Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/March 1900/A Survival of Medieval Credulity I


By Professor E. P. EVANS.

ONE of the crassest and most impudent and yet most successful frauds of modern times is that recently practiced by Leo Taxil and his associates on the papal hierarchy in their pretended exposures of the Freemasons and the Satanic rites performed by this secret fraternity. On April 20, 1884, Leo XIII issued an encyclical letter in which he divides the human race "into two diverse and adverse classes" (in partes duas diversas adversasque): "the kingdom of God on earth—namely, the true Church of Jesus Christ"—and "the realm of Satan." All who are not members of the former belong to the latter, so that there is no alternative between being a good Catholic or a worshiper of the devil. His Holiness then proceeds to show that the headquarters of Satanism are the lodges of the Freemasons, a fact, he adds, fully recognized by his predecessors, who have never ceased to expose and denounce the diabolical character and flagitious aims of these archenemies of the Christian faith. The detailed description of the organization of this order, its devilish purposes, and the horrible crimes committed in order to accomplish them are very queer reading in an official document emanating from an infallible ecclesiastical authority at the close of the nineteenth century. On August 20, 1894, Leo XIII published a decree of the Inquisition putting under ban "Odd Fellows, Sons of Temperance, and Knights of Pythias "as" synagogues of Satan," and excluding them from the sacraments of the Church.

It is no wonder that such an exhibition of credulity, which excited the astonishment of many a Romanist and made all intelligent and unprejudiced persons smile and shrug their shoulders, should have suggested to an arrant wag and incorrigible player of practical jokes like Leo Taxil (pseudonym of Gabriel Jogand) the idea of appealing to this peculiar passion on a grand scale and seeing to what extent the "mother Church" could be led into fraud, as Milton says, like "Eve, our credulous mother." In tracing the development of this audacious plot through all its stages and perceiving by what silly tales and transparent deceptions the Holy Father permitted himself to be duped, one can hardly refrain from exclaiming, in the words of Ben Jonson:

"Had you no quirk
To avoid gullage, sir, by such a creature?"

Leo Taxil was born at Marseilles on March 21, 1854, and was therefore thirty years of age when he entered upon this career of intrigue and mystification. From his childhood he had been educated in strictly Roman Catholic schools, and everything was done by his pious parents and teachers to render him sound in the faith. Long before arriving at man's estate he had thrown off these influences and cast in his lot with unbelievers, although he continued to go to mass, confession, and communion. While a pupil in the Catholic College of St. Louis, at Marseilles, he was strongly attracted to the political views of the radical party as set forth in Rochefort's Lanterne, and soon began to write for the press; in 1871 he joined the editorial staff of Egalité, and published for two years a humoristic journal—La Marotte (Fool's Bauble). It is not necessary to give a detailed sketch of this man's life. Suffice it to say that he was violently anticlerical, and was repeatedly fined and imprisoned for articles insulting to the Church and to ecclesiastical dignitaries. On December 29, 1881, at Montpellier, he was condemned to pay a fine of sixty-five thousand francs for publishing a book entitled The Secret Amours of Pius IX. He appealed from this decision, and, after repeated efforts, succeeded in having the indictment quashed. A new edition appeared in 1885, and was announced by large placards, in the center of which was a medallion of the Pope's head, encircled with the heads of a bevy of beautiful women, forming, according to the author, a fitting halo for his Holiness. We may add that the sensational revelations contained in this book, as well as in the Scandalous History of the Orleans and similar works, are for the most part mere figments of the imagination recorded as facts, for the purpose of mystifying credulous public. In 1880 he founded a "Society of Freethinkers," which, with its numerous branches, numbered in a few years about seventeen thousand members. The remarkable success of this movement was due in a great measure to the energy with which he advocated it in the columns of the République Anti-Clericale, of which he was the editor.

Perhaps the most comical episode in his strange career is his pretended repentance, resulting in the return of this black sheep to the fold of the Catholic Church. In his Confessions the arrant renegade relates how, on April 3, 1885 (April 1st would have been a more appropriate date), while engaged in writing a book on Joan of Arc designed to excite animosity against the clergy, his fell purpose was suddenly shaken by strong compunctions, and soon a fearful agitation convulsed his whole being. His description of his contrition and self-reproaches is quite sensational and thrilling, and shows rare talent as an actor, if we only bear in mind that the whole thing was a farce. "I burst into sobs. 'Pardon me, God!' I cried out in a voice choked with tears. 'Pardon my many blasphemies! Pardon all the evil I have wrought!' I passed the night in prayer, and resolved on the next day to seek absolution for my sins." He retired from the editorship of the République Anti-Clericale, and handed in his resignation at a meeting of the "Anti-Clerical League," of which he was the founder and hitherto the most active member, when he had the satisfaction of being denounced by the presiding officer as a comedian and scoundrel. No one of his former colleagues believed in his sincerity, and yet every one was puzzled to understand the strategic purpose of this retrograde movement. The general impression was that he had been bribed. "You can't fool us by your abjuration!" they exclaimed. "The fact is, you have received a large sum of money from the Vatican." He does not seem to have attempted to refute these charges, nor did he permit them to divert him from the execution of his deep-laid plot. With hypocritical humility, he made full confession to the papal nuncio in Paris, Monsignore Di Rende, who, after subjecting him to several days' penance, embraced him with joy and released him from all excommunications and ecclesiastical censures.

Taxil now began to issue his Complete Revelations concerning Freemasonry, in four volumes, the ostensible object of which was to expose the secret and sacrilegious rites of this order as an organized system of devil-worship, thus confirming by the testimony of an eyewitness the assertions of the Popes, and proving that their decrees and decisions on this point had been bulls in the ecclesiastical and not in the Irish sense of the term. This work, although a mere tissue of fabrications, was greeted by the Catholic press and priesthood with exultation, as an authentic narration containing positive and irrefutable proofs of the diabolic character of the Masonic mysteries. The members of this fraternity, says Taxil, regard the God of the Catholics as an evil principle—a crafty, jealous, and cruel genius, a supernal tyrant, and archenemy of human happiness. Opposed to him is Lucifer, the good genius, the perennial source of virtue and wisdom, the spirit of freedom, and the friend of mankind. For this reason, in the high-grade lodges Lucifer, the reputed father of Cain, Canaan, and Hiram, is adored, under different names indicative of the Supreme Being, as the God of Nature, and the great architect of the universe. In short, while modern freethinking is atheistic and begets a skepticism which, even when not denying God, does not care for him. Freemasonry is essentially a Satanic cult. These words give the sum and substance of the supposititious disclosures which excited such intense joy in the clerical camp. In 1887, when Taxil was received in solemn audience by Leo XIII, "My son," asked the Pope, "what dost thou desire?" 'Holy Father, to die this moment at thy feet were for me the highest bliss," replied the kneeling penitent. "Not so," was the benignant response of the successor of St. Peter; "thy life is still very useful in combats for the faith." His Holiness then pointed to Taxil's writings on the shelves of his library, declaring that he had read them all through with extreme satisfaction, and encouraged him to continue his exposures of these satellites of Satan and their abominations. Taxil left the Vatican with the papal benediction and with the firm conviction that he could devise no better means of currying favor with the Apostolic See than by inventing tales about the homage paid by the Freemasons to the devil, and determined to work this rich vein to its utmost capacity. He also came to the conclusion that he could imagine nothing so absurd that it would not be received in Catholic circles as authentic and indorsed by infallible authority.

His work had an immense pecuniary success, and thus attained the chief object which he had in view. More than one hundred thousand copies of the original French edition were sold, and it was translated into English, German, Italian, and Spanish. This result is not so surprising, if we remember that nearly all the bishops and other clergy of the Catholic Church acted as voluntary and extremely zealous agents for the diffusion of these Revelations, which they seemed to regard as a new apocalypse designed to unveil the mysteries of Babylon and disclose the present doings of Satan and dominion of anti-christ. Of the utterly apocryphal character of the Revelations they do not appear to have entertained the slightest suspicion, although the hoax was clearly perceptible to every unprejudiced mind. The German translation by the Jesuit Father Gruber, which appeared at Freiburg, in Switzerland, and at Paderborn, in Westphalia, omitted the volume entitled The Masonic Sisters, on account of the indecency of its contents, although accepted as true and deemed especially damaging to the Masonic fraternity. However desirable it might be to tear away the mask of philanthropy from the face of Freemasonry and let the world see its devilish features, it was thought best not to outrage the moral sense of the community by uncovering "the filthiness of the hellish crew."

In 1892 Taxil's coadjutor, Dr. Bataille (a pseudonym of Dr. Karl Hacks, a German from the Rhineland), began to issue a serial publication, entitled The Devil in the Nineteenth Century, purporting to embody the results of his observations as ship's surgeon during his travels in various countries, and especially in the Orient, where he had opportunities of studying Satanism in its diverse manifestations. He begins by referring to the encyclical letter Humanum genus, already cited, in which Leo XIII divides the human race into worshipers of God and worshipers of Satan, and then proceeds to adduce facts proving the correctness of this classification. It is, in reality, a bold burlesque of the papal circular, as, indeed, it was intended to be, and would doubtless have been laughed at for a time as a clever persiflage, if the dignitaries of the Church had not taken it seriously, as they were expected to do. Dr. Hacks confessed to an "interviewer," in 1897, that no sooner had he read the pontifical circular in question than he saw in it "a rare opportunity to coin money out of the crass credulity and boundless stupidity of the Catholics. It needed only a Jules Verne to clothe these extravagant fancies in an attractive garb. I resolved to play the part of this Jules Verne. Strangely enough, the same idea occurred to others. I therefore joined forces with Leo Taxil and a few friends, and began to publish The Devil in the Nineteenth Century, the success of which is well known.… I had traversed many lands and got up marvelous stories, the scenes of which were laid in remote regions, which I was sure no one would visit in order to test the truth of my assertions." Besides, he counted on the silliness of the persons with whom he had to deal, and felt certain that if he should tell them he had been fooling them they would not believe him, but would remain convinced that all his inventions were strictly true. He could not conceive of a body of ecclesiastics as ready to discard a belief which served their turn, however evident its absurdity might be to other minds. "Sometimes I fabricated the most incredible stories, as, for example, that of the serpent inditing prophecies with its tail on the back of Sophia Walder, or that of the demon, who, in order to marry a Freemason, transformed himself into a young lady, and played the piano evenings in the form of a crocodile. My colleagues were aghast, and exclaimed, 'You'll spoil the whole joke with your nonsense.' 'Bah!' I replied. 'Let me be, and you will see!'" And they did see how eagerly such gross falsehoods were accepted as positive facts. Protestants without exception are denounced as godless apostates. Every Lutheran is a Luciferian in disguise. Singapore, he says, like every British colony, is settled by knaves, footpads, and all sorts of criminals. The Protestant Englishman is, at the bottom, an embodiment of scoundrelism coupled with Satanism. There is a strangely infernal element in the social life at Singapore. "The British matrons and even the maidens are incarnations of vice and godlessness. The young English woman dedicates all her charms and intelligence to the service of Satan, whose apostle and agent she is; cursed by God, she is the dearly beloved paramour of Lucifer; a woman only in name, she is in fact absolutely infernal—an actual deviless." Hacks asserts that in a Presbyterian church at Singapore he discovered a secret tabernacle for the worship of Satan. The pastor opened the door, and there was a Baphomet, with all the Palladistic (Satanic) apparatus—goblet, host, and dagger—standing before his eyes.

Albert Pike, Grand Master of the Freemasons in Charleston, S. C, is called the "Satanic Pope," and is said to have a telephone invented and operated by devils, whereby instantaneous communication is possible between the seven principal directorates at Charleston, Rome, Berlin, Washington, Montevideo, Naples, and Calcutta. He has also a magic bracelet, by means of which he can summon Lucifer at any moment. "One day Satan took Pike gently in his arms and made a trip with him to Sirius, traversing the whole distance in a few minutes. After exploring the fixed star, he was brought back safe and sound to his room in Washington." Whether he found the star as hot and scorching as its name implies is not stated. Hacks discovered, under the cliffs of Gibraltar, mysterious caverns with laboratories in which devils prepared microbes for generating and diffusing epidemics. He was politely received by Tubal-Cain, the director of the establishment, who addressed him in pure Parisian French, from which we may infer that this is the language of the lower regions. On his departure Hacks was presented with a small vial, the contents of which would suffice to produce a fearful epidemic of cholera. No less an authority than Professor Bautz, of the Prussian Academy at Münster, tells us that the volcanoes are the flues of hell, and it was probably this contribution to the topography of Tartarus that led Hacks to look for the devil's workshop in the cavities of mountains, which, however, being used for infernal purposes, would hardly be what Milton calls "umbrageous grots and caves of cool recess."[1]

The following may be cited as a specimen of the manner in which historical events were perverted by Hacks to subserve his purpose: Before the capture of Rome by the Italian troops in 1870, a secret meeting of Freemasons was held in Milan, at which Riboli, Cucchi, and General Cadorna were present, and the revolutionary deliberations were rendered piquant by dreadful blasphemies. Thus General Cadorna, a renegade priest, parodied the consecration of the host with a piece of bread, which he finally threw into the fire with the words, "In honor of Lucifer!" Thereupon Lucifer rose up in person through the floor, gazed benignantly for a moment on his faithful followers, and said, "The moment is come for firing the third salvo of cannon." A month later General Cadorna entered Rome through the breach of the Porta Via. In Luciferian lingo, the first salvo was the Reformation and the second the French Revolution, while the third victory of Satan was the overthrow of the Pope's temporal power.

Hacks relates that in Freiburg, Switzerland, there was a Masonic temple of Satan hewn in a rock and provided with altars and all the paraphernalia of this cult. There men and women assembled in the costume worn by our first parents before the fall. Attached to the lodge was a brothel, the scene of the most disgusting debaucheries. One altar, in the form of a triangle with an image of the demon Baphomet, was used for stabbing the body of Christ, in the form of consecrated wafers, with a dagger. At this altar, too, was said the so-called "black mass," an invention of the Grand Master Holebrook and Albert Pike, of Charleston. During this service hymns were sung to Satan. The consecrated wafers were procured by Miss Lucia Claraz, of Freiburg, who stole them while pretending to partake of the communion, and passed the night before committing the theft in the wildest orgies. This incredibly foolish story was published in the Moniteur de Rome, against which Miss Claraz, a lady "piously inclined and morally irreproachable," according to the testimony of the Bishop of Freiburg, brought suit for defamation. The court sentenced the editor, Monsignore Vöglin, to a fine of twenty-five thousand lire and four years' imprisonment.

These examples suffice to show the wretched stuff which Hacks hashed up for the edification of the clerical and the entertainment of the carnal-minded public. Even the silly statement that he saw a gigantic tree bow down before Sophia Walder, the predestined great-grandmother of antichrist, and present her with a bouquet, did not shake the faith of the true believers. The editor of the Revue Mensuelle declared, in 1894, that Dr. Bataille had really made all these discoveries on his travels, and that his honesty and sincerity were beyond question. This was the attitude of the whole clerical press almost without exception, as well as of abbots, bishops, cardinals, and the highest dignitaries of the Church. Even as late as July, 1897, when the imposture had been exposed and confessed, a Parisian Catholic journal continued to regard "the mystification as more apparent than actual, and the documents adduced as chiefly authentic"; so difficult is it for minds thus constituted, with the rational faculties dwarfed and stunted by being constantly kept in the leading strings of credulity, to recognize the falsity of what they wish or are told to believe.

Another of Taxil's confederates was Domenico Margiotta, according to his own account a native of Palmi, in southern Italy, and professor of literature and philosophy. His principal work, Adriano Lemmi, Supreme Head of the Freemasons, published in French in 1894, gives a long list of his titles, designed to impress the public by indicating his high position in the Masonic order. Hacks calls him a "Member of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Oriental Rite of Memphis and Mizraim," a purely fictitious designation. This cunning device was also crowned with complete success, and caused the fabricated disclosures to be hailed with enthusiasm. Here, exclaimed the clerical journals, we have "not an apprentice or novice like Taxil, but one of the highest dignitaries of universal Freemasonry and Luciferianism, who is initiated and instructed in all its mysteries and occult observances," being apparently ignorant of the fact that Taxil was in the main the real author of the book.

One of the most common accusations brought against the Freemasons is that of desecrating the host by stabbing it with a dagger. A German Catholic journal, The Pelican,[2] affirms that not only Masonic devil worshipers, but also Jews, infidels, and heretics in general commit this sacrilege in order to show their deadly hatred of Christianity. In proof of this charge, the following "historical fact" is published in the number for July, 1897: Several consecrated wafers were once stolen by Jews from a church at Langenses, in Silesia, and, after being pierced through with knives, were hidden in the forest. They were discovered by a Polish nobleman, whose four horses, as he was driving by, suddenly kneeled down and refused to go on, although he beat them with his whip. He then descended from the carriage, and soon found the wafers covered with blood. They were carried back with solemn ceremony to the church, which became a place of pilgrimage with a wonder-working pyx. What a hardened and hopeless skeptic a man must be, who is not convinced by conclusive evidence of this kind, when even horses bear witness to the truth by their genuflections!

Still more sensational was the part played in this spicy comedy by Miss Diana Vaughan, whom Taxil introduced to the public as a descendant of the Rosicrucian alchemist and Oxford professor Thomas Vaughan, and who was said to have in her possession a copy of the written pact with Satan, signed by her ancestor on March 25, 1645. The young lady claimed to have been born in Paris on February 29, 1874. The fact that there was no February 29th in the year 1874 would make this date an impossible natal day for ordinary mortals, but a person with Luciferian blood in her veins would naturally take no note of the divisions of time as recorded in human calendars; for, according to Taxil, her forbear was the goddess Astarte, who appeared to Thomas Vaughan on a summer night in 1646, while he was sojourning among the American Indians, in all her marvelous beauty, bringing with her a bed surrounded with flames and attended by little demons bearing flowers. She approached Vaughan and put a wedding ring on his finger, and eleven days later gave birth to a daughter named Diana, from whom the Miss Diana Vaughan in question traced her descent. Several instances of similar commerce with incarnate demons are said to have occurred in the history of her family, so that she inherited a strong Satanic taint; even her own mother was guilty of the same criminal conduct. Her inherited qualities were carefully fostered by education, inasmuch as she was brought up by her father and uncle on strictly Luciferian principles. One day, when her instructors were praising Cain and Judas as ideals of excellence, she expressed some doubt of the superior worthiness of the fratricide and venal traitor. This dangerous unbelief was attributed to angelical possession, and it was soon ascertained that the archangel Raphael was the cause of the lapse from Luciferianism. Recourse was had to exorcism, the whole process of which, as described by Taxil, is a clever travesty of the ceremonial prescribed by the Romish Church for the expulsion of evil spirits. The dance performed by the father and uncle on this occasion consisted of the same saltatory movements that are executed by the "procession of jumpers" every year at the grave of St. Willibord, in Echternach, Luxemburg.[3] Devil's ointment took the place of holy oil, and the exorcism ended with the sacrifice of a black hen; thereupon "Raphael" went out of her, and simultaneously with his exit all the panes of glass in the house were broken into fragments and fell to the ground with a tremendous crash. The marvel is that bishops and priests accepted this ridiculous story as an authentic and edifying narration, instead of rejecting it with horror and disgust as a palpable burlesque of their own approved methods of casting out demons, and particularly of the Exorcismus in Satanam et Angelos Apostatas, composed by Leo XIII and issued by him November 19, 1890. It is evident that Taxil had this document in his eye, and intended to hold it up to derision; to calm the fears of the simple-minded, who were puzzled and perplexed by the striking resemblance of diabolic orgies to divine ordinances, he explained it on the general principle that "Satan is the ape of God."

After being freed from the influence of Raphael, Diana was placed under the tutelage of Asmodeus, who, as her guardian devil, watched over her, shielding her from bodily harm and helping her to resist the wiles of angels. One day when she was wandering in the woods she was attacked by negroes, but Asmodeus came to her rescue, and bore her safely to her home through the air. Another time he caught her mettlesome courser by the bridle as he was running away, and when the chief of Garibaldi's staff, Bordone, insulted her, Asmodeus twisted his neck so that his face looked backward. For three weeks he was obliged to take a retrospective view of life and of his own conduct, when Diana, in the kindness of her heart, set his head right again. On these occasions the tutelar demon usually appeared in the form of a fine young gentleman, and emitted an aroma of balsam, which seems to have been as inseparable from him as is the scent of musk from a modern dude or modish dame. He spoke of her as his bride, and often took her on pleasure trips to paradise, purgatory, and other remote regions; once when she was greatly depressed, because her Luciferian rival, Sophia Walder, had got the better of her, he consoled her by making an excursion with her to Mars, where they rode on Schiaparelli's canals, sailed on the Sea of the Sirens, and strolled like pygmies among the gigantic inhabitants of that planet.

[To be continued.]

Contrary to the common supposition that the astronomy of the ancients was based exclusively on the geocentric hypothesis, Mr. G. H. Bryan says in Nature: "Schiaparelli has shown that Heraclitus Ponticus, a disciple of Plato, had already accepted the theory that the sun is the center of the orbit of the planets, while the earth is the center of the universe and of the lunar and solar rotations—a theory substantially that of Tycho."
  1. Views similar to those of Professor Bautz have been advocated by a French Jesuit, Père F. H. Schouppe, in a work entitled The Doctrine of Purgatory elucidated by Facts and Private Revelations. The "facts" consist of the visions of saints, and the "private revelations" prove to be apparitions of souls in purgatory to hysterical women and other persons "blasted with ecstasy." The book has been translated into German by a Tyrolese priest, G. Pletl, and just published at Brixen, "with the approbation of the Prince Bishop." An Austrian journal, the Ostdeutsche Rundschau, printed extracts from the volume with appropriate comments, and was confiscated by the Government in Vienna for "offense to religion."
  2. The manner in which The Pelican makes piety profitable is most extraordinary and should win the admiration and excite the envy of the "yellow press." The editor informs the public that he entered into a compact with St. Joseph, promising to distribute fifty books in which this holy person is glorified, provided the journal receives two thousand subscribers. In less than a year the number of subscribers was twenty-five hundred. A promise to distribute one hundred books of this kind, if St. Joseph would procure eight thousand subscribers, raised the list of subscribers to twelve thousand; and this barter went on until The Pelican could boast of ninety thousand subscribers. The editor also announces that he has engaged two hundred and eighty priests to say masses for the readers of his paper and to pray for and bless their children, and concludes this astounding piece of puffery as follows: "Experience teaches us that the benediction of a single priest is effective. What, then, can not be obtained if two hundred and eighty priests unite in blessing us!"
  3. Cf. Popular Science Monthly, November, 1895, p. 83.