The Role of Georg Friedrich von Johnssen in the Emergence of the Unknown Superiors, 1763–64

03 May 2018

This article seeks to clarify the role played by the alchemist Georg Friedrich Johnssen (c.1726-1775) in the emergence of the notion that Freemasonry and other secret societies in the second half of the eighteenth-century were ruled by figures whose identity was a secret and who came to be described as unknown superiors. Although Johnssen’s interest in alchemy might seem to be a source of this notion of secret authority, a more probing inquiry reveals that the unknown superiors arose as a result of a historical (and not an esoteric) conception of the secret of Freemasonry.