Secret Societies – Is Membership for You?

To mark the big screen release of Dan Brown’s latest conspiracy fantasy, this one involving the Roman Catholic Church and the Illuminati, I put together a brief guide to the Secret Societies of the Silver Screen for MSN Entertainment.

Is membership in a secret society really for you? Do you think you have what it takes to join an organization that demands total obedience and silence? Since we can’t get any information from the societies themselves (it’s that whole “secret” thing), we’ve looked to the most reliable source of information we know — the movies! — for our research into the most notable organizations shrouded in a vow of silence. We make no claims of definitive scholarship here. We don’t even admit to the actual existence of these organizations, let alone the accuracy of the information.

We’d like to, mind you, but then we’d have to kill you.

The Freemasons
As seen in:
National Treasure,” “The Man Who Would Be King,” “From Hell,” “Murder By Decree
Stated goals / secret agendas: Charitable work and community leadership, but there are those who see a vast conspiracy behind the façade of social respectability and moral role models.
Famous members: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Jack the Ripper
What to look for in an applicant: A cross between a Boy Scout and a civic-minded entrepreneur.
Member benefits: Secret handshake and communication codes.
Watch out for: The Roman Catholic Church — they’re suspicious of all secrecy under the guise of benevolent services. They should know.
Dress code: None, though many work the Masonic symbol (the square and compass) into their fashion accessories: pins, buttons, maybe even secret Masonic underwear. Or is that the Mormons?
Fun activities: All those secret rituals!
Interesting (if not necessarily true) trivia from the movies: The American Revolution was launched by a Masonic brotherhood, who also smuggled the treasures of the Knights Templar to America (see “National Treasure”). Apparently, Jack the Ripper was also a Masonic conspiracy (see “From Hell” and “Murder By Decree” — and, by gosh, if two films say it’s so, then who am I to argue?).

My painstakingly researched study goes on to research The Skull and Bones (The Skulls), The Knights Templar (Ivanhoe), Opus Dei (The Da Vinci Code), Shaolin Temple (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin), Fight Club, The Order of the Phoenix, and that great society of villains from James Bond, SPECTRE. Read the complete feature here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website ( I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View ( I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly,, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

3 thoughts on “Secret Societies – Is Membership for You?”

  1. Pretty poor research on the Freemasons…all you have to do is ask one or contact most any Grand Lodge and they are usually more than happy to discuss their purpose. Besides, it is pretty hard to be a “secret” society when its members freely display their membership and the organization owns buildings that are very readily identified in most cities.

  2. I’m sorry you didn’t find the humor in this approach, Kent. Of course the Freemasons are not a secret society, but there is that level of conspiratorial murmurings that suspects a “hidden agenda” behind the public face, which I was merely attempting to have fun with – as with all of the picks in my article.

  3. Sean, for what it’s worth – *I* think your article is hilarious. Kent obviously does not have as cultured a sense of humor as the rest of us and, I suspect, is merely trying to defend the sinister secrets of the Freemasons, to which we can probably assume he belongs.

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