Devil-Worship in France

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Devil-Worship in France: with Diana Vaughn and the Question of Modern Palladism by Arthur Edward Waite, introduction by R A Gilbert.

Waite Devil-Worship in France

Arthur Edward Waite wrote Devil-Worship in France in 1896, before Gabriel Jogand (“Leo Taxil”) exposed the great hoax he and his confederates had perpetrated regarding a supposed Luciferian Palladian Order at the heart of global Freemasonry. Although Waite gets a few details wrong, he was correct in casting the most thorough suspicion on this particular constellation of anti-Masonic literature. He was not the first to do so; the noted esotericist and Theosophist C.C. Massey had already voiced his objections. But Waite’s criticisms were more substantial and extensive, and received more attention than Massey’s had. 

The micro-genre of Palladian conspiracy literature produced under the bylines of Leo Taxil, Dr. Bataille, and Diana Vaughan enjoyed a considerable vogue in late 19th-century France. Its popularity among the credulous invites comparison with Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and its concomitant cottage industry in the early 21st century–although the valence was exactly the opposite as far as the Roman Catholic Church was concerned. (That is to say, that church’s fond welcome for the anti-Masonic revelations of Taxil matched in scope its offended distaste for The Da Vinci Code.) The fact that Brown’s novel is an overt fiction–albeit bearing an appeal to some alleged underlying facts–does not skew the parallel. Much of the material about Palladian Freemasonry was published in the Penny Dreadful periodical format associated more with Victorian Gothic than sober journalism.

Designed as it was for a French Catholic readership, the Taxil material also vilified the English, and in passing, Americans. Waite observes this trend throughout, but reserves special outrage for Dr. Bataille’s slander against HRH the Queen! (172-3) Waite’s knowledge of the US is a bit limited, though. For instance, he refers to Scottish Rite organizer Albert Pike’s role in “[t]he admission of Arkansas into the confederation of the United States,” which while strictly accurate, is likely to sound a muddled note for American readers. (28)

Although Waite is notorious for his plodding and convoluted prose, Devil-Worship in France is a comparatively lively exercise, perhaps because it was a matter of such great currency when he wrote it. In several cases, he references personal statements from his own associates and acquaintances, such as W. Wynn Westcott and John Yarker. And I am certain that I detected deliberate, though bone-dry, wit at various points in the book. The several chapters dedicated to summarizing Bataille’s Le Diable au XIXe Siecle are quite entertaining. Having cast sufficient doubts on the tales of the Palladium, Waite concludes Devil-Worship in France with an encomium regarding the virtues of Freemasonry, and its points of functional intersection with mysticism.

The 2003 Red Wheel/Weiser reissue of Waite’s book appends his previously-unpublished sequel, Diana Vaughan and the Question of Modern Palladism. Much shorter than the first work, it merely supplies updates after feuding among the fabulists and Jogand’s public admission of the hoax. Waite takes the opportunity to correct a few incidental errors from Devil-Worship. In particular he admits that Pike did plagiarize considerably from Eliphas Levi, but he also praises a specific text in which Pike did so: the lecture for the 32° in Morals and Dogma.

The Palladian episode is not only a cautionary tale regarding an anti-Masonic scare; this very thorough treatment of it has much to hold the attention of anyone interested in the esotericism of the period. The Taxil collaborator “Jean Kostka” was in fact Jules Doinel, founding patriarch of the French Gnostic Church from which today’s Gnostic Catholic Church (E.G.C.) descends. He comes off fairly pitiably in Waite’s account, and it is hard to see him as a hero during the early 1890s. Even more importantly, much of the outrage intended to be stoked by the stories of the Palladium had to do with its initiation of women into a secret society. Waite, concurring with Pike, indicates that women are excluded from Masonry, but doubts whether they should be. Of course, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was initiating men and women on equal terms at the time, the Grand Loge Symbolique Eccosais Mixte which was to eventuate in Theosophical Co-Masonry had been founded in 1893, and a short decade after Diana Vaughan O.T.O. would apply Masonic techniques of initiation to women as well as men. 

And as a final enticement to those who might benefit from reading this book, I quote from page eighty-four: “Who would possess a lingam which was an Open Sesame to devildom and not make use thereof?”