It has been almost a century since the bizarre rites and activities of the Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven were revealed to the world, and sixty years since the death of its founder, May Otis Blackburn. During the second half of the twentieth century, the cult was all but forgotten outside of California. Only recently has interest in the order been revived, largely thanks to the internet.
There were a great many cults in the United States in the 1920s, but the Great Eleven rose above them all in terms of complexity, weirdness, and pageantry. It was not just a bunch of desperate people clustered together in a tent, an old church, or in a dance hall. The Great Eleven had a secret temple built for a promised messiah and in it a five-hundred-pound throne decorated with gold leaf. Its robed members carried about giant lion-headed props in nocturnal rituals and pilgrimages across the desert.
It was accused of both animal and human sacrifice and of mummifying its dead using recipes torn from ancient, mysterious books. Its members were granted magical names. Its queens plotted to rule the earth from thrones in Hollywood. Cult priestesses were said to have placed adherents in ovens and compelled them to dance in poison. Wherever the cult went, neighbors complained of naked rituals and orgies and strange goings-on. The cultists’ actions were guided by a mystical and unseen book called The Great Sixth Seal, supposedly dictated to its high priestesses by angels.
It was all this, and more, that made the Great Eleven such a spectacle in 1929. “Cult of the Great Eleven” provides a history of the cult, from its inception to its demise, while endeavoring to explain at least some of what was going on in the minds of the order’s participants. Though more than five years of research have gone into this reconstruction of the cult’s history, there remain many mysteries and many oddities that defy explanation.
Perhaps with regard to the Great Eleven, that’s for the best.
Nevertheless, I welcome feedback, especially from descendants of former Great Eleven members or the authorities who investigated the cult. Family insights, letters, or photos would be particularly valuable in ensuring that future editions are as accurate, informative, and entertaining as possible.