They were among the most frightening of early secret societies, a furtive group both feared and hated by citizens of the Roman Empire. Many suggested killing every man, woman and child who were members. Others proposed caution, having heard tales of bloody vengeance taken against enemies of the group. Some grew worried that their own neighbors might be society members, infecting their children with dangerous ideas and engaging them in revolting practices. A few were fascinated by the outrageous antics attributed to this secret organization; their curiosity piqued, their imaginations running rampant, they asked themselves: could these people really be so depraved?
Tales exchanged among the Romans were almost beyond belief. The members of this secret group, it was said, were cannibalistic, eating human flesh and drinking human blood during secret rituals, and their gory feasts often included newborn babies. They promoted sexual orgies among brothers and sisters, and engaged in bizarre ceremonies, met in clandestine locations, avoided contact with respectable society, and identified themselves by flashing the image of an instrument of torture when they met.