Home » Anti-Masonry » “Miss Diana Vaughan” and the myth of “Luciferian Freemasonry” in English Catholic newspapers (1894-1897) and The Prague Cemetery (2010)

“Miss Diana Vaughan” and the myth of “Luciferian Freemasonry” in English Catholic newspapers (1894-1897) and The Prague Cemetery (2010)

The following is a revised version (with new material added) of an essay published in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism (link to volume).

In a lecture delivered on 15 May 2008 at Bologna University, and recently published in a new volume of essays, Umberto Eco explains that the process of “inventing the enemy” has featured in almost all cultures. In this lecture, “inventing the enemy” takes on an almost ontological significance, “important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth.” We are, Eco suggests, “beings who need an enemy.” Consequently, “when there is no enemy, we have to invent one.” Eco drew upon a wide range of examples from across history, such as Saint Augustine’s condemnation of the pagans, the diabolisation of prostitutes, lepers, gypsies, lesbians, witches and “the Negro,” the ancient theological myth of the Jewish Antichrist, and Hitler’s construction of “the Jewish mongrel.” He was justifiably disturbed by this process, and the prospect that “our moral sense” may be “impotent when faced with the age-old need for enemies.” I believe it was this widespread cultural cultivation of the so-called “enemy” that Umberto Eco had in mind when he wrote The Prague Cemetery [1].

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The narratives in The Prague Cemetery are often challenging and fantastic, but little more so than some of the episodes and texts upon which they are based. For example, whilst Eco embellished the narratives about Miss Diana Vaughan (in chapter 22 of the Prague Cemetery), they were already in the 1890s, as a sceptical English Catholic critic pointed out in a letter to the Tablet in April 1897, a “preposterous extravagance,” with tales of “the embracing of the chaste Diana by the beautiful demon Asmodeus, the flying through the air on the back of monster eagles down the mouths of volcanoes in full eruption, the profanation of hosts, the blasphemous parodies of Masses and devotions …  and the lion’s tail animated by the devil to make a necklace for Diana.” [2] According to the Diana Vaughan narratives, Lucifer and a veritable cast of demons and monsters were regularly summoned by the “Palladian” Freemasons.

Taxil on Freemasonry ImageDiana Vaughan began her “existence” as a textual invention in a number of discourses in 1894. Léo Taxil (formerly Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès), a French writer and ex-Freemason, whose writings contained anti-Catholicism and anti-Masonryconstructed the character of Diana Vaughan as a fictitious female apostate from so-called “Palladian” Freemasonry. According to Diana Vaughan’s so-called memories (fabricated by Taxil in a series of instalments from July 1895 through to April 1897), she was a noble-minded lady who abandoned the misguided worship of Lucifer, converted to Roman Catholicism, and revealed the secret satanic inner workings of Freemasonry. In the Prague Cemetery, Eco removed the linear development from “Palladian” Freemason to Roman Catholic, thereby introducing a disassociate identity disorder to an already fantastic construction, with the “good” Diana being a virtuous Christian, and the “bad” Diana a sexually depraved Masonic Luciferian. Eco thus added creative flourishes to an already fantastic creation [3].

In addition to Diana Vaughan’s extravagant memoirs, Taxil also wrote other elaborate stories about devil worship and sinister rituals in Masonic lodges, some of which were published under pseudonyms. These tales included bizarre accounts of Host desecration, Satanic magic, murder, the Antichrist, and the manifestations of Lucifer and Asmodeus. Whilst Taxil was the original inventor of Diana Vaughan, his construction took on a life of its own in a number of discourses outside of his immediate control. When Diana Vaughan is discussed, it is usually in the context of French discourse. What is generally unknown is that the Diana Vaughan narratives played an important role in constructing “the enemy” (i.e. “the Jew” and “the Freemason”) in English Catholic discourses during the late nineteenth century.

The English Catholic newspaper in which Diana Vaughan was most frequently discussed was the Tablet, which was owned by Herbert Vaughan, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and head of the English Catholic hierarchy (the shared surname with Diana being coincidental). The veracity of Diana Vaughan’s (which is to say Léo Taxil’s) tales about “Luciferian” Freemasonry were accepted by the editor of the Tablet and several of its readers. Diana Vaughan made her first appearance in the Tablet in a report celebrating the inauguration of the international Anti-Masonic Congress in August 1895. According to the report, the Anti-Masonic Congress aimed to fights the evils of freemasonry and was a “most hopeful augury” for the future. Taking Taxil’s lurid narratives at face value, the Tablet reported that prior to her conversion to Catholicism, Diana Vaughan, “ex-Grand Mistress of the Luciferians or Palladians,”  had tried to set up a more moderate “reformed” sect of Palladium Freemasonry, because despite “the strange perversion of mind by which an intelligent and high-souled woman dedicated herself to the worship of Lucifer,” she was not blind to the “degrading character of the rites practised by her fellow-worshippers” [4]. A year later, in October 1896, the Tablet reported that the Anti-Masonic Congress had set up a “special committee” to deal with the “burning questions” relating to Diana Vaughan. According to the report: “That there is in France a sect devoted to the worship of Lucifer, as the champion of rebellious humanity, is, we believe, a well-attested fact, and the propagation of this diabolical creed has been ascribed by M. Taxil and M. Ricoux to an inner ring of the Masonic body called Palladic Masonry.” The Tablet concluded that a book by Arthur Waite on the myth of Satanism “traverses and impugns these statements, but without any conclusive refutation of their general drift” [5]. 

A number of antisemitic and anti-Masonic articles in the Tablet during the 1890s suggested that Jews and Freemasons were working together to undermine the Church [6]. One clerical contributor to the Tablet, Father Norbert Jones, argued that the Jews were helping the Freemasons by dismissing the evidence proving the existence of Miss Diana Vaughan. According to Father Jones, a member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran, Jews and Freemasons were working together to discredit Diana Vaughan’s damaging revelations of Masonic devil worship. According to Jones, those that “talk of deception in the matter are themselves the real dupes of Jew Masons” [7]. The Diana Vaughan tales were also accepted by Baroness Mary Elizabeth Herbert, a close friend and colleague of Cardinal Vaughan, in the pages of the Dublin Review (despite its name, the Dublin Review was a London based Catholic periodical). Baroness Herbert accepted with enthusiasm Domenico Margiotta’s account of the “noble and generous character” of Diana Vaughan and his claims that Adriano Lemmi was a Jew convert and a Satanist [8].

The Tablet and Dublin Review were not the only English Catholic periodicals to give credence to the Diana Vaughan hoax. On 30 April 1897, a Paris correspondent for the Catholic Herald vented his frustration at “a certain class of Catholic clergymen and the Catholic press, especially in Paris,” who had lapped up the “ridiculous and grotesque stories” about Palladian Freemasonry. He reported that every absurd story about Diana Vaughan was raised “to the height of a dogma” and Catholics who refused to accept them had been branded as “a traitor to the Church and perhaps nearly a Freemason, too” [9]. However, in 1894, the Catholic Herald – a London based Catholic newspaper, owned by the maverick Irish Catholic proprietor-editor Charles Diamond [10] – was among those newspapers that had entertained the reports of Luciferian Freemasonry. On 27 April 1894, the paper reported that according to one of its Paris correspondents, “a recent sacrilegious theft at Notre Dame has been traced to an extraordinary sect known as ‘Luciferians,’ or worshippers of Satan.” According to the report, female Luciferians were stealing consecrated hosts from churches in order to profane in Black Masses. On 11 May 1894, the paper reported that: “the election of Adrian Lemmi as Pontiff of Freemasonry on the Continent has caused a split in the camp. The Perfect Triangle of New York has entered a strong dissent, and Miss Diana Vaughan, who is Grand Mistress of the Perfect Triangle of New York, has given in her resignation, and severed her connection with Freemasonry. In a letter assigning the course of her act, she [Miss Diana Vaughan] states that Lemmi was on the 22nd March, 1844, condemned by the Criminal Court at Marseilles to a year and a day’s imprisonment for theft, and to five years’ police surveillance on his liberation. After quitting prison, however, he made his way furtively to Turkey, and afterwards to Italy, where, joining the Freemasons, he has been raised by them to the supreme position in their body. Such is the head of Continental Freemasonry, whose election has led the Grandmistress of the Order in America to exclaim – ‘How can Masonry ever survive from this corruption and treason?’” [11]

Charles Diamond image 2

A Sketch of Charles Diamond (1892)

On 19 April 1897, a large audience, consisting largely of Catholics and Freemasons, gathered in the auditorium of the Société Géographique in Paris in order to finally meet Diana Vaughan. The audience was consequently stunned when Taxil rather than Diana Vaughan appeared on the stage and announced that the whole tale of Palladian Freemasonry was a hoax. Diana Vaughan, the illusive ex-Grand Mistress of the Luciferians, did not exist. Taxil thanked the Catholic bishops and editors who had encouraged his exposés of Satanic Freemasonry. After Taxil’s announcement that Diana Vaughan and Palladian Freemasonry never existed and that the whole affair had been a hoax, narratives about Palladian and Satanic Freemasonry became less frequent in English Catholic discourses (though other anti-Masonic and antisemitic accusations, including narratives about the arrival of a “Jewish Antichrist“, continued unabated).

The accusations of Satanic Freemasonry – sometimes linked to the narrative about the so-called “Jewish Antichrist” – did not however completely disappear. Colonel James Ratton, an English Catholic, retired army doctor and author, helped to keep them alive. In 1901, he published his book, X-Rays in Freemasonry. This repeated traditional stereotypes about the anti-Christian nature of Freemasonry and its alleged war against the Church. It repeatedly emphasised Jewish involvement in Freemasonry and informed readers that the Jews killed Christ and have clung onto their “anti-Christian” principles and ideals ever since. According to Ratton, these ideals include “the expectation of another Messiah, who, we know, will be Antichrist.” He argued that Freemasonry was Satanic, and that the B’nai B’rith, whose goal he suggested was to dominate all forms of Freemasonry and re-establish King Solomon’s Temple, was a branch of Jewish Freemasonry closed to non-Jews with the exception of visits by the “Inspectors General of the Palladium” (in reality the B’nai B’rith is a Jewish advocacy, communal service and philanthropic society, and not a branch of Freemasonry, though a small handful of its early members, such as Henry Jones and Isaac Rosenbourg, may have been Freemasons). Ratton added new material when he republished X-Rays in 1904. He argued that Zionism is of interest because it has been prophesised that when the Jews return to Jerusalem, “anti-Christ will appear in their midst.” According to Ratton, Freemasonry, guided by the Jews, is preparing to move its headquarters to Jerusalem, and when the B’nai B’rith joins them, “then will anti-Christ appear in alliance with the Sovereign Pontiff of Freemasonry, and incite the international Masonic forces to persecute the Church in such fashion as has never been before” [12]. Montague Summers, an eccentric convert to Catholicism, continued to argue in 1926 that Albert Pike, the alleged founder of Palladian Freemasonry, had been the Grand Master of “societies practising Satanism” [13]. Father Cahill, an Irish Jesuit, argued in Freemasonry and the Anti-Christian Movement (1929), that Freemasonry is associated with occultism, Satanism, the Antichrist, Judaism, Jewish rites, the Cabala and a Judaeo-Masonic anti-Christian movement. He suggested that the Diana Vaughan hoax was probably a Masonic plot to discredit the (supposed) “evidence” that Freemasonry is associated with Satanism. According to the Catholic Times (another English Catholic newspaper), Father Cahill, unlike prominent Freemasons, does not expect readers to accept “even a single point” from his book on faith, for he “proves everything” [14].

Umberto Eco has suggested that the process of “inventing the enemy,” whether that role was assigned to pagans, Jews, Freemasons, gypsies, or another outsider group, has been a deplorable but pervasive feature of civilization. He suggested that cultures require an enemy, and when there is no genuine external threat, an internal one is usually invented in compensation. Eco observed that stereotypes can be destroyed when a genuine effort is made to understand other people without denying or disrespecting their distinctiveness. He seemed, however, far from sanguine about the possibility, implying that the natural human impulse was not inclined towards the dismantling of such myths and stereotypes [15]. The Diana Vaughan narratives in English Catholic newspapers demonstrate the power of discourse to construct a protean reality that is readily accepted, repeated, and adapted by newspaper editor and reader alike. The Diana Vaughan narratives in these newspapers, though in some respects more creative, were by no means particularly exceptional. Similar antisemitic and anti-Masonic themes can also be found in their reporting of other episodes, such as the election of Karl Lueger as mayor of Austria and the Dreyfus Affair. Constructions of “the Jew” and “the Freemason,” blending contemporary stereotypes of greed, cowardice, disloyalty and secrecy with religious myths about deicide, ritual murder, sorcery, devil worship and the Antichrist, were a pervasive theme in a range of English Catholic discourses during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [16]. And as plenty of other studies have shown, such images were certainly by no means confined to Catholic discourses. The portrayal of “the other” as Satanic and diabolically conspiratorial can be found in a myriad of religious and non-religious discourses, from the middle ages, throughout the twentieth century, and into the present century. It was often the wider cultural consciousness, rather than just disturbed or bitter individuals, that was willing to accept bizarre myths, stereotypes, caricatures and fairy tales about Jews and Freemasons as fact. One can only hope that Eco was being overly pessimistic about the prospects of de-inventing “the enemy”.

Notes

[1] See Umberto Eco, “Inventing the Enemy,” in Inventing the Enemy and Other Occasional Writings, trans. Richard Dixon (London: Harvill Seeker, 2012), 1-21, and Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery, trans. Richard Dixon (London: Vintage, 2012). The Prague Cemetery was originally published in 2010 and translated into English in 2012. Umberto Eco’s depiction of cultural obsessions with constructed “enemies” (such as “the Jew,” “the Freemason,” “the negro,” “the gypsy,” “the homosexual,” “the witch” and other so-called villains) is disturbing but highly persuasive.

[2] In this letter to the Tablet, as well as in the Month (the periodical of the British Jesuits), the anonymous critic lamented that “respected ecclesiastics” were found defending the cause of so-called Diana Vaughan. See Letters to the Editor, Tablet, 17 April 1897, 617-618 and “The Diana Vaughan Hoax,” Month 89 (April 1897), 442. It is possible that the anonymous critic was the British Jesuit scholar Herbert Thurston. Thurston was no friend of Freemasonry, which he vehemently criticised in a number of books and articles. Nevertheless, he wrote a letter to the Tablet in January 1897 in which he suggested that the Diana Vaughan revelations were “an exploded myth.” And in 1898, in an article about the antisemitic blood libel accusation, he concluded that the end of the anti-Masonic Diana Vaughan episode, the “disappearance into thin air of the impalpable ‘luciferians,’” seems only to have “added new zest to the pursuit of the unquestionably very real and substantial Israelites.” Herbert Thurston, Letters to the Editor, Tablet, 2 January 1897, 22-23; Herbert Thurston, “Anti-Semitism and the Charge of Ritual Murder,” Month 91 (June 1898), 562. Thurston equivocally defended Jews on a number of occasions from the ritual murder accusation. This is discussed in Simon Mayers, “From the Christ-Killer to the Luciferian: The Mythologized Jew and Freemason in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century English Catholic Discourse,” Melilah 8 (2011), 41-48 (link to volume 8 of the online edition of Melilah).

[3] Léo Taxil [Miss Diana Vaughan, pseud.], Mémoires d’une Ex-Palladiste (Paris, 1895-1897); Eco, The Prague Cemetery, chap. 22.

[4] “The Anti-Masonic Congress,” Tablet, 17 August 1895, 250-251. In an earlier version of this essay (which focused on the Tablet), published in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, I mistakenly stated that this report in the Tablet contained the first encounter with Diana Vaughan in the English Catholic newspapers. See Simon Mayers, “From The Tablet to The Prague Cemetery: The Jew, The Freemason, and the Diana Vaughan Hoax,” Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, volume 5, issue 1 (2013), 242 (link for volume). I have since found that the Catholic Herald contained a number of reports discussing Diana Vaughan in 1894 (see footnote 10).

[5] “Report of the Anti-Masonic Congress,” Tablet, 10 October 1896, 565-566.

[6] See for example: “Notes from Paris,” Tablet, 12 January 1895, 58; “Antisemitism in the Austrian Election,” Tablet, 27 March 1897, 481-482; “Captain Dreyfus and His Champions,” Tablet, 12 February 1898, 238.

[7] See Norbert Jones, C.R.L., Letters to the Editor, Tablet, 23 January 1897, 138-139. For other letters by Father Jones C.R.L., see the Tablet: 7 November 1896, 741-742 and 10 April 1897, 577. Father Jones was a priest and a member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran. He was appointed to provide Sunday Mass at the Catholic Church at Truro, Cornwell, in 1891. According to reports, his services were popular with both Catholics and Protestants. See “News from the Diocese,” Tablet, 5 August 1893, 236.

[8] Mary Elizabeth Herbert, review of Adriano Lemmi: Supreme Head of the Freemasons and Le Palladisme; Or the Worship of Lucifer, both books by Domenico Margiotta, Dublin Review 118 (January 1896), 192-201.

[9] Paris Correspondent, Our Paris Letter, Catholic Herald, 30 April 1897.

[10] Charles Diamond (1858-1934) was born in Ireland in 1858. He was M.P. for North Monaghan from 1892-1895. He also contested districts of London for the Labour Party in 1918, 1922 and 1924. Diamond was a maverick who frequently got into trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities. He was repeatedly criticised by English Catholic bishops, not for his hostile articles about Jews and Freemasons, but because he tended to disrespect and undermine their ecclesiastical authority.

[11] “A Fiendish Sect,” Catholic Herald, 27 April 1894, and “A Masonic Split,” Catholic Herald, 11 May 1894. See also “Masonic Sacrilege: The Outrage of the Blessed Sacrament: The Worship of Lucifer,” Catholic Herald, 6 July 1894, and “Freemasonry Abjured,” Catholic Herald, 21 September 1894.

[12] James Ratton [A. Cowan, pseud.], X-Rays in Freemasonry (London: Effingham Wilson, 1901); James Ratton [A. Cowan, pseud.], X-Rays in Freemasonry, revised edition (London: Effingham Wilson, 1904). Though published using a pseudonym, Ratton later took credit for X-Rays in Freemasonry in James Ratton, Antichrist: An Historical Review (London: Burns and Oates, 1917). 

[13] Montague Summers, The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1926), 8.

[14] Edward Cahill, Freemasonry and the Anti-Christian Movement, 2nd ed. (Dublin: M. H. Gill, 1930), 67-95; “Eminent Jesuit’s Book Evokes Wide Public Interest,” Catholic Times, 8 November 1929, 6. The first edition of Freemasonry and the Anti-Christian Movement was published in 1929. According to Cahill: “The real motives and genesis of the [Diana Vaughan] conspiracy still remain shrouded in mystery. Some (including Masonic writers, who repudiate all connection of the Masonic Order with it) accept Taxil’s explanation at its face-value. Many, probably the majority of non-Masonic authorities, hold that the affair was a colossal Masonic conspiracy organized to throw discredit and ridicule upon the evidence that Satanism and obscenity were associated with certain sections of Freemasonry. … Whatever be the genesis of the affair it is certain that the too-ready credence given to the fantastic inventions which Taxil’s writings contained helped to discredit many things of which there was otherwise reliable evidence” (70-71). 

[15] Umberto Eco, “Inventing the Enemy,” 1-21.

[16] This was examined in my PhD thesis.


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