The Order of the Pug
The year is 1742. It’s dark outside. On your hands and knees, you approach a wooden door, under which a sliver of candlelight is visible. Carefully, you scratch at the door: once, twice, three times. The door swings open to reveal a robed figure, who bends down and blindfolds you. Now sightless, you are led into a room, and a brass collar is placed around your neck. Slowly, you are led nine times in a circle around the edge of a vast carpet, while a chorus of strange barking assaults your ears. You are forced to kiss what feels like a small porcelain statue, your hand is placed on a sword (or a mirror, if you are a woman), and you are commanded to repeat a vow of obedience. Finally, the blindfold is taken off, and you are given a silver medallion in the shape of a small, chubby dog. Congratulations, you are now a member of the Order of the Pug.
You’re probably thinking, “The Order of the…Pug?” Odd as it may sound, the Order of the Pug was one of many secret societies that flourished in eighteenth-century Europe. To explain why, let’s back up for a sec. In the previous century, a workers’ organization known as the Freemasons had become increasingly powerful in European politics. Although the Catholic church had mostly tolerated the Freemasons, this slowly became an impossible position, and in 1738 Pope Clement XII declared that Catholics were no longer allowed to join the Freemasons. People still wanted to join groups like this, however, for all sorts of reasons: to socialize, to advance their careers, and to have the thrill of belonging to a secret club.
The stage was set, then, for the Order of the Pug. It is believed to have begun in France around 1740, but it reached its greatest popularity in Germany. As you might expect with a secret society, not much is known about the activities of the Order of the Pug, other than the initiation ceremony described above. (Members would later learn that they had been required to kiss the backside of a pug statuette.) Women were allowed to be members, which was somewhat unusual. In fact, for half of the year the lodge leader, known as the Grand Pug, would be a woman. The members of the group were expected to show the positive qualities of a pug: loyalty, courage, and steadfastness.
This all seems harmless enough, but the Order of the Pug was never allowed to spread widely. In 1748, it was banned in Germany, and it never fully recovered. Most likely, the authorities feared how powerful the Order would become if it were, ahem, unleashed.