The Taxil Hoax

Success often produces jealousy, and the Masonic Lodge is no exception. Men who become members are expected to uphold high standards of character, and the discipline and self-improvements they learn in the Lodge often produce great success. For whatever reason, this has produced great anger in a few souls, and these figures have gone on to spread malicious lies and rumors about Freemasonry. One recurring slander about the Lodge is that Masons engage in devil worship or black magic. This is—of course—a lie, but few realize that the main source for this claim was an acknowledged hoax from the Nineteenth Century. The Taxil Hoax has led to slander and confusion about the Lodge to this day, but a quick look at the background and aftermath of this event should help to clear Freemasonry’s name.

The Church and the Lodge

The Masonic Lodge first came to widespread public prominence during the Renaissance. This time was marked by the breakup of a single bureaucratic Church into a number of competing churches as a part of the Reformation. Masons were welcoming of this change, as tolerance is one of our values, and the respect of various faiths is part of our practice. Christians of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox stripes, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and various other faiths are all welcome, so long as they recognize a Higher Power.

While this has helped Masons to bring people of different cultures and backgrounds together, it also created powerful enemies among those who wish to force all into a single faith. In the Nineteenth Century in France, the Catholic Church was one such enemy. The Pope at the time, Pope Leo XIII, had issued an encyclical that condemned the Lodge, including suggestions that Masons work for the Devil.

Taxil and His Hoax

Among the Church’s most prominent detractors then was a journalist named Leo Taxil, who was not a Mason. Taxil had published a number of blasphemous tracts and books, but in 1885 Taxil surprised many of his fans and enemies by publicly announcing that he was converting to Catholicism. After convincing people of the sincerity of his conversion, he published a book called The Devil in the Nineteenth Century. In the book he claimed that a woman named Diana Vaughan had revealed to him secrets of a Satanic plot within the Lodge, and included numerous shocking, titillating and bizarre details. The book was widely read by Catholics, and the Church used it as evidence that the Lodge was indeed Satanic.

People were interested in hearing Mme. Vaughan speak for herself, however, and in April of 1897 Taxil called a press conference wherein he would introduce the lady to the public. He instead announced that his conversion to the Church and his books had all been faked, and part of a plot to make the Church look ridiculous. He was mobbed as the tried to leave the podium, and became a figure of infamy thereafter.

The Hoax’s Legacy

To this day fundamentalists of all stripes will cite Taxil’s book as proof positive that the Lodge is involved in black magic. One particular claim that is widely believed by conspiracy theorists is that Masons venerate both the God of the Bible and also Lucifer, the devil. They believe we swear oaths to Lucifer. This is an absolute lie, and the work of honoring God, serving man and fighting evil that Masons do is slandered to this day by Taxil’s ignominious legacy. Making good men better is the work of the Lodge, and those who know us know that the lies thus started have never slowed us down.