Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

III. The Garduna

306. Origin of the Society.—When that superstitious bigot and tyrant Ferdinand, king of Spain—who believed himself a clever diplomatist, but was all his lifetime but the tool of a rapacious and bloodthirsty priesthood, the same who made the Inquisition all-powerful in Spain, and caused Columbus to be brought home in chains from the world he had discovered and added to the monster's dominions—when he resolved on the extermination in his kingdom of Moors and Jews—the former the most civilised, and the latter the most industrious of his subjects—all the vagabonds and scoundrela of Spain were welcome to take part in the holy war, solely begun and carried on to extirpate heresy and spread the pure faith—at least such was the pretence. There had indeed, long before Ferdinand's time been bands of malefactors who roamed over the Spanish territory, and with the secret support of the Roman Catholic clergy, who shared the spoil, committed wholesale burglaries in the houses of Moors and Hebrews, occasionally burning a resisting heretic in the flames of his own house as a sweet-smelling savour unto Heaven. The Moors were enemies to their country, though they had civilised it, and the Jews belonged to an accursed race; to fight and destroy them was a meritorious work, which had the full approbation of the Church. In Ferdinand's time the brigands readily joined the crusade against the Moors; the king's motto evidently was—

"It is the sapiency of fools

To shrink from handling evil tools."

and brigands may make good soldiers. Brigands, moreover, are generally well disposed towards the Church, and submissive to the priest, and these dispositions, so well agreeing with those of Ferdinand himself, could not but render the brigands favourites with him.

But when the object of Ferdinand's holy war was attained, and the Moorish power destroyed, he left the free-lances to shift for themselves, which they did in their fashion, by returning to their former occupation of brigandage. Now, although during the much-vaunted reign of Ferdinand the Catholic, as lying and servile writers have called him, and Isabella, who was too much under the influence of a set of demons in priestly garb, and hence did all she could to increase the power of the Inquisition, nearly two millions of subjects—Moors and Jews—were driven from the realm, yet a great many remained who belonged to the one or the other race, and had, in order to be allowed to stay in their native country, adopted the Christian faith. Yet with such contempt were they looked upon by the genuine Spaniards, that they never spoke of them but as marranos (hogs), though many of them were the heads of, or belonged to, rich and influential families. The king and his Satanic crew of inquisitors were ever anxious to convict such persons of having relapsed into heresy, in order to burn them at the stake and confiscate their property. The brigands, well aware of this, selected the houses of the marranos for the scenes of their operations; and as long as a good share of the booty passed into the hands of priests, inquisitors, and the royal exchequer. Justice winked at the proceedings.

But when the brigands grew tired of these heavy exactions, and refused to pay tribute. Justice suddenly woke up and resolved on exterminating the brigands, who snatched away spoil which legitimately belonged to the king and Inquisition, as the reward of their virtue in rigorously putting down heresy. It was then—when gendarmes and soldiers were sent out in all directions to catch or disperse the bands of brigands that infested the country—that these bands, which had hitherto acted independently of each other, determined for their greater safety to unite and form one large secret society. It was thus the Garduna arose, which soon provided itself with the whole apparatus of secret signs, passwords, initiatory ceremonies, and all other stage "property" necessary in such cases. Their connection with the Holy Inquisition was not severed thereby, but established on a business-like footing, though of course it remained secret—a sort of sleeping partnership. With such high protection at Court and in the Church, it is not surprising that the association soon counted its thousands of members, who actually made Seville their headquarters, where all great plundering, burning, and murdering expeditions were planned and prepared.

307. Organisation.—The society had nine degrees, arranged in three classes. To the inferior classes belonged the novices or Chivatos (goats), who performed the menial duties, acted as explorers and spies, or carried the booty. When on the watch, during any operation of their superiors, they imitated, in case of danger, the cry of an animal. At night they imitated that of a cricket, owl, frog, or cat. In the daytime they barked like dogs. The Coberteras (covers), abandoned women, who insinuated themselves into private houses to spy out opportunities for stealing, or acted as decoy-ducks, by alluring men into retired places, where they were set upon, robbed, and frequently murdered by the brigands. For the latter purpose, however, the Garduna generally employed young and handsome women, who were called Serenas (syrens), and usually were the mistresses of leading members. Lastly, the Fuelles (bellows), or spies, chiefly old men of what is called venerable appearance—whatever that may mean—sanctimonious in carriage, unctuous in speech, haunting churches, in fact, saints. These not only disposed of the booty already obtained, but by their insinuating manners and reputation for piety wormed themselves into the secrets of families, which were afterwards exploited for the benefit of the band. They also acted as familiars of the Inquisition.

In the next class were the Floreadores (athletes), men stained with every vice, chiefly discharged or escaped convicts from the galleys, or branded by the hand of the executioner, whose office consisted in attacking and robbing travellers on the high-road. Then came the proud Ponteadores (pinkers, i.e., bullies, expert swordsmen), sure to kill their man. Above these were the Guapos (heads, chiefs), also experienced duellists, and generally appointed to lead some important enterprise. The highest class embraced the Magistri, or priests, who conducted the initiations, preserved the laws, usages, and traditions of the society. The Capatazes (commanders), who resided in the different provinces through which the Garduna was spread, represented the Hermano Mayor or Grand Master, who exercised arbitrary and absolute power over the whole society, and ruled the members with a rod of iron. He often was an important personage at Court. Strange that men, who will not submit to legitimate authority, yet will bow to and be tyrannised over by a creature of their own setting up! The Thugs, Assassins, Chauffeurs, and all similar lawless societies, surrendered their will to that of one man in blind and slavish fear; but perhaps this is the only condition on which such societies can exist.

308. Spirit of the Society.—The Thugs or Assassins killed to rob, but the Garduna, having learnt its business, so to speak, in a more diabolical school, that of the Holy Inquisition, considered itself bound to perform any kind of crime that promised a chance of gain. The priests had drawn up a regular tariff, at which any number of members of the society could be hired to do any deed of darkness. Robbery, murder, mutilation, false evidence, falsification of documents, the carrying off of a lady, getting your enemy taken on board a ship and sold as a slave in a foreign colony—all these could be had "to order;" and the members of the Garduna were exceedingly conscientious and prompt in carrying out such pleasant commissions. One-half of the price paid for such services was generally paid on giving the order, and the other half on its completion. The sums thus earned were divided into three parts; one part went into the general fund, the other was kept in hand for running expenses, and the third went to the members who had done the work.

That for a considerable period the affairs of the society were in a very flourishing state, is proved by the fact that they were able to keep in their pay at the Court of Madrid persons holding high positions to protect and further the interests of the members. They even had their secret affiliates among judges, magistrates, governors of prisons, and similar officials, whose chief duty lay in facilitating or effecting the escape of any member of the society that might have fallen into the hands of justice.

309. Signs, Legend, etc.—It was mentioned above that the Garduna had its signs and passwords of recognition. When a Garduna found himself in the company of strangers, to ascertain if a brother was present, he would as it were accidentally put his right thumb to his left nostril; if a brother was present, he would approach him and whisper the password, in reply to which another password would be given; then, to make quite sure, there would be grips and signs a la Freemason, and the two might talk at their ease in a jargon perfectly unintelligible to outsiders on their mutual affairs and interests. Their religious rites—and the Garduna insisted much on being a religious society—were those of the Papal Church, and as that Church is founded on legends innumerable, so the Garduna had its legend, which was a follows:—

"When the sons of Beelzebub (the Moors) first invaded Spain, the miraculous Madonna of Cordova took refuge in the midst of the Christian camp. But God, to punish the sins of His people, allowed the Moors to defeat the orthodox arms, and to erect their throne on the broken power of the Christians, who retreated into the mountains of Asturia, and there continued, as well as they could, their struggle with the enemies of God and oppressors of their country. The Madonna, daily and hourly implored by the faithful, granted some successes to their arms, so that they were not entirely destroyed, according to Heaven's first decree. And though they could not drive the Moors from Spain, they yet amidst the mountains preserved their religion and liberty.

"There lived at that time in the wilds of Sierra Morena an old anchorite, named Apollinare, vulgarly called Cal Polinario, a man of austere habits, great sanctity, and a devout worshipper of the Virgin. To him one morning the Mother of God appeared and spoke thus: 'Thou seest what evil the Moors do to thy native country and the religion of my Son. The sins of the Spanish people are indeed so great as to have excited the wrath of the Most High, for which reason He has allowed the Moors to triumph over you. But while my Son was contemplating the earth, I had the happy inspiration to point out to him thy many and great virtues, at which his brow cleared up; and I seized the instant to beseech him by means of thee to save Spain from the many evils that affict it. He granted my prayer. Hear, therefore, my commands and execute them. Collect the patriot and the brave, lead them in my name against the enemy, assuring them that I shall ever be by their side. And as they are fighting the good fight of the faith, tell them that even now they shall have their reward, and that they may in all justice appropriate to themselves the riches of the Moors, in whatever manner obtained. In the hands of the enemies of God wealth may be a means of oppressing religion, whilst in those of the faithful it will only be applied to its greater glory. Arise, ApoUinare, inspire and direct the great crusade; I invest thee with full power, anointing thee with celestial oil. Take this button, which I myself pulled off the tunic of my celestial Son; it has the property of multiplying itself and working miracles without number; whoso wears one on his neck will be safe from Moorish arms, the rage of heretics, and sudden death.' And the Virgin having anointed him and given him the button, disappeared, leaving an ambrosial flavour behind."

Then the anchorite founded the Holy Garduna, which thus could claim a right divine to robbery and murder. Hence also no important predatory expedition was undertaken without a foregoing religious ceremony; and when a discussion arose as to how to attack a traveller, or to commit some other similar crime, the Bible was ostensibly referred to for guidance.

310. Suppression of the Society.—The laws of the society, like those of nearly all secret societies, were not written down, but transmitted by oral tradition; but the Garduna kept a kind of chronicle in which its acts were briefly recorded. This book, which was deposited in the archives of the tribunals of Seville by Don Manuel de Cuendias, who, with his mountain chasseurs, exterminated the sect, and which book, with other documents, was seized in the house of the Grand Master Francis Cortina in 1821, formed the basis of the indictment of the society before the courts of justice. From this it appeared that the Garduna had its branches in Toledo, Barcelona, Cordova, and many other Spanish towns. It also revealed their close connection with the Holy Inquisition up to the seventeenth century, and it showed that the "orders" given by the holy fathers amounted in 147 years—from 1520 to 1667—to 1986, which had yielded the Garduna nearly 200,000 francs. Of their list of crimes, the carrying off of women, chiefly at the instigation of the holy fathers of the Inquisition, forms about one-third, assassinations form another third, whilst robbery, false testimony, or denunciation, complete the list. The book further was the means of enabling the authorities to arrest many of the members of the society, who were tried without delay, and on the 25th November 1822 the last Grand Master and sixteen of his chief followers expiated their crimes on the scaffold erected in the market-place of Seville, and the Garduna in Europe only survives in the bands of brigands who are yet to be occasionally encountered in the recesses of the Spanish mountains.

311. Bandits insuring Travellers Safety.—These bandits, like the Garduna, continued to keep in every town, and most of the ventas, or isolated inns on the high-roads, agents or "insurers," who, for a certain sum, insured travellers against the attacks or exactions of other brigands. In 1823 every traveller who wished to avoid trouble on the journey from Madrid to Cadiz had only to travel in one of the waggons of Pedro Ruiz; the fare was three times that of the stage coach, but the bandits never attacked the waggons of Ruiz. At Merida, in Estremadura, the host of the Three Crosses gave a password for forty francs. Don Manuel de Cuendias, the editor of Fereal's "History of the Inquisition," relates in that work that he, in 1822, paid Father Alexis forty francs for the password, Vade retro, which, on his arrival at the "Confessional, the place where a traveller might he killed without even seeing his murderers, turned four brigands, who made their appearance, into four peasants more inoffensive than lambs.

The Garduna was reorganised in South America, where it existed in 1846, in Brazil, Peru, the Argentine Republic, and Mexico, and where for a few dollars a hired assassin will rid you of an enemy.