Show Less

‘A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials’

Bacon, Beckett and Spurious Freemasonry in Early Twentieth-Century Ireland


Lynn Brunet

The artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and the writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) both convey in their work a sense of foreboding and confinement in bleak, ritualistic spaces. This book identifies many similarities between the spaces and activities they evoke and the initiatory practices of fraternal orders and secret societies that were an integral part of the social landscape of the Ireland experienced by both men during childhood.
Many of these Irish societies modelled their ritual structures and symbolism on the Masonic Order. Freemasons use the term ‘spurious Freemasonry’ to designate those rituals not sanctioned by the Grand Lodge. The Masonic author Albert Mackey argues that the spurious forms were those derived from the various cult practices of the classical world and describes these initiatory practices as ‘a course of severe and arduous trials’. This reading of Bacon’s and Beckett’s work draws on theories of trauma to suggest that there may be a disturbing link between Bacon’s stark imagery, Beckett’s obscure performances and the unofficial use of Masonic rites.


Show Summary Details
Restricted access

Introduction 1


1 many traces of Masonic rites, suggesting some form of exposure to ritual practices. As Ross Nichols notes, Druidic magicians sometimes dipped or annealed children in the mystic fire, a euphemism that implies that, in pre-Christian times, children were sometimes submitted to initiatory ordeals.48 Research since the 1980s has revealed the continuation of such practices in the contemporary era.49 After preliminary revelations of the ritual abuse of children in Britain, the United States and other first world countries in the 1980s a set of heated public debates ensued, but by the late 1990s the topic had plunged into obscurity.50 However, psychologists at the coalface have since documented many cases and a body of research has emerged that confirms the existence of ritual abuse as a contemporary practice. In the American context, for example, James Noblitt and Pamela Perskin were able to provide a comprehensive summary of the data using an anthropological and historical methodology that attempted to put the material into context. They examined the broad range of accounts of religions, cults, and fraternal organizations that used traumatic rituals for the purpose of creating altered states of consciousness’.51 These mental states, they argue, have sometimes been viewed as sacred, but can also be used for psychological control. Their conclusion, like that of others who have explored this field, is that the practices appear to have been going on in an underground form, perhaps for centuries. A definition of ritual abuse derived in 1988 at the University of New Hampshire and...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.