I’m sure you’re all dying to know how my presentation on Magical Secret Societies of the Victorian Era went at the Steampunk convention, Clockwork Alchemy, last weekend. Or at least mildly curious? Well, I’ll admit I was a little nervous, but it was fun.
It turns out all these magical secret societies have got some things in common. So if you’re planning to build your own for a book you’re writing or for world domination (Illuminati, move over!), it might make sense to include these things:
1. Hidden masters. Whether they’re called Secret Chiefs, Spirit Guides or hidden masters, most founders of secret societies claimed they were in contact with higher powers who gave them advice, information, and commands. Madame Blavatsky, founder of the 19th century Theosophical Society claimed connection with a brotherhood of masters. In 1875, she delivered to her partner, Henry Olcott, a letter written in gold ink on green paper and folded into a black envelope. It was from the hidden master Tuitit Bey of Luxor, Egypt. He invited Olcott to become his pupil… supervised by Madame Blavatsky. Olcott accepted.
2. Secret knowledge. A common concept in 19th century magical societies was the idea of truths hidden within. The goal of these societies was inherently mystical, to help their members go deep within themselves, master the different layers of their soul or psyche, and so get closer to God or source. As a side effect, they would gain supernatural powers.
3. Symbols. From society lapel pins to Tarot cards, symbols were hugely important within secret societies – both to hold the membership together as a group (keep outsiders out) and also as a means of study to gain higher knowledge. Israeli Regardie perhaps explained it best when he wrote in What You Should Know About the Golden Dawn, “symbols are of the utmost importance in the Qabalistic and magical scheme, for it is by their intervention and use that we are able to enter into the life of other parts of our consciousness, and through them into the consciousness of the universe about us.”
From a membership standpoint, membership in a society usually begins with an initiation process. Once initiated, the applicant becomes a first degree member. Like belts in a martial arts dojo, members can progress to higher degrees by mastering temple work, such as creating their own Tarot deck, or mastering certain rituals like the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. During the workshop, we played with our own, Steampunk version of the ritual, below:
Clockwork Banishing Ritual
0. Stand in the center of the room if you’re alone and in a circle if in a group and face East (today, just stand where you are).
2. Stab the center of the pentagram with your finger and say, Master of Air. Imagine the pentagram fills with golden light and spins clockwise.
3. Turn to the South. Do the same, but say: Purifier with Fire. Imagine the pentagram fills with golden light and spins clockwise.
4. Turn to the West. Do the same, but say: Purveyor of Steam. Imagine the pentagram fills with golden light and spins clockwise.
5. Turn to the North. Do the same, but say: Forger of Metal. Imagine the pentagram fills with golden light and spins clockwise.
6. Turn to face East. Extend your arms in the form of a cross say…
Before me the Airship Captain;
Behind me the Inventor;
On my right hand, the Blacksmith;
On my left hand, the Alchemist;
For about me flames the Pentagram,
And in the column stands the six-rayed Star.
7. Tap yourself on the third eye 3 times (to open it), and say: The Temple of the Clockwork Alchemist is now open.
To close the temple, repeat the ceremony but reverse directions (i.e. start in the North and end in the East), and imagine the pentagrams spinning counterclockwise. Tap yourself on the third eye 3 times, and say: The Temple of the Clockwork Alchemist is now closed.
About the Author
Kirsten Weiss is the author of Steam and Sensibility, a Steampunk novel of suspense set in Victorian-era America, and the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mysteries: the urban fantasy, The Metaphysical Detective, The Alchemical Detective, The Shamanic Detective, The Infernal Detective and The Elemental Detective.