Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn




Introduction

"Ignis ubique latet, naturam amplectitur omnem;

Cuncta parit, renovat, dividit, urit, alit."


(For a fire is hidden everywhere,

embraced by the nature of the whole;

Everything birth renews, divides, burns, nourishes)

1. Intelligibility and Nature of Secret Societies.—Secret Societies once were as necessary as open societies: the tree presupposes a root. Beside the empire of Might, the idols of fortune, the fetishes of superstition, there must in every age and state have existed a place where the empire of Might was at an end, where the idols were no longer worshipped, where the fetishes were derided. Such a place was the closet of the philosopher, the temple of the priest, the subterranean cave of the sectary.

2. Classification of Secret Societies.—Secret societies may be classed under the following heads:—

  1. Religious: such as the Egyptian or Eleusinian Mysteries
  2. Military: Knights Templars
  3. Judiciary: Vehmgerichte
  4. Scientific: Alchemists
  5. Civil: Freemasons
  6. Political: Carbonari
  7. Anti-Social: Garduna

But the line of division is not always strictly defined; some that had scientific objects combined theological dogmas therewith—as the Rosicrucians, for instance; and political societies must necessarily influence civil life. We may therefore more conveniently range secret societies in the two comprehensive divisions of religious and political.

3. Religious Societies.—Religion has had its secret societies from the most ancient times; they date, in fact, from the period when the true religious knowledge—which, be it understood, consisted in the knowledge of the constitution of the universe and the Eternal Power that had produced, and the laws that maintained it—possessed by the first men began to decay among the general mass of mankind. The genuine knowledge was to a great extent preserved in the ancient "Mysteries," though even these were already a degree removed from the first primeval native wisdom, since they represented only the type, instead of the archetype; namely, the phenomena of outward temporal Nature, instead of the realities of the inward eternal Nature, of which this visible universe is the outward manifestation. Since the definition of this now recovered genuine knowledge is necessary for understanding much that was taught in the religious societies of antiquity, we shall, further on, enter into fuller details concerning it.

4. Political Societies.—Politically, secret societies were the provident temperers and safety valves of the present and the powerful levers of the future. Without them the monologue of absolutism alone would occupy the drama of history, appearing, moreover, without an aim, and producing no effect, if it had not exercised the will of man by inducing reaction and provoking resistance.

Every secret society is an act of reflection, therefore, of conscience. For reflection, accumulated and fixed, is conscience. In so far, secret societies are in a certain manner the expression of conscience in history. For every man has in himself a Something which belongs to him, and which yet seems as if it were not a thing within him, but, so to speak, without him. This obscure Something is stronger than he, and he cannot rebel against its dominion nor withdraw himself, or fly, from its search. This part of us is intangible; the assassin's steel, the executioner's axe cannot reach it; allurements cannot seduce, prayers cannot soften, threats cannot terrify it. It creates in us a dualism, which makes itself felt as remorse. When man is virtuous, he feels himself one, at peace with himself; that obscure Something does neither oppress nor torture him: just as in physical nature the powers of man's body, when working in harmony, are unfelt (ii); but when his actions are evil, his better part rebels.

Now secret societies are the expression of this dualism reproduced on a grand scale in nations; they are that obscure Something of politics acting in the public conscience, and producing a remorse, which shows itself as "secret society," an avenging and purifying remorse. It regenerates through death, and brings forth light through fire, out of darkness, according to eternal laws. No one discerns it, yet every man may feel it. It may be compared to an invisible star, whose light, however, reaches us; to the heat coming from a region where no human foot will ever be placed, but which we feel, and can demonstrate with the thermometer.

Indeed, one of the most obvious sentiments that gives rise to secret societies is that of revenge, but good and wise revenge, different from personal rancour, unknown, where popular interests are in question; that desires to punish institutions and not individuals, to strike ideas and not men—the grand collective revenge, the inheritance that fathers transmit to their children, a pious legacy of love, that sanctifies hatred and enlarges the responsibility and character of man. For there is a legitimate and necessary hatred, that of evil, which forms the salvation of nations. Woe to the people that knows not how to hate, because intolerance, hypocrisy, superstition, slavery are evil!

5. Aims of Political Societies.—The aim of the sectaries is the erection of the ideal temple of progress; to fecundate in the bosom of sleeping or enslaved peoples the germs of a future liberty, as the Nihilists are now doing in Russia. This glorious edifice, it is true, is not yet finished, and perhaps never will be; but the attempt itself invests secret societies with a moral grandeur; whereas, without such aim, their struggle would be debased into a paltry egotistical party-fight. It also explains and justifies the existence of secret societies. And to them many states owe not only their liberties, but their very existence. As modern instances, I may mention Greece and Italy.

6. Religious Secret Societies.—But the earliest secret societies were not formed for political, so much as for religious purposes, embracing every art and science; wherefore religion has truly been called the arohaaology of human knowledge. Comparative mythology reduces all the apparently contradictory and opposite creeds to one primeval, fundamental, and true comprehension of Nature and her laws; all the metamorphoses of one or more gods, recorded in the sacred books of the Hindoos, Parsees, Egyptians, and of other nations, are indeed founded on simple physical facts, disfigured and misrepresented, intentionally or accidentally. The true comprehension of Nature was the prerogative of the most highly developed of all races of men (10), viz., the Aryan races, whose seat was on the highest point of the mountain region of Asia, to the north of the Himalayas. South of these lies the Vale of Cashmere, whose eternal spring, wonderful wealth of vegetation, and general natural features, best adapt it to represent the earthly paradise and the blissful residence of the most highly favoured human beings.

7. Most perfect human Type.—So highly favoured, precisely because Nature in so favoured a spot could only develop in course of time a superior type; which being, as it were, the quintessence of that copions Nature, was one with it, and therefore able to apprehend it and its fulness. For as the powers of Nature have brought forth plants and animals of different degrees of development and perfection, so they have produced various types of men in various stages of development; the most perfect being, as already mentioned, the Aryan or Caucasian type, the only one that has a history, and the one that deserves our attention when inquiring into the mental history of mankind. For even where the Caucasian comes in contact and intermingles with a dark race, as in India and Egypt, it is the white man with whom the higher and historical development begins.

8. Causes of high Mental Development.—I have already intimated that climatic and other outward circumstances are favourable to high development. This is universally known to be true of plants; but man is only a plant endowed with consciousness and mobility, and therefore it must be true of him; and, in fact, experience proves it. The organs, and especially the brain of the Caucasian, attain to the highest perfection, and therefore he is most fully able to apprehend Nature and understand its working.

As to how long it took man to arrive at a high state of mental development, it is sheer waste of time and ingenuity to speculate about—how long did it take the spider to learn how to construct his web so skilfully?—as it is a vain attempt to discover the time of man's first appearance and condition on earth; even the stale cabbage of protoplasm, warmed up by Darwin, will not help us to solve the riddle. The only certainty we have from monumental and quasiliterary remains, is that many thousand years ago man possessed high scientific knowledge, which, originally arisen in the East, gradually travelled westward, and on the journey to a great extent was lost. It may seem strange that such knowledge should be lost; but as we have a striking instance of such loss in historic times, the strange phenomenon becomes credible. What succeeded the splendours of classic erudition, science and art, but the mental night known as the Dark Ages!—the outcome of priestly prejudice, oppression, and obscurantism. It will suffice to quote one fact in support of our argument. Thousands of years before our era the Chaldeans were acquainted with the roundness of the earth, and that its extent from east to west was greater than that from north to south; they also knew its circumference, which they fixed by saying that a man, if he walked steadily on, could go round it in one year of 365 days. Now, reckoning the circumferenoe at 24,900 miles, it is easily seen that a man, walking at about three miles an hour, would perform the journey within very little of a year. What had become of this knowledge when the learned (?) friars, disputing at Salamanca with Columbus, maintained the earth to be flat?

I have lying before me a map of Africa, printed in 1642 (in Blaew's Noims Atlas), in which the lakes in the interior of that continent, together with its rivers, towns, and villages, which are supposed to have been discovered in this century only, are accurately laid down—how came this knowledge, more than 250 years old, to be lost? But lost it was, for on maps issued in the early part of this century the interior of Africa is a blank.

Therefore I am justified in saying that in prehistoric times man possessed a true knowledge of Nature and her workings, and that this is the reason why the mysteries of the most distant nations had so much in common, dogmatically and internally, and why in all so much importance was attached to certain figures and ideas, and why all were funereal. The sanctity attributed in all ages and all countries to the number seven has not been correctly explained by any known writer; the elucidations I shall offer on this point, will show that the conformity with each other of the religious and scientific doctrines of nations far apart must be due to their transmission from one common source, though the enigmatical and mystical forms, in which this knowledge was preserved, were gradually taken for the facts themselves.

The reader will now see that these remarks, the object of which he may not have perceived at first, are not irrelevant; we cannot understand the origin and meaning of what was taught in the mysteries without a clear apprehension of man's primitive culture and knowledge.

9. Primitive Culture.—As a rule, prehistoric ages seem obscure, and men fancy, that, at every retrogressive step, they must enter into greater darkness. But if we proceed with our eyes open, the darkness recedes like the horizon, as we seem to approach it; new light is added to our light, new suns are lit up, new auroras arise before us; the darkness, which is only light compacted, is dissolved into its original, viz., light; and as outwardness implies multiplicity, and inwardness unity—there are many branches, but only one root—so all religious creeds, even those most disguised in absurd and debasing rites and superstitions, the nearer we trace them to their source, appear in greater and greater purity and nobility, with more exalted views, doctrines, and aims. For as Tegner says—

"... kiinslan's grundton ar and densamma."

(The fundamental tone of feeling is ever the same.)

And as the same poet expresses it, antiquity is

". . . det Atlantis som gick under

Med hogre kraft, med adlare begar."

(. . . That Atlantis that perished

With higher powers and nobler aims.)

Thus the ethic codes of Buddha and Zoroaster have been regarded as anticipations of the teaching of Christianity; so that even St. Augustin remarked: "What is now called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and was not absent from the beginning of the human race until Christ came, from which time the true religion, which existed already, began to be called Christian."

Again, through all the more elevated creeds there ran certain fundamental ideas which, differing and even sometimes distorted in form, may yet in a certain sense be regarded as common to all. Sych were the belief in a Trinity; the dogma that the "Logos," or omnific Word, created all things by making the Nothing manifest; the worship of light; the doctrine of regeneration by passing through the fire, and others.

10. The true Doctrines of Nature and Being.—But what was the knowledge on which the teaching of the mysteries was founded? It was no less than that of the ground and geniture of all things; the whole state, the rise, the workings, and the progress of all Nature (16), together with the unity that pervades heaven and earth. A few years ago this was proclaimed with great sound of trumpets as a new discovery, although so ancient an author as Homer speaks, in the 8th book of the "Iliad," of the golden chain connecting heaven and earth; the golden chain of sympathy, the occult, all-pervading, all-uniting influence, called by a variety of names, such as anima mundi, mercurius philosophorum, Jacob's ladder, the vital magnetic series, the magician's fire, etc. This knowledge, in course of time, and through man's love of change, was gradually distorted by perverse interpretations, and overlaid or embroidered, as it were, with fanciful creations of man's own brain; and thus arose superstitions systems, which became the creed of the unthinking crowd, and have not lost their hold on the public mind, even to this day keeping in spiritual thraldom myriads who tremble at a thousand phantoms conjured up by priestcraft and their own ignorance, whilst

"Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causae;

Atque metus omnes et inexorabile fatum

Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari."

11. Fundamental Principles of true Knowledge possessed hy the Ancients.—From what was taught in the mysteries, we are justified in believing that thousands of years ago men knew what follows; though the knowledge is already dimmed and perverted in the mysteries, the phenomena of outward Nature only being presented in them, instead of the inward spiritual truths symbolised.

(i.) All around us we behold the evidences of a life permeating all things; we must needs, therefore, admit that there is a universal, all-powerful, all-sustaining life.

(ii.) Behind or above the primeval life which is the basis of this system may be behold the "Unmoved Mover," the only supernatural ens, who, by the Word, or "Logos," has spoken forth all things out of himself; which does not imply any pantheism, for the words of the speaker, though proceeding from him, are not the speaker himself.

(iii.) The universal life is eternal.

(iv.) Matter is eternal, for matter is the garment in which the life clothes and renders itself manifest.

(v.) That matter is light, for the darkest substance is, or can be, reduced into it.

(vi.) Whatsoever is outwardly manifest must have existed ideally, from all eternity, in an archetypal figure, reflected in what Indian mythology calls the Eternal Liberty, the mirror Maja, whence are derived the terms "magus," "magia," "magic," "image," "imagination," all implying the fixing of the primeval, structureless, imperceptible, living matter, in a form, figure, or creature. In modern theosophy, the mirror Maja is called the Eternal Mirror of Wonders, the Virgin Sophia, ever bringing forth, yet ever a virgin—the analogue and prototype of the Virgin Mary.

(vii.) The eternal life which thus manifests itself in this visible universe is ruled by the same laws that rule the invisible world of forces.

(viii.) These laws, accordiiig to which the life manifests itself, are the seven properties of eternal Nature, six working properties, and the seventh, in which the six, as it were, rest, or are combined into perfect balance or harmony, i.e., paradise. These seven properties, the foundation of all the septenary numbers running through natural phenomena and all ancient and modern knowledge, are: (1) Attraction; (2) Reaction or Repulsion; (3) Circulation; (4) Fire; (5) Light; (6) Sound; (7) Body, or comprisal of all.

(ix.) This septenary is divisible into two ternaries or poles, with the fire (symbolised by a cross) in the middle. These two poles constitute the eternal dualism or antagonism in Nature—the first three forming matter or darkness, and producing pain and anguish, i,e,, hell, cosmically winter; the last three being filled with light and delight, i.e., paradise, cosmically summer.

(x.) The fire is the great chymist, or purifier and transmuter of Nature, turning darkness into light. Hence the excessive veneration and universal worship paid to it by ancient nations, the priests of Zoroaster wearing a veil over their mouths for fear of polluting the fire with their breath. By the fire here, of course, is meant the empyrean, electric fire, whose existence and nature were tolerably well known to the ancients. They distinguished the moving principle from the thing moved, and called the former the igneous ether or spirit, the principle of life, the Deity, You-piter, Vulcan, Phtha, Kneph (18, 24).

(xi.) All light is born out of darkness, and must pass through the fire to manifest itself; there is no other way but through darkness, or death, or hell—an idea which we find enunciated and represented in all the mysteries. As little as a plant can come forth into the beauty of blossoms, leaves, and fruit, without having passed through the dark state of the seed and being buried in the earth, where it is chymically transmuted by the fire; so little can the mind arrive at the fulness of knowledge and enlightenment without having passed through a stage of self-darkening and imprisonment, in which it suffered torment, anguish—in which it was as in a furnace, in the throes of generation.

12. Key to Mystic Teaching.—That the first men possessed the knowledge of the foregoing facts is certain, not only from the positive and inferential teachings of the mysteries, but also from the monuments of antiquity, which in grandeur of conception and singleness of ideal aim, excel all that modern art or industry, or even faith, has accomplished. By bearing this in mind, the reader will get a deeper insight into the true meaning of the dogmas of initiation than was attainable by the epopts themselves. He will also understand that the reason why there was so much uniformity in the teaching of the mysteries was the fact that the dogmas enunciated were explanations of universal natural phenomena, alike in all parts of the earth. In describing the ceremonies of initiation, I shall therefore abstain from appending to them a commentary or exegesis, but simply refer to the paragraphs of this introduction, as to a key.

13. Mystic Teaching summarised.—It was theological, moral, and scientific. Theologically, the initiated were shown the error of vulgar polytheism, and taught the doctrine of the Unity and of a future state of reward and punishment; morally, the precepts were summed up in the words of Confucius: "If thou be doubtful whether an action be right or wrong, abstain from it altogether;" scientifically, the principles were such as we have detailed above (11), with their natural and necessary deductions, consequences, and results.

14. How true Knowledge came to he lost.—Though I have already on several occasions (e.g. 10) alluded to the fact that the true knowledge of Nature possessed by the first men had in course of time become corrupted and intermixed with error, it will not be amiss to show the process by which this came to pass. It is well known that the oldest religious rites of which we have any written records were Sabaean or Helio-Arkite. The sun, moon, and stars, however, to the true original epopts were merely the outward manifestations and symbols of the inward powers of the Eternal Life. But such abstract truths could not be rendered intelligible to the vulgar mind of the multitude, necessarily more occupied with the satisfaction of material wants; and hence arose the personification of the heavenly bodies and terrestrial seasons depending on them.

Gradually the human figure, which in the first instance had only been a symbol, came to be looked upon as the representation of an individual being, that had actually lived on earth. Thus, the sun, to the primitive men, was the outward manifestation of the Eternal, all-sustaining, all-saving Life; in different countries and ages this power was personified under the names of Chrisna, Fo, Osiris, Hermes, Hercules, and so on; and eventually these latter were supposed to have been men that really existed, and had been deified on account of the benefits they had conferred on mankind.

The tombs of these supposed gods were shown, such as the Great Pyramid, said to be the tomb of Osiris; feasts were celebrated, the object of which seemed to be to renew every year the grief occasioned by their loss. The passing of the sun through the signs of the zodiac gave rise to the myths of the incantations of Vishnu, the labours of Hercules, etc., his apparent loss of power during the winter season, and the restoration thereof at the winter solstice, to the story of the death, descent into hell, and resurrection of Osiris and of Mithras. In fact, what was pure Nature-wisdom in one age became mythology in the next, and romance in the third, taking its characteristics from the country where it prevailed. The number seven being found everywhere, and the knowledge that its prevalence was the necessary consequence of the seven properties of Nature being lost, it was supposed to have reference only to the seven planets then known.

15. Original Spirit of the Mysteries, and Results of their Decay.—In the mysteries all was astronomical, but a deeper meaning lay hid under the astronomical symbols. While bewailing the loss of the sun, the epopts were in reality mourning the loss of that light whose influence is life; whilst the working of the elements, according to the laws of elective a ffinity, produces only phenomena of decay and death.

The initiated strove to pass from under the dominion of the bond-woman Night into the glorious liberty of the freewoman Sophia or Light; to be mentally absorbed into the Deity, i.e., into the Light. The dogmas of ancient Nature wisdom were set before the pupil, but their understanding had to arise as inspiration in his soul. It was not the dead body of science that was surrendered to the epopt, leaving it to chance whether it quickened or not, but the living spirit itself was infused into him. But for this reason, because more had to be apprehended from within by inspiration, than from without, by oral instruction, the mysteries gradually decayed; the ideal yielded to the realistic, and the merely physical elements—Sabaeism and Arkism—became their leading features.

The frequent emblems and mementos in the sanctuary of death and resurrection, pointing to the mystery that the moments of highest psychical enjoyment are the most destructive to bodily existence—i.e., that the most intense delight is a glimpse of paradise—these emblems and mementos eventually were applied to outward Nature only, and their misapprehension led to all the creeds or superstitions that have filled the earth with crime and woe, sanguinary wars, internecine cruelty, and persecution of every kind. Bloodthirsty fanatics, disputing about words whose meaning they did not understand, maintaining antagonistic dogmas, false on both sides, have invented the most fiendish tortures to compel their opponents to adopt their own views.

While the two Mahommedan sects of Omar and Ali will fight each other to decide whether ablution ought to commence at the wrist or the elbow, they will unite to slay or to convert the Christians. Nay, even these latter, divided into sects without number, have distinguished themselves by persecutions as cruel as any ever practised by so-called pagan nations. Not satisfied with attempting to exterminate by fire and sword Turks and Jews, one Christian sect established such a tribunal as the Inquisition; whilst its opponents, scarcely less cruel, when they had the power, deprived the Roman Catholics of their civil rights, and occasionally executed them.

Their mutual hatred even attends them in their missionary efforts—very poor in their results, in spite of the sensational reports, manufactured by the societies at home, for extracting money from the public. To mention but one instance: a leading missionary endeavoured to prejudice the Polynesians in advance against some expected Roman Catholic missionaries by translating Foxe*s "Book of Martyrs" into their language, and illustrating its scenes by the aid of a magic-lantern.

16. The Mysteries under their Astronomical Aspect.—But seeing that the mysteries, as they have come down to us, and are still perpetuated, in a corrupted and aimless manner, in Freemasonry, have chiefly an astronomical bearing, a few general remarks on the leading principles of all will save a deal of needless repetition in describing them separately.

In the most ancient Indian creed we have the story of the fall of mankind by tasting of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and their consequent expulsion from Paradise. This allegory was taken by the ignorant Jews for a record of actual occurrences, and as such interpolated in Genesis, about 900 years after the composition of that book, and after all the other books of the Old Testament had been written, whence it becomes plain why, contrary to all expectation, the Fall of Man is never once alluded to in those books. Read in its mysterious and astronomical aspect, the narrative of the Fall, as given in the Book of Genesis, would assume some such form as the following:—Adam, which does not mean an individual, but the universal man, mankind, and his companion, Eve, which means life, having passed spring and summer in the Garden of Eden, necessarily reached the season when the serpent, Typhon (51), the symbol of winter, points out on the celestial sphere that the reign of Evil, of winter, is approaching. Allegorical science, which insinuated itself everywhere, caused $$malum##, "evil," also to mean an "apple," the produce of autumn, which indicates that the harvest is over, and that man in the sweat of his brow must again till the earth. The cold season comes, and he must cover himself with the allegorical fig-leaf.

The sphere revolves, the man of the constellation Bootes, the same as Adam, preceded by the woman, the Virgin, carrying in her hand the autumnal branch laden with fruit, seems to be allured or beguiled by her. A look at a celestial globe will render this quite plain. A sacred bough or plant is introduced into all the mysteries. We have the Indian and Egyptian lotus, the fig-tree of Atys, the myrtle of Venus, the mistletoe of the Druids, the golden bough of Virgil, the rose-tree of Isis;—in the "Golden Ass" Apuleius is restored to his natural form by eating roses—the box of Palm-Sunday, and the acacia of Freemasonry. The bough in the opera "Roberto il Diavolo" is the mystic bough of the mysteries.

17. Astronomical Aspects continued—The Mysteries fanereal.—In all the mysteries we encounter a god, a superior being, or an extraordinary man, suffering death, to recommence a more glorious existence; everywhere the remembrance of a grand and mournful event plunges the nations into grief and mourning, immediately followed by the most lively joy. Osiris is slain by Typhon, Uranus by Saturn, Sousarman by Sudra, Adonis by a wild boar; Ormuzd is conquered by Ahrimanes; Atys and Mithras and Hercules kill themselves; Abel is slain by Cain, Balder by Loke, Bocchus by the giants; the Assyrians mourn the death of Thammuz, the Scythians and Phoenicians that of Acmon, all Nature that of the great Pan, the Freemasons that of Hiram, and so on. The origin of this universal belief has already been pointed out.

18. Uniformity of Dogmas.—The doctrine of the Unity and Trinity was inculcated in all the mysteries. In the most ancient religious creeds we meet with the prototype of the Christian dogma, in which a virgin is seen bringing forth a saviour, and yet ever remaining a virgin (ii). In the more outward sense, that virgin is the Virgo of the zodiac, and the savior brought forth is the sun (17); in the most inward sense, it is the eternal ideal, wherein the eternal life and intelligence, the power of electricity, and the virtue of the tincture, the first the sustainer, the latter the beautifier of apprehensible existence, are, as it were, corporified in the countless creatures that fill this universe—yea, in the universe itself. And the virgin remains a virgin, and her own nature is not affected by it, just as the air brings forth sounds, the light colours, the mind ideas, without any of them being intrinsically altered by the production. We certainly do not find these principles so fully and distinctly enunciated in the teaching of the ancient mystagogues, but a primitive knowledge of them may be inferred from what they did teach.

In all the mysteries, light was represented as born out of darkness. Thus reappears the Deity called now Maja Bhawani, now Kali, Isis, Ceres, Proserpina; Persephone, the Queen of Heaven, is the night from whose bosom issues life, into which the life returns, a secret reunion of life and death. She is, moreover, called the Rosy, and in the German myths the Rosy is called the restoring principle of life. She is not only the night, but, as mother of the sun, she is also the aurora, behind whom the stars are shining. When she symbolises the earth as Ceres, she is represented with ears of corn. Like the sad Proserpina, she is beautiful and lustrous, but also melancholy and black. Thus she joins night with day, joy with sadness, the sun with the moon, heat with humidity, the divine with the human. The ancient Egyptians often represented the Deity by a black stone, and the black stone Kabbah, worshipped by the Arabs, and which is described as having originally been whiter than snow, and more brilliant than the sun, embodies the same idea, with the additional hint that light was anterior to darkness.

In all the mysteries we meet with the cross (53) as a symbol of purification and salvation; the numbers three, four, and seven were sacred; in most of the mythologies we meet with two pillars; mystic banquets were common to all, as also the trials by fire, water, and air; the circle and triangle, single and double, everywhere represented the dualism or polarity of Nature; in all the initiations, the aspirant represented the good principle, the light, overcome by evil, the darkness; and his task was to regain his former supremacy, to be born again or regenerated, by passing through death and hell and their terrors, that were scenically enacted during the neophyte's passage through seven caves, or ascent of seven steps.

All this, in its deepest meaning, represented the eternal struggle of light to free itself from the encumbrance of materiality it has put on in its passage through the first three properties of eternal Nature (11); and in its secondary meaning, when the deeper one was lost to mankind, the progress of the sun through the seven signs of the zodiac, from Aries to Libra, as shown in Royal Arch Masonry, and also in the ladder with seven eteps of the Knight of Kadosh. In all the mysteries the officers were the same, and personified astronomical or cosmical phenomena; in all, the initiated recognised each other by signs and passwords; in all, the conditions for initiation were the same—maturity of age, and purity of conduct.

Nero, on this account, did not dare, when in Greece, to offer himself as a candidate for initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries. In many, the chief hierophant was compelled to lead a retired life of perpetual celibacy, that he might be entirely at liberty to devote himself to the study and contemplation of celestial things. And to accomplish this abstraction, it was customary for the priests, in the earlier periods of their history, to mortify the flesh by the use of certain herbs, which were reputed to possess the virtue of repelling all passionate excitements; to guard against which they even occasionally adopted severer and more decided precautions. In all countries where mysteries existed, initiation came to be looked upon as much a necessity as afterwards baptism amoug Christians; which ceremony, indeed, is one that had been practised in all the mysteries.

The initiated were called epopts, i.e., those that see things as they are; whilst before they were called "mystes," meaning quite the contrary. In all we find greater and less mysteries, an exoteric and an esoteric doctrine, and three degrees. To betray the mysteries was everywhere considered infamous, and the heaviest penalties were attached to it; hence also, in all initiations, the candidate had to take the most terrible oaths that he would keep the secrets entrusted to him. Alcibiades was banished and consigned to the Furies for having revealed the mysteries of Ceres; Prometheus, Tantalus, Oedipus, Orpheus, suffered various punishments for the same reason.

19. Most Ancient Secret Society.—The very contents of this work show that the records of ancient secret societies have come down to us in pretty full detail; yet on looking at a map of the ancient world we are struck by a fact, which can only be explained by assuming the existence, at a remote period, of a secret society of which no record, except the one stipplied by the map, exists. This secret society, whose existence, it is true, can be proved inferentially only, must have been that of Benjamin and his ten sons. We know from Gen. xlvii. that Joseph delegated to the Benjaminites the keeping of all the cattle of Egypt, which conferred on them vast powers their warlike spirit knew how to utilise for their own aggrandisement. And that they must have acted in concert is proved, inferentially as stated above, by the names of European and other countries. The proof is founded on etymology; this science is not always reliable, when we have only one or two roots to guide us, but when we come to five or more, a suspicion of mere coincidence must be dismissed from the mind. The subjoined names of Benjamin and his ten sons, together with those of the countries or localities named after them, will make the matter clear:—

Benjamin or Benymn Pannonia (ancient Austria)
Geras Greece
Achi Acnaia
Adeiel Italy
Apphein Apennines
Adar Etruria
Saophein Spain
Adam Numidia
Bacher Picardy
Bela Poland
Bos Bussia

That all these countries should have Benjaminite names proves an identity of purpose at some long-past period; and as no Benjaminite sovereignty has ever been proclaimed over Europe, it is clear that the above result must have been brought about by a powerful secret society, the leaders of which were Benjamin and his ten sons. And to carry out their scheme, and to do so without the kings and politicians, not associated with them, detecting its origin, they must have had signs and passwords known only to the initiated. It is indisputable that pneuma, the Greek word for spirit or ghost, is derived from Benymn or Benjamin, as Christ is derived from Geras; hence Christ is said to have been begotten by the Holy Ghost.

20. Secret Societies no longer needed.—Thanks to secret societies themselves, they are now no longer needed, at least not in the realms of thought. In politics, however, circumstances will arise in every age to call them into existence.; and though they seldom attain their direct object, yet are they not without influence on the relations between ruler and ruled, advantageously for the latter in the long run, though not immediately. But thought—religious, philosophical and political—is free—if not as yet in every country, it is so certainly in the lands inhabited by the Saxon races. And though the bigot and the fool would crush it, the former because it undermines his absolutism, and the latter because it interferes with his ease, yet shall it only grow stronger by the opposition. Science becomes the powerful bulwark against the invasion of dogmatic absurdities; and there is growing up a scientific church, wherein knowledge, and not humility, labour, and not penance and fasting, are considered essentials. Various phenomena in modern life are proofs of this. Man during ages of intellectual gloom annihilated himself in behalf of the great deified All; now he studies and respects himself, destroys the fetishes, and combats for Truth, which is the true deity.

In ancient times the mind rose from religion to philosophy; in our times, by a violent reaction, it will ascend from philosophy to religion. And the men whose religion is so arrived at, whose universal sympathy has cast out fear—such men are the true regenerators of mankind, and need neither secret signs nor passwords to recognise each other; in fact, they are opposed to all such devices, because they know that liberty consists in publicity. In a despotically ruled country, as Russia, for instance, secret societies are even now the only means of stirring up the people to fight for freedom; but wherever liberty rules, secrecy is no longer necessary to effect any good and useful work; once it needed secret societies in order to triumph, now it wants open union to maintain itself. Not that the time is come when every truth may be uttered without fear of calumny and cavil and opposition, especially in religious matters; far from it, as some recent notable instances have shown. The words of Faust still have their application:

"Who dare call the child by its right name?

The few that knew something of it.

And foolishly opened their hearts.

Revealing to the vulgar crowd their views,

Were ever crucified or burnt."

Certes, bodily crucifying or burning are out of the question now, but statecraft, and especially priestcraft, still have a few thumbscrews and red-hot irons to hold a man's hands or sear his reputation; wherefore, though I doubt the policy, and in most cases the success, of secret associations, yet I cannot withhold my tribute of admiration for those who have acted or do act up to the words of the poet Lowell:

"They are slaves who dare not speak

For the fallen and the weak;

They are slaves who will not choose

Hatred, scoffing, and abuse,

Rather than in silence shrink

From the truth they needs must think;

They are slaves who dare not be

In the right with two or three."