The word “fundamentalism” has been applied in recent years to religious extremists around the world. Properly speaking, though, it refers to an offshoot of Christianity invented in Britain in the 1820s by John Nelson Darby, the founder of a small evangelical sect called the Plymouth Brethren. Darby argued that certain Bible verses, when properly rearranged and reinterpreted, revealed a system of seven ages or “dispensations,” and a detailed set of predictions about the end of the world. His influence in Britain was modest, but Darby’s theories quickly gained a large following in the United States. In 1912, a 12-volume series of books titled The Fundamentals went into circulation in America, winning Darby’s theology a sizeable audience and giving the movement its lasting name. Fundamentalist churches soon became the core of a reactionary political movement that spread through most of the English-speaking world.

Fundamentalism is not a secret society, but it has had a massive role in shaping ideas about secret societies in the western world through relentless campaigns of anti-secret society propaganda. Many fundamentalists remain convinced believers in claims of Masonic devil worship dating from the “Palladian Order” hoax of the 1880s. The New World Order mythology launched by the John Birch Society in the 1960s and claims that Freemasonry is involved in Satanic ritual abuse are also grist for fundamentalist mills. While some criticisms of Masonry and other secret societies are based on honestly held differences of opinion, others can only be described as deliberate disinformation, and seem to be motivated by the political agenda of the movement. See disinformation; John Birch Society; New World Order; Palladian Order; Satanism.

Ironically, the fundamentalist movement has a long history of connections with secret societies that support its agenda. In 1920s America, for example, the Ku Klux Klan and fundamentalist churches were close allies. As many as 40,000 fundamentalist ministers enrolled as Klansmen during this period. One popular Kansas City minister, Rev. E.F. Stanton, published a sermon, Christ and Other Klansmen, extolling the Klan as a way back to “old-fashioned” (i.e., fundamentalist) Christianity. In the early 1920s the Grand Dragons of four states and 26 of the 39 Klokards, or national lecturers, employed by the Klan were fundamentalist ministers. Other secret societies that have benefited from fundamentalist connections include the Loyal Orange Order, the Knights of Luther, and the American Protective Association. More recently, fundamentalist groups have established close ties with Dominionist organizations such as the Coalition on Revival. See American Protective Association (APA); Dominionism; Ku Klux Klan; Loyal Orange Order.

Fundamentalism has had at least one more major impact on a secret society, this time in an unexpected direction. English magician and would-be Antichrist Aleister Crowley (1875–1947) was raised in the Plymouth Brethren, the original fundamentalist sect. His rejection of the religion of his childhood failed to erase all traces of Darby’s theology from his mind, and the theology he created for his new religion of Thelema (“will”) echoes Darby’s ideas in many particulars, defining history as a series of dispensations ruled by different spiritual powers. This theology continues to guide the Ordo Templi Orientis, one of the largest occult secret societies in the world today. See Crowley, Aleister; Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO).


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006