Follow TV Tropes


Ancient Conspiracy

Go To

The Question: Reaching back to Ancient Egypt, there's been a single cabal of powerful individuals directing the course of human history. But the common man prefers to believe they don't exist, which aids their success.
Supergirl: Global warming? Military upheavals in the third world? Actors elected to public office?
Green Arrow: The spread of coffee bars? Germs outpacing antibiotics? And boy bands? Come on! Who would gain from all this?
The Question: Who indeed?

An incomprehensibly powerful group that has lurked in the shadows throughout centuries of history, such as The Illuminati or the Masons. Their reach is vast, and they have unlimited numbers of Evil Minions with which to strike at the heroes. They may control The Government, industry, or both, and their goals may be refreshingly mundane (political power, wealth) or horrifyingly supernatural (summon the Great Old Ones, trigger the Apocalypse). Killing one member of the Conspiracy, even its "leader", does no good, for there is always another waiting behind him to take his place and continue the group's work seamlessly. Their Multilayer Façade is unbreakable; Resistance Is Futile.

Sometimes the conspiracy is exposed, only to be revealed in the last pages (or scenes) that that conspiracy was sacrificed to hide the real one — which leads to the conclusion that if you learn of the conspiracy, it is not the true one, which may take us into Zen territory.

Sometimes the ancient conspiracy is neutral or a force for good, such as an Ancient Order of Protectors, but more often than not it is evil (when it is a force for good, it often still does extremely evil things because its members believe they serve the greater good). Occasionally (primarily in series by writers who understood earlier source material such as the Illuminatus! trilogy), the obvious ancient conspiracy is later discovered to be an offshoot of an even more Ancient Tradition which has lost its way; in such cases, the real Ancient Tradition may provide some veiled and ambiguous assistance to the protagonists, though they will remain aloof themselves.

It tends to be big on Only the Knowledgable May Pass, which may matter a great deal for The Infiltration.

Since the ancient conspiracy often draws on conspiracy-theorist lore, don't be surprised when certain names keep coming up. The Knights Templar are popular, as are The Hashshashin. In older works, Jewish secret domination of the world through the banks is the norm. The Freemasons might crop up occasionally, but as a real, semi-secret society, they're generally not scary enough, so expect them to be a front for the real secret society, at best. By far the most common are The Illuminati, who have been used as an ancient conspiracy so many times that the term has become generic, and need not have anything to do with the historical Bavarian Illuminati at all. Occasionally they might reference Adam Weishaupt, but don't count on it.

When it appears in a television series, it is usually the Big Bad behind everything, The Man Behind the Man to all others. Expect to see a lot of them in the form of The Omniscient Council of Vagueness. They also tend to employ Evil Plan and the Gambit Roulette. In modern times, an ancient conspiracy commonly overlaps with The Syndicate.

The ancient conspiracy is a subtrope of The Conspiracy and a subset of the Powers That Be. Contrast with the benevolent Ancient Tradition and the harmlessly benign Brotherhood of Funny Hats. The Path of Inspiration is a specific type of this, and Hollywood Satanists may or may not be involved in the conspiracy. May be an N.G.O. Superpower.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: The Wall Cult knows more about the Titans than the rest of humanity, including that the Walls protecting them from Titans are composed of other Titans.
    • The leaders of the government know the truth about the outside world, they've convinced the rest of the populace to stay within the walls and die at their commands, and they're willing to murder all their citizens to create a Titan enslavement machine if it means they don't have to face the Kingdom of Marley. And their king is a body double who is also senile.
  • The Organization of Claymore is initially depicted as being the one who saved Humankind from being predated by Yoma through the creation of the titular Claymores, half-human and half-yoma warriors, but the truth is that it was the Organization itself who created the Yoma in the first place, and the Claymores are as oblivious of this fact as the helpless villagers. The Organization comes from another continent where two nations have waged war for over a century, one of such nations has allied itself with the Dragon Descendants, superhuman warriors who are infinitely more powerful than human soldiers, in order to fight the Dragon Descendants the other human nation created the Organization to develop powerful and controllable monsters that could be used to counter the Dragons. The Organization took over the island where Claymore is set and has kept the local population oblivious about the fact that there are other lands beyond the sea and any Claymore who grows disobedient or learns too much is either sent on a Suicide Mission or hunted down as deserter, while the whole land is used as a giant research lab for biological weapons.
  • The Blessed in Cyborg 009: Call of Justice are a group of quasi-immortal psychic superhumans who've been manipulating humanity for thousands of years, with several key figures in history like Thomas Edison being implied to be Blessed. We later learn that the Blessed are very loosely organized and that most are content to live in peace among humans, but a rogue faction led by a man named "Emperor" has been spying on the 00 cyborgs, viewing them as a potential threat in their plans to remake the world.
  • The true nature of the Heaven's Feel in Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero. Specifically, the goals of the three families Eizenbern, Makiri, and Tohsaka. A subversion in that they never actually finish grail ritual; they've tried it four separate times before Fate/Stay Night and each time it failed for a completely different reason, usually due to infighting between factions. It's actually impossible for them to succeed, as the Grail was corrupted beyond repair, thanks to the Einzbern clan summoning Angra Mainyu during the third war.
  • The homunculi in Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • In the manga/second anime, Homunculus/Father is both the founder and leader of said Ancient Conspiracy which is also part Government Conspiracy. As with Dante below, his plan is to live forever, but by becoming God.
    • In the first anime, Dante runs a conspiracy dating back to a quasi-dark age, which manipulates the highest levels of the nation's government. Her plan is simply to use the philosopher stone and transfer herself to a new body to live forever, starting genocides if she has to.
  • Both the "Symbol" organization and the Gowa clan in Gasaraki.
  • The Daath Organization in Guilty Crown is a very nebulous group that is only mentioned, never seen. Supposedly they want to restart the human race by eradicating most of it with the Apocalypse Virus.
  • Gundam:
    • The Shuffle Alliance of G Gundam, which has secretly arbitrated nearly every world war in history and perfected the art of talking in perfect unison.
    • The Vist Foundation from Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, in a sense that their knowledge of where Laplace's Box is could be a turning point between the two primary warring factions of the story.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny introduced LOGOS as the organizational equivalent of The Man Behind the Man to Blue Cosmos. While Blue Cosmos is essentially a Fantastic Racism group with a thin environmentalist veneer, LOGOS is essentially a 1% club for those who enjoy War for Fun and Profit. They've supposedly been around since "ancient times", and at least in the novelization, their destruction at the hands of ZAFT sparks a global economic crisis that sends most of the Earth spiraling into chaos and anarchy.
    • Celestial Being in Gundam 00. To accomplish their goals of wiping out war and unifying humanity, they have subverted the greatest minds of the scientific community and formed a development chain that lasted over two hundred years, all to ensure utter technological Humongous Mecha domination when they chose to reveal themselves. In the process, they even executed a round trip to Jupiter. And in a peculiar twist on the trope, this ancient conspiracy is mostly staffed by the heroes. The resident Big Bad is also a member, who is trying to co-opt the organization's resources for his own means. In fact, a lot of the conflict in the series is a result of warring factions trying to be the lead actor of the conspiracy and to swing its end result in their favor. Further complicating matters is that very few are privy to the plans full scope.
  • The main antagonists in Helck are Really 700 Years Old and were messing with human nobles for generations. Their goals are different, but they work together to Restart the World.
  • In Katanagatari, Kiki Shikizaki using his power to see into the future crafted the Twelve Deviant Blades and helped found Kyotouryuu, his Thirteenth Deviant Blade all for the purpose of averting the destruction of Japan in the future. The power of the Deviant Blades changed the course of history while Kyotouryuu became stronger with each passing generation. The time of the series is the culmination of Shikizaki's plan: Shichika Yasuri, a Kyotouryuu practitioner stronger than all of the other Deviant Blades put together, one strong enough to avert Japan's destruction. The end of the series reveals that Shikizaki's plan failed for one simple reason: Shichika didn't want to change the future and was content to let the people of the future handle things.
  • Esset (a.k.a. Ezsett) in Knight Hunters is a cult-like conspiracy that is headed by three psychic Elders. Their goal is to raise a demon that will help them rule the world and grant them immortality.
  • Enfant in Madlax had the feel of an ancient conspiracy and used the power of ancient texts, though the actual organization seemed to be more recent.
  • The Marginal project in Marginal, which uses Earth as a huge laboratory to observe cultural evolution after a disaster causes women to lose their reproductive ability and human to become an all-male One-Gender Race
  • Naruto reveals that Black Zetsu has been using the entire world since the time of the Sage of the Six Paths, all in his pursuit of reviving Kaguya. He was responsible for the Senju-Uchiha feud by manipulating Indra into attacking his younger brother Ashura, and then altered the tablet left behind by the Sage to make the Uchiha Clan his pawns. Since then, he has watched over their descendants, until he found Madara, someone capable of awakening the Rinnegan. He then used Madara's Moon's Eye Plan (actually Black Zetsu's plan via the stone tablet he altered) to help resurrect Kaguya — a plan which also created Tobi, who caused the Kyuubi Attack (including the death of his own sensei and his wife), the Bloodline Massacres of Kiri, the Uchiha Clan Massacre, and the formation of the Akatsuki, and God knows what else. Black Zetsu is all but responsible for all of ninja history.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: SEELE has the trappings of one, but there's a lot of confusion about exactly how ancient they really are. The series proper seems to imply that they came into existence near the end of WWII, and came to prominence during the 1950s (when the real life Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered). The extra-canonical material (the canonicity of which overs uncomfortably between Word of St. Paul and Word of Dante) states the organization has existed in some form or another since the Dark Ages, but notes that they didn't really rise to any kind of prominence before the 20th Century. They couldn't have done much without modern technology anyway, and their crowning achievement — the Evangelion series — barely work as it is.
  • Les Soldats in Noir is a rare version of this trope that is not outright evil. Formed a thousand years ago by the survivors of a bloody war, their purpose in the present day is to protect the weak and take revenge on those who victimize the world.
  • The Void Century and perhaps the Will of D as well in One Piece. The lost century considered to be a pretty big threat to the World Government. Such that anyone who is even able to read the ancient history will automatically be targeted by the World Government and labeled a dangerous criminal.
    • The ancient history is recorded on the Poneglyphs, as well as the location of various Ancient Weapons, capable of massive destruction.
    • A linked one, which we actually do get to see, is that the founding concept of the World Government, that there will never be a single king everyone shall bow to (complete with empty throne to symbolize it), is a complete lie. The Five Elder Stars do have someone they bow to, and that person sits on that exact throne when no one else looks, pulling all the strings from the shadows.
  • Queen Millennia: La-Metal has been in periodic contacts with Earth since at least the Cambrian Period. At some point they have started to send Queens Millenia every 1000 years as a Shadow Dictator, and all of Earth's culture is said to be the product of La-Metal. There is a clone of Yayoi in every major city who pushes the development of infrastucture in a certain direction, but only she is the true Queen Millennia.
  • The Bahbem Foundation from RahXephon was a secret society centered around creating the show's titular artificial being, as well as funding the organization Terra from behind the scenes.
  • Scrapped Princess has Lord Browning's plan, a five-thousand-year long Batman Gambit to bring down Providence. Zefiris and Natalie keep the scheme on track whatever it takes. Notable for planning The End of the World as We Know It and manipulating the entire cast into doing their bidding without being evil.
  • The Hunters in Spiral look this way in the anime, but the manga reveals that they've only existed as long as the teenage Blade Children have been alive.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has the heroes eventually discovering that humanity was relocated underground against their will by Lordgenome who himself created the Beastmen for this very purpose. A few years after killing him, it turns out that Lordgenome was only doing this for the greater good: with the population growing uncontrollably, the Anti-Spirals are now targeting Earth for extermination. During the quest to off the Anti-Spirals as well, they reveal that they are also working for the greater good by suppressing all Spiral races in an effort to protect the universe from total existence failure via Spiral Nemesis.
  • In Season 4 of Yu-Gi-Oh! the villains are a group called Doma who play with this trope-while they own the richest, most secretive and most powerful company in the world and own a piece of every company on Earth, as well as having some measure of influence on the governments of countless nations, all of the members are fairly recent recruits, and there are only a handful of them. The sole exception is their leader, Dartz, who is really 10,000 years old, is the former King of Atlantis, was present when the Pharaoh battled Bakura and Zorc in Ancient Egypt, and has been spending his immortal lifespan battling millions of people individually and stealing their souls throughout the ages, with the ultimate aim of bringing about The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Yliaster in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds. Two versions of it exist in the series:
    • The first Yliaster was an Illuminati-like cult founded 3000 years prior to the start of the series in South America. Their goal was to gain control over human society, and to use their power and influence to ensure humanity's survival in the cyclical Divine Conflict between the Big Good Crimson Dragon and the Eldritch Abomination Earthbound Immortals. The Big Bad of the first arc is the leader of the organization, who seeks to become an all-powerful god so he can end the cycle once and for all.
    • The second Yliaster comes about when a three-man Big Bad Ensemble uses their powers to take over and Cosmic Retcon the previous origin out of existence, with the new origin being that they were a relatively new organization with possibly a few members (the ones involved with the Dark Signers) inspired by the original Star Dragon King. In its new incarnation, the founders of the organization are actually four well-intentioned extremists from the future; having harnessed the ability to Time Travel with the intention of going back and preventing the global catastrophe that led to the devastated future in which they are the only surviviors. This change in depictions was widely reported to be the result of the showrunners wanting to distance themselves from cult-like activity, but in reality seems to have simply been caused by the writers running out of ideas for the original premise and needing to write themselves out of a hole.

    Comic Books 
  • In Astro City, the Nebulous Evil Organization Pyramid is believed to be this, running schemes that go back centuries if not even further.
  • Batman:
    • The Conspiracy from the Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight three-issue arc of the same name.
    • The League of Assassins has existed for centuries, led by Ra's al Ghul, a man who remains immortal thanks to periodic use of Lazarus Pits. Their goal is to reduce the human population to more manageable levels as mankind is slowly destroying the ecosystem. As their name implies they also do a lot of assassinations. (In the oldest Ra's stories, the League was just the enforcement branch of the al-Ghul Syndicate, generally called "The Demon", but in recent years its name has basically taken over the entire organization.)
    • There's also the Order of St. Dumas, creators of Azrael, who are descended from the actual Knights Templar. Interestingly enough, for most of their history they mostly just sat around on their secret piles of moolah, and Azrael was solely a device to punish internal threats; it wasn't until Batman intervened and appointed the latest Azrael his successor that things started getting messy.
    • Following the New 52 reboot, a new secret organization was created for Bruce to deal and one alot closer to home: the Court of Owls. A group consisting of some of oldest families of Gotham, they have been the secret power behind Gotham since colonial times. They're so clever they convinced Batman himself that they were nothing but a myth (albeit, at a time where he was still new to the detective scene and mainly because of a crime they actually didn't do). In fact, they're so dangerous that they did not consider Batman much of a threat and hence why they didn't pursue him and left him a wreck when they tried to get him, thanks to their legion of guards, the Talons.
      • They also serve as a larger explanation for why Gotham is the way it is and Bruce's biggest opposition in trying to improve the city (hence why they only get involved when after the events of Final Crisis had Bruce live various lives in Gotham's different eras, he becomes more proactive in improving the city).
  • In Black Magick, the witch-hunting organization Aira has lore that their origins extend back to Ancient Greece. By the sixteenth century some of its members have come to doubt that they are quite that old, but their factual existence does go back for centuries.
  • Captain America:
    • We all know Hydra as a terrorist outfit that aided the Nazi party, but as it turns out, they're the continuation of an ancient Egyptian cult (but their goals haven't changed much).
    • As it turns out, S.H.I.E.L.D. has a very similar background.
    • And then there's Leviathan, a later Ancient Conspiracy created to be The Man Behind the Man to both HYDRA and SHIELD, as well as the Zodiac Cartel.
  • The Catholic Church were written this way in numerous Chick Tracts (frequently to Cartoonish Supervillainy levels), and Chick clearly believed them to be a Real Life example of this trope.
  • The graphic novel Cryptocracy is not only about this, but actually uses the conspiracy as its protagonists. Specifically, it's stated that practically since the dawn of humanity, the Nine Families (all codenamed after Roman gods) have used their advanced technology and control of the world's cryptids to manipulate global politics and society as they see fit for the greater good (for the most part; some just see themselves as superior to non-Family normal humans). Interestingly, they've actually encouraged the myth of The Illuminati and other such conspiracy theories, making the very nature of this trope so outlandish that only the most fringe of groups will ever even believe in their existence, thus preserving their security.
  • In Disney Ducks Comic Universe, there's the International Money Council who became Scrooge's rival in a few of his treasure hunts. Thing is, they're actually the modern incarnation of The Knights Templar, and although they're relatively on the side of good, there's another conspiracy within said conspiracy, The Priory of Sion.
  • The Nine Families in The Scorpion who ruled ancient Rome and seek to control the world by controlling the Catholic Church in the 18th century.
  • The Five Archons in The Secret History. They control world events from behind the scenes, and many real-world or suspected real conspiracies are revealed to be run by the Archons.
  • The Secret Monarchy of the World in Ed Brubaker's Sleeper (WildStorm) is a Big Bad Wannabe Conspiracy. TAO learned of them and became intrigued by their mission (which, predictably, is dominating the world), but upon joining them found them to be riddled by the usual human flaws he had come to disdain.
  • The Ultimates: The Chitauri want to destroy the free will of the human race. They worked with the Nazis, but kept planning things in the shadows since their defeat.
  • With War of Kings, Marvel's cosmic title have the Fraternity of Raptors, who used to control the Shi'ar Empire via a mixture of technology and magic, and the occasional acts of murder. They disappeared for centuries, but the aftermath of Secret Invasion wakes their tech up again. Then it turns out Darkhawk is supposed to be one of them.
  • X-Men:
    • Clan Akkaba is an Ancient Conspiracy made up of the descendants of Apocalypse. True to form for organizations of this type, they claim credit for a wide variety of historical disasters and upheavals.
    • The Externals are a secret society of immortal mutants who scheme to manipulate society to their advantage. They are led by the Power Copying mutant Gideon.
    • The Hellfire Club is a low-key example of this trope, at least age-wise. They certainly nail the 'secret society scheming to control the world' part of this trope, but they've only been around since the 16th century, putting them at rather the baby end of the pool as Ancient Conspiracies go. Still, what they lack in history they more than make up for in oodles and oodles of cash.
  • The Minutemen and The Trust from 100 Bullets.
  • The Grail in Preacher.
  • The villains of The Unwritten.
  • In the chilean comic Zombies en la Moneda, in the final volume it is discovered that the Zombie Apocalypse that has devastated the country is the fault of El Sello, the hidden face of power (a play on words in Spanish that is difficult to translate) who have been manipulating Chile's destiny for generations, and they have a plan toresurrect Augusto Pinochet to be Chile's governor again… it doesn't work out well.

    Fan Works 
  • Advice and Trust: SEELE is a secret cabal has been planning for a long time turning everyone into tang and merge their souls. Asuka meets them after fighting Leliel, and she and Shinji gradually realize behind the fight against the giant aliens invading them there is something more sinister and shadier going on.
  • The Sith Order from The Desert Storm is a terrifyingly competent example of a conspiracy that is both ancient and all-encompassing. Their plan to exterminate the Jedi Order goes back for more than a thousand years and manifests as a Long Game which slowly erodes the Jedi Order's power over time. By the time of Obi-Wan's Jedi Apprentice days, the Sith's influence had expanded to include numerous MegaCorps, planetary governments, terrorist and criminal organizations, and the Senate. Adding to the intimidation factor is the fact that both Darth Plagueis and Sidious remain as The Unseen for the majority of the series. Even when Ben manages to foil one of their schemes, the Sith just shrug their shoulders and find another way to carry out their plans.
  • The Circles from the Deva Series, who have suppressed much magic development on Earth.
  • In The Difference One Man Can Make, The Maesters of Citadel have actively tried to eliminate Magic and its influence from the world for centuries, with the exception of Marwyn the Mage and possibly other Maesters who still try to study Magic.
  • Practically the entire concept behind Equestria: A History Revealed, in which supposedly everything in Equestrian history has a massive conspiracy behind it. It's played for laughs though.
  • Evangelion 303: Seele has been manipulating world politics for centuries in order to try to keep a power balance between countries, consistently supporting the military or political underdog.
  • Fate of the Clans: The true purpose of the Holy Grail War is to sacrifice the seven Servants, opening a path to the Root and obtaining Heaven's Feel. It was the goal of Justeaze Lizrich von Einzbern, Nagato Tohsaka, and Zolgen Makiri after the Einzberns lost it 1,000 years ago and Justeaze was created back then to find a new path to the Root. They succeeded in creating the Greater Grail at the cost of Justeaze's life in 1991.
  • Whoever's behind the Omega Project in the Naruto fanfic Genius Losers of Konoha.
  • Parodied in Haruhi Isolated.
  • HERZ: SEELE is a secret organization has been plotting the end of the world for decades. On the other hand, GEIST is still another secret organization which is very big on individualism and has been opposing SEELE since they knew about its existence and goals.
  • More traditional versions are a part of the Katawa Shoujo fanfic Hisao and Kenji- Master Detectives!.
  • Last Child of Krypton: Several characters such like Kaji or even Gendo warn Shinji he is getting involved in an ancient ploy people very powerful and very dangerous have spent a long time scheming.
  • Both played straight and subverted in Sonic X: Dark Chaos. The backstory runs on the idea that both Christianity and Islam are nothing more than fronts for the Angel Federation. However, Maledict's gigantic "Ultimate Weapon" gambit to defeat the Angels is less than a century old.
  • Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: As Supergirl, Asuka must fight against giant monsters, alien beings, an evil cult and an ancient secret society comprised of old madmen whose goal consists in killing everybody and merging their souls to give birth a new god. Said secret society is not happy with the unforeseen appearance of a super-powered girl coming along out of nowhere and interfering with their plans.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide, secret organization SEELE has been plotting the end of mankind for decades, and even after being defeated, their leader is determined to carry out his scheme one way or another, even if it takes years.
  • In the One Piece story Rerum Danarae, the entire setup of the Navy, the Kumori clan/Dai Senmei and their direct allies is this — with their knowledge of the Void Century and the Kumori’s control of the fealty/loyalty of the Navy, they are holding the World Government by its throat for the last 820+ years. With the rising arrogance/corruption of the World Government these days, the Dai Senmei are understandably irritated with them. The setup turns the Navy effectively into an N.G.O. Superpower, unknown to most people. They’re a mercenary military hired 820+ years ago by contract whose major condition was to give them “justice”.
  • The Raven's Plan reveals that a cabal within the Maesters have been manipulating events for millennia to control the development of Westerosi society, repress knowledge of magic, and (more recently) bring down the Targaryen dynasty. Having discovered this shortly before the old timeline ended, Sam and a group of Reach lords spread the word and spearhead a purge of all those involved.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Castle of Cagliostro has the Cagliostro family's secret counterfeiting ring through which they've secretly controlled global economics for centuries.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Jumper there is an entire conspiracy revolving around killing teleporters and inventing technology to stop them.
  • In The Legend of Zorro, the Knights of Aragon have been secretly ruling Europe for centuries. They now view the growing power of the US as a threat to their dominance and seek to arm the southern states and provoke a civil war.
  • The Brotherhood of Sleep, an order of Catholic priests who keep the secret of the canisters for centuries in Prince of Darkness
  • The particular incarnation of the Sith that appears in the Star Wars films is similar to this, except that most of its actions were devised and implemented by Palpatine alone, as opposed to being planned out in advance.
  • Thirst (1979): The vampire cult known as the Hyma Brotherhood has been clinically harvesting human blood in their human breeding farms for possibly centuries.
  • 13 Sins: The conspiracy theorist's notes imply that The Game has been run since Ancient Greece.

  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and its film adaptation turn slavery in America into this. A means for Southern plantations to obtain cheap labor? No, that's just what they want you to think. Slavery was really a ploy by vampires to obtain a steady source of nourishment all along. When Lincoln's Gettysburg Address mentioned "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," he wasn't talking about democracy, he was talking about wanting a country run by human beings instead of the undead.
  • In Aeon 14: Destiny Lost, the terraformers guild, of all people, has become a Benevolent Conspiracy aiming to shepherd humanity out of the technological dark age brought about by the development of Faster-Than-Light Travel: the sudden relief of resource strains meant humanity gave up on being efficient, and the ability to travel between stars in weeks or months rather than decades meant interstellar warfare was now possible, causing some pre-FTL knowledge to become lost. The FGT have covert operatives subtly influencing humanity's governments and sometimes provide new planets beyond their reach to allow threatened populations a fresh start.
  • The Evil Librarians, in Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz Series. They have enough control to hide the existence of entire continents, specifically the ones they don't control.
  • This trope is played straight in the science fiction series, Alterien by Adam R. Brown. The Alteriens Oberon creates go on to form a massive society that spans time and space. In order to more covertly assimilate selected candidates into their society and firmly establish their fellowship on 3D Earth, they create an extension of their nation, a secretive organization they call the Community. Members of the Community are either Alteriens or humans who will soon be transformed into Alteriens. Despite their efforts to keep this secret society a secret, a human who overheard them in the mid-20th century later investigated further. Though that person's efforts to reveal them were never successful, word of their society's existence continued throughout the next two centuries, albeit within the context of an old conspiracy.
  • In Angels and Demons, the Illuminati are a secret organization of scientists who oppose the Catholic Church, and try to destroy the Vatican with an antimatter bomb. Subverted in that the organization does not exist anymore and all of the Illuminati symbols were planted by the Camerlengo in an attempt to get himself elected pope and restore faith in Christianity. He...kind of succeeds.
  • Area 51: It's revealed that two factions from the Airlia, an alien species, have been plotting against each other and covertly warring with human stooges for thousands of years on Earth, along with keeping their existence unknown to most.
  • Humorously subverted in The Areas of My Expertise:
    "It is true that all of the past fourteen presidential candidates have been Bonesmen, with the exception of Ralph Nader, who was merely of member of the much less prestigious consumer-advocacy society Scroll and Seatbelt. And it is also true that Skull and Bones was originally chartered by the Illuminati and Knights Templar in order to infiltrate the Secret World Government at Yale's New Haven campus. But having failed to make any progress in this goal, the Bonesmen now focus almost entirely on tending to the pterodactyls on their private island and on ritual masturbation."
  • In The Arts of Dark and Light, there is at least one that is active both in Amorr and Savondir, the two superpowers in the world of Selenoth, seeking to manipulate both for its own ends. Possibly, there are several conspiracies, with different non-human powers working at cross purposes. This is not made entirely clear, since most of the information about the conspiracy's deeper workings so far comes from an Unreliable Expositor.
  • The Babylon Rising series pits its Adventurer Archaeologist hero against the Seven, a secret society of wealthy globalists plotting to create a Luciferian One World Order. The ultimate origins of the Seven reach back to ancient Babylon, where their ancestors were astrologers advising the emperors of Nimrud.
  • The Book of Mormon warns that "secret combinations" caused the downfall of multiple ancient civilizations and will continue to do so whenever they occur.
  • The Cavaliers from The Cavaliers Series Since the seventeenth century, they have been keeping the United Kingdom under vampire control, by turning promising young lords, and more recently university students, then getting them all the best jobs. Their wealth, beauty and mind control powers all help this process along. Half of government, media and the police are working for them, the other half can easily be bribed, charmed, hypnotised or mesmerised into doing what they want.
  • Comes a Horseman by Robert Liparulo has the Watchers, who were waiting patiently for the Antichrist so that they can use all of their power and money to help him rise and they themselves can enjoy unbridled freedom. The twelve council members had either followed a parent into the position or have been recruited. They were created before the Middle Ages to combat the rise of Christianity. They also have control of the ancestors of a Norse colony that disappeared by moving deep into Canada to avoid being forced into Christianity.
  • In the novel Country of the Blind, by Michael Flynn, the ancient conspiracy is not all that ancient, going back only to the early 19th Century, when a handful of American mathematicians, armed with Babbage's Analytical Engine, discovered the science of "cliology", which can be used to reliably both predict and manipulate the course of historical events. This underground society soon schisms into several antagonistic groups, one of which prefers to play the Ancient Tradition role of usually passive observation (while making killings in the stock market), the others seeking power for its own sake. It eventually develops that there may be another set of cliological societies that emerged in Europe at about the same time, because, as Charles Fort put it, "It steam-engines when it comes steam-engine time."
  • The Da Vinci Code portrays the Catholic Church as an Evil ancient conspiracy.
  • The Forsworn in Dis Acedia are an ancient, thousand years old religious conspiracy actively sabotaging efforts to solve the titular maze. They have infiltrated most of the setting's factions to a degree or another.
  • The Bureau, responsible for the constructed, faction-based community in Chicago for at least eight generations in Divergent.
  • Played straight in Dread Empire by Glen Cook. The Pracchia is an ancient, secret organisation, which wants to rule the world. At first they seem to be working for their own ambitions, but it is later revealed that in fact they work for the Star Rider.
  • Dune:
    • The Bene Gesserit worked for thousands of years to produce the Kwisatz Haderach, meaning they seduced every political leader that showed some talent, however inane, while portraying themselves as being mere servants to those political leaders.
    • Paul steals the religious aspects of this, but then himself gets lost in his own religious movement in Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. Then Leto II takes both the religious movement from Paul and the breeding program from the Bene Gesserit during his three thousand year rule.. The Bene Gesserit regain control a millennium later in Heretics of Dune and plan to use Sheeana, a girl that can control the worms, to start the religious cycle again in Chapterhouse: Dune, though that plan isn't realized.
    • The Dune Encyclopedia takes this a few extra steps, by having the conspiracy go back all the way to ancient Earth, including Jesus and Alexander the Great being failed/proto-Kwisatz Haderachs.
  • Etoile de l'empire invisible and other books by French occultist Jean Parvulesco: The whole history and especially the Soviet Union and the second world war are mainly a result of a covert war between an ancient egyptian Cult of Horus and a Cult of seth. Main Players in that war are masonic lodges, german bankers, old royal bloodlines and so on. The culmination of this war of conspiracies was Vladimir Putins rise to power. Parvulescos Books are a cross between conspiracy Thrillers and explainations of real conspiracy theories the author believed.
  • The Immortals, a trio of immortal sorcerers who have been working from the shadows for centuries in The Extraordinaires.
  • Fablehaven has the Society of the Evening Star, dedicated to overthrowing preserves and with the eventual goal of opening the demon prison Zzyzx and freeing the demons. They're an extremely old organization founded by the Sphinx, many centuries before the series began. He is the leader of the Society at the same time as being the Captain of the Knights of the Dawn (the opponents of the Society) and a trusted consultant for the Conservator's Alliance (who seek to maintain and protect the preserves).
  • Paul Féval was a vital Trope Codifier; he wrote a work entirely dedicated to being a fictional history of secret societies, and included it in The Vampire Countess and more absurdly in Vampire City, where it's implied all the elite of the world are vampires. But his masterwork in the subject was The Black Coats continuity, which included John Devil.
  • Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep contains an extremely dormant trap setup by the Blight the last time it was active, billions of years ago. Those helpful Skroderiders everyone loves so much were uplifted specifically so that they would remain stable — neither transcend nor go extinct — and built with backdoor code so that the Blight could use them as slaves. Hexapodia is the key insight, after all.
  • In Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, the main characters invent an ancient conspiracy out of whole cloth, which is taken to be real by virtually everyone else... including a couple of groups named in it, who are rather put out that they don't seem to have all that power anymore, and want the protagonists to help them regain it!
  • Foundation Series, by Isaac Asimov: Multiple levels of secrecy and subterfuge occur here, listed in order of shortest-lived to longest-running.
    • The Encyclopedia Foundation on Terminus is established for roughly fifty years before Hari Seldon appears in the Time Vault to announce that the Encyclopedia Galactica was a sham concocted to establish them as the nucleus of a second Galactic Empire. At this point, it's a very public conspiracy that Terminus will take over the galaxy. The information needed for the Encyclopedia grants them a broad base of scientific knowledge, which they continue to develop because they're at the extreme edge of the Milky Way and have almost no natural resources.
    • Once The Plan is reasserted after The Mule, a small cabal of people on Terminus have realized that they aren't in charge of their destiny because the Second Foundation is holding the strings. They design telepathic and anti-telepathic equipment to help them shift events in favour of free will rather than the inevitable destiny controlled by the Second Foundation. This conspiracy dissolves and reforms based on the First Foundation fears of being controlled by the Second Foundation.
    • The Second Foundation is the opposite of the Foundation on Terminus in many ways; established at "the opposite end of the galaxy", hyper-focused on developing the science of Psychohistory (and by extension, telepathy), and they use multiple levels of secrecy to hide even their existence. They've sacrifices members several times to convince the First Foundation that the Second Foundation conspiracy has been eliminated. Their job is to make sure that the Second Galactic Empire never falls.
    • The newest conspiracy is by Gaia, a planet of gestalt intelligence, who claims to be the home planet of The Mule. They actually predate Hari Seldon, and in Foundation's Edge they subsume the public conspiracy of the First Foundation, the secret anti-Second Foundation conspiracy, and the telepathic Second Foundation conspiracy by rewriting their memories to guide their actions. Their goal is to make the entire galaxy join their gestalt.
    • Oldest of all is a (frequently one-person) conspiracy by R. Daneel Olivaw, from Dr Asimov's Robot Series. Since Robots and Empire, Daneel has been guiding human history, trying to preserve human ability to define their destiny, while preventing human foibles from destroying the race. He encouraged the creation of Gaia and hid the planet from the first galactic empire. He encouraged Hari Seldon to develop Psychohistory and establish the First and Second Foundations. He even conversed with Golan Trevieze, helping him to realize that, while aliens are absent from the Milky Way, they almost certainly exist in the other galaxies. Daneel's programming makes him prioritize the defense of humanity at the expense of all other sentient life.
  • In Patrick Graham's The Gospel of Evil, our universe is a Cosmic Horror Story and Jesus became the son of Satan before his death, which the Church knows, yet it is kept secret to keep the world from being overcome with Satanist movements.
  • Avalon in The Hellequin Chronicles is generally described as a supernatural version of the UN, but with actual power, with representatives and agents in every human government and usually, advisers near a ruler to make sure that they toe Avalon's line. If they don't... they are removed.
  • Subverted in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus!, in which it is ultimately revealed that spoiler — click to reveal 
    • The Illuminatus theory is filled with these, and range from few decades to tens of thousands of years old, and it's perfectly possible for organizations to split, die, reemerge and resurrect, as well as their teachings to get corrupted in various ways. Somewhat rarely for the genre, the protagonists are mostly members of an ancient conspiracy of their own.
  • Kull: The Serpent People have been infiltrating then taking over human society for thousands of years, ever since humans overthrew them long ago when they ruled openly.
  • The Bane Sidhe are a "good guys" variant on this, from John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata. Also mentioned is the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), who are working with the Bane Sidhe against the Darhel (who are an ancient conspiracy of their own) and human collaborators.
  • Played straight in The Night's Dawn Trilogy, when one of the protagonists discovers that 27th century Earth (though not the Confederation) has been controlled for centuries by the secret "security council" B7, which evolved from a cartel of virtually immortal Corrupt Corporate Executives. Their mooks consist of the criminal underclass, who are made reliable by having their leaders be mind-controlled via bitek technology. At one stage the cartel conspired to have bitek banned so they could have sole use of this technology, thus inadvertently creating the breakaway Edenist culture. Their sole goal is to hold onto their own power, though at least one (the Western Europe Supervisor) believes they have a moral obligation to their subjects — he's something of an eccentric though; bored with his immortal life he eventually takes voluntary exile on a prison planet.
  • The Grail Brotherhood from Tad Williams' Otherland. It isn't that old (its leader and founding member is a mere 200-years-old), but it fits all the other criteria.
  • All works by Jean Parvulesco feature a war between 2 ancient conspiracy networks. The conspiracy consists of the French presidents searching for treasures in the pyramids, and a huge part of it is a war over the control of Russia.
  • Already ancient in Ancient Egypt, the priests' Secret Circle of Secrets in Pharaoh.
  • The House is the granddaddy of them all in the Red Room series. They are a group of wizards who have been controlling the world since, according them, the time of Gilgamesh. Possibly subverted as Derek says they only have the word of the Committee (all notorious liars) on this and their records only go back to the late Renaissance. Still old but not nearly so impressive.
  • Second Apocalypse has the Consult, a conspiracy of great sorcerers and generals who were persuaded to take the side of the Inchoroi against the Nonmen during the first Apocalypse. After their initial failure, they spent the next four thousand years lying low, waiting for their next opportunity.
  • The resistance movement in Keneth Bulmer's The Secret of ZI have been preparing for Earth's liberation from alien conquest for nearly 300 years... because Earth's counterstrike was launched at sublight speeds and will take that long to reach the aliens' world.
  • The Order of the Black Dawn in The Shadowspawn is a centuries-old occult secret society of wealthy aristocrats devoted to attaining supernatural power and world domination. At first they were just a vaguely Masonic conspiracy, but around the turn of the 19th century they received a major upgrade by turning into powerful vampires. They went on to help found the Council of Shadows, the Shadowspawn's globe-spanning ruling body, of which they are still a powerful faction even a couple of centuries later.
  • James Rollins' Sigma Force series has a recurring adversary in The Guild. Early on it's thought to be just a very powerful terrorist organization, but he slowly unfolds more of its backstory with each book. The Devil Colony and Blood Line brings their story arc to its (current) conclusion revealing that their origins can be traced back through every conspiracy organization through history, going back literally thousands of years. With their every action and goal working towards uncovering the secret of immortality, which was once granted by a now extinct herb during biblical times.
  • The House Targaryen from A Song of Ice and Fire, once masters of dragons, had served as the ruling family of the Seven Kingdoms for three centuries, during which they attempted to resurrect the long-dead dragons (well dead for about 150-200 years as of the start of the series — Aegon conquered Westeros for the Targaryens using his dragons) and find The Chosen One for at least a hundred years. As by the series standard, the family has not been portrayed as wholly good or evil, but some individuals frequently swerve to some extreme.
    • Also, in a straight example, the Maesters, the fantasy equivalent of Omnidisciplinary Scientists (they learn a little bit about everything, in order to be better advisor-types). Their love of science and the codifiable, however, has apparently lead them to attempt to destroy all magic, possibly by weakening the dragons, as mentioned above; an old legend states that without dragons in the world, there can be no magic.
  • Spy School: Croatoan, the villains of the eighth book. In some ways they serve as a Contrasting Sequel Antagonist to SPYDER (a relatively new organization Only in It for the Money). Croatoan is filled with Spanish zealots who were behind a series of False Flag Operation's (beginning with the disappearance of the Roanoke colony, which they blamed on the local Natives), initially to try and drive the other colonial powers out of the new world and then to try and topple the American government out of bitterness in the centuries afterwards (long after the actual Spanish government disavowed them). They were behind the Boston Tea Party to start the Revolutionary War, crashed the stock market in 1929, and burned the Capitol during the war of 1812. They also are behind the assassinations of Presidents Kennedy, McKinley, Lincoln (giving John Wilkes Booth a Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon and telling him that the assassination was a play) and Harrison (who they poisoned with arsenic while managing to make it look like natural causes).
  • In Starship's Mage, the Eugenicists that originally "created" the mages were already subtly manipulating lineages before they took over the Mars colonies and began overtly manipulating the population and force-breeding test subjects.
  • Invoked in Terra Ignota by the Masonic Empire. Officially, they are the Masons of ancient conspiracy, secret masters of human history, forced by the aftermath of the Church Wars to step out of the shadows and begin governing openly. However, despite the Empire’s tremendous political power, it’s made clear that nobody actually believes the propaganda. It’s just a way to culturally unify their millions of members and give themselves an aura of mystique and ancient authority.
  • In Jorge Luis Borges' short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, the protagonist reasons that this trope is the only explanation for the creation of the incredibly intricate encyclopedia for the fictional country known as Tlön.
  • Spoofed in Trading Futures, a Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel:
    The conspiracy theorists had been saying it for decades — there was a group of people, small enough to fit round a table, who were the secret masters of the world.
    Cosgrove knew of at least nine organizations, of which six were still active, who thought it was them.
  • Viceroy's Pride: Both Dan and Sam are shocked when Ibis casually admits he got the nanites from the Illuminati. Ibis dismisses them as a bunch of rich busybodies trying to be immortal and using their political ties to get more money. In the second book, they are the driving force behind Ibis trying to conquer the world.
  • The Dark Forest from Warrior Cats, which has influenced many cats, including clan leaders and plotted to overthrow the clans since long before Firestar came to the forest.
  • David Weber is quite fond of these:
    • The Mesan Alignment turns out to be this in the Honor Harrington novels, having arranged the actual fall of the Republic of Haven into the People's Republic by affecting their social dynamic for centuries and much more.
    • The first book in Empire from the Ashes reveals that the Moon's mutinous crew have been manipulating human civilization from the very beginning, sometimes to halt scientific progress... and sometimes just For the Evulz. They have complete control over a variety of terrorist organizations, and have puppets in all the major governments as well. And then there are the counter-mutineers who have been waging a secret war against them.
    • In the Safehold novels, the entire Church of God Awaiting is a conspiracy so ancient they've forgotten about it. The counter-conspirators in the form of the Brotherhood of Saint Zherneau do remember things, though.
    • In Fury Born has a huge conspiracy as well, backing the pirate raiders.
  • In the historical novel Wings of Dawn: Two of them. They hate each other.
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl features an ancient conspiracy of wicked witches whose express goal is to kill all children.
  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer: There are groups that have existed in secret for centuries that try to kill Alia for being born as "the warbringer".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., much like the comics universe, eventually retcons HYDRA into one of these. Specifically, Season 3 reveals that the modern version founded in Nazi Germany and reborn within SHIELD is just the latest incarnation of a cult that's been working for thousands of years to liberate their master, an ancient Inhuman who was long ago banished through a wormhole to a distant planet, so that it will lead them in conquering the world.
    • Season 2 of Agent Carter features an earlier incarnation of this same group (though you only realize this if you notice that their insignia is an earlier version of the HYDRA one) that really plays up the trappings of this trope — operating from within the public facade of a simple social lounge, the Arena Club, whose membership includes some of the most powerful people in the country, their leadership, the Council of Nine, meets within a hidden room to discuss and plan how to manipulate world events to their advantage (apparently including the assassination of McKinley and the Great Depression).
  • America Unearthed has host Scott Wolter who posits that there's an ancient conspiracy starting from the rule of Pharaoh Akenaten through the birth of Jesus and into Europe with The Knights Templar, then through the Freemasons to America.
  • The Senior Partners and the Circle of the Black Thorn in Angel.
    • The Senior Partners actually started out as a cabal of extremely weak low-level demons who developed an ingenious plan of conquering the universe using the laws and political institutions of the worlds they wished to rule. Thus, the Occult Law Firm Wolfram & Hart was born. They've been around since the beginning of time, but by the time the series starts, they've pretty much got the world under their sway.
    • The Circle of the Black Thorn is a Secret Circle of Secrets that serves as the Senior Partners' Elite Mooks. Doesn't sound like much at first blush, until you realize that being number two to the most successful group of inter-dimensional demons on record means that they're pretty much the Unseen Evil by default.
  • Babylon 5:
    • From the episode "Z'Ha'Dum", we have the human emissary of the Shadows, Justin, describing things thusly:
      Justin: Who decides that the workday is from nine to five instead of eleven to four? Who decides that the hemlines will be below the knee this year, and short again next year? Who draws up the borders, controls the currency, handles all of the decisions that happen transparently around us?
      Sheridan: I don't know.
      Justin: Ahhh... I am with them. Same group, different department. Think of me as a sort of middle man. And the name is Justin.
    • On the other side, the Vorlons have been manipulating their current allies for millennia, to make them suitable as Vorlon pawns during the next Vorlon/Shadow war.
  • The Big Bad from Season 3 of Bones, the Gormogon, attacks people he believes to be part of the ancient conspiracy. He somehow convinces Zach to join him in this quest, much to the dismay of most fans.
  • Members of The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970), a cabal of insiders founded in Colonial America, helping each other and punishing those who oppose them. It's based in a college and new members take an oath that leads them to tremendous success, as long as they obey orders. One man, Glenn Ford, opposes them after they cause the suicide of a friend and finds they can easily take away everything that he has.
  • To some extent the Watcher's Council from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although they hover between this trope and Ancient Tradition. The organization is decended from a trio of prehistoric African shamans who created the first slayer by infusing a teenage girl with demon strength. Their initial purpose was to guide and protect the slayer, to make sure that she had at least some human allies even if she was ostracized from the rest of her community, and to ensure that she had the knowledge and training necessary to fight demons effectively. However, by the time they make their first appearance, they're an arrogant Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering that don't do much more than cling to the slayer as a reason for existing and hinder her work with their archaic rules and Lawful Stupid behavior.
  • In Community according to Dean Laybourne, the society of air conditioning repairmen dates back to fan wavers in ancient Egypt.
  • The Dark Science Empire Deathdark in Dai Sentai Goggle Five has been manipulating scientific progress for thousands of years, since iron was first discovered in Turkey, in the name of using science to cause destruction.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Humans exist specifically so that the Fendahl could have a host.
    • "The Long Game" has the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe, who has been controlling the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire through its news for 90 years. However, it's revealed in "Bad Wolf" that there is a deeper conspiracy controlling the Jagrafess' actions: namely, the Daleks.
    • The Torchwood Institute, a secret organization founded by Queen Victoria to operate outside of the British government, fighting aliens and confiscating their technology by force for the good of the British Empire (with the implication of starting a new one when it dissolves). Though its sinister façade of mystery fades prior to the debut of the Torchwood Spin-Off.
    • Also the Cult of Skaro, which supported the Dalek forces in the Time War from the shadows. They were so secretive that even the Doctor thought they were a myth until he encountered them personally.
    • Plus the Silence, who have been ruling and controlling humanity secretly through post-hypnotic suggestion from when civilisation began at least until the late 1960s. The Doctor had visited Earth literally hundreds of times and never even realised they were even there since he can't remember seeing them.
    • Torchwood: Miracle Day also reveals that some of the events of the 20th and 21st centuries have been manipulated by the Three Families, who made a pact to work together and use their combined influence to work in the shadows for the goal of immortality (after witnessing Jack's resurrection) and world domination. A Big Finish audioplay reveals that even the Families were manipulated by an even older (and alien) conspiracy called The Committee.
  • NBC's Dracula features the titular count going up against the Order of the Dragon, a group of aristocrats who have pulled the strings of Western civilization since the Dark Ages, and are responsible for him becoming a vampire in the first place.
  • From the very beginning, the idea that someone or something manipulated the characters of Lost to bring them to the island was a popular theory. The sixth season has finally confirmed that Jacob messed with their lives to get them to the island, something the Man in Black/Smoke Monster disapproves of.
  • The mega-rich gamblers in The Player who have been tapping into human communications since long-distance communications started are described as so ridiculously powerful that the Game is necessary as a way for them to relieve their boredom and blow off steam, otherwise they would indulge (more) in diversions such as assassinating world leaders or starting wars.
  • The Masons and whatever unnamed group the Hessians belong to in Sleepy Hollow are good and evil versions of this. So is the witches coven that Katrina belonged to (which was allied with the former).
  • Star Trek: Picard: The Zhat Vash is a secret society which predates the Tal Shiar that has been pulling the strings behind the scenes for most of Romulan history. Much of their history reveals that they had infiltrated Starfleet up to its highest levels, specifically because of Data, as they fear synthetic lifeforms. In fact, their motivation is largely to prevent further lifeforms of this kind from existing, for they witnessed a message left by mysterious beings they interpreted as synthetics destroying all organic life, leading them to willingly doom their homeworld and their people by causing a malfunction in the synthetics building their evacuation fleet, thus resulting in a Federation ban on such lifeforms. Now their ultimate goal is to find where these synthetics come from and wipe them out.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look has a sketch featuring the not-so-sinister Inebriati, whose goal is to make sure that everyone is ever so slightly drunk because drinking actually does make you better at stuff instead of just over confident like most people believe.
    • There's also a parody of The Da Vinci Code, "The Numberwang Code", where all numbers turn out to be part of a secret conspiracy of some kind.
  • Timeless: Rittenhouse has apparently been controlling America since the days of the Revolutionary War, and according to the Doc in Episode 6, it was founded in 1778 by a clockmaker named David Rittenhouse. The secret is held so tightly that even rumors of the existence of Rittenhouse are violently suppressed before they can spread. This was Flynn's Start of Darkness. While working as a contractor for the NSA, he found a series of large transactions between Rittenhouse and Mason Industries (to develop Time Travel). Four days after he reported it to his boss, there was a home invasion, and his wife and daughter were killed. Flynn himself barely managed to escape and swore to avenge them. Since he has no idea who ordered the hit, his plan is to Ret-Gone Rittenhouse using Mason's time machine, even if it means destroying the US. At the end of Season 1, Lucy convinces her grandfather in 1954 to gather evidence against Rittenhouse. By the time they meet again in 2017, he has enough solid evidence to arrest all known members of the organization, although, it appears that Rittenhouse has a backup plan in place. She also gives Flynn the name of the man, who ordered the hit on his family, but Flynn is arrested before he can make use of the information. Throughout the season, Lucy learns that she's more intimately connected to Rittenhouse than she likes, as the Cahill family (her father's) is a longstanding member of Rittenhouse. The Cliffhanger at the end also has her discover that her mother's family are also Rittenhouse members and that her conception was no accident.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Powers in the Shadows in Anima: Beyond Fantasy: Imperium (humans), the Technocracy (Sylvain -light elves-), and Illuminati (Duk'zarist -dark elves-). Each one of them controls a part of the world, isolated by magic of the others and in theory, even if their methods are debatable are there to watch and protect their people.
  • ComStar is a pseudo-religious organization from BattleTech that derives a lot of power from its monopoly on the interstellar communications network. However, the organization has also been hoarding LosTech for the past few centuries, hoping that it will give them an edge after the rest of the Inner Sphere bombs itself back into the Stone Age.
  • Take your pick of them in the Dark•Matter setting. Ancient conspiracy within ancient conspiracy facing off against other conspiracies. Aliens, humans, and odder things all conspiring for or against something or another. It's probably the main focus of the setting.
  • The Cult of Transcendence in Delta Green is an interesting example, simply because all the time it spent attempting to manipulate Europe from behind the scenes didn't work — its front organisations got taken apart on a regular basis, various wars ended up gutting it, and its unaging leaders tended to get out of touch and fixated on old grudges, most notably when they dedicated quite a lot of effort to finishing off the House of Habsburg long after they stopped being politically relevant. Following the First World War, they gave up on taking over the world and retooled themselves into a free-sprawling cult of Nyarlathotep, backing a whole bunch of groups in a bid to mess things up.
    • The Kuen-Yuin are a straight example, being an ancient Chinese conspiracy formed by the descendants of the ancient priest caste of the Lloigor empire in Mu, they aim to create the Cruel Empire of Tsan-Chan, a dystopic totalitarian country that will exist 5000 years in the future after Cthulhu wakes from his slumber.
  • Eberron: The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are conspiracies stretching back to the initial dragon-demon war, one of the earliest significant events after the creation of the world, both of whom mostly work through intermediaries since the greatest fiends are chained and a large number of dragons getting directly involved tends to cause inconvenient side effects such as mass destruction and the growth in power of the rakshasa rajah known as Tiamat. More recently, the Blood of Vol (dating back to the destruction of House Vol and the end of the elf-dragon war) and the Dreaming Dark (originating with the severing of direct Material Plane to Dal Quor connections) are at the very least ancient enough to predate the formation of Galifar by quite some time, although they're very modern compared to the Chamber and the Lords of Dust.
  • And while we're discussing White Wolf — in Shards of the Exalted Dream, the point of The Modern Age is that the Infernal Exalted rule the world from the shadows. The chapter does state that it's not important who is the conspiracy — the point is that there is a conspiracy.
  • The Ascended from Feng Shui are a conspiracy of animals that have taken human form in defiance of the natural order. They control everything in the 1850 and contemporary junctures since using Time Travel to capture enough feng shui sites to cause a Critical Shift and evict the world's previous rulers, the Four Monarchs, to the Netherworld by pulling history out from under them. Because magic is the only thing that can revert these transformed animals back to their natural forms, one of their driving goals is to suppress magic, relying on the media and scientists to discredit those who try to prove that magic is real, and Pledged hit squads to kill known sorcerers and supernatural creatures. It doesn't exactly help that most sorcerers and supernatural creatures tend toward the evil persuasion themselves.
  • In another World of Darkness example, Geist: The Sin-Eaters has introduced tiers of organization for krewes, the "gangs" of the game. Tier 3 is the Conspiracy level, a national-to-global level death cult that's a strange mixture of religion, mystery cult, and political group. Subverted in that there's a reason they're Ancient Conspiracies — no Tier 3 krewes exist in the present day of the setting. However, the core book does include sample Tier 3 krewes, such as an African tradition devoted to protecting the grave goods of the dead, a Hindu death cult that attacked the wicked, and a Soviet experiment in near-death experiences that eventually got taken over from within by the Sin-Eaters it generated.
  • The fan-made expansion Genius: The Transgression has, among others, Lemuria — an ancient conspiracy that ain't quite what it used to be.
  • The name says it all. This is also probably one of the best examples of this Trope in existence. What is it? None other than GURPS Illuminati.
  • Hollow Earth Expedition. The Terra Arcanum is a secret organization created by the Atlanteans to prevent humanity from finding out about or entering the Hollow Earth. Over the centuries they have become a network of power brokers who control the Earth's leaders and institutions.
  • Illuminati, a card game by Steve Jackson Games, is made of this. Each player takes on the role of one of eight ancient conspiracies: either the Bavarian Illuminati, the Gnomes of Zurich, the Servants of Cthulhu, the Discordian Society, the Society of Assassins, the Network, the Bermuda Triangle conspiracy, or the UFOs (with a particular society, they can even be the cow-stealing variety!). Expansion packs introduce the Church of the SubGenius and a Shangri-La conspiracy. They then have to take over various interest groups (ranging from political parties to industries to fandoms to aliens). These generate money and can take over other groups, until your cards are arranged in a web. Each conspiracy has a specific goal, although all conspiracies can win by eliminating the competition.
  • The Kolat from Legend of the Five Rings provide the obligatory shadowy conspiracy in that particular setting. Since the basic structure of Rokugan's society was set down by mystical beings from on high, the Kolat seeks to return control of the world to the hands of mortal men. Themselves specifically, lest they be mistaken for having purely noble intentions. Within the setting, doing away with the influence of the Kami would likely lead to an apocalyptic breakdown of the society.
  • The Technocracy in the Mage: The Ascension RPG is a group of super-scientists who work to change the very nature of reality by making humanity believe in science and disbelieve in magic. Sadly, they have been more successful in eroding people's faith in magic than in making them enthusiastic about science, meaning that people now don't really believe in anything, with general apathy and despair as a result.
    • Interestingly for a conspiracy, their overall intentions are almost wholly benevolent. They want to better the lives of humanity by protecting them from the dangers of magic and all the other supernatural monsters out there, and the end result of their goals would be a textbook futurist utopia.
    • While it might seem like it, not all the OWOD games get in on this. Ancient conspiracies in Hunter: The Reckoning and Demon: The Fallen are the enemy, both the imbued and the Fallen being relatively new to the present-day supernatural scene. The conspiracies of Wraith: The Oblivion, meanwhile, are chiefly limited to wraithly society. Even so, there are sufficient conspiracies around that it doesn't help any attempts to fit them all into the same setting.
  • The Seers of the Throne in the successor game Mage: The Awakening are devoted to ensuring that humanity remains ignorant of the Gnostic truths of the universe by keeping as much control of human culture as possible, and directing it away from any supernatural insights whenever possible and necessary, a goal they have been pursuing since the time of Alexander the Great. The Seers are organized in the manner of an extremely convoluted bureaucracy, with none of the members knowing the entire structure of it, and with the potential for members to be appointed to offices which are ultimately meaningless, but which can be taken so seriously that they eventually 'evolve' a meaning, based on the importance attributed to them. The Guardians of the Veil and the Silver Ladder are also arguably ancient conspiracies, albeit with arguably more altruistic goals (the former seeks to prevent humanity from finding truths they are not ready for, the latter seeks to help all of humanity to Awaken).
  • Magic: The Gathering has the numena kings introduced in the Onslaught Cycle. They're three of the five sorcerers who imprisoned the Primeval dragons of antiquity (they killed the other two), but unbeknownst to Dominaria they ruled from the continent of Otaria, and oh yeah, devised different means of resurrecting themselves among them and have revived themselves in the present day. Their goal is to usurp the power of Karona as they did the Primevals and Take Over the World as they did in ancient times.
  • As long as we're on the New World of Darkness, there are so many ancient conspiracies in Hunter: The Vigil that it's hard to keep them straight. In fact, the largest possible organization of hunters is commonly called a "conspiracy." Ones that best fit the criteria include: the Aegis Kai Doru, relic hunters who date back to Ancient Greece; the Ascending Ones, Arabic alchemists who use the drug trade to fuel their quest against the darkness; the Cheiron Group, a recent megacorporation with some very occluded origins who perform medical experiments of supernaturals to better mankind increase their profit margins; the Lucifuge, made up of self-proclaimed children of the Devil who seek to fight against Hell and all its works; and the Malleus Maleficarum, the Catholic Church's black bag group.
  • Paranoia is a game set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian city where everything is controlled by The Computer. The Computer is extremely paranoid about ancient conspiracies and has the players hunt them down. Some of the conspiracies actually exist. Okay, a lot of them do. Unfortunately, the players are always part of at least one ancient conspiracy, and have to hide this fact along with their mutant powers.
  • The Camarilla (and also the Sabbat, and also the Followers of Set, and also many internal conspiracies within vampiric societies...) in Vampire: The Masquerade RPG. Vampires and ancient conspiracies generally go together like hand and glove, so this trope is often seen in vampire-related fiction/games/movies/what-have-you.
    • The Mage/Vampire/Whatever conspiracies are so common in the Old World of Darkness that it often seems like the Holocaust was the one event in history that was solely the work of normal humans (since none of the supernaturals want the "credit" for it).
    • The Revised Edition, while retconning out the "True Black Hand" nonsense (specifically destroying them, reducing the extent of their influence, and debunking their beliefs), manages to deconstruct the trope fairly well. While the group in question had plenty of mortal and immortal "agents", the group itself was too fractional to do anything with them, and the agents themselves knew so little about the group in question that they were useless for anything important.
      • The 20th anniversary edition brings the Hand back, but reconstructed. They're just barely cohesive enough that they can function as an organization, and they have a fair amount of influence over things, but they can't do everything they'd like, and they have to deal with opposition within and without. While they may well be sitting on potentially world-shaking secrets, even they don't know which are real and which aren't.
  • The reboot Vampire: The Requiem does this as well, although the scale of its conspiracies is much more local. They mainly influence mortal society in small ways without any overarching scheme. Sometimes they mess with people just as a game.
  • Oh, where to begin in Warhammer 40,000? The existence of Chaos and daemons is kept secret by the Inquisition from as many people as it can be, the Orks and Eldar were originally created to fight the Necrons, the C'Tan spliced the pariah gene into proto-humanity for later harvesting, God-Emperor only knows what's up with the Adeptus Mechanicus... the list goes on.
    • And then there's 'effing Tzeentch, a one-god ancient conspiracy who has his hand in everything. Yes, even the plans that oppose each other.
    • Well, he is the literal embodiment of conspiracy. So much so that, should his grand plans ever actually succeed, thus ending the conspiracy, he would immediately cease to exist. So it makes quite a lot of sense for him to have two opposed goals. Well, as much sense as Chaos ever has...
    • The Emperor is something like this as well. He's as old as humanity itself, minus the lives of those first shamans.
    • His companion Malcador the Sigillite gave the Imperium its big "I" symbol. Thing is, the symbol existed long before the Imperium, and it belonged to another group that Malcador was a part of. Malcador helped create the one-galaxy order, by the way.
    • In the grim darkness of the far future, the ancient conspiracies are riddled with ancient conspiracies.
  • In Warhammer: The End Times it is revealed that the High Elves Council of Wizard have been hiding the truth that the Dark Elf King Malekith is the rightful King of Ulthuan and the High Elves. Having secretly used their magic to protect every Phoenix King who stepped into Asuryan's flames, making it look as though they were blessed by the gods.

    Video Games 
  • Age of Empires III has the Circle of Ossus, an ancient society that wields a lot of power in Europe. Their primary goal seems to be to find the Fountain of Youth in order to attain immortality. They've been around since long before the 16th century, as old cave paintings were found in 1565 on Malta that speak of the Circle. Their symbol is white animals (e.g. jaguars, wolves). The circle keeps returning throughouth the centuries, first in the late 16th century, then in mid-18th, and finally in the early 19th, when they're defeated for good. During the times they come back, the Circle's leaders are Alain Magnan, Warwick, and Pierre Beaumont.
  • The rural New England town of Anchorhead is home to a town-wide, nearly four-century-old Cult that worships and aims to summon an Eldritch Abomination.
  • The Templar Order in Assassin's Creed, though it's questionable when one considers that everything you learn about the Templars being in control of the world is coming from their own deceitful mouths, and e-mails you can secretly read imply that they're not quite as powerful as they make themselves out to be. Meanwhile, the Assassins are a similarly ancient counter-conspiracy that exists to thwart the Templars.
    • Every famous figure in history is a Templar/Assassin/Ally of either side. For the third variety, see Leonardo da Vinci. Yes, that Leonardo.
      • A few of the involved were just some poor schmucks or descendants of "Those Who Came Before", who, more or less unwittingly, got themselves rolled into the conspiracy. This group of people often caused some disruption to the balance of the power struggle, and would soon thereafter face a very untimely demise. People in this category includes Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy.
    • While their impact in the first seems minor, if Subject 16/Clay Kaczmarek can be trusted then the involvement of Templars and opposition by Assassins is even wider-reaching than originally believed.
    • Let's put it this way, the majority of the quote's page for the trope is taken from this series. Ancient conspiracies don't get much more ancient (or intricate, for that matter) than Assassin's Creed. We're talking about a war that's been going on since Cain and Abel, where Cain was the first Templar and Abel had an Apple of Eden. You know Atlantis? Supposedly an ancient Isu city. A lot of gods and goddesses, both of mythology and actual religion, were just members of the Isu (e.g., Juno, Jupiter, Minerva, etc.). And that's not getting into the Hidden Ones and the Order of the Ancients, the precursors to the modern-day Assassin Brotherhood and Templar Order.
  • In Azrael's Tear, the Prieuré de Sion (think Priory of Sion from The Davinci Code, albeit different in details) believes it has a holy obligation to acquire the Holy Grail at a specific time and has devised a centuries-long plan to acquire it.
  • The Cabal from Blood. They become more publicly known in the sequel, reforming after their god's death as CabalCo.
  • From Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series, we have The Brotherhood of Nod, a mixture between religious cult, rogue nation-state, Mega-Corp, and paramilitary organization capable of taking on the GDI in battle. Its influence stretches back as far as World War II, hinted to be stretching centuries further back (how one character noted that they've been biding their time for centuries, and now it's the time to reveal themselves), and if Kane is to be believed, they have existed as far as human history itself.
  • The Conduit has a government organization that's been kept under wraps for centuries. Turns out that the current-day leader, John Adams, is under alien authority (you hear him speaking with his superiors in the credits) and part of a centuries old plot to take over the world. On top of that, the ending credits reveal that Adams is a couple of centuries old himself, hinting that he may actually be the Founding Father John Adams, as well as an alien.
  • The plot of Dark Souls has the player falling into one regarding the First Flame. The "prophecy" that a "Chosen" Undead would rise up and succeed Lord Gwyn is mostly fabricated to draw in desperate Undead by the Primordial Serpent Frampt and Gwyn's child Gwyndolin. In fact, in the event an Undead does succeed in reaching the First Flame, they will become fuel for it, sacrificed so that the Flame may burn longer. The Flame is so difficult to get to in order to ensure that anyone who succeeds is powerful enough for their soul to be a decent fuel source.
  • In Death end re;Quest, there's Aphesis, a group that existed since the Middle Ages and are, during the events of the game, in control of damn near the entire Artificial Intelligence industry due to having loads and loads of agents in Aggle Inc., the people who created the Alice Engine via knowledge of the Primitive Language. When they are starting to be found out or want to learn something from someone in particular, they send agents that hide their identities behind rabbit masks and hoodies to capture and torture them until they spill the beans. And, of course, they want to Take Over the World.
  • In Deus Ex, the Majestic 12 is a Recent Conspiracy that split from its founding organization the Illuminati. There's also The Knights Templar.
    • Deus Ex: Human Revolution examines this: As it turns out, the reason the Illuminati survived for so long is that they're only an organization in the loosest sense of the term: they're more like an old boys' network whose members barely know each other. One of them even claims that "'Illuminati' is just a name used to get rich people to invest more money", meaning that at the end of the day, they're just an aspect of "ordinary" economic power. Also, every scheme they've ever done in order to control the world has backfired in some way or another, due to unforeseen factors such as Eliza developing a conscience or due to the differing goals of their members (Darrow hijacking the biochip signal). Ultimately, the real threat of Majestic 12 is that they happen to be competent.
    • And, ironically, this turns out to be their downfall. As Human Revolution reveals, the Illuminati's greatest strengths have always been sticking to the shadows while letting proxies do much of the dirty work and also preselecting fall guys to cover their ass. True, they occasionally failed, but they always had a fallback. In the original game, Bob Page ruined that by forcing the Illuminati to have to work directly with JC because he eliminated their other indirect options when he splintered off from them. And, by the same token, despite Majestic 12's competence, he also eliminated the ability to have a proxy to cover his ass if things went badly, which meant that he essentially undid his victories from Human Revolution at the same time.
    • Played with in the first game that suggests the the conspiracy in game is only the latest incarnation of an idea.
      Stanton Dowd: It's true that our organization stretches back to the Order of the Assassins, or Hashishim, but not in the way you might imagine. The order hasn't so much lasted as been continually revived. Adam Weishaupt started from scratch in Bavaria in 1776. But so did Thomas Jefferson a few years later. It's the IDEA that has lasted. The SYSTEM. Or the DESIRE, every thinking person's desire to give the world some decent organization. Cecil Rhodes, for instance. Absolutely no formal connection to the Illuminati at all, but one of the greatest visionaries of centralized power. Now we have the Rhodes Scholarships, which feed recruits right into the Council on Foreign Relations... A very powerful tool. In my opinion, the history of the human race has been one long succession of conspiracies. To deceive ourselves, we call the successful conspiracies 'governments.'
    • The Nameless Mod, a Post Modern Game Mod for the original Deus Ex, has a very meta ancient conspiracy where aliens from the planet GameSpy are in league with the administrators of ForumPlanet to control the world ever since the apocalyptic "Planetization" occured, in which they took control.
  • The Disciples of Andraste from Dragon Age: Origins. Originally the followers of the setting's most important religious figure, Andraste, they secreted away her ashes to Ferelden after her death at the hands of the Tevinter Imperium. For centuries they guarded the mountain temple where her ashes were kept. Interestingly, this ancient conspiracy lost its original purpose a long time ago and no longer care about guarding the Urn of Sacred Ashes. They have become an Ax-Crazy dragon cult who believe that their prophet has been reborn in the form of a high dragon, who also makes its lair in the mountain temple. The Player Character has the option of assisting the cultists by defiling the Ashes, which they believe are somehow holding back the reborn "Andraste" from reaching her full power.
  • Midway through the first Drakensang game you find out that the Big Bad is working with the ancient Dragon Men serving the evil wyrm Andracor, and they plan to use the Adamantine Heart belonged to Andracor's father Umbracor to take over Aventuria and restore Andracor's powers.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind, nearly the entire plot of the main quest traces back to the events surrounding the Battle of Red Mountainnote  and the death of Lord Nerevar some 4000 years prior. Due to his perceived treachery, House Dagoth, the Sixth House of the Dunmer led by Dagoth Ur, was dissolved. The Sixth House Cult later formed in reverence and service to Lord Dagoth, who they (rightly) believed would return one day. In the years leading up to the events of the game itself, the Cult ramped up their activities, including assassinating Imperial officials. This is one part of the ("official") impetus for the Emperor ordering the Player Character to be sent to Vvardenfell.
    • Skyrim:
      • The Dragon Cults formed in ancient times in service and reverence of the dragons. After the ancient Nord heroes manged to banish the leader of the dragons, Alduin (using an Elder Scrolls to cast him out of the time stream), the remaining dragons were either slain or forced into hiding while the cultists and their Dragon Priest leaders were persecuted, executed, and entombed in Skyrim's many ancient barrows. With the return of Alduin during the events of the game, he is not only resurrecting the dragons, but the cultists as well.
      • The Thalmor are a fascistic Altmeri political party which dates back to the 1st Era. Originally formed to preserve the history and culture of the Altmer (High Elves), they grew into a powerful Altmer supremacist political party within the Aldmeri Dominion which eventually militarized. When Tiber Septim used the Numidium to decimate the Aldmeri armies and sack their capital city in less than an hour of fighting, the Thalmor retreated to the political shadows to wait out the Septim Empire. When the Oblivion Crisis struck, the Thalmor stole credit for ending it within their homeland, earning them populist support which allowed them to rise into the highest positions of the Altmeri government. They assassinated Potentate Ocato, who capably kept the Empire together for a decade after the crisis, severely destabilizing the Empire and sending it toward vestigial status. The Thalmor re-formed the Aldmeri Dominion of old, annexed neighboring Valenwood (homeland of the Bosmer (Wood Elves), and got Elsweyr (home of the Khajiit) to join as a client state. Over the next century, their power waxed while they also manipulated events throughout the rest of Tamriel to further weaken the Empire, ultimately culminating in the Great War. Though they were driven back by the forces of the Empire, they did manage to force an imposing treaty (the White-Gold Concordat) on the Empire which served to destabilize it further leading up to the events of the game.
  • Eternal Darkness depicts a power struggle between a trio of Eldritch Abominations known as the Ancients, and an in-story choice made by the player at the beginning of the game determines which of the three becomes the Big Bad for the rest of the game. The rest of the story depicts the Ancient's Dragon and his secret cult working behind the scenes over thousands of years, and at one point, they're depicted as being the real reason why a certain historical figure died.
  • Exmortis 2 has the main character seeking to save the final dredges of humanity in a post apocalyptic world ripped bare by monsters from hell. You solve the point and click puzzles, race the descending evil clouds of doom, follow the clues and scare yourself in the process, only to win and discover that the bad guy you thought you were defeating was actually kicked out of his own cult centuries ago. You've been working to get rid of the Exmortis so that he can take over again with them out of the way. Out of the frying pan and into the furnace, in other words. Oh, and your character dies anyway. Damn. (It's a point and click game, but you know).
  • EXTRAPOWER: Attack of Darkforce: The Kinreikan has vibes of being an ancient conspiracy. While primarily they are an organization of martial artist exorcists and mystics, they are a powerful and ancient organization that keeps itself hidden from the public eye and are only known to exist by those in the know. Thankfully, they are an ancient conspiracy on the side of good, such as employing Fei to fight Master Wu and his jiangshi, though they do seek any opportunity to accumulate wealth - even in disaster.
  • Final Fantasy XII has a conspiracy of the gods to "straighten history's weave".
  • The Great Gaias: Validus's immortal Gauf and Forlorn Society have infiltrated or compromised the leadership of several nations, including Greyhem, Sovereign, Sorbithia, Amanor, Porthul, and Osiris. Their plan is to start a war between Greyhem and Sovereign, and then use the soldiers and the king of Greyhem as sacrifices to unseal the Validian Emperor, Maultor. They've been planning this ever since Eldromus Blackheart escaped the Abyss and killed the Warriors of Light centuries ago.
  • The Genoharadan in Knights of the Old Republic. Oddly enough, they appear in almost no other Star Wars works, not even in the comic series of the same name.note  Granted, they were meant to be highly secretive assassins...
    • Star Wars: The Old Republic has the Star Cabal, a group of influential non-force sensitives that serve as the central antagonist of the Imperial Agent storyline who are dedicated to the eradication of Jedi and Sith-ruled governments and seek to plunge the world into another galactic war to wipe the slate clean. It's members include various characters featured in other storylines. The Genoharadan make a brief appearance in the Bounty Hunter storyline.
  • In Kult: Heretic Kingdoms, the Order of the Veil was founded to secretly oppose the theocratic tyrant who ruled at the time, and more generally, to oppose all religion. In recent times, one of its five branches has stepped into the open to pursue the Order's goals in public: the Inquisition, which the protagonist joined before she knew about the larger organisation. The other four branches remain secret, and its members may hold prominent public posts.
  • The plot of the Legacy of Kain series is very convoluted, but it all boils down to several conspiracies colliding with each other:
    • First there's the Hylden's conspiracy to break out of their ancient prison by bringing down the Pillars of Nosgoth.
    • Second there's the Elder God's conspiracy to exterminate the Vampires who can no longer feed him.
    • Third there's the conspiracy to bring into existence the Scion of Balance.
    • Kain and Raziel have the misfortune of getting mixed up with all three. Kain because he is the Scion of Balance and the one destined to defeat the Elder God and the Hylden. Raziel because he is a living temporal paradox and thus the only being in existence who can Screw Destiny.
  • The Inner Circle from Max Payne. Lampshaded by Max himself; a member of the circle, Alfred Woden, provides an in-depth description of the organization and its activities, following which Max snarks: "You've been watching too much X-Files." It's also a Government Conspiracy, having senators among their ranks and being connected with top secret Super Soldier projects like Valhalla. Come the second game, however, the Inner Circle turns out to be a Nebulous Criminal Conspiracy rather than an ancient conspiracy.
  • In the Mega Man ZX series: The very creation of the Biometal devices, even the ones made and used by the games' protagonists, turns out to be part of a vast plot put into motion over 200 years before the series takes place, courtesy of the second game's main villain, Master Albert — who is a key member of the city-state Innerpeace's governing body. Additionally, it's revealed during the course of the second game that by design, all of the Biometals require a host with Master Albert's DNA to function. Indeed, Master Albert had been randomly seeding the general population with his DNA throughout the entirety of that 200 years. Alternately, this one could be viewed as something of an extended Gambit Roulette.
    • It goes waaaay back further than that: Dr. Weil of the Mega Man Zero series, who is still in a state that can never grant him death as the original Biometal, is widely believed to be the one who's really pulling all the strings, including Master Albert himself.
  • The La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo — er, Patriots from Metal Gear. However it turns out the Patriots are a fairly modern conspiracy formed in the 1970s which has rather taken on all the trappings of an ancient conspiracy as protective coloration, formed using the missing funds of another organization already on its last legs, The Philosophers, who themselves only dated back to around the beginning of the 20th century.
  • Moonrise: Living in a world of werewolves, vampires, and other ghoulies that go bump in the night, Lady Cassandra Mallory implies the Masquerade faction has, well, maintained Masquerade for centuries.
  • In the Nasuverse, one of the highest laws of magi is to keep to the Grand Order, a strict code that includes creating powerful Magic Crests and ensuring they are jealously kept within families, and ensuring that these Crests are passed down at all costs, while forbidding suicide under all circumstances. Fate/Grand Order reveals all of these were invented by the Big Bad Goetia, since in the distant past he created Crests and placed the 72 demons that formed him into several, spreading them into noble magi families and instituting the Grand Order to ensure they and the demons they carried would survive to the present day, allowing it to implement its plan to exterminate humanity. Virtually every aspect of magi society was crafted by Goetia as a trap.
  • PAYDAY 2's final third of the game shifts the story from a heist simulator to a supernatural conspiracy where presidents are merely pawns, giant ghosts stalk the players, and the question of a millenium: why are supposedly Worthless Yellow Rocks worth so damn much?
  • Phoenix Point: Subverted. The first confirmed existence of the Phoenix project dates back to the 15th century, and there are hints of the group's existence dates back to Ancient Egypt. However, the Phoenix project's most recent iteration can only be traced back to the seventies, and it is outright stated that the project's history is not that of a cohesive organization, but rather that of a succession of widely disparate groups with overlapping goals.
  • The Family from Resident Evil 6 at least predate the founding of America, and have a network of power and influence all around the world. Although they claim to work in the name of global stability, the sheer lengths they go to maintain their influence - they kickstart the events of the game by causing a new zombie outbreak just to kill the president before he can expose the goverment's involvement in bioweapon research - make it clear they're only in it to preserve their own power.
  • In Rewrite The organization Gaia is controlling familiars and is trying to destroy humanity so that the planet can be saved. The organization Guardian is trying to stop them by whatever means necessary.
  • Puritas Cordis from Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis. It's unclear whether it was continued from the original, or collapsed and restructured, though.
  • In The Secret World, all three playable factions are in fact, Ancient Conspiracies: the Templars are Well Intentioned Extremists dedicated to preserving order (go figure); the Dragon pursue order through inducing anarchy and mayhem, destabilizing the world in predictive models reminiscent of chaos mathematics; The Illuminati are power-hungry Social Darwinists with a very polished, corporate image. All three of them are out to protect their interests via saving the world from things much worse than any of them.
  • According to K'Valk in Star Trek Online, B'Vat is the last member of one of this, ruling the Klingon Empire in secret since the Temporal Cold War. However, he went kinda loony and he had to be put down before he really messed things up.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, this is revealed when you find out that the world religion is basically just a facade, constructed so a 4000-year-old child hero can create a human vessel in which to resurrect his dead sister.
  • In the Trails Series, the organization Ouroboros was founded to obtain the Seven Sacred Treasure of Aidios, known as the Sept-Terrion. Naturally, they're the villains of the overarching series.
  • EXALT in X-Com: Enemy Within at first appeared as a relatively recent alien sympathizers. However, a raid on their headquarters recovered many ancient relics and artifacts which were not imitations, suggesting that they had existed for a long time.
  • Even the Ancient Conspiracies in Xeno Gears get caught up in gigantic Gambit Pileups. First off, you have Deus, who engineered the human race to replace his broken parts after the wreck of the Eldridge, and having created Miang, the first woman, to herd mankind towards that purpose. Semi-separately, Cain and the Gazelle Ministry found Solaris and quietly take control over the surface dwellers. Thirdly, the Wave Existence imprisoned in the Zohar is trying to get out of said artifact and return to its home dimension, using the Contact that is, Fei — to do so. Finally, you've got Krellian, who somehow manages to out-gambit everyone, playing everyone off of everyone else with the intention of following the Wave Existence home in a plan that takes 500 years to fulfill.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Green Dragon Society from Full Metal Daemon Muramasa is an incredibly old group that have been working towards the completion of the Golden Dawn Plan for who knows how long, manipulating both political systems and simple individuals to see it come to fruition. In the end, the trope ends up deconstructed as by the time the story takes place, the conspiracy is so old that the actual goal of the whole mess has long since been forgotten and no one currently alive even knows what to do once the plan has been completed.
  • The Sonozaki family, from Higurashi: When They Cry, appears to be masterminding one of these in the little village of Hinamizawa, Or at least that's what the actual Government Conspiracy wants you to think...

  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Earth has been legally owned by the Nemesite Empire since the extinction of the dinosaurs. They're aware of the rise of humankind, but they still consider us wildlife largely beneath their notice. That is a good thing, because the day that they do decide to declare us full citizens of the Empire, the sovereignty of every nation on Earth will become meaningless, and a war will probably follow.
  • The organization of the same name in IronGate has been secretly fighting supernatural threats to humanity for centuries without any serious exposure to the general public.
  • Kevin & Kell has the Great Bird Conspiracy, which featured the birds of the K&Kverse doing its best to civilize the various animal people of Domain and ran things in the background via seemingly subservient jobs as teacher or secretary. Once it was made Y2K compatible, the GBC left the machinations to a computer program designed to do that job for them, allowing them to retire.
  • MAG ISAWe have a group of baddies whose faces aren't even known... plotting with demons and /or extra terrestrials.
  • The Gatekeepers of Schlock Mercenary have been using their monopoly over the Wormgates to manipulate galactic civilisations for millennia and the Pan'uri have been manipulating them for even longer. Given Petey's new hobby of engaging in social engineering experiments where he can't intervene directly the only thing stopping him from fitting this is that he hasn't been at it all that long.
  • Subverted in Wapsi Square. There is a group of immortal politicians from an ancient civilization who have been subtly manipulating everything for ages. However, they aren't particularly competent, and have been controlled themselves by Jin, one of the main characters, the entire time. On top of that, all of their manipulations have been for the purpose of fixing the calender machine and saving the world, though they don't know this.
  • Plenty of these pop up in Ozy and Millie. Just about all of them are perpetrated by dragons For the Lulz and Played for Laughs.

    Web Originals 
  • CollegeHumor: According to the "truthumentary" Deceptive Deceptions, the world is now, has always been, and will forever be controlled by a shadowy elite who trump the government, the Freemasons, and the Illuminati combined: The College Humor staff.
  • The Forsworn in Dis Acedia are an ancient, thousand years old religious conspiracy actively sabotaging efforts to solve the titular maze. They have infiltrated most of the setting's factions to a degree or another.
  • Doctor Steel believes (whether in actuality or whether it's part of the crazy act is anyone's guess) that the world is controlled by a cabal of alien "Illuminati".
  • Fire Emblem On Forums has a few of these:
    • Wonderful Blessing: The Goddess Dragons (at least, Freya, Pyra and Megara, the latter unwillingly) have been perpetuating one to orchestrate a Forever War between Hellrealm and the rest of creation. Serena and Team F's goal turns from overthrowing the Demon Lord and instead uncovering the truth upon realising that the Demon Lord and his forces are Unwitting Pawns to the Ancient Conspiracy.
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, the Order of the Black Rose has existed since the First Age and has plotted the rise and fall of various kingdoms behind the scenes for centuries with varying levels of success depending on who's been leading them at the time.
  • The Southern Cross Organization in Inferno Cop is an over-the-top parody. Doing things seemingly For the Evulz, controlling the whole country, having mysterious code names and wearing cloaks with large hoods. They even have a symbol they brandish their people with.
  • In Qwerpline, The Pipesmen are an obvious reference to the Illuminati, Free Masons and Stonecutters. They secretly control much of Nsburg though unlike their inspirations are a poorly guarded secret in no small part thanks to their habit to post recruitment posters all over town and having "Open Doors" days with open bar.
  • Various YouTube conspiracy videos are full of information about various ancient conspiracies, from the Illuminati to the Freemasons to the Bilderberg Group and the New World Order, for anyone who is interested in listening to that sort of thing, and all of various questionable degrees of believability, and usually overlapping with subjects like chemtrails, 2012, and shapeshifting aliens for bonus fun. And if you believe these things (some of the evidence isn't... toootally unconvincing) you can file them under Real Life too.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied by American Dad! with the Illuminutty, a group attempting to keep the secret that George Washington Carver wasn't the one who really invented Peanut Butter. It was actually Abraham Lincoln's wife who invented it as some bizarre ingredient for calling on spirits. The conspiracy intended to give credit of the invention to an African American to help rebuild race relations after the Civil War, but the plan was delayed due to Lincoln's assassination, and didn't come to fruition until years later when the credit was given to Carver, who did in fact invent all the other peanut stuff, he just hadn't thought of mashing them up and putting them on bread for some reason.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Order of White Lotus is the Secret Society of Badass Grandpas, spread out across all three nations.
  • The Forever Knights from Ben 10 are a secret organization descended from the ancient knightly order who operate in the shadows of society for their own purposes. They're also something of a Deconstruction of the concept, as they're old enough that they've through multiple schisms and internal wars following the disappearance of their founder, Sir George, in the distant past; originally founded to defend Earth from the Dagon and other evil aliens, by the present day they've been broken up into four warring factions that each have their own goal or interpretation of the original goal, ranging everywhere from killing all aliens in Earth's name to conquering the very world they were meant to protect.
  • Season 4 of Carmen Sandiego reveals that V.I.L.E. as we know it is just the latest incarnation of a criminal conspiracy that's existed since the Middle Ages.
  • The Illuminati, in Gargoyles. The tie-in comics and Word of God reveal that the organization was founded by Sir Percival, who had become immortal thanks to the Holy Grail, about a century after the death of King Arthur. It therefore predates the real-life Illuminati by about 1000 years. Less clear are their goals, but there are some subtle hints that it's more or less a gentleman's club for wealthy people wanting to unravel the secrets of immortality and expand their influence over the world's affairs. To give a rough hint of their power and influence, David Xanatos, who is the wealthiest character in the series and practically owns the city of New York, is at the rock bottom of their hierarchy.
  • Cobra-La, the secret ancient civilization of snake people in G.I. Joe: The Movie.
  • Subverted in Huntik: Secrets & Seekers. The main villainous organization — unoriginally called "The Organization" — purports to be a centuries-old secret society with roots in the royal courts of medieval Europe. Zhalia later discovers that they are in reality less than sixty years old and only claimed to be older in order to cover up the fact that most of their members were brainwashed into joining by the Professor.
  • As the page quote shows, the Question in Justice League Unlimited believes that a vast conspiracy has ruled the world for thousands of years and are secretly responsible for virtually everything in human history. Given that many of the Question's wild theories are proved correct and that there are several characters in the DCAU that have lived for thousands of years, he might well be right.
    Green Arrow: Does everything have a sinister motive in your world?
    The Question: Yours too. You just don’t know it.
  • The Legend of Korra has an ancient conspiracy that is "only" about a century old in the form of the Red Lotus, an offshoot of the White Lotus with different ideas of how to bring balance to the world. The Red Lotus believes that the governments and ruling institutions of the world are hopelessly corrupt and must be utterly destroyed. This extends to every organization and political representative which enforces order, including the Avatar.
  • Parodied with the Stonecutters in The Simpsons, a world-wide group who claim to have fought since ancient times to "split the rock of ignorance that obscures the light of knowledge and truth", along with a few other tall claims (robbing cavefish of their sight, rigging every Oscar night). Mostly what they do is just hang out and get drunk.

    Real Life 
  • Real life conspiracies tend to be much shorter in time, much smaller in scale, and much less successful. Almost always they are found out after less than a decade by someone spilling the beans or their own incompetence. However, complex political upheaval (such as the French Revolution) or real life conspiracies being exposed (such as Watergate) tend to make people more open to believing more far-fetched stories. This is why most "classic" Ancient Conspiracies date to the late 18th century (Illuminati, the Freemasons, the Jesuits) or the 1960s (Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, things involving Castro).
  • Nazi Germany was governed by people who believed that everything except them was a conspiracy, consisting mainly of communists, foreigners of various nations including Jews, effeminate male homosexuals and corrupted politicians from other parties. There were equal parts true believers and opportunists or cynics who would say anything to get into power in the party, and some had individual varying opinions on the matter, but the official party line was that their actions were justified by the intentional destruction of the state within by organized enemies. The "ancient" part of their Ancient Conspiracy was mostly centered around the Jews: The Nazis believed that the Jews had "stolen" the origin of Christianity from the Aryan folk tradition, were controlling the world's wealth through finance capitalism and, later, communism, and had been attempting to take control of German state institutions and outbreed the German race. The other targeted groups were targeted because they fit into the conspiracy, i.e. the communists were the agents of the Jewish economic plot, homosexuals were trying to spread an aversion to reproduction to other Germans, etc.
  • Nearly all modern-day authoritarian and/or autocratic governments either believe or promote the belief that they are surrounded by organized, powerful enemies on all sides, no matter how much influence they gather. This has the benefit of justifying their existence as well as giving them a solid reason to act outside of established laws and norms. After all, if you're surrounded by enemies, arbitrary actions that break the law are justified by the need for self-preservation. This is how the word "dictatorship" got its negative connotation: it's a government that's run as if it is in a constant state of emergency. Originally, it was an emergency government appointed by the Roman Senate when things got out of hand enough that they viewed themselves as in some incapable to deal with it. After Sulla then Ceasar made themselves perpetual dictators, it started the current connotation.
  • As our Risen Savior J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, founder of the Church of the SubGenius, has revealed, in real life the Conspiracy's greatest strength is that it is not even aware it is a Conspiracy.
  • Above Top Secret, as one of, if not the largest conspiracy website, is chock full of these.
  • Discordianists rule the world. Just like everything else in the religion, it's a parody.
  • The basis of Francis E Dec's theories and mad rants was his conviction that a supercomputer called Worldwide Mad Deadly Communist Gangster Computer God runs one of these. He claims that the Computer God covered up most of the history prior to its inception, including the existence of a worldwide Slovene Empire, and that it interbred Slovenes with other people to make mankind stupid. Among other things.
  • Song Hongbing's 'Currency Wars' is a curious case. The author portrays banking systems as the major clandestine players, but at the same time he portrays bankers more as simple opportunists and adherents of realpolitik than as conspirators.
  • The actual, documented Italian conspiracy known as Propaganda Due. Unlike many other such groups, it was illegal twice over: Italian law says you can have a secret society (that meets at a known place and time), but you can't have a secret society; and then the sacred tradition of Freemasonry, which is that whatever Grand Orient says, goes. Oh, yeah, this outfit was once a regular ol' Masonic lodge (Propaganda, Number Two) with Licio Gelli as Worshipful Master, but Grand Lodge revoked their charter. Evidently, Grand Orient knew perfectly well that Gelli was bad seed, what with him having fought on the side of the Fascists and said that his greatest ambition in life was to be "a master of puppets". So he continued his puppeteering ways, underground this time, along with a sordid association of friends and contacts. He misled the police about the bombing in Bologna (perpetrated by Fascists). Unlike regular Masons, who meet with bare faces and in decorated bricklayers' aprons, these people met masked, in black hooded robes. Ten years later, Gelli was found with a numbered list of names and a very thorough Plan for 'Democratic' Rebirth on his person (the latter involving the sudden, co-ordinated hostile takeover of mass media corporations with dirty money, to the end of broadcasting... yup, Fascist propaganda). The fact that he was a Fascist surprised people about as much as ''Ursus arctos'' using the forest as its toilet. The dirty money somewhat more so. The numbered list of 962 names, including the heads of every intelligence service, the heir to the throne, two hundred members of the Armed Forces, 44 Members of Parliament, and Silvio Berlusconi... well, that was a surprise. Too bad that list contained both members of the conspiracy and the contents of Gelli's Filofax. Worse, the list began at 1,000, and Gelli said before he died, years later, that "it's all going according to Plan"... which means the conspiracy could still be out there. To what end? Was it the act of a man desperate to prevent Italy descending into Communism? Was it just a group of sleazy men looking to give each other verbal hand jobs? Was it a deep state, a government from the shadows? Nobody knows.

Oh, and TV Tropes, whose real purpose is... well, that would be telling.

Alternative Title(s): Ancient Conspiracies