Real Secret Societies That Left Their Marks On History

Throughout history, men and women have formed secret groups, gathering behind closed doors in pursuit of shared ideals. They might have used unexpected methods to get what they wanted. Some attempted magic, others turned to violence, and many, in fact, got caught and persecuted for the things they did. Yet still, secret societies continue to meet in private today — perhaps there’s even one in your hometown.

20. The Knights of Malta

Not every secret society is about the occult, magic, or the dark arts. The Knights of Malta — founded in the year 1048 — had noble aims from the start.

Members would take care of anyone making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, regardless of the person’s faith. The Pope ordered them to aid any Christians who needed protection along the way, too. Things have changed somewhat since 1048, though.

The Knights of Malta is still going strong today

Nowadays, the Knights of Malta have a much different focus. Its 13,500 members across 120 countries focus on charitable causes in general.

Their motto is “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum” — nurturing, witnessing, and protecting the faith and serving the poor and the sick. Considering their focus on charity, it makes sense that Nelson Mandela was once part of the organization.

19. Freemasons

So many rumors surround the Freemasons — possibly the least secret "secret society" in history. This makes sense, considering how old and storied the organization is. The Freemasons emerged in Europe in the midst of the Middle Ages, a time when craftspeople were arranged into regional guilds.

It wasn’t until 1717 that the Freemasons morphed into its current iteration. That's when four branches from London joined together, and the group expanded to the rest of the continent and the Americas.

The Freemasons' secret handshake

What started as a fraternity for craftsmen is now a bit more mysterious to non-members. The Freemasons are ostensibly about charity work and social networking. However, rumors swirl that the group is plagued with bullies, nepotism, and a refusal to change with the times.

People also suspect that the Freemasons have a secret handshake, but they won’t show it to anyone outside of their six million members. The Freemasons were given the honor of being parodied by The Simpsons in an episode that saw Homer join the "Stonecutters."