Some secret societies seem to be only interested in social or political work, but they are all deeply connected to spirituality. Take Albert Pike's explanation of Freemasonry as an example:
Every Masonic Lodge is a temple of religion: and its teachings are instruction in religion...This is the true religion revealed to the ancient patriarchs; which Masonry has taught for many centuries, and which it will continue to teach as long as time endures (emphasis added).i
Unfortunately, this "religion revealed to the ancient patriarchs" is not God's true religion, but rather finds its roots in occult Kabbalism and Johannism:
The Kabalah, the Gnostics, and the Schools, are the
religion and Philosophy of Masonry...
All truly dogmatic religions have issued from the Kabalah and
return to it. Everything scientific and grand in the religious
dreams of all the illuminati, Jacob Boehme, Swedenborg, Saint
Martin, and others, is borrowed from the Kabalah, all the
Masonic associations owe to it their Secrets and their Symbols (emphases added).ii
In the occult religion of secret societies, two simultaneous doctrines are taught. Insiders are taught the doctrines of Johannism and Lucifer worship, and their knowledge is considered esoteric. To outsiders, Freemasonry dresses itself in the garb of religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The inversion of Scriptural truth in "secret knowledge" is found in the doctrines of Gnosticism.
Charles Berger explains:
Thus, symbols came to have to meanings, the esoteric and the exoteric. The esoteric meaning was the true or original meaning, understood only by a few and closely guarded by them. The exoteric meaning was the invented, or modified, explanation intended for the many. The sacred mysteries, which are often mentioned in connection with many ancient religions and which were closely guarded by the initiate, concerned esoteric meanings in the religions of previous times. These sacred mysteries very often were merely continuations of the simpler forms of early sex worship carried on by a select few (emphases added).iii
Note a few of the double-sided doctrines:
Even hundreds of years ago, the Knights Templar had two doctrines. Initiated members knew the esoteric doctrine, which taught that Lucifer is the true son of God. Those uninitiated were led to believe that the Templars were grounded in Catholic doctrine:
The Templars, like all other Secret Orders and Associations, had two doctrines, one concealed and reserved for the Masters, which was Johannism; the other public, which was the Roman Catholic.iv
Albert Pike, 33-degree Freemason, informs us that Kabbalism is part of Masonic doctrine:
The Holy Kabalah, or tradition of the children of Seth, was carried from Chaldea by Abraham, taught to the Egyptian priesthood by Joseph, recovered and purified by Moses, concealed under symbols in the Bible, revealed by the Saviour to Saint John, and contained, entire, under hieratic figures analogous to those of all antiquity, in the Apocalypse of that Apostle...
Masonry is a search after Light. That search leads us directly back, as you can see, to the Kabalah. In that ancient and little understood medley of absurdity and philosophy, the Initiate will find the source of many doctrines.v
What, then, is Kabbalism? The Kabbalah is a collection of Jewish mystical teachings. Some of these doctrines are based on an esoteric interpretation of the Old Testament. Kabbalism is no longer solely Jewish, but is the basis for doctrine in many mystical Orders and New Age groups.
Helena Blavatsky tells us that Kabbalism is Gnostic teaching:
Once that the key to Genesis is in our hands, the scientific and symbolical Kabalah unveils the secret. The Great Serpent of the Garden of Eden and the "Lord God" are identical, and so are Jehovah and Cain ONE—that Cain who is referred to in theology as the "murderer" and the LIAR to God! Jehovah tempts the King of Israel to number the people, and Satan tempts him to do the same in another place. Jehovah turns into the Fiery Serpents to bite those he is displeased with; and Jehovah informs the Brazen Serpent that heals them. These short, and seemingly contradictory, statements in the Old Testament—contradictory because the two Powers are separated instead of being regarded as the two faces of one and the same thing—are the echoes, distorted out of recognition by exoterism and theology, of universal and philosophical dogmas in Nature (bold emphases added, capitalization in original).vi
Mithraism, an ancient Roman cult, may have been one of the first secret societies. Those in the cult worshiped the god Mithra in a secret temple called a mithraeum, and were initiated in the same way as modern secret society members:
The structure of the cult was hierarchical. Members went through a series of seven grades, each of which had a special symbol and a tutelary planet.
From lowest to highest these grades were Corax (raven, under Mercury), Nymphus (a made-up word meaning male bride, under Venus), Miles (the soldier, under Mars), Leo (the lion, under Jupiter), Perses (the Persian, under Luna, the moon), Heliodromus (the Sun's courier, under Sol, the sun), and finally Pater (father, under Saturn).
Those who reached the highest grade, Pater, could become the head of a congregation.vii
Mithraism was part of ancient Roman paganism, which has formed into modern Roman Catholic practice.
As for the clergy, they borrowed the title of "father" from priests of Mithra, in spite of Christ's formal prohibition: "And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven" (Matthew 23:9). Thus it is not astonishing that mitre, meaning a bishop's cap, calls Mithra to mind, and that the Pope's headdress tiara (a word of Persian origin) derives from frigium, referring to the Phrygian cap.viii
Mithraism is still alive in another form today, as Masonic author A. T. C. Pierson admits:
The Masonic legend stands by itself, unsupported by history or other than its own traditions; yet we readily recognize in Hiram Abiff [Christ-figure of Freemasonry] the Osiris of the Egyptians, the Mithras of the Persians...ix
i. Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry Prepared for the Supreme Council of the Thirty-Third Degree, for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, and Published by Its Authority (Richmond, Virginia: L.H. Jenkins, 1871, Reprinted 1944): 213-214.
ii. Ibid: 27, 744.
iii. Charles G. Berger, Our Phallic Heritage (New York: Greenwich Book Publishers, 1966): 48.
iv. Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry Prepared for the Supreme Council of the Thirty-Third Degree, for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, and Published by Its Authority (Richmond, Virginia: L.H. Jenkins, 1871, Reprinted 1944): 817.
v. Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry Prepared for the Supreme Council of the Thirty-Third Degree, for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, and Published by Its Authority (Richmond, Virginia: L.H. Jenkins, 1871, Reprinted 1944): 97, 741.
vi. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy volume I (1888): 415.
vii. Alison Griffith, "Mithraism," The Ecole Initiative (1995).
viii. M. Heydari-Malayeri, The History of Marianne's Cap (Paris Observatory, 2003).
ix. A. T. C. Pierson, The Traditions, Origin and early history of Freemasonry: 240.