X Clubs

A complete accounting of everything that defies our understanding might be impossible while its investigation and analysis is conducted by private and secretive concerns.

The original X Club was, famously, an elite Victorian dinner club which counted a number of prominent scientists - including John Tyndall, Sir Edward Frankland and Charles Darwin - as members. Ostensibly a place where a likeminded group of friends could discuss the world and their work over lavishly-prepared meals, even this was disputed by X Club founder Thomas Henry Huxley. A biologist and anthropologist known for doggedly defending Darwin’s work on evolution against all sceptics and naysayers, Huxley played down the club’s professional and academic interests - and its position as a leading seat on scientific thought - as incidental to its social role; a place for a group of otherwise busy men to maintain their friendships.

This denial was, of course, no more true than that which was being denied: The X Club had another, more furtive function as a sort-of clearing house for a secret society that went assiduously unnamed - a secret society with far grander ambitions than providing expensive brandies and candied almonds to prominent academic minds. Representing an international concern, one of several such significantly-funded groups of the day and more throughout history, their remit was to investigate what they called ‘outlier events’ (what we might call the occult or the impossible). The X Club served as an air-lock and antechamber through whose securities potential candidates could be vetted and fêted as they were either recruited or passed over.

Although the involvement of such renowned figures drew more attention than would have been typical or ideal, the creation of the X Club was far from the first such larger-scale recruitment undertaken by or on behalf of such an organisation. Traditionally, such expansions had been managed on a slower and more deliberate timetable - often with a longstanding, tried-and-true member of the group taking on an acolyte or apprentice to whom any meaningful knowledge or information (sometimes even of the existence of a greater whole to which they were pledging their works, faith and fealty) was doled out in carefully-controlled piecemeal; the strict and sacrosanct utility of the groups’ functions taking precedence over trust.

Nonetheless, and despite the security advantages of such a compartmentalised structure, the world was only getting smaller and stranger with each passing year - more interconnected and more complicated with the increased ease of passage and the transport of cargo between continents. As information also became more freely trafficked and a focus on any one field or type of local phenomena meant the deliberate exclusion of innumerable potential paths towards fundamental truths, even the most tireless and prolific of polymaths could not keep pace with the breadth of historical and literary understanding - let alone the scientific, philosophical and mathematical specialisations - required to make meaningful academic or practical inroads into understanding the impossible.

The great work had become too great for small groups of extraordinary people to manage, and required the growth and expansion of any group whose intention was to continue to serve anything more than a niche interest (to be purveyors of acumen beyond individual obsessions). The old apparatus would not serve, and the industrialisation of such enterprise meant that a viable organisation would need agents and operatives tasked with differing but complementary roles, all still serving a unified purpose. Individual recruitment continued and continues to exist of course, for exceptional candidates or in exigent circumstances in particular, but - as in the more exoteric fields of espionage and intelligence-gathering (with which there is naturally some overlap) - such overtures are considered high-risk.

Whilst Huxley’s X Club remains unique for the relative celebrity of its individual and combined membership, it is far from the only example of such a strategy for the medium or long-term vetting of potential candidates. Indeed, the phrase ‘X Clubs’ has come to be a term of art (primarily amongst and between secret societies interested in the exploration and (sometimes) the exploitation of the impossible) for intermediary groups or organisations established for such purposes. As different and disparate as they are numerous, X Clubs have been formed under the guise of book groups, adult education classes, and even support groups for those dealing with encounters with and exposure to the preternatural.

Most are arranged to draw in people with whatever skills or specialities the arranging organisation finds themselves lacking or in the market for, but X Clubs have found their particular niche in helping recruit around specific local phenomena. Much of the initial work around the nesting habits and migratory patterns of flocks of Tanzanian Crone Birds, for instance, was done by a club formed to take advantage of a small but disorganised local bird-watching community. The flock’s behaviours were mapped and their threat neutralised with only a handful of local fatalities, and several of the groups more scientifically rigorous members became permanent adjuncts or associates of the society which had brought them, unbeknownst to most of their number, together.

A similarly focused but perhaps less urgent impetus is rumoured to have been behind the formation of Huxley’s X Club. We should not recklessly parlay speculation into a more studied understanding of what happened, of course, but the potential insights of the club’s various botanists and biologists, physicists and mathematicians would seem well-placed and well-time to address London’s issues with invasive fauna: Over the decade preceding the group’s formation, several unique species of psilocybin and other intoxicant fungi had been observed to spawn and spread around the city’s oldest buildings - seemingly without source or deliberate interference - growing in unnatural patterns that expressed strange geometric and algebraic principles.

Whatever the nature of the work to which Huxley and his chosen inner circle were set - some details of which are believed to have been passed on to his family, leading eventually to their influence in some of the more outré aspects of the science fiction written by his grandson, Aldous Huxley - the X Club continued in decreasing stature for around thirty years. Given this longevity, it seems likely that it outlasted its intended grander purpose; perhaps even becoming what it had originally been claimed to be. Which of its public members progressed on into occultism and esoterica remains a question that cannot currently be answered with any surety, but their greatest influence might be on the very practice of secrecy and conspiracy.

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