The Sunday before last (please excuse this late blog posting – it has been sitting on my hard drive), I headed to Camden Lock, a familiar haunt from my olde London days, for a meeting of the modern-day Hell Fire Club: a friendly society of men and women who operate under the motto of “Libertati Amicitiae Que Sacra” - Sacred to Liberty and Friendship - and, amongst other activities, discuss topics such as physics, esoteric matters and Jungian philosophy, as well as enjoying a drink or three.
What I know about physics (my worst subject at school) and Jung could fit on to a postage stamp but I can relate easily to the concepts of twisted humour, pranks, debauchery and wenching, as practised by the original Society of Sir Francis of Wycombe – an intelligent group of influential ladies and gents who met at Medmenham Abbey or the caves at West Wycombe to partake in mock-religious ceremonies, drink excessively and discuss politics, philosophy and poetry, if desired. I also like the club’s philosophy of “do what thou wilt” – roughly translated as “act as you choose but take responsibility for your own actions”. The Hellfire Club was ahead of its time in allowing women to participate: during the early to mid 1700s, females weren’t allowed in taverns. The club was intended more as a bastion of ironic humour than as a serious attack on religion and the establishment, although rumours about black masses and orgies abounded.
Reflecting on all the ancient tomfoolery and the potential for fresh amusement, my companion (a direct descendent of Sir Francis Dashwood) and I took our pews outside the Ice Wharf bar in Camden, the venue for the meet-up. It quickly struck me that the set of rather interesting people sitting around the table could be grouped into those who had genuine knowledge of esoteric and spiritual matters and those who were inclined towards general naughtiness. Some fell into both camps. As the vino and beer flowed, people dropped their guard. On one side of the table, a sensible discussion about metaphysics was taking place. On the other, a flow of hilarity about gangsters, squat parties, intoxication methods and how to shove a Christmas turkey through a self-serve supermarket till without it saying “unexpected item in the bagging area” was spilling forth. I was enthusiastically partaking in the second conversation while trying (and presumably failing) not to slur too many of my words.
By this stage in the game, and a bottle of rose cava later, I was starting to think I might be an unexpected item in the bagging area. I couldn’t decide if giggling about venison and champagne supper procured by “tea leaves” was entirely appropriate conduct but, on the other hand, I wasn’t going to get very far trying to discuss Jung or Tao. Slight concerns about my own ignorance and the potential for my head ending up on the table in a literal re-enactment of Sir Francis and his cohorts’ “women in wine” aside, it was a jolly occasion, terminated at a logical adjunct when various group members left to fetch books out of a car parked at Mornington Crescent.
For those who are interested in the Hell Fire Club, which operates as a non-profit organisation and doesn’t charge membership fees, although joiners have to meet certain criteria, a good starting place would be www.hellfireclubbooks.co.uk . Hell Fire could be coming to your area soon…