Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

X. The Canters or Muckers

349. Eva von Buttler and her Sect.—This most repulsive sect, a diseased offshoot of the Pietists, first made its appearance towards the end of the seventeenth century, though the name was not given to it then, but to the sect when revived towards the end of the eighteenth century. The German word mucker means a hypocrite, a sanctimonious, canting person. The original sect was founded by Gottfried Justus Winter, a student of theology at Marburg, who had joined various Pietistic circles then existing in Hesse and Saxony. He afterwards became acquainted and intimate with Eva, the wife of John de Vesias, of Eisenach, who, in consequence of her misconduct, obtained a divorce from her. Eva then reassumed her maiden name, von Buttler, and went to live with Winter in the institution of about twenty members, founded by him at Eschwege, for the free practice of their religion, which, however, soon drew upon itself the attention of the authorities, and the immoral practices of the sect being placed beyond doubt, the members were banished the country. But Winter and Eva were not the people to give up their object; they applied to the Duke of Sayn-Wittgenstein, lord of a small but independent territory, forming part of the former Duchy of Nassau, who granted them the free exercise of their religion, and leased to them the estate of Sassmannshausen. Here for a time the Muckers by their outwardly holy lives deceived the public, but false brethren and apostates gradually caused rumours to arise as to what went on among the saints—debaucheries of the most revolting description—which compelled the Duke to order an inquiry; but bribes, judiciously applied, and the legal skill of a lawyer.

Dr. Vergenius, who held a high official position at the Imperial Chamber at Wetzlar, led to Winter and his followers being acquitted, the former even being appointed the Duke's private secretary. The saints being rendered over-secure by this temporary victory, indulged their propensities to the fullest extent. Eva was a second Messalina in her excesses; in fact, her male companions were taught that perfect sanctification was only to be arrived at by carnal intercourse with herself. But the birth of a child in the community—in spite of the cruel and hideous precautions which had been taken to prevent such an occurrence, precautions we are not allowed to describe—and the sudden death of the child, at last induced the Duke to have the doings of the saints watched through openings made in the walls of the rooms occupied by them, and the gross profligacy, which was then revealed, and eventually confessed by the inculpates, was such, that we cannot give the details, though they were all proved in a court of law. But most of the ringleaders made their escape from custody, and eventually settled in the small town of Luyde, the vicinity of which to Pyrmont, with its rich and aristocratic visitors to the baths, promised many proselytes, who, in fact, did not fail to present themselves, so that a new society was soon formed. But in consequence of the statements made by one Sebastian Reuter, who by revealing the practices of the sect hoped to get an appointment from the government of Paderborn, under whose jurisdiction Luyde was placed, about twenty members of the association were arrested, including Winter and Eva; but both again managed to escape. What became of them afterwards is not precisely known. Some of the other prisoners were ordered to be publicly whipped, others acquitted.

350. Schonherr's Sect.—Another association of the same character as the above, calling itself Theosophers, but nicknamed Muckers by the public, was discovered at Konigsbergin 1835. Its founder was John Henry Schonherr, born at Memel in 1771, died at Konigsberg in 1826. Two of his followers, the pastors Ebel and Diestel, declared the dualistic-gnostic doctrines of Schonherr to mean that the flesh was to be sanctified by sexual intercourse, and they formed a secret association, to which women, of course, were admitted. Their practices eventually led to a judicial inquiry, which, however, was not pursued to the end, as many persons of good position were found to be implicated in the sect. But Ebel and Diestel were degraded from their official positions, and the latter was moreover sent to the house of correction. And thus another chapter, not of historical, but of hysterical theology, was closed for a time.