The Confession Of Léo Taxil

Jim Tresner, 33°, Grand Cross

Some Anti-Masons still give credence to a 19th-century hoax which has been disproved for over a century.

Photo: Contemporary cartoon of Léo Taxil, from Les Hommes D’aujourd’hui, courtesy of Brother Art deHoyos, 32°, K.C.C.H.
The translation from the French of hoaxster Léo Taxil’s 1897 "confession," as reprinted in full in Heredom, Volume 5, 1996, is a genuine service to Freemasonry. Taxil’s French is often colloquial and ungrammatical. Yet three Brethren—Alain Bernheim, 32°, A. William Samii, 32°, and Eric Serejski, 32°— have managed to translate the original text, a newspaper article dated April 25, 1897, from Le Frondeur Hebdomadaire (The Weekly Banterer), into very readable English.

To quickly remind readers, Taxil perpetrated several hoaxes in the latter part of the 19th century. One of them was to publish Masonic rituals, changing them to include devil worship, and then convincing the church that he was on a crusade to "expose" Masonry as a satanic cult. His "confession" of this hoax even included information from a Diana Vaughan, purportedly a victim of Masonic rites whose life was in danger from the Masons. (She was, in point of fact, a sales representative for an American typewriter company and Taxil’s co-conspirator.)

Taxil made up letters supposed to have been signed by Albert Pike, in which he refers to Masonry as a "Luciferian religion." Taxil even provides a drawing of an alleged Scottish Rite Temple in America containing a maze and a sanctuary in which the devil is worshiped and evil spirits raised. All a hoax, of course, but anti-Masons are still piously (or impiously) quoting it today.

Taxil had a long career as a successful hoaxster. At one time he managed to close down part of the coast of Marseilles by sending fictitious letters to the effect that the coast was inhabited by sharks. Finally, the government sent troops with ammunition and a tug-boat to kill the non-existent sharks. He then convinced people that there was a sunken city at the bottom of Lake Geneva. Many persons, including some respected archeologists, "saw" the wavering outlines of the city from a boat—in spite of the fact that the city was built only in Taxil’s fertile mind.

Finally, on April 19, 1897, Taxil held a large public meeting, invited the press, the church, and other officials, and confessed his most famous (or infamous) hoax in detail, showing exactly how he had done it. A riot nearly ensued. On April 25, 1897, the weekly Parisian newspaper Le Frondeur published the text of Taxil’s confession.

The material which follows is extracted from the translation which appears in Heredom, Vol. 5. I urgently recommend that you read the entire article. The only problem with it for me is that I find myself rather liking Taxil. I’m horrified by that, but so it is. I do not like his ethics, his morals are an abomination, his damage to Masonry almost impossible to estimate, but somehow I think I would have liked him. He was, at least, perfectly true to himself. That is rare in any age. And which of us would not like to twist the lion’s tail, just a little?

In his public confession, Taxil has just explained that he had to get back in the good graces of the church to make the hoax work, so he announced his conversion. The church sent a noted cleric to work with him and hear his confession (which lasted three days). He finally included a totally fictitious murder in his confession, just to satisfy the priest’s belief that there must be something really bad. Taxil continues the story, saying:

My confession of assassination was indeed a fantastic success; but the director of my retreat at Clamart had kept it secret. Evidently, what else could he tell the hierarchical authority who entrusted him to inspect the depths of my soul, except:

"—Leo Taxil?... I vouch for him!"

Once the mistrust of the Vatican was set aside, how could I make myself agreeable? In order to bring the hoax to the heights I dreamed of and which I had the inexpressible joy to reach, I had to make good a point most cherished by the Holy See within the program of the Church.

This part of my plan was settled from the start, as soon as I decided to inquire into Catholicism.

One year earlier, the Sovereign Pontiff had made himself notorious with the encyclical Humanum Genus, and this encyclical agreed with a well-established idea of the militant Catholics. Gambetta had said, "Clericalism, there is the enemy!" The Church, on the other side, said, "The enemy is Freemasonry!"

Accordingly, slandering Freemasons was the best way to establish the foundations of the colossal prank of which I savored all the suave happiness in advance.

At first, Freemasons were indignant; they did not foresee that the patiently prepared conclusion of the hoax would result in a worldwide outburst of laughter. They actually thought I had joined [the church] for good. It was said and repeated that it was a way of avenging myself for having been expelled from my Lodge in 1881, a well-known story which was not in the least dishonorable for me, but the mere consequence of a little row initiated by two men having nowadays disappeared, and disappeared under sad circumstances.

No! I was not avenging myself, I was having fun. And if one examines now the undersides of this campaign, even the Freemasons who were most hostile to me will acknowledge that I did not harm anyone.

One could dispute that.

Taxil tells us that his acceptance by the church as a true champion was almost hysterical. A country priest came to see him, convinced that he must be such a good man he could work miracles.

Yes, a miracle, he repeated, it does not matter which, just so that I can bear witness to it! ... Whatever miracle you wish! ... What do I know?... I.. Here, for example... This chair... turn it into a cane, an umbrella. (Prolonged laughter.)

I had gotten his point. I gently declined to perform such a wonder. And my Canon returned to Fribourg saying that if I was not performing miracles, it was out of humility.

Several months later, he sent me a gigantic Gruyere cheese on the crust of which he carved pious inscriptions, wild mystic hieroglyphs, with a knife—an excellent cheese by all means, which seemed never to come to an end and which I ate with infinite respect. (Laughter increases. Some Catholic listeners protest.)

Accordingly, my first books on Freemasonry consisted in a mixture of rituals, with short innocent parts inserted, apparently harmlessly interpreted. Each time an obscure passage occurred, I explained it in a way agreeable to Catholics who see Master Lucifer as the supreme grand-master of Freemasons. But only with a touch of suggestion. I was slowly smoothing the field first, in order to plough it later on, and then scatter the mystifying seeds which were to sprout so well.

An Audience with the Holy Father

After two years of this preparatory work, I went to Rome. (A voice: Ah! Here we are!)

Received at first by Cardinals Rampolia and Parocchi, I had the pleasure of hearing them, one as well as the other, tell me my books were perfect. Yes indeed, the books unveiled exactly what was so well known in the Vatican, and it was truly fortunate that a convert published these famous rituals. (Laughter.)

Cardinal Rampolia called me "my dear," thick as thieves. And how much he regretted that I had been only a mere Apprentice in Masonry! But since I succeeded in getting at the rituals, nothing was more legitimate than printing them. He said he could identify therein all his previous readings from documents in the Holy See’s possessions. He identified everything, even that which, by my doings, had the same worth as the sharks of Marseilles or the city under the Lake of Geneva. (A voice: Rascal! Scoundrel! Blackguard! Rogue!)

As for Cardinal Parocchi, what interested him most, was the question of Masonic Sisters. My precious revelations had taught him nothing new either. (Murmurs on one side; laughter on the other.)

Taxil then tells how he located Diana Vaughan, who, being a freethinker, gleefully agreed to participate in the hoax.

She was the one who let us discover the existence of private postal agencies in order to reduce expenses. She had had the opportunity to have recourse to one of them in London, and told us about it....

The Devil in the 19th Century [a work by Taxil] was mainly written to introduce the existence of Miss Vaughan who was to play the main part in the hoax. Had her name been Campbell or Thompson, we would have given our sympathetic luciferian the name of Miss Campbell or Miss Thompson. We merely turned her into an American, born by chance in Paris. We let her family originate in Kentucky. This allowed us to make her part as interesting as possible by multiplying extraordinary wonders concerning her, which nobody was able to check. (Laughter.) Another reason was that we located the center of Palladism [the fictitious Masonic devil worship] at Charleston in the United States, with the late General Albert Pike, Grand Master of the Scottish Rite in South Carolina, as Founder. This celebrated Freemason, endowed with vast erudition, had been one of the highlights of the order. Through us, he became the first luciferian Pope, supreme chief of all freemasons of the globe, conferring regularly each Friday, at 3 p.m., with Master Lucifer in person. (Explosion of laughter.)

A most curious point in the story is that some freemasons joined in the prank without in the least being asked to. Compared with the tugboat I had dispatched hunting for sharks in the coves of Marseille in my early years, the boat of Palladism was a true battleship.

With the help of Dr. Bataille, [alias of Taxil’s second co-conspirator] the battleship turned into a squadron. And when Miss Diana Vaughan became my auxiliary, the squadron grew into a full navy. (New laughter.)

We saw indeed some Masonic journals, such as La Renaissance Symbolique, swallow a dogmatic circular about luciferian occultism, a circular dated July 14, 1889, written by myself in Paris, and which I disclosed as having been brought from Charleston to Europe by Miss Diana Vaughan on behalf of Albert Pike, its author.

When I named Adriano Lemmi second successor to Albert Pike as luciferian Sovereign Pontiff—then Lemmi was not elected pope of the Freemasons in the Borghese palace, but in my office—, when this imaginary election became known, some Italian Masons, among which a Deputy at the Parliament, took it seriously. They were annoyed to learn through indiscretions of the profane press that Lemmi was secretive toward them, that he kept them aloof from the famous Palladism which the whole world spoke about.

After giving "chapter and verse" on many aspects of the hoax and proving beyond any doubt that the whole concept of Masons as devil-worshipers had come from his own fertile imagination, Taxil concludes:

Before ending, I must pay my respects to an unknown hoaxster, a shrewd American colleague. Among hoaxsters, one understands each other from one end of the world to the other without needing to exchange letters, without even having to drop a call. Respects therefore to the dear citizen of Kentucky who had the friendly thought of helping us without any prior agreement, who confirmed the revelations of Miss Diana Vaughan to the Louisville Courier Journal, who certified to whoever wanted to hear that he had known Miss Diana Vaughan intimately for seven or eight years and that he often met her in the various secret societies of Europe and America... where she never set foot.


You were told that Palladism would be knocked down today. Better still, it is annihilated, it is no more. In my general confession to the Jesuit father of Clamart, I had accused myself of an imaginary murder. Well, I will admit to a further crime. I committed infanticide. Palladism is now dead for good. Its father just murdered it.

(An indescribable tumult meets this conclusion. Some laugh more and more applaud the lecturer. Catholics scream and hiss. Abbot Garnier steps on a chair and attempts to address the audience, but he is hindered by the hoots....)

I wish it were true that Taxil had murdered the hoax of Masonic devil worship which he created, but that corpse revives with frequency. From anti-Masonic comic books (e.g. The Curse of Baphomet by Chick Publications or The New World Order by Pat Robertson) to the thunderous animadversions of some misguided television "ministers," Taxil lives on. He fooled the ignorant in the late 1800’s—he fools the ignorant today. 

Jim Tresner
is Director of the Masonic Leadership Institute and Editor of The Oklahoma Mason. A frequent contributor to the Scottish Rite Journal and its book review editor, Illustrious Brother Tresner is also a volunteer writer for The Oklahoma Scottish Rite Mason and a video script consultant for the National Masonic Renewal Committee. He is the Director of the Thirty-third Degree Conferral Team and Director of Work at the Guthrie Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie, Oklahoma, as well as a life member of the Scottish Rite Research Society, author of the popular anecdotal biography Albert Pike, The Man Beyond the Monument, and a member of the steering committee of the Masonic Information Center. Ill. Tresner was awarded the Grand Cross, the Scottish Rite’s highest honor, during The Supreme Council’s October 1997 Biennial Session.