Secret Societies: Carbonari

Banner of the Carbonari


Excerpt From Essay “Secret Societies” by Paul Witcover

in The Fire, an allusion to another secret society surfaces, when Alexandra “Xie” Solarin (the daughter of Cat Velis and Russian grandmaster Alexander Solarin from The Eight) first appears as the apprentice of master chef, Rodolfo Boujaron, whose posh Washington, D.C. restaurant is called Sutalde, the Basque word meaning “hearth.” The unusual name of this restaurant actually points us to the secret society which plays a pivotal role in the historic chapters of The Fire: the Carbonari, or Charcoal Burners. “Like the Rosicrucians, Freemasons, the Illuminati,” Xie’s boss Rodo tells her one night when they are alone at the Hearth, “these Charcoal Burners also say they possess a secret wisdom only known by the initiated, such as themselves.” Rodo traces the origins of the society back to ancient, pre-Roman and Greek mystery religions involving the goddess Hestia . . . and he adds that the Montglane Service is the repository of that ancient wisdom, which he believes is recorded in physical form through this very chess set, created by al-Jabir.

Although organized along similar lines as the Freemasons, the Carbonari were members of a secret society whose aims were likely more political than esoteric. Created in the early 1800s to resist Austrian occupation of Italy by means of small cells of resistance fighters, the Carbonari pursued a liberal, nationalist agenda that included hostility to the Catholic Church especially for its support of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Intimately involved in revolutionary activities in the 1820s and 1830s, the Carbonari were finally crushed by the ever more reactionary European governments that had emerged after the fall of Napoleon. An ex-Carbonaro, Giuseppe Mazzini, would go on to become a prominent leader in the Resorgimento, the political movement that finally led to Italian unification.

Katherine’s “Carbonari” reading list

A History of Secret Societies-Arkon Daraul (1961)

The Secret Societies of All Ages and Countries (2-vol)-Charles William Heckethorn (1875)

The Last Attachment: The Story of Byron and Therese Guiccioli-Iris Origo

Shelley and Byron-Isabel C. Clarke


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