The Hell-Fire Club was a Satanic order founded in England in the 18th century, more for the purpose of outrageous behavior and sexual play than actual Satanic rites or worship.
The original Hell-Fire Club was founded by Lord Wharton for the purpose of “drinking, gambling and blaspheming.” Similar clubs also were in vogue, mostly among the aristocracy, such as the Edinburgh Sweating Club, the Dublin Blasters, and the Demoniacs. In 1721, a royal proclamation banned them, forcing them underground.
The most famous Hell-Fire Club was founded by Sir Francis Dashwood, who owned a large estate in West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and who had married a rich widow. Dashwood joined forces with Paul Whitehead to tour erotic archaeological discoveries in Europe and also the private cardinals’ rooms at the Vatican. They acquired some Grimoires of spells and conjurations and decided it would be interesting to indulge in magical activity.
Dashwood, Whitehead, and their friends began meeting at the George and Vulture pub in Cornhill. They established as their motto and philosophy Fais Ce Que Voudras, “Do What Thou Wilt,” which later became part of Aleister Crowley’s “Law of Thelema”: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
The group, known first at the Secret Brotherhood and then as the “order of the Friars of Saint Francis of Wycombe,” were heavily influenced by Rosicrucianism in their satanic dabblings. They changed their meeting site to a more Demonically suited location, Medmenham Abbey, the ruins of a 12th-century Cistercian monastery atop a hill. Dashwood made some additions to the abbey, including an artificial Gothic tower, frescoes on the walls and ceilings, and voluptuous statues. He restored the abbey church by turning it into a common room with a pagan altar. Dashwood and his fellow “monks” spent on the average two days a month at the abbey. Each “monk” had his own cell, to which he could take women. A pleasure boat afforded them trips up and down the Thames River.
The “monks” also conducted rites in caves nearby. The caves stretched to the center of the hill. Three hundred feet down was an underground river, which Dashwood named the River Styx. The caves served as temple rooms, many of which were decorated with Tantric symbols. Supposedly, a secret passage led to the chamber of a girl nicknamed St. Agnes, who served as vestal virgin. There was a labyrinth as well.
The author Hugh Walpole witnessed one of their satanic rites performed covertly in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome, which he described in his book Memoirs of the Reign of King George III:
On Good Friday, each person who attends the Sistine Chapel takes a small scourge from an attendant at the door. The chapel is dimly lighted, only three candles, which are extinguished by the priest, one by one. At the putting out of the first, the penitents take off one part of their dress. At the next, still more, and in the dark which follows the extinguishing of the third candle, “lay on” their own shoulders with groans and lamentations. Sir Francis Dashwood, thinking this mere stage effect, entered with the others dressed in a large watchman’s coat, demurely took his scourge from the priest and advanced to the end of the chapel, where in the darkness ensuing he drew from beneath his coat an English horsewhip and flogged right and left quite down the Chapel—the congregation exclaiming “Il Diavolo! Il Diavolo!”—thinking the evil was upon them with a vengeance. The consequence might have been serious had Dashwood not immediately fled the Papal dominions.
Dashwood’s order lasted for about 35 years.
- Masters, Anthony. The Devil’s Dominion: The Complete Story of Hell and Satanism in the Modern World. London: Peter Fraser & Dunlop, 1978.