Forming groups or organizations characterized by the use of secret initiations or other rituals, oaths, grips (handclasps), or signs of recognition between members.
Secret groups are a feature of all societies. These groups lie between the extremes of charitable brotherhoods and revolutionary or secret political conspiracies. The earliest known secret societies appeared over 2500 years ago. Originally only of a religious nature, they later served business, social or mutual aid purposes. In times of political and economic stress, societies may become the focus of major such insurrections.
The strategy of secret societies is used to gain some power over, or defence from, the surrounding social environment's pressures or ideas. At its mildest, the secrecy of rites and membership heightens the sense of identity within members of a group. Forming a secret society requires the establishment of initiation rites, means of protecting the secrets of the group, and usually involves degrees of membership, structures of authority and discipline, rituals and mythology. Generally the rituals and mythology are tied to the original cause or purpose of the society.
Psychologists have argued that secret societies filled a need of immature individuals as a stage on the development path toward free, open adult responsibility.
Most opposition is directed toward the excesses and perversions of secret societies: the susceptibility to criminal infiltration, brutalization of members, authoritarian leadership, anti-social values and behaviour and blind obedience.