Secret Starlight Lodge (A Jessica Norton Story)
There’s a man who helps me find strange things. His name is Mark, and he’s very much in love with the image of himself as kind of magick-punk. He dives in among the refuse of occultism and conspiracy-lore, digs his way through it to find the pearls in the filth. He’s useful, doing a great deal of work for only modest payment; I think he’s at least a little in love with me. He helped me find the location of Harrington’s Folly, sold me photographs of its interior. Newdean is a place with a reputation for the unusual, and ever since my trip to the Folly he had been busy mining the town’s history for more uncanny gems.
He called me one night and told me that there had once been a Masonic lodge in Newdean.
‘An irregular lodge,’ he explained. ‘That means that it wasn’t formally recognised by the Grand Lodge. It was rogue.’
‘What, did it let women in or something?’
‘No, still strictly for rich men. But it was never given a charter by Grand Lodge because its teachings were… idiosyncratic. Radically idiosyncratic.’
‘Come on, you have to give more than that!’
‘Honestly, I don’t know much more. Classify it under “weird shit”.’
‘What was it called?’
I grinned. ‘Perfect.’
The nearest train station to Newdean is about ten miles away. I caught a taxi from it, arrived about half-an-hour later after hitting dense traffic along the motorway. I was staying in the same bed and breakfast I had used during my expedition to the Folly, and the old couple who ran it recognised me. I assumed they didn’t get many customers, and I wondered how they managed to stay open.
The place smelled of soap and cheap perfume. Everything was desperately cosy, with pictures of cats on the walls and kitsch ornaments dotted around, seemingly at random. The bed spread was flowery, as was the wallpaper. There was even an honest-to-God doily on the bedside cabinet. The whole place made me very uncomfortable, and I wanted to spend as little time there as possible. I unpacked hurriedly.
In a nearby café, I examined the map Mark had prepared for me. The former location of the Lodge wasn’t listed anywhere in the public records, so I don’t know how he’d determined where it used to be – I imagined that someone owed him a favour. He had circled the site in red for me. The Lodge had met in a large house, owned by the Master of the Lodge, Oscar Kelly. The house was one of the largest in Newdean, and apparently stood unoccupied (which I was starting to realise wasn’t unusual here).
Kelly’s background was shrouded in mystery – the name was almost certainly a pseudonym, and no one had been able to trace his true origins. Someone that met his description was apparently known to float through the orbit of many prominent twentieth century occultists, especially Crowley and Kenneth Grant, though neither explicitly referred to anyone of that name in their writings or correspondences. This being said, his use of a pseudonym had hopelessly muddied the waters, so it was perfectly possible they knew him under another name.
Secret Starlight Lodge was established by Kelly after the Second World War. It swiftly gained minor notoriety for railing against popular psychics and mediums, accusing them of ‘fishing in waters which do not belong to them’, according to a pamphlet they published. Although they claimed to possess an authentic initiatory lineage within Freemasonry, the United Grand Lodge of England refused to recognise this, and warned ‘all Brethren to shun so-called “Secret Starlight Lodge”’. Thus, any Freemason who joined Secret Starlight (and membership was only open to prior-initiated Masons) would be banned by Grand Lodge. Although this announcement certainly did Secret Starlight some harm, it was still able to gather together about two-hundred members.
It wasn’t entirely clear what Secret Starlight actually did, but Mark knew someone with access to the UGLE archives, and had found an internal report on them.
I saw Mark the night before I left for Newdean, and he explained that his contact hadn’t been able to remove the report, but he had summarised it for him, and he passed this onto me. Apparently, Secret Starlight taught that it had discovered the true meaning of the symbolism of Freemasonry. And that, with this key which was theirs and theirs alone, the great mystery at the heart of the Craft could be unlocked. Sadly, the report hadn’t said what this ‘key’ was (or, at least, Mark’s contact hadn’t felt like sharing that detail). The suggestion, however, was the Masonry’s ultimate origins were profoundly ancient, much more ancient than commonly thought. Much, much more.
Mark also passed something else onto me (for a few hundred quid) – a Masonic jewel which took the form of a seven-pointed star. The ribbon was missing, but on the obverse side was inscribed the following:
Sir Oscar Kelly 66 ̊
Illuminated and Most Excellent Master
of Secret Starlight Lodge
I looked at Mark. ‘I thought most Masonic rites’ only had thirty-three degrees. These guys had sixty-six?’
Mark winked. ‘Funny, isn’t it?’
Kelly had died of a heart attack in the seventies. The Lodge didn’t survive his death, but the house was passed on to the senior members of the Lodge, whose children still maintained joint ownership. However, Mark assured me that the house was never used by them, and was shunned even by squatters. Nor, apparently, had any work been done on it since then, opening up the possibility that it had been left largely as it had been when the Lodge had met there.
Hence my trip to Newdean. I was going to do some breaking and entering.
I walked to the house after sunset. I had only a light dinner beforehand, and had told the old couple at the bed and breakfast that I was meeting friends when I headed out. Any point in Newdean was no more than about forty-five minutes’ brisk walk away from any other point, but it took me nearly an hour-and-a-half to find the house. It was almost as if Newdean was trying to keep me from finding it. I kept taking wrong turns, finding myself going down cul de sacs, and once I found myself walking down a road without streetlights, the houses all apparently empty. I swiftly rushed back into the safety of the yellow light.
Eventually, I found the house. It was right at the back-end of the town, with no other streets behind it, only the inky blackness of the Old Downs. Newdean slopped upwards the further away you got from the seafront, and this house had a commanding view of the whole town. It seemed to spill down from it. I admired the view, as there is something irresistibly pleasing to me about seeing a town lit up at night, the swirled studs of yellow light marking out the shape of streets. Then I turned to the house.
It brooded. That was the word that come to my mind. It brooded, and loomed. The streetlights etched out its contours, reflecting in its windows. It was a full three-stories high, and looked like it extended some considerable way into the space behind the town. I checked that no one was coming down the street – I was alone. Quickly, I darted through the empty space in the wall where once there had been a gate, and slipped down the side of the house. I arrived in the back garden. The half of it closest to the house was paved over. The whole area was rife with weeds. I didn’t think anyone had been here for a long time.
I examined the rear of the house. I was in luck, there was a pair of broken French windows. Gingerly, careful not to make any noise, I slipped inside and turned on my torch. I seemed to be stood in a living room. The floor was bare wood, and there was no furniture, or pictures on the walls. It must have all been stripped out after Kelly’s death. I started to worry that anything interesting from the days of Secret Starlight would have been removed too.
Still, only one way to find out…
I explored the house, all three floors. Empty kitchen, empty bedrooms, empty studies, empty storage spaces. My heart sank – there was nothing here. Then, when I stepped off the stairs onto the ground floor, I noticed something: the floor felt odd, like it was sagging slightly under me. I looked down, and shone the torch at my feet. I was standing on a trapdoor! It must have been covered with a carpet before the house was cleared, and now it lay naked beneath me. I felt girlish excitement rising up inside me.
‘An actual trapdoor,’ I whispered.
I ran my fingers over its edge, and managed to lift it open. An extremely musty smell rose from below, and I sneezed. I pointed the torch down through it – I was standing at the top of a flight of stairs. The trapdoor had opened in such a way that it was now lying flat against the floor. There seemed little chance of it swinging shut on its own accord, but all the same I went out into the garden and found a loose paving stone, and deposited it on the door.
I descended the stairway. The flight of steps was very steep, and the steps quite small. I took my time, and kept one hand against the wall to steady myself. At the bottom of the staircase, there was a short corridor, and at the end of it, there was a long, rectangular room. This must have been where Silver Starlight had had its meetings. I edged into the room, with uncomfortably reminded me of a crypt.
Masonic lodges have black-and-white tiled floors, but this floor had a very different design. It was white with regularly placed black stars. Each star had seven arms, twisting anti-clockwise. I shone the torch at the walls. Along the two long walls on the sides were seven, seven-pointed stars. Opposite the entrance was a kind of throne, where I assume Kelly would have sat. I approached the throne. There was another seven-pointed star over it, with very long arms. The throne stood on a raised dais, imposing and imperious.
There were two pillars, one on either side of the throne. The pillars had a twisting design going up, reminiscent somehow of the whirling star-designs on the floor. Atop each was a large, glass globe – a lamp? I returned my attention to the throne. It was… strange. Something about its design disturbed me. It was made of smooth, black stone… and it looked like it had been carved from a single piece of stone, too. But the material was unrecognisable. What kind of stone could have been used? The back was raised up very high, so it must have towered over Kelly when he sat here. The back swept forwards like a canopy; to say the least, it was intimidating in the extreme.
The stone was almost completely unreflective, but when I leant in close I could see that the throne was covered in baroque designs. They were difficult to make out, but there were suggestions of letters, hieroglyphs, runes, and the hostile, dagger like script of cuneiform. This wasn’t all, there was the some other alphabet I didn’t recognise, but something about it sang of an extremely ancient origin. I took out my camera, and started to photograph the throne and the rest of the room.
I approached the walls. Looking closely now, I could see that carved into the grey stone beneath the seven-pointed stars were murals of some kind. The murals closest to the doorway depicted castles, Greco-Roman temples, pyramids, all in an extremely abstract, warped fashion, as if they had been carved by someone who didn’t understand the usual rules of perspective. The images were stretched, disfigured, haunting. The further along the walls they were, the more unfamiliar. They seemed to depict scenes out of distant antiquity; ziggurats featured prominently. The murals closest to the throne were outright bizarre. They depicted architecture that was completely unrecognisable, towers that twisted in a manner similar to the pillars flanking the throne. At the bottom of the towers were tiny, humanoid figures, suggesting a truly cyclopean scale.
I felt like I was on the cusp of something, that the answer to some great question was on the tip of my tongue. What was the secret that Kelly claimed to have unlocked? Masonic lodges were doused in symbolism, communicating esoteric principles that only the initiated could understand. What esoterica was encoded in these walls? Masons traditionally claim a lineage all the way back to the builders of King Solomon’s Temple. Kelly had claimed that Masonry’s origins were far more remote than was usually thought… even older than Solomon’s temple? I thought about the writing on the throne, different ages of text blending together, running into one another, sounding off one against the other.
Had he found something in common between these different, ancient languages that modern scholars had missed? Some long-forgotten primordial mother-tongue? The language of the people who had built those vast towers depicted in the murals?
But Kelly was dead. All that is left was an encrypted mystery for which I did not have the key, and probably never would. I approached the throne again, and, impulsively, sat upon it.
It’s difficult to describe what happened next.
It was like a jolt of electricity, rushing up my spine like wildfire. My back arched, I gasped, and the sensation exploded inside my skull. I was frozen in place, an incredibly alien sensation running through me. I could hear voices, male voices, chanting. A mauve haze had descended upon the room, and I could see the shadows of people through it. People and… other things. I forced my head forward. The murals… they were moving. The architecture they depicted was flexing, breathing. The door began contracting, and a sudden terror of being sealed underground seized me.
Summoning every ounce of strength I possessed, I pulled myself up from the throne, and dashed for the door. I fell through it, narrowly avoiding slamming my face into the steps by throwing my arms down before me. I turned around, pointed the torch down towards the room. There was just an ordinary basement space. An old light bulb dangled from the ceiling, but other than that, the room was bare and empty.
I stepped back into it, shone the torch around. There was nothing there. Nothing. I took out my camera, started clicking through the pictures.
Each image I had taken had been replaced with a grey square and the words FILE CORRUPTED.
It seemed that even in death Kelly had found a way to keep his secrets encrypted.