Germany has seen the rise and fall of many secret societies and has harbored or fostered the growth of more than most European countries.
From the Rosicrucians to the Order to the Golden Dawn, from the Freemasons to the early days of the Nazi Party, Germany has had its fair share of intrigue. The Catholic Church and even the established Nazi Party had tried, in vain, to stamp them out, but the fire created by the methods of secret societies is difficult to quench.
No sooner has it been stamped out in one place than it starts up again in another, like a forest fire that refuses to die. One secret society with such a voracious fire was the Holy Vehm. This unique society had, for centuries, brought fear to the German people, both powerful and weak. It was open in its goal - revolution - and its vigilance was such that the name of the Holy Vehm was known across the world.
Although they were believed to have disappeared at the end of the 16th century, their symbol of a red cross on a white background survives to this day in the International Committee of the Red Cross, and their disappearance seems to have occurred at the same time as the appearance of the Rosicrucians (rosy or red cross).
Members even saw themselves as “seers” and “illumines” (Wissend or Wise Ones) and outsiders were known as those “who had not seen the light.”
But what was their origin and how did they become so feared?
The standard orthodox history claims that by the middle of the 13th century and at the height of Templar power, Westphalia in Germany was suffering from a state of lawlessness and oppression from loosened warriors, mercenaries, and bands of outlaws. It seemed no innocent man could travel between the rivers Rhine and Weser, and so the Chivalrous Order of the Holy Vehm or Fehm was secretly created to counter this state of affairs.
It was created by ex-outlaws and freemen who now had families and business concerns of their own to worry about and so, with the initial backing and aid of the Holy Church, they took up arms and horse and chased down the tyrants.
Eventually the Holy Vehm began to take the law into their own hands and held secret sessions wherein they judged those they had caught and sentenced them often to death. The term fehm or vehm is derived from the Latin fama, a law of common or agreed form. It can also mean to be “set apart,” just as they saw themselves. Fehm can also mean “black” or “wisdom.”
During this time, secrecy was paramount because of reprisals from the outlaws and soon oaths and rituals were part of the bargain. For instance, during the initiation the candidate would swear on oath to kill himself and his family should he reveal himself to be a member of the Holy Vehm.
The judge or Stuhlherren would then place his sword across the candidate’s throat and draw a few drops of blood to seal the oath and serve as a reminder of the judgment he would receive. The initiate would then kiss the cross on the hilt.
These oaths were taken at receptions, which were often held in caves or the depths of the forest, and went something like this:
Although the “receptions” were held at night and sometimes in caves, the
actual judgments were in open, public places, and often in the morning, as
said, these judgments, or Heimliches Gericht, were always held at midnight.
Because these judgments almost always resulted in execution, those charged,
more often than not, tried to escape and fled the country. That was not the
end of the matter, and soon the mighty arm of the Holy Vehm reached far and
wide, and special executioners were sent to hunt the outlaws down and kill
them without trial.
On the surface, though, by 1568, they had ceased to exist and little more was heard from them. They remained, hidden and secret, being heard of in the early 19th century when the French under Jerome Bonaparte legislated against them at Munster. But they reemerged again with true vengeance in the 1930s during the Nazi period of Germany, this time focusing on the Jewish “heresy” and doing much of Hitler’s dirty work.
almost all accounts the Vehm disappeared at the same time as the Nazis, but
there is more…
The rain was beating down hard like it always does in the British summertime, and I ran from the car, across the gravel forecourt, and banged on the white Edwardian front door. I could see the lights inside flickering through the rain that almost blinded me, and I was overjoyed as the door swung wide and my old friend ushered me in.
minutes, I was sat before a log fire with a large glass of wine, listening
to all the latest “insider” gossip. I was surprised to find that most recent
intrigue was about the then new Pope Benedict and how the Spanish and French
had been arguing over who should follow him.
He checked, and word came
back that these guys were in fact not modern day versions of the Chivalrous
Order of the Holy Vehm, but were in fact a continuance of the very same
medieval order that supposedly disappeared finally in the late 1940s. I was
invited over to Berlin to speak with them. so I accepted.
I had no idea what they looked like, but I was assured they would know me, so I stood taking pictures of the building and enjoying the German sun. I did not wait long before I was tapped on the shoulder by an elegant-looking older gentleman with short gray hair and a dark suit. Behind him were two others, similarly gray with one in a tweed-style jacket and the other in short sleeves.
They all smiled at me and I was quickly put at ease.
We sat, ordered coffee, and I noted how each of
the three men sat almost solemnly and turned their knives, forks, and spoons
towards the center of the table in an almost ritual fashion. I was only
later to discover that this indeed had been an ancient secret sign of the
Holy Vehm to others in the room.
After the war they
and others maintained the membership of the Vehm, and they claimed that it
was still very much alive and well today in Germany and Austria and was in
fact growing within the anti-European contingents. They had initiated many
hundreds of younger Germans in the last few years and each of them were
Freigraf, or court presidents, although judgments were few and far between
On the one hand, I was almost afraid that they may take me off into some dark wood and exercise their judgment against me; on the other hand, I was excited by the whole intrigue. It felt a little like a James Bond movie - meeting outside a museum, being driven off in a black Mercedes, and talking about wartime exploits behind enemy lines.
At the end of our meeting we said goodbye and I was driven back to my hotel, where I simply couldn’t rest through excitement.
The next day I was back in the UK and life returned to normal, but I couldn’t help but wonder about those words of Rudolf Steiner from the early 20th century: