Seeds of Evil
According to Dr. Samantha Woolsley, the Tannhauser Bruderschaft is an ancient secret society based in southern Germany that dedicated their lives to the occult and ancient Teutonic practices. Whereas many secret societies in the 1700’s and 1800’s were more like professional organizations that enjoyed secrecy and exclusivity, with the veil of occult trappings, there were some that truly tried to dedicate their lives to the occult. The Tannhauser Bruderschaft was one such organization.
The Tannhauser reference is supposedly a legendary account about a figure named Tannhäuser a knight and poet who found the Venusberg, the subterranean home of Venus, and spent a year there worshipping the goddess.
After leaving the Venusberg, Tannhäuser is filled with remorse, and travels to Rome to ask Pope Urban IV if it is possible to be absolved of his sins. Urban replies that forgiveness is as impossible as it would be for his papal staff to blossom. Three days after Tannhäuser’s departure Urban’s staff blooms with flowers; messengers are sent to retrieve the knight, but he has already returned to Venusberg, never to be seen again.
The legend has been interpreted as a traditional folk tale which has been subjected to Christianization where the familiar story of the seduction of a human being by an elf or fairy leads to the delights of the fairy-realm but later the longing for his earthly home is overwhelming. His desire is granted, but he is not happy, and in the end returns to the fairy-land.
The legend was made famous in modern times through Richard Wagner’s three-act opera Tannhäuser, completed in 1845. Aubrey Beardsley started to write an erotic treatment of the legend which was never to be finished due to his illness; the first parts of it were published in The Savoy and later issued in book form by Leonard Smithers with the title Under the Hill. In 1907, the original manuscript was published and entitled The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser.