grand donation made during their Commencement Address in 1947, when a small explosion interrupted the proceedings. Those present were surprised to see a check for $177,777.77 float dramatically to the ground. The amount was used to create a fund to help bail out any faculty member or student who found themselves in financial difficulties. (Cock-Starkey, 2016).
As can be deduced from the three aforementioned secret societies, the way in which their notoriety and mystery is presented varies greatly. Perhaps, the only true way to get a comprehensive deep-dive into what drives a secret society or club is to be a part of one ourselves. But considering how competitive it can be, and that none of us will actually be afforded the opportunity (nor would we want to, in some cases), both informed speculation and research might give us the answers that we need. In the end, the exclusivity of such clubs usually tends to the view of elitism - of a chosen 'select few' who are admitted because they possess qualities that makes them above others - and this is fast becoming archaic and insular in modern society. We no longer want to rise above, but rather to accept and to belong. University students today tend to embrace their individuality and use this to complement their peers. We're all a part of one big society now, and there's simply nothing secret about that.
Bell, M. (2019). Red wine, dog food, nudity, Latin: The modern face of the Bullingdon Club. Gentleman’s Journal. https://www.thegentlemansjournal.com/article/the-modern-face- of-the-bullingdon-club-oxford-boris-johnson/
Cock-Starkey. (2016). 9 of the Most Exclusive College Secret Societies. MentalFloss. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/86032/9-most-exclusive-college-secret-societies
Leung, R. (2003). Skull and Bones: Secret Yale Society Includes America’s Power Elite. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/skull-and-bones/
Viccellio, R. (2012). Wrapped in Mystery: A guide to secret—and not-so-secret—student organizations at UVA. UVA Magazine. https://uvamagazine.org/articles/wrapped_in_mystery
("Skull & Bones - class of 1869", n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2021 from http://skullandbonesmultigenre.weebly.com/skull-and-bones-an-informational-essay.html
(Turner, 2018). ("The play Posh, about the Bullingdon club, was adapted for the film screen as The Riot Club") Retrieved November 12, 2021 from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/10/11/bullingdon-club-shunned-oxfords-conservative-association-say/
("Yale University, n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2021 from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-global-universities/yale-university-130794