I remember back in my teenage years when I started reading up on -and playing around with- the Golden Dawn system, wondering why Westcott chose to make Anna Sprengel a German.
It just seemed like such an un-British thing to do.
If you need to invent someone to provide a flimsy claim to antiquity (which everyone was doing at the time) then fine. But why a mysterious countess from Nuremberg?
The first reason is quite obvious and I picked up on right away. The remaining two reasons I have happened on in the last twelve months whilst studying the Victorians.
1. The “girlfriend in canada”
Oh, so you have a girlfriend? Can I meet her? She lives in Canada…. I see. And she doesn’t mind you hanging out in gay bars with your many, many gay friends, then?
Germany, like Canada, is far enough away to be believable but is also inconveniently just out of reach. In the era before EasyJet, locating your mysterious founder in Germany makes it extra-certain that people won’t go looking for her or make claims to also being in contact with her.
Plus it helps if she dies very soon after you found your order in London. Which Countess Sprengel conveniently did.
2. I got these shoes in New York
Some locations confer more caché than others. Our regard for coats purchased in New York is higher than coats purchased in Johannesburg.
In the mid-nineteenth century London was the undisputed capital of the world, but Germany was the unassailable innovation capital of Europe (and probably the world but that depends on how you view New York at the time).
German connections were all the rage among the English Middle Class.
Because of this man: His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony, The Prince Consort.
Also known as Victoria’s husband. And cousin. (Sidebar: Eww.)
Victoria and Albert were; eventually, at least; adored by London society. Adored and emulated. Remember in the early nineties when women everywhere started sporting those truly awful news-reader hairstyles like Princess Diana and started giving a shit about landmines?
Well, it was like that. Except it was deserved:
Almost all the royal innovations from that period, including the Great Exhibition, were down to Albert bringing some much needed German efficiency to some very English institutions.
If something like say, an initiatory society promising the ancient secrets of European magic, had a German connection, it instantly conferred upon in the kind of “intellectual authenticity” you couldn’t find other countries.
And this is where I thought the answer lay. The above two points make a good case but not a “beyond the shadow of a doubt” case. It was really more of a theory.
Then I thought back over something I read in Triumph of The Moon during my train journey the other week.
There was one final reason why a new secret society would need a German connection.
3. Secret societies grew better in Germany
“Germany was, with its atomized political system, the most fertile breeding ground for these societies. The most celebrated to appear there in the mid-eighteenth century, the Strict Observance, made an important innovation by claiming, as Blavatsky was to do later, to be directed by Secret Chiefs (the ‘Unknown Superiors’) who had preserved ancient wisdom entire.”
Second sidebar: Isn’t the Strict Observance just the most German sounding name? For anything? Compare that with the optimism and campness you get in the English systems: Golden Dawn, Silver Star… Various others that mention pretty flowers and jewels. Much fruitier.
Here, I think, I had found the final key to a question that had been kicking around in the back of my head for almost fifteen years.
In Victorian London, if you wanted intellectual credibility -more than that- if you wanted cosmic and historic authenticity, then you had to go German.
Auf Dich, Frau Sprengel!