There are a couple of images that come to mind when you think of secret societies, like masks, special handshakes, weird chants and underground tunnels, to name a few. But do real collegiate secret societies live up to all the hype and tradition? Have they updated their old-school traditions? And what do current students think of them? Take a look!
1. Skull & Serpent, Wesleyan University
Wesleyan has a rich history when it comes to secret societies, and one of its most notorious groups is the Skull & Serpent, an organization founded in 1865 that actually has its own tomb on campus (even spookier, no current student seems to know who’s buried in the tomb!). The society allegedly pulls its members from three Greek fraternities on campus—The Eclectic Society of Phi Nu Theta, Alpha Delta Phi and Psi Upsilon—and many of the members have gone on to be influential administrators and trustees at the school.
Think secret societies are serious all the time? Think again! The members of this society put together a hilarious Harlem Shake video in their chambers. But did the video ruin the mystery of a group that was formerly known for being underground?
Kate Masters, a sophomore at Wesleyan, says that the student body was split when the video first came out. “Some people thought it was great that members of a secret society weren’t taking themselves too seriously,” she says. “But some people thought that the video was really obnoxious and labeled it as a publicity stunt from a dying society.”
Does the Skull & Serpent’s public online appearance ruin its history of total secrecy? The jury’s still out!
2. ANAK Society, Georgia Tech
Founded in 1908, Georgia Tech's ANAK Society is the oldest known secret society on this urban campus. The honor of being a member is bestowed upon juniors and seniors who illustrate high leadership capabilities and a fierce love for Georgia Tech.
Wondering what the word "Anak" means? It turns out that it's actually the name of a biblical figure who was considered the forefather of a race of giants.
3. The Night Riders, Norwich University
Though this secret society no longer exists (or does it?), the Night Riders of Norwich made quite the impression nationwide during the 1990s when they were at the center of several lawsuits. Various cadets at this military college claimed they were hazed and severely beaten by members of the group. Throughout the press coverage on the group, the Norwich community remained split on their opinions of the Night Riders. One camp thinks that they were a group of unknown students trying to help cadets across campus, and others believe they were an organization of rebels trying to inflict pain and suffering on first-year students.
Though the university later banned secret societies because of all the negative attention they gave the school, you have to wonder: What happened to the members this society, and where are they now?
4. Seven Society, University of Virginia
Looking for a secret society that's all about superstitions and bizarre traditions? Look no further than the UVA's Seven Society! Members of the group are only made public after their deaths, and this big reveal consists of placing a giant wreath of black magnolias that make up a “7” on the gravesite of the deceased. In addition, the bell tower at UVA's chapel rings at seven-second intervals at the seventh dissonant chord when it is seven past the hour (wow, that's a mouthful!). The society also never lets people forget that it exists, marking the campus with the number seven on various occasions.
Despite this level of secrecy, Katrina Margolis, a junior at UVA, says that the group has done a lot of good for the school. “The Sevens (as they’re called) often donate a lot of money to UVA, and they also provide emotional support,” she says. “For example, when a student killed himself, the Sevens hung inspirational banners all over the campus.”
The biggest mystery regarding The Seven Society, however, revolves around its membership. “There is a bit of a weird stigma with them because no one knows if they are coed yet,” Katrina says. There are conflicting reports as to whether or not women are involved. Additionally, many members of the Seven Society who are revealed after their deaths turn out to not even be UVA alumni. Thus, the question of what it takes to be a member of the Sevens remains a closely guarded secret.
5. Order of Gimghoul, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Think there’s no royalty in the United States? Check out the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Order of Gimghoul, which is headquartered in a castle (yes, an actual castle) that is valued at more than $1 million. The entire society is centered around the legend of Peter Dromgoole, a student who mysteriously vanished from campus in 1833. This disappearance inspired the creation of a group dedicated to upholding chivalry and an Arthurian code, but now the Order is known for only being about socializing.
Despite its changing values, Jordyn*, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, thinks that the group adds a great deal of character to the school. “It’s always fun to mention to friends that UNC has a castle on campus!” she says. “I also love that we have a group dedicated to old traditions and lore. Sometimes at a large school it can feel like you lose that sense of history, and it’s great to see an organization keeping that history alive!”
6. Cadaver Society, Washington and Lee University
Things get a little spooky at this small liberal arts college in Virginia! The Cadaver Society is comprised of completely anonymous members of the community who create mischief at night, including drawing symbols around campus, running around in all black with white masks while screeching in high-pitched voices and even running into sorority houses to try to scare people. And what’s a secret society without intrigue? There's a rumor that members of the Cadaver Society commute by secret passageways all over the university, and doors to these alleged tunnels can be seen all over campus (including inside of the library!).
Wondering what types of people get inducted into such a creepy society? Louise*, a sophomore at Washington and Lee, says that the Cadavers are allegedly made up of pre-med students on campus, and if you de-mask one of these members, he or she will have to pay your graduate school tuition (we love the academic twist!).
“Supposedly, they defend themselves very aggressively if you actually try to de-mask them, for obvious reasons!” Louise says.
But the question is, who do you think would win in a fight: a Cadaver or someone desperate for grad school money?
7. Skull and Bones, Yale University
One of the most famous secret societies to date (kind of an oxymoron if you think about it!), the Skull and Bones was founded in 1832 and has been shrouded in mystery and mischief ever since. Members of the society are known to steal various Yale heirlooms from other buildings and societies around campus, and everyone in the group is given a nickname (examples include "Long Devil,” "Hamlet" and "Sancho Panza"), many of which come from literature.
Members of the Skull and Bones are known for becoming serious power players on the global stage. In fact, former U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were members of the Skull and Bones (George Bush, Sr. went by the nickname "Magog").
These are just seven of many more secret societies that exist at schools across the United States. But these organizations beg the question: how much of our world is controlled by members of these secret groups? It looks like we may never know!
*Names have been changed.