History certainly has no shortage of enigmatic or controversial brotherhoods, orders, lodges and societies. The Knights Templar, for instance, are a perennial object of fascination and speculation. Whether the Templars were the inspiration for the no less controversial Freemasons, a band of depraved heretics or the innocent victims of a conspiracy born of greed and envy remains a topic of lively debate.
What no one can contest, however, is that the Knights existed. The beginning and formal end of the Order can be dated with precision, and the names of its leaders are a matter of historical record. Even a dubious organisation like the Priory of Sion can be shown to have had a genuine, if recent, existence, though its claims to centuries of tradition and hidden influence remain unsubstantiated. But there are other groups which seem to exist only in that gray zone between reality and imagination, ones whose origins, number, scope and purpose remain maddeningly vague.
One such entity is the quasi-mythical Green Dragon Society (GDS), also known as the Order of the Green Dragon or simply the Green Dragon. It most often is mentioned as a Japanese secret society, but that is not necessarily the whole story. Other evidence, or at least allegation, argues that its true origins lay in China or Tibet and that its influence extended to the power centres of Tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany. Historical figures from the Emperor Hirohito, to Adolf Hitler to Rasputin have been tied to the Green Dragon, legitimately or not. The waters have been further muddied by role-playing games which have combined the Society with H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and other fictional elements. Determining what is “real" and what is the playful figment of someone’s imagination can be tricky.
What follows will not solve the mystery of the Green Dragon, but it will try to separate fact from fiction and explain where claims and information came from. In doing so, it will offer a tantalising glimpse into a mysterious organisation that may have played a significant role in shaping modern history.
Enter the Black Dragon
The simplest explanation for the Green Dragon Society is that it is a muddled reference to the better known, and definitely real, Black Dragon Society (BDS) or Kokuryukai. The BDS first appeared about 1901 and was an offshoot of another, older Japanese secret society, the Black Ocean or Genyosha. Like its parent, the Black Dragon was a militant, “ultra-nationalist" body which worked to expand Imperial Japan’s influence on the Asian mainland. The BDS initially concentrated on combating Russian interests in the vast Chinese province of Manchuria. Indeed, the Society took its name from the “Black Dragon" or Amur River which separated Manchuria and Siberia. The Black Dragon’s network of spies and saboteurs took an active part in the subsequent Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) and the Black Dragons later expanded their operations and influence throughout Asia and Europe and even the Americas.
The nominal founder and leader of the Black Dragon was Ryohei Uchida, but the true master, or “darkside emperor," was Uchida’s shadowy and sinister mentor, Mitsuru Toyama, also a founding member of Genyosha. He reputedly was steeped in “extreme Eastern religious beliefs."1 That suggests the mysticism and occultism attributed the Green Dragon Society. Might the scheming and secretive Toyama have played a guiding role in both societies?
Were the Black and Green Dragons, if not one and the same, two sides of the same conspiratorial coin? For instance, just as the Black Dragon (Amur) River delineated the northern limit of Manchuria, further south the much smaller Qinglong or Green Dragon River roughly followed the dividing line between Manchuria and China proper. If the Black Dragon Society was primarily anti-Russian in its focus, might the Green Dragon have been anti-Chinese or anti-Western? While the Black Dragon focused on the political side, did the Green deal with the more secretive occult realm?
One obscure but important reference which clearly distinguishes between the Black and Green societies appears in the memoir of Chinese strongman Chiang Kai-shek’s “second wife," Ch’en Chieh-ju.2 She recalls that her husband contemplated a “completely secret system of private investigators" and considered as models the “Green and Black Dragon Societies of Japan and the Triad societies of Shanghai."3 Thus, in Chiang’s mind at least, the two Dragons were entirely separate (though not necessarily unrelated), Japanese, and appropriate models for secret intelligence gathering.
As noted, the Black Dragon Society was heavily involved in spying and the kindred spheres of propaganda and subversion. As such, it basically functioned as an extension of the Imperial Army’s “special organ," the Tokumu Kikan. Not to be outdone in anything, the Japanese Imperial Navy maintained its own secret service, the Joho Kyoko. Just as the Army utilised the Black Dragon to augment or handle its “special needs," might the Navy have used the Green Dragon in the same way?
Trevor Ravenscroft & Karl Haushofer
The identification of the Green Dragon as a fundamentally mystical order most evidently appears in Trevor Ravenscroft’s 1973 The Spear of Destiny. It is not insignificant that Ravenscroft was a follower of Anthroposophy and its founder Rudolf Steiner, and his book is a distinctly Anthroposophist take on the nefarious occult forces behind Hitler and his Nazi Regime. Ravenscroft firmly connects the Green Dragon to German geo-politician and mystic Karl Haushofer, one of Hitler’s presumed spiritual mentors. According to Ravenscroft, Professor Haushofer “gained… extraordinary gifts through membership of the Green Dragon Society of Japan in which the mastery of the Time Organism and the control of the life forces in the human body is the central aim of ascending degrees of initiation." Ravenscroft adds that “one of the highest tests of this type of initiation in the Green Dragon Society demands the capacity to control and direct the life force in plants in a somewhat similar manner to the former powers of the Atlantean people." “Only two other Europeans have been permitted to join this Japanese Order," [and who, one wonders, were they?] continues Ravenscroft, “which demands oaths of secrecy and obedience of far more strict and uncompromising nature than similar secret societies in the Western world."4
The major problem with all this is that Ravenscroft’s sources are hazy or non-existent. He likely took a cue from the 1960 work of Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, The Morning of the Magicians. Those authors claim that Haushofer “is said [by whom?] to have been initiated into one of the most important secret Buddhist societies and to have been sworn, if he failed in his ‘mission,’ to commit suicide in accordance with the time-honoured ceremonial."5 Assuming this to be an allusion to the above GDS, we are still faced with the lack of any identifiable source for the authors’ information.
Ravenscroft goes on the claim that members of the Green Dragon Society set-up shop in 1920s Germany and there joined forces with a group of Tibetan monks called the “Society of Green Men." The latter were, in fact, the “Adepts of Agharti and Schamballah" and their leader was a mysterious “Man with the Green Gloves."6 It also turns out that the Green Dragons and the Green Men had “been in astral communication for hundreds of years."7 The united brethren soon established communication with the rising Herr Hitler.
Others have since elaborated on the above by turning the Green Dragons into an “inner cabal" of bothGenyosha and the Black Dragon, and making them “but an outpost of a much larger conspiracy based on the even more secretive group known and the Green Men."8 While fascinating, such assertions appear not to have any basis in hard fact.
But that is not to say they may not have a germ of truth. For instance, there was an occult figure in late Weimar Berlin sometimes referred to as the “Magician with the Green Gloves" who did become a short-lived soothsayer for Hitler and the Nazi Party. He was no Tibetan but, of all things, a Jew who went under the name of Erik Jan Hanussen. When he became inconvenient by accurately predicting the Reichstag Fire (or arranging it), his erstwhile Nazi pals killed him.9
Likewise, there could very well be something to a Green Dragon-Tibet connection. A green dragon, orZhug, plays an important role in Tibetan mythology where it symbolises the “God of Thunder… bravery and all-conquering force."10 More to the point, perhaps, a Japanese Buddhist monk named Ekai Kawaguchi made two visits to Tibet in the years before World War I, around the same time Haushofer was in Tokyo. On the surface, Kawaguchi seemed a simple religious devotee, but he is known to have had contact with at least one Japanese secret agent while in the Land of Eternal Snows, Narita Yasuteru, as well as an operative of British Indian intelligence.11 Kawaguchi also had links to Annie Besant and her Theosophist sect, another group accused of subversion and general skullduggery.12 More significantly, Kawaguchi was a devotee of Zen Buddhism.
In his 1989 TheUnknown Hitler, Wulf Schwarzwaller claims that Haushofer was a master of various Eastern mystical traditions and “had familiarised himself with the Zen teachings of the Japanese Society of the Green Dragon."13 More recent sources emphasise the Green Dragon’s intimate association with Zen, specifically its Soto branch, and claim that the “Green Dragon has had a tradition of secret propagation," whatever that means.14
The Buddhist connection may offer some important clues. Buddhism originated in India and spread to Tibet and China, and from there to Japan. Zen (Cha’an) doctrine also had its roots in China. One of the most revered Buddhist “saints" in Japan is Kukai, an 8th-9th century mystic who spent years studying in China. Interestingly, his main place of enlightenment was the Green Dragon Temple in Xian where he was trained in occult, tantric traditions originating in Tibet. Returning to Japan, Kukai incorporated these into his version of True Land (Shingon) Buddhism.15 The problem is that Shingon was and is quite distinct from Zen, so which, if either, is connected to the Green Dragon?
To further complicate the picture, there are numerous references to a Chinese Green Dragon Society. Most are linked to the martial arts. Green Dragon kung fu societies are active throughout the world, but most appear to be of fairly recent origin. Oddly enough, during the 1960s, the Chicago-based Green Dragon Society was locked in a bitter feud with the rival Black Dragon Society! One version of the Chinese Green Dragon’s history pegs it as a Taoist secret society formed in response to the 17th century persecutions launched by the Jesuit-influenced Emperor Kiang Hsi. According to this, the secret society emerged from the Pure Thought Mystical School of Tao, and along with an implacable hatred for the Manchu Dynasty, it remained dedicated to the “practice of Taoist Alchemy and Immortalist Techniques."16 That sounds a bit like what Ravenscroft described. The Green Dragon also reputedly operated under numerous aliases and disguises. A secretive and even sinister Green Dragon Society also shows up in at least two martial arts films: ‘The Deadly Sword’ (1978) and ‘Seven Promises’ (1980). Finally, a Green Society or Green Gang was (and arguably still is) a major force in the Chinese underworld.
So, could there be two Green Dragon Society’s, one Japanese and Buddhist and the other Chinese and Taoist? This much seems clear: the inter-pollination of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, and the sects and secret societies they spawned, is centuries old. Within that context, just about anything is possible.
Other oddments, which may or may not mean anything, include the fact that during his marriage to another wife, Chiang Kai-shek paid a visit to a Green Dragon monastery. The late scholar Charles Rice, after sifting through everything he could find on the Green Dragon Society, wondered whether it might be nothing more than the karate club of the Japanese Emperor’s Imperial Guard!17 Strangest of all, perhaps, is a 2004 article from the South China Morning Post which describes the recent arrest of three members of the “Green Dragon Temple Cult" on charges of running a prostitution ring.18 The female victims were assured a place in heaven if they earned enough money for the cult.
Seven Heads of the Green Dragon
There is another, more involved, though no less mysterious, description of the Green Dragon Society that predates Ravenscroft by forty years and Pauwels and Bergier by almost thirty. It is almost certainly the source for much of what he and others have had to say about the GDS since. The work in question is the 1933 Les Sept Tetes du Dragon Vert [“The Seven Heads of the Green Dragon"] by Teddy Legrand. The title evokes the dragon with “seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads" mentioned inRevelations 12:3, although that beast is red, not green. At first glance the book seems to be just an obscure piece of French pulp fiction, albeit one replete with real people and real events along with many invented ones.
Basically, the book presents the Green Dragon or, more simply, “The Greens," a sinister international cabal bent on world domination. An interesting detail is that these secretive conspirators number precisely 72 and were, presumably, the “72 unknown superiors" of conspiratorial legend.19 To achieve its nefarious aim, the Green Dragon generates war, revolution and chaos, and its hand is the unseen common denominator in such seemingly disparate events as the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the instigation of the Bolshevik Revolution, the murder of the Romanovs, the 1922 killing of German foreign minister Walther Rathenau, the abduction of White Russian general A. P. Kutepov and the apparent suicide of millionaire Swedish “Match King" Ivar Kreuger. All in all, the Green Dragon sounds like another version of the infamous Illuminati who haunt so many conspiracy theories.
At the time of the book’s action, 1929-30, the mysterious Greens are busy facilitating the rise of the “The Man of the Two Z’s" under whose “sharp spurs" Europe would soon tremble.20 The latter is a thinly-veiled and rather prophetic reference to Hitler who had barely come to power when the book was published. The “Two Z’s" were the interlocking arms of the Swastika.
The central figure of Les Sept Tetes… is a British secret agent, the ace of L’Intelligence Service, James Nobody, who may be the original literary inspiration for James Bond. He had already starred in a series of pot-boiler spy novels by French writer Charles Lucieto, and the latest was an effort to continue the franchise after Lucieto’s recent death. Interestingly, Lucieto was a retired spy, having served the French secret service in World War I. He liked to claim that his Nobody and similar yarns were roman-a-clefs which revealed true, if hidden aspects of recent history and current events. His publishers later implied that this had something to do with his untimely demise.
To no great surprise, Lucieto’s successor, “Teddy Legrand," was a pseudonym. In fact, the author was Pierre Mariel who turns out to be a rather interesting fellow. Nominally he was a journalist, but like Lucieto he had ties to French intelligence. That has led to the claim that the latter “inspired" or even directed his literary efforts as it had his predecessor’s.21 More importantly, perhaps, he was a self-proclaimed expert on the occult. Some years later, under the name Werner Gerson, he would author one of the first books on Nazi occultism.22 Mariel himself was a member of both the Freemasonic Martinist Order and a one-time French grand master of the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC).23 Interestingly, inLes Sept Tetes… Mariel paints the Martinist Order as a conspiratorial sect which played a behind-the-scenes role in the French Revolution and later political upheavals, and which just might have links to the mysterious Green Dragon.24
In the book, brother spies Nobody and Legrand are inspired by their common curiosity about the fate of the Russian Imperial family. The chief object of fascination is an icon on St. Seraphim, supposedly found on the Tsarina Alexandra’s body, which bears a puzzling inscription, in English: “S.I.M.P. The Green Dragon. You were absolutely right. Too late."25 They quickly determine that the first element, which is accompanied by a six point “kabbalistic" symbol, stands for “Superieur Inconnu, Maitre Philippe" [Unknown Superior, Master Philippe], a French Martinist mystic who was an early guru to the Tsarina Alexandra.26 They also note the Tsarina’s predilection for the “Tibetan" Swastika as a good luck symbol. The rest of the story follows the duo’s efforts to discover who or what constitutes the Green Dragon.
Some interest inevitably falls on Maitre Philippe’s successor as royal spiritual guide, Rasputin, who comes across as a tool of the Green Dragon, if not an outright member. Legrand/Mariel correctly observes that during World War I, the dissolute holy man maintained communication with mysterious “Greens," or simply “The Green," based in Stockholm in which Mariel portrays as another piece of a larger conspiracy.27 Interestingly, Colonel Stanislaus de Lazovert, one of the men later involved in the plot to kill the dissolute holy man, claimed that Rasputin was a member of the “Green Hand," a secret order presumably backed by Russia’s Austrian enemies.28 Most recently and reliably, Russian investigator Oleg Shishkin linked Rasputin’s mysterious friends to a Berlin-inspired conspiracy which included German occult lodges and members of the ethnic-German Baltic nobility. Their secret brotherhood,Baltikum, used a green swastika as its symbol.
Coincidentally or not, one of the antagonists encountered by Nobody and Legrand is a Baltic Baron, Otto von Bautenas, whom they identify as no less than one of the “72 Verts." Bautenas turns out to have been a very real person: an ex-adherent of Baltikum, a close ally of Lithuanian politico Augustine Valdemaras and leader of the fascistic Iron Wolf movement.
Mariel also implies that Anthroposophy kingpin Rudolf Steiner was mixed-up in all this skullduggery and “secret politics" through his connections to pan-German secret societies.29 He also drops Gurdjieff’s and Besant’s names in the same murky mess.
While the book’s action stays within the geographic confines of Europe, shifting from Constantinople, to Scandinavia, to Paris to Berlin, there are numerous references to the Orient, especially Tibet. Legrand and Nobody enlist the aid of one of their old antagonists, Jewish-born “international spy" I.T. Trebitsch-Lincoln, whom has transformed himself into the Tibetan lama Dordji Den. Here again, there is at least a kernel of truth; in 1931 the chameleon-like Trebitsch was ordained a Buddhist monk and became “the Venerable Chao Kung."30
The pair eventually find themselves in Berlin, in the presence of The Man with the Green Gloves, an apparently Asian soothsayer who has set himself up much as the real Hanussen. They observed an eerie figure that seemed to have “complete mastery of his reflexes."31 Was this the “control of the life forces" mentioned by Ravenscroft? Like a living statue, “not a muscle in his face moved" as the weird seer conversed in “excellent Oxford English." Nobody and friend finally realise that they are standing face-to-face with “one of those famous Greens." The description has led one recent author, Christian von Nidda, to conclude that the Greens were nothing less than “reptilian" beings!32
In the end, Mariel never clearly defines just what the Green Dragon Society is and is not. Doubtless, that was never his intention. Interestingly, there is no suggestion of any Japanese connection. However, as the episode with the Man with Green Gloves suggests, there is the spectre of a powerful, mysterious Asiatic hand at work. The true purpose of the Russian Revolution, he believed, was to destroy Europe’s eastern barrier against Asiatic intrusion. Mariel sensed a kind of “permanent conspiracy against the white race – against Western Greco-Latin civilisation – which seeks to sap, fracture and shake the edifice of already unstable Europe."33 When the time came, the conspirators would “substitute him" [the Man of the Two Z’s] as a means of bringing about a New Order.
It also remains uncertain to what degree Mariel intended Les Sept Tetes… to be taken seriously. Clearly, that has not prevented some from doing so. Truth, fiction, or some strange amalgam of the two, Mariel’s little book is undoubtedly the inspiration for most of the claims about the Green Dragon Society which have sprung up since. We are still left to wonder whether, if all the exaggeration, obfuscation, superstitious dread and outright lies were cleared aside, there would be anything there at all. Maybe.
30. Bernard Wasserstein, The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln, Penguin Books: New York, 1989, 274.
31. Legrand, 243-244.
32. Christian Von Nidda, Our Secret Planet, Lulu Publications, 124-125.
33. Legrand, 132
Dr. RICHARD SPENCE is a professor of History at the University of Idaho. Among other works, he is the author of Trust No One: The Secret World of Sidney Reilly (Feral House, 2002). His latest book is Secret Agent 666: Aleister Crowley, British Intelligenceand the Occult, published by Feral House.