College secret society, any of a large range of membership organizations or associations that utilize secret initiations or other rituals and whose members often employ unique oaths, grips, or other signs of recognition. Elements of secrecy may vary from a mere password to elaborate rituals, private languages, costumes, and symbols.
Among the earliest secret societies of which historical evidence exists were the mystery religions of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. All of which had secret rites, initiations, and revelations of still more ancient wisdom. Among these were the cult of Dionysus, the keepers of the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries, and the Pythagorean brotherhood. Medieval guilds resorted to solemn initiatory oaths and other elements of secrecy primarily for economic self-protection.
What are college secret societies?
Typically made up of selected individuals, a collegiate secret society makes a significant effort to keep all aspects of their organization a secret. Secret societies in the US date back to 1750 with the Flat Hat Club formation. Its most famous members included Thomas Jefferson, St. George Tucker, and George Wythe.
Most secret societies make a strong effort towards keeping their affairs, members, initiations, and membership rolls out of the public eye.
Some secret societies only invite final year students to their groups, so they have the chance to observe them during their third year at the university.
Most secret societies have similar characteristics. They include:
- Difficult membership qualifications
- Secret ceremonies or rituals
- Close friendships between members
The very existence of secret societies has often prompted antagonism and fostered accusations of immorality, subversion, and heresy. Secret societies are, by their very nature, made up of persons presumably oriented toward similar ends. These ends usually manifest the characteristic that differentiates a given secret society from all others; that is to say, the ends are secret. Moreover, membership obligation to preserve secrecy is required. Secrecy is certainly necessary for all societies to function. Obviously, secret societies would lose their reason for existence if secrecy were ever entirely abandoned. Secret societies operate through a system of degrees of progressively higher rank in which secrets are revealed step by step. Initiation is therefore hierarchical.
While these shadowy cabals may prompt conspiracy theories on college campuses and beyond, both former members and skeptics suggest that the panic is much ado about nothing. Even so, it’s worth noting that collegiate secret societies at elite institutions count many influential people among their members.