As opposed to the AncientConspiracy, which is generally in control of (at least a significant portion of) the world or planning to be so, a group with an AncientTradition has some tradition of passive observation or of helping destined heroes or are an AncientOrderOfProtectors guarding some object of power. These are groups that pretty much stay in the background, but aren't actually controlling things from the shadows like an AncientConspiracy. Often big on OnlyTheKnowledgableMayPass. It may be an OstentatiousSecret, with its existence and even its membership well known.

If a member of a passive Ancient Tradition is a recurring character, they tend to break their [[AlienNonInterferenceClause vow of non-interference]] with shocking regularity. If the tradition starts taking a more direct approach, they often become TheOrder.

!!Examples of Passive Observation


[[folder:Comic Books]]
* The Marvel Universe has the Watchers, an alien ''species'' dedicated to observing everything in the universe without interfering. Further in accordance with the trope, Uatu, the particular Watcher living on Earth's moon, has been known to break or creatively bend his oath of non-interference with some regularity to warn chosen superheroes of that world when 'cosmic' trouble rears its head.
** The mere ''presence'' of Uatu, without actually speaking a word of warning, is a clear indication that something of cosmic significance is about to happen. And most of Marvel's heroes know it.
** On one occasion, the Watchers as a group made a decision to violate their own rules: in ''ComicBook/{{Marvel 1602}}'', they help prevent the destruction of the omniverse, which they feel would leave them without anything to watch. In doing so, they condemn all the people and possible people of a certain reality to non-existence, which is one of the reasons why they never interfere.
* A DC example might be the Endless from Creator/NeilGaiman's ''ComicBook/TheSandman'', because even though they have interfered with the affairs of humanity for millenia, they aren't evil or good, but just sort of impartial.

* The Second Foundation in Creator/IsaacAsimov's ''Literature/{{Foundation}}'' series is created largely as a safeguard to make sure the first Foundation follows the right path. It stays in the background and does not interfere, but does have operatives in place in case things get too OffTheRails from the original Seldon Plan.
%% [[Creator/JohnCWright The Mansion Everness]] in ''Literature/WarOfTheDreaming''.
* ''Literature/{{Illuminatus}}'': the collective Discordian Cabal. It's implied that the ELF itself is actually relatively young, like its contemporary compatriots. They just happen to know and guard some very old secrets. The actually oldest and most mysterious organization in the book is called A.'.A.'., which is not an acronym of anything; anyone claiming otherwise is an impostor.
* Played with in the ''Literature/RedRoom'' series. The titular organization is an army of agents and soldiers who protect the world from evil monsters. They're also just a branch of a larger AncientConspiracy.
* ''Literature/{{Safehold}}:''
** The Brotherhood of St. Zherneau's was founded in Charis after reading knowledge about the true history of Safehold and its enforced MedievalStasis left to them by an Adam. From that point on they became the safeguard of that history and knowledge and work to ultimately bring that knowledge back to Safehold. Most of Charis' previous kings were part of the plan. Upon revealing themselves to Merlin and Cayleb, the Brotherhood becomes a check-and-balance for the Inner Circle, vetting new candidates to be inducted.
** ''Hell's Foundations Quiver'' introduces the Sisterhood of Saint Khody. They've been active much longer than the Brotherhood, but the source of their knowledge is a journal left behind by one of the original ''seijins'', who had only begun to suspect what had been done, so they lacked the full awareness of Safehold's past that the Brotherhood possessed. They are just as committed to the defeating the CorruptChurch and have access to mainland resources that the protagonists otherwise lack.

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* Most of the varied series of ''Franchise/StarTrek'' except ''Series/StarTrekEnterprise'' have as a rule the so-called "Prime Directive". This Directive states that before a society reaches a certain technological level (usually but not always defined as approaching the capacity for faster-than-light travel), that that society is not to be interfered with in any way, or have even the existence of Starfleet, spaceflight, or other worlds revealed to them, lest it change their society. As with most "rules" on ''Star Trek'', this was broken with impunity whenever the plot called for it, or the conditions met with the moral indignation of the observer (usually TheCaptain), etc...
** ''Series/StarTrekEnterprise'' did have two Organians (from the Original Series episode "Errand of Mercy") who had been observing the reactions of sentient species to an incurable virus for ten thousand years under strict non-interference rules. However because HumansAreSpecial the 'younger' of the pair intervenes to stop two main characters from dying, [[CallForward leading to an eventual change of policy]].
** The [[AlienNonInterferenceClause Prime Directive]] [[DependingOnTheWriter sometimes means]] not interfering with other cultures at all, even space-faring ones at a comparable tech level. It also sometimes mandates hidden interference if it is necessary to keep the other culture existent, and sometimes specifically prohibits it even then. Some ExpandedUniverse materials attempt to HandWave this issue by treating the Prime Directive as a complete mess, drafted in too much haste as a knee-jerk reaction to a terrible mistake, and so riddled with exceptions and loopholes that Starfleet captains can interpret it to mean whatever the hell they want it to mean.
* The [[AscendToAHigherPlaneOfExistence Ascended]] [[{{Precursors}} Ancients]] from ''Series/StargateSG1'' and ''Series/StargateAtlantis'' have a "strict" non-interference policy with several glaring loopholes ([[CoughSnarkCough *coughAnubiscough*]]). They'll adhere to it to the point of just being [[NeglectfulPrecursors pricks]]. Though to be fair, they adhere to it ''even when the result might be their total anihilation by the Ori'', so they must '''really''' believe in non interference (or have tremendous faith in the SGC).
* The Watchers from ''Series/{{Highlander}}: The Series'' observe the Immortals but do not interfere.
** Except for Horton's splinter group, who decide to kill them all rather than risk letting any of them get the Prize.
* In ''Series/DoctorWho'', traditionally the Time Lords fulfilled this niche, only interfering if something would seriously threaten the timelines. The Doctor was considered a criminal for his desire to interfere with the other civilizations. Of course they started to experience some serious MotiveDecay during the Last Great Time War.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* The Keepers in the ''VideoGame/{{Thief}}'' series claim to be this ("Propaganda is WrittenByTheWinners. History is written by the observer.") but in reality, often start meddling in worldly affairs themselves (preferrably, with [[PlayerCharacter Garret's]] hands).
* The Psijic Order in ''VideoGame/TheElderScrollsVSkyrim'' was originally formed as a religious sect against changes to the Altmer worshipping traditions. Then, their entire island of Artaeum disappeared for 500 years and upon its return, the Psijics refused to discuss anything that had transpired. Their only discernible role as an organization in-game is to safeguard magical artifacts from those who would abuse their power.
** The previous information (not appearances -- ''Skyrim'' was the first time they showed up in person) on them had them closer to the aiding category, in that when they Artaeum was present (it has disappeared for varying lengths of time more than once) the Psijics often served as advisers to rulers -- though the Tamrielic Empire, for reasons never quite explained, did not like the Psijics taking this role, and so prohibited it in the Imperial government proper, and discouraged it for Provincial governments.

!!Examples of Aiding


* The Hieda family in ''Manga/AsagiriNoMiko'' protect against demonic forces and assist the Amatsu family in sealing Yagarena.
* The Oogami family in ''Anime/KannazukiNoMiko'' train the priestesses of the Sun and Moon so that they can seal {{Orochi}}.
* Kuanjitta and her ancestors in ''Anime/{{Madlax}}'' guard Thirstary, one of the books of power.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* The hereditary priesthood that guards [[spoiler:Orpheus's head]] in the ''Brief Lives'' arc of ''ComicBook/TheSandman''.
* The Guardians of the Universe who give the Franchise/GreenLantern Corps their power in Franchise/TheDCU.
* The 2010 ''[[ComicBook/{{SHIELD}} S.H.I.E.L.D.]]'' miniseries reveals that The Shield is ''not'' an espionage agency founded by Nick Fury, but dates back to AncientEgypt, with a mandate to bring humanity to its ultimate destiny.
* ''ComicBook/{{New52}}'': The ComicBook/{{Stormwatch}} organization, which seems to have its origins in ''ComicBook/DemonKnights''.

* The Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword in ''Film/IndianaJonesAndTheLastCrusade''.
* The Medji in ''Film/TheMummyTrilogy''.
* The Fraternity in the film version of ''Film/{{Wanted}}'', whose job is to assassinate those decided by fate to prevent a more horrible event from occurring.
* ''Film/NowYouSeeMe'': The Eye , a group dating back to AncientEgypt dedicated to protecting true magic, are orchestrating the Four Horsemen's performances as a way to test them for membership. [[spoiler: Dylan turns out to be a member, and by the end, the Horsemen are in.]]

* The genuine Middle Ages Gaelic religious movement Céli Dé (Companions of God) seves this role in Stephen Lawhead's ''Celtic Crusades'' trilogy, surviving to the present day as the Benevolent Order.
* The Talamasca in Creator/AnneRice's ''Literature/TheVampireChronicles'' and Witch series.
* The Old Ones in ''Literature/TheDarkIsRising''.
* ''Literature/SecondApocalypse'' has the Mandate, a school of sorcery committed to preventing the second apocalypse. Because their ancient enemy is so long forgotten that it is considered a myth, the Mandate are something of a joke among the sorcerous schools, but then again they're the only ones who still know Gnostic magic, which is far more powerful than the Anagogic magic of the other schools.
* Creator/RobertAHeinlein's short story ''[[ Lost Legacy]]''. A benevolent secret society of people with psychic abilities lives under Mount Shasta. Their membership has included UsefulNotes/AbrahamLincoln, Creator/AmbroseBierce, Creator/MarkTwain and Creator/WaltWhitman. They help the protagonists refine their mental abilities and fight the opposition group that wants to keep humanity ignorant.
* Creator/DavidWeber's ''Literature/{{Safehold}}'' series has the Brotherhood of St. Zherneau's, a monastery that is the only keeper of pre-Safehold knowledge besides Merlin Athrawes. Because of the power of the Church of God Awaiting, they have kept in the background and paid lip service to them all the while gradually moving the kingdom of Charis towards being able to reveal the CorruptChurch's origins as a PathOfInspiration.
* In the short story "The Splendid Source" by Creator/RichardMatheson, the hero discovers that an ancient fellowship makes up and spreads most or all of the world's risque jokes. (Creator/ErnestHemingway, alive at the time the story was written, is shown to be a modern-day member.)
-->"That is history's secret," rejoined the Dean, "veiled behind time's opacity. Our venture does have its honored past, however. Great men have graced its cause -- Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Dickens.... Shakespeare, of course.... Horace and Seneca.... Yea, in the palaces of Tutankhamen was our work done.... Scraped on rock, in many a primordial cave, are certain drawings. And there are those among us who believe that these were left by the earliest members of the Brotherhood. But this is only legend..."
* The Priory of Sion in ''Literature/TheDaVinciCode'' turned out to be this at the end of the day. All the organization is concerned with is protecting the descendants of Jesus and practicing their own brand of Gnosticism. The organization appeared to be an AncientConspiracy and much more powerful at first glance because it attracted a lot of bright people to join its ranks; however, the achievements of these members (that we know of) are almost always accomplished independently of their Priory membership.
* The Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised in ''Literature/{{Discworld}}''. Their main job is to ensure that history happens as intended, although with the number of people who've messed around with time manipulation one member describes their job as mostly being attempting to ensure that time holds together at all.
-->'''Marco Soto''': We're the most secret society that you can imagine.\\
'''Newgate Ludd''': Really? Who are you, then?\\
'''Soto''': The Monks of History.\\
'''Ludd''': Huh? I've never heard of you!\\
'''Soto''': See? ''That's'' how good we are.

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* The Watchers' Council from ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer''.
** Although how much they aid the protagonists is debatable. Giles might be a good guy, but most of the time, when the other Watchers show up, they actually cause problems for the heroes.
* ''Series/GameOfThrones'': Founded some 8,000 years ago and electing their 998th lord commander in Season 5, the Night's Watch is by far the oldest institution in the realm.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* The Illuminati in the first ''VideoGame/DeusEx'' sort of fall under this trope in the first game, as they would originally, at least according to Everett, only "influence" the world, instead of directly controlling it. They help you in the fight against [=MJ12=], but it is questionable if their motives are any better, especially [[spoiler: when you see that Everett has one former leader in semi-cryo to keep him alive and conscious for advice, while falsely telling him that he cannot cure his illness.]] The second game on the other hand, they are definitely not just in the shadows, "influencing".
** ''VideoGame/DeusExHumanRevolution'' reveals that [[spoiler:not only do they attempt to control the world (though they're not very successful at it) but they may not even be that "Ancient"]].
* Chizuru Kagara, guardian of {{Orochi}}'s seal in ''VideoGame/TheKingOfFighters '96''.
* Knuckles, guardian of the Master Emerald in ''SonicTheHedgehog''.
* Konoha of ''VideoGame/ArcanaHeart'', part of a [[PettingZooPeople half-dog]] {{Ninja}} clan with an ancient pact of appointing someone as the Millenium Guard of Kamui, the [[ReallySevenHundredYearsOld Thousand Years Protector]].
* In ''VideoGame/{{Touhou}}'', Yukari Yakumo is a one-woman Ancient Tradition who only helps when she feels like it, although the fact that she sleeps most of the time undoubtedly also affects things.
** In ''Immaterial and Missing Power'', she's a playable character. [[spoiler: The entire incident is thanks to her, indirectly.]]
** In ''Imperishable Night'', she's Reimu's pairing and thus a playable character.
** In ''Silent Sinner in Blue'', she persuade Reimu to train for the upcoming journal to the Moon. [[spoiler: [[BatmanGambit So that she can sneak into it while Reimu and company fight the Moon soldiers.]]]]
** In ''Scarlet Weather Rhapsody'', she's a playable character.
** In ''Subterranean Animism'', her power is amongst Reimu's attack mode. [[spoiler: She sponsors Reimu to stop [[PhysicalGod Yasaka Kanako's]] ''nuclear conspiracy''. Kanako herself is two-woman AncientTradition with Suwako.]]
** All in all, Yukari has been intervening many times to ensure that Gensokyo is a haven for the youkai. Sometimes directly, usually through proxies.
* Somewhere between the types, but more 2 than 1, we have the Archaic in ''VideoGame/{{Penumbra}}'', a secret society devoted to researching AliensAndMonsters and keeping them separate from humanity. Unusually for this trope, they're extremely corrupt, and willing to sacrifice the lives of lower-ranking members to protect the upper echelons.
--> Dead workers are inefficient workers. [[GogglesDoSomething Always wear safety goggles when handling hazardous materials]], and be sure to store your personal cyanide capsule well away from Archaic-issued aspirine.
* In VideoGame/TheElderScrollsVSkyrim, the Blades have apparently been reduced to this.
* The Treewalkers in VideoGame/TheNightOfTheRabbit, who have the power of using trees to travel across different worlds, times and possibilities. They use their magical powers to help the people of worlds they visit.
* In ''VideoGame/WolfensteinTheNewOrder'', the [[StupidJetpackHitler massive technological leaps made by the Nazis]] that allowed them to [[AlternateHistory win WWII]] are revealed to be the result of them discovering and reverse-engineering the technology of the Da'at Yichud, an ancient society of Hebrew scientists who have spent thousands of years developing [[ClarkesThirdLaw hyper-advanced, seemingly magical]] inventions in secret. It's eventually revealed that they had begun to break their vows of secrecy and aid the Allies near the end of the war, but by then it was too late.

* ''Webcomic/ImpureBlood'': [[ The Watchers.]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* The Utrom Guardians in ''WesternAnimation/TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles2003'' are one of these: established almost a thousand year ago in Japan, they protect the stranded Utrom aliens from outsiders.
* ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'': This seems to be the White Lotus Society's schtick. Apparently, [[OldMaster all old people know each other]].
* In ''WesternAnimation/ThunderCats2011'', Thundera's [[TheOrder Clerics]], in addition to acting as ChurchMilitant PraetorianGuard, also have a more passive tradition of guarding Thundera's history, and [[KeeperOfForbiddenKnowledge keeping]] the [[GreatBigBookOfEverything Book Of Omens]]' contents and location a secret. They allow the book's existence to become [[LegendFadesToMyth mythologized and doubted]], and conceal specifics from their ruler, and the people he sends in search of the book. But when an ancient enemy attacks, and the book becomes necessary to defeat him, the remaining Clerics immediately begin providing aid and information to their king.

[[folder:Real Life]]
* Santa Claus. The Western tradition of lying about a fictional person giving gifts to children is actually impressively wide spread and frightening accepted as both a matter of course without much thought or organized pre-meditation beyond trying to decide what present "Santa" gives.
* One of the proposals on how to deal with keeping nuclear waste safely buried is to create a quasi-religious cabal (an "atomic priesthood") dedicated to warning people to stay away from nuclear waste burial sites.