The Secret Society About Pug Dogs That Was Brought Down by a Book
All it took was one tell-all to destroy the Order of the Pug
The grand master put a brass collar around the new member’s neck, a symbol for dogs’ servitude towards their masters. Taking the new member by the right hand, he guided them around a designated area nine times. Thus the new initiate joined the Order of the Pug, a secret society of Freemasons in Germany who celebrated and acted like the ugly-cute scrunch-faced dogs.
While pugs are known for their loyalty, the Order of the Pug was started as a rebellion against authority, specifically the Catholic Church. In 1738, Pope Clement XII banned Roman Catholics from participating in Freemasonry and other secret societies following an inquisition into this practice. Shortly after, Archbishop Clemens August of Bavaria formed the Order of the Pug with other dedicated Freemasons and would-be initiates, allegedly including two German princes. The Order of the Pug was a direct rebuke to Pope Clement XII’s prohibition: it was a Freemason-associated secret society that you had to be Roman Catholic to join.
But the Order of the Pug only lasted around ten years, less than the average lifespan of the real dogs. This is likely due to the publication of the French book L’Ordre des francs-maçons trahi et le secret des Mopses révélé (1745)—“The order of the betrayed Freemasons and the secret of the pug revealed.” The exposé, written by Catholic abbot Gabriel-Louis-Calabre Pérau, detailed the Order’s pug-related traditions and its flouting of Catholic law. Pérau never fulfilled his goal of becoming a priest; perhaps the tell-all was his way of currying favor with the Church.
Whether you are a dog person or a cat person, the Order of the Pug’s practices, as described in Le secret des Mopses révélé, come across as very weird. Pérau, who learned about the Order of the Pug while researching the subject of Freemasonry, described the rituals in detail. Even before wearing a brass collar, people interested in joining the Order of the Pug would have to “scratch, as dogs do,” the door three times, and if there was no response, they would “start scratching more.” The grand masters were also referred to as the Grand Mopse at these ceremonies, which translates to Grand or Great Pug.
Strange practices aside, not just anyone could join the Order of the Pug, even if they were down to wear brass collars in front of a group of people. There were rules, and they mostly had to do with a member’s personality. According to Pérau’s exposé, Order of the Pug members had to have the following characteristics: “Loyalty, Trust, Discretion, Tenderness, Sweetness, Humanity; in a word, all the qualities that are the basis of love and friendship.” Basically, to be a part of the Order of the Pug, you had to have many qualities of a pug. If those interested in the Order of the Pug failed to perform the rituals or did not have the character of a dog, they were kicked out of the building before the festivities began. Pérau also reported that the Pugs claimed to be thumbless, like their dog namesakes; what might look like a thumb was in fact “a little finger.”
Unsurprisingly, the initiation ceremony and reception featured glass pug statues, which were also depicted in the illustrations of Pérau’s exposé. Pérau wrote that a pug statue was placed at the table of the master of the lodge where the ceremony was held, as a “symbol of society.” At this table, there was also a sword and a toilet. The sword’s placement at the table was logical: Freemasons have long used swords in ceremonies. But the inclusion of a toilet was a bit strange. Not even Pérau seemed to be able to make sense of it.
While the Order of the Pug tried to embrace both Catholicism and Freemasonry, their practices seemed to conflict with both. Unlike most Masonic groups in the 18th century, the Order of the Pug allowed women to become members. As people become Pugs during the initiation ceremony, instead of calling everyone Brothers—a norm in some Freemason groups—the Pugs referred to new members as Brothers and Sisters. At the reception, men and women sat together based on their position in the secret society’s hierarchy. Pérau wrote that the seating arrangements “alternated between a man and a woman” until the table was full.
At the end of the night, the group always pledged secrecy, promising that they would “never discover, nor verbally, nor by sign, nor by writing, their secrets, and their mysteries”—although some of them must have broken this promise, since Pérau was able to learn details about the Order’s practices. When L’Ordre des francs-maçons trahi et le secret des Mopses révélé was released in 1745, the Order of the Pug was all but finished.
The fact that Pérau’s exposé was able to end a secret society speaks to the power that the Catholic Church had in Europe in the 18th century. Did the Pugs die out so quickly after the book’s release because of the weird practices of Order of the Pug members—or because their practices violated, by design, the rules of an authoritarian leader? The former Pugs faced punishment, like excommunication from the Church, if the Pope decided that was appropriate. Unlike Freemasonry, which had existed since the fourteenth century, the new Pug-centered secret society had no competing authority to offer its members—it only had the thrill of secrecy, which the book destroyed. What the church said was true must be true, what it said was shocking must be shocking, what it said was unacceptable must be destroyed. Today, when any group can create its own authority, one book could never take down the Order of the Pug—they would just turn to Facebook groups and YouTube videos, and probably grow.
To the public of 18th century Europe, though, it did not matter whether or not Pérau’s reporting was entirely accurate; what mattered was that the Pugs’ actions were so shocking and a violation of the Catholic Church. The Order of the Pug fell because people trusted – with the faith of a pug – that Pérau told the truth.