Traces of a Hidden Tradition in Masonry and Medieval Mysticism

Isabel Cooper-Oakley



THE series of sketches which are now brought together appeared originally as detached articles in the pages of the Theosophical Review, written, however, with the object of demonstrating to students of Theosophy that a definite design could be traced beneath the apparently disconnected mystic doctrines held by the many occult brotherhoods, heretic sects and mystic associations which cluster so thickly together as we glance along the historical by-ways of religious thought during the Middle Ages, that object becomes clearer when they appear as they do now in closer juxtaposition.

To those who wish to understand the reason of this steady recurrence of mystic tradition in every century, these studies may be of some use. They will serve as literary landmarks to guide the seeker to those distant sources whence flow faint echoes of divine truths—the heritage of the divine human race. Truths that bring dim memories to the soul which are its highest impulse, and give the clue that guides it to the inner "science of the soul"—the mystic quest of all the saints, and the hidden truth that all religions have tried to teach, and which only a few in each religion have ever realized.

Mystics, visionaries, dreamers of vain dreams have been the names which the scoffers have always thrown at those who counted the world as nought compared with the treasure of the unseen life, and who devoted their lives to this divine science, and, tried to reach an understanding of its laws. And as we trace out the records of the past it will be clearly seen that the Theosophical development is but another link in a wondrous chain of mystic teaching which stretches far back into the night of time.

Such a claim must be proved and its pretensions shown to be accurate, but it is only by careful researches in the historical dust-bins of the middle-ages that these data can be disinterred, and the chain of evidence rendered complete. Then it becomes evident that Theosophy is that glorious wisdom-religion which includes in its scope all religions and all philosophies.

And as we piece together the fragments of these historical relics, they waken delicate memories of the divine dreamer Dionysius the Areopagite, hallowed echoes of John Scotus Erigena, and thus we come face to face with the holy secrets of tender mystical souls who sought the true meaning of life. We get strange glimpses of the intense devotion of the scholastic Divines, and Monks to whom the unseen life was an intense and vital reality. The thoughts of Averroes and the Arabian Mystics emerge—they who brought much of the Eastern truth and who founded the great occult schools of the once glorious Toledo, whence flowed a stream of thought, which formed the very life and soul of the heresies—so-called—of the Middle Ages. Nor may we omit the lore of the Eastern and Syrian Monasteries to whom the books of Dionysius had taken the wisdom of Plotinus. Nor can the Troubadours be passed by, the singers of mystic songs, and carriers of occult knowledge.

Singers, Scholars, Saints, and Martyrs, a goodly array of men and women, all seeking the soul, and the soul's true world. Looked at from without, such a view appears like a worn mosaic pavement, broken, defaced, with many gaps lacking to make a perfect picture, and yet as we search and piece the apparently broken fragments the design begins to unfold itself, and finally the picture may be traced in perfect outline. For at the back of all these varying streams of thought there may be found one centre whence all diverge, and that great fount was named in ancient India, Brahma-Vidyâ, the Theosophia of the Neo-Platonists.

This Ancient Wisdom Religion is the "thread-soul" on which are strung all the various incarnations and encasements of the religious life, adapted to the changing conditions and developments of humanity in its growth from childhood to manhood.

Begotten by that Spiritual Hierarchy in whose guardianship is the evolution of the human race, brought forth from them, They, the guardians of the mystic tradition, give to those children of men who are strong enough for the burden, a portion of the real teaching of the Divine Science [1] concerning God and man, and the wonderful relationship that exists between the two.

With the passing of time the old orders changed, old forms perished, and the Divine Sun that shone on the ever-changing screen of time veiled Itself in new hues, and gathered into new groupings the humanity of the Western races, and each century which rolled by evolved a new phase of the ancient mystic tradition.

In the olden days men fought for their faiths, for they identified the form with that Divine life which lies at the back of all forms, and the changing of an outward veil shook their belief in the Holy Spirit, which it did but shroud. They feared change and sought to crystallise the Spirit, and this fear of change gave rise to that tenacious hold on outward ceremonies which has wrought so much evil in all the religions of the world.

Religious parties, secret societies, sects of every description, such is the shifting panorama of the religious life of Europe during the last eighteen hundred years, and as we glance back from our present standpoint, it is difficult at times to discern the mystic traditions, so loud is the clamour of contending sects over their formal doctrines, the outward expressions of their inner faith.

A word may here be said to guard against one error that might arise with regard to the Spiritual Hierarchy before mentioned, the guardians of the world's religions. It is from this Great Communion that the World-Saviours have from time to time come forth, and from this centre have sprung all the "Sons of God."

The inception of all religions is from Them, but lesser men build up the body; like wise teachers. They do not force dogmas on a child humanity. We see ordinary mankind prolific in building moulds for their faiths, heaping dogma upon dogma; but in tracing back all the religions to their Founders, it may be seen that at the beginning the outward observances were ever subordinated to the inner life, the forms and ceremonies in fact, were merely organized in order to turn the attention of man to the inner and spiritual aspect of life. This method of training receives its completest exposition in the ancient code of Manu, where the whole daily life of ancient India was directed, by its very organization, towards the religious aspect. In the West this ideal was revived under the monastic orders, but since it was chiefly done under the rigid doctrinal supervision of the Catholic Church, the ideal of the simple spiritual life was crushed.

For the building of form—even religious form—is materializing in its tendency, and thus we see that in all the centuries subsequent to the inception of Christianity, the tendency of every "reformation" has been to throw back, if possible, to the original standard erected by the Founder. On careful investigation, for instance, the Christ appears responsible only for certain high and pure ideals, insistence being made on a holy life leading to a divine goal. The doctrines and elaborations which were later introduced arose in every case from the followers, who brought in their more worldly aims, and transformed thereby the purity and simplicity of the early ideal into an ornate body, [2] with worldly passions and constant strivings for mundane power.

Hence we find at the end of the nineteenth century, on one side the Catholic Church, on the other the Protestant, and between the extremes of these doctrinal communities, a fluctuating, ever-increasing body of thinkers, formed by the mystics and idealists of both parties, who from century to century have been at variance with their "orthodox" brethren, seeking a higher Truth, a purer ideal, than those offered by the dogmatists.

The doctrines hidden in the secret fraternities have been handed down in regular succession from first to last. We can see that the esoteric teachings which in Egypt, in Persia, and in Greece, were kept from the ears of an illiterate multitude precisely because it was known that they could not, in their then uneducated and ignorant condition, understand the deeper truth of Nature and of God. Hence the secrecy with which these pearls of great price were guarded and handed on with slight modifications into the possession of those grand early Christians, the Gnostics, the so-called heretics; then straight from the Gnostic schools of Syria and Egypt to their successors the Manichaeans, and from these through the Paulicians, Albigenses, and Templars, and other secret bodies—these occult traditions have been bequeathed to the mystic bodies of our own times. Persecuted by Protestants on one side and by Catholics on the other, the history of mysticism is the history of martyrdom.

It is sometimes said that modern Theosophy is of sporadic growth and can show no sure basis, no line of religious or spiritual ancestry. But very little research proves the contrary, proves indeed that in spite of the many forms—religious bodies, secret societies, occult groups, Protestant reforms, and Catholic heresies—there is distinct evidence that there are certain points on which all of the various orders meet in accord, and that when these points are brought together, there appear self-revealed the same underlying teachings which form the basis of the great Wisdom Religion, parent and children standing out in unmistakable relation. For as King truly remarks:

Hippolytus was right in calling all these heresies nothing better than the old philosophies disguised under new names; his only error lay in not going back far enough to find their ultimate source. [3]

Let us turn to that great conception, the doctrine of reincarnation, sometimes less correctly termed in Metempsychosis or transmigration. This tenet is the basis of the old Wisdom-religion—or Brahma-Vidyâ, and can be distinctly traced in all those mystic societies which draw their spiritual life from Gnostic sources. As Lecky [4] says:

The doctrine of transmigration was emphatically repudiated by the Catholics; the human race was isolated by the scheme of redemption, more than ever from all other races, and it was against this isolation that the mystics, or so-called heretics, struggled; this ancient doctrine of the transmigration of the soul was one of the heretical opinions for which the Cathari [5] were persecuted by the Catholic Church. It was very freely taught by the Troubadours in their mystic poems; a monk in his attack on Troubadour heretics mentions this doctrine with much scoffing and ridicule. We owe a debt of thanks to many such opponents, for they often show us where traces of the "Secret Doctrine" are to be found. For instance, it is to the orthodox and pious Catholic, Eugene Aroux, that we owe a mass of most important and valuable information on the Troubadours and their religious mission; their connection with mystic bodies, and the esoteric interpretation of their poems. Information as to their tenets which is not divulged by the mystics themselves is often given to us by their opponents, whose dissertations provide us with much evidence.

Such research indeed reveals a new phase, for out of the dim obscurity which shrouds the early centuries, undoubted historic evidence can be found of a wide-spread occult fraternity, which under various names has introduced into many societies the hidden aspect of spiritual truths, striving to avert the materialising tendency by turning the eyes of men to the inner instead of the outer life.

Three principal streams of religious thought can be distinctly traced as we struggle through the labyrinth of evidences, and these may not inappropriately be termed the Petrine, Pauline, and Johannine doctrines, the last being the fountain-head of all the later Christian mystical heresies. The Johannine doctrine caused great excitement in the fourteenth century, the details of which will be given when we come to that period. It must be borne in mind that the true occultism, the real mysticism, is essentially religious in its nature, and students of Theosophy must not be surprised to find that some of the historical religious sects [6] have had their foundation in occultism and Theosophy. Such for instance are the Albigenses and the Waldenses, the forerunners of the Wesleyans, the Quietists and Quakers. These appear side by side with the Rosicrucians, the Knights Templars, the Fratres Lucis and many other sects who hold the same religious tenets.

This view will necessarily arouse some criticism, for the standard orthodox works on all the sects and heresies studiously omit every reference to occultism, and in some cases the real tradition can scarcely be found, so carefully is every reference to it extirpated from ordinary history.

It is only by searching into the records themselves that the real evidences of such esoteric doctrine are discovered, and it is in truth somewhat startling to find so many, while the outside public is in total ignorance of the very existence of a mystic tradition or a secret doctrine, or a Spiritual Hierarchy. On this point a well-known writer on mysticism says:

The publication of the life and times of Reuchlin, who exercised so marked an influence over Erasmus, Luther, Melancthon, and the chief spirits of his age will, I trust, afford a key to many passages of the German Reformation which have not yet been understood in this country. They will reveal many of the secret causes, the hidden springs, which were moving the external machinery of several ecclesiastical reforms, which were themselves valuable rather as symbols of a spiritual undercurrent than as actual institutions and establishments. Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. Fortunate is it for the student of truth when he can thus discover the causes of effects, when he is allowed to examine the origin of those changes and revolutions, which but for this intelligible process would look like monstrous and unaccountable abortions, obeying no law and owning no reason. Fortunate is he who is thus allowed to step behind the scenes of the world's drama and hear the plans proposed and the pros and cons of the councillors which give rise to lines of action. [7]

Truly one could almost think a Theosophist was writing the paragraph just quoted. The whole of Reuchlin's period will, we hope, be dealt with in due course, and a digest of the mysticism of this period made.

As already said, the occult doctrines of the Gnostics were heirlooms and sacred traditions from a very distant past, and when the early Christian era dawned, the human race had long been plunged in the darkening and materializing tendencies of the Black Age. [8] Soon indeed, the Gnosis was rejected by the orthodox church, and the sacred and secret teachings of the Great Master Jesus became materialised; they have, however, never been lost, and traces of them can be discerned from epoch to epoch.

Says Marras [9] in his interesting study:

When therefore we speak of the continuation of their doctrines during the Middle Ages, we mean only a secret transmission of certain opinions, either in a number of families whose inner doctrines did not correspond to their outward profession of faith, or in the midst of certain sects which had had relations with the Gnostics The vitality of the Manichaeans was wonderful; notwithstanding the severe persecution they endured in the heathen as well as the Christian Roman Empire, they survived both in the East and in the West, and often reappeared in the Middle Ages in different parts of Europe. Manichaeism dared to do what Gnosticism had never ventured upon: it openly entered the lists against the Church in the fifth century, but the civil authority came to aid the religious authority in repressing it. The Manichaens wherever they appeared were immediately attacked: they were condemned in Spain in the year 380, and at Trèves in 385, in their representatives the Priscillianists; the Empire seem determined to annihilate Manichaeism [10], as well as Gnosticism when suddenly the latter arose under a new form and under a new name—that of Paulicianism.

In order that our readers may follow this line of study more clearly, it will be well to group the evidences of each century together. We must bear in mind that many of these societies stretch back through several centuries, and are not limited to one date or confined to one period. The consequent overlapping makes one of the difficulties of following these evidences of the secret tradition. Sometimes a body will remain the same, changing only its name, but keeping the same tenets. This is markedly the case with the Albigenses, the Paulicians, the Waldenses, and many of the middle age bodies—the Rosicrucians and others. Then again, we find that the same terms are sometimes used for the highest spiritual sciences and at others debased by the usage of charlatans. Theurgy, alchemy, mysticism, occultism, theosophy, yoga, all these names have been alternately used to indicate the purest and highest ideal of development for man, and then adopted by those who sought in them but their own selfish ends. To discriminate between these extremes, to find the true and leave the false mysticism, is then the aim in view. It is perhaps simplest to begin with the present era and trace the way back through the darkness of the middle ages to the period when the Gnostic schools still preserved to a great extent the sacred Eastern traditions. [11] The details of that period must be left to hands more skilled to treat the subject.

Let us then take a survey of the last nine centuries of the Christian era, and in a series of sketches substantiate with historical facts the proposition here but briefly outlined: that the ancient Wisdom Religion, or Theosophia, has had throughout these periods its votaries, teachers, messengers and followers, that the Great Lodge has never been without its representatives, and in truth that the guidance of the spiritual evolution of the world by this body of teachers can be discerned by those who search the records.

The wave of gross materialism which swept over the Western world is now but slowly rolling away. The deplorable scepticism of our own day is but the result, and the natural result, of the methods adopted by the Catholic and Protestant Churches in the struggles of the Middle Ages. It has already been pointed out as one of the basic teachings of Theosophy that part of the evolutionary progress is the breaking up of forms in order that the spiritual nature of man may find wider conditions. In both of these Churches the extremes of dogmatic limitation were reached, the result being an ever increasing irritation of the more highly educated people against dogmas which were contrary to reason, and forms of faith which degraded the God they were supposed to uphold. For the Protestants believed in the verbal inspiration of an inaccurately translated Bible, claiming that their God gave his fiat in books whose historical basis is now shown to be unreliable. All who refused the letter of the law and sought the spirit which lay behind were cast out. We have but to search the records of the Puritans and some other Protestant bodies to see how rigid were their dealings with those who rejected their narrow theological dogmas. [12]

The Catholic Church permitted no education, no freedom of religious thought, and, knowing the unstable basis on which she stood, the Dominicans in the early middle ages took up the very simple position of entirely forbidding the reading of the Bible, except in such scamped versions as were authorised; and all who did not obey were removed by the Church. Indeed, the bloodiest and blackest records that history can show us are the attacks of the Catholic Church on the mystics of all these centuries.

"We do condemn to perpetual infamy the Cathari, the Patarines, the Leonists, the Speronists, and the Arnoldists circumcised, and all other heretics of both sexes by what name soever they are called. . . . And in case any man by a presumptuous attempt, being instigated thereto by the enemy of mankind, shall in any way endeavour the infraction of them [i.e., the laws against the heretics] let him be assured, that by so doing, he will incur the indignation of Almighty God, and of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul!"

Thus thundered Pope Honorius III. in the fourteenth century. [13] To give one solitary instance out of the numerous condemnations that fluttered about the mystic path.

Indeed it is hardly credible, even with the records open before us, that such inhuman tortures as were perpetrated on some of the mystic sects enumerated could have been devised in the name of a Saviour of mercy and love. Such fiendish barbarity, however, brought its own karma, a rich reward of hatred, scepticism and unbelief. The education and knowledge that the Church discountenanced and withheld were reached by natural evolution; the priests who should have been the spiritual leaders were overthrown and cast down, and the result was that education fell into the hands of materialistic and rationalistic thinkers, and the spiritual aspect of life was crushed out.

During the dark days of the revolution in France, it was the mystics who most bitterly deplored the growing scepticism. The materialists were the enemies of mystics, occultists and religionists of every kind, Catholic and Protestant. The Catholic party tried to father the outbreak of the revolution on the mystics. The Abbé Barruel in his book on Jacobinism [14] has taken every pains to do this, as also have the Abbé Migne and many others. But the appalling corruption of the Catholic Church, conjoined with her insistence on the ignorance of the people, was one of the great factors in that terrible outbreak.

In a very interesting correspondence between the Baron Kirschberger de Liebesdorf and Louis Claude de St. Martin, [15] the situation is most clearly described, and the following important extract shows the insidious method of work adopted by the German materialistic school, the enemy alike of mystics and Churches.

The Baron writes:

MORAT, June, 1795.

. . . . Unbelief has actually formed a well-organised club; it is a great tree which overshadows a considerable portion of Germany, bearing very bad fruit, and pushing its roots even into Switzerland. The enemies of the Christian religion have their affiliations, their lookers-out, and a well-established correspondence; they have a provincial for each department, who directs the subaltern agents; they control the principal German newspapers; these newspapers are the favourite reading of the clergy who do not like to study; in them they puff the writings which air their views, and abuse all besides; if a writer ventures to rise against this despotism, he can hardly find a publisher who will take charge of his manuscript. This is what they can do in the literary way; but they have much more in their power than this. If there is a place vacant in the public instruction department . . . they have three or four candidates all ready, whom they get presented through different channels; . . . in this way is constituted the University of Göttingen. . . . Another grand means which they employ is that of . . . calumny. This is all the easier for them, that most of the Protestant ecclesiastics, are, unhappily, their zealous agents; and as this class has a thousand ways of mixing everywhere, they can at pleasure circulate reports which are sure to hit their mark, before one knows anything about it, or is able to defend oneself. This monstrous coalition has cost its chief, an old man of letters at Berlin and at the same time one of the most celebrated publishers of Germany, thirty years' labour.

He has edited the first journal of the country ever since 1765; his name is Frederick Nicolaï. This Bibliothèque Germanique has, by its agents, taken hold also of the spirit of the Literary Gazette of Jena, which is very well got up, and circulates wherever the German language is known. Besides this Nicolaï influences the Berlin Journal, and the Museum, two works of repute. Political organisation and affiliated societies were established, when these journals had sufficiently disseminated their venom. Nothing can equal the constancy with which these people have followed their plan. They have moved slowly, but surely; and, at the present hour, their progress has been so enormous, and their influence become so frightful, that no effort can now avail against them; Providence alone can deliver us from this plague.

At first, the march of the Nicolaïtes was very circumspect; they associated the best heads of Germany in their Bibliothèque Universelle, their scientific articles were admirable, and the reviews of theological works occupied a considerable portion of every volume. These reviews were composed with so much wisdom that our professors in Switzerland recommended them in their public discourses to our young Churchmen. But they let in the poison [of materialism] a little at a time and very carefully. [16]

This organised conspiracy was the result of the methods adopted by the Catholic Church. Men demanded knowledge, sought knowledge, and attained knowledge, but only of the material side of life. Shocked by the barbaric superstitions and illogical dogmas insisted on by the Church, the revolt of reason threw men back into a dogmatism which was scarcely less rigid than the one they had left. The study of history, the knowledge of science, all tended to show the superficiality of that basis on which the Catholic Church had reared herself, and the leaders of thought who led this revolt, the Encyclopaedists in France and the Nicolaïtes in Germany, were the bitter fruit of Catholic karma. They banded themselves together, and it was this body of sceptics and their organised conspiracy for which the Abbé Barruel and others tried to make the mystics responsible. The Church blamed others for the results of her own work, and the poison of unbelief and deadly materialism was meantime being slowly spread in Europe by the Nicolaïtes.

They tried to crush out all belief in or investigations into the unseen life and its forces. Hence their bitter and criminal attacks upon the Comte de St. Germain, Cagliostro, Saint Martin, and also upon the various mystical secret societies and Freemasonry in general. Keeping this powerful and malignant organisation [17] in view, we shall better understand the charges brought against the various mystics above mentioned. It is only in the course of research that it is possible to realise the vindictiveness and argus-eyed watchfulness with which these Nicolartes pursued mysticism and Freemasonry. Article after article, book upon book, was produced, one and all from the same source, each teeming with the same poisonous intent, the destruction of mysticism and the crushing out of the spiritual life.

The eighteenth century is perhaps the most difficult in which to sift the true tradition from the spurious; mushroom-like, semi-mystical societies sprang up on all sides, claiming occult knowledge and mystic teaching; but when these claims are sifted for verification they lack the stamp of high morality and purity which is the ineffaceable mark of all that emanates from the Great Lodge; hence in selecting the societies and bodies which will be dealt with and studied in detail, only those have been chosen in which outer and inner investigation proves their unmistakable origin to be from a source whose ideals are pure and holy.

That there was definite connection between the various sects, societies, and heresies, is evident; they had moreover a common language of signs, by which they could make themselves known to each other. Says Rossetti, speaking of the fourteenth century:

There are some events in history, whether literary, or political, or ecclesiastical, which at first sight appear to us quite enigmatical; but when once aware of the existence of the marked language of the secret Anti-papal Sects (especially of the Society of the Templars, and the Patarini, or Albigenses, or Cathari, with whom the learned in Italy were then so strictly connected), we find them very intelligible and clear. [18]

So that Rossetti speaks in the same manner as Barham in the passage already cited about a secret force [19] permeating the outer society. Again he says:

Why were the Templars, who were members of the most illustrious families in Europe, sacrificed by hundreds in different countries? Why were the Patarini burned alive in almost every city? History tells us: they belonged to secret societies, and professed doctrines inimical to Rome. What those doctrines were is well known, as far as regards the Patarini. [20]

Rossetti then proceeds to mention the Albigenses as a sect emanating from the Templars, who themselves held Eastern doctrines, a fact not found in the ordinary standard dictionaries of heresies, for the connection between those religious bodies, the Templars, the Rosicrucians, and the Freemasons is entirely suppressed, yet the historical links are all to be found by the unprejudiced student.

The rough enumeration which now follows of the mystical societies and so-called heresies serves only as a guide to where the evidence can be found.

They are, moreover, selected from many other bodies simply because in their inception they fulfil the before-mentioned conditions of purity and morality combined with occult knowledge. Some few societies, or groups rather, have been omitted simply because they are so occult that very little outer historical evidence is forthcoming. Facts are known about them by a limited number of people; but they stand more as the inspirers of the bodies here enumerated than in their ranks. A few names of leading mystics are also given, so that students may be able to trace the groups to which they are related.

Eighteenth century: The Fratres Lucis, or The Knights of Light; The Rosicrucians; The Knights and Brothers Initiate of St. John the Evangelist from Asia, or the Asiatische Brüder; The Martinists; The Theosophical Society [21]; The Quietists; The Knights-Templars; Some Masonic Bodies.

Seventeenth century: The Rosicrucians; The Templars; The Asiatische Brüder; Academia di Secreti, at the home of John Baptista Porta; The Quietists, founded by Michael de Molinos; and the whole group of Spanish mystics.

Sixteenth century: The Rosicrucians became widely known; The Order of Christ, derived from the Templars; Cornelius Agrippa, of Nettesheim, in connection with a secret association; Saint Teresa; St. John of the Cross; Philippe Paracelsus; The Fire Philosophers; Militia Crucifera Evangelica, under Simon Studion; The Mysteries of the Hermetic Masters.

Fifteenth century: The Fratres Lucis at Florence, also the Platonic Academy; The Alchemical Society; Society of the Trowel; The Templars; The Bohemian Brothers, or Unitas Fratrum; The Rosicrucians.

Fourteenth century: The Hesychasts, or the precursors of the Quietists; The Friends of God; German Mysticism, led by Nicholas of Basle; Johann Tauler; Christian Rosencreutz; The great Templar persecution; The Fraticelli.

Thirteenth century: The Brotherhood of the Winkelers; The Apostolikers; The Beghards and the Beguinen; The Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit; The Lollards; The Albigenses, crushed out by the Catholic Church; The Troubadours.

Twelfth century: The Albigenses appear, probably derived from Manichaeans, who settled in Albi; The Knights Templars, publicly known; The Cathari, widely spread in Italy; The Hermetists.

Eleventh century: The Cathari and Patarini, condemned by the Roman Church, both derived from Manichaeans; The Paulicians with the same tradition, also persecuted; The Knights of Rhodes and of Malta; Scholastic Mystics.

Tenth century: Paulicians: Bogomiles; Euchites; Manichaeans.

From the Ninth century to the Third century the following organisations and sects appear: Manichaeans; Euchites; Magistri Comacini; [22] Dionysian Artificers; Ophites; Nestorians; Eutychians.

In the Fourth century the central figure for all occult students is the great Iamblichus; the forerunner of the Rosicrucians; and in the Third century we find Manes, the widow's son, the link for all of those who believe in the great work done by the "Sons of the Widow" and the Magian Brotherhood.

The various sects and bodies here detailed should not, of course, be understood as belonging exclusively to the century under which they appear in the above classification. All that this list is intended to convey is that such sects were more markedly prominent during the century in which they are placed.

The possibility of dealing with mysticism and the real mystic societies consists in the fact that we are dealing with a certain definite teaching, its difficulty consists in the fact that the outward presentation is constantly changing according to the exigencies of the period. New teachers are sent to build new forms, for the tendency to crystallize and to petrify is the natural inclination of the human mind; the emotional nature clings fondly to familiar conditions, but these belong to the "natural body" and we are following the evolution of the "spiritual body." Through forms and phases many and painful does the soul acquire experience. Hence all these many societies have been but the schools through which the souls have been passing, and wherein they have acquired knowledge.

Thus the study of mysticism in the Middle Ages places before us a landscape flickering with shadow and with light, and the people who travel across that tract are alternately in light and shade, and their experiences, bitter as well as sweet, belong to all pilgrims who are seeking truth in the perplexities of the changing phases of human life.


  1. This "Science of the Soul" is the fact against which the Roman Church waged such bitter war, and formed the basis for the attack upon the various Sects such as the Albigenses, Patarini, and Vaudois, all remnants of Gnostic Sects.
  2. "The favour and success of the Paulicians in the eleventh and twelfth centuries must be imputed to the strong, though secret, discontent which armed the most pious Christians against the Church of Rome. Her avarice was oppressive, her despotism odious; less degenerate, perhaps, than the Greeks in the worship of saints and images, her innovations were more rapid and scandalous."—Gibbon (E.), Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. IX., chap. liv., p. 289. In Italy the descendants of the Manichaeans were termed Cathari, sometimes Gazari, or "The Pure." A good account, with many references, is to be found in Fuesslins (Johann Conrad), Neue und unpartheyische Kirchen und Ketzerhistorie der Mittlern Zeit. Frankfurt u. Leipzig, 1770.
  3. King (C. W.), The Gnostics and their Remains, p. 13. London, 1887.
  4. Lecky (W. E., M.A.), History of European Morals, Vol. II. p. 167. Third Edition. London, 1877.
  5. Says Lea: "Transmigration provides for the future reward or punishment of deeds done in life." Lea (Henry Charles), A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Vol. I., p. 91, 98. Schmid (C.), Histoire et Doctrine de to Secte des Cathares ou Albigeois, Vol. II., p. 256. Paris, 1849. Says: "La Metempsycose enseignée par l'une des écoles Cathares se retrouve également dans le Manichéisme."
  6. The principal secret societies take St. John as their patron saint as we shall see when dealing with the details of many of these bodies. Notably is this the case with many of the Masonic bodies. See the articles on "Johannesbrader" and "Johanneschristen" in Allgemeines Handbuch der Freimaurerei, Zweite völlig umgearbeitete Auflage; ii. p. 68. Leipzig, 1865.
  7. The Life and Times of John Reuchlin or Capuion, by Francis Barham (editor of the Hebrew and English Bible. London, 1843), p. 17.
  8. The Kali-Yuga of the Hindus.
  9. Marras (P.), Secret Fraternities of the Middle Ages, pp. 19-21. London, 1865.
  10. In his last years the Pope had leisure to turn his arms against the Manichaean heretics, who, starting from the mountains of Bulgaria, carried their pure but stern religion westwards in a constant stream which never lost touch with its fountain-head, and under the names of Paterini, Ketzer, and Albigenses, earned the execration of their contemporaries, and the respect of posterity. Browning (Oscar), Guelphs and Ghibellines: a short History of Mediaeval Italy from 1250-1409, p. 10, 1893.
  11. One curious fact which makes a further identity between these bodies is given by H. C. Lea, in his History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Vol. I., p. 92. London, 1888. "A further irrefragable evidence of the derivation of Catharism from Manichaeism is furnished by the Sacred thread and garment which were worn by all the Perfect among the Cathari. This custom is too peculiar to have had an independent origin, and is manifestly the Mazdean kosti and sadelarah, the sacred thread and shirt, the wearing of which was essential to all believers, and the use of which by both Zends and Brahmins shows that its origin is to be traced to the prehistoric period anterior to the separation of those branches of the Aryan family. Among the Cathari the wearer of the thread and vestment was what was known among the inquisitors as the haereticus indutus or vestitus, initiated into all the mysteries of the heresy."
  12. See the execution and trial of Servetus, 1553, Willis (R., M.D.) Servetus and Calvin. A Study of an important Epoch in the early History of the Reformation; p. 480. London, 1877.
  13. History of the Christian Church, by the Rev. Henry Stebbing, A.M. (London, 1834), ii., 301.
  14. Barruel: Mémoires pour servir à l’Histoire du Jacobinisme, 4 vols. London, 1797.
  15. Le Philosophe Inconnu, the leader of the Martinists.
  16. La Correspendanee inédite de L. C. Saint-Martin et Kirchoerger, Baron de Liebistorf (1792-1797). Paris, 1862; pp. 195, 196.
  17. The Nicolaites.
  18. Disquisitions on the Anti-papal Spirit which produced the Reformation, by Gabriele Rossetti, Prof. of Italian Literature at King's College (London, 1834), I. 156. He is here referring to a secret language, the existence of which was known to many writers.
  19. Says Lea in speaking of Calabria: "The Heretics sought and obtained in 1497 from King Frederic the confirmation by the crown of agreements. . . . They were visited every two years by the travelling pastors or barber, who came in pairs, an elder known as the reggitore, and a younger, the coadiutore, journeying with some pretence of occupation, finding in every city the secret band of believers whom it was their mission to comfort and keep steadfast in the faith Everywhere they met friends acquainted with their secret passwords, and in spite of ecclesiastical vigilance there existed throughout Italy a subterranean network of heresy disguised under outward conformity."—Lea (H. C.), History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages; II., pp. 268, 269. New York; 1888.
  20. Op. cit., 1. 148.
  21. Founded in London, 1767, by Benedicte Chastamer, a mystic mason.
  22. Llorente (J. A.). Hist. of the Inquisition. London, 1826. Merzario (Giuseppe, Prof.); I Maestri Comacni; Milano; 1893. This author says: "In this darkness which extended over all Italy, only one small lamp remained alight, making a bright spark in the vast Italian necropolis. It was from the Magistri Comacini. Their respective names are unknown, their individual works unspecialized, but the breath of their spirit might be felt all through those centuries, and their name collectively is legion. We may safely say that of all the works of art between 800 and 1000, the greater and better part are due to that brotherhood—always faithful and often secret—of the Magistri Comacini."