Books You Might Not Have Read Yet: Cults, Conspiracies & Secret Societies

Published August 24, 2009 by Molly


Before Google, inquiring minds had to rely on the local library to research such intriguing topics as Opus Dei, Area 51, Skull and Bones, the Illuminati, and other such perennial areas of interest. Then Google arrived, and same minds had to rely on their crack research skills to distinguish the factual material from the bogus.

Now, inquiring minds need nothing but Arthur Goldwag’s Cults, Conspiracies & Secret Societies, a bible of data about anything that ever contained a whiff of exclusionary intrigue. Goldwag breaks down the information with measured analyses, defining cults the way a social scientist or psychologist might, to denote “a coercive or totalizing relationship between a dominating leader and his or her unhealthily dependent followers. What makes a cult cultish,” Goldwag goes on, “is not so much what it espouses, but how much authority its leaders grant themselves–and how slavishly devoted to them its followers are.”

For the Conspiracy section (which covers Tupac Shakur, 9/11, Marilyn Monroe and everything in between) Goldwag uses the word as “more of a metaphysical than a legal concept,” noting that “when used in conjunction with “theory,” the word “conspiracy” is practically synonymous with “determinism”, and a malign determinism at that: it is the paranoid certainty that nothing happens by accident, that somebody bad is pulling all the strings.”

As for secret societies, Goldwag demystifies those hidden orders by stating straight out the gate that “Here in the real world, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the closest kept secret of many secret societies is the fact that they haven’t got all that many secrets worth keeping. Much of the solemn claptrap and mumbo-jumbo associated with fraternal orders is just that–stagecraft, juvenile secret-decoder-ring stuff, designed to foster the sense of the group, to strengthen its members’ sense of shared identity.”

With such a sensible and well-informed guide, you’ll never turn to Wikipedia again for those late-night Stealth Blimp research junkets.

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