Saturday, June 23, 2007

BOOK: A. E. Waite, "Devil-Worship in France"

Arthur Edward Waite: Devil-Worship in France with Diana Vaughan and the Question of Modern Palladism. With an introduction by R. A. Gilbert. York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2003. 1578632862. xxv + 305 pp.


In the late 19th century, a scandal erupted in France regarding a supposed highly secret society, the Palladists, who supposedly included as members a number of high-ranking Freemasons and who devoted themselves to devil-worship and all manner of unspeakable abominations. Books, pamphlets, and articles were written about them by people such as Leo Taxil (who claimed to have recently converted from devil-worship back to catholicism), one Dr. Bataille (actually Karl Hacks), and others. They received a fair amount of support and encouragement from various Catholic prelates, magazines, etc., as the Catholic church at the time was (at least in some countries, e.g. France) quite a virulently anti-Freemason organization. [However, Waite also points out that “the Church in its official capacity did not welcome, countenance, or tolerate the scandals which were devised in its name [. . .] she has no desire for the assistance of unsavoury confederates, self-constituted allies as they are” (p. 290).]

But A. E. Waite had good reasons to believe it was all bunk. He was a prominent British occultist, although this term is perhaps somewhat misleading; he refers to himself as a ‘transcendentalist’ (ch. 12, p. 167) in several places, which sounds like a more suitable apellation (although I'm not quite sure what its precise definition is in this context). When we hear the word occultism, we usually associate it with ghost-calling seances, lurid devil-worship rituals, and other such nonsense, and the impression I got from this book was that Waite had nothing whatsoever to do with that sort of things; he took occultism and mysticism much more seriously than that, and seems to have possessed a remarkable amount of robust skepticism, opposition to bullshit, and all-round rationality — much more than I would have dared to expect in a person who took (as Waite did) occult and mystical subjects seriously.

Anyway, Waite was quite knowledgeable about various sorts of things having to do with occultism, mysticism, freemasonry, secret societies, etc., and it didn't take him long to point out a number of weak points in the claims of Taxil and his collaborators. He published his findings, in 1896, in the book Devil-Worship in France, which probably helped hasten the end of the Taxil hoax. Taxil et al. would probably have preferred to keep up the pretence a little further; Waite argues (p. 231) that Taxil was basically a venal hack, whose writings fall squarely into the penny dreadful genre. Earlier in his career Taxil had written lurid anti-Catholic screeds, and now after his supposed conversion he was finding that anti-Masonic and anti-Satanic stuff was also selling quite well, and had no particular wish to end the hoax sooner than necessary. However, the pressure of skeptical questions such as those pointed out by Waite in his book made it impossible for Taxil to continue. Some of his writings were published as the supposed memoirs of one Diana Vaughan, an American woman, formerly a member of the Palladist cult but now, like Taxil, also a convert to Catholicism; and since nobody had ever seen this woman, more and more people were beginning to doubt that she had ever existed. Finally Taxil announced a press conference, promising that he would introduce Miss Vaughan to the public, but instead he then simply admitted that it had all been a hoax.

(Waite, meanwhile, had been working on a sequel to Devil-Worship in France; this sequel remained unpublished, partly because the hoax was over and partly because Devil-Worship itself hadn't sold very well and the publisher didn't want to risk with another book on the same topic. Thus, the first time that the sequel, titled Diana Vaughan and the Question of Modern Palladism, was published was in this 2003 Red Wheel/Weiser edition.)


All in all, this was a fairly interesting read. Waite debunks the hoax quite thoroughly, dedicating a chapter to each of the writers involved in it, and in each of these chapters he shows why that writer is unreliable, points out instances where the writer's claims are flat out wrong, etc. His style is sometimes a bit heavy on sarcasm for my taste; sarcasm in debunking is, in my opinion, incompatible with that charity that a decent author should show towards his opponents (although, of course, in this case one has to admit that the claims of Taxil et al. are so ridiculous and absurd that it's hard to blame Waite for indulging in a bit of sarcasm).

Waite mentions J.-K. Huysmans several times (a few years earlier, in 1891, Huysmans published a very well-known novel, La-bas, about satanism in contemporary France); the strange thing is that he consistently spells his last name “Huysman” instead of “Huysmans”. The editor of this 2003 edition has equally consistently emended this into “Huysman[s]”.

This 2003 edition also contains some footnotes which seem to have been added by an editor specifically to this edition, rather than having been a part of the original 1896 edition of this book. Many of them are quite helpful for a present-day reader who might not be familiar with the same things as Waite's contemporaries were. Here's a nice example from ch. 1, p. 9: Waite refers to Lucifer's “region of eternal fire—a variety unknown to the late Mr Charles Marvin”. A footnote explains: “Charles Marvin (1854–1890) was the author of The Region of the Eternal Fire, 1886, a study of the Russian petroleum industry.” :-)

The impressions of ‘Dr Bataille’, Taxil's collaborator, of Singapore, sarcastically related by Waite (ch. 7, sec. 6, pp. 93–4): “The English as a nation are criminal, but Singapore is the yeast-house of British wickedness, where vice ferments continually; there man masonifies naturally and most masons palladize.”

During Bataille's travels in Calcutta (ch. 7, sec. 5, p. 92): “a wild cat, which strayed in through an open window, was regarded as the appearance of a soul in transmigration, and, in spite of its piteous protests, was passed through the fire to Baal.” :)))

Among other things, one of the reasons to argue against the authenticity of Diana Vaughan's writings is her style, which is remarkably similar to that of the most fanatical French clerical writers, not something you'd expect in a recent convert to catholicism: “I submit that a volte face is possible, especially in religious opinions, but that a pronounced habit of religious thought cannot be acquired in a day” (ch. 8, p. 119).

A nice bit of poking fun at the silly stereotypes of devil-worship that were peddled around by Taxil et al.: “our poor old friend Baphomet, whom his admirers persist in representing with a goat's head, whereas he is the archetype of the ass” (ch. 8, p. 124).

There's some heavy-handed sarcasm in ch. 9, which debunks the writings of one Jean Kostka. “After a careful examination of his statement, which is exceedingly naive, I am tempted to conclude that he has never been near an abyss; he is innocent of either height or depth, and so far from having ever plunged into the infernal void, he has scarcely so much as paddled in a purgatorial puddle. His guilty transcendental experiences are in reality the most infantile afternoon occultism” (p. 130). Kostka interpreted “the Kadosch term Nekam, which signifies vengeance” as an acronym for “N (ex) E (xterminatio) K (risti) A (dversarii) M (agni), to wit: ‘Death, Extermination of Christ, the Great Enemy.’ Wicked and wily Jean Kostka to outrage the decencies of orthography and against all reason write the name of the Liberator with a K, thereby concealing the true meaning, which revealed for the first time is as follows:—N (equaquam) E (ritis) K (ostka) A (rtium) M (agister), which being interpreted still further, signifies that there was never such a clumsy device!” (But really, even I was outraged by the interpretation of K for “Kristi”. Surely everyone knows that the right spelling is Krusty. It's clear even to me that in Greek, Christ's name would begin with the letter chi, Χ, while the Latin letter K is from the Greek kappa, Κ, rather than from Χ, so it's a completely unrelated letter.)

Here's some more sarcasm against Kostka. I'm almost beginning to feel sorry for him :) “[A]ll known specimens [of ghosts] have been carefully labelled, except possibly the odorous ghost, the ghost, that is to say, who manifests exclusively to the olfactory organ. This is an exceedingly withdrawn inappreciable kind, but it is familiar to Jean Kostka, who is a connoisseur in the smell supernatural, and has a trained psychic nose.” (P. 138.) “On this occasion he tells us that he was inspired to pronounce one of his most wicked and dangerous Masonic discourses. Dear M. Kostka! Dynamite would lose its destroying power in his harmless hands.” (P. 139.)

Ch. 10 is about an Italian, signor Margiotta. At some point Margiotta describes having been present at a successful invocation of the devil: “It was managed by means of a whisky-bottle, out of which, after certain invocations and magical ceremonies, a vapour rose mysteriously, and resolved itself into a human figure, wearing a golden crown, with a brilliant star in the middle. [. . .] Signor Margiotta gives the names of all who were present at the evocation—twelve members of the 33rd degree, to say nothing of Misraim dignities. I submit, however, that the episode of the bottle would split the rock of Peter, that the absence of Signor Pessina for twenty minutes previous to the performance, eked out with a little ventriloquism, and some Pepper accessories would explain much, and that there is also another hypothesis which I will leave to the discernment of my readers, and to which I lean personally.” (P. 156.)

Interestingly, in ch. 14, p. 208, he writes “Phi” when he means “Fie”.

Is it worth $50?
[plus, a rant about freemasonry :)]

Incidentally, this is quite a handsomely produced book. It's set in Bembo, I think (judging by the shape of the capital ‘R’s), in type slightly larger than in your usual trade hardcover (though still not as large as in books that are explicitly intended to be large-type books). The paper has a fairly luxuriously-looking creamy colour. My only complaint is that it lacks an index.

So you will be getting a nice book for your money; but still, is it worth its recommended retail price of $50? Frankly, I'm not sure. Of course, this is a tiny sum if you consider how much it would cost to buy a copy of the 1896 first edition of Devil-Worship in France (copies currently offered on ABE are in the $250–$500 range). (Bizarrely, some of the sellers on ABE are offering the Weiser edition for sums like $70–$90, even though you can buy it from amazon (or from the publisher) for $50...)

There's another modern reprint, Fredonia Books, 2003, a paperback costing $25. This has about the same number of pages as the 1896 edition, so I suspect it's just a photographic reprint of that; I see no signs that it contains Diana Vaughan. I haven't been able to find much more about Fredonia Books; apparently they are a Dutch publisher, and their home page is currently suspended by their ISP (“Please contact the billing/support department as soon as possible.”). It seems they have published a large number of paperback reprints of out-of-copyright books in English.

Devil-Worship in France is also freely available on-line at

So from that point of view, the main selling point of this book would have to be the previously unpublished Diana Vaughan and the Question of Modern Palladism. To me personally, this is not really worth $50 (which is a lot of money for a book, after all — a downright unholy sum in fact, or it would be if Weiser were an ordinary trade publisher, which they clearly aren't or they wouldn't be setting their RRPs so high); it's a fairly short work and feels mostly like a supplement to Devil-Worship in France. Waite intended to publish it as a standalone book (but his publisher declined because the first book, Devil-Worship in France, hadn't sold well enough; p. xxi), but in my opinion the more decent thing to do would be to use the material to prepare an expanded second edition of Devil-Worship in France.

Besides, to me it seems that a considerable part of Diana Vaughan and the Question of Modern Palladism is not really so much about the Taxil hoax at all, but about Freemasonry, which Waite is trying to defend from the unreasonable prejudices and accusations against it that were so widespread within the catholic church at the time. I didn't find this terribly interesting. Although I can't say that I harbor any particularly ill feelings towards freemasonry, I definitely can't say that I feel any sort of sympathy for it either. As a rabid fan of egalitarianism, I cannot possibly approve of any kind of exclusive and secretive association; I'm firmly convinced that nothing good can come of such societies; at best they will do no harm, but then secrecy and exclusivity are inherently harmful by themselves, as far as I'm concerned. Their obsession with degrees (33 or whatever number of them they have), though which one is supposed to ascend or something like that; and their obsession with ridiculous and absurdly pompous titles (grand/sovereign commander/inspector/etc. — it really takes the fricking KKK to out-do them in silliness of titles — and anyway, couldn't they just cut through the bullshit and simply wear a plaque around their necks saying “my prick is so-and-so many inches long” — that's what it's all about after all, isn't it?) also doesn't appeal to me at all — things like that will inevitably lead to delusions of elitism and meritocracy, which is contrary to my principle that everyone should be equally well off and considered equally valuable, regardless of his or her efforts and achievements.

And anyway, according to the ideas of a noted U.S. freemason, Albert Pike (ch. 5, p. 270), there is supposed to be a religious basis of freemasonry, namely “natural religion, the sum of light which the intellect unaided by revelation is supposed to reach”, and among these beliefs they include the “existence of a God [as a person! thus, no pantheism] and the immortality of the soul” (p. 267). Pike believed (p. 270) that any view which excludes these beliefs (e.g. atheism, I guess) makes it more or less impossible to endure life (with all of its problems) and retain a sense of happiness, hope and perseverance. But surely there is much that is wrong about these claims. They seem like the same stale old arguments against atheism that the church itself has probably peddled since time pretermemorial. If little else, these claims aren't particularly true; I personally may indeed be despondent and miserable, but I don't think that most other atheists are particularly unhappy. And besides, Pike seems to be arguing that his beliefs should be shared by others because such beliefs are expedient, not because they are true. This is silly; yet more lying to oneself, inventing answers to questions one doesn't really know the answer to. And his claim that the existence of a personal god and of immortal souls are somehow self-evident and “natural” is even sillier. I cannot have much regard for an organization founded on the basis of beliefs like these.

Anyway, there's nothing worth $50 in Diana Vaughan and the Question of Modern Palladism, if you ask me. Fortunately I bought the book on ABE for $25, which is a little better; although on second thought, if I had to say now, after I've read the book, how much it was really worth, I'd say $10 or maybe $15 at the most.


  • If you're just interested in the lurid allegations made by Taxil, Bataille et al., just jump directly to Chapter 7 of Waite's book.

  • I first heard of this book in Sprague de Camp's Ragged Edge of Science, which includes a chapter about the Taxil hoax.

  • I'd be very curious to read Bataille's book itself (Le Diable au XIXe Siècle), but I don't understand French, and it doesn't seem to have been translated into English. But then again, one can probably find plenty of perfectly good tripe of the same sort on numerous modern-day conspiracy web sites :)

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