Freemasonry has been the subject of many hoaxes throughout the centuries. The most well known hoax is called the Taxil Hoax and was perpetrated in the late 19th century by a renowned French journalist. Despite the fact that this hoax occurred over a hundred years ago, its effects are felt even today.
In the late 1890’s, French journalist Gabriel Jogand-Pages created an elaborate hoax to strike out at the Catholic Church by making wild claims about the collaboration between Freemasonry and Satan. Writing as Leo Taxil, Gabriel had spent the previous decade drawing the anger of the church by publishing a magazine called “Down with the Clergy” and a book called the Secret Loves of Pius IX. As the founder of France’s Anti-Clerical League and the Freethinkers Society, he had long been seen as an extremely vocal enemy of the Church. He had been successfully prosecuted for libel by the Catholic Church, but had managed to avoid spending time in jail.
In 1884, Pope Leo XII published a letter that discussed the fact that the human race is separated into two parts: those in the kingdom of God on earth and those in the kingdom of Satan. In a dramatic about-face, Taxil responded personally, claiming that the letter had brought about a conversion to Catholicism and that he wished to repair the damage that he had done over the years to the true church. After years of writing so many volumes against the Church, it would have been wise for the pope to be cautious about this “revelation”, but it does not appear that this was the case. The pope embraced the new Taxil and the Church gave their blessing to his new writings.
Because of their freethinking message, the Masons had already been a target of the Church, and the public was wary of their growing political power. Taxil seized on these feelings and began publishing exposes about the Freemasons and their connection to Satanism. He began by publishing four volumes on the History of Freemasonry and included eyewitness accounts of Satanism within the brotherhood. His next book was called Devil in the Nineteenth Century and included the popular fictional character Diana Vaughan. In this book, Taxil wrote about a made-up cast of Masons in America, with Diana being a member of the fictional rite called the Palladian Order. He wrote about Diana’s encounters with demons and told of her visits to Mars that took place with devilish assistance.
Like Taxil, Diana was redeemed when she spoke of her admiration for Joan of Arc and it was said that her demons took flight. Writing as Diana Vaughan, Taxil published a collection of prayers called the Eucharistic Novena that was praised by the pope. Her popularity grew, and Taxil called a press conference in 1897 where he promised to introduce the public to Diana. Instead, he revealed his hoax to a crowd of 300 and assured them that his claims against Freemasonry were false. “Palladism, my most beautiful creation, never existed except on paper and in thousands of minds,” he said. As he ended his press conference, he thanked the clergy for all of the publicity they had provided for his writings.
Despite his retraction at the press conference, Taxil’s writings have inspired others through the years to expand on the Mason-Satan connection. Many of the most prolific anti-Semitic writers as well as some extreme Christian literature have used Taxil’s fictional ideas as a springboard for their own work. Portions of his hoax writings often appear in arguments against Freemasonry as proof that the brotherhood are involved in Satanism. Ideas that Taxil promoted as a joke on the Catholic clergy over a century ago, live on today as a serious argument by those who wish to damage the Masonic organizations.