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"You may ask, 'how did this tradition get started?'. Well, I'll tell you... I don't know."
Tevye the Milkman, Fiddler On the Roof.

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

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

Examples of Passive Observation

Comic Books

  • The Marvel Universe has the Watchers, an entire alien species dedicated to observing everything in the universe without interfering. Further in accordance with the trope, Uatu, the particular Watcher living on Earth's moon, has been known to break or creatively bend his oath of non-interference with some regularity to warn chosen superheroes of that world when 'cosmic' trouble rears its head.
    • The mere presence of Uatu, without actually speaking a word of warning, is a clear indication that something of cosmic significance is about to happen. And most of Marvel's heroes know it.
    • On one occasion, the Watchers as a group made a decision to violate their own rules: in Marvel 1602, they help prevent the destruction of the omniverse, which they feel would leave them without anything to watch. In doing so, they condemn all the people and possible people of a certain reality to non-existence, which is one of the reasons why they never interfere.


  • The Second Foundation in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.
    • This is certainly true early in the series, but by the third book and beyond, a strong argument could be made that they are an Ancient Conspiracy.
      • Nope: the first foundation is the ancient conspiracy, the second foundation is the safeguard of the ancient conspiracy, and finally we have the collective-consciousness planet/civilization Gaia which is a safeguard of the safeguard of the ancient conspiracy, and all exist because a positronic Xanatos spent 20,000 years following the dying wish of a friend
  • The Mansion Everness in War of the Dreaming.
  • The Mandate in Second Apocalypse.
  • The Erisian Liberation Front.
  • The Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised in Discworld.

 Marco Soto: We're the most secret society that you can imagine.

Newgate Ludd: Really? Who are you, then?

Soto: The Monks of History.

Ludd: Huh? I've never heard of you!

Soto: See? That's how good we are.


Live Action TV

  • Most of the varied series of Star Trek except Star Trek Enterprise have as a rule the so-called "Prime Directive". This Directive states that before a society reaches a certain technological level (usually but not always defined as approaching the capacity for faster-than-light travel), that that society is not to be interfered with in any way, or have even the existence of Starfleet, spaceflight, or other worlds revealed to them, lest it change their society. As with most "rules" on Star Trek, this was broken with impunity whenever the plot called for it, or the conditions met with the moral indignation of the observer (usually The Captain), etc...
    • Star Trek Enterprise did have two Organians (from the Original Series episode "Errand of Mercy") who had been observing the reactions of sentient species to an incurable virus for ten thousand years under strict non-interference rules. However because Humans Are Special the 'younger' of the pair intervenes to stop two main characters from dying, leading to an eventual change of policy.
    • The Prime Directive sometimes means not interfering with other cultures at all, even space-faring ones at a comparable tech level. It also sometimes mandates hidden interference if it is necessary to keep the other culture existent, and sometimes specifically prohibits it even then.
  • The Ascended Ancients from Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis have a "strict" non-interference policy with several glaring loopholes (*coughAnubiscough*).
    • And they'll adhere to it to the point of just being pricks.
    • Though to be fair, they adhere to it even when the result might be their total anihilation by the Ori, so they must really believe in non interference (or have tremendous faith in the SGC).
  • The Watchers from Highlander the Series observe the Immortals but do not interfere.
    • Except for Horton's splinter group, who decide to kill them all rather than risk letting any of them get the Prize.
  • In Doctor Who, traditionally the Time Lords fulfilled this niche, only interfering if something would seriously threaten the timelines. The Doctor was considered a criminal for his desire to interfere with the other civilizations. Of course they started to experience some serious Motive Decay during the Last Great Time War.

Video Games

  • The Keepers in the Thief series claim to be this ("Propaganda is Written by the Winners. History is written by the observer.") but in reality, often start meddling in worldly affairs themselves (preferrably, with Garret's hands).

Examples of Aiding


  • Kuanjitta and her ancestors in Madlax guard Thirstary, one of the books of power.
  • The Hieda family in Asagiri no Miko protect against demonic forces and assist the Amatsu family in sealing Yagarena.
  • The Oogami family in Kannazuki no Miko train the priestesses of the Sun and Moon so that they can seal Orochi.

Comic Books

  • The hereditary priesthood that guards Orpheus's head in the Brief Lives arc of The Sandman.
  • The Guardians of the Universe who give the Green Lantern Corps their power in The DCU.
  • The 2010 S.H.I.E.L.D. miniseries reveals that The Shield is not an espionage agency founded by Nick Fury, but dates back to Ancient Egypt, with a mandate to bring humanity to its ultimate destiny.



  • The genuine Middle Ages Gaelic religious movement Céli Dé (Companions of God) seves this role in Stephen Lawhead's Celtic Crusades trilogy, surviving to the present day as the Benevolent Order.
  • The Talamasca in Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles and Witch series.
  • The Old Ones in The Dark Is Rising.
  • The Mandate in Second Apocalypse.
  • Robert Heinlein's short story Lost Legacy. A benevolent secret society of people with psychic abilities lives under Mount Shasta. Their membership has included Abraham Lincoln, Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. They help the protagonists refine their mental abilities and fight the opposition group that wants to keep humanity ignorant.
  • David Weber's Safehold series has the Brotherhood of St. Zherneau's, a monastery that is the only keeper of pre-Safehold knowledge besides Merlin Athrawes. Because of the power of the Church of God Awaiting, they have kept in the background and even paid lip service to them all the while gradually moving the kingdom of Charis towards being able to reveal the Corrupt Church's origins as a Path of Inspiration.
  • In the short story "The Splendid Source" by Richard Matheson, the hero discovers that an ancient fellowship makes up and spreads most or all of the world's risque jokes. (Ernest Hemingway, alive at the time the story was written, is shown to be a modern-day member.)

 "That is history's secret," rejoined the Dean, "veiled behind time's opacity. Our venture does have its honored past, however. Great men have graced its cause — Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Dickens.... Shakespeare, of course.... Horace and Seneca.... Yea, in the palaces of Tutankhamen was our work done.... Scraped on rock, in many a primordial cave, are certain drawings. And there are those among us who believe that these were left by the earliest members of the Brotherhood. But this is only legend..."


Live Action TV

  • The Watchers' Council from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
    • Although how much they aid the protagonists is debatable. Giles might be a good guy, but most of the time, when the other Watchers show up, they actually cause problems for the heroes.


  • The Illuminati in the first Deus Ex sort of fall under this trope in the first game, as they would originally, at least according to Everett, only "influence" the world, instead of directly controlling it. They help you in the fight against MJ12, but it is questionable if their motives are any better, especially when you see that Everett has one former leader in semi-cyro to keep him alive and conscious for advice, while falsely telling him that he cannot cure his illness. The second game on the other hand, they are definitely not just in the shadows, "influencing".
    • Deus Ex Human Revolution reveals that not only do they attempt to control the world (though they're not very successful at it) but they may not even be that "Ancient".
  • Chizuru Kagara, guardian of Orochi's seal in The King of Fighters '96.
  • Knuckles, guardian of the Master Emerald in Sonic the Hedgehog.
  • Konoha of Arcana Heart, part of a half-dog Ninja clan with an ancient pact of appointing someone as the Millenium Guard of Kamui, the Thousand Years Protector.
  • In Touhou, Yukari Yakumo is a one-woman Ancient Tradition who only helps when she feels like it, although the fact that she sleeps most of the time undoubtedly also affects things.
    • In Immaterial and Missing Power, she's a playable character. The entire incident is thanks to her, indirectly.
    • In Imperishable Night, she's Reimu's pairing and thus a playable character.
    • In Silent Sinner in Blue, she persuade Reimu to train for the upcoming journal to the Moon. So that she can sneak into it while Reimu and company fight the Moon soldiers.
    • In Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, she's a playable character.
    • In Subterranean Animism, her power is amongst Reimu's attack mode. She sponsors Reimu to stop Yasaka Kanako's nuclear conspiracy. Kanako herself is two-woman Ancient Tradition with Suwako.
    • All in all, Yukari has been intervening many times to ensure that Gensokyo is a haven for the youkai. Sometimes directly, usually through proxies.
  • Somewhere between the types, but more 2 than 1, we have the Archaic in Penumbra, a secret society devoted to researching Aliens and Monsters and keeping them separate from humanity. Unusually for this trope, they're extremely corrupt, and willing to sacrifice the lives of lower-ranking members to protect the upper echelons.

  Dead workers are inefficient workers. Always wear safety goggles when handling hazardous materials, and be sure to store your personal cyanide capsule well away from Archaic-issued aspirine.


Web Comics

Western Animation

Real Life

  • Santa Claus. The Western tradition of lying about a fictional person giving gifts to children is actually impressively wide spread and frightening accepted as both a matter of course without much thought or organized pre-meditation beyond trying to decide what present "Santa" gives.