top of page

5 Secret Societies You’ve Never Heard Of

We all know of the Freemasons and the ever-mysterious Illuminati, but throughout history, plenty of other secret societies have flourished under the radar. The western U.S. is home to a long-crunning, low-key historical society with a unique and eccentric ethos, while northern Spain’s historic food culture has been kept alive through selective supper clubs for more than a century. Though their stories don’t often get told, these clandestine groups have nonetheless left their own obscure marks. Read on to learn about five little-known secret societies.

Order of the Occult Hand

Secret societies typically conjure a dark air of mystery, but the Order of the Occult Hand illustrates the fun side of underground organizations. Its origins can be traced to 1965, when Joseph Flanders, a crime reporter for the Charlotte News, wrote an article about the shooting of a local millworker. “It was as if an occult hand had reached down from above and moved the players like pawns upon some giant chessboard,” Flanders wrote. His colleagues, the legend goes, found the flowery description so funny, they formed the Order of the Occult Hand, a secret society dedicated to sneaking “it was as if an occult hand,” or a similar phrase, into their work. 

The mission quickly spread among journalism circles in Charlotte and beyond. By the early 1970s, the mischievous media conspiracy was becoming so prevalent that the Boston Heraldreportedly banned “occult hand” from the paper. Over the years, the phrase continued to show up in The New York Times, TheWashington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. In 2004, writer James Janega published a thorough exposé of the Order in the Chicago Tribune, and in 2006, journalist Paul Greenberg, a long-running member of the society, copped to creating a new secret phrasethat went into circulation, even as the “occult hand” keeps going

The Oculist Order

In 2011, a team of researchers cracked the codeof a centuries-old manuscript belonging to a secret society known as the Oculists. The text, known as the Copiale Cipher and believed to date back to between about 1760 and 1780, was discovered in former East Germany following the Cold War. Once the confusing useof Roman and Greek characters, arrows and shapes, and mathematical symbols was deciphered, a ritual manual for an 18th-century German group with a keen interest in eyesightwas revealed.

The cipher detailed the Oculists’ initiation ceremonies, oaths, and “surgeries,” which seemed to consist of plucking hairs from eyebrows with tweezers — a nonsurgical procedure, of course, but described by the manuscript as symbolic actions. Another passage described a tobacco ceremony in which the hand pointedly touches the eye; another still told of a candidate kneeling in a candlelit room in front of a man wearing an amulet with a blue eye in the center. Research has suggested that the group’s focus on the eye was simply due to the fact that eyes are part of the symbology of secret societies — the Oculists did not appear to be optometrists, and their ultimate purpose remains a mystery. 


Northern Spain’s Basque Country is home to a handful of “txokos” — food-centric secret societies that started as a way to save money on food and drink when dining out of the home. These gastronomic societies function as exclusive clubs; members, often chosen after being waitlisted for years, have access to a fully stocked kitchen and pantry, where they cook for themselves or each other, using the honor system to pay for items needed or used. While it sounds similar to a modern dinner party, many of the txokos have been around for decades, and are still going strong. Kañoyetan, reportedly the oldest society in the region (founded in 1900), counts renowned local chef Martin Berasategui — a 12-time Michelin star recipient — among its members. Until recently, txokos operated as secret societies only for men; the club claimed to be a place for men to socialize and cook outside of the home, where, according to the BBC, “their wives traditionally called the shots.” Wine and cider are always on hand; these days the dinners can start late in the evening, and have been known to stretch on until the early morning hours.

E Clampus Vitus

The mysterious society known as E Clampus Vitus originated in West Virginia sometime around the mid-1840s. By the early 1850s, the “Clampers,” like many people during the gold rush era, made their way west to California. Many of the fraternal club’s rituals were adopted as a reaction to the formalities of other organizations at the time, such as the Odd Fellows and Freemasons. Clampers, who were primarily miners, wore eccentric clothing and accessories, conducted lighthearted rituals, and adopted the slogan “Credo Quia Absurdum,” or, roughly translated, “I believe because it is absurd.”

The Clampers’ clubs waned around the turn of the 20th century, and by the 1920s, the society was all but defunct. But in the 1930s, the Clampers reestablished themselves with a new objective: to chronicle some of the most obscure details of the history of the American West. In California alone, more than 1,400historical markers have been installed to commemorate moments in the state’s history that might otherwise go overlooked, including the birthplace of the martini, filming locations, and the “world’s largest blossoming plant.”

The Divine Brotherhood of Pythagoras

The name Pythagoras likely brings back memories of high school geometry, but the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician was also the head of a mysterious society. The Divine Brotherhood of Pythagoras was formed in the sixth century BCE. The community may have been based on the study of mathematics, but it operated more like a secret society — or, as some might say, a cult. It’s believed they lived together communally, surrendered their personal possessions, were vegetarians who purportedly did not eat beans because it was believed beans had souls, and followed several strict rituals.  

The Pythagoreans’ motto was “all is number,” and their aim was to be pure of mind and soul. Their focus on mathematics and science was a way to achieve purity — as was avoiding wearing woolen clothing, and never stirring a fire with a knife, as laid out in Pythagoras’ rules. The group ultimately had many mathematical achievements, but their selective and rigid way of life contributed to a lingering sense of mystery around the community.

290 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 comentário

Izzy Mendalbaum
Izzy Mendalbaum
12 de dez. de 2023

Here in Georgia is a secret group who call themselves the Sons of Tarzan. I'm a founding member but I can tell you no more. Early meetings ended with a visit to our old friend Cheetah's club on Spring St. in Atlanta. This year's secret meeting is Friday. Location a secret,

bottom of page