Primitive Clubs and Secret Societies

Blood kinship determined the first social groups; association enlarged the kinship clan. Intermarriage was the next step in group enlargement, and the resultant complex tribe was the first true political body. The next advance in social development was the evolution of religious cults and the political clubs. These first appeared as secret societies and originally were wholly religious; subsequently they became regulative. At first they were men’s clubs; later women’s groups appeared. Presently they became divided into two classes: sociopolitical and religio-mystical.

There were many reasons for the secrecy of these societies, such as:

1. Fear of incurring the displeasure of the rulers because of the violation of some taboo.

2. In order to practice minority religious rites.

3. For the purpose of preserving valuable “spirit” or trade secrets.

4. For the enjoyment of some special charm or magic.

The very secrecy of these societies conferred on all members the power of mystery over the rest of the tribe. Secrecy also appeals to vanity; the initiates were the social aristocracy of their day. After initiation the boys hunted with the men; whereas before they had gathered vegetables with the women. And it was the supreme humiliation, a tribal disgrace, to fail to pass the puberty tests and thus be compelled to remain outside the men’s abode with the women and children, to be considered effeminate. Besides, noninitiates were not allowed to marry.

Primitive people very early taught their adolescent youths sex control. It became the custom to take boys away from parents from puberty to marriage, their education and training being intrusted to the men’s secret societies. And one of the chief functions of these clubs was to keep control of adolescent young men, thus preventing illegitimate children.

Commercialized prostitution began when these men’s clubs paid money for the use of women from other tribes. But the earlier groups were remarkably free from sex laxity.

The puberty initiation ceremony usually extended over a period of five years. Much self-torture and painful cutting entered into these ceremonies. Circumcision was first practiced as a rite of initiation into one of these secret fraternities. The tribal marks were cut on the body as a part of the puberty initiation; the tattoo originated as such a badge of membership. Such torture, together with much privation, was designed to harden these youths, to impress them with the reality of life and its inevitable hardships. This purpose is better accomplished by the later appearing athletic games and physical contests.

But the secret societies did aim at the improvement of adolescent morals; one of the chief purposes of the puberty ceremonies was to impress upon the boy that he must leave other men’s wives alone.

Following these years of rigorous discipline and training and just before marriage, the young men were usually released for a short period of leisure and freedom, after which they returned to marry and to submit to lifelong subjection to the tribal taboos. And this ancient custom has continued down to modern times as the foolish notion of “sowing wild oats.”

Many later tribes sanctioned the formation of women’s secret clubs, the purpose of which was to prepare adolescent girls for wifehood and motherhood. After initiation girls were eligible for marriage and were permitted to attend the “bride show,” the coming-out party of those days. Women’s orders pledged against marriage early came into existence.

Presently nonsecret clubs made their appearance when groups of unmarried men and groups of unattached women formed their separate organizations. These associations were really the first schools. And while men’s and women’s clubs were often given to persecuting each other, some advanced tribes, after contact with the Dalamatia teachers, experimented with coeducation, having boarding schools for both sexes.

Secret societies contributed to the building up of social castes chiefly by the mysterious character of their initiations. The members of these societies first wore masks to frighten the curious away from their mourning rites — ancestor worship. Later this ritual developed into a pseudo seance at which ghosts were reputed to have appeared. The ancient societies of the “new birth” used signs and employed a special secret language; they also forswore certain foods and drinks. They acted as night police and otherwise functioned in a wide range of social activities.

All secret associations imposed an oath, enjoined confidence, and taught the keeping of secrets. These orders awed and controlled the mobs; they also acted as vigilance societies, thus practicing lynch law. They were the first spies when the tribes were at war and the first secret police during times of peace. Best of all they kept unscrupulous kings on the anxious seat. To offset them, the kings fostered their own secret police.

These societies gave rise to the first political parties. The first party government was “the strong” vs. “the weak.” In ancient times a change of administration only followed civil war, abundant proof that the weak had become strong.

These clubs were employed by merchants to collect debts and by rulers to collect taxes. Taxation has been a long struggle, one of the earliest forms being the tithe, one tenth of the hunt or spoils. Taxes were originally levied to keep up the king’s house, but it was found that they were easier to collect when disguised as an offering for the support of the temple service.

By and by these secret associations grew into the first charitable organizations and later evolved into the earlier religious societies — the forerunners of churches. Finally some of these societies became intertribal, the first international fraternities.


Urantia Book. (1955). Primitive Clubs and Secret Societies. Chicago, IL: Urantia Foundation.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Matt 7:20).

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