Secret Societies And Subversive Movements
by Nesta H. Webster
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The Chevalier de Boufflers The French Revolution World Revolution The Socialist Network The Surrender of an Empire Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette: Before the Revolution Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette: During the Revolution Spacious Days

* * * * *

"There is in Italy a power which we seldom mention in this House ... I mean the secret societies.... It is useless to deny, because it is impossible to conceal, that a great part of Europe—the whole of Italy and France and a great portion of Germany, to say nothing of other countries—is covered with a network of these secret societies, just as the superficies of the earth is now being covered with railroads. And what are their objects? They do not attempt to conceal them. They do not want constitutional government; they do not want ameliorated institutions ... they want to change the tenure of land, to drive out the present owners of the soil and to put an end to ecclesiastical establishments. Some of them may go further...." (DISRAELI in the House of Commons, July 14, 1856.)


It is a matter of some regret to me that I have been so far unable to continue the series of studies on the French Revolution of which The Chevalier de Boufflers and The French Revolution, a Study in Democracy formed the first two volumes. But the state of the world at the end of the Great War seemed to demand an enquiry into the present phase of the revolutionary movement, hence my attempt to follow its course up to modern times in World Revolution. And now before returning to that first cataclysm I have felt impelled to devote one more book to the Revolution as a whole by going this time further back into the past and attempting to trace its origins from the first century of the Christian era. For it is only by taking a general survey of the movement that it is possible to understand the causes of any particular phase of its existence. The French Revolution did not arise merely out of conditions or ideas peculiar to the eighteenth century, nor the Bolshevist Revolution out of political and social conditions in Russia or the teaching of Karl Marx. Both these explosions were produced by forces which, making use of popular suffering and discontent, had long been gathering strength for an onslaught not only on Christianity, but on all social and moral order.

It is of immense significance to notice with what resentment this point of view is met in certain quarters. When I first began to write on revolution a well-known London publisher said to me, "Remember that if you take an anti-revolutionary line you will have the whole literary world against you." This appeared to me extraordinary. Why should the literary world sympathize with a movement which from the French Revolution onwards has always been directed against literature, art, and science, and has openly proclaimed its aim to exalt the manual workers over the intelligentsia? "Writers must be proscribed as the most dangerous enemies of the people," said Robespierre; his colleague Dumas said all clever men should be guillotined. "The system of persecution against men of talents was organized.... They cried out in the sections of Paris, 'Beware of that man for he has written a book!'"[1] Precisely the same policy has been followed in Russia. Under Moderate Socialism in Germany the professors, not the "people," are starving in garrets. Yet the whole press of our country is permeated with subversive influences. Not merely in partisan works, but in manuals of history or literature for use in Schools, Burke is reproached for warning us against the French Revolution and Carlyle's panegyric is applauded. And whilst every slip on the part of an anti-revolutionary writer is seized on by the critics and held up as an example of the whole, the most glaring errors not only of conclusions but of facts pass unchallenged if they happen to be committed by a partisan of the movement. The principle laid down by Collot d'Herbois still holds good: "Tout est permis pour quiconque agit dans le sens de la revolution."

All this was unknown to me when I first embarked on my work. I knew that French writers of the past had distorted facts to suit their own political views, that a conspiracy of history is still directed by certain influences in the masonic lodges and the Sorbonne; I did not know that this conspiracy was being carried on in this country. Therefore the publisher's warning did not daunt me. If I was wrong either in my conclusions or facts I was prepared to be challenged. Should not years of laborious historical research meet either with recognition or with reasoned and scholarly refutation? But although my book received a great many generous and appreciative reviews in the press, criticisms which were hostile took a form which I had never anticipated. Not a single honest attempt was made to refute either my French Revolution or World Revolution by the usual methods of controversy; statements founded on documentary evidence were met with flat contradiction unsupported by a shred of counter evidence. In general the plan adopted was not to disprove, but to discredit by means of flagrant misquotations, by attributing to me views I had never expressed, or even by means of offensive personalities. It will surely be admitted that this method of attack is unparalleled in any other sphere of literary controversy.

It is interesting to notice that precisely the same line was adopted a hundred years ago with regard to Professor Robison and the Abbe Barruel, whose works on the secret causes of the French Revolution created an immense sensation in their day. The legitimate criticisms that might have been made on their work find no place in the diatribes levelled against them; their enemies content themselves merely with calumnies and abuse. A contemporary American writer, Seth Payson, thus describes the methods employed to discredit them:

The testimony of Professor Robison and Abbe Barruel would doubtless have been considered as ample in any case which did not interest the prejudices and passions of men against them. The scurrility and odium with which they have been loaded is perfectly natural, and what the nature of their testimony would have led one to expect. Men will endeavour to invalidate that evidence which tends to unveil their dark designs: and it cannot be expected that those who believe that "the end sanctifies the means" will be very scrupulous as to their measures. Certainly he was not who invented the following character and arbitrarily applied it to Dr. Robison, which might have been applied with as much propriety to any other person in Europe or America. The character here referred to, is taken from the American Mercury, printed at Hartford, September 26, 1799, by E. Babcock. In this paper, on the pretended authority of Professor Ebeling, we are told "that Robison had lived too fast for his income, and to supply deficiencies had undertaken to alter a bank bill, that he was detected and fled to France; that having been expelled the Lodge in Edinburgh, he applied in France for the second grade, but was refused; that he made the same attempt in Germany and afterwards in Russia, but never succeeded; and from this entertained the bitterest hatred to masonry; and after wandering about Europe for two years, by writing to Secretary Dundas, and presenting a copy of his book, which, it was judged, would answer certain purposes of the ministry, the prosecution against him was stopped, the Professor returned in triumph to his country, and now lives upon a handsome pension, instead of suffering the fate of his predecessor Dodd."[2]

Payson goes on to quote a writer in The National Intelligencer of January 1801, who styles himself a "friend to truth" and speaks of Professor Robison as "a man distinguished by abject dependence on a party, by the base crimes of forgery and adultery, and by frequent paroxysms of insanity." Mounier goes further still, and in his pamphlet De l'influence attribuee aux Philosophes, ... Francs-macons et ... Illumines, etc., inspired by the Illuminatus Bode, quotes a story that Robison suffered from a form of insanity which consisted in his believing that the posterior portion of his body was made of glass![3]

In support of all this farrago of nonsense there is of course no foundation of truth; Robison was a well-known savant who lived sane and respected to the end of his days. On his death Watt wrote of him: "He was a man of the clearest head and the most science of anybody I have ever known."[4] John Playfair, in a paper read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1815, whilst criticizing his Proofs of a Conspiracy—though at the same time admitting he had himself never had access to the documents Robison had consulted!—paid the following tribute to his character and erudition:

His range in science was most extensive; he was familiar with the whole circle of the accurate sciences.... Nothing can add to the esteem which they [i.e. "those who were personally acquainted with him"] felt for his talents and worth or to the respect in which they now hold his memory.[5]

Nevertheless, the lies circulated against both Robison and Barruel were not without effect. Thirteen years later we find another American, this time a Freemason, confessing "with shame and grief and indignation" that he had been carried away by "the flood of vituperation poured upon Barruel and Robison during the past thirty years," that the title pages of their works "were fearful to him," and that although "wishing calmly and candidly to investigate the character of Freemasonry he refused for months to open their books." Yet when in 1827 he read them for the first time he was astonished to find that they showed "a manifest tendency towards Freemasonry." Both Barruel and Robison, he now realized, were "learned men, candid men, lovers of their country, who had a reverence for truth and religion. They give the reasons for their opinions, they quote their authorities, naming the author and page, like honest people; they both had a wish to rescue British Masonry from the condemnation and fellowship of continental Masonry and appear to be sincerely actuated by the desire of doing good by giving their labours to the public."[6]

That the author was right here in his description of Barruel's attitude to Freemasonry is shown by Barruel's own words on the subject:

England above all is full of those upright men, excellent citizens, men of every kind and in every condition of life, who count it an honour to be masons, and who are distinguished from other men only by ties which seem to strengthen those of benevolence and fraternal charity. It is not the fear of offending a nation amongst which I have found a refuge which prompts me to make this exception. Gratitude would prevail with me over all such terrors and I should say in the midst of London: "England is lost, she will not escape the French Revolution if the masonic lodges resemble those I have to unveil. I would even say more: government and all Christianity would long ago have been lost in England if one could suppose its Freemasons to be initiated into the last mysteries of the sect."[7]

In another passage Barruel observes that Masonry in England is "a society composed of good citizens in general whose chief object is to help each other by principles of equality which for them is nothing else but universal fraternity."[8] And again: "Let us admire it [the wisdom of England] for having known how to make a real source of benefit to the State out of those same mysteries which elsewhere conceal a profound conspiracy against the State and religion."[9]

The only criticism British Freemasons may make on this verdict is that Barruel regards Masonry as a system which originally contained an element of danger that has been eliminated in England whilst they regard it as a system originally innocuous into which a dangerous element was inserted on the Continent. Thus according to the former conception Freemasonry might be compared to one of the brass shell-cases brought back from the battle-fields of France and converted into a flower-pot holder, whilst according to the latter it resembles an innocent brass flower-pot holder which has been used as a receptacle for explosives. The fact is that, as I shall endeavour to show in the course of this book, Freemasonry being a composite system there is some justification for both these theories. In either case it will be seen that Continental Masonry alone stands condemned.

The plan of representing Robison and Barruel as the enemies of British Masonry can therefore only be regarded as a method for discrediting them in the eyes of British Freemasons, and consequently for bringing the latter over to the side of their antagonists. Exactly the same method of attack has been directed against those of us who during the last few years have attempted to warn the world of the secret forces working to destroy civilization; in my own case even the plan of accusing me of having attacked British Masonry has been adopted without the shadow of a foundation. From the beginning I have always differentiated between British and Grand Orient Masonry, and have numbered high British Masons amongst my friends.

But what is the main charge brought against us? Like Robison and Barruel, we are accused of raising a false alarm, of creating a bogey, or of being the victims of an obsession. Up to a point this is comprehensible. Whilst on the Continent the importance of secret societies is taken as a matter of course and the libraries of foreign capitals teem with books on the question, people in this country really imagine that secret societies are things of the past—articles to this effect appeared quite recently in two leading London newspapers—whilst practically nothing of any value has been written about them in our language during the last hundred years. Hence ideas that are commonplaces on the Continent here appear sensational and extravagant. The mind of the Englishman does not readily accept anything he cannot see or even sometimes anything he can see which is unprecedented in his experience, so that like the West American farmer, confronted for the first time by the sight of a giraffe, his impulse is to cry out angrily: "I don't believe it!"

But whilst making all allowance for honest ignorance and incredulity, it is impossible not to recognize a certain method in the manner in which the cry of "obsession" or "bogey" is raised. For it will be noticed that people who specialize on other subjects are not described as "obsessed." We did not hear, for example, that the late Professor Einstein had Relativity "on the brain" because he wrote and lectured exclusively on this question, nor do we hear it suggested that Mr. Howard Carter is obsessed with the idea of Tutankhamen and that it would be well if he were to set out for the South Pole by way of a change. Again, all those who warn the world concerning eventualities they conceive to be a danger are not accused of creating bogeys. Thus although Lord Roberts was denounced as a scaremonger for urging the country to prepare for defence against a design openly avowed by Germany both in speech and print, and in 1921 the Duke of Northumberland was declared the victim of a delusion for believing in the existence of a plot against the British Empire which had been proclaimed in a thousand revolutionary harangues and pamphlets. People who, without bothering to produce a shred of documentary evidence, had sounded the alarm on the menace of "French Imperialism" and asserted that our former Allies were engaged in building a vast fleet of aeroplanes in order to attack our coasts. They were not held to be either scaremongers or insane. On the contrary, although some of these same people were proved by events to have been completely wrong in their prognostications at the beginning of the Great War, they are still regarded as oracles and sometimes even described as "thinking for half Europe."

Another instance of this kind may be cited in the case of Mr. John Spargo, author of a small book entitled The Jew and American Ideals. On page 37 of this work Mr. Spargo in refuting the accusations brought against the Jews observes:

Belief in widespread conspiracies directed against individuals or the state is probably the commonest form assumed by the human mind when it loses its balance and its sense of proportion.

Yet on page 6 Mr. Spargo declares that when visiting this country in September and October 1920:

I found in England great nation-wide organizations, obviously well financed, devoted to the sinister purpose of creating anti-Jewish feeling and sentiment. I found special articles in influential newspapers devoted to the same evil purpose. I found at at least one journal, obviously well financed again, exclusively devoted to the fostering of suspicion, fear, and hatred against the Jew ... and in the bookstores I discovered a whole library of books devoted to the same end.

It will be seen then that a belief in widespread conspiracies is not always to be regarded as a sign of loss of mental balance, even when these conspiracies remain completely invisible to the general public. For those of us who were in London during the period of Mr. Spargo's visit saw nothing of the things he here describes. Where, we ask, were these "great nation-wide organizations" striving to create anti-Jewish sentiments? What were their names? By whom were they led? It is true, however, that there were nation-wide organizations in existence here at this date instituted for the purpose of combating Bolshevism. Is anti-Bolshevism then synonymous with "anti-Semitism"?[10] This is the conclusion to which one is inevitably led. For it will be noticed that anyone who attempts to expose the secret forces behind the revolutionary movement, whether he mentions Jews in this connexion or even if he goes out of his way to exonerate them, will incur the hostility of the Jews and their friends and will still be described as "anti-Semite." The realization of this fact has led me particularly to include the Jews in the study of secret societies.

The object of the present book is therefore to carry further the enquiry I began in World Revolution, by tracing the course of revolutionary ideas through secret societies from the earliest times, indicating the role of the Jews only where it is to be clearly detected, but not seeking to implicate them where good evidence is not forthcoming. For this reason I shall not base assertions on merely "anti-Semite" works, but principally on the writings of the Jews themselves. In the same way with regard to secret societies I shall rely as far as possible on the documents and admissions of their members, on which point I have been able to collect a great deal of fresh data entirely corroborating my former thesis. It should be understood that I do not propose to give a complete history of secret societies, but only of secret societies in their relation to the revolutionary movement. I shall therefore not attempt to describe the theories of occultism nor to enquire into the secrets of Freemasonry, but simply to relate the history of these systems in order to show the manner in which they have been utilized for a subversive purpose. If I then fail to convince the incredulous that secret forces of revolution exist, it will not be for want of evidence.

Nesta H. Webster.














The East is the cradle of secret societies. For whatever end they may have been employed, the inspiration and methods of most of those mysterious associations which have played so important a part behind the scenes of the world's history will be found to have emanated from the lands where the first recorded acts of the great human drama were played out—Egypt, Babylon, Syria, and Persia. On the one hand Eastern mysticism, on the other Oriental love of intrigue, framed the systems later on to be transported to the West with results so tremendous and far-reaching.

In the study of secret societies we have then a double line to follow—the course of associations enveloping themselves in secrecy for the pursuit of esoteric knowledge, and those using mystery and secrecy for an ulterior and, usually, a political purpose.

But esotericism again presents a dual aspect. Here, as in every phase of earthly life, there is the revers de la medaille—white and black, light and darkness, the Heaven and Hell of the human mind. The quest for hidden knowledge may end with initiation into divine truths or into dark and abominable cults. Who knows with what forces he may be brought in contact beyond the veil? Initiation which leads to making use of spiritual forces, whether good or evil, is therefore capable of raising man to greater heights or of degrading him to lower depths than he could ever have reached by remaining on the purely physical plane. And when men thus unite themselves in associations, a collective force is generated which may exercise immense influence over the world around. Hence the importance of secret societies.

Let it be said once and for all, secret societies have not always been formed for evil purposes. On the contrary, many have arisen from the highest aspirations of the human mind—the desire for a knowledge of eternal verities. The evil arising from such systems has usually consisted in the perversion of principles that once were pure and holy. If I do not insist further on this point, it is because a vast literature has already been devoted to the subject, so that it need only be touched on briefly here.

Now, from the earliest times groups of Initiates or "Wise Men" have existed, claiming to be in possession of esoteric doctrines known as the "Mysteries," incapable of apprehension by the vulgar, and relating to the origin and end of man, the life of the soul after death, and the nature of God or the gods. It is this exclusive attitude which constitutes the essential difference between the Initiates of the ancient world and the great Teachers of religion with whom modern occultists seek to confound them. For whilst religious leaders such as Buddha and Mohammed sought for divine knowledge in order that they might impart it to the world, the Initiates believed that sacred mysteries should not be revealed to the profane but should remain exclusively in their own keeping, although the desire for initiation might spring from the highest aspiration, the gratification, whether real or imaginary, of this desire often led to spiritual arrogance and abominable tyranny, resulting in the fearful trials, the tortures physical and mental, ending even at times in death, to which the neophyte was subjected by his superiors.

The Mysteries

According to a theory current in occult and masonic circles, certain ideas were common to all the more important "Mysteries," thus forming a continuous tradition handed down through succeeding groups of Initiates of different ages and countries. Amongst these ideas is said to have been the conception of the unity of God. Whilst to the multitude it was deemed advisable to preach polytheism, since only in this manner could the plural aspects of the Divine be apprehended by the multitude, the Initiates themselves believed in the existence of one Supreme Being, the Creator of the Universe, pervading and governing all things, Le Plongeon, whose object is to show an affinity between the sacred Mysteries of the Mayas and of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Greeks, asserts that "The idea of a sole and omnipotent Deity, who created all things, seems to have been the universal belief in early ages, amongst all the nations that had reached a high degree of civilization. This was the doctrine of the Egyptian priests."[11] The same writer goes on to say that the "doctrine of a Supreme Deity composed of three parts distinct from each other, yet forming one, was universally prevalent among the civilized nations of America, Asia, and the Egyptians," and that the priests and learned men of Egypt, Chaldea, India, or China "...kept it a profound secret and imparted it only to a few select among those initiated in the sacred mysteries."[12] This view has been expressed by many other writers, yet lacks historical proof.

That monotheism existed in Egypt before the days of Moses is, however, certain. Adolf Erman asserts that "even in early times the educated class" believed all the deities of the Egyptian religion to be identical and that "the priests did not shut their eyes to this doctrine, but strove to grasp the idea of the one God, divided into different persons by poesy and myth.... The priesthood, however, had not the courage to take the final step, to do away with those distinctions which they declared to be immaterial, and to adore the one God under the one name."[13] It was left to Amenhotep IV, later known as Ikhnaton, to proclaim this doctrine openly to the people. Professor Breasted has described the hymns of praise to the Sun God which Ikhnaton himself wrote on the walls of the Amarna tomb-chapels:

They show us the simplicity and beauty of the young king's faith in the sole God. He had gained the belief that one God created not only all the lower creatures but also all races of men, both Egyptians and foreigners. Moreover, the king saw in his God a kindly Father, who maintained all his creatures by his goodness.... In all the progress of men which we have followed through thousands of years, no one had ever before caught such a vision of the great Father of all.[14]

May not the reason why Ikhnaton was later described as a "heretic" be that he violated the code of the priestly hierarchy by revealing this secret doctrine to the profane? Hence, too, perhaps the necessity in which the King found himself of suppressing the priesthood, which by persisting in its exclusive attitude kept what he perceived to be the truth from the minds of the people.

The earliest European centre of the Mysteries appears to have been Greece, where the Eleusinian Mysteries existed at a very early date. Pythagoras, who was born in Samos about 582 B.C., spent some years in Egypt, where he was initiated into the Mysteries of Isis. After his return to Greece, Pythagoras is said to have been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries and attempted to found a secret society in Samos; but this proving unsuccessful, he journeyed on to Crotona in Italy, where he collected around him a great number of disciples and finally established his sect. This was divided into two classes of Initiates—the first admitted only into the exoteric doctrines of the master, with whom they were not allowed to speak until after a period of five years' probation; the second consisting of the real Initiates, to whom all the mysteries of the esoteric doctrines of Pythagoras were unfolded. This course of instruction, given, after the manner of the Egyptians, by means of images and symbols, began with geometrical science, in which Pythagoras during his stay in Egypt had become an adept, and led up finally to abstruse speculations concerning the transmigration of the soul and the nature of God, who was represented under the conception of a Universal Mind diffused through all things. It is, however, as the precursor of secret societies formed later in the West of Europe that the sect of Pythagoras enters into the scope of this book. Early masonic tradition traces Freemasonry partly to Pythagoras, who is said to have travelled in England, and there is certainly some reason to believe that his geometrical ideas entered into the system of the operative guilds of masons.

The Jewish Cabala[15]

According to Fabre d'Olivet, Moses, who "was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," drew from the Egyptian Mysteries a part of the oral tradition which was handed down through the leaders of the Israelites.[16] That such an oral tradition, distinct from the written word embodied in the Pentateuch, did descend from Moses and that it was later committed to writing in the Talmud and the Cabala is the opinion of many Jewish writers.[17]

The first form of the Talmud, called the Mischna, appeared in about the second or third century A.D.; a little later a commentary was added under the name of the Gemara. These two works compose the Jerusalem Talmud, which was revised in the third to the fifth centry[A]. This later edition was named the Babylonian Talmud and is the one now in use.

The Talmud relates mainly to the affairs of everyday life—the laws of buying and selling, of making contracts—also to external religious observances, on all of which the most meticulous details are given. As a Jewish writer has expressed it:

... the oddest rabbinical conceits are elaborated through many volumes with the finest dialectic, and the most absurd questions are discussed with the highest efforts of intellectual power; for example, how many white hairs may a red cow have, and yet remain a red cow; what sort of scabs require this or that purification; whether a louse or a flea may be killed on the Sabbath—the first being allowed, while the second is a deadly sin; whether the slaughter of an animal ought to be executed at the neck or the tail; whether the high priest put on his shirt or his hose first; whether the Jabam, that is, the brother of a man who died childless, being required by law to marry the widow, is relieved from his obligation if he falls off a roof and sticks in the mire.[18]

But it is in the Cabala, a Hebrew word signifying "reception," that is to say "a doctrine orally received," that the speculative and philosophical or rather the theosophical doctrines of Israel are to be found. These are contained in two books, the Sepher Yetzirah and the Zohar.

The Sepher Yetzirah, or Book of the Creation, is described by Edersheim as "a monologue on the part of Abraham, in which, by the contemplation of all that is around him, he ultimately arrives at the conclusion of the unity of God"[19]; but since this process is accomplished by an arrangement of the Divine Emanations under the name of the Ten Sephiroths, and in the permutation of numerals and of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, it would certainly convey no such idea—nor probably indeed any idea at all—to the mind uninitiated into Cabalistic systems. The Sepher Yetzirah is in fact admittedly a work of extraordinary obscurity[20] and almost certainly of extreme antiquity. Monsieur Paul Vulliaud, in his exhaustive work on the Cabala recently published,[21] says that its date has been placed as early as the sixth century before Christ and as late as the tenth century A.D., but that it is at any rate older than the Talmud is shown by the fact that in the Talmud the Rabbis are described as studying it for magical purposes.[22] The Sepher Yetzirah is also said to be the work referred to in the Koran under the name of the "Book of Abraham."[23]

The immense compilation known as the Sepher-Ha-Zohar, or Book of Light, is, however, of greater importance to the study of Cabalistic philosophy. According to the Zohar itself, the "Mysteries of Wisdom" were imparted to Adam by God whilst he was still in the Garden of Eden, in the form of a book delivered by the angel Razael. From Adam the book passed on to Seth, then to Enoch, to Noah, to Abraham, and later to Moses, one of its principal exponents.[24] Other Jewish writers declare, however, that Moses received it for the first time on Mount Sinai and communicated it to the Seventy Elders, by whom it was handed down to David and Solomon, then to Ezra and Nehemiah, and finally to the Rabbis of the early Christian era.[25]

Until this date the Zohar had remained a purely oral tradition, but now for the first time it is said to have been written down by the disciples of Simon ben Jochai. The Talmud relates that for twelve years the Rabbi Simon and his son Eliezer concealed themselves in a cavern, where, sitting in the sand up to their necks, they meditated on the sacred law and were frequently visited by the prophet Elias.[26] In this way, Jewish legend adds, the great book of the Zohar was composed and committed to writing by the Rabbi's son Eliezer and his secretary the Rabbi Abba.[27]

The first date at which the Zohar is definitely known to have appeared is the end of the thirteenth century, when it was committed to writing by a Spanish Jew, Moses de Leon, who, according to Dr. Ginsburg, said he had discovered and reproduced the original document of Simon ben Jochai; his wife and daughter, however, declared that he had composed it all himself.[28] Which is the truth? Jewish opinion is strongly divided on this question, one body maintaining that the Zohar is the comparatively modern work of Moses de Leon, the other declaring it to be of extreme antiquity. M. Vulliaud, who has collated all these views in the course of some fifty pages, shows that although the name Zohar might have originated with Moses de Leon, the ideas it embodied were far older than the thirteenth century. How, he asks pertinently, would it have been possible for the Rabbis of the Middle Ages to have been deceived into accepting as an ancient document a work that was of completely modern origin?[29] Obviously the Zohar was not the composition of Moses de Leon, but a compilation made by him from various documents dating from very early times. Moreover, as M. Vulliaud goes on to explain, those who deny its antiquity are the anti-Cabalists, headed by Graetz, whose object is to prove the Cabala to be at variance with orthodox Judaism. Theodore Reinach goes so far as to declare the Cabala to be "a subtle poison which enters into the veins of Judaism and wholly infests it"; Salomon Reinach calls it "one of the worst aberrations of the human mind."[30] This view, many a student of the Cabala will hardly dispute, but to say that it is foreign to Judaism is another matter. The fact is that the main ideas of the Zohar find confirmation in the Talmud. As the Jewish Encyclopaedia observes, "the Cabala is not really in opposition to the Talmud," and "many Talmudic Jews have supported and contributed to it."[31] Adolphe Franck does not hesitate to describe it as "the heart and life of Judaism."[32] "The greater number of the most eminent Rabbis of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries believed firmly in the sacredness of the Zohar and the infallibility of its teaching."[33]

The question of the antiquity of the Cabala is therefore in reality largely a matter of names. That a mystical tradition existed amongst the Jews from remote antiquity will hardly be denied by anyone[34]; it is therefore, as M. Vulliaud observes, "only a matter of knowing at what moment Jewish mysticism took the name of Cabala."[35] Edersheim asserts that—

It is undeniable that, already at the time of Jesus Christ, there existed an assemblage of doctrines and speculations that were carefully concealed from the multitude. They were not even revealed to ordinary scholars, for fear of leading them towards heretical ideas. This kind bore the name of Kabbalah, and as the term (of Kabbalah, to receive, transmit) indicates, it represented the spiritual traditions transmitted from the earliest ages, although mingled in the course of time with impure or foreign elements.[36]

Is the Cabala, then, as Gougenot des Mousseaux asserts, older than the Jewish race, a legacy handed down from the first patriarchs of the world?[37] We must admit this hypothesis to be incapable of proof, yet it is one that has found so much favour with students of occult traditions that it cannot be ignored. The Jewish Cabala itself supports it by tracing its descent from the patriarchs—Adam, Noah, Enoch, and Abraham—who lived before the Jews as a separate race came into existence. Eliphas Levi accepts this genealogy, and relates that "the Holy Cabala" was the tradition of the children of Seth carried out of Chaldea by Abraham, who was "the inheritor of the secrets of Enoch and the father of initiation in Israel."[38]

According to this theory, which we find again propounded by the American Freemason, Dr. Mackey,[39] there was, besides the divine Cabala of the children of Seth, the magical Cabala of the children of Cain, which descended to the Sabeists, or star-worshippers, of Chaldea, adepts in astrology and necromancy. Sorcery, as we know, had been practised by the Canaanites before the occupation of Palestine by the Israelites; Egypt India, and Greece also had their soothsayers and diviners. In spite of the imprecations against sorcery contained in the law of Moses, the Jews, disregarding these warnings, caught the contagion and mingled the sacred tradition they had inherited with magical ideas partly borrowed from other races and partly of their own devising. At the same time the speculative side of the Jewish Cabala borrowed from the philosophy of the Persian Magi, of the Neo-Platonists,[40] and of the Neo-Pythagoreans. There is, then, some justification for the anti-Cabalists' contention that what we know to-day as the Cabala is not of purely Jewish origin.

Gougenot des Mousseaux, who had made a profound study of occultism, asserts that there were therefore two Cabalas: the ancient sacred tradition handed down from the first patriarchs of the human race; and the evil Cabala, wherein this sacred tradition was mingled by the Rabbis with barbaric superstitions, combined with their own imaginings and henceforth marked with their seal.[41] This view also finds expression in the remarkable work of the converted Jew Drach, who refers to—

The ancient and true Cabala, which ... we distinguish from the modern Cabala, false, condemnable, and condemned by the Holy See, the work of the Rabbis, who have also falsified and perverted the Talmudic tradition. The doctors of the Synagogue trace it back to Moses, whilst at the same time admitting that the principal truths it contains were those known by revelation to the first patriarchs of the world.[42]

Further on Drach quotes the statement of Sixtus of Sienna, another converted Jew and a Dominican, protected by Pius V:

Since by the decree of the Holy Roman Inquisition all books appertaining to the Cabala have lately been condemned, one must know that the Cabala is double; that one is true, the other false. The true and pious one is that which ... elucidates the secret mysteries of the holy law according to the principle of anagogy (i.e. figurative interpretation). This Cabala therefore the Church has never condemned. The false and impious Cabala is a certain mendacious kind of Jewish tradition, full of innumerable vanities and falsehoods, differing but little from necromancy. This kind of superstition, therefore, improperly called Cabala, the Church within the last few years has deservedly condemned.[43]

The modern Jewish Cabala presents a dual aspect—theoretical and practical; the former concerned with theosophical speculations, the latter with magical practices. It would be impossible here to give an idea of Cabalistic theosophy with its extraordinary imaginings on the Sephiroths, the attributes and functions of good and bad angels, dissertations on the nature of demons, and minute details on the appearance of God under the name of the Ancient of Ancients, from whose head 400,000 worlds receive the light. "The length of this face from the top of the head is three hundred and seventy times ten thousand worlds. It is called the 'Long Face,' for such is the name of the Ancient of Ancients."[44] The description of the hair and beard alone belonging to this gigantic countenance occupies a large place in the Zoharic treatise, Idra Raba.[45]

According to the Cabala, every letter in the Scriptures contains a mystery only to be solved by the initiated.[46] By means of this system of interpretation passages of the Old Testament are shown to bear meanings totally unapparent to the ordinary reader. Thus the Zohar explains that Noah was lamed for life by the bite of a lion whilst he was in the ark,[47] the adventures of Jonah inside the whale are related with an extraordinary wealth of imagination,[48] whilst the beautiful story of Elisha and the Shunnamite woman is travestied in the most grotesque manner.[49]

In the practical Cabala this method of "decoding" is reduced to a theurgic or magical system in which the healing of diseases plays an important part and is effected by means of the mystical arrangement of numbers and letters, by the pronunciation of the Ineffable Name, by the use of amulets and talismans, or by compounds supposed to contain certain occult properties.

All these ideas derived from very ancient cults; even the art of working miracles by the use of the Divine Name, which after the appropriation of the Cabala by the Jews became the particular practice of Jewish miracle-workers, appears to have originated in Chaldea.[50] Nor can the insistence on the Chosen People theory, which forms the basis of all Talmudic and Cabalistic writings, be regarded as of purely Jewish origin; the ancient Egyptians likewise believed themselves to be "the peculiar people specially loved by the gods."[51] But in the hands of the Jews this belief became a pretension to the exclusive enjoyment of divine favour. According to the Zohar, "all Israelites will have a part in the future world,"[52] and on arrival there will not be handed over like the goyim (or non-Jewish races) to the hands of the angel Douma and sent down to Hell.[53] Indeed the goyim are even denied human attributes. Thus the Zohar again explains that the words of the Scripture "Jehovah Elohim made man" mean that He made Israel.[54] The seventeenth-century Rabbinical treatise Emek ha Melek observes: "Our Rabbis of blessed memory have said: 'Ye Jews are men because of the soul ye have from the Supreme Man (i.e. God). But the nations of the world are not styled men because they have not, from the Holy and Supreme Man, the Neschama (or glorious soul), but they have the Nephesch (soul) from Adam Belial, that is the malicious and unnecessary man, called Sammael, the Supreme Devil.'"[55]

In conformity with this exclusive attitude towards the rest of the human race, the Messianic idea which forms the dominating theme of the Cabala is made to serve purely Jewish interests. Yet in its origins this idea was possibly not Jewish. It is said by believers in an ancient secret tradition common to other races besides the Jews, that a part of this tradition related to a past Golden Age when man was free from care and evil non-existent, to the subsequent fall of Man and the loss of this primitive felicity, and finally to a revelation received from Heaven foretelling the reparation of this loss and the coming of a Redeemer who should save the world and restore the Golden Age. According to Drach:

The tradition of a Man-God who should present Himself as the teacher and liberator of the fallen human race was constantly taught amongst all the enlightened nations of the globe. Vetus et constans opinio, as Suetonius says. It is of all times and of all places.[56]

And Drach goes on to quote the evidence of Volney, who had travelled in the East and declared that—

The sacred and mythological traditions of earlier times had spread throughout all Asia the belief in a great Mediator who was to come, of a future Saviour, King, God, Conqueror, and Legislator who would bring back the Golden Age to earth and deliver men from the empire of evil.[57]

All that can be said with any degree of certainty with regard to this belief is that it did exist amongst the Zoroastrians of Persia as well as amongst the Jews. D'Herbelot, quoting Abulfaraj, shows that five hundred years before Christ, Zerdascht, the leader of the Zoroastrians, predicted the coming of the Messiah, at whose birth a star would appear. He also told his disciples that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, that they would be the first to hear of Him, and that they should bring Him gifts.[58]

Drach believes that this tradition was taught in the ancient synagogue,[59] thus explaining the words of St. Paul that unto the Jews "were committed the oracles of God"[60]:

This oral doctrine, which is the Cabala, had for its object the most sublime truths of the Faith which it brought back incessantly to the promised Redeemer, the foundation of the whole system of the ancient tradition.[61]

Drach further asserts that the doctrine of the Trinity formed a part of this tradition:

Whoever has familiarized himself with that which was taught by the ancient doctors of the Synagogue, particularly those who lived before the coming of the Saviour, knows that the Trinity in one God was a truth admitted amongst them from the earliest times.[62]

M. Vulliaud points out that Graetz admits the existence of this idea in the Zohar: "It even taught certain doctrines which appeared favourable to the Christian dogma of the Trinity!" And again: "It is incontestable that the Zohar makes allusions to the beliefs in the Trinity and the Incarnation."[63] M. Vulliaud adds: "The idea of the Trinity must therefore play an important part in the Cabala, since it has been possible to affirm that 'the characteristic of the Zohar and its particular conception is its attachment to the principle of the Trinity,'"[64] and further quotes Edersheim as saying that "a great part of the explanation given in the writings of the Cabalists resembles in a surprising manner the highest truths of Christianity."[65] It would appear, then, that certain remnants of the ancient secret tradition lingered on in the Cabala. The Jewish Encyclopaedia, perhaps unintentionally, endorses this opinion, since in deriding the sixteenth-century Christian Cabalists for asserting that the Cabala contained traces of Christianity, it goes on to say that what appears to be Christian in the Cabala is only ancient esoteric doctrine.[66] Here, then, we have it on the authority of modern Jewish scholars that the ancient secret tradition was in harmony with Christian teaching. But in the teaching of the later synagogue the philosophy of the earlier sages was narrowed down to suit the exclusive system of the Jewish hierarchy, and the ancient hope of a Redeemer who should restore Man to the state of felicity he had lost at the Fall was transformed into the idea of salvation for the Jews alone[67] under the aegis of a triumphant and even an avenging Messiah.[68] It is this Messianic dream perpetuated in the modern Cabala which nineteen hundred years ago the advent of Christ on earth came to disturb.

The Coming of the Redeemer

The fact that many Christian doctrines, such as the conception of a Trinity, the miraculous birth and murder of a Deity, had found a place in earlier religions has frequently been used as an argument to show that the story of Christ was merely a new version of various ancient legends, those of Attis, Adonis, or of Osiris, and that consequently the Christian religion is founded on a myth. The answer to this is that the existence of Christ on earth is an historic fact which no serious authority has ever denied. The attempts of such writers as Drews and J.M. Robertson to establish the theory of the "Christ-Myth," which find an echo in the utterances of Socialist orators,[69] have been met with so much able criticism as to need no further refutation. Sir James Frazer, who will certainly not be accused of bigoted orthodoxy, observes in this connexion:

The doubts which have been cast on the historical reality of Jesus are, in my judgement, unworthy of serious attention.... To dissolve the founder of Christianity into a myth, as some would do, is hardly less absurd than it would be to do the same for Mohammed, Luther, and Calvin.[70]

May not the fact that certain circumstances in the life of Christ were foreshadowed by earlier religions indicate, as Eliphas Levi observes, that the ancients had an intuition of Christian mysteries?[71]

To those therefore who had adhered to the ancient tradition, Christ appeared as the fulfilment of a prophecy as old as the world. Thus the wise men came from afar to worship the Babe of Bethlehem, and when they saw His star in the East they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. In Christ they hailed not only Him who was born King of the Jews, but the Saviour of the whole human race.[72]

In the light of this great hope, that wondrous night in Bethlehem is seen in all its sublimity. Throughout the ages the seers had looked for the coming of the Redeemer, and lo! He was here; but it was not to the mighty in Israel, to the High Priests and the Scribes, that His birth was announced, but to humble shepherds watching their flocks by night. And these men of simple faith, hearing from the angels "the good tidings of great joy" that a Saviour, "Christ the Lord" was born, went with haste to see the babe lying in the manger, and returned "glorifying and praising God." So also to the devout in Israel, to Simeon and to Anna the prophetess, the great event appeared in its universal significance, and Simeon, departing in peace, knew that his eyes had seen the salvation that was to be "a light to lighten the Gentiles" as well as the glory of the people of Israel.

But to the Jews, in whose hands the ancient tradition had been turned to the exclusive advantage of the Jewish race, to the Rabbis, who had, moreover, constituted themselves the sole guardians within this nation of the said tradition, the manner of its fulfilment was necessarily abhorrent. Instead of a resplendent Messiah who should be presented by them to the people, a Saviour was born amongst the people themselves and brought to Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord; a Saviour moreover who, as time went on, imparted His divine message to the poor and humble and declared that His Kingdom was not of this world. This was clearly what Mary meant when she said that God had "scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts," that He had "put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree." Christ was therefore doubly hateful to the Jewish hierarchy in that He attacked the privilege of the race to which they belonged by throwing open the door to all mankind, and the privilege of the caste to which they belonged by revealing sacred doctrines to the profane and destroying their claim to exclusive knowledge.

Unless viewed from this aspect, neither the antagonism displayed by the Scribes and Pharisees towards our Lord nor the denunciations He uttered against them can be properly understood. "Woe unto you, Lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.... Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: tor ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." What did Christ mean by the key of knowledge? Clearly the sacred tradition which, as Drach explains, foreshadowed the doctrines of Christianity.[73] It was the Rabbis who perverted that tradition, and thus "the guilt of these perfidious Doctors consisted in their concealing from the people the traditional explanation of the sacred books by means of which they would have been able to recognize the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ."[74] Many of the people, however, did recognize Him; indeed, the multitude acclaimed Him, spreading their garments before Him and crying, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!" Writers who have cited the choice of Barabbas in the place of Christ as an instance of misguided popular judgement, overlook the fact that this choice was not spontaneous; it was the Chief Priests who delivered Christ "from envy" and who "moved the people that Pilate should rather release unto them Barabbas." Then the people obediently cried out, "Crucify Him!"

So also it was the Rabbis who, after hiding from the people the meaning of the sacred tradition at the moment of its fulfilment, afterwards poisoned that same stream for future generations. Abominable calumnies on Christ and Christianity occur not only in the Cabala but in the earlier editions of the Talmud. In these, says Barclay—

Our Lord and Saviour is "that one," "such a one," "a fool," "the leper," "the deceiver of Israel," etc. Efforts are made to prove that He is the son of Joseph Pandira before his marriage with Mary. His miracles are attributed to sorcery, the secret of which He brought in a slit in His flesh out of Egypt. He is said to have been first stoned and then hanged on the eve of the Passover. His disciples are called heretics and opprobrious names. They are accused of immoral practices, and the New Testament is called a sinful book. The references to these subjects manifest the most bitter aversion and hatred.[75]

One might look in vain for passages such as these in English or French translations of the Talmud, for the reason that no complete translation exists in these languages. This fact is of great significance. Whilst the sacred books of every other important religion have been rendered into our own tongue and are open to everyone to study, the book that forms the foundation of modern Judaism is closed to the general public. We can read English translations of the Koran, of the Dhammapada, of the Sutta Nipata, of the Zend Avesta, of the Shu King, of the Laws of Manu, of the Bhagavadgita, but we cannot read the Talmud. In the long series of Sacred Books of the East the Talmud finds no place. All that is accessible to the ordinary reader consists, on one hand, in expurgated versions or judicious selections by Jewish and pro-Jewish compilers, and, on the other hand, in "anti-Semitic" publications on which it would be dangerous to place reliance. The principal English translation by Rodkinson is very incomplete, and the folios are nowhere indicated, so that it is impossible to look up a passage.[76] The French translation by Jean de Pauly[B] professes to present the entire text of the Venetian Talmud of 1520, but it does nothing of the kind.[77] The translator, in the Preface, in fact admits that he has left out "sterile discussions" and has throughout attempted to tone down "the brutality of certain expressions which offend our ears." This of course affords him infinite latitude, so that all passages likely to prove displeasing to the "Hebraisants," to whom his work is particularly dedicated, are discreetly expunged. Jean de Pauly's translation of the Cabala appears, however, to be complete.[78] But a fair and honest rendering of the whole Talmud into English or French still remains to be made.

Moreover, even the Hebrew scholar is obliged to exercise some discrimination if he desires to consult the Talmud in its original form. For by the sixteenth century, when the study of Hebrew became general amongst Christians, the antisocial and anti-Christian tendencies of the Talmud attracted the attention of the Censor, and in the Bale Talmud of 1581 the most obnoxious passages and the entire treatise Abodah Zara were suppressed.[79]

In the Cracow edition of 1604 that followed, these passages were restored by the Jews, a proceeding which aroused so much indignation amongst Christian students of Hebrew that the Jews became alarmed. Accordingly a Jewish synod, assembled in Poland in 1631, ordered the offending passages to be expunged again, but—according to Drach—to be replaced by circles which the Rabbis were to fill in orally when giving instruction to young Jews.[80] After that date the Talmud was for a time carefully bowdlerized, so that in order to discover its original form it is advisable to go back to the Venetian Talmud of 1520 before any omissions were made, or to consult a modern edition. For now that the Jews no longer fear the Christians, these passages are all said to have been replaced and no attempt is made, as in the Middle Ages, to prove that they do not refer to the Founder of Christianity.[81]

Thus the Jewish Encyclopaedia admits that Jewish legends concerning Jesus are found in the Talmud and Midrash and in "the life of Jesus (Toledot Yeshu) that originated in the Middle Ages. It is the tendency of all these sources to belittle the person of Jesus by ascribing to Him illegitimate birth, magic, and a shameful death."[82]

The last work mentioned, the Toledot Yeshu, or the Sepher Toldos Jeschu, described here as originating in the Middle Ages, probably belongs in reality to a much earlier period. Eliphas Levi asserts that "the Sepher Toldos, to which the Jews attribute a great antiquity and which they hid from the Christians with such precautions that this book was for a long while unfindable, is quoted for the first time by Raymond Martin of the Order of the Preaching Brothers towards the end of the thirteenth century.... This book was evidently written by a Rabbi initiated into the mysteries of the Cabala."[83] Whether then the Toledot Yeshu had existed for many centuries before it was first brought to light or whether it was a collection of Jewish traditions woven into a coherent narrative by a thirteenth-century Rabbi, the ideas it contains can be traced back at least as far as the second century of the Christian era. Origen, who in the middle of the third century wrote his reply to the attack of Celsus on Christianity, refers to a scandalous story closely resembling the Toledot Yeshu, which Celsus, who lived towards the end of the second century, had quoted on the authority of a Jew.[84] It is evident, therefore, that the legend it contains had long been current in Jewish circles, but the book itself did not come into the hands of Christians until it was translated into Latin by Raymond Martin. Later on Luther summarized it in German under the name of Schem Hamphorasch; Wagenseil in 1681 and Huldrich in 1705 published Latin translations.[85] It is also to be found in French in Gustave Brunei's Evangiles Apocryphes.

However repugnant it is to transcribe any portion of this blasphemous work, its main outline must be given here in order to trace the subsequent course of the anti-Christian secret tradition in which, as we shall see, it has been perpetuated up to our own day. Briefly, then, the Toledot Yeshu relates with the most indecent details that Miriam, a hairdresser of Bethlehem,[86] affianced to a young man named Jochanan, was seduced by a libertine, Joseph Panther or Pandira, and gave birth to a son whom she named Johosuah or Jeschu. According to the Talmudic authors of the Sota and the Sanhedrim, Jeschu was taken during his boyhood to Egypt, where he was initiated into the secret doctrines of the priests, and on his return to Palestine gave himself up to the practice of magic.[87] The Toledot Yeshu, however, goes on to say that on reaching manhood Jeschu learnt the secret of his illegitimacy, on account of which he was driven out of the Synagogue and took refuge for a time in Galilee. Now, there was in the Temple a stone on which was engraved the Tetragrammaton or Schem Hamphorasch, that is to say, the Ineffable Name of God; this stone had been found by King David when the foundations of the Temple were being prepared and was deposited by him in the Holy of Holies. Jeschu, knowing this, came from Galilee and, penetrating into the Holy of Holies, read the Ineffable Name, which he transcribed on to a piece of parchment and concealed in an incision under his skin. By this means he was able to work miracles and to persuade the people that he was the son of God foretold by Isaiah. With the aid of Judas, the Sages of the Synagogue succeeded in capturing Jeschu, who was then led before the Great and Little Sanhedrim, by whom he was condemned to be stoned to death and finally hanged.

Such is the story of Christ according to the Jewish Cabalists, which should be compared not only with the Christian tradition but with that of the Moslems. It is perhaps not sufficiently known that the Koran, whilst denying the divinity of Christ and also the fact of His crucifixion,[88] nevertheless indignantly denounces the infamous legends concerning Him perpetuated by the Jews, and confirms in beautiful language the story of the Annunciation and the doctrine of the Miraculous Conception.[89] "Remember when the angels said, 'O Mary! verily hath God chosen thee and purified thee, and chosen thee above the women of the worlds.' ... Remember when the angels said, 'O Mary! verily God announceth to thee the Word from Him: His name shall be Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, illustrious in this world, and in the next, and one of those who have near access to God.'"

The Mother of Jesus is shown to have been pure and to have "kept her maidenhood"[90]; it was the Jews who spoke against Mary "a grievous calumny."[91] Jesus Himself is described as "strengthened with the Holy Spirit," and the Jews are reproached for rejecting "the Apostle of God,"[92] to whom was given "the Evangel with its guidance and light confirmatory of the preceding Law."[93]

Thus during the centuries that saw the birth of Christianity, although other non-Christian forces arrayed themselves against the new faith, it was left to the Jews to inaugurate a campaign of vilification against the person of its Founder, whom Moslems to this day revere as one of the great teachers of the world.[94]

The Essenes

A subtler device for discrediting Christianity and undermining belief in the divine character of our Lord has been adopted by modern writers, principally Jewish, who set out to prove that He belonged to the sect of the Essenes, a community of ascetics holding all goods in common, which had existed in Palestine before the birth of Christ. Thus the Jewish historian Graetz declares that Jesus simply appropriated to himself the essential features of Essenism, and that primitive Christianity was "nothing but an offshoot of Essenism."[95] The Christian Jew Dr. Ginsburg partially endorses this view in a small pamphlet[96] containing most of the evidence that has been brought forward on the subject, and himself expresses the opinion that "it will hardly be doubted that our Saviour Himself belonged to this holy brotherhood."[97] So after representing Christ as a magician in the Toledot Yeshu and the Talmud, Jewish tradition seeks to explain His miraculous works as those of a mere healer—an idea that we shall find descending right through the secret societies to this day. Of course if this were true, if the miracles of Christ were simply due to a knowledge of natural laws and His doctrines were the outcome of a sect, the whole theory of His divine power and mission falls to the ground. This is why it is essential to expose the fallacies and even the bad faith on which the attempt to identify Him with the Essenes is based.

Now, we have only to study the Gospels carefully in order to realize that the teachings of Christ were totally different from those peculiar to the Essenes.[98] Christ did not live in a fraternity, but, as Dr. Ginsburg himself points out, associated with publicans and sinners. The Essenes did not frequent the Temple and Christ was there frequently. The Essenes disapproved of wine and marriage, whilst Christ sanctioned marriage by His presence at the wedding of Cana in Galilee and there turned water into wine. A further point, the most conclusive of all, Dr. Ginsburg ignores, namely, that one of the principal traits of the Essenes which distinguished them from the other Jewish sects of their day was their disapproval of ointment, which they regarded as defiling, whilst Christ not only commended the woman who brought the precious jar of ointment, but reproached Simon for the omission: "My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed My feet with ointment." It is obvious that if Christ had been an Essene but had departed from His usual custom on this occasion out of deference to the woman's feelings, he would have understood why Simon had not offered Him the same attention, and at any rate Simon would have excused himself on these grounds. Further, if His disciples had been Essenes, would they not have protested against this violation of their principles, instead of merely objecting that the ointment was of too costly a kind?

But it is in attributing to Christ the Communistic doctrines of the Essenes that Dr. Ginsburg's conclusions are the most misleading—a point of particular importance in view of the fact that it is on this false hypothesis that so-called "Christian Socialism" has been built up. "The Essenes," he writes, "had all things in common, and appointed one of the brethren as steward to manage the common bag; so the primitive Christians (Acts ii. 44, 45, iv. 32-4; John xii. 6, xiii. 29)." It is perfectly true that, as the first reference to the Acts testifies, some of the primitive Christians after the death of Christ formed themselves into a body having all things in common, but there is not the slightest evidence that Christ and His disciples followed this principle. The solitary passages in the Gospel of St. John, which are all that Dr. Ginsburg can quote in support of this contention, may have referred to an alms-bag or a fund for certain expenses, not to a common pool of all monetary wealth. Still less is there any evidence that Christ advocated Communism to the world in general. When the young man having great possessions asked what he should do to inherit eternal life, Christ told him to follow the commandments, but on the young man asking what more he could do, answered: "If thou wilt be perfect go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor." Renunciation—but not the pooling—of all wealth was thus a counsel of perfection for the few who desired to devote their lives to God, as monks and nuns have always done, and bore no relation to the Communistic system of the Essenes.

Dr. Ginsburg goes on to say: "Essenism put all its members on the same level, forbidding the exercise of authority of one over the other and enjoining mutual service; so Christ (Matt. xx. 25-8; Mark ix. 35-7, x. 42-5). Essenism commanded its disciples to call no man master upon the earth; so Christ (Matt. xxiii. 8-10)." As a matter of fact, Christ strongly upheld the exercise of authority, not only in the oft-quoted passage, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's," but in His approval of the Centurion's speech: "I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it." Everywhere Christ commends the faithful servant and enjoins obedience to masters. If we look up the reference to the Gospel of St. Matthew where Dr. Ginsburg says that Christ commanded His disciples to call no man master on earth, we shall find that he has not only perverted the sense of the passage but reversed the order of the words, which, following on a denunciation of the Jewish Rabbis, runs thus: "But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.... Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant." The apostles were therefore, never ordered to call no man master, but not to be called master themselves. Moreover, if we refer to the Greek text, we shall see that this was meant in a spiritual and not a social sense. The word for "master" here given is in the first verse [Greek: didaskalos], i.e. teacher, in the second, [Greek: kathegetes] literally guide, and the word is servant is [Greek: diakonos]. When masters and servants in the social sense are referred to in the Gospels, the word employed for master is [Greek: kurios] and for servant [Greek: doulos]. Dr. Ginsburg should have been aware of this distinction and that the passage in question had therefore no bearing on his argument. As a matter of fact it would appear that some of the apostles kept servants, since Christ commends them for exacting strict attention to duty:

Which of you, having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded to him? I trow not.[99]

This passage would alone suffice to show that Christ and His apostles did not inhabit communities where all were equal, but followed the usual practices of the social system under which they lived, though adopting certain rules, such as taking only one garment and carrying no money when they went on journeys. Those resemblances between the teaching of the Essenes and the Sermon on the Mount which Dr. Ginsburg indicates refer not to the customs of a sect, but to general precepts for human conduct—humility, meekness, charity, and so forth.

At the same time it is clear that if the Essenes in general conformed to some of the principles laid down by Christ, certain of their doctrines were completely at variance with those of Christ and of primitive Christians, in particular their custom of praying to the rising sun and their disbelief in the resurrection of the body.[100] St. Paul denounces asceticism, the cardinal doctrine of the Essenes, in unmeasured terms, warning the brethren that "in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils, ... forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving ... If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ."

This would suggest that certain Essenean ideas had crept into Christian communities and were regarded by those who remembered Christ's true teaching as a dangerous perversion.

The Essenes were therefore not Christians, but a secret society, practising four degrees of initiation, and bound by terrible oaths not to divulge the sacred mysteries confided to them. And what were those mysteries but those of the Jewish secret tradition which we now know as the Cabala? Dr. Ginsburg throws an important light on Essenism when, in one passage alone, he refers to the obligation of the Essenes "not to divulge the secret doctrines to anyone, ... carefully to preserve the books belonging to their sect and the names of the angels or the mysteries connected with the Tetragrammaton and the other names of God and the angels, comprised in the theosophy as well as with the cosmogony which also played so important a part among the Jewish mystics and the Kabbalists."[101] The truth is clearly that the Essenes were Cabalists, though doubtless Cabalists of a superior kind. The Cabal they possessed very possibly descended from pre-Christian times and had remained uncontaminated by the anti-Christian strain introduced into it by the Rabbis after the death of Christ.[102]

The Essenes are of importance to the subject of this book as the first of the secret societies from which a direct line of tradition can be traced up to the present day. But if in this peaceful community no actually anti-Christian influence is to be discerned, the same cannot be said of the succeeding pseudo-Christian sects which, whilst professing Christianity, mingled with Christian doctrines the poison of the perverted Cabala, main source of the errors which henceforth rent the Christian Church in twain.

The Gnostics

The first school of thought to create a schism in Christianity was the collection of sects known under the generic name of Gnosticism. In its purer forms Gnosticism aimed at supplementing faith by knowledge of eternal verities and at giving a wider meaning to Christianity by linking it up with earlier faiths. "The belief that the divinity had been manifested in the religious institutions of all nations"[103] thus led to the conception of a sort of universal religion containing the divine elements of all.

Gnosticism, however, as the Jewish Encyclopaedia points out, "was Jewish in character long before it became Christian."[104] M. Matter indicates Syria and Palestine as its cradle and Alexandria as the centre by which it was influenced at the time of its alliance with Christianity. This influence again was predominantly Jewish. Philo and Aristobulus, the leading Jewish philosophers of Alexandria, "wholly attached to the ancient religion of their fathers, both resolved to adorn it with the spoils of other systems and to open to Judaism the way to immense conquests."[105] This method of borrowing from other races and religions those ideas useful for their purpose has always been the custom of the Jews. The Cabala, as we have seen, was made up of these heterogeneous elements. And it is here we find the principal progenitor of Gnosticism. The Freemason Ragon gives the clue in the words: "The Cabala is the key of the occult sciences. The Gnostics were born of the Cabalists."[106]

For the Cabala was much older than the Gnostics. Modern historians who date it merely from the publication of the Zohar by Moses de Leon in the thirteenth century or from the school of Luria in the sixteenth century obscure this most important fact which Jewish savants have always clearly, recognized.[107] The Jewish Encyclopaedia, whilst denying the certainty of connexion between Gnosticism and the Cabala, nevertheless admits that the investigations of the anti-Cabalist Graetz "must be resumed on a new basis," and it goes on to show that "it was Alexandria of the first century, or earlier, with her strange commingling of Egyptian, Chaldean, Judean, and Greek culture which furnished soil and seeds for that mystic philosophy."[108] But since Alexandria was at the same period the home of Gnosticism, which was formed from the same elements enumerated here, the connexion between the two systems is clearly evident. M. Matter is therefore right in saying that Gnosticism was not a defection from Christianity, but a combination of systems into which a few Christian elements were introduced. The result of Gnosticism was thus not to christianize the Cabala, but to cabalize Christianity by mingling its pure and simple teaching with theosophy and even magic. The Jewish Encyclopaedia quotes the opinion that "the central doctrine of Gnosticism—a movement closely connected with Jewish mysticism—was nothing else than the attempt to liberate the soul and unite it with God"; but as this was apparently to be effected "through the employment of mysteries, incantations, names of angels," etc., it will be seen how widely even this phase of Gnosticism differs from Christianity and identifies itself with the magical Cabala of the Jews.

Indeed, the man generally recognized as the founder of Gnosticism, a Jew commonly known as Simon Magus, was not only a Cabalist mystic but avowedly a magician, who with a band of Jews, including his master Dositheus and his disciples Menander and Cerinthus, instituted a priesthood of the Mysteries and practised occult arts and exorcisms.[109] It was this Simon of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles that he "bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God," and who sought to purchase the power of the laying on of hands with money. Simon, indeed, crazed by his incantations and ecstasies, developed megalomania in an acute form, arrogating to himself divine honours and aspiring to the adoration of the whole world. According to a contemporary legend, he eventually became sorcerer to Nero and ended his life in Rome.[110]

The prevalence of sorcery amongst the Jews during the first century of the Christian era is shown by other passages in the Acts of the Apostles; in Paphos the "false prophet," a Jew, whose surname was Bar-Jesus, otherwise known as "Elymas the sorcerer," opposed the teaching of St. Paul and brought on himself the imprecation: "O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?"

Perversion is the keynote of all the debased forms of Gnosticism. According to Eliphas Levi, certain of the Gnostics introduced into their rites that profanation of Christian mysteries which was to form the basis of black magic in the Middle Ages.[111] The glorification of evil, which plays so important a part in the modern revolutionary movement, constituted the creed of the Ophites, who worshipped the Serpent ([Greek: ophis]) because he had revolted against Jehovah, to whom they referred under the Cabalistic term of the "demiurgus,"[112] and still more of the Cainites, so-called from their cult of Cain, whom, with Dathan and Abiram, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, and finally Judas Iscariot, they regarded as noble victims of the demiurgus.[113] Animated by hatred of all social and moral order, the Cainites "called upon all men to destroy the works of God and to commit every kind of infamy."[114]

These men were therefore not only the enemies of Christianity but of orthodox Judaism, since it was against the Jehovah of the Jews that their hatred was particularly directed. Another Gnostic sect, the Carpocratians, followers of Carpocrates of Alexandria and his son Epiphanus—who died from his debaucheries and was venerated as a god[115]—likewise regarded all written laws, Christian or Mosaic, with contempt and recognized only the [Greek: gnosis] or knowledge given to the great men of every nation—Plato and Pythagoras, Moses and Christ—which "frees one from all that the vulgar call religion" and "makes man equal to God."[116]

So in the Carpocratians of the second century we find already the tendency towards that deification of humanity which forms the supreme doctrine of the secret societies and of the visionary Socialists of our day. The war now begins between the two contending principles: the Christian conception of man reaching up to God and the secret society conception of man as God, needing no revelation from on high and no guidance but the law of his own nature. And since that nature is in itself divine, all that springs from it is praiseworthy, and those acts usually regarded as sins are not to be condemned. By this line of reasoning the Carpocratians arrived at much the same conclusions as modern Communists with regard to the ideal social system. Thus Epiphanus held that since Nature herself reveals the principle of the community and the unity of all things, human laws which are contrary to this law of Nature are so many culpable infractions of the legitimate order of things. Before these laws were imposed on humanity everything was in common—land, goods, and women. According to certain contemporaries, the Carpocratians returned to this primitive system by instituting the community of women and indulging in every kind of licence.

The further Gnostic sect of Antitacts, following this same cult of human nature, taught revolt against all positive religion and laws and the necessity for gratifying the flesh; the Adamites of North Africa, going a step further in the return to Nature, cast off all clothing at their religious services so as to represent the primitive innocence of the garden of Eden—a precedent followed by the Adamites of Germany in the fifteenth century.[117]

These Gnostics, says Eliphas Levi, under the pretext of "spiritualizing matter, materialized the spirit in the most revolting ways.... Rebels to the hierarchic order, ... they wished to substitute the mystical licence of sensual passions to wise Christian sobriety and obedience to laws.... Enemies of the family, they wished to produce sterility by increasing debauchery."[118]

By way of systematically perverting the doctrines of the Christian faith the Gnostics claimed to possess the true versions of the Gospels, and professed belief in these to the exclusion of all the others.[119] Thus the Ebionites had their own corrupted version of the Gospel of St. Matthew founded on the "Gospel of the Hebrews," known earlier to the Jewish Christians; the Marcosians had their version of St. Luke, the Cainites their own "Gospel of Judas," and the Valentinians their "Gospel of St. John." As we shall see later, the Gospel of St. John is the one that throughout the war on Christianity has been specially chosen for the purpose of perversion.

Of course this spirit of perversion was nothing new; many centuries earlier the prophet Isaiah had denounced it in the words: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness!" But the role of the Gnostics was to reduce perversion to a system by binding men together into sects working under the guise of enlightenment in order to obscure all recognized ideas of morality and religion. It is this which constitutes their importance in the history of secret societies.

Whether the Gnostics themselves can be described as a secret society, or rather as a ramification of secret societies, is open to question. M. Matter, quoting a number of third-century writers, shows the possibility that they had mysteries and initiations; the Church Fathers definitely asserted this to be the case.[120] According to Tertullian, the Valentinians continued, or rather perverted, the mysteries of Eleusis, out of which they made a "sanctuary of prostitution."[121]

The Valentinians are known to have divided their members into three classes—the Pneumatics, the Psychics, and the Hylics (i.e. materialists); the Basilideans are also said to have possessed secret doctrines known to hardly one in a thousand of the sect. From all this M. Matter concludes that:

1. The Gnostics professed to hold by means of tradition a secret doctrine superior to that contained in the public writings of the apostles.

2. That they did not communicate this doctrine to everyone....

3. That they communicated it by means of emblems and symbols, as the Diagram of the Ophites proves.

4. That in these communications they imitated the rites and trials of the mysteries of Eleusis.[122]

This claim to the possession of a secret oral tradition, whether known under the name of [Greek: gnosis] or of Cabala, confirms the conception of the Gnostics as Cabalists and shows how far they had departed from Christian teaching. For if only in this idea of "one doctrine for the ignorant and another for the initiated," the Gnostics had restored the very system which Christianity had come to destroy.[123]


Whilst we have seen the Gnostic sects working for more or less subversive purposes under the guise of esoteric doctrines, we find in the Manicheans of Persia, who followed a century later, a sect embodying the same tendencies and approaching still nearer to secret society organization.

Cubricus or Corbicius, the founder of Manicheism, was born in Babylonia about the year A.D. 216. Whilst still a child he is said to have been bought as a slave by a rich widow of Ctesiphon, who liberated him and on her death left him great wealth. According to another story—for the whole history of Manes rests on legends—he inherited from a rich old woman the books of a Saracen named Scythianus on the wisdom of the Egyptians. Combining the doctrines these books contained with ideas borrowed from Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, and Christianity, and also with certain additions of his own, he elaborated a philosophic system which he proceeded to teach. Cubricus then changed his name to Mani or Manes and proclaimed himself the Paraclete promised by Jesus Christ. His followers were divided into two classes—the outer circle of hearers or combatants, and the inner circle of teachers or ascetics described as the Elect. As evidence of their resemblance with Freemasons, it has been said that the Manicheans made use of secret signs, grips, and passwords, that owing to the circumstances of their master's adoption they called Manes "the son of the widow" and themselves "the children of the widow," but this is not clearly proved. One of their customs is, however, interesting in this connexion. According to legend, Manes undertook to cure the son of the King of Persia who had fallen ill, but the prince died, whereupon Manes was flayed alive by order of the king and his corpse hanged up at the city gate. Every year after this, on Good Friday, the Manicheans carried out a mourning ceremony known as the Bema around the catafalque of Manes, whose real sufferings they were wont to contrast with the unreal sufferings of Christ.

The fundamental doctrine of Manicheism is Dualism—that is to say, the existence of two opposing principles in the world, light and darkness, good and evil—founded, however, not on the Christian conception of this idea, but on the Zoroastrian conception of Ormuzd and Ahriman, and so perverted and mingled with Cabalistic superstitions that it met with as vehement denunciation by Persian priests as by Christian Fathers. Thus, according to the doctrine of Manes, all matter is absolute evil, the principle of evil is eternal, humanity itself is of Satanic origin, and the first human beings, Adam and Eve, are represented as the offspring of devils.[124] Much the same idea may be found in the Jewish Cabala, where it is said that Adam, after other abominable practices, cohabited with female devils whilst Eve consoled herself with male devils, so that whole races of demons were born into the world. Eve is also accused of cohabiting with the Serpent.[125] In the Yalkut Shimoni it is also related that during the 130 years that Adam lived apart from Eve, "he begat a generation of devils, spirits, and hobgoblins."[126] Manichean demonology thus paved the way for the placation of the powers of darkness practised by the Euchites at the end of the fourth century and later by the Paulicians, the Bogomils, and the Luciferians.

So it is in Gnosticism and Manicheism that we find evidence of the first attempts to pervert Christianity. The very fact that all such have been condemned by the Church as "heresies" has tended to enlist sympathy in their favour, yet even Eliphas Levi recognizes that here the action of the Church was right, for the "monstrous gnosis of Manes" was a desecration not only of Christian doctrines but of pre-Christian sacred traditions.



We have followed the efforts of subversive sects hitherto directed against Christianity and orthodox Judaism; we shall now see this attempt, reduced by gradual stages to a working system of extraordinary efficiency, organized for the purpose of undermining all moral and religious beliefs in the minds of Moslems. In the middle of the seventh century an immense schism was created in Islam by the rival advocates of successors to the Prophet, the orthodox Islamites known by the name of Sunnis adhering to the elected Khalifas Abu Bakr, Omar, and Othman, whilst the party of revolt, known as the Shiahs, claimed the Khalifate for the descendants of Mohammed through Ali, son of Abu-Talib and husband of Fatima, the Prophet's daughter. This division ended in open warfare; Ali was finally assassinated, his elder son Hason was poisoned in Medina, his younger son Husain fell at the battle of Kerbela fighting against the supporters of Othman. The deaths of Hasan and Husain are still mourned yearly by the Shiahs at the Moharram.

The Ismailis

The Shiahs themselves split again over the question of Ali's successors into four factions, the fourth of which divided again into two further sects. Both of these retained their allegiance to the descendants of Ali as far as Jafar-as-Sadik, but whilst one party, known as the Imamias or Isna-Asharias (i.e. the Twelvers), supported the succession through his younger son Musa to the twelfth Iman Mohammed, son of Askeri, the Ismailis (or Seveners) adhered to Ismail, the elder son of Jafar-as-Sadik.


Choice of SUNNIS Abu Bakr (1st Khalifa) 632 Omar 634 Othman 644 Ali

Choice of SHIAHS

Abd-ul-Muttalib Abdullah MOHAMMED A.D. 570-632 Fatima married Ali Abu Talib ALI (4th Sunni and 1st Shiah Khalifa murdered in Kufa) (2) Hasan poisoned A.D. 680 (3) Husain killed at battle of Kerbela A.D. 680 (4) Ali II (5) Mohammed (6) Jafar-as-Sadik Choice of ISMAILIS (7) Ismail Mohammed disappeared circ. 770 Choice of IMAMIAS or ISNA-ASHARIAS (7) Abu'I Hasan Musa (8) Ali III (9) Abu Jafar Mohammed (10) Ali (11) Abu Mohammed al Askari (12) Mohammed al Mahdi

SHIAHS ISMAILIS circ. A.D. 770 BATINIS (founded by Abdullah ibn Maymun) circ. A.D. 872 FATIMITES (under Ubeidallah 1st Fatimite Khalifa) A.D. 909 Fatimite Khalifas of Egypt A.D. 977 HAKIM 6th Fatimite Khalifa A.D. 996 Founds Dar-ul-Hikmat A.D. 1004 ASSASSINS (under Hasan Saba) A.D. 1090 DRUSES (under Hazza) circ. A.D. 1021 KARMATHITES (under Hamdan Karmath) A.D. 896

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