In the recent season of the Netflix show, Stranger Things, the Hellfire Club is Eddie Munson’s heavy metal name for his after-school Dungeons & Dragons group. Members wear t-shirts emblazoned with a playful devil, and earn the town’s suspicion due to Eddie’s presence at the weirdly occult death of a popular cheerleader named Chrissy. The outrage and hunting of the members of this harmless fantasy role playing game is eerily similar to the actual “Satanic Panic” that swept the nation in the 1980s, which did see innocent people ostracized and even jailed for their participation in what many viewed to be occult rituals, rather than slightly spooky games and interests.
But the Hellfire Club was based on a real organization in the 1700s, and these members were no social outcasts. Instead, they were some of the most prominent men in England.
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The real “Hellfire Club” was a secret society (all the rage in the eighteenth century), begun by a Baron in the area who actually had these chalk mines thoroughly excavated and decorated with carvings and skulls, demons, and other spooky elements to add to the ambience. Many men of great title and fortune attended the club’s festivities, including, it is rumored, a young Benjamin Franklin.
The meetings tended toward “worship of Bacchus and Venus” which is eighteenth century code-speak for lots of drinking, and a fair bit of sex. Though little is known about what happened in the secret meetings of the club, it’s safe to say that that name indicated that they were doing the kind of stuff that would lead to, you know, hellfire and damnation, if word got out about what they were up to.
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Hint: It wasn’t a game of D&D.