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Mediaeval Secret Societies

The leaden tokens, or medalets, which we have already described, 71 seem to point evidently to the existence in the middle ages of secret societies or clubs connected with this obscene worship, besides the public festivals. Of these it can hardly be expected that any description would survive, but, if not the fact, the belief in it is clearly established by the eagerness with which such obscene rites were laid to the charge of most of the mediæval secret societies, whether lay clubs or religious sects, and we know that secret societies abounded in the middle ages. However willing the Romish clergy were to make profit out of the popular phallic worship, they were

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equally ready to use the belief in it as a means of exciting prejudice against any sects which the church chose to regard as religious or political heretics.

It is very evident that, in the earlier ages of the church, the conversion of the Pagans to Christianity was in a vast number of cases less than a half-conversion, and that the preachers of the gospel were satisfied by people assuming the name of Christians, without inquiring too closely into the sincerity of their change, or into their practice. We can trace in the expressions of disapproval in the writings of some of the more zealous of the ecclesiastical writers, and in the canons of the earlier councils, the alarm created by the prevalence among Christians of the old popular festivals of paganism; and the revival of those particular canons and deprecatory remarks in the ecclesiastical councils and writings of a later period of the middle ages, shows that the existence of the evil had continued unabated. There was an African council in the year 381, from which Burchardus, who compiled his condensation of ecclesiastical decrees for the use of his own time, professes to derive his provisions against "the festivals which were held with Pagan ceremonies." We are there told that, even on the most sacred of the Christian commemoration days, these rites derived from the Pagans were introduced, and that dancing was practiced

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in the open street of so infamous a character, and accompanied with such lascivious language and gestures, that the modesty of respectable females was shocked to a degree that prevented their attendance at the service in the churches on those days. It is added that these Pagan ceremonies were even carried into the churches, and that many of the clergy took part in them.

It is probable, too, that when Paganism itself had become in offence against the state, and those who continued attached to it were exposed to persecution, they embraced the name of Christians as a cover for the grossest superstitions, and formed sects who practised the rites of Paganism in their secret conventicles, but were placed by the church among the Christian heresies. In some of these, especially among those of an early date, the obscene rites and principles of the phallic worship seem to have entered largely, for, though their opponents probably exaggerated the actual vice carried on under their name, yet much of it must have had an existence in truth. It was a mixture of the licence of the vulgar Paganism of antiquity with the wild doctrines of the latter eastern philosophers. The older orthodox writers dwell on the details of these libidinous rites. Among the earliest in date were the Adamiani, or Adamites, who proscribed marriage, and held that the most perfect

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innocence was consistent only with the community of women. The chose latibula, or caverns, for their conventicles, at which both sexes assembled together in perfect nakedness. This sect perhaps continued to exist under different forms, but it was revived among the intellectual vagaries of the fifteenth century, and continued at least to be much talked of till the seventeenth. The doctrine of the (one line missing--JBH) sexual intercourse in their meetings, were ascribed by the early Christian controversialists to several sects, such as the followers of Florian, and of Carpocratian, who were accused of putting out the lamps in their churches at the end of the evening service, and indulging in sexual intercourse indiscriminately; the Nicolaitæ, who held their wives in common; the Ebionei; and especially the Gnostics, or followers of Basilides, and the Manichæans. The Nicolaites held that the only way to salvation lay through frequent intercourse between the sexes. 72 Epiphanius speaks of a sect who sacrificed a child in their secret rites by pricking it with brazen pins, and then offering its blood. 73 The Gnostics were accused of eating human flesh as well as of lasciviousness, and they also are said to have held their women in

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common, and taught that it was a duty to prostitute their wives to their guests. 74 They knew their fellow sectarians by a secret sign, which consisted in tickling the palm of the hand with the finger in a peculiar manner. The sign having been recognized, mutual confidence was established, and the stranger was invited to supper; after they had eaten their fill, the husband removed from the side of his wife, and said to her, "Go, exhibit charity to our guest," which was the signal for those further scenes of hospitality. This account is given us by St. Epiphanius, bishop of Constantia. We are told further of rites practiced by the Gnostics, which were still more disgusting, for they were said, after these libidinous scenes, to offer and administer the semen virile as their sacrament. 75 A similar practice is described as existing among women in the middle ages for the purpose of securing the love of their husbands, and was perhaps derived from the Gnostics and Manichæans, whose doctrines, brought from the East, appear to have spread themselves extensively into Western Europe.

Of these doctrines, however, we have no traces at

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least until the eleventh century, when a great intellectual agitation began in Western Europe, which brought to the surface of society a multitude of strange creeds and strange theories. The popular worship displayed in the great annual festivals, and the equally popular local fêtes, urban or rural, were hardly interfered with, or any secret societies belonging to the old worship; the mediæval church did not consider them as heresies, and let them alone. Thus, except now and then a provision of some ecclesiastical council expressed in general terms against superstitions, which was hardly heard at the time and not listened to, they are passed over in silence. But the moment anything under the name of heresy raised its head, the alarm was great. Gnosticism and Manichæism, which had indeed been identical, were the heresies most hated in the Eastern empire, and, as may be supposed, most persecuted; and this persecution was destined to drive them westward. In the seventh century they became modified into a sect which took the name of Paulicians, it is said, from an Armenian enthusiast named Paulus, and they seem to have still further provoked the hatred of the church by making themselves, in their own interests, the advocates of freedom of thought and of ecclesiastical reform. If history be to be believed, their Christian feelings cannot have been very strong, for,

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unable to resist persecution within the empire, they retired into the territory held by the Saracens, and united with the enemies of the Cross in making war upon the Christian Greeks. Others sought refuge in the country of the Bulgarians, who had very generally embraced their doctrines, which soon spread thence westward. In their progress through Germany to France they were known best as Bulgarians, from the name of the country whence they came; in their way through Italy they retained their name of Paulicians, corrupted in the Latin of that period of the middle ages into Populicani, Poplicani, Publicani, &c; and, in French, into Popelican, Poblican, Policien, and various other forms which it is unnecessary to enumerate. They began to cause alarm in France at the beginning of the eleventh century, in the reign of king Robert, when, under the name of Popelicans, they had established themselves in the diocese of Orleans, in which city a council was held against them in 1022, and thirteen individuals were condemned to be burnt. The name appears to have lasted into the thirteenth century, but the name of Bulgarians became more permanent, and, in its French form of Bolgres, Bougres, or Bogres, became the popular name for heretics in general. With these heresies, through the more sensual parts of Gnosticism and Manichæism, there appears to be left hardly room for

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doubt that the ancient phallic worship, probably somewhat modified, and under the shadow of secret rites, was imported into Western Europe; for, if we make allowance for the willing exaggerations of religious hatred, and consequent popular prejudice, the general conviction that these sectarians had rites and practices of a licentious character appears too strong to be entirely disregarded, nor does it present anything contrary to what we know of the state of mediæval society, or to the facts which have already been brought forward in the present essay. These early sects appear to have professed doctrines rather closely resembling modern communism, including, like those of their earlier sectarian predecessors, the community of women; and this community naturally implies the abolition of distinctive affinities. One of the writers against the mediæval heretics assures us that there were "many professed Christians, both men and women, who feared no more to go to their sister, or son or daughter, or brother, or nephew or niece, or kin or relation, than to their own wife or husband." They were accused, beyond this, of indulging in unnatural vices, and this charge was so generally believed, that the name of Bulgarus, or heretic, became equivalent with Sodomite, and hence came the modern French word bougre, and its English representatives.

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In the course of the eleventh century the sectarians appeared in Italy under the name of Patarini, Paterini, or Patrini, which is said to have been taken from an old quarter of the city of Milan named Pataria, in which they first held their assemblies. A contemporary Englishman, Walter Mapes, gives us a singular account of the Paterini and their secret rites. Some apostates from this heresy, he tells us, had related that, at the first watch of night, they met in their synagogues, closed carefully the doors and windows, and waited in silence, until a black cat of extraordinary bigness descended among them by a rope, and that, as soon as they saw this strange animal, they put out the lights, and muttering through their teeth instead of singing their hymns, felt their way to this object of their worship, and kissed it, according to their feelings of humility or pride, some on the feet, some under the tail, and others on the genitals, after which each seized upon the nearest person of a different sex, and had carnal intercourse as long as he was able. Their leaders taught them that the most perfect degree of charity was "to do or suffer in this manner whatever a brother or sister might desire and ask," and hence, says Mapes, they were called Paterini, a patiendo. Other writers have suggested a different derivation, but the one first given appears to be that most generally accepted. The different sects or congregations

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in Italy and the south, indeed, appear generally to have taken their names from the towns in which they had their seats or head-quarters. Thus, those who were seated at Bagnols, in the department of the Gard, in the south of France, were called by the Latin writers Bagnolenses; the same writers give the name of Concordenses, or Concorezenses, to the heretics of Concordia in Lombardy; and the city of Albi, now the capital of the department of the Tarn, gave its name to the sect of the Albigenses, or Albigeois, the most extensive of them all, which spread over the whole of the south of France. A rich enthusiast of the city of Lyons, named Waldo, who had collected his wealth by mercantile pursuits, and who lived in the twelfth century, sold his property and distributed it among the poor, and he became the head of a sect which possessed poverty as one of its tenets, and received from the name of its founder that of Waldenses or Vaudois. From their possession of voluntary poverty they are sometimes spoken of by the name of Pauperes de Lugduno, the paupers of Lyons. Contemporaries speak of the Waldenses as being generally poor ignorant people; yet they spread widely over that part of France and into the valleys of Switzerland, and became so celebrated, that at last nearly all the mediæval heretics were usually classed under the head of Waldenses. Another sect,

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usually classed with the Waldenses, were called Cathari. The Novatians, a sect which sprang up in the church in the third century, assumed also the name of Cathari, as laying claim to extraordinary purity (καθαροι), but there is no reason for believing that the ancient sect was revived in the Cathari of the later period, or even that the two words are identical. The name of the latter sect is often spelt Gazari, Gazeri, Gaçari, and Chazari; and, as they were more especially a German sect, it is supposed to have been the origin of the German words Ketzer and Ketzerie, which became the common German terms for a heretic and heresy. It was suggested by Henschenius that this name was derived from the German Katze or Ketze, a cat, in allusion to the common report that they assembled at night like cats, or ghosts; or the cat may have been an allusion to the belief that in their secret meetings they worshipped that animal. This sect must have been very ignorant and superstitious if it be true which some old writers tell us, that they believed that the sun was a demon, and the moon a female called Heva, and that these two had sexual intercourse every month. 76 Like the other heretical sects, these Cathari were accused of indulging in unnatural vices,

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and the German words Ketzerie and Ketzer were eventually used to signify sodomy and a sodomite, as well as heresy and a heretic.

The Waldenses generally, taking all the sects which people class under this name, including also the older Bulgari and Publicani, were charged with holding secret meetings, at which the devil appeared to them in the shape, according to some, of a goat, whom they worshipped by offering the kiss in ano, after which they indulged in promiscuous sexual intercourse. Some believed that they were conveyed to these meetings by unearthly means. The English chronicler, Ralph de Coggeshall, tells a strange story of the means of locomotion possessed by these heretics. In the city of Rheims, in France, in the time of St. Louis, a handsome young woman was charged with heresy, and carried before the archbishop, in whose presence she avowed her opinions, and confessed that she had received them from a certain old woman of that city. The old woman was then arrested, convicted of being an obstinate heretic, and condemned to the stake. When they were preparing to carry her out to the fire, she suddenly turned to the judges and said, "Do you think that you are able to burn me in your fire? I care neither for it nor for you!" And taking a ball of thread, she threw it out at a large window by which she was standing, holding the end of the thread in her hands, and exclaiming, "Take it!" (recipe).

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[paragraph continues] In an instant, in the sight of all who were there, the old woman was lifted from the ground, and, following the ball of thread, was carried into the air nobody knew where; and the archbishop's officers burnt the young woman in her place. 77 It was the belief of most of the old sects of this class, as well as of the more ancient Pagans from whom they were derived, that those who were fully initiated into their most secret mysteries became endowed with powers and faculties above those possessed by ordinary individuals. A list of the errors of the Waldenses, printed in the Reliquiæ Antiquæ, from an English manuscript, enumerates among them that they met to indulge in promiscuous sexual intercourse, and held perverse doctrines in accordance with it; that, in some parts, the devil appeared to them in the form of a cat, and that each kissed him under the tail; and that in other parts they rode to the place of meeting upon a staff anointed with a certain unguent, and were conveyed thither in a moment of time. The writer adds that,

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in the parts where he lived, these practices had not been known to exist for a long time. 78

Our old chroniclers exult over the small success which attended the efforts of these heretics from France and the South to introduce themselves into our island. 79 These sects, with secret and obscene rites, appear, indeed, to have found most favour among the peoples who spoke a dialect derived from the Latin, and this we might naturally be led to expect, for the fact of the preservation of the Latin tongue is itself a proof of the greater force of the Roman element in the society, that from which these secret rites appear to have been chiefly derived. It is a curious circumstance, in connection with this subject, that the popular oaths and exclamations among the people speaking the languages derived from the Romans are almost all composed of the names of the objects of this phallic worship, an entire contrast to the practice of the Teutonic tribes--the vulgar oaths of the people speaking Neo-Latin dialects are obscene, those of the German race are profane. We have seen how the women of Antwerp, who, though perhaps they did not speak the Roman dialect, appear to have been much influenced by Roman sentiments, made their

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appeal to their genius Ters. When a Spaniard is irritated or suddenly excited, he exclaims, Carajo! (the virile member) or Cojones! (the testicles). An Italian, under similar circumstances, uses the exclamation Cazzo! (the virile member). The Frenchman apostrophizes the act, Foutre! The female member, cono with the Spaniard, conno with the Italian, and con with the Frenchman, was and is used more generally as an expression of contempt, which is also the case with the testicles, couillons, in French--those who have had experience in the old days of "diligence" travelling will remember how usual it was for the driver, when the horses would not go quick enough, to address the leader in such terms as, "Va, donc, vieux con!" We have no such words used in this manner in the Germanic languages, with the exception, perhaps, of the German Potz! and Potztausend! and the English equivalent, Pox! which last is gone quite out of use. There was an attempt among the fashionables of our Elizabethan age of literature, to introduce the Italian cazzo under the form of catso, and the French foutre under that of foutra, but these were mere affectations of a moment, and were so little in accord with our national sentiments that they soon disappeared.

The earliest accounts of a sect which held secret meetings for celebrating obscene rites is found in

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[paragraph continues] France. It appears that, early in the eleventh century, there was in the city of Orleans a society consisting of members of both sexes, who assembled at certain times in a house there, for the purposes which are described rather fully in a document found in the cartulary of the abbey of St. Père at Chartres. As there stated, they went to the meeting, each carrying in the hand a lighted lamp, and they began by chaunting the names of demons in the manner of a litany, until a demon suddenly descended among them in the form of an animal. This was no sooner seen, than they all extinguished their lamps, and each man took the first female he put his hand upon, and had sexual intercourse with her, without regard if she were his mother, or his sister, or a consecrated nun; and this intercourse, we are told, was looked upon by them as an act of holiness and religion. The child which was the fruit of this intercourse was taken on the eighth day and purified by fire, "in the manner of the ancient Pagans,"--so says the contemporary writer of this document,--it was burnt to ashes in a large fire made for that purpose. The ashes were collected with great reverence, and preserved, to be administered to members of the society who were dying, just as good Christians received the viaticum. It is added that there was such a virtue in these ashes, that an individual who had once tasted them would

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hardly ever after be able to turn his mind from that heresy and take the path of truth.

Whatever degree of truth there may have been in this story, it must have been greatly exaggerated; but the conviction of the existence of secret societies of this character during the middle ages appears to have been so strong and so generally held, that we must hesitate in rejecting it. Perhaps we may take the leaden tokens already described, and represented in one of our plates, 80 as evidence of the existence of such societies, for these curious objects appear to admit of no other satisfactory explanation than that of having been in use in secret clubs of a very impure character.

It has been already remarked that people soon seized upon accusations of this kind as excuses for persecution, religious and political, and we meet with a curious example in the earlier half of the thirteenth century. The district of Steding, in the north of Germany, now known as Oldenburg, was at the beginning of the thirteenth century inhabited by a people who lived in sturdy independence, but the archbishops of Bremen seem to have claimed some sort of feudal superiority over them, which they resisted by force. The archbishop, in revenge, declared them

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heretics, and proclaimed a crusade against them. Crusades against heretics were then in fashion, for it was just at the time of the great war against the Albigeois. The Stedingers maintained their independence successfully for some years. In 1232 and 1233, the pope issued two bulls against the offending Stedingers, in both of which he charges them with various heathen and magical practices, but in the second be enters more fully into details. These Stedingers, the pope (Gregory IX.) tells us, performed the following ceremonies at the initiation of a new convert into their sect. When the novice was introduced, a toad presented itself, which all who were present kissed, some on the posteriors, and others on the mouth, when they drew its tongue and spittle into their own mouths. Sometimes this toad appeared of only the natural size, but sometimes it was as big as a goose or duck, and often its size was that of an oven. As the novice proceeded, he encountered a man who was extraordinarily pale, with large black eyes, and whose body was so wasted that his flesh seemed to be all gone, leaving nothing but the skin hanging on his bones. The novice kissed this personage, and found him as cold as ice; and after this kiss all traces of the Catholic faith vanished from his heart. Then they all sat down to a banquet; and when this was over, there stepped out of a statue,

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which stood in their place of meeting, a black cat, as large as a moderate sized dog, which advanced backwards to them, with its tail turned up. The novice first, then the master, and then all the others in their turns, kissed the cat under the tail, and then returned to their places, where they remained in silence, with their heads inclined towards the cat. Then the master suddenly pronounced the words "Spare us!" which he addressed to the next in order; and the third answered, "We know it, lord;" and a fourth added, "We ought to obey." At the close of this ceremony the lights were extinguished, and each man took the first woman who came to hand, and had carnal intercourse with her. When this was over, the candles were again lighted, and the performers resumed their places. Then out of a dark corner of the room came a man, the upper part of whom, above the loins, was bright and radiant as the sun, and illuminated the whole room, while his lower parts were rough and hairy like a cat. The master then tore off a bit of the garment of the novice, and said to the shining personage, "Master, this is given to me, and I give it again to thee." The master replied, "Thou hast served me well, and thou wilt serve me more and better; what thou hast given me I give unto thy keeping." When he had said this, the shining man vanished, and the meeting broke up.

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[paragraph continues] Such were the secret ceremonies of the Stedingers, according to the deliberate statement of Pope Gregory IX, who also charges them with offering direct worship to Lucifer. 81


104:71 See before, p. 60, and Plate IX.

107:72 Epiphanii Panarium, vol. I, p. 72.

107:73 Epiphanius, vol. i, p. 416.

108:74 On the secret worship and character of the Gnostics, see Epiphanii Panarium, vol. i, pp. 84-102.

108:75 See details on this subject In Epiphanii Panarium, ib. Conf. Prædestinati Adversus Haeres., lib. i, c. 46, where the same thing is said of the Manichæans.

114:76 Bonacursus, Vita Haereticorum, in D'Achery, Spicilegium, tom. i, p. 209. This book is considered to have been written about the year 1190.

116:77 Radulphus Cogeshalenfis, In the Amplissima Collectio of Martene and Durand. On the offences with which the different sects comprised under the name of Waldenses were charged, see Gretser's Scriptores contra Sectam Waldensium, which will be found in the twelfth volume of his works, Bonacursus, Vita Haereticorum, in the first volume of D'Achery's Spicilegium, and the work of a Carthusian monk in Martene and Durand, Amplissima Collectio, vol. vi, col. 57 et seq.

117:78 Wright and Halliwell, Reliquæ Antiquae, vol. i, p. 247.

117:79 See, for example, Guil, Neubrigensis, De Rebus Anglicis, lib. ii, c. 13, and Walter Mapes, de Nugis Curialium, p. 62.

120:80 See before, p. 60, and Plate IX.

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