Small circles of Satanists may, or may not, have existed in 19th-century France. A largely fraudulent anti-Satanism accused them of controlling Freemasonry.
by Massimo Introvigne
Article 2 of 6. Read article 1.
According to the “pendulum effect” I mentioned in the first article of this series, the excesses of anti-Satanism periodically discredit it, allowing new Satanist groups to resurface and enjoy a short-lived tolerance.
The conspiracy theories of early 19th century anti-Satanism were so thoroughly discredited that in the years from 1850 to 1890 a small Satanist movement could arise in France and Belgium, relatively undisturbed.
Or perhaps it didn’t. Information about this movement is uncertain and ambiguous. It often comes from strange characters, who—although they had really investigated the occultist subculture—were also part of it. They mixed fantasy with reality, as did journalist Jules Bois (1868–1943). Novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848–1907) relied on Bois as one of his main informants. In 1891, Huysmans published his novel “Là-bas” (Down There). This text contains the most famous literary description of a “Black Mass,” which served as a model for numerous flesh-and-blood Satanists of the twentieth century.
One of the symbols of Satanism popular media discussing Huysmans’ revelations used had been created in the 1850s by French esoteric author Éliphas Lévi (Alphonse-Louis Constant,1810–1875). Lévi was not a Satanist, but offered to the Satanists their most popular icon ever, the Baphomet, portrayed in his book “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie” (Dogma and Ritual of High Magic, 1854–1856).
Another relevant name for Bois and Huysmans was Eugène Vintras (1807–1875). He promoted a schism within the Catholic Church, introducing bizarre occult rituals. Vintras collected “archives” about the Satanists with the aim of fighting them, and ended up being accused himself of Satanism by the Catholic Church.
A direct source for Huysmans was Joseph-Antoine Boullan (1824–1893), a defrocked and libertine Catholic priest and theologian who joined Vintras movement and caused a schism therein. He too claimed to fight Satanists through occult rituals, but his bizarre system of sex magic and his taste for sexual perversions placed him more often at the receiving end of accusations of Satanism.
It is known today that, in the novel, Huysmans used information on the real or alleged experiences in Satanist circles of his friend Berthe Courrière (1852–1916). Based on Berthe’s tales, he considered credible the accusations made against the Belgian priest Louis Van Haecke (1829–1912) of celebrating Black Masses and being a prominent Satanist leader. On whether there was some truth in these accusations, the jury is still out.
The real or imaginary activities of the French and Belgian Satanists denounced by Huysmans determined, predictably, a particularly virulent wave of anti-Satanism. To Satanists, united in a mysterious sect called Palladism, were attributed in particular all the activities of Freemasonry, at the time engaged in a bitter confrontation with the Catholic Church. Léo Taxil (pseudonym of Marie-Joseph-Antoine-Gabriel Jogand, 1854–1907), a Freemason and author of strongly-worded anti-clerical works of a pornographic nature, announced his resounding conversion to Catholicism in 1885.
After the publication of Huysmans’ “Là-bas,” Taxil produced, with a number of collaborators, in a few years dozens of voluminous anti-Masonic works. He revealed the activities of the Palladists who, inspired directly by Satan, secretly led Freemasonry and controlled many European governments. Taxil also depicted the struggle for the control of Palladism between two high priestesses, Sophie Walder, a lesbian and the daughter of a Mormon leader, and Diana Vaughan. In the end, Diana converted to Catholicism and started signing some of Taxil’s publications, including an attack against Italian anticlerical Prime Minister Francesco Crispi (1819-1901). While Sophie and Diana were fictional characters (although Taxil insisted he knew them personally), he also implicated in the Satanic Palladism real Masonic leaders of his time, such as the American Albert Pike (1809–1891) and the Italian Adriano Lemmi (1822–1906).
Many opponents of Freemasonry believed Taxil, but not all. Some Catholic anti-Masons suspected a fraud, although for a time Taxil was protected by high figures in the Vatican, possibly including Pope Leo XIII (1810–1903) himself. Finally, facing pressure, Taxil announced a public conference in which he would clarify all doubts and introduce Diana Vaughan to the public. In Paris, on April 19, 1897, he confessed that he had simply faked his conversion and had completely invented the story of Palladism to mock the extreme credulity of Catholics.
The “Taxil affair” remains problematic and obscure. It is certain that Taxil cleverly mixed a few true and many false documents, while there remains a doubt about his ultimate motives, from simple greed (his books sold well) to a political design. As far as Satanism is concerned, the predictable effect was to make authentic Satanists re-emerge. The media were afraid of attacking them, least they would be regarded as latter-day victims of Taxil’s hoax.