13:36 01 March 2006
'The Prisoner' takes place in a fictional world whereby every inhabitant is referred to by their number, but one man (the titular prisoner) is determined to be a name, not a number.
The remake of Patrick McGoohan's cult TV enigma shifts the action from a quaint British town to a vast desert oasis and accelerates its themes of paranoia and dictatorship into the 21st century, as unseen forces can foresee every outcome, thwarting all escapes to normality.
Genuine secret societies have existed for centuries, conducting their business in darkened backrooms, and more often than not, exerting a mysterious influence upon our culture.
From political organizations to American college fraternities, these groups require their members to conceal their activities -- and sometimes even their identities -- from the public.
Go behind closed doors as we examine 10 of the world's most prominent secret societies, both past and present.
Skull and Bones
Arguably the world's most secretive college fraternity, Skull and Bones was founded at Yale University in 1832 and counts some of America's most powerful and influential citizens among its alumni; George W. Bush and John Kerry are both members. Also known as "The Order of Death," the society inducts 15 upcoming seniors for the year prior to their graduation and requires them to take a solemn vow of secrecy.
The most likely new member is from a family with longstanding ties to Skull and Bones and is someone who is energetic, resourceful, political, and above all else, willing to sacrifice his independence for the order's mysterious "common goal." Although some insist Skull and Bones is responsible for running America, others simply believe it to be an illustrious old boys' network.
Interesting fact: According to a 1999 report, Skull and Bones had assets of $4,133,246.
Order of the Bull's Blood
Established at Rutgers University in 1834, The Order of the Bull's Blood is a longstanding college fraternity that shares much in common with Skull and Bones. Each year, members of the Order "tap" 12 juniors and invite them to join the society for the coming year. New members are then encouraged to prove themselves by engaging in a number of elaborate pranks against the school's principal rival, Princeton University.
One of their most noteworthy pranks was the stealing of a cannon at Princeton in 1875. The Order of the Bull's Blood counts among its alumni current NBA Commissioner David Stern, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, former Vice President of the United States Garret A. Hobart, and former Director of the FBI, Louis Freeh.
Interesting fact: The Order of the Bull's Blood is the oldest currently active secret society at Rutgers.
The Krypteia was an ancient rite of passage for promising young Spartan men who had completed their formal education. Naked and armed with only a knife, these 18-year-olds were instructed to survive by any means necessary as they patrolled the countryside in search of revolts and misdeeds. Those who survived (and indeed many did perish) were welcomed with open arms into the Spartan Army.
Interesting fact: According to tradition, members of the Krypteia were permitted to kill serfs known as "Helots" without fear of blood guilt.
The Fenian Brotherhood
The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish nationalist organization dedicated to eradicating British rule in Ireland. Founded by John O'Mahony in 1858, the American-based group hoped to achieve its aims by invading British-occupied Canada and holding it hostage in return for Ireland's emancipation.
As far-fetched as their plan may sound, it wasn't without merit. After all, the Brotherhood counted among its members thousands of men who had fought during the American Civil War and it had the financial support of tens of thousands of Irish immigrants. Equipped with military training as well as patriotic love, the Fenians attacked Canada on three separate occasions in 1866, 1870 and 1871. On each occasion, they were repelled by a combination of Canadian voluntary forces and American government intervention.
Interesting fact: The Fenian Brotherhood was named in honour of the Fianna, a brave band of ancient Irish warriors.
Club of Rome
The Club of Rome is a global think tank composed of prominent intellectuals and decision-makers such as Fernando H. Cardoso, the former president of Brazil, and Rafael Hernandez Colon, the former Governor of Puerto Rico. These and other members have met regularly since 1968 to discuss solutions for what they call "the world problematique."
According to their manifesto, it is their aim to act as "a global catalyst of change that is free of any political, ideological or business interest." Despite their noble intentions, many conspiracy theorists are still wary of the power they possess. Some even believe that the Club is secretly dedicated to overthrowing America and transforming the world into 10 distinctive kingdoms.
Interesting fact: Those who fear the Club of Rome most believe it has the power to create worldwide economic recessions and depressions.
The Bilderberg Group
The Bilderberg Group is a collection of approximately 130 influential businessmen, financiers and politicians who meet once a year at an invitation-only conference. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is a member, as is World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. The group derives it's name from the Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands, where it held its first official (and highly secretive) meeting in 1954. At the time, the group's intention was to promote understanding between Western Europe and North America through informal, off-the-record meetings.
These days, however, many believe the Bilderberg Group serves a much more sinister purpose. According to some conspiracy theorists, the group and its collection of elite leaders are responsible for overthrowing governments, rigging elections and even arranging assassinations.
Interesting fact: Many believe this shadowy collective is responsible for having John F. Kennedy murdered.
Literally translated, Beati Paoli means "the Blessed People" and refers to a secretive sect believed to have flourished during the 1600s. According to legend, the Beati Paoli was composed of nobles and intellectuals who belonged to the congregation of San Francisco di Paola in Sicily, and was formed to oppose the abuse of authority that was rampant at the time. Members of this revolutionary sect took vows to avenge wronged women and punish corrupt officials.
Due to the sensitive nature of their work, they protected their identities by wearing black hooded cloaks and operated only at night. When they caught a suspect, they would bring him back to their underground refuge beneath the city of Palermo, where they would conduct a trial and execute their sentence.
Interesting fact: Although little is known of the Beati Paoli, many scholars believe the group eventually evolved into the Sicilian mafia.
The Knights of Columbus
The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic men's fraternal benefit society based in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded by Father Michael J. McGivney in 1882, the Knights pride themselves upon providing aid to the sick, disabled and needy. To that end, the order offers social fellowship through "educational, charitable, religious, social welfare, war relief, and public relief works." Any Catholic man over the age of 18 is invited to join, and indeed, many have.
The Knights of Columbus currently has over 12,000 councils and 1.7 million members around the world. Although its charitable work is praiseworthy, many outsiders dislike its pro-life stance and often rabid support of the Church.
Interesting fact: John F. Kennedy and Babe Ruth were both members of the Knights of Columbus.
The Order of the Illuminati was an 18th-century group of enlightened thinkers that formed in the state of Bavaria. Although it counted among its members literary giants such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Gottfried Herder, its existence was ultimately short-lived. Eight years after it formed, the Bavarian government banned all secret societies, bringing it - and many like it - to an end.
Nonetheless, it attracted its fair share of champions and detractors during its time. Men of high character like Thomas Jefferson praised the Illuminati for its view of morality, while others claimed the group was secretly conspiring to replace all nations with a single world government.
Interesting fact: At its height, the Illuminati numbered 4,000 members with branches in most European countries.
Freemasonry is a global fraternal organization that was founded in England around 1390. Over 600 years later, it now has over six million dedicated members scattered around the globe. Among its famous alumni are Mel Blanc, Mark Twain, Buffalo Bill Cody, Henry Ford, Arnold Palmer, Charles Lindbergh, and many more. Those wishing to join these days must be freely elected in a secret ballot. In order to qualify, a potential Mason must first be a man over the age of 18 who is of sound mind and body, believes in a "Supreme Being" and has at least one reference from a current Mason.
Once elected, a Mason is forbidden to disclose many of the details of his membership to the public. Freemasonry claims this veil of secrecy allows its members to comfortably explore ethical and philosophical issues without outside interference, but conspiracy theorists think otherwise.
According to some, Masons are involved in everything from brainwashing to brokering interplanetary alliances. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the organization's earliest and most vocal detractors was the Roman Catholic Church, which viewed Freemasonry and its message of religious tolerance as a threat to clerical authority.
Interesting fact: Freemasonry was banned in Germany shortly after Adolph Hitler's rise to power.
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