Secret societies of the world, including the Freemasons(AP Photo-Christophe Ena)

It's pretty much agreed that secret societies exist. It's also alleged that some pretty strange things go on in them. But differences emerge about what those strange things really amount to. Are we talking funny handshakes and raucous drinking games, or massive political influence and human sacrifice?

Here is our rundown of 10 of the most sinister/ridiculous (delete according to your own viewpoint) secret societies in the world.

Skull and Bones

The Skull and Bones is, possibly, a sinister secret society of well-connected Yale University undergraduates that controls the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other arms of the US government.

John Kerry and George W Bush(AP Photo-Charles Dharapak)

Political opponents John Kerry and George W Bush were both members of the Skull and Bones society at Yale University

It is also, possibly, a breeding ground for members of the powerful global elite that covertly controls the world and everything in it. And it is, possibly, a glorified drinking club for wealthy students.

What is certain is that former 'Bonesmen' include George W Bush and former presidential candidate John Kerry, both of whom remain tight lipped about the society's activities.

On Bing: learn more about the Skull and Bones

The Bullingdon Club

The nearest thing to the Skull and Bones in Britain is probably the Bullingdon Club, an exclusive 'dining' club at Oxford that boasts David Cameron and Boris Johnson among its former members.

Nobody claims the Bullingdon Club is the English arm of the Illuminati, or that its activities are anything other than boorish and crude. But its members have been accused of trashing restaurants and subjecting enemies to riotous 'debaggings' (the 'humorous' removal of the victim's trousers).

If you think any of that's funny, just remember that one former 'Bully' now has his finger on the trigger of the nation's nuclear arsenal.

On Bing: learn more about the Bullingdon Club

The Bilderberg Group

Conspiracy theorists argue that the Bilderberg Group membership includes many of the western world's most powerful politicians and financiers. That may or may not be true, but the next bit is a little more controversial. The group's aim is the overthrow of national governments and asserting sole dominance over an enslaved world.

Protestor with anti-Bilderberg Group placard(AP Photo-Manu Fernandez)

The annual gathering of the Bilderberg Group consistently attracts protestors

Alternatively, Bilderberg is a group of has-beens (plus invited guests) who get together once a year to discuss world problems over good food and fine wine.

It's certainly quite secretive, though. One Daily Telegraph journalist - who is still by all accounts alive - has said that, "the reality of these conferences appears to boil down to a group of willy-waggling old men comparing their security details and dreaming of past glories."

On Bing: read more about the Bilderberg Group

Thule Society

Sometimes the conspiracy theorists are right, and secret societies do change the course of history.

The Thule Society was a German group, formed after the first world war, which believed in the coming of a 'German redeemer'. Its members were happy to support Adolf Hitler in that role when he started his rise to power.

Some historians have argued that without the early support of the society, Hitler would be nothing more than a short historical footnote.

The Thule Society believed in the purity of an Aryan race, and forced recruits to declare a bloodline free from 'contamination' by Jews and 'coloured' peoples. Their warped philosophies would find a chilling echo in the decades to come.

On Bing: learn more about the Thule Society

The Knights of the Golden Circle

Though long disbanded, the Knights of the Golden Circle was a group rumoured to include outlaw Jesse James and John Wilkes Booth, President Abraham Lincoln's killer, among its members.

John Wilkes Booth(AP Photo-Sun Classics Pictures Inc)

John Wilkes Booth, the man who killed Abraham Lincoln, was said to be a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle

The interesting thing about the Knights was that it didn't just limit its activity to odd rituals and funny handshakes.

Before and during the American civil war, the group formed armed renegade bands with the intention of invading Mexico and the West Indies and, later, supporting the Confederate government.

On Bing: more on the Knights of the Golden Circle

Order of the Nine Angles

Find a secret society and you'll often find the devil in close attendance. That's certainly true of the Order of the Nine Angles, a satanist group with neo-Nazi leanings formed in the UK in the 1960s.

The group might be considered the hardcore wing of the devil-worshipping movement. Its writings bang on about creating a new human species through physical and mental hardship, which would be fine if it weren't for the other side of the coin. They believed creating a super race also involved the slightly thorny topic of human sacrifice, to rid humanity of the weak and unfit.

On Bing: read more about the Order of the Nine Angles


If it wasn't just a big club for middle-aged blokes with imaginative handshakes, the Freemasons - with millions of members worldwide - might be quite a dangerous organisation.

Freemasons in France(AP Photo-Christophe Ena)

Some people continue to believe that Freemasons influence the upper echelons of law and politics

Of course, to some people it really is a dangerous organisation, and its huge list of powerful members - along with all those weird rituals and olde worlde symbolism - only serve to emphasise the point.

According to their detractors, Freemasons have heavily infiltrated the upper echelons of law and politics, making sure other Freemasons get the benefit of important decisions (or so the popular theory goes).

On Bing: learn more about the Freemasons

The Church of Satan

Compared to the Order of The Nine Angles, the Church of Satan seems a pretty cuddly organisation. It's not even that secret - if you have $200 to spare you can probably join, even if it's not something you'd boast about at your son's Cub Scout barbecue.

And in many ways the rules of the church seem quite reasonable. "Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked," they say, and "do not harm little children". You'd be hard pressed to argue with that.

But as with so much, the devil (sorry) is in the detail. Rules like this one - "If someone bothers you, ask them to stop. If they don't stop, destroy them" - do betray a certain satanic mindset.

On Bing: find out more about the Church of Satan

The New World Order

The New World Order is a somewhat nebulous term for a shadowy (or fictional) organisation that may or may not include the Illuminati (see below) but does, according to certain online conspiracy theorists with absolutely no evidence, include members of the corporate and political elite. Some crackpots even believe our dear old Queen is part of it.

Queen Elizabeth II(AP Photo-Scott Heppell, Pool)

Member of the New World Order? We seriously doubt it!

Yes, you did just read that correctly. These baseless theorists would have you believe our very own monarch is not the ageing ribbon snipper of popular perception, but the leading light of an organisation that plans to impose a one-world government on the rest of us. A kind of Dr Evil in a tiara, you might say.

The emergence of a New World Order is a constant theme of crackpot anti-government types in America. And there's no doubt that the need to defend liberty against this powerful global elite provides a convenient excuse for middle-aged white men to meet in the woods and muck about with powerful weaponry.

On Bing: read more about the New World Order

The Illuminati

In some interpretations the New World Order is a secret faction in its own right, while in others it's simply the ultimate goal of a powerful cabal of extended families collectively known as the Illuminati.

In this view, the Illuminati is an organisation of supremely influential and well-connected individuals, who secretly gather in a series of councils and committees to manipulate global political and financial institutions and further their own dastardly ends.

Those ends include a reduction in the global population to a billion citizens useful to the Illuminati, and the end to all social distinctions except master and servant.

Nasty. And probably nonsense. The real Illuminati was a Bavarian 18th-century sect infiltrated and destroyed in 1785. There is no concrete evidence that anything of the sort survives today. But then I would say that, wouldn't I?

On Bing: read more about the Illuminati