LSU Art Historian’s New Book Examines Rituals of Secret Society in Napoleon-Era France

(Baton Rouge, LA) – In a fascinating new book, LSU Art Historian Darius A. Spieth brings to life the world of secret Masonic societies that existed in Napoleon-era France and discusses the obsession these groups had with ancient Egyptian worship and rituals.

In, Napoleon’s Sorcerers: The Sophisians, published this month by the University of Delaware Press, Spieth focuses on one such society in particular, the Ancient Order of Sophisians, and examines the rituals this group created in its worship of the ancient goddess Isis.

The Sophisian Order was not the only Masonic organization preoccupied with Egypt at the turn of the 19th century, but it was among the more interesting. Founded in Paris in 1801, the Sophisian Order initially catered to veteran military leaders, Egyptologists, scientists, writers, and artists who had joined Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. But it soon branched out and attracted new adepts from the world of the Parisian stage.

Spieth, an assistant professor in the LSU College of Art and Design, bases his study on previously unpublished archival materials, including the Sophisian’s so-called Golden Book from the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. A richly illuminated manuscript, the Golden Book features underground mazes, cave settings, pyramids, and temple structures as theatrical settings to re-create Ancient Egyptian initiation practices. The book includes 17 color illustrations, and 49 black-and-white illustrations.

Spieth, a native of Germany, is a specialist in early modern European art and intellectual history. He has worked for Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum, and has published numerous scholarly articles and museum catalogues dealing with early 19th century European art.