Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Josh. Josh Wonders, “Why are there secret societies?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Josh!

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.

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