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 Definition A type of subculture with three characteristics: "it is exclusive, it claims to own special secrets, and it shows a strong inclination to favor its own" (Alan Axelrod). [d] [e]
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Secret religions

The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled on a case between the Church of Scientology Moscow v. Russia. Russia lost and is required to pay EUR 10,000 non-pecuniary damage and EUR 15,000 costs and expenses. No mention of secrecy is found in the court's ruling [1]. The court did comment; "It was not disputed that the applicant had submitted a book detailing the theological premises and practices of Scientology." The court did comment; "the Court considers that the interference with the applicant's right to freedom of religion and association was not justified."

The Russian government's treatment of Scientology echos what happened earlier in the United States. The U.S. government's tax agency investigated the Church of Scientology more throughly than any organization they had ever investigated. But at last the tax agency (the IRS) granted that the Church was a charitable organization and should be exempt from taxes on its services. After dealing with that, the Church requested opinions from a number of professional people, such as Michael A. Sivertsev, expert advisor on international matters to the Committee of the Russian Federation. Those opinions may be viewed at [2]. I don't believe you will find any of them present that the Church of Scientology, or the Scientology philosophy, is secretive. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Church will happily sell to anyone a vast amount of information, it stacks up much higher than a person can reach. It is said to be in the neighborhood of 40 millions words. For these reasons, and others, I would submit that the article should not list Scientology as "secret religion". Terry E. Olsen 05:07, 21 April 2007 (CDT)

I'm not sure that, even if its belief system has secret elements and secretive practices, Scientology counts as a secret society. More generally, do secretive cults count as secret societies? If so, then perhaps Scientology should; but I am not sure that secretive cults are properly called "secret societies." (I mean, you tell me: how is the phrase actually used by the people who research what they call "secret societies"?)

My understanding is that the Church will sell a vast amount of information, but not to just anyone, but only to initiates. The fact that they sell the information by itself hardly means it isn't also secret. --Larry Sanger 19:39, 21 April 2007 (CDT)

Anyone can walk into any Church or Mission of Scientology 7000 locations. There will be some kind of introduction they can examine at their leisure in most locations, and some kind of bookstore. They may examine or purchase any (or all) of the (estimated) 40 million words of the subject. Often public libraries have such books, will sell them new or used or they can be purchased from the Church's publication house There is no secret to any of that. Nor could the aims of Scientology be achieved within a secret environment: "A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights, are the aims of Scientology." Terry E. Olsen 11:09, 22 April 2007 (CDT)

Simply on the strength of the fact that other secretive societies described as "religious" are listed here, it follows straightforwardly that Scientology should be listed as well, because Scientology is quite secretive about information available at the higher levels. Terry, as it appears you are a Scientologist, let me ask you this: do Scientologists actually deny that they are secretive? Also, can I purchase all the Scientology material and descriptions of Scientology practices without being a high-level Scientologist? Isn't there quite a bit of higher-level stuff that is members-only? --Larry Sanger 19:51, 21 April 2007 (CDT)

Yes, consider myself to be a Scientologist. My best estimate is that less than 1% of Mr. Hubbard's writings and lectures are not published and not sold to anyone, ever. Here is my longer explanation. There is a small amount of material the Church holds confidential. It is not sold to anyone and is not, therefore, published material. The Church makes no comment about how much material that I can find. However, Laurie Hamilton is a minister of the Church of long experience, but is not an official representative of the Church of Scientology and can, therefore, answer any question she likes in any manner she chooses. She has done much of (but not all of) Scientology's Bridge (levels), has been involved as a staff member of the Church and her father knew Mr. Hubbard personally. She answers any questions she wishes to here. She answered this question by saying (in part): "All this junk that is getting ELECTRIFYING play on the web is related to less than 1% of the material on Scientology, but nevermind if all the rest is totally valid, THIS can be made fun of, so to heck with the subject in general!" (appears on the lower third of the page). She writes some information about her experience of the higher levels here. The preceeding responds about the levels and isn't just my opinion alone. In addition to unpublished information about the levels, the Church has a small quantity (very small I think) of unpublished administrative information about running the organization. It is of limited distribution, you or I could not purchase copies of it. She writes about that here. The issue as I see it is this: Mr. Hubbard entrusted the Church with all of his writings and lectures. The Church publishes 99% of his work but holds 1% (or less) confidential. Is this appropriate Church behaviour? Well, it makes sense to me that Scientology does not "owe" the public access to every single word that Hubbard wrote. Terry E. Olsen 11:09, 22 April 2007 (CDT)

The point is that Scientology remains quite secretive--to a degree unknown to you ("The Church makes no comment about how much material that I can find") though you say it is "small." But, evidently, not being a Scientology higher-up, you presumably don't know even that. Besides, it doesn't matter what percentage of material, published or unpublished, is secret; if there are indeed important organizational activities and documents that are held in secret, to that extent it at least resembles a secret society.

I still wonder, however, whether all secretive cults really count as "secret societies." --Larry Sanger 11:34, 22 April 2007 (CDT)

I have attempted to let you know that there is nothing secretive about the organization. The Church does hold some material confidential and doesn't publish it. I addressed that ratio. I have not seen that material and so, don't know exactly. I am able to infer from my knowledge of what is published (much of which I own) and from my knowledge of auditing. These together, combined with the amount of time a practitioner spends with a level, tell me the approximate quantity of confidential information is less than one percent. Ninety-nine percent published (anyone can buy it) and being a "secret society" are different kettles of fish. The Church says why it won't publish what it doesn't publish, their reasoning seems valid to me, a pracitioner. But even Ford Motor Company has procedure for promoting people that is not completely in public view. Would some examples from the documentation the Volunteer Ministers be helpful in understanding this? Or some documentation about detox or about NARCONON or CIMINON or be helpful? Terry E. Olsen 12:30, 22 April 2007 (CDT)
The specifics of unpublished administrative information is published in What is Scientology (hardbound), spelled out by date and title of lecture. The unpublished technical information is revealed to a practitioner as they do an OT Level, and the Levels and abilities rehabilitated are published. And Scientology isn't belief. You read the information on the page, you decided whether it is valid or not and you assimilate it or you don't. It is purely up to the individual. No particular idea makes a person a Scientologist or otherwise. There is no singular idea by which I could say, "if you believe this, then you are a scientologist." In short, there are no beliefs to it. another Scientologist's opinion -Terry E. Olsen 12:48, 22 April 2007 (CDT)

Terry, the point, quite obviously, is that Scientologists are well-known for having levels of attainment, and that one is exposed to new ("unpublished," as you say) information as one rises through the levels. That satisfies the "secrets" part of the definitions (both of them) of "secret society" now on the article. I'm sorry to have to "pull rank," but I'm going to ask you, in my capacity as editor-in-chief, to leave "Scientology" on the list. Until we have a more people on board who can shed more light on the subject--particularly, people who have studied Scientology but who are not Scientologists--I am not going to allow you to edit this article according to your personal biases, and contrary to the expressed view of the one person on board who is actually an expert on this subject. What we should do, if the article does not already do so, is state clearly (using scientology as an example) that it denies being a secret society. That hardly means it isn't one. Terry, you're making several arguments that are wholly unpersuasive and you have not responded to my arguments. --Larry Sanger 15:01, 25 April 2007 (CDT)

Interesting start

The article is quite interesting--and thanks very much for it, Mark--but itself takes a somewhat "conspiratorial" stance toward its subject, rather than a neutral one, it seems to me. For example, the article says:

Secret societies are often associated with conspiracy theories that involve global domination and the introduction a New World Order. These groups are most often characterized in having a hierarchical structure with an ascending series of Degrees.

"These groups"--which? Who so characterizes them? The claim is so vague as to be difficult to verify. Moreover, the result seems calculated to raise alarm, but comes off looking biased and perhaps a little silly ("What are we going to do today, Brain?"). Surely we aren't asking the average CZ reader to believe that any serious "secret society" is engaged in pursuing "global domination."

The current definition would include Al Qaeda. Should that and other terrorist and criminal organizations be considered secret societies? If not, the definition should be modified so as to exclude them. --Larry Sanger 08:59, 21 April 2007 (CDT)

The wording is open to interpretation. I first read it as meaning - people outside the secret society often associate it with conspiracy theories but not that the society was really conspiring. E.g. Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code associates Opus Dei with a conspiracy. Association by outsides with, and actual involvement in, a conspiracy are different things. Derek Harkness 21:36, 21 April 2007 (CDT)


Early in the article Freemasonary is used as an example; for example, such an accusation has frequently made against perhaps the best-known "secret society," the Freemasons. The article goes on to say;

  • "Freemasons describe themselves as a religious organization."

Any reader of our encyclopedia is likely to go to At the very top of that website they would find:

  • "Although of a religious nature, Freemasonry is not a religion."

So then, what is Freemasonary if it is not a religion? The same website gives us that answer, saying;

  • "Freemasonry is the oldest and largest world wide fraternity dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of a Supreme Being. It urges its members . . to be faithful and devoted to their own religious beliefs."

May we, therefore, make some changes to the article content ? Terry E. Olsen 13:45, 21 April 2007 (CDT)

Actually, that was a typo describing the Freemasons as a "religious" organization, so the change was made. In my original draft, I had Templars in place of Freemasons! Sorry! On other points, please feel free to make changes. I was simply trying to start the ball rolling....

--Mark Mirabello 20:55, 21 April 2007 (CDT)

How is this article maintainable?

I see no clear, agreed upon definition among a consensus of scholars as to what defines and delimits what is and is not a "secret society". Hence, I might be justified in including a great number of religious groups (Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc), corporations (any whose board meetings are not public, perhaps--and why not?), the Central Intelligence Agency, and all sorts of groups. I am going to suggest that unless there is an agreed upon definition among a consensus of scholars that offers clear criteria beyond "organized associations working more or less in secret", and the criteria is placed into the article, that an editor assert that this article is simply not maintainable and have it deleted. ---Stephen Ewen 13:11, 22 April 2007 (CDT)

Delete sounds good to me. No definition - no article. But it might be possible to start from a widely known, historically secret sort of society; example - the USA's Underground Railroad during the Civil War. Given a historical context a workable definition might be created. Terry E. Olsen 14:17, 22 April 2007 (CDT)

Definition Provided

Hmmm. The debate is more learned, but the passions rival those at wikipedia.

It is interesting that my quick stub has already drawn the attention of the founder of citizendium and a constable!

Before someone deletes, however, I have tried a quick fix by providing a non-controversial definition. Perhaps next the definition can be expanded and we can debate which groups belong to the category.

--Mark Mirabello 16:03, 22 April 2007 (CDT)

The problem with any article that creates a "List of ....." is this. It puts a whole lot of controversy into a one page format. There have been historical secret societies. If an article stuck to that, it would have substance. But applied to the modern world there are too many controversys, and all piled into one heap. "Order of the Arrow" for example, an advanced Boy Scouts of America Organization, has 3 secrets, one of which is a handshake. (I was a member). Its secrets are TRIVIAL to its existence. Its purpose is "Service", it is not "dark plot to take over Boy Scouts and then America". lol. Terry E. Olsen 05:55, 23 April 2007 (CDT)
Not so fast, Terry. ;) The Order of the Arrow has more than three secrets, but the number of secrets doesn't make a secret society. I too am a member of the Order of the Arrow and actually just finished off my undergrad thesis on the subject. The structure of the organization (initiation rites, the Ordeal, etc.) is very much that of a secret society. The secrets may be trivial, but they are kept under oath, and they serve the purpose of creating "brotherhood" and comunitas, which is very important for secret societies to achieve. In fact, it was founded by two members of the masons and uses masonic imagery and ritual very explicitly in places.
The Order of the Arrow notwithstanding, I think your point is a good one. The article would probably benefits more from a discussion of what makes a secret society and what such a society does than from a list of groups that qualify. --Joe Quick (Talk) 12:45, 23 April 2007 (CDT)
I am acting here as an author not a constable. Constables cannot delete articles on their own recognizance for non-maintainability. Now, I still do not think the definition you added is such that it provides a set of criteria that is generally agreed upon by scholars. You are quoting one person. Under the definition, I might be justified in including a great number of religious groups (Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.--and why not if not?), corporations (any whose board meetings are not public, perhaps--and why not if not?), the Central Intelligence Agency--and why not if not?, and all sorts of groups, as I said before. Unless there is a clear set of criteria held among a consensus of scholars to include and exclude what is and is not categorized as a "secret society", I think this article will wind up being more trouble than it is worth. Stephen Ewen 16:20, 22 April 2007 (CDT)
You have provided an individual's statement of definition. What is lacking is the chapter of the publication it is contained in, or an attribution where a person could find that gentleman has stated that definition. Myself, I don't believe a "secret society" need have an exclusive membership. The Underground Railroad, for example, did not. Nor does Scientology have the least bit of exclusiveness. Quite the opposite in fact. The Church welcomes all persons of any race, creed, religion or haircut. In that case, becoming a member does not even create a "scientologist" because that is a self declare and not a purchased membership. One can become a "member of the association of scientologists international" and not consider one's self to be a scientologist at all. And the opposite situation can exist, too. Terry E. Olsen 16:31, 22 April 2007 (CDT)
As an Editor, though not in this field (not sure what field such societies might go in), I would like to see the content of this aricle improved and maintained, rather than deleted. I think part of the problem is that apples and oranages (and the odd kumquat) are all tossed in together. I would suggest splitting this article into two or more entries with more clearly defined limits:
1) Fraternal Organizations (nonsectarian). Here one could list the more common of these, including the Masons, the Shriners, the Elks, the Odd Fellows, etc., among which there are a good many commonalities.
2) Religious Organizations -- the Knights of Columbus, and others which are sectarian.
3) Student societies, such as Skull & bones.
And so on. This might be manageable -- might not -- the third possibility would be just to have Secret Society as a disambiguation page, with the above sort of categories referenced. Russell Potter 16:37, 22 April 2007 (CDT)

All of that still begs the maintainability question, Russell. Divided into subsections are not, what exact criteria is to be used to determine what is and is not classified as a "secret society"? We could say that any association not wide open to the public is one. Every entity has its own rituals and criteria for membership that necessarily is exclusionist toward at least some "ousiders". Lacking a clear set of criteria, we could also do some pretty silly revisionist stuff and classify things like the Underground Railroad in the U.S. as a "secret society", rather than a political resistance movement. Well, wait, maybe all political resistance movement are "secret societies". Sounds like the George Noory crowd, to me, who might see all sorts of things through their very reaching conspiratorial worldview. You see, this can get really non-maintainable real fast, unless very clear criteria are included, and not just what we contrive or one person or another came up with, but what the consensus of scholars already is--if such a thing exists, that is, and I do not know. Stephen Ewen 18:05, 22 April 2007 (CDT)

Stephen, I agree, the entry as currently conceived is non-maintainable. But I think the underlying content is content we should have in some form; the question is what form? Russell Potter 19:07, 22 April 2007 (CDT)
Well, I think Joe makes good points below. Perhaps what is most unmaintainable is this whole notion of creating lists of who's in and who's out under the "secret society" category. Stephen Ewen 19:29, 22 April 2007 (CDT)
The confusion here, I think, is the fundamental distinction between "secret societies" and "societies with secrets." If this distinction is properly made, I think this article is very maintainable.
For a definition of "secret society," one might do best by looking to Georg Simmel (sociologist) who wrote a fantastic article on the subject in 1906. If you have access to jstor, you can read it here. To write this article without using Simmel would be a real shame. For a more recent piece, one might see what Victor Turner (anthropologist) has to say about the subject. --Joe Quick (Talk) 18:30, 22 April 2007 (CDT)
Do we want original reaseach articles by authors, or are we going to stay with what has already been published, as Joe mentions ? Put another way, should a consensus of editors decide what organizations should be listed ? Terry E. Olsen 21:26, 22 April 2007 (CDT)
I doubt there would be such a consensus, but we need to follow the CZ Article Standards anyway, so no original research. The job of an encyclopedia is to summarize the extant body of work on a subject. --Joe Quick (Talk) 00:34, 23 April 2007 (CDT)

The fact that no good definition has been given in this article (if true) hardly means that the concept itself is not reasonably clear to people who study it (even if they can't articulate it to our satisfaction), and that there should not be an article about the topic. By this reasoning, we should delete all articles such that, according to the definitions they open with, we could not maintain the information they should contain.

So I think we should give Mark Mirabello a chance to explain the field rather better, since I suspect he knows it quite a bit better than any of the rest of us. --Larry Sanger 00:54, 23 April 2007 (CDT)

Thanks to Mr. Sanger for the kind remark!

I should also apologize to the group for launching this article with brief and controversial content. I was hoping it was a seed that would grow.

One problem seems to be that although the "secret society" tag may be considered a mark of distinction (Hannah Arendt pointed out that "real power begins where secrecy begins"), some individuals here seem to view the tag as a mark of infamy. In my opinion, the elitism, mystery, and secrecy aspects of such groups make them intrinsically intriguing.

Some great points have been made on this talk page, but I think we need more editing on the article itself....--Mark Mirabello 17:49, 23 April 2007 (CDT)

That says quite a lot, Mark and brings the subject toward the light of day. If it matters at all, I've created a Scientology article. Still, I believe there exists no large organization that doesn't have a skelton or two in its closet and probably most have at least some unpublished, private or confidential operational procedures. Terry E. Olsen 18:37, 23 April 2007 (CDT)

All the more reason for a clearer definition, Terry--as I'm sure you'll agree. --Larry Sanger 19:05, 23 April 2007 (CDT)

Well! The definition has certainly made progress. Stephen Ewen 02:46, 1 May 2007 (CDT)

Catalog of secret societies

It seems to me that the list of alleged secret societies here could become a catalog of secret societies, per a discussion on the forums. (I'd provide an exact link but as I write this, the forums seem to be down.) --Larry Sanger 15:19, 25 April 2007 (CDT)

This would definitely make things more sustainable, though I'm still not convinced that they aren't sustainable as is. I would hold onto the sections preceding the list, though; I think it is important to have a page that explains the general structure and purpose of secret societies in addition to a catalog of the most prominent or famous organizations.
Catalog entries would include the type of organization (fraternal, religious, etc.) and what else? --Joe Quick (Talk) 16:26, 25 April 2007 (CDT)
Estimated number of members; distinctive features; founders; date of founding; etc. --Larry Sanger 18:11, 25 April 2007 (CDT)
Region (United States, Europe, North Dakota, World, etc.) --Joe Quick (Talk) 18:06, 26 April 2007 (CDT)


I think I could expand this section, but I'm wondering what sort of depth we want to get into here. Discussions of initiation rites from the social science perspective get hard-to-follow pretty fast. Should I leave that for a separate article on "rites of initiation"? --Joe Quick (Talk) 16:26, 25 April 2007 (CDT)

I think more material here would help. Please contribute! --Mark Mirabello 19:11, 27 April 2007 (CDT)

It might be possible to state some things about 'secret' initiations in general ways, that would not directly conflict with a society's wish for their 'secrets' to remain so. Groups generally want some sort of oath of loyalty to principles, and a vow that secrets not be revealed, that sort of thing? And then, without getting into alarmist, unrevealed specifics, initiation would be a procedure that underscore a group's intent and loyalty ? The reason I raise this idea is that we might be able to say a good deal without holding, say, Masons up to ridicule or mis-statement. But if we attempt to publish an aspect of a 'secret' initiation, then we are treading on thinner ice, are we not? Terry E. Olsen 23:41, 30 April 2007 (CDT)

Yes, we are. Particularly because those aspects are "secret," it's hard to know if we're actually writing accurately or completely. I don't see our purpose here as one of "revealing" secret societies. Instead, we should try to give readers a clear idea of just what a secret society really is and how they function.
My intent is to develop that section in terms of general themes that hold for most cases (though we should also be clear that most of these themes are absent in at least one case). I've written a very basic outline of what I think is important to say, but it will need a fair amount of clean up as well as the additions, deletions, and reorganizing that go along with that process. Do please contribute if you have concerns, ideas, etc. --Joe Quick (Talk) 23:51, 30 April 2007 (CDT)

Scientology again

(I've moved this, from Terry Olsen, from my user talk page to here. --Larry Sanger 18:08, 25 April 2007 (CDT))

I've tried to spell out why that subject isn't a "secret society". No page of its many webpages imply it is, it does not state that it is. It is wrong for Citizendium to manifest opinions, make those opinions public and toss Scientology into the "secret societies" claptrap. Plain wrong. However, while I know some scientology, I am not going to duke it out with editors here like I did at Wikipedia. There are too many critically vested, big money interests running too many vested, big money websites that appear to be simple, innocent, single opinions of single individuals. While an examination of the bandwidth money it costs those innocent, single individuals tells a different story. I won't revert and fight to cause Scientology to be appropriately presented, I thought that Wikipedia's editing policy would allow the light of day into the subject. It doesn't and I have no more confidence here than I did there. Go right ahead and ignore Hubbard's 40 million published words to fixate on a tiny sliver of confidential, unpublished information and call it a "secret society". I know that is plain wrong. Any Scientologist will know Citizendium is plain wrong. But I've found there is no convincing persons uneducated in the field, at least I haven't had any luck with it. But it puts Citizendium at a lower level of repute and that's why I tell you it is the wrong thing to do. Happy Ho Ho's. Terry E. Olsen 18:05, 25 April 2007 (CDT)

I observe merely that you still have not actually answered my actual argument: there are levels of initiation, with secret knowledge at each; in this regard, it fits the definition quite well. It's a simple argument, but you continue to ignore it, when it's the central issue. --Larry Sanger 18:10, 25 April 2007 (CDT)

I certainly posted the above to your page, Mr. Sanger. I'll spell out what I know of the arguement you raise. I am not an expert in the field. but replied to that arguement on this page at this editing difference. The Bridge to Total Freedom is not about initiation. It has nothing whatsoever to do with how endeared a person becomes to the Church nor to God nor to Mankind. There is no "secret initiation rite". The Bridge is a definition of rehabilitation. The confidential OT levels, and every level of the Bridge, is centered on rehabilitation of awareness and presents at its center, on the printed page, awarenesses. The OT Levels, like every level of the Bridge, rehabilitate an awareness. Ron Hubbard found that a tiny sliver of the information he developed does a person no good at all unless they have read previous information (the bottom levels of the Bridge to Total Freedom) and applied that information to their own experiences, thus achieving rehabilitation of several awarenesses. As a person does this, their awareness is rehabilitated, step by step. When a person is aware enough, then and only then can the confidential information of the top levels of the Bridge (The OT Levels) be understood by a person and applied to their own experiences. As an example, the bottom-most level is "the purification rundown", a sauna - sweat - exercise - nutritional supplement program. The awareness it rehabilitates is hope. At present the top-most level of the Bridge rehabilitates a person's awareness, this copy of the bridge in my hand states its result: "Handles the primary reason for amnesia on the whole track". So I ask you, what possible application to a person can that result have unless they have already become certain they have a "whole track"? Terry E. Olsen 05:17, 26 April 2007 (CDT)
Forgive my ignorance, Terry; I have a few questions of clarification.
  • Does a person move along the levels of the bridge on his own or are there rituals that mark the transition between stages?
    • If there are rituals, are people discouraged from discussing them with people who have not gone through them?
  • Is there a hierarchy of knowledge (i.e. do people at higher levels possess knowledge that is unavailable to people at lower levels)?
  • Do Scientologists think of their group as "above" or "separate" from wider society?
  • Are there signs of recognition (i.e. overt or covert gestures, words, or symbols that identify a person as a member)?
  • Are there any "tests" (physical, psychological, emotional or otherwise) that a person must pass in order to go from one level to another?
  • Are you sure that you have the "whole track"?
I don't mean to challenge you here, but if you can answer those questions, then I think we can lay this issue to rest. Thanks. --Joe Quick (Talk) 18:02, 26 April 2007 (CDT)

Thank you for an opportunity to respond, I appreciate your politeness. These questions are about the bridge that contains the OT levels and here are my answers:

  • ritual - There is no ritual. The agreement of the individual and the Church, that a person has completed a level, mark the end of a level. A person is awarded a certificate of completion that is theirs to do as they like with. I could find a link to this information, I think.
  • hierarchy of knowledge - 99 percent of it is equally available to everyone, no hierarchy. Some public libraries have copies, has used copies, bookstores, Churches and Bridge Publications will sell all of that 99 percent to anyone, anytime. One percent (this is an estimation, it might be less) is not published, is not sold at all, to anyone, ever. A few stolen pages of this one percent seem to occupy critics attention.
  • do scientologists think of their group as "above" - Good lord no, but it is an amusing thought. Nah, we're common as dirt.
  • Are there signs of recognition - No, but a person might ask another, "are you a scientologist?".
  • Tests - There are no tests beyond a person's spoken word and the Church's agreement that he has finished a level. It isn't a pass-fail, situation but a sort of, "I've gotten all there is to get from these procedures, this development of awareness".
  • whole track - to be honorable I would have to define this term. the whole span of time of the time track. Time track - memories of the whole span of time of a person's life. [3] Yes, I'm sure I have that, but I'm sure that everyone else does, too. Maybe not everyone remembers when they were 3 years old or 3 months old, or 3 days old, but I'm confident that such memory can be rehabilitated. Terry E. Olsen 19:50, 26 April 2007 (CDT)
Thanks for the replies, Terry. This certainly doesn't sound like a secret society to me. The main things to look for are a hierarchy of knowledge and ritual transitions and from what Terry has written here, neither are present.
Hierarchy of knowledge is particularly important. Larry mentioned what sounds like a type of hierarchy of participation, but nearly all organizations have this to some extent, so we have to look for a hierarchy of knowledge that accompanies the hierarchy of participation.
This leaves us with no real distinction between a secret society and a corporation, so we need to also check for rites of passage connected with changes in status. These too are everywhere (there is a famous article about rites of passage and hospital births by Robbie Davis-Floyd). Secret societies usually practice a special type of rite of passage called a "rite of status elevation" (also widely used outside of secret societies) in very dramatic form. (Imagine whatever you probably have in your head about the Masons.) The form of these rituals is often the most secret knowledge that a secret society maintains (think Skull and Bones here) and is also the bit that tends to fascinate most people about such societies. It sounds like this is absent from scientology, so I would be inclined to leave scientology off the list here. --Joe Quick (Talk) 20:12, 26 April 2007 (CDT)
The various scholars and doctors of divinity who responded to the Church of Scientology with their professional opinions essentially stated the same conclusion. Those opinions are here. Terry E. Olsen 01:31, 27 April 2007 (CDT)
If no one objects, I'll go ahead and remove it. The religion work group might want to do a series of articles about religous secrets, anyway. Terry E. Olsen 16:46, 27 April 2007 (CDT)

Terry, I wrote above: "I'm sorry to have to 'pull rank,' but I'm going to ask you, in my capacity as editor-in-chief, to leave 'Scientology' on the list." Given that I wrote this, of course I object, because this issue has already been decided. It was out of order for you to pretend that I had not written it. You may not continue to revert; if you do, this will result in your ejection from the project. If you want this issue adjudicated in a way that favors your opinion, then you will have to find a Religion editor to overrule me.

As to the merits of your recent arguments, I have to say that you are continuing simply to pile on cant-filled details, without actually addressing my argument, which I won't bother to repeat. --Larry Sanger 21:59, 1 May 2007 (CDT)

To be fair, Larry, the most recent revert was partially my fault, if there is any fault to be shared out. Terry, in responding to the questions I posed, said very clearly that there is not secret knowledge (see the point about hierarchies of knowledge), so while he didn't make an argument against your claim, he did at least address the issue. My response, I think, is what triggered the most recent revert.
None of this is to say that your point isn't a good one. If Scientology is indeed a secret society, then of course a member would deny that it is. This is why I didn't take the initiative to remove it from the list myself (but I also didn't discourage Terry from removing it). The best course of action is clearly what you have pointed out - we should wait until we have a person who has studied but not joined the religion to weigh in (or even better, a person who has left the religion) before we make a final judgment. Please though, don't censure Terry too harshly, he was partially responding to my actions, for which I apologize. --Joe Quick (Talk) 22:33, 1 May 2007 (CDT)

Joe, thanks for the perspective you put on this. Scientologists do, of course, sell huge amounts of content--that's one of the ways they make their money. I would argue that it does not matter what percentage of this content is secret: if, only by rising through the ranks can one be exposed to writings that purport to contain deep, important knowledge privy only to the higher-ups, then the society has secrets in the requisite sense.

This is what Terry has never responded to, because he can't; he, like anyone who has read much about Scientology, knows it's true. But, I assume it's mainly in virtue of such secrets that it was originally placed on the list of secret societies developed by Mark Mirabello.

I think the reason that corporations and some government bodies aren't considered secret societies isn't that they don't have secrets--of course they do--but because they aren't societies. --Larry Sanger 09:54, 2 May 2007 (CDT)

Mr. Larry Sanger. This is your project at your veto over rides anyone else's input. You have said: "I observe merely that you still have not actually answered my actual argument: there are levels of initiation, with secret knowledge at each; in this regard, it fits the definition quite well. It's a simple argument, but you continue to ignore it, when it's the central issue." I have said: "There is no level of initiation", what you are referring to there is a "level of awreness", where a level of awareness might be "There is hope" or "I can perceive", or "I can communicate with anyone". Those are examples of levels of awareness. The "Secret initiation" and "secret knowledge" that you INSIST exists but does not actually exits are actually "Levels of awareness", my document for saying say is "The Bridge to Total Freedom" and if you will simply phone up ANY mission or Church of Scientology they will happily explain this very detail to you. Quite frankly, Mr. Sanger, I have explained this 3 times on this very page. In addition, you are using your veto power to prevent the subject of my expertise from being expressed in the other Scientology articles I have attempted to post. I met a VERY similar attitude at Wikipedia and wondered why no one could understand my typed word on the page. In addition, the slightest thing I said fired people off far beyond normal. No problem Mr. Larry Sanger. Good luck with your specific agenda. I hade hoped to contribute my tiny bit of expertise, clearly you havea BIG BUTTON on Scientology. I'm through. Goodbye. Terry E. Olsen 14:19, 2 May 2007 (CDT)

One last time. Your reply amounts to word games--and this I found nonresponsive. They're not levels of initiation, you say, but "levels of awareness." It doesn't matter what Scientologists call them, the point is that one climbs through these levels by doing who knows what, and at each point one is made privy to Deeply Important Information that is not sold or given to anyone else--i.e., what are, but which you don't want to call, "secrets." --Larry Sanger 14:50, 2 May 2007 (CDT)

Those levels, Mr. Sanger, are not about Church Status. The printed Bridge to Total Freedom is built about a central column. That central column is a list of potential human awarness. The printed word on the printed page says awareness. Why would a column list awareness? Because the primany effort of the Church of Scientology is to help a person increase his / her awarness. This is not a word game. The Church actually says that it can increase your awareness. Within the Church, an individual has the status of being public or is contracted by the Church and has a staff status. But anyone might achieve any level of the Bridge. An individual's level of awareness on the bridge does not have an accompanying Church status. They are separate areas. The Bridge has many levels and a person, by education and auditing, can achieve an increased awareness. On the OT levels but not on the lower levels, there is a small amount of confidential information presented, less than 1% of the total information. That is unpublished information. The Church gives reason for not publishing, saying it is of NO help to anyone to have it unless they are aware enough to assimilate it. What is it? Only OTs and selected staff members know. Presently 8000 + have completed OT VIII and that is increasing. Terry E. Olsen 13:55, 3 August 2007 (CDT)

Here is another link[4] that responds about this Secret Society issue and the Church of Scientology. Terry E. Olsen 18:45, 11 November 2007 (CST)

It doesn't matter what the qualifications are for having access to knowledge that others do not have; if information is released to only a select number of people it is still "secret" to those that do not know, not "of no use" as claimed. For example, I cannot simply go down to the bookstore and buy what you claim is not secret in a hardback edition. If it is "of no use" to me, then why can't I possess it even if I want to? Awareness has nothing to do with it. --Robert W King 19:22, 11 November 2007 (CST)


I have changed the status of this article from '1' to '2' because I believe there is significant potential here to make us look rather silly. This article was, after all, started by someone with atypical views. I have just deleted mentions of the 'Rosicrucians', and inserted the link under the section listing societies whose existence is in doubt. This is because I read in Umberto Eco's book 'Serendipities' (ISBN 0753808781) that, contrary to internet discourse which reads as though there's a member around every corner, this group have never existed - it was made up during the Middle Ages. I suspect that many other groups listed here don't exist either, and others are legitimate societies and meetings. Tread carefully... John Stephenson 02:13, 6 November 2007 (CST)


The extensive debate over this entry seems to have (at least temporarily) exhausted the debaters or the topics. In the interim, I've migrated a number of the items onto the appropriate subpages. IMHO, several of the lists and examples near the bottom also belong on the Related topics subpage. Any objections?

Meanwhile, this entire Talk page is long enough to provoke the "some browsers may have problems" warning. Can some of this be moved? Or must it await an approval for that? Roger Lohmann 12:22, 24 January 2008 (CST)

Archaic term?

While "secret society" certainly has historic and social science usage, is it really part of modern usage? Offhand, I can't think of a revolutionary movement, which called itself a secret society, since the early 20th century. "Revolutionary movement" is, indeed, the more common term, without wandering into the "loyalist vs. freedom fighter" morass.

I don't think I've ever heard it used in the context of a modern governmental organization, but, using these definitions, the United States intelligence community is full of them. See compartmented control system; I assure you there are rituals indoctrinations for compartment and subcompartment, and certainly secret information. For many years, it was required that initiates deny the existence of the National Reconnaissance Office, multibillion dollar organization that it is. It was NRO (or actually the BYEMAN control system) that G. Gordon Liddy, I believe, had in mind when he described a security compartment for which "the first letter of the name was SECRET, the code name was TOP SECRET, and the information it protected could be given by God the Father to the Holy Ghost only on a need-to-know basis." (BYEMAN, of course, would be only the entry point to, say, NEBULA, ZIRCONIC, and MISTY, which were ever-smaller compartments -- and I don't remember, offhand, if I have the latter three in properly descending order).All codewords mentioned have been declassified, if only to the level of "the fact of"

What about the nomenklatura of the Soviet Union? A proper gentlemens' club?

It could well be assumed that Americans think those that understand cricket form a secret society. Of course, much of the rest of the world might have a similar opinion of the National Football League, with a different definition of "football" than the ROW.

Purely from the definitions here, what is the difference between the Society of Jesus and the Church of Scientology? Seminarian versus ordained priest versus additional orders?

Howard C. Berkowitz 04:27, 27 February 2009 (UTC)

Please see response under the section "Attention by Sociology Authors" below. Bruce M. Tindall 15:50, 12 April 2011 (UTC)

Trilateral Commission?

I removed the Trilateral Commission from the list on the Related Articles page since their membership is posted on their website. If there is some other "secret" reason to list them, please explain. Since they publicly declare that they are a group of private citizens, it hardly seems fair to label them a secret society for such things as holding closed meetings. There may be others on this list that are similarly inappropriate.

Roger Lohmann 23:11, 6 July 2009 (UTC)

Attention by Sociology Authors and Editors?

This artlcle really needs some attention by authors and editors from the Sociology workgroup! Many of the types of secret societies discussed (such as mutual aid or mutual benefit organizations and fraternal organizations) are actually well-known, well-researched sociological topics, and many of the 'controversies' about this article are relatively easily to remedy and have been dealt with extensively in the sociological and sociological history literatures. Any volunteers?

Roger Lohmann 23:18, 6 July 2009 (UTC)

One can also observe, from the Military standpoint, that many things supposedly "see-krit" are not, or trivially so. I won't say any Virginia cabdriver could take you to all CIA buildings, but certainly a good many of them. Special operations helicopters aren't actually black, but matte dark gray. Living in Washington for many years, quite a few things became obvious, as well as finding that other things simply don't exist. For many years, it was "common knowledge" that there was a bunker under the Lincoln Memorial; the Park Service finally put viewing windows into the substructure.
There also are some things that are truly secret. From a sociological standpoint, it's interesting that thousands of people kept the ULTRA secret sacrosanct for 30 years. Also see compartmented control system. Howard C. Berkowitz 23:26, 6 July 2009 (UTC)
The term "secret society" appears to be in current use among sociologists to describe contemporary as well as historical phenomena. Searching the Sociological Abstracts database for the phrase turns up quite a few articles dealing with contemporary topics; for example, Jose C. Moya (UCLA), "Immigrants and Associations: A Global and Historical Perspctive," Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, vol. 31, no. 5, pp. 833-864, Sept 2005, whose abstract refers to various kinds of organizations ("secret societies, credit associations, mutual benefit societies, religious groups," etc.) among immigrants to and from various countries from the 19th century to the present. The abstract of another one, George Simmel, "The Sociology of Secrecy and Secret Societies" (article in Portugese, abstract in English), Revista de Ciencias Humanas, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 219-242, Apr 2009, says that "historical and current examples are presented." There are many others.
Several of the papers indexed there, however, do put the phrase "secret society" in quotation marks, which suggests that at least some sociologists consider the term to be problematic.
But I do think that an article with this title is warranted. The phrase does occur in contemporary scholarly writing in both history and sociology, so we need to explain what scholars mean when they use the phrase; and I think there should be some mention (very brief) of wingnut conspiracy theories that label things like the Council on Foreign Relations or the Trilateral Commission (which probably fall outside the scholarly definition) as "secret societies." Bruce M. Tindall 15:50, 12 April 2011 (UTC)

Compare and contrast with real government secrecy, other confidentiality?

At present, there are articles on classified information, Freedom of Information Act and compartmented control systems, although we need a higher-level article on government secrecy, and perhaps privacy. For the latter in a U.S. health perspective, we have HIPAA.

My question is whether there's a valid way to compare and contrast both real and conspiratorial secret societies with actual government or professional secrecy. Is the community of people with TS/SI/TK clearances a secret society? People with access to the psychiatric records of Charlie Sheen? Thoughts? Howard C. Berkowitz 18:56, 12 April 2011 (UTC)