Thorough, engaging and well planned out. Though not exhaustive, "A History of Secret Societies" provides a nice introduction to various teachings and spiritual expressions.Walt
A light and cursory reading that mixes scholarship with sensationalism. When considering a topic as broad as secret societies, it is seemingly impossible to adequately cover all of them. The selected societies in this text are an odd mixture of religious groups, criminal bands, and social phenomena. Some readers may raise an eye brow that Sufis and Buddhists are included alongside the Illuminati and Rosicrucians. The study of each group also takes unusual paths. The author focuses a lot on ceremony and degrees of initiation rather than the historical account of the societies. A chapter entitled "The High Priesthood of Thebes" is entirely devoted to initiation rites. This would be much more fascinating to the reader if they had some background as to this group. In a few places the author does better at balancing the orders of the societies with actual history. His chapters on the Tongs and Charcoal Burners of Italy show these groups to be more focused on crime than socio-political-religious leanings.Overall, the chapters are too cursory, even with just examining just 24 societies. There are no references or further readings. This can be maddening when wanting to know more about the Charcoal Burners and their Medieval Sicilian counterparts, the Avengers; or even more information about the Guardian Angel or Peacock Angel devotees. This book does little more than spread a vague awareness of the topic.Timm
Interesting high-level overview of various societies. Look elsewhere for depth.Annette
it seems a bit cursory, but does include a wide range of societies. who knew russians were so into castration? it's kind of like summer/beach reading i think. i'm zipping right through. i can't really understand the organization. i thought it might be chronological, but the more recent ones don't seem to be in order perhaps? i think a better approach to the book might have been to show how gnosticism is the basis for all the secret societies that have shaped modern history. i really wish there was more in depth info. maybe i'm too harsh a judge but i've just found that non-fiction writers seem to be very loose about quality writing and coherent, logical organization of ideas. i always think "needs and editor!" blah blah blah. and i had to return it while only about half way through. darnRoland Volz
This is a "classic" from the field of Conspiratorial studies, which I've started many times over the last twelve or so years but never finished until now. Written by author Idries Shah under a pen name ("Arkon Daraul"), this is an old book with some interesting bits to it. Shah plays a little fast and loose with many of his allegations, but he has something of value to add. He claims to have had contact with several of the societies he writes about, but is vague with details. He also fails to cite many references, and there's no bibliography, which would have made this a five-star book for me -- if he's wrong, at least with his sources handy you can check for yourself.Shah's main thesis seems to be that most secret societies contain at their core some ecstatic ritualized experience which is what transforms the member into someone new. That's basically the definition of an esoteric society, so it's nothing new, but it's interesting how many societies he claims this for. He also lists the Sufi (Islamic cabbalists) and Tibetan Buddhism as secret societies, which is actually pretty funny. An entertaining read, if a little difficult to slog through sometimes. Definitely recommended as a starting point, as long as your willing to check your facts.It covers the Assassins, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians in quite some detail; the Sufi, the Mithraists, the Skoptsi, the Carbonari, the Garduna, ancient Mystery cults, the Decided, the Yezidi, the Tibetan Buddhists, the Thuggee, the medieval witches, and the Vehm are given shorter investigations.