In today’s episode, we will be taking a look at secret societies.We’re going to start the episode discussing a brief overview of the topic, then a few societies in particular. Among those discussed will be The Freemasons, The Hell Fire Club, and The Illuminati.
Welcome back to the 18th Century Podcast. I am your host, Cj. In today’s episode, we will be taking a look at secret societies. Secret Societies are a fascinating topic, and they were somewhat prevalent during the 18th Century. We’re going to start the episode discussing a brief overview of the topic, then a few societies in particular. Among those discussed will be The Freemasons, The Hell Fire Club, and The Illuminati. f you’d like to read the script for this episode and its citations, go to 18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. Let’s get into it with, a brief overview of secret societies in the 18th Century.
OVERVIEW OF SECRET SOCIETIES
Perhaps the best way to describe a secret society is to speak of it’s most basic elements. A secret society is a group of people centered around a goal or a group of goals or ideas and espousing them in secrecy. Secret societies could be religious or secular. Ceremony and rituals are often involved, as passed down traditions. A secret society could have certain qualifications for membership, such as being of a particular sex, specific age, social class, your even your job. Traditionally, most secret societies tended to be for adult males. Now let’s look at some examples of secret societies in the 18th Century, beginning with the Freemasons.
PART 1 FREEMASONS
Freemasonry is perhaps one of the most popular secret societies in the world. The roots of Freemasonry go back further than that of the 18th Century. Most likely, Freemasonry started as a guild or guilds in the Middle Ages. Yet as time went on, the formed into the group known as the Freemasons. One no longer had to be an actual mason to join. Semblance of Freemasonry slowly came into being during the 17th Century. There were signs of Lodges in the 17th Century as well. I would like to note, that at this point, it was more focused in England. Jumping into the 18th Century, the more modern structure began to take shape. On June 24th, 1717, the first Grand Lodge was established. This Grand Lodge was comprised of four separate Lodges in London coming together. This would be the first Grand Lodge in the entire world. In 1723 the new Grand Lodge published their first rule book. Then in 1725, the Grand Lodge of Ireland was established. The French Grand Lodge opened its doors in 1728. On July 30th, 1733 the first Grand Lodge in America was established. 18 men gathered together in a Tavern in Boston to establish the new Grand Lodge. Which, was also the first Lodge in America. In 1736 the Scottish Grand Lodge was established. Around the 1730s through the 1740s in France, there was an idea of having a mixed-sex form of Freemasonry. This could be referred to as, Rite of Adoption. It wasn’t popular with everyone, but rules for it were eventually adopted in France. One of the key points of Freemasonry is Brotherhood. Some general requirements for joining were being a freeborn Male who believes in some sort of Supreme Being, of good character, and particular minimum age. The term, “Lodge” refers to the meeting of Masons. However, the word “Lodge” can be interpreted as where they meet as well. Grand Lodges issues charters or warrants for the formation of new Lodges. If they do not obtain a charter or warrant they are viewed as irregular and not officially recognized. If they are recognized, they are viewed as regular. This practice of viewing a lodge as regular or irregular is also at the Grand Lodge level as well for the simple fact of mutual recognition. The acts conducted within Freemasonry during the 18th Century were secretive, so I can’t discuss much what they did. I think this is a good spot to move on to the Hellfire Club.
PART 2 HELLFIRE CLUB
You may have heard of the Hellfire Club, if only for the simple fact of Ben Franklin possibly may have attended. There were a few Hellfire Clubs sprinkled throughout Ireland and England. However, the first Hellfire Club was started in England in 1719 by the First Duke of Wharton. There wasn’t a ton of organizational structure in Hellfire Clubs. The main point of these clubs was in fact, Hedonism. Drunkenness and other debaucherous activities were prevalent. The most famous Hellfire Club was started by Sir Francis Dashwood. However, he would add his branding to the Club dubbing it, the Order of the Knights of St Francis. His Club was founded sometime in the 1730s. About six miles from his home in, West Wycombe, Sir Dashwood would set up shop in an old abandoned Abbey. They would meet usually twice a year. Members could expect good food, much drinking, and to quote from a book from 1779 called, Nocturnal Revels, which was a record of the meetings, quote “cheerful ladies of lively dispositions.” Unquote. In the mid-1760s, Sir Dashwood would change the venue. Eventually, the Club would come to a close. Now, were going to take a short break, and when we come back we’ll finish the episode off by talking about, the Illuminati.
PART 3 THE ILLUMINATI
Welcome back. We’ll finish off this week’s episode by discussing one of the most famous secret societies in history, The Illuminati. The real Illuminati was started by a Bavarian man named, Adam Weishaupt. Adam was born in 1748 and attended a Jesuit School in his youth. Adam would go on to become a professor of Natural and Canon Law. He would get married and start a family. He grew up in a Catholic society but read his uncles French Enlightenment books during his youth. His political views tended towards the idea that Monarchy and the Church were repressive organizations. For a time he considered joining the Freemasons but some of his views contrasted with that of the Masons. He decided to form his own society and one of their core beliefs was the abolishment of Monarchy. On May 1st, 1776, the 28-year-old Adam conducted the very first Illuminati meeting. There was a total attendance of five members. They established the rules of their new society that night. Illumination was the main goal of the Illuminati which, to put it another way, was to bring knowledge of true liberty to the people. He added mysticism to their society to make the republican group seem more mysterious. In 1780, Adam attracted the attention of Adolf Francis, a Baron, and an Occultist. The Baron seemed to approve of the Illuminati’s goals and he helped establish chapters across Germany. By 1782 their numbers swelled to around 600 men. The Illuminati attracted doctors, lawyers, politicians, intellectuals and the like. During 1784 their membership would hit about 3000 men. There were 13 degrees a member could attain, and this structure was in part modeled after the Masons. Yet they would meet their downfall between 1784 to 1785. A disillusioned member wrote to the Grand Duchess of Bavaria informing her of the secret societies. The letter was a mixture of truth and falsehoods. The Grand Duchess informed her husband, the Duke-Elector, about this and he would issue an edict effectively banning the formation of societies not prescribed by law. Then in 1785 another edict was passed specifically banning the Illuminati. Police were sent out to arrest members and confiscate anything to do with the Illuminati. In 1787 the Duke-Elector would pass a final edict which officially prohibited the Illuminati and made being a member worthy of a death sentence. Adam was banished and he would spend the rest of his days as a teacher of philosophy at a University in Saxony. Thus, this brings us to the end of the Illuminati.
Secret Societies are an interesting topic. Some of them still exist to this day, such as The Freemasons. I found this as an interesting topic to research and I hope you enjoyed hearing about it as much as I did reading about it. The script and citations for this episode and all other episodes can be found at https://18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. If you’d like to support the show, please share it and leave a review. I’ve been your host Cj, and thank you for listening to this episode of the 18th Century Podcast.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Freemasonry.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 30 Aug. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/order-of-Freemasons.
Freemasonry and Brotherhood, http://www.msana.com/brotherhood.asp.
“History of Freemasonry.” United Grand Lodge of England – History of Freemasonry, https://www.ugle.org.uk/about-freemasonry/history-of-freemasonry.
“Boston Masons Organize First Grand Lodge in America.” John Brown Speaks in Concord, https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/boston-masons-organize-first-grand-lodge-in-america.html.
Walton, Geri. “Freemasonry and the ‘Masonry of Adoption’ in 18th Century France.” Geri Walton, 23 Apr. 2019, https://www.geriwalton.com/freemasonry-and-the-masonry-of-adoption-in-18th-century-france/.
“Freemasonry.” New World Encyclopedia, . 11 May 2017, 14:33 UTC. 12 Sep 2019, 20:26 <//www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Freemasonry&oldid=1004729>.
“Who Were the Hellfire Club?: The Hellfire Club Archaeological Project.” Abarta Heritage Home, 29 June 2018, https://www.abartaheritage.ie/hellfire-club-archaeological-project/hellfire-club-history/hellfire-club/.
“Hellfire Club History: The Beginnings of the Infamous Secret Society.” Historic Mysteries, 7 Jan. 2017, https://www.historicmysteries.com/hellfire-club/.
Fotostock, Maria Breuer/ImageBroker/Age, and Karger-Decker/Age Fotostock. “Meet the Man Who Started the Illuminati.” National Geographic, 3 Sept. 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2016/07-08/profile-adam-weishaupt-illuminati-secret-society/.