You hear the names from time to time…Skull and Bones…The Illuminati…Freemasons. But who are they? And what do they do? Why is it such a big secret?

These are all examples of secret societies. Although you can probably already guess as much from their name, secret societies are groups, organizations or clubs whose activities and inner workings are kept secret from those who are not members.

Some secret societies go to great lengths to hide the fact that they even exist. Others, though, don’t hide their existence. But just because you might know they exist, don’t think that you’ll know much about them if you’re not a member.

Because of their very nature, we don’t know much about certain secret societies. Most secret societies have a few things in common, though. These sometimes include difficult membership qualifications, secret rituals or ceremonies and close personal bonds between members.

Secret societies can be found on many college campuses as fraternities and sororities. These secret societies are fairly open and aren’t considered overly secretive, except when it comes to certain rituals, such as a secret handshake.

Other secret societies exist on a global level. Some people believe that certain secret society members work at the highest levels of government around the globe and secretly control the world economy.

Although there’s no convincing evidence that secret societies rule the world, here’s what we do know about a few of the most famous secret societies:

  • Skull and Bones: The Order of Skull and Bones is one of the oldest student secret societies in the United States. Founded in 1832 at Yale University, its membership is limited to an elite few. Both President George W. Bush and President George H. W. Bush were members. The names of its members were not kept secret until the 1970s. Some people believe Skull and Bones members formed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) within the U.S. government.
  • Freemasons: The Freemasons developed in the 1700s out of organized groups — called guilds — of stone masons (professional workers who built buildings out of stone). Freemasons are known for their rituals and symbolism, which includes architectural symbols such as the compass and square. Some people believe the Freemasons wield tremendous power within the U.S. government. This may, in part, be based upon the fact that most early politicians who signed the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons.
  • The Illuminati: During a period of history called The Enlightenment, members of various secret societies formed a new secret society — The Illuminati — in Germany in 1776. The group was characterized by free thinking and a detachment from organized religion. Some people claim The Illuminati is alive and well today, pushing toward a unified world government. There is little proof, however, that the group existed beyond the 1800s.


62 Join the Discussion

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  1. I think that secret societies are kind of cool because they are sneaky and sly. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be in a secret club or something like that. A couple of my friends and I are in a club!!

    • Hi, Cassidy! Thanks for being the very first Wonder Friend to leave us a comment on today’s Wonder of the Day®! We think it’s super cool to learn what you think about secret societies! :-)

  2. This was a terrific article….This was also a question that has been bouncing around in my head, and is now answered, thank you. My class and I read these articles everyday, and love them! Thanks again! :)

    • We’re really happy to hear that today’s Wonder answered some questions you had about secret societies, Leira’! Thank you for being such a GREAT Wonder Friend…please tell your classmates that everyone in Wonderopolis appreciates ALL of you! :-)

    • Happy Monday, Hailey! Thanks so much for letting us know you enjoyed exploring today’s Wonder of the Day®! We appreciate your comment! :-)

    • Hi, Hannah! Thanks so much for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day® and for letting us know you thought the video was funny! Please tell your piano teacher we said, “hello!” :-)

    • That’s a really great guess, Julia! We’ll all have to visit tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day® to find out if your guess was correct! :-)

    • We appreciate your comment, Trucker Buddy! Thanks for letting us know what you thought about today’s Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  3. I used to be a Rainbow Girl, which was founded off the Freemasons. This is where I first learned to volunteer. I still remember the secret word.

    • We think that’s so cool, Sharon! Thank you for sharing your personal connection to this “SECRET” Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • We think YOU are awesome for leaving us this nice comment, Madalynn! We’re glad you liked the video for today’s Wonder, too! :-)

  4. I’m going to do a secret society, but I think I’ll leave out the special outfit. Why are you going to name your secret society Meese and Foxen?

    • We’ll have to come up with a handshake that’s hard enough to be “secretive,” but easy enough for all of our Wonder Friends to learn and use! Thanks so much for visiting today’s SECRET Wonder, Mr. P. and Ms. Gentile’s 4th graders! :-)

    • Hello, Jenifer! Thanks so much for exploring today’s Wonder! Maybe everybody know SOMEONE in a secret society, but that SOMEONE is just keeping it a really big SECRET! :-)

    • Those are all GREAT questions, Simon Bird! Thanks so much for stopping by Wonderopolis today! We encourage you to re-visit today’s Wonder to learn more about secret societies! :-)

  5. I knew a lot about secret societies from TV and stuff, but this article gives the question a whole new way to look at it! Awesome article! I loved reading about the Skull and Bones, Freemasons, and Illuminati societies-it makes me feel like I know more than most people when I know some secrets. I’m going to try to make a secret society, myself. Don’t know what to call it yet, but I’ll come up with something. Once again: AWESOME ARTICLE!

    • WOW! We really enjoyed reading your comment, It’s a Secret! Thanks for sharing your background knowledge about secret societies and also all the cool, new things you learned about them by exploring today’s Wonder! :-)

    • That’s cool, Ashlyn! Thank you for sharing your personal connection to today’s SECRET society Wonder! We think you ROCK! :-)

  6. Dear wonderopolis,
    Cool wonder! I have no idea why there are no secret societies. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about bugs.
    Paige ;)

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Esthelle! We’re so glad you stopped by this Wonder of the Day® and let us know you think it’s GREAT! We appreciate your comment very much! :-)

    • That’s so cool, Nya! Please tell your class that we REALLY like reading the comments you guys leave for us! Have a WONDERful day! :-)

    • Hi, Alexia! We are doing GREAT today, and we hope you are, too! Please tell Constance that we appreciate her apology very much. We would really like to share ALL the comments we get with everyone in Wonderopolis. Have a WONDERful day! :-)

  7. Hey Wonderopolis, remember me? My former names were Sarah and YuGiOhNinja!!! Me and my friend Sydney are making a secret society with a name based on a video game, the legend of zelda. In fact, it’s called Links To The Past, and the game is called a link to the past. No wonder the main character’s name is link! We are also making a band that we are going to do in the talent show at our school! It has the same name as our secret society! OOPS, I said too much :{[ [p.s. the smiley face guy has a mustache!]

    • We sure DO remember you by ALL your names, ALinkToThePast61! Thanks for sharing about your secret society! We’ll keep it a secret, don’t worry! We also wish you the best of luck with your band in the talent show…we know you will be GREAT! :-)

  8. Hey wonderopolis, TEAM CAISSE sent in a comment and it’s not here!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Whats up with that?
    Also, GO THE LEGEND OF ZELDA!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    From the worlds best gamer
    go digital, go gamer!
    Also,do you guys have a wonder about video games?
    Also also also, I’m gonna make a video game when I grow up since I’m only in 5th grade, and it’s about Stacheriono and Moustachio, and it’s called super stache bros! Actually, that’s the comic! [adapted from super mario bros] They have super moustaches that are awesome! Actually, the game just has Moustachio and it’s called SooperStache! I will dedicate the comic and the game halfways to you guys for being so WONDERFUL and AWESOME and always keeping me wondering!
    And, if you can’t answer all the also’s, that’s ok. Sorry for 2 comments I’m just so hyped up on Dr. Pepper!

    • Hi, Smeagol! Thanks so much for leaving us this cool comment! We invite you to re-explore this Wonder of the Day® to learn more about why secret societies exist! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why are there secret societies?
  • What are some famous secret societies?
  • Can you create your own secret society?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to form your own secret society? Why would you want to form a secret society? Why not? It’s fun! Besides, who doesn’t like secrets?

To form your own secret society, you’re going to need some members. Why not start with some of your family members? Ask them to help you get your secret society started.

Next, choose a name for your secret society. Cool names like The Illuminati and Skull and Bones are already taken. If you use your imagination, though, we bet you can come up with a really cool, super-secret name. We’re thinking about forming our own Wonderopolis secret society called Meese and Foxen!

Once you have a name, you can start assembling some of the other building blocks of a great secret society. Here are just a few of the things you’ll need:

  • A secret handshake: Every secret society needs a super-secret handshake that members can use to identify one another. Make sure it’s not too complicated, though, as others might notice what you’re doing.
  • A special outfit: Whether it’s a flowing robe or a skull and crossbones shirt, secret societies love to dress up in interesting clothing. What outfit suits your secret society best?
  • Cool symbols: Every secret society has unique symbols that help members visualize and identify with the secret society’s purpose. Can you come up with some cool symbols that put an interesting face with the name you came up with?
  • Interesting rituals: Most secret societies develop special rituals that new members must go through before becoming a full-fledged member. Maybe you can create a special dance that new members must perform upon initiation!
  • Secrets: What would a secret society be without secrets? Just a society, we suppose. Your brand-new secret society might be low on secrets at the beginning, but you’ll develop them as you go along. For example, the stories behind your name, handshake, outfit, symbols and rituals can become your first secrets!

If you want to invite other Wonder Friends to join your secret society, feel free to share information on Facebook. Of course, your secret society won’t be so secret any longer, but that’s OK. Part of the fun of having secrets is sharing them…eventually!


Still Wondering

In ArtsEdge’s Harriet Tubman: Secret Messages Shared through Song lesson, children are introduced to the African-American spiritual and its use of a secret language to share information within the slave community.


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