Knowing, or being part of, a secret seems to have universal human appeal, whether it is simply being ‘included’ in some shared knowledge, or in a more complex way that incorporates a hidden goal. Throughout history, there have been societies of closed membership and covert purpose. In this comprehensive work, David Barrett explores these movements from the earliest times to the present day. He covers the ancient widsom of the Mediterranean civiliaztions which formed the basis of many gourps and whose tenets and principles, and esoteric religious beliefs, surfaced in medieval times and are still to be found in secretive societies today. He considers in particular depth the origins, history and beliefs of Freemasonry, together with its interrelationships with the Templars, Rosicrucians, Illuminati and other groups. In addition, he describes movements once formed by fraternal desire to protect, but which have become corrupted to such a degree that today their names are synonymous with organized crime — the Sicilian-originated Mafia and the Chinese-originated Triads. In parallel, he considers bodies such as the Ku Klux Klan and occult societies linked to the Nazis.