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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: Alchymists. 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 (11); 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 menthe 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
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 archæology 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 copious 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, reckon
ing the circumference 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 Novus 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
1 Except, of course, the one from whom I derive my information, Jacob Böhme, concerning whom see infra.