Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius

Author: Augustine J. O'Reilly

Chapter XIII. The Secret Societies.

To outsiders Masonry is a mystery. When Masons speak or write of themselves they give the world to understand the are but a harmless union for mutual benefit, and for the promotion of works of benevolence. That such is the belief of many individuals in the lower grades of Masonry, and even of some lodges amongst the thousands scattered over the face of the earth, we have no doubt; but that charity in its varied branches has been either the teaching or the fact amongst the great bulk of Freemasons during the last two hundred years we unhesitatingly deny.

In the ceremony of making a master-mason, and in a dark room, with a coffin in the centre covered with a pall, the brethren standing around in attitudes denoting grief and sorrow, the mysterious official who has the privilege of three stars before his name gives the aspirant this interesting history of the origin and aim of his office.

"Over the workmen who were building the temple erected by Solomon’s orders there presided Adoniram. There were about 3,000 workmen. That each one might receive his due, Adoniram divided them into three classes—apprentices, fellow-craftsmen, and masters. He entrusted each class with a word, signs, and a grip by which they might be recognized. Each class was to preserve the greatest secrecy as to these signs and words. Three of the fellow-crafts, wishing to know the word of the master, and by that means obtain his salary, hid themselves in the temple, and each posted himself at a different gate. At the usual time when Adoniram came to shut the gates of the temple, the first of the three fellow-crafts met him, and demanded the word of the masters. Adoniram refused to give it, and received a violent blow with a stick on the head. He flies to another gate, is met, challenged, and treated in a similar manner by the second. Flying to the third door, he is killed by the fellow-craft posted there on his refusing to betray the word. His assassins bury him under a heap of ruins, and mark the spot with a branch of acacia.

"Adoniram’s absence gives great uneasiness to Solomon and the masters. He is sought for everywhere; at length one of the masters discovers a corpse, ad, taking it by the finger, the finger parts from the hand; he takes it by the wrist, and it parts from the arm; when the master in astonishment, cries out ’Mac Benac,’ which the craft interprets by the words, ’The flesh parts from the bones.’"

The history finished, the adept is informed that the object of the degree which he has just received is to recover the word lost by the death of Adoniram, and to revenge this martyr of the Masonic secrecy.

Thousands of years have rolled over since the alleged death of the clerk of works at Solomon’s temple, and if the streams of human blood that his would-be avengers have caused to flow have not satiated this blood-thirsty shade, those that Masons, Communists, Internationals, and other secret societies will yet cause to flow in the cities of Europe will surely avenge the ill fated Adoniram.

It is also asserted by some Masons of strong powers of imagination that they take their origin from the Eleusinian Mysteries. These were pagan orgies attached to some Grecian temples. Surrounded by mysterious ceremonies and symbols, and supported by every mythical and allegorical illusion that could inspire awe or confidence, these mysteries were very popular amongst the Greeks.

"The mysteries of Eleusis," says the profound German mythologist, Creuzer, "did not only teach resignation, but, as we see by the verses of Homer to Ceres sung on those occasions, they afforded consoling promises of a better futurity. ’Happy is the mortal,’ it is said there, ’who hath been able to contemplate these grand scenes! But he who hath not taken part in these holy ceremonies is fore ever deprived of a like lot, even when death has drawn him down into its gloomy abodes.’"

Harmless and absurd as these mysteries were in the commencement, they afterwards lapsed into all the immoralities of pagan worship. But to give such a remote, and even such a noble, origin to the frivolous deism of modern Masonry is about as absurd as to say that men were at one time all monkeys.

The truth is, Freemasonry was never heard of until the latter part of the Middle Ages. It found its infancy among the works of the great cathedral of Strasburg. Erwin of Steinbach, the leading architect employed in the erection of this beautiful and stupendous work of architectural beauty, called around him other noted men from the different cities of Germany, Switzerland, and France; he formed the first lodge. The members became deputies for the formation of lodges in other cities, and thus in 1459 the heads of these lodges assembled at Ratisbon, and drew up their Act of Incorporation, which instituted in perpetuity the lodge of Strasburg as the chief lodge, and its president as the Grand Master of the Freemasons of Germany.

The masters, journeymen, and apprentices formed a corporation having special jurisdiction in different localities. In order not to be confounded with the vulgar mechanics who could only use the hammer and the trowel, the Freemasons invented signs of mutual recognition and certain ceremonies of initiation. A traditionary secret was handed down, revealed to the initiated, and that only according to the degrees they had attained. they adopted for symbols the square, the level, the compass, and the hammer. In some lodges and in higher grades (for they differ almost in every nation) we find the Bible, compass, and square only. But the Bible given to the aspirant he is to understand he is to acknowledge no other law but that of Adam—the law which Almighty god had engraved on his heart, and which is called the law of nature (thereby rejecting the laws of the Church and society). The compass recalls to his mind that God is the central point of everything, from which everything is equally distant, and to which everything is equally near. By the square he is to learn that God made everything equal. The drift of these symbolic explanations is obvious.

In the ceremonies of initiation into the various degrees everything was devised that could strike the imagination, awaken curiosity, or excite terror. The awful oath that has been administered in some Continental lodges would send a thrill of horror through every rightminded person, whilst the lugubrious ceremonies the aspirant has to pass elicit a smile—such, for instance, of leading the young Mason with bandaged eyes around the inner temple, and in the higher grades presenting him with a dagger, which he is to plunge into a manikin stuffed with bladders full of blood, and declare that thus he will be avenged of the death of Adoniram! Then he is instructed in the code of secret signals by which he can recognize a brother on the street, on the bench, or on the field of battle. Carousing till midnight is a befitting finale to the proceedings of the lodge.

The doctrines or religious code of the Masons are, as their symbols indicate, deistic and anti-Christian. They openly shake off the control of all religion, and pretend to be in possession of a secret to make men better and happier than Christ, his apostles, and his Church have made them or can make them. "The pretension," says Professor Robertson, "is monstrous!"

How is this exoteric teaching consistent with the full and final revelation of divine truths? If in the deep midnight of heathenism the sage had been justified in seeking in the mysteries of Eleusis for a keener apprehension of the truths of primitive religion, how does this justify the Mason, in the midday effulgence of Christianity, in telling mankind he has a wonderful secret for advancing them in virtue and happiness—a secret unknown to the incarnate God, and to the Church with which he has promised the Paraclete should abide for ever? And even the Protestant, who rejects the teaching of that unerring Church, if he admits Christianity to be a final revelation, must scout the pretensions of a society that claims the possession of moral truths unknown to the Christian religion.

Whatever may have been the original cast of the religious views of the Masonic order, it is certain in its development it has become impious and blaspheming. In the latter part of the seventeenth century the Masonic lodges were the hot-beds of sedition and revolution; and long before the popes from their high watch-tower of the Vatican had hurled on these secret gatherings the anathema of condemnation, they were interdicted in England by the Government of Queen Elizabeth; they were checked in France by Louis XV. (1729); they were prescribed in Holland in 1735, and successively in Flanders, in Sweden, in Poland, in Spain, in Portugal, in Hungary, and in Switzerland. In Vienna, in 1743, a lodge was burst into by soldiers. The Freemasons had to give up their swords and were conducted to prison; but as there were personages of high rank among them, they were let free on parole and their assemblies finally prohibited. These facts prove there was something more than mutual benefit associations in Masonry. "When we consider," says M. Picot, "that Freemasonry was born with irreligion; that it grew up with it; that it has kept pace with its progress; that it has never pleased any men but those who were impious or indifferent about religion; and that it has always been regarded with disfavor by zealous Catholics, we can only regard it as an institution bad in itself and dangerous in its effects."

Robinson of Edinburgh, who was a Protestant and at on time a Mason himself, says: "I believe no ordinary brother will say that the occupations of the lodges are anything better than frivolous, very frivolous indeed. The distribution of charity needs to be no secret, and it is but a small part of the employment of the meeting. Mere frivolity can never occupy men come to age, and accordingly we see in every part of Europe where Freemasonry has been established the lodges have become seed-beds of public mischief."

This was particularly true of the lodges of the central cities of Europe in the latter part of the seventeenth century. They were not only politically obnoxious to governments, but they became the agents and supporters of all the heretical theories of the day, and their evil effects were felt in the domestic circle. Like animals that hate the light and crawl out from their hiding-places when the world is abandoned by man, the members of those impious gatherings passed their nights in mysterious conclave. Fancy can paint the scene: weak-minded men of every shade of unbelief, men of dishonest and immoral sentiments, men who, if justice had her due, should have swung on the gallows or eked out a miserable existence in some criminal’s cell, joined in league to trample on the laws and constitution of order, and, in the awful callousness of intoxication, uttering every blasphemous and improper thought the evil one could suggest. What must have been the character of the homes that received such men after their midnight revels? Many a happy household has been turned into grief through their demoralizing influence; mothers, wives, and daughters have often, in the lonely hours of midnight, sat up with a scanty light and a dying fire awaiting the late return of a son, a husband, or a brother; with many a sigh they would trace the ruin of their domestic felicity and the wreck of their family to some lodge of the secret societies.

Before appealing to facts and bringing the reader to a scene of domestic misery caused by those societies, we will conclude these remarks by quoting one or two verses from a parody on a very popular American song. We believe the lines representing the poor little child calling in the middle of the night, in the cold and wet, at the Masonic lodge for its father, to be as truthful in the realities of domestic suffering as they are beautiful and touching in poetic sentiment:

"Father, dear father, stop home with us pray
You never stop home with us now;
’Tis always the ’lodge’ or ’lodge business,’ you say,
That will not home pleasures allow.
Poor mother says benevolence is all very well,
And your efforts would yield her delight,
If they did not take up so much of your time,
And keep you from home every night.

"Father, dear father, stop home with us pray!
Poor mother’s deserted, she said,
And she wept o’er your absence one night, till away
From our home to your lodge-room I sped.
A man with a red collar came out and smiled,
And patted my cheeks, cold and blue,
And I told him I was a good Templar’s child,
And was waiting, dear father, for you.

"Father, dear father, come home with me now;
You left us before half-past seven.
Don’t say you’ll come soon, with a frown on your brow;
’Twill soon, father dear, be eleven.
Your supper is cold, for the fire is quite dead,
And mother to bed has gone, too;
And these were the very last words that she said;
’I hate those Freemasons, I do!’"


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Chicago: Augustine J. O'Reilly, "Chapter XIII. The Secret Societies.," Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 in Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius (New York: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1899), Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022,

MLA: O'Reilly, Augustine J. "Chapter XIII. The Secret Societies." Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, in Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius, Vol. 22, New York, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1899, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: O'Reilly, AJ, 'Chapter XIII. The Secret Societies.' in Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius, ed. . cited in 1899, Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from