In the early 1800s in India, a criminal secret society, known as Thuggees, was very active. In one year itself, they killed about 50,000 people. Another criminal society noted for exceptional murderousness was the Aryan Brotherhood. Read to know more about these two unparalleled violent cults.
Thuggee, the Deceivers
In the early 1800s in India, a secret society existed that seemed straight out of a horror movie. Imagine an evening along a country road in Bengal. A group of travelers, maybe 50 in all, settles down for the night. There are bandits on the roads, so everyone travels in numbers. Most are merchants or pilgrims, and many carry money and valuables. In the wee hours of the morning—responding to a signal only they understand—some of the men rise from their beds, moving stealthily in groups of three.
They reach for a sleeping man, and two of them hold him down. A third one takes out a belt from his waist and strangles the man. This is done to the whole group until all of them, except the attackers, are dead. If someone tries to run, he is killed by the pickets who are stationed especially for this purpose. The valuables are taken, and the dead bodies are dumped in a secluded spot nearby.
What just happened was a premeditated attack by members of criminal secret society called Phansigar or, more commonly, Thuggee. The word thug was derived from them. It is a Sanskrit word which means to cover or conceal. British officials labeled them as ‘The Deceivers’.
This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
History of Thuggee
Thuggee had been around since at least the 14th century. Over the centuries, the dark brotherhood murdered possibly a half million or even a million people. In 1830 alone, they’re estimated to have killed 50,000. One thug strangler admitted to 900 murders over a period of 40 years.
The strict rules of secrecy kept the group hidden. People were admitted to the Thuggee cult by inheritance. Generally, a father in the cult would initiate only one of his sons into the cult. Wives had no knowledge of how their husbands earned money. The thugs lived a respectable life in their communities. They communicated through secret signs and a secret language called Ramasee. They could plot the murder of an intended victim right in front of him without the victim getting any inkling of it.
Thuggee was a religious cult too. They revered the Hindu goddess Kali or Bhowanee. If not fully, then at least her darker characteristics. They offered their victims to Kali as sacrifices and were rewarded by her in the form of permission to keep the loot. She also directed that there should be no bloodshed. They were very superstitious, and were very attentive toward signs and omens.
Thuggee was also remarkable for transcending the rigid lines of caste and religion. Although Kali was a Hindu goddess, roughly one-third of thugs were Muslims. They firmly believed that Kali controlled their fate in this world, even as they expected Allah to forgive them in the next.
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The Fall of Thuggee Cult
The end of the Thuggee cult started in the 1820s. An ex-army officer, William Sleeman, was appointed by the British government to get to the root of the disappearance of people. Sleeman carefully plotted the times and places of thug attacks, and was able to predict where new ones would occur.
He started putting undercover agents among the travelers. This prevented the attacks, and many thugs were caught alive. Some of them refused to talk, but some others thought that Kali had abandoned them and revealed whatever they knew.
A minimum of 3,700 thugs was captured by the Indian authorities between 1830 and 1870, and it is believed that Thuggee cult was no more in the business.
The Aryan Brotherhood
The state penal system in California created another criminal society like the Thugge, named the Aryan Brotherhood or The Brand. It was notorious for exceptional murderousness.
It all started with California unifying its prison system in response to the changes in society. Whites, blacks and Hispanics—who had previously had been housed separately—were now combined into a general population. By 1966, this set off a race war for protection and control of the internal drug, prostitution, and other rackets.
The Aryan Brotherhood had roots in earlier criminal gangs, as suggested by its emblem: a swastika combined with a shamrock and the number 666: Irish symbolism mixed with Nazi-biker imagery mixed with a dash of the occult. From San Quentin, the Brotherhood expanded to become a pan-nation organization with 15,000 to 20,000 members. However, the actual power was in the hands of an inner circle of around 300, with most of them serving life terms.
Since they were not very large in number, the Aryan Brotherhood had to be meaner. They had a reputation of fatally attacking anyone they thought to be their enemy, irrespective of whether he was a rival gang member or not. The Aryans’ reputation for violence eventually won them allies. They joined forces with Mexican mafia and then with the Sinaloa Cartel. This meant Aryan Brotherhood became enemies of La Eme’s Hispanic rivals, La Nuestra Familia.
Since the Aryans were skilled in murders, they were often hired as hit-men by other gangs. By the 1990s, the Aryan Brotherhood was estimated to be responsible for a quarter of prison homicides. But the brotherhood could also offer protection, for a price.
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Other Criminal Secret Societies
There have been many other criminal secret societies besides the Thugge and the Aryan Brotherhood. One such society is Japan’s Yakuza that was born out of a union of gamblers, thieves, and fallen samurai. With approximately 100,000 members, they are one of the biggest crime syndicates in the world today.
Another one is what is called Russian mafia. It is an extension of the centuries-old Vorovskoi Mir or Thieves’ World. And most recently, immigration from El Salvador to Los Angeles has given rise to Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13. And lastly, there is La Familia Michoacana. It is a Mexican drug gang that split around the year 2000. This generated a new group which called itself Los Caballeros Templarios, the Knights Templars. A 21st-century drug gang naming itself after a banned order of warrior monks who had vanished 700 years before means some secret societies never die.
Common Questions about Thuggee
William Henry Sleeman, an ex-army officer, was appointed by the British government to get to the root of the disappearance of people. Sleeman carefully plotted the times and places of thug attacks, and was able to predict where new ones would occur. Around 4,000 thugs were arrested, of which nearly 2,000 were convicted.
The word thug is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning meaning to cover or conceal. In India, thugs operated from 14th to 19th century as a gang of thieves and assassins.
The Aryan Brotherhood had roots in earlier criminal gangs, as suggested by its emblem: a swastika combined with a shamrock and the number 666.