Recently I came across a bit of intriguing history. It turns out that the Ku Klux Klan was inspired by the romantic tales of the Holy Vehme; specifically what was written about them by Sir Walter Scott. During the time of the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, everyone in the South, it seems, was obsessed with Scott’s novels. And his 1829 Anne of Geierstein, in particular, contains detailed descriptions of the Vehme.
Below you’ll find a succinct overview of the “Vehmgerichte,” Vehmic Courts or Secret Tribunals, from Charles William Heckethorn’s The Secret Societies of All Ages, followed by the 1922 article, “Goethe and the Ku-Klux Klan” by James Taft Hatfield.
The Holy Vehm, by Charles William Heckethorn
Origin and object of Institution. — In this book we are introduced to an order of secret societies altogether different from preceding ones. Hitherto they were religious or military in their leading features; but those we are now about to give an account of were judicial in their operations, and arose during the period of violence and anarchy that distracted the German empire after the outlawry of Henry the Lion, somewhere about the middle of the thirteenth century. The most important of these were the secret tribunals of Westphalia, known by the name of Vehm-Gerichte, or the Holy Vehm. The supreme authority of the emperor had lost all influence in the country; the imperial assizes were no longer held; might and violence took the place of right and justice; the feudal lords tyrannized over the people; whosoever dared, could. To seize the guilty, whoever they might be, to punish them before they were aware of the blow with which they were threatened, and thus to secure the chastisement of crime — such was the object of the Westphalian judges, and thus the existence of this secret society, the instrument of public vengeance, is amply justified, and the popular respect it enjoyed, and on which alone rested its authority, explained.