Devil Worship in France

A.E. Waite. Devil Worship in France with Diana Vaughan and the Question of Modern Palladism, with an introduction by R.A. Gilbert, Weiser Books, York Beach, Maine.

In the late nineteenth century, France was overwhelmed by sensational stories about Devil-Worship, so much so that the controversy spread to other countries, indeed introducing the terms 'Satanism' and 'The Black Mass' to the English language. These stories originated with a journalist named Leo Taxil, previously an anticlerical writer, who had announced his repentance and reconciliation to the Catholic Church. In fact, he had merely decided that he could damage the church more effectively from the inside.

Taxil's 'revelations' implicated Freemasons, Spiritualists and the English as being involved in a worldwide Satanic conspiracy. The most considered replies came from Arthur Edward Waite, an English mystic and historian of occultism, in the pages of the Spiritualist paper Light. In 1896, this material was collected together in a book, now at long last reprinted.Though many of Waite's writings were rather dry and rambling (though often still useful for their content), here he is fairly clear, and provides a good exemplar of how dubious claims should be systematically examined.

He observed that, though accusations that Freemasonry was inspired by the Devil had been made for many years in books such as Satan and Co, they had previously been presented in very general terms, hinting little more than that Masonry was inimical to the Catholic religion. Then, in 1891, Leo Taxil alleged that there was a secret ruling body behind Freemasonry named the Palladian Order, which admitted both men and women (enabling him to suggest that their rituals involved sexual debauch), and that this Order worshipped Lucifer as their supreme deity.

Taxil claimed that he had obtained the rituals by bribing an official of "a certain Palladian Grand Council located at Paris" to transcribe them for him. Soon afterwards, a pamphlet by 'Adolphe Ricoux' purported to give 'Secret Instructions' of Freemasonry, which were again allegedly obtained by bribery, and remarkably similar to the material published by Taxil. Then, a massive work entitled The Devil in the 19th Century began to be issued in 'penny numbers'. It was by 'Dr Bataille' (who was generally known to be a Dr Charles Hacks writing in collaboration with Leo Taxil), who described how back in 1880 he had decided to infiltrate the sinister Masonic-Spiritualist-English conspiracy, with astounding results. He introduced his readers to such phenomena as an ape, in Ceylon, who spoke Tamil and welcomed Bataille to a fakir's hideaway; to Satanic rituals in Pondicheny, upon the mount Dappah near Calcutta, in a Presbyterian chapel in Singapore, in Peking, Charleston, USA, and the Rock of Gibraltar. The ceremonies involved human sacrifice, and produced occult manifestations such as a devil in the form of a crocodile who played the piano.

Waite observed that some of the contents of these purportedly secret rituals, which were fully divulged by Taxil, Ricoux and Bataille, were copied from easily available bestselling books such as Eliphas Levi's Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, Paul Christian's History of Magic, and even the Memoirs of Casanova. Moreover, the material from Levi, who was a Catholic, if a somewhat unorthodox one, had been rearranged and garbled so as to make it appear a justification for Luciferianism. Several of the illustrations in The Devil in the 19th Century were likewise borrowed from Levi's book, including the figure of Baphomet, who was depicted as being at the centre of Masonic-Luciferian worship. (Some of these engravings still turn up in coffee table books on the occult.)

It was explained that the original Baphomet, the idol of the Knights Templars, had been moved to the Masonic centre at Charleston. The problem here is that the Baphomet of the Templars, if it ever existed, consisted of a bearded head; Levi's drawing was of a diabolic part-man, part-goat figure, based on an engraving in a seventeenth century alchemical text. It is therefore quite impossible that the Baphomet shown in The Devil in the 19th Century could have been the original worshipped by the Templars.

Other mundane problems were revealed: Waite provided evidence that George Shebleton, who was supposed to have died during a Masonic seance in 1880, almost certainly never existed. There is a Dappah outside Calcutta, but it is a lake, not a mountain. He also contacted some of the defamed English Masons, who naturally denied everything, though this was a weaker argument since they would quite likely have done so even if it was all true.

The grand climacteric of the affair came when it was announced that Diana Vaughan, a High Priestess of the Palladian-Luciferian Order, had resigned and actually joined the Catholic Church. She promptly started serialising her memoirs, which were in very much the same vein as what had gone before. Waite pointed out her numerous inconsistencies, including the fact that, though supposedly an American, she made a number of "characteristic French blunders" (Cambden, Wescott, baronnet, Cantoberry, Kirkud-Bright) in her account of supposed British Masonic institutions.

A few months after the publication of Devil-Worship in France, Taxil gave a public lecture in which he boasted that the whole affair had been a hoax, intended to demonstrate the gullibility of the Catholic Church. Waite then wrote a short obituary on the affair, Diana Vaughan and the Question of Modern Palladism, but the embarrassment that promptly set in meant that there was suddenly no market for such a work, and it remained in typescript until being included in this new reprint.

Some loose ends still remain, such as whether Domenico Margiotta was a real journalist or an alter ego of Taxil. This name was lent to a book alleging among other things that the Italian politician Adriano Lemmi, who presumably could not sue over a libel published in France, was a Freemason who had converted a room of his rented apartment at the Palazzo Borghese in Rome into a temple of Satan, and that this had been discovered by the landlord. Margiotta stated that the story had appeared in the Croix du Dauphine, but on examination one finds that this journal's source was a letter from Margiotta himself, who cited no other authority.

Eight years after Taxil's confession, the story was resurrected by 'Drs Caufeynon & Jaf', pseudonym of Dr Jean Fauconney, who wrote salacious books in the guise of socio-medical treatises. Whatever its merits as pornography, Les Messes Noires (The Black Masses, 1905) has very little factual content, Fauconney having altered details in tales that were mostly untrue in the first place. He retailed the yarn about the discovery of Lemmi's Satanic temple, claiming, almost certainly falsely, that it had been reported in a Turin newspaper in May 1895. Later still Montague Summers (who, typically, described Les Messes Noires as 'a valuable work') rehashed it in his History of Witchcraft and Demonology, 1926, stating his source to be the Corriere Nazionale di Torino. Since then it has been repeatedly copied (e.g. in Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out) by writers who suppose that Summers is a reliable historian.

Waite did not, I think, anticipate such survivals of Taxil's invention. It is interesting to review the subsequent history of the supposed remarks by Albert Pike on "The Masonic Religion" adhering to "the purity of the Luciferian doctrine". They were translated into English by Lady Queenborough, who was I believe connected to the far right newspaper The Patriot, and included in her privately published Occult Theocrasy, 1933.

Eventually this was reprinted by the Christian Book Club of America, who seem to be a conspiracy theory oriented publishing house of conservative tendency, i.e. they prefer the good old Jewish-Masonic-Occult conspiracies to the new-fangled CIA-Mindcontrol-Alien conspiracies. This edition circulated widely, and the 'Pike' comments have since been routinely denounced by fundamentalists. Ironically, Pike was a Christian who complained that the name Baal (often believed, wrongly, to be referred to in the Royal Arch degree) was that of "an accursed and beastly heathen god", and this genuine quotation is also often given in fundamentalist literature, sometimes by the very same authors who give the spurious quote. In view of the continuance of at least parts of the myth, this new edition of Waite's book is most welcome. -- Gareth J Medway. Originally published in Magonia 84, March 2004

1 comment:

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