From the book "Secret  Societies"  by  David W. Barrett

Not all secret societies have esoteric roots, and not all secrecy is within secret societies. In this chapter secrecy will be treated in three quite different areas: crime, politics and government. Secret societies have been deeply involved in nationalist movements and their opponents; the IRA and the Orange Orders in Northern Ireland are obvious examples, as were the Boers, from whom apartheid eventually arose in South Africa. The chapter also has a discussion of the nationalist roots of two of the most visible present-day criminal organizations. First, however, a brief look at the involvement of secret societies in European politics.

Freemasonry and revolutions

In a previous chapter a link was noted - however slight, and however romantically idealized - between some Scottish and French Freemasons and the Jacobites. That revolution failed; but two others succeeded, with the active involvement of individual Freemasons: in America and in France. Ironically, in view of their oaths of secrecy about their own affairs, Freemasons tended to be in favour of freedom of speech, along with the associated freedoms of religion and assembly. Like the Rosicrucians they were, at least initially, anti-Catholic; many were also anti-monarchy.

Freemasons, in fact, were in the forefront of secular republicanism in the eighteenth century.

It should be emphasized that there is no real evidence (despite the efforts of conspiracy theorists) of any organized plotting by Freemasonry or Rosicrucianism as organizations, nor even by individual Lodges of Freemasons or Rosicrucians, to turn the world upside down. It was far more the case that free-thinking intellectuals in different countries did not exist in a vacuum; they were aware of the development of ideas by other free-thinkers, even on the other side of the world. And some, though by no means all, of these individuals were Freemasons or Rosicrucians of one sort or another, or belonged to other societies.

The possible involvement of Freemasons and other esotericists in the birth of the United States has already been considered in Chapter 2 of this book; in a quite different way, they were also influential in France.

Denis Diderot, leader of the French Encyclopaedists, was a Freemason; so were several of his colleagues including, towards the end of his life, Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet). The Encyclopedia, which published its first volume in 1751, could justifiably be called the intellectual stimulus for the French Revolution; it emphasized independent thought, and the brotherhood of men; it was soon banned by the authorities, towards the end of what is now called the ancien regime.

It is undoubtedly true that several men who were either Freemasons or strongly sympathetic to Freemasonry were involved in the early days of the French Revolution. By the time of the Terrors, however, they were as likely to meet Madame la Guillotine as was anyone else.

When things settled down after the Revolution, Freemasonry became socially respectable and officially acceptable again. With Reason the new religion, French Freemasonry made one change to its statutes which still divides it from English-based Freemasonry: it scrapped the membership requirement of belief in God. The Grand Orient Freemasonry of France - which, like English and Scottish Masonry, soon spread its influence abroad - was thus seen as openly atheistic and antagonistic to the Roman Catholic Church. The Carbonari, a nineteenth-century Italian secret society with strong links to Freemasonry, and dedicated to a united (and secular) Italy, was also opposed to the power of the Church.

Between them, the Grand Orient and the Carbonari were directly responsible for the attitude of the Vatican to Freemasonry, which to this day it regards as an ungodly and politically subversive organization. The United Grand Lodge of England has long protested that its original version of Freemasonry is something quite different, but to no avail; the Vatican looks out of the window and sees Grand Orient Masonry, and declares that if a Catholic becomes a Mason, he has automatically excommunicated himself. (Apparently many individual Catholics now treat this prohibition in much the same way as they do the Church's stance on birth control; they come to their own decision in the light of their own conscience.)

According to Masonic scholar John Hamill, a number of senior Grand Orient members recently 'broke away and re-established Italian Freemasonry on British lines as the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy, which is now recognized by the British Grand Lodges'.1 It remains to be seen whether this move will affect the Vatican's opinion of Freemasonry.

The Roman Catholic Church is not fond of neo-Templar Orders either. Bernard-Raymond Fabre-Palaprat, founder of the Order of the Temple, also founded the Johannite Church in the early nineteenth century. Like the various Liberal Catholic and Liberal Orthodox Churches linked to Theosophical, Rosicrucian and some neo-Templar movements, this had clergy who had received irregular but valid ordination by successors to renegade Catholic or Orthodox bishops, the soidisant Wandering Bishops.2 Apostolic succession continues even if the consecrating bishop has been excommunicated. Though they might wish it otherwise, in the eyes of Rome the priests and bishops of these unorthodox Christian Churches have technically been validly (though illegally) ordained and consecrated. Luc Jouret, leader of the Order of the Solar Temple, was an ordained priest in one such French independent Church.

It can be said with some justification that Freemasonry in Britain has always been more of an Establishment organization, and that on the Continent it has always been more revolutionary, both socially and politically; this is probably a result of the differing social and political environments in Britain and on the Continent, rather than stemming from Freemasonry itself. Freemasonry has been banned by Fascist governments in Germany, Italy and Spain, and by Communist governments in Central and Eastern Europe. Britain got its own Revolution out of the way in the mid-seventeenth century, and has been a relatively stable democracy ever since; there has been no need for British Freemasonry to be politically subversive.

Occult societies and Nazism

Much has been written on Germany's National Socialist (Nazi) Party's involvement with the occult; a lot of this is misconceived pseudo-scholarship with the aim of painting an intellectual magical background to Nazism or, alternatively, of blackening the occult in general through guilt by association. The actual relationship was both complex and confused; it is only possible to give the bare bones of it here.

Nazism, like many parties and rulers before and since, used whatever it could to grant itself both intellectual and social credibility, and popular support. Thus it drew on the genetic theories of Mendel, the philosophy of Nietzsche and the music of Wagner; thus it also latched onto the various Templar and Teutonic Orders of knights. Through them it realized the importance of symbolism for speaking straight to the heart; it took the existing symbols of the swastika and the sig rune and adapted them for its own use.

According to modern Odinist John Yeowell, The Nazi party itself appropriated many of the outward symbols and trappings of heathenism [i.e. the old Norse/Germanic religion] in order to emphasise their claims to be the true inheritors of ancient German traditions and virtues and to harness the spiritual yearnings of the German people.'3

The Germanic/Nordic mythological emphasis came largely from Guido von List (1848-1918; the 'von' was a spurious affectation); he created a new version of the Runic Futhark or alphabet known as the Armanen system, about which Rune expert Bernard King says 'it forms the basis of most Nazi runelore and is as suspect in its origins as it is in its applications'.4

The Ordo Norn Templi, or Order of New Templars was founded in 1907 by Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels (1874-1954), who had much the same idea as the Chevalier Ramsay and Baron von Hund in the eighteenth century, but specifically applied to Germany and extreme right-wing German nationalism. Similar ideas surfaced in the Germanen Order from 1912 and the Thule Society from 1918, with even more extreme versions of the same thing. They believed in the purity of the German blood, and were rabidly anti-Semitic. Although they were opposed to Freemasonry, which they saw as a Jewish conspiracy, they adopted many Masonic elements in their organization and ritual.

It seems to have been these Orders which first made use of the swastika in German nationalism; until then it had been an ancient and powerful religious symbol of the sun and of the continuing cycle of life.

The Thule Society was closely connected with - and, indeed, funded - a very minor right-wing political party, the German Workers Party; Adolf Hitler joined this in 1919, took control, changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers Party - and the rest is history.

Although it is indisputable that Hitler based much of the mythos, mystique and method of the Nazi Party on such societies, he later banned all secret societies, including Freemasonry; he had taken what he needed from them, and did not want any competition. The Party itself was to be the religion of the German people. The tremendous importance given to the swastika flag, the greeting with the Nazi salute, the undisguised ritualism of the great rallies, all were religious in their appeal to the people.

The structure of Nazism was itself built on the structure of secret societies. Membership of the Party was open to all who were worthy to join, but it was at the same time a great honour to be allowed to join. Only the elect could join the inner Party, the SS, which was consciously modelled on (an interpretation of) the Knights Templar and other elite Orders, which used occult symbolism in its regalia, and which built its headquarters in the form of a Grail castle.

Nazism created a new symbolism of right-wing politics by appropriating and redefining existing symbols, and in doing so changed, perhaps forever, our perception of those symbols. The swastika now 'means' anti-Semitism, hatred, persecution and genocide. The sig rune now 'means' fear. Modern followers of the old Northern religion, whether they call themselves heathens, Odinists or Asatru, constantly have to fight off the outside perception that they are right-wing; their situation is not helped by the fact that neo-Nazi groups still make use of this symbolism.

There are also still secret societies with links back to the Ordo Novi Tetnpli, and also to an earlier non-Masonic Order of the Temple founded by Bernard-Raymond Fabre-Palaprat in 1805. Through a complex line of succession which included the Sovereign and Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem (founded in Belgium in 1932), the Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple (1950s) and an AMORC-offshoot, the Renewed Order of the Temple (c. 1970; these last two were both French), Fabre-Palaprat's Order eventually gave birth to the ill-fated Order of the Solar Temple in the late 1980s.

According to one academic researcher the leader of the Order of the Solar Temple, Luc Jouret, was involved with various other dubious neo-Templar Orders 'long enough to enter in the orbit of influence of groups whose ties with the French SAC, with the Italian P2 Lodge and with several countries' secret services seem probable in view of court and parliamentary findings'. (SAC, Serviced' Action Civique, is 'a private French right-wing organization with ties to the Gaullist party, halfway between a private secret service and a parallel police'.)5

Intriguingly, in the 1970s both founders of the Order of the Solar Temple, Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro, lived and worked in the French town of Annemasse (so close to the border with Switzerland that it is almost a suburb of Geneva) - which is where Pierre Plantard lived when he co-founded the Priory of Sion in the 1950s.

Although both Freemasonry per se and the more legitimate and open neo-Templar societies are social and/or esoteric religious organizations which are no more right-wing, no more criminal and no more dangerous than any of the other secret societies in this book, there is well-documented evidence that many of the smaller and more secretive organizations are - politically, economically, socially and racially - extremely right-wing. There are identifiable links between the Mafia and P2, and certain small neo-Templar, pseudo-Rosicrucian, Theosophy-offshoot and Masonic-related organizations. According to the editors of Open Eye magazine, ultra-right-wing, anti-Semitic neo-Templar groups are also now infiltrating the New Age movement.6

Those who wish to construct conspiracy theories have plenty of raw material to draw on.

The Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan, known for its lynchings of black people in the southern American states, began as a specifically Christian alternative movement to Freemasonry. Its name came from kuklos, Greek for 'circle', with the Scottish word 'clan' to emphasize the ideal of brotherhood. Its rituals, initiation ceremonies and oaths were borrowed and adapted from Masonry, but its aims, from the start, were quite different.

True, it pledged mutual aid to its members, and stressed the concept of brotherhood, but its initial impetus was largely political. In the last third of the nineteenth century, the later right-left differentiation between the Republican and Democratic parties was effectively the other way around; southern Democrats still supported slavery, while the northern Republicans held more democratic beliefs. The agricultural southern states were poor, and felt oppressed by the industrial north. The outcome of the Civil War (1861-65) emphasized the differences; the abolition of slavery in 1863 aggravated southern feelings. Not only were they defeated in battle; not only were they poor; not only were they dominated and oppressed by the north; not only were corrupt northern businessmen - carpetbaggers - taking advantage of their depressed condition; but the blacks were free and uncontrolled, running wild, threatening the honour and purity of white Christian women and girls.

The fact that there were few if any actual cases of black men raping white women was irrelevant.

The KKK was founded by Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate Army general. It was opposed not just to the freedom of blacks, but to northerners and Republicans. Effectively, it was still fighting the Civil War.

In 1865 the first southern whites donned robes and Hallowe'en-type masks, and rode around pretending to be ghosts, terrorizing blacks. The idea spread through the southern states like wildfire; within three years Forrest claimed half a million followers, members of the KKK and of several other organizations. It was very quickly out of the control of Forrest or anyone else. Anyone who wanted to commit a robbery, rape or murder donned a hooded cloak first. Blacks were frankly terrified, and with good reason; but any acts of defence or retaliation on their part simply served to intensify (and worse, to 'justify') the attacks on them.

In 1869 Forrest realized just how little control he had over the KKK when he ordered the Klansmen to disband, and was ignored. The 'Invisible Empire' he had established across the southern states had taken hold.

After Forrest's departure, any semblance of military discipline vanished. Klan leaders in different states adapted the rituals and oaths, emphasizing the idea of ghosts and ghpulies. For those taking part, largely the downtrodden poor, it was welcome fun, an escape from the depression which ruled their daily lives. Murders, shootings, lynchings and rapes continued. American Masonry, disgusted by the Klan and all its workings, and perhaps fearing the possibility of guilt through association because of the original borrowings from Freemasonry, condemned the KKK absolutely.

The Federal government, now under the presidency of General Ulysses S. Grant, the northern commander at the end of the Civil War, cracked down. In 1870 the 15th Amendment was ratified; this granted the vote to citizens, regardless of race. This was followed in 1875 by the Civil Rights Act, which gave blacks the right to serve on juries. KKK members suddenly found themselves being jailed for their offences. Order, albeit racist order from our present-day perspective, was restored, and the Klan died down for a few years.

It was revived in 1915 in Alabama by William Joseph Simmons. Where the earlier Klan had in practice basically been an excuse for louts to commit crimes, Simmons's organization was intended to be more of a fraternal secret society along the lines of the Freemasons, of which (as well as of several other Orders) Simmons was a member. He developed the rituals, initiating new members by dubbing them Knights with a naked sword. The Bible was present and, of course, the American flag; this was both a Christian and an intensely patriotic society.

Five years later Simmons was sidelined by two public relations experts, Edward Young Clarke and his mistress Elizabeth Tyler. They let Simmons remain as Grand Wizard, but took over the organization of the Klan. Two years after that, having used their expertise in publicity and organization to kick-start the KKK as a powerful force, they in turn were ousted by Hiram Wesley Evans.

The main target was still blacks, but Jews, Catholics and other undesirables had replaced the Republicans and northerners as additional objects of hate. The Klan was White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and proud of it. The membership was still largely poor working-class men, blue-collar red-necks who wanted targets on which to turn their hatred, but now it had influence.

By the mid-1920s the Klan was sufficiently well organized and powerful to have some four million members, and to have US senators and state governors under its control. Small-town America was flexing its muscles. The burning cross and the Bible were a terrifyingly potent combination. Immorality was rooted out wherever it could be found, or invented. KKK members might be just as immoral themselves, but the hood protected them. They maintained fear by lynchings and torture; they maintained control of small towns by openly boycotting businesses which dared to oppose them.

Quite suddenly it all fell apart again. The main cause was the trial of David C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of Indiana, for raping, mutilating and murdering a black girl. Jailed for life, Stephenson released a testimony detailing corruption and naming names including, among others, a sheriff, a mayor, a congressman, and a governor. Ordinary southerners had had enough, and left the Klan in droves; by 1927 membership had plummeted to 350,000, The KKK broke up completely during the Second World War, only to be reborn immediately after the war with the aim, once again, of keeping blacks in their place.

This time the authorities were more prepared for it. There were still murders, bombings and tortures, but from the White House to individual state government to local communities, opposition to the Klan became apparent. The KKK was a spent force. It still fought vehemently against the growing power of blacks, but the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, after some bloody battles, caught the popular imagination, and had the stronger moral voice.

The Ku Klux Klan still exists, but it is now very small, and it no longer has any real power. Its views, however have lingered on. 'Liberal' is a dirty word in the southern states; the 1960s are viewed with horror and disgust. Janice Ian's song 'Society's Child' in 1966 and Jeannie C. Riley's 'Harper Valley PTA' in 1968 were banned by radio stations in the south; 'Society's Child', about a white girl going out with a black boy, 'engendered a steady stream of racist correspondence and outright death threats ... we got so much virulent hate mail from the South'.7 Both songs portrayed small-town America just a little too accurately for comfort. Racism and intolerance were alive and well in the late 1960s, and still are today.

The small-town red-neck mentality found two new avenues, each with God on its side: one, the 'Moral Majority', in the 1990s calling itself the Christian Right, which has school-

teachers sacked for teaching evolution, and which is powerful enough to back a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, just as the Klan did at its height in 1924; and the other, assorted militia or survivalist groups - the extreme end of the American gun lobby - who claim to be more patriotic than Capitol Hill, and will blow up government buildings to prove it. Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma Bombing in 1995, had connections with ultra-Right-wing Christian Survivalist groups. For the more extreme Bible-Belt Americans, God, the gun and the flag seem to be almost equal in sacredness.

Today's red-necks often wear white collars, and don't wear pointed hoods, but they still have 'an autocratic impulse to impose one's values on others ... an elite conviction of one's own superiority ... a sense of self-righteousness, sanctimoniousness and complacency'.8

This is Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln speaking of American Fundamentalism. The similarity to the Ku Klux Klan becomes even stronger as they continue:

Fundamentalism rests not on the acknowledged Christian virtues of charity, forgiveness and understanding, but on war - on imaginary epic conflict between the self-styled 'forces of God' and those of His adversary. Reality is reduced to a simple matter of 'us' and 'them'. The creed defines itself by virtue of its opposite, defines its adherents by everything and everyone that they are not. Whatever seems opposed to certain basic tenets - not of Jesus usually, but of the congregation and its own idiosyncratic interpretations of scripture - is, ipso facto, damned.

These are today's descendants of 'those old sectarians who substituted intolerance for charity, persecution for friendship, and did not love God because they hated their neighbours'.9

Another such descendant was William Dudley Pelley, originator of the Soulcraft teachings, who set up an American pro-Hitler group, the Silver Shirts, in 1933. He published anti-Semitic literature, including a 25 cent edition of the already-proven forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. In 1934 Pelley published (and possibly authored) the 'Franklin Prophecy', a warning about Jews purporting to be by Benjamin Franklin; though its authenticity has been completely discredited, it is still circulated as genuine in today's far Right groups in America.

The survivalist militia groups are secret societies; it's difficult to tell how many there are, or how many members they have, or what their true agenda is. The 'Christian Right' are out in the open in politics, pulpits and radio talk shows, but again, their numbers, and their true agenda, are difficult to assess. But from their speech and actions, it is clear that they wish to restrict the actions, speech and beliefs of others.

Many observers have described such Fundamentalism, of whatever faith, as religious fascism. It is not being suggested here that all Fundamentalists are fascists. Probably the vast majority of Fundamentalists in most religions, are sincere, honest, good people with a deep and devout belief in God. They, like everyone else, are entitled to their beliefs. But when their beliefs become an 'ism' which attempts to deprive others of their own right to freedom of belief and freedom of expression, then one needs to worry. The spirit of the KKK lives on.

A tiny minority can have a disproportionate effect on the wider majority of society. This is precisely the same fear that is often expressed about secret societies.

The Mafia

The word 'mafia' is often used today to mean a powerful self-perpetuating clique, which needn't be Italian, or even criminal - in other words, loosely, a cabal or secret society. The infamous criminal organization of the Mafia is little more than a century old, though its roots can be traced back over 500 years, perhaps even 700 years.

In its birthplace, Sicily, the Mafia is known as onorata societa, the Honoured Society. Sicily has had its fair share of foreign rulers over the centuries, including the Arabs, the Normans and the Spaniards. Although some sources say that the word mafia is of nineteenth-century origin, and is Sicilian dialect for 'swank, swagger or bluster', others suggest that it is derived from the Arabic for 'place of refuge'; certainly, the native Sicilians were often in need of such. Their stronger members fought against the invaders; they protected the defenceless against foreign domination. They were bandits and terrorists, but generally they were on the side of their own people. They were opposed to the imposition of the rule of law, and were a thorn in the side of anyone trying to enforce the law, avenging what they saw (probably quite rightly) as wrongs against the oppressed people.

This changed in the mid-to late nineteenth century. The Mafia had become strong enough that no ruler of Sicily could enforce the law without their active cooperation; under Garibaldi's ostensible rule, it was the Mafia who actually ran the country. They were employed by absentee landlords to manage their landed estates, the latifundia. Having power at last, even though only semi-official power, they behaved just like any other rulers of Sicily, imposing their rule often brutally on the people they had formerly protected. It's easier to collect taxes and rents when you have a gun in your hand.

Much of the immigration to North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was of European peasants who, for a variety of social and political reasons, were

starving in their home countries, or who were forced off their own lands. The stories of the Irish potato famine and the forcible displacement of Scottish crofters are well known. Much the same happened in Sicily and the Italian mainland: social changes forced the peasants out. When hundreds of thousands of Sicilians - some say as many as a million -emigrated to the USA, the Mafia moved with them.

The basis of Mafia organization is the family. Countless films, and almost as many news stories of court cases, both showing judges and witnesses gunned down in the streets, have made us aware of the godfathers, the heads of these families, whose word is absolute law. A Mafia family is not a normal nuclear family, and hardly even a sociologically standard extended family; it is far more like a Scottish clan, with the godfather, the capo or head, as the clan chief. Whether family members would willingly die for him (as for the leaders of the Assassins) is doubtful; but they would certainly kill for him, for the honour of the family.

For decades the Mafia families, governed from Sicily, ran organized crime in American cities, particularly Chicago and New York: extortion, protection rackets, bootlegging, drugs, gambling and prostitution. They were powerful enough to buy off many police chiefs and local politicians. From their point of view, they kept crime under control; independent petty criminals were not tolerated. The Mafia policed their own territory; their own name for themselves, Cosa Nostra, means 'Our Affair'. Mafia bosses seemed genuinely offended when anyone had the temerity to arrest them.

This is the popular image of the twentieth-century Mafia; many commentators paint it as largely fictional. 

According to Professor Maldwyn A. Jones, 'most of the Mafia stereotype is based on misconception or hearsay. There is no proof that the highly organized international conspiracy in which many people believed has ever existed.'10 The Mafia and the equally infamous Black Hand Gang, he suggests, were either labels adopted by gangsters of Sicilian or wider Italian descent to reinforce their regime of terror, or labels applied to them by the sensation-hungry media; each reinforced the other. The myth of the Mafia was largely a product of red-neck American dislike, distrust and persecution of Italian immigrants (compare the Ku Klux Klan).

When a number of elderly 'godfathers' were arrested in March 1996, their defence attorney said that they weren't godfathers but grandfathers; what is more, he would prove not only that they were not mafiosi, but that the Mafia did not exist in America.

This may, technically, be more or less accurate. In the early 1930s a group of American-born gangsters calling themselves Unione Siciliana killed off many of the old family leaders and took control of much of the organized crime. Certainly the idea of looking after the downtrodden, part of the ethos of the original Sicilian Mafia, no longer seemed to be a part of American 'Mafia' activities. On the other hand the inviolable code of silence, the Omerta, is still strong; the few who have broken it have generally not lasted long.

Such an oath of silence about the membership, the activities and the secrets of the organization is common to most secret societies including, of course, Freemasonry. 

There is an interesting and more specific parallel in that both members of the Mafia and Master Masons swear to respect the chastity of the wives, sisters and daughters of other members. However different they are in other ways, both movements have a strong sense of internal honour and within their own terms, of moral Tightness; both look after their own; and both, more pragmatically, would wish to avoid the internal dissension that a lack of such respect would inevitably bring. 

It is going too far, though, to follow the anti-Masonic writer Martin Short's suggestion that 'the similarity in their oaths makes one wonder if both organizations have a common ancestry.' There is no evidence for such an idea, and much evidence against it, in both the nature and the history of the two organizations. P2, which is treated next, is a special case.

In Sicily itself, and in Italy in general, the Mafia is alive and well and still powerful, despite periodic attempts to destroy it. In 1926 Mussolini's Fascists began a campaign, which was very nearly successful, to wipe out the Mafia; the previous year they had banned Freemasonry and other secret societies. Whether in secret organizations or in the rule of terror, a totalitarian state doesn't want competition from freelancers.

In more recent decades, from time to time there have been purges by the authorities, and in retaliation the police chiefs and judges most troublesome to the Mafia have found themselves gunned down or blown up. 

There are persistent allegations that Italian political campaigns are financed by Mafia money, and persistent calls for politics to be cleaned up. Politicians come to power on anti-corruption platforms, only to find themselves implicated in allegations of corruption. Governments tend to be rather short-lived. Italy, in short, continues to be Italy.


The Italian-based organization Propaganda Due usually known as P2, could be called part of Freemasonry, part of the Mafia, or simply part of corrupt politics, business and high finance. Indeed, it exemplifies what has already been said in this book about Masonic corruption: a corrupt individual will join whichever organizations he thinks will best further his interests. In the case of P2, however, this was the raison d'etre of the organization.

The actuality of P2 makes most conspiracy theories look rather unimaginative.

P2 was founded in the mid-1960s by Licio Gelli, who had fought for Franco in the Spanish Civil War, had worked as a liaison officer between the Nazis and the Italian Fascists during the Second World War, and had helped organize the Nazi escape route to South America. In 1954 he moved to Argentina himself; there he became closely associated with General Peron and other right-wing political leaders. He also, according to some sources, simultaneously spied for the Soviet Union. In 1972 he became Argentina's economic advisor to Italy.

Some years before this, in 1963, he had joined a Lodge of Grand Orient Freemasonry in Italy. Italian Lodges had to provide lists of their members to the government; Gelli conceived the idea of a sort of 'super-Lodge' which reported to no one except himself, and which would consist only of the most influential people; he named it after a nineteenth-century Lodge, Propaganda, From the start it was illegal, if only because it was not formally registered, and did not hand over its membership list to anyone; the Grand Orient suspended P2 partly for this reason, but not until after the scandal broke. Apparently it was so well hidden that the Grand Orient leadership were not aware of it until then.

The membership of P2 at its height was a conspirator's wildest dream; it included senior military personnel, senior civil servants, senior politicians, newspaper editors, and top bankers, businessmen and industrialists. It also included a number of highly placed officials - some of them priests - within the Vatican; this despite the papal edict forbidding Masonic membership to Roman Catholics on pain of excommunication.

There were somewhere between 1,000 and 2,400 members in Italy alone, and all of them were top people: generals, admirals, cabinet ministers, judges, presidents of international companies, and the head of the Italian Secret Service, while at least one bishop and a cardinal were either members of P2 or closely linked with it.

As the leader, or II Venerabile, Gelli was the only person who knew the identity of all the members of P2; even the leaders of the various cells and branches only knew their own members. 

When necessary, Gelli used blackmail and corruption to induce people to join, and to maintain his hold over all the members. Through P2 and its branches, members and contacts, Gelli's influence extended through large parts of Europe, the USA, and much of South America. P2 was in a position where it could 'persuade' key members of governments to swing particular decisions which were to the financial advantage of Gelli and other members. Just as Freemasonry is often accused of being, P2 really was a mutual aid society on the grand scale.

Being based in Italy, and involved in dubious financial transactions, money-laundering and so on, P2 was from the start linked with senior members of the Mafia; deals which benefited one could also benefit the other. In addition, the Mafia connections could also arrange for the permanent removal of anyone who was being a particularly troublesome opponent.

P2 was bust open in 1981. Files found in Gelli's Tuscany villa revealed some of the membership itself, and the areas of business, politics and other professions in which they worked. Gelli himself had vanished. During the Falklands War the following year he surfaced for long enough to negotiate the sale of Exocet missiles from France to Argentina. Later in 1982, Roberto Calvi, head of the Banco Ambrosiano, was discovered hanging beneath Blackfriars Bridge in London. Archbishop Paul Marcinkus of the Vatican Bank, a close associate of Gelli, Calvi and other major P2 figures, was eventually found guilty of fraud in 1984. The Sicilian banker Michele Sindona, who had close Mafia connections and was a P2 member - and a financial advisor to the Vatican - had already been imprisoned in 1980 for 25 years.

It is interesting to observe the various conspiracy theories about P2.

Martin Short states that "..'Men of goodwill' in Britain, France and Italy would bluster that P2 had nothing to do with 'regular' Freemasonry, but this was a lie and those who uttered it were either fools or knaves."12

Stephen Knight claims that P2 was, from the start, a front for the KGB, to enable it to infiltrate Western politics and banking. His argument appears to be that as P2 had Masonic connections, and (he believes, but probably incorrectly) KGB connections, and as the KGB quite naturally infiltrates wherever it can, including not just the security services but also British Freemasonry, then 'Britain stands in danger of a social calamity at least as great as that which struck Italy... Evidence published here for the first time indicates that British Freemasonry, without realizing it, has become a time-bomb which could explode at any moment.'13

In contrast, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln argue that P2 channelled CIA funds for various undercover anti-Communist purposes. Unsurprisingly, they also reveal possible links between P2 and the Frieure de Sion, though they are reluctant to accept these, preferring to see links between P2, the right-wing Catholic organization Opus Dei, the CIA and the Knights of Malta.14

No one yet seems to have 'proved' that P2 is the executive arm of the Illuminati, though for ardent conspiracy theorists, this probably goes without saying.

One of the very few well-argued conspiracy theories is David Yallop's In God's Name, which puts the case for Pope John Paul I having been murdered; among the conspirators were the Vatican 'civil service', the Vatican Bank, 'the tyrannical despot'15 Cardinal John Cody of Chicago - and P2, which had its fingers in every possible corrupt pie. John Paul I, as well as planning to relax the Church's conservative position on contraception, had been about to overthrow the tables of the money-changers in the Vatican; they got to him first.

Yallop's book is closely argued; he doesn't make logical leaps from 'could be' to 'is'; he also doesn't resort to sensationalist journalese - his central thesis is sensational enough to speak for itself without the necessity for purple prose. Perhaps this is why his theory has attracted a large amount of support from people who dismiss most other conspiracy theories as crackpot. So far as P2 is concerned, almost anything is believable.

And it's anyone's guess whether branches of P2 are still in existence.

The Triads

The Triads are known for their involvement in crime among the expatriate Chinese population. Because of the 'protection' they offer to Chinese businesses, in exchange for a financial contribution, they have been dubbed the Chinese Mafia. It is only really in the last half-century that they have become primarily a criminal organization; before that they were political groups with religious symbolism, freedom-fighters for deliverance from foreign rulers of their country: again, like the original Mafia.

Chinese secret societies, sometimes called Tongs, go back to the time of Christ, and many of them - the Red (or Carnation-Painted) Eyebrows Society, the Copper Horses, the Iron Shins, the Yellow Turbans, the White Lotus Society - are the stuff of legend, and of genuine history. 

The last-named fought to liberate China from the Kublai Khan's Mongols in the fourteenth century. 

The White Lotus, the Illustrious Worthies and the White Cloud fought against the Manchu rulers in the eighteenth century. 

In the nineteenth century there were, among others, the Three Incense Sticks, the White Feather, and the White Lotus again. 

Many of these societies had as their ostensible goal the restoration of the Ming Dynasty, though outside observers say that most of them simply wanted to throw out whoever was currently in power and take control themselves. 

The famous Boxer Rebellion in Peking (Beijing), in 1900, was sparked off by secret societies, notably the Fist for Righteous Harmony Society, whose famed ferocity was a result of their belief in their magical invulnerability.

The entire history of secret societies in China exemplifies the sayings 'One man's terrorist (or brigand, or bandit) is another man's freedom fighter'.

Many of these societies raised and maintained the devotion of their members through esoteric rituals; some were associated with monasteries, and learned powerful meditation techniques which made them disciplined, dedicated and almost invincible warriors. Their initiation rites and rituals drew heavily on Taoist and Buddhist beliefs; both religions were often driven underground by Confucian rulers, giving them a popular appeal, power and mystery which the societies drew on. It is also thought that the Gnostic religion of Manichaeism influenced some of the societies.16 

Some Masonic scholars have found correspondences between the initiation rites of Chinese secret societies, particularly the Triads, and the rituals in Freemasonry, particularly the 3rd Degree (Master Mason's) initiation and some of the 'Higher' Degrees, with their emphasis on resurrection symbolism.

The societies also often had the advantage of being led by failed candidates for the Civil Service, educated men with a grudge against the government. In outlying districts and in small villages (and as in medieval Europe, much of China was small villages), where government power didn't really reach, the effective local government was often the societies, ruling from behind the scenes through a combination of benevolence, fear and superstition.

The Triads are almost certainly descended from the White Lotus, and were founded, according to a richly symbolic legend, in 1674; thus they have a body of political, patriotic and religious background to give them some legitimacy - more so than many of the esoteric societies of the West. 

The English name Triad refers to the three elements of their original name, the Brotherhood of Heaven and Earth; their symbol is usually a triangle, with the sides representing Heaven, Earth and Man. The alternative name of Tongs, more common in the USA, simply refers to their meeting halls.

The Triads were closely associated with the initial rise to power of Dr Sun Yat Sen in 1912. He was a Triad member, and his Kuomintang Party which finally overthrew the Manchu dynasty in 1911 was linked to the Triads. In the war for supremacy in China in the 1940s, both sides - Mao Tse-Tung's successful Communists, and Chiang Kai-shek's defeated Nationalists - made extensive use of secret societies. Mao Tse-Tung ended up with mainland China, while the Nationalists retreated to Formosa (now Taiwan) in 1949.

In the aftermath of that war, many Chinese fled abroad. There were already large populations in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines; now those few who were able to leave China also moved to the West. So did the influence of the secret societies.

With the background they have, it is easy to see how the Triads maintain their power wherever the Chinese go. Like the original Mafia, they look after their members like brothers, as a benevolent association; but like Fundamentalists, if you are not for them, you are against them, and are treated as opponents. Away from China, the Triads' political motivations have turned to criminal ones, using the same skills they have honed for centuries. Wherever they have influence, they control gambling, prostitution and drugs, the seamier side of the entertainments industry - once again, like the Mafia.

In the USA, the Mafia have traditionally been strongest on the Eastern seaboard and in the industrial cities of middle America; the home of the KKK is the South; the Triads seem to be strongest on the West Coast, particularly in California.

In Britain, which has a Chinese population of around a quarter of a million (2001 Census), there are currently four major Triad societies: the Wo Shing Wo, the Wo On Lok, the 14K, and the San Yee On. Most members are ex-Hong Kong Chinese, though increasingly they are recruiting Malaysians, Vietnamese and others, including second-generation (British-born) members.

The well-publicized violence of the UK Triads tends mainly to be intergroup fighting over their 'turfs', rather than directed at outsiders, but it can easily catch up anyone in the Chinese business community, especially if they are under pressure from two competing groups. 'It is this potential for violence which promulgates the fear these thugs feed from. It is this fear within the Chinese community that I find the most worrying,' says a Metropolitan police officer with experience of the Triads in both Hong Kong and London.

Government secrecy

It was said at the beginning of the book that the priest vies with the prostitute and the spy  among the world's oldest professions. The prostitute (even the temple prostitute) lies outside the scope of this book, but there is space for the spy.

Ever since there have been rulers and governments, there have been spies. They might be freelance informers - information mercenaries working for the highest pay - or they might be part of a government department. Spies have always spanned all social classes, from grubby street ruffians to the elite of society. (Going back to the sixteenth century it is almost certain that, in different ways, John Dee, Giordano Bruno and Christopher Marlowe were all spies.)

As with secret societies, recruitment of spies has often been on personal recommendation, and all recruits are carefully 'vetted'. 

In Britain all intelligence officers have to sign the Official Secrets Act - a close equivalent to taking initiation vows: the commitment to secrecy lasts for life. Astonishingly few former Freemasons, or former members of other initiatory societies, ever break their vows. The same applies to former spies.

The three main branches of British intelligence are the internal Security Service (MIS), the foreign Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which specializes in signals intelligence (sigint).

Like many governments, the British government is paranoid about its secrets, as the following examples illustrate.

I worked for GCHQ from 1979 to 1985 before returning to journalism. In 1987 I wrote two feature articles for Computer Weekly 18 about the work at GCHQ, based on an authorized visit and interviews with senior staff. Whilst giving as much 'public domain' information as possible about signals intelligence and cryptanalysis in order to make the articles worthwhile, I was determined not to reveal any secrets about this establishment. Not only had I signed the Official Secrets Act, but I genuinely had no desire to compromise the work of GCHQ.

GCHQ insisted on vetting the articles, which is against normal journalistic practice, but under the circumstances was understandable. They also insisted that no mention be made in the articles of my former employment at GCHQ, and that one of the articles must appear under a joint byline with the deputy editor. The reason for both impositions is interesting in that it reveals a very useful ploy used not only by GCHQ but also by others, including the Freemasons, to maintain their secrecy.

Many other journalists had written about GCHQ from an outsider's viewpoint. For example, Duncan Campbell of New Statesman was very accurate in most of his articles, which were based on a lot of meticulous research and a little inspired guesswork; inevitably, though, there would usually be one or two minor inaccuracies. This allowed GCHQ to respond, quite truthfully, that Campbell's pieces were based on surmise and contained a number of errors - which sounds like a blanket refutation, but is not necessarily anything of the sort.

In World Freemasonry, United Grand Lodge librarian John Hamill and R.A. Gilbert mention 'what purported to be exposures of Masonic ritual' in the early days of Freemasonry, and also a 1965 television programme which 'enacted, inaccurately, some of the more dramatic parts of the ritual.'19 Both statements give the impression that the exposes were substantially incorrect; neither in fact actually says or necessarily means this. 'Purported to be exposures' doesn't mean that they weren't, while 'inaccurately' could simply mean that a single foot movement or hand gesture was incorrect, or that the wrong person was given a phrase to say. Hamill has confirmed in conversation that this is substantially the case.

Official denials should always be examined carefully.

GCHQ's fear was that, if the byline mentioned that I had formerly worked for them, readers would rightly assume that the articles were entirely accurate, and so GCHQ would not be able to hide behind the usual dismissal. Having a joint byline served the same purpose; even if it were known that I had worked for GCHQ, readers could not be sure which parts had been written by me, and so were accurate, and which had been written by my 'co-writer', and so possibly contained inaccuracies.

In the event, the subterfuge was rendered ineffective by stories in both the Guardian and New Scientist naming me as the writer who, 'as an ex-employee, could not be denounced as a journalist with no real knowledge of what is going on.'20 The Guardian drew an apposite comparison: GCHQ's management 'argued - as the government does in the case of Mr Peter Wright's MI5 memoirs - that it was one thing for ail outsider to write about the organization but quite another for a former "insider" to do so.'21

After publication of the first article, GCHQ warned that permission might be withdrawn for publication of the second - which, like the first, had already been vetted. Meetings were held at Directorate level at GCHQ to consider the text of the second article and decide whether they dare allow publication. I rewrote it, making absolutely certain that there was nothing in it that was even Restricted, the lowest level of official secrecy, let alone Confidential, Secret, Top Secret or VRK (Very Restricted Knowledge).

The problem turned out to be that, although not one single piece of information in either article was classified, GCHQ feared that the way that all the individual Unclassified details were put together made the articles as a whole Top Secret.

This is not as crazy as it sounds. W.E. Butler, founder of the esoteric school Servants of the Light, said something very similar about the fact that a lot of the ritual used in magic is now in the public domain:

The question arises, why should the various magical orders have sworn their initiates to secrecy concerning these things which are of common knowledge? The answer is, that in those orders and fraternities which were genuine the information given in these various sources was combined in a particular pattern, and it was this pattern which was the real object of secrecy.22

But really, GCHQ had simply panicked.

A similar situation a few years earlier shows again just how paranoid governments can get, and just how silly it can all become.

In 1970, journalist Peter Laurie wrote Beneath the City Streets, an examination, drawn largely from information already in the public domain, of Britain's secret plans for keeping the machinery of government going in the event of a major war. If Westminster and Whitehall disappear under a mushroom cloud, Britain will continue to be run from Regional Seats of Government (RSGs) scattered all over the country, often buried deep beneath town halls or police stations. There is also a communications network, linking the RSGs via the microwave towers which dot the landscape.

Laurie was severely reprimanded for publishing that book. Although the location of any individual RSG or microwave tower is Unclassified (for example, the Telecom Tower near Oxford Street in London is hardly hidden away), it seems that a map of the UK showing several of them is Top Secret. The pattern, again.

In 1979 Laurie wrote a new, updated edition of his book. Not wanting to get into further trouble, he sent a draft of it to the Home Office, the Foreign Office, MI5, MI6 and so on, explaining that he had no wish to break the Official Secrets Act by publishing any official secrets. Could he publish this new edition?

The answer was 'No', because the book contained official secrets.

Laurie offered to take out whatever material was causing the problem. He was told that this was not possible, because this would mean telling him official secrets. When he protested that he obviously already knew these secrets, because he had written the book, he was told that this wasn't the point; if they told him which parts of his book to take out, they would be telling him which parts were official secrets, and he wasn't authorized to know that.

Realizing he was getting nowhere, Laurie removed most of the references to sigint and GCHQ, which he thought was probably the most sensitive information, and published the book. He probably guessed right; he wasn't prosecuted.

Such paranoia is not unusual in the world of government secrecy; books by Chapman Pincher and Nigel West (the pseudonym of the former Conservative MP Rupert Allason) reveal plenty of similar cases. These include agents of MI5 and MI6 tailing each other around London for months, each thinking the others were subversives or agents of a foreign power, simply because the two organizations were so jealous of their own secrets they weren't communicating with each other.

Although the policies of 'need-to-know' and 'compartmentalized knowledge' can sometimes cause more trouble than they're worth, there are very sensible reasons for them; there are many things which do require the highest levels of secrecy. If a careless word at an embassy cocktail party were to reveal how successful Britain was at intercepting and decrypting another country's communications, a simple change of cypher equipment or cypher key generator could throw away years of painstaking work at GCHQ. Another careless word could cause the life of a long-term, well-established British agent abroad to be threatened, or at the very least, cause him to be sent home, and his ring of contacts and informers to be bust open.

Lord George-Brown, a former Foreign Secretary (1966-68), raises a disturbing point about security, and the trustworthiness or otherwise of members of the security services and the Diplomatic Service - and, by extension, MPs and Ministers of State. If someone is under suspicion, he writes:

Inevitably, much of the evidence in such cases is hearsay or almost improvable deduction, and one must reckon with the natural wish of colleagues to protect, as it were, a fellow-member of the club, especially when they don't know, and can't really be told, the full extent of the matter. This clearly happened in the case of Burgess and Maclean.23

MPs themselves are a club; very senior civil servants - 'the Whitehall mandarins' - are a club; members of Ml5 and MI6 are a club; the British establishment, whether in public office or not, is a club. Most of these people also belong to various gentlemen's clubs; some belong to that huge but secretive club, the Freemasons. Without casting any aspersions against any of these organizations, or their rules, regulations, restrictions, customs or obligations regarding 'mutual support' and 'members in need', it is not in the slightest surprising, if individual members look out for the interests of each other, especially if they are friends and dinner and drinking companions. Over the years favours, large and small, are traded; when someone is potentially in trouble, fellow 'club' members are likely - rightly or wrongly - to help them out.

The sort of 'corruption' of which critics accuse Freemasonry is not the fault of Freemasonry any more than two members of any other club helping each other is the fault of that club. In most cases it's questionable whether it's even corruption. Really, it's simply human nature, for good and for bad.

But those who spend their lives looking for evil, will find it everywhere.