There seems to be a strange similarity between an ancient rite/initiation ceremony of freemasonry and the legend of the sinister gang of goatriders or
In the 18th century large parts of the Southern Netherlands, Belgium and Germany were terrorised by mysterious gangs of highwaymen. These robbers
called them selves the Goatriders and were the subject of many legends. At sunset rich farmers, abbeys and convents locked their doors and waited in
fear. With an amazing speed the Goatriders attacked and ransacked their targets. Their incredible pace made people suspect they were in league with
the devil. Named after a medieval legend, the Goatriders were supposed to fly through the sky on glowing he-goats.
But there was more to the actions of the Goatriders than robbing and plundering alone. In their operations lay, besides their hostility towards the
farmers and the clergy, an obvious element of protest against the established order. This manifested itself to the fullest when pillaging churches or
presbyteries. Besides stealing valuables, relics, sacerdotal garments and opening offertory-boxes, they went even further by performing parodies on
the holy communion, extreme desecration and by swearing a blasphemous oath.
The virtues one needs to be a Goatrider are stated as follows: be insensitive, have no scruples whatsoever, be out for living the good life without
really exerting oneself.
Bound by their oath, which was introduced when the gangs were enlarged by strangers (i.e. not family of the skinners), the gangs formed a hermetically
closed unity, difficult to break. They never talked about their nocturnal activities to the outside world, so it often occurred that an insidious
member was hiding behind the looks of an honourable civilian or revered tradesman.
The oath was performed as follows: in an abandoned chapel at night, there stood an altar with a crucifix, two burning candles, the hand of a dead man
(chopped off of a hung convict), a Mary-statue (stained or not) and a small box. The oath was read by the leader and was to be repeated by the new
member who had the first two fingers of his right hand raised. A sentenced man declared the following: "this oath roughly contained: that I abjure
god with the holy mother of god and that I acknowledge the devil. If I should be captured hereafter, I will rather undergo torture to death above
betraying one of them, or in case that one is betrayed I will act upon him as if he had been captured."
After this oath, they often acted out "the last supper", mocking and trampling the crucifix.
There was no way back once you had taken the oath: only death would relieve you. Those who wanted to withdraw were tracked and killed in cold blood.
Even when undergoing the worst of torture, betrayal would equal death: the retaliation of the Goatriders was always the worse, it was even persevered
by mother, children, parents and the rest of the family. Never would a gang have itself betrayed without punishment.
The authorities accused them of witchcraft and designed special laws and tortures to stop them. A real witch hunt started, claiming many innocent
victims. Between 1730 and 1796 over 300 people were burned, maimed or hanged as convicted Goatriders.
Maybe there's a link between the freemasonry or 'vrijmetselarij'(dutch) afterall, as they both originate from the same region.