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‘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.


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Chapter Six Trauma, Druidism and the Gnostic Tradition in the Work of Bacon and Beckett 139


Chapter Six Trauma, Druidism and the Gnostic Tradition in the Work of Bacon and Beckett Throughout their creative lives both Bacon and Beckett were permanently focussed on a nameless and confusing inner reality, struggling with its daily effects on their psychological wellbeing and finding within it the source of their artistic subject matter. From the numerous references to themes found in Masonic rites, the visual and written descriptions of ritual spaces, references to traumatic bodily sensations, terror and entrap- ment in their work and the nature of some of the comments they have made, it appears that this inner reality may have been associated with the tradition of initiation that was an integral part of Irish society in the early twentieth century. As this reading has suggested, it seems that both Francis Bacon and Samuel Beckett may have been exposed to ‘the Mysteries’ at some point in their development. However, their responses suggest a repression of any clear conscious awareness of this possibility despite the artistic expression of their subjective reality. As this discussion has demonstrated, the activities described in many of Bacon’s paintings and Beckett’s texts correspond with those reported by contemporary victims of sadistic ritual abuse. These activities include the witnessing of animal sacrifices or mutilations, the presence of death threats, both witnessing and receiving physical and/or sexual abuse or torture, being deprived of sleep, being shut up in confined spaces, and being surrounded by groups of figures in robes engaging in chanting and circular ritual formations. As...

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