DASHWOOD, SIR FRANCIS (1708-1780)
Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1762 and 1763 and founder of the secret society called the Friars of St Francis of Wycombe, better known as the Hellfire Club. Having been initiated into a Masonic Lodge in Florence in 1738, he returned to England in the following year and founded the Society of Dilettanti whose membership included hard-drinking and wealthy young men.
Dashwood has been frequently described as a satanist, and it has been suggested that the secret society of which he was a member - generally referred to as the Hellfire Club although that name was not applied to it until long after Dashwood's death - was a lodge or temple of devil-worshippers.
There is no reliable evidence for such assertions. The deities to whom Dashwood and his fellows Sacrificed would seem to have been Bacchus and Venus rather than Lucifer and Asmodeus. In other words the Hellfire Club members more properly are referred to, were probably drunken debauchees rather than initiates of some infernal cult.
The exact date of the foundation of Dashwood's society is uncertain, but it was undoubtedly in existence by 1750 and seemed to have flourished until about 1762. The main activities of the group seem to have taken place in the summer of each year, coinciding with a house party at Dashwood's country home.
During these country holidays, the 'Franciscans' engaged in quasi-religious activities involving what were probably only half serious rituals during which there is some evidence that they wore the habits of Franciscan friars. It has been affirmed that these rites included the Black Mass, but while there may have been a certain amount of parody of Christian ceremony, it is unlikely to have been very serious.
Perhaps something like the blasphemous undergraduate prank for which George Augustus Selwyn, an associate of Dashwood although not a 'Franciscan', was reputed to have been sent down from Oxford - offering a goblet of wine to the land-lord of an inn with the words: 'Do this in remembrance of me' .
Were the members of the Hellfire Club genuine diabolists?
It would be easier to believe that the Medmenham friars were genuine diabolists if Selwyn had been of their number, for his erotic impulses seem to have taken the form of an obsessional interest in corpses - one man on his death-bed is reported to have instructed his manservant: 'If Mr Selwyn calls show him up. If I'm alive I'll be glad to see him and if I'm dead he'll be glad to see me'.
In reality the rites participated in by Dashwood and his cronies were likely to have been - as Eric Towers, his only serious biographer, has argued - no more than the worship of Venus, Goddess of love, accompanied by the 'Sacrifice' of willing victims - that is, prostitutes ;- by the obvious method.
The so-called 'Hellfire Club' was no more than a secret society dedicated to drunkenness and debauchery, thus resembling the slightly later Knuckle Club, a secret quasi-Masonic society of golfers at Blackheath which had several toasts, such as 'Stiff clubs and hard balls', which indicated the nature of its private activities.
Later, groups, it appears, were more authentically satanic.
|Sir Francis Dashwood depicted in a satirical Hogarth print as a worshipper of Venus. Others asserted that Dashwood was a Satanist. In reality his 'hellfire Club' was dedicated to he bawdy rather than the diabolical.
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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