[NetBehaviour] They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code, and Found a Secret Society Inside

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Fri Nov 30 13:01:08 CET 2012

They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code, and Found a Secret Society Inside

By Noah Shachtman

The master wears an amulet with a blue eye in the center. Before him, a 
candidate kneels in the candlelit room, surrounded by microscopes and 
surgical implements. The year is roughly 1746. The initiation has begun. 
The master places a piece of paper in front of the candidate and orders 
him to put on a pair of eyeglasses. “Read,” the master commands. The 
candidate squints, but it’s an impossible task. The page is blank.

For more than 260 years, the contents of that page—and the details of 
this ritual—remained a secret. They were hidden in a coded manuscript, 
one of thousands produced by secret societies in the 18th and 19th 
centuries. At the peak of their power, these clandestine organizations, 
most notably the Freemasons, had hundreds of thousands of adherents, 
from colonial New York to imperial St. Petersburg. Dismissed today as 
fodder for conspiracy theorists and History Channel specials, they once 
served an important purpose: Their lodges were safe houses where 
freethinkers could explore everything from the laws of physics to the 
rights of man to the nature of God, all hidden from the oppressive, 
authoritarian eyes of church and state. But largely because they were so 
secretive, little is known about most of these organizations. Membership 
in all but the biggest died out over a century ago, and many of their 
encrypted texts have remained uncracked, dismissed by historians as 
impenetrable novelties.


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