One of the constants in modern human society has been the existence of secret societies. From the Jewish Cabalists of pre-Roman times to the Freemasons of today, these societies have been created out of a human need to belong to an exclusive group. Many are linked, rightly or wrongly, with the supernatural.
The Cabala was a set of teachings closely intertwined with the Jewish faith. Early on, it was even included in what we today call the Bible. It included intimate information on angels and demons, as well as spells, medicines and special prayers. Only certain members of the Jewish community were allowed to learn the secrets of the Cabala, thus creating one of the earliest secret societies. Cabalism is actually more prevalent today and the information on it is easier to come by than in the time when it was first brought into being.
The next major secret society in the Western world were the Rosicrucians, a group of knights who fought in the Crusades and were supposedly instructed by the Cabalists in the Holy Land. The Rosicrucians1 were well known for their construction of beautiful cathedrals across the European landscape, all featuring lovely stained glass, and with at least one image of the rose which became their symbol. Legend has it that the Rosicrucians looted Jerusalem during the crusades, taking with them many of the most powerful relics in Christendom. These included pieces of the True Cross, the Holy Grail, and various bits from the bodies of saints. They stored these in secret compartments within their cathedrals. Many of the relics still haven't been found.
The Rosicrucians kept their tight rein on the 'underworld' of Europe for many centuries. Small groups such as the Golden Dawn tried to take the place of the Rosicrucians, but often found themselves persecuted by local churches, rather than gaining any power.
The next truly powerful secret society were the Freemasons, a group that remains forcibly active today. Some view the Freemasons as generally benign and helpful. They are community-oriented and give money to charity. But many of their roots apparently stem from the Cabalistic teachings of the Rosicrucians, and there are those that view with some suspicion the mysterious rituals which they allegedly perform.