Thursday, June 23, 2016


Enchantment at a distance

After the journalistic brouhaha leading to drawn pistols and rapiers and the apparent spooking of horses in early 1893 a more or less rational discussion began as to whether enchantment at a distance was, in any case, possible.  An early brochure by Papus, now virtually unobtainable,  seemed by its title, (Peut-on envoûter? – ‘Is enchantment possible?’), to cast doubt on this. Scientific experiments along these lines were difficult to set up but such as had been conducted by Dr Luys, Colonel de Rochas and himself at la Charité hospital had found it possible to achieve results only with deeply hypnotised people. Any attempt to influence anyone not hypnotised proved negative.

However, as it is not possible to draw valid conclusions by arguing from the particular to the general, this lack of success did not prove that the practice was impossible, so some traditional methods of dealing with such matters might well be worth considering. Some were therefore described in a short book that followed,  Pour Combattre l’Envoutement (Fighting against Enchantment), and replicated in subsequent editions of the popular instruction manual Traité Methodique de Magie Pratique.

At the same time Papus stressed the need to proceed with great caution, for many who thought they were being attacked were actually mentally ill, requiring professional medical or psychological expertise rather than amateur magic making or do it yourself exorcism. Nonetheless he was willing to describe various traditional means of defence, such as charcoal or sharp metal or magnetic devices.

As carbon, particularly wood charcoal, has the property of absorbing physical odours, so is it said to have the same effect with any astral plane emanation. It can thus be used to purify material objects suspected of being impregnated with any bad ‘astral fluid’ or atmosphere. To demagnetise a letter, for example, or any form of writing, it was enough to place it in a metal box full of charcoal. In those days the charcoal used in bakers’ ovens was recommended, of the type that gave intense glowing heat without flame. Probably that used for barbecues would be the modern equivalent.

Large objects, such as furniture, might best be dealt with by being placed in a magic circle and having a little charcoal placed upon them. Then after processing three times around it, burning incense, the charcoal could be buried at the foot of a tree.

Sharp metal points were considered act on astral forces in much the same way as electricity. The analogy of lightning conductors to protect buildings was suggested, and a house could be astrally defended by placing points at its doors. Or in individual cases a crown of points placed around the forehead could be effective, and at night the bed surrounded with sharp implements.   

On the other hand many who thought they were victims of enchantment were simply short of astral force; a quite common condition,  similar to anaemia, but unknown to most doctors,  despite devices being available such as the Vitalometer, invented by Louis Lucas in 1863,  or a similar Biometer by the abbé Fortin and a Dr Baraduc. The movement of the instrument’s needle under the influence of the left hand and then the right gave a measure of the astral fluid circulating in the organism,  or of any dispersion causing nervous anaemia. In such cases the application of one of the ‘magnetic crowns’ of Dr Luys, or the ‘electro-magnetic crown’ of Dr Gérard Encausse, or the magnetised plaques of Henri Durville and others were means of obtaining a cure.  

Modern sorcerers had begun to make use of the recent invention of photography, with the traditional wax dummy (or ‘volt’ to use its technical term) being replaced by a photograph of the victim. A number of disappointed lovers had been known to tear the eyes out of an image of the beloved, although this practice had no kind of repercussion on the astral and thus had no physical effect. There was, nonetheless, a secret way to give a photograph an astral vitality, but was of no use to most sorcerers who, happily, were “more boasters than initiates, even when they modestly called themselves Magi”. Astral attacks by means of a photograph were possible, “but the method of defence was reserved to the Rose Cross Kabbalists who were invested with a mission to destroy such works by whatever means” – {if one assumes that such magi were indeed initiates rather than boasters!  Some of this is on a par with the Grimoire or recipe book of a country sorcerer muddled with that of a snake oil salesman. Not Papus at his best. G.K. }  

But then there came a radical change in the level and type of advice, and the assertion that it is better to rely on spiritual rather than occult means in dealing with such matters. For instance, after a lengthy description in the booklet of the making of magic mirrors with different metals according to planetary correspondences, largely taken from Paracelsus, comes the bald statement that better than all these practices, prayer is the sovereign guard against all ill doing. That if one has enemies capable of using astral forces one should pray for them and ask heaven to enlighten them and bring them to the right way. If one did not know who they were it was necessary to ask for their invisible protection rather than overwhelm them with hatred and curses, which was the common procedure of sorcery.  

Against all astral action Psalm 31 is particularly efficient. And the recitation of the Gospel of St. John a remarkable ritual in all actions of astral defence. Whilst the practice of charity was indispensible for avoiding all attack. Particularly personal acts of help to individuals rather than general donations to organisations.

All of which seems to stem from a banishing ritual by Papus himself that went wrong, and led to his association with a mystical thaumaturge, Maître Philippe, whom he referred to thereafter as his ‘spiritual master’ after first assuming him to be an occult enemy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


The Boullan affair

Despite its monolithic appearance the Roman Catholic church has never lacked for would-be  reformers, one of whom was the Abbé Roca responsible for the initial coming together of Stanislas de Guaita and Oswald Wirth. He was one of the more responsible ones, with a mission for a kind of Christian socialism that attained a small respectable following before being formally examined and rejected by the papal authorities.

Not that all such maverick theologians were as personable. In 1879 an unfrocked priest by the name of Boullan, who claimed to be a reincarnation of John the Baptist, had taken over a breakaway group in Châlons-sur-Marne. His mission was to renew the church by means of a novel approach to sex in the cosmic scheme of things, which he taught was dual – one ‘generational’ for animals and the common herd of humanity – and the other ‘inspirational’ and ‘sacramental’ for high adepts. This involved intimate relations with angels and saints, as well as each other, at first remotely by animal magnetism but leading on to sacramental physical encounters either before the altar or in bed.

In short, Boullan was a sexually obsessed fantasist eager to increase his circle. However, he picked the wrong man when, in August 1885, he approached Oswald Wirth as a likely “Fils du Ciel” or Son of Heaven. On discovering that the sage had served a three year prison term for embezzlement of a religious society’s funds, Wirth duly lured him into a sequence of self incriminating correspondence along with evidence of his preying upon the lonely and vulnerable.

Two years later, on their meeting, he showed the bulky dossier to Stanislas de Guaita, who was horrified and sought some way whereby Boullan might be stopped. The method chosen was somewhat convoluted. It was to send the self styled saint a formal warning from the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross,  with the threat that if he did not mend his ways he would be dealt with by ‘exposure to the light’.

What they meant by “exposure to the light” was revelation to the public in the first volume of de Guaita’s planned trilogy, Le Serpent de la Genèse. But as this was not likely to be published until 1891 Boullan was told that, as an act of clemency, he was being allowed three years grace before suffering the threatened consequences. Dictated by Stanislas de Guaita to Oswald Wirth, and purportedly coming from an esoteric tribunal of high initiates, the lengthy letter concluded: Thus you stand condemned. But concerned with Christian charity rather than strict justice, the initiatory tribunal agrees to a period of grace. Thus the sentence will remain suspended over your head until the day when, by default of these most merciful arrangements, its application becomes inevitable...”.

It was confidently expected that this would inspire such fear in the pontiff as to bring about full contrition and conversion on his part.

This turned out to be a false hope, for the letter served only to exalt Boullan’s pride. He claimed, that jealous of his mystical powers, a powerful organisation of Parisian necromancers had declared war on him! But having God on his side, he braved all these threats. His enemies could mobilise all the legions of hell against him but he would defend himself with prayer and holy liturgical sacrifice, certain of victory.

Nonetheless the threat must have worried Boullan to some extent by reason of the alarming speculations of a female member of his group known as the holy mother Thibault, doubling as his housekeeper, who was accorded the status of a divine oracle. She claimed to be able to perceive the secret intentions of the Paris Rosicrucians, and saw them activating larvae on the astral plane each night that would come to assail Father Boullan, and although the fierce struggle might tire the worthy old man, criminally deprived of sleep, there was nothing to fear as he had command of heavenly legions.

Nor did the eventual publication of de Guaita’s book containing sixty pages condemning Boullan have the expected result upon him. He simply refused to accept the copy sent to him and warned his followers that it contained such malevolent poison that it could prove fatal to any who read it.

It was, however, eagerly devoured by the novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans, who wanted to describe Satanic worship in his next novel – La-Bàs (The Damned) – but knew nothing about the subject. What a godsend it was therefore to find a contemporary sorcerer anonymously described! (For rather than use Boullan's actual name, de Guaita had sarcastically referred to him throughout as 'the Baptist')

Discovering Boullan's identity (via Oswald Wirth) he sought more information from him, who, flattered at receiving a letter from a well known author, invited Huysmans to visit. Thereafter Huysmans took from Boullan whatever he was told, notwithstanding the fact that Boullan, convinced he was on the side of the angels, knew nothing of Satanic worship or the so-called Black Mass. What Huysmans received, and wrote up in his book, were in fact the fantasies of Mother Thibault.

The novel was eventually published in 1891, and achieved success as the first of a series describing  the moral quest of its hero, who, like the author himself, eventually finds salvation as an oblate in the Roman Catholic church. (The sequels are En Route (1895), La Cathédrale (1898) and l’Oblat 1903).

And so things might have rested had not, in January 1893, Father Boullan died!

Although his age and natural causes were quite sufficient to have carried him off, this seemed too much of an opportunity for a 23 year old graduate of literature by the name of Jules Bois. Fresh out of college, he was looking to make his way in journalism, specialising in the esoteric. He was at one point an acolyte of the veteran poet Catulle Mendès, who, it may be remembered, had first gifted Stanislas de Guaita with the works of Eliphas Levi.  

Huysman’s book enjoying great success, Jules Bois published an interview with the author in the national papers Le Figaro and Gils Blas, in the course of which it was suggested that the old priest from Châlons-sur-Marne had been threatened by Stanislas de Guaita and feared being killed by enchantment in a magical feud!

There was only one possible response to this in the eyes of Stanislas de Guatia, which was to challenge both author and journalist to a duel. Seconds were appointed, who called upon them both.
Huysmans, a middle aged civil servant, was naturally terrified on receiving the letter they bore:

To Monsieur J.-K Huysmans
Paris, 13th January 1893
Infamous and ridiculous gossip has been appearing about me in the press for several days, and you have been the propagator in the midst of it.
I call upon you to give satisfaction, not with occult weapons of this sorcery that you claim to fear and which I do not practise, but honestly with sword in hand.
This notice will be presented to you by my seconds whom you should put in touch with your own.
I have the honour, sir, to present my regards,
Stanislas de Guaita

 However, on the advice of Victor-Émile Michelet and Maurice Barrès, (de Guaita’s seconds, who were really a bit embarrassed by all this) Huysmans published a contrite apology and retraction that was duly accepted by de Guaita.

However, such was not the case with the young Jules Bois, who did not want to let a good story die, even if at some physical risk to himself. All of which suggests that he had no intention of apology or retraction and was determined to milk the situation for what it was worth. It was thus arranged that he should meet Stanislas de Guaita with pistols on 10th April and, (for some reason which remains obscure) Papus on 13th April with swords.

And as if this were not enough, there was the added spice of a suggestion of enchantments at a distance playing their part against him on his journey to each event.

At the first, on the way to meet Stanislas de Guaita, one of the horses in the equipage suddenly stopped and stood shivering for twenty minutes before it could be induced to continue. And in the second, three days later, against Papus, travelling by cab, the horse shied, upsetting the vehicle so that Bois arrived at the duelling ground some minutes late, bloodied and bruised. Nonetheless the duel went ahead, and he was easily wounded, twice in the forearm, by Papus, who was a skilled swordsman. It was thereupon agreed that honour had been satisfied and the two went off arm in arm, the greatest of friends. A not un-typical Papus scenario!

Neither participant was wounded in the pistol duel between Bois and de Guaita. Presumably both missed, either by incompetence or intention. One suspects that de Guaita would have deliberately missed, who although generally contemptuous of Bois, particularly as a writer, grudgingly acknowledged his courage in turning up for the affair.

In much of this, there is an ambience of someone trying to cast as much mystery over the proceedings as possible. Jules Bois would seem to be the likely candidate. He followed up  with writing a couple of occult interest books with a popular slant, L’au Dela et les Forces Inconnus (The Other World and Unknown Forces) and Le Satanisme et la Magie (Satanism and Magic), the first being paragraphs from newspaper columns to which he contributed.    

Ironically, Stanislas de Guaita came off worst in terms of reputation, and long remained the subject of rumours as to his magical activities, some of them bordering on the ridiculous, such as the tale of a familiar spirit kept in a cupboard in his apartments in the avenue Trudaine, a demon that was let out to execute at a distance sentences of death. The prison of this redoubtable entity did actually exist and, de Guaita remaining a keen amateur chemist, was no more esoteric than a fume cupboard and depository for dangerous chemicals. For safety’s sake his old domestic servant was warned of catastrophe if she risked opening it, which frightened the old countrywoman into believing the cupboard to be haunted, a line of gossip eagerly taken up by the press and casual visitors.  

The sequence of events may also have played a part in the transformation of the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross, perhaps rather too high minded for its own good as an esoteric fraternity, taking on a more academic function, and awarding degrees at Bachelor, Master and Doctorate levels in Kabbalistic and associated studies. There was no shortage of other initiatory bodies to join.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Oswald Wirth, Stanislas de Guaita and animal magnetism

When François Jollivet Castelot was initiated into the Martinist Order, one of those to whom he was introduced was Oswald Wirth, a German Swiss, who, as companion and secretary to Stanislas de Guaita, played an important role on the Parisian esoteric scene.  Born and brought up in the German speaking part of Switzerland he had begun his occult studies early, back in 1873 at the age of 13.

These beginnings were modest, stimulated by reading an article, Der Wunderdoktor, in a popular journal, that described how cures had been obtained by the use of willpower and  ‘animal magnetism’. Thinking there might be something in it, when he found a friend suffering from a troublesome insect bite he offered to try to cure it. Kneeling face to face on the grass, he took the boy’s hands in his own and instructed him to look into his eyes whilst strongly wishing to be healed. Then freeing one hand to stroke the sensitive spot for a couple of minutes the itching was reduced, the bite looked less inflamed, and his friend said he felt is if some force had passed into him.

Whatever the truth of the matter, all were impressed. Another boy declared himself cured of a headache, and others with minor ailments over the next few days confirmed this early success. But the situation did not last and failures began to occur as well. So fearing he might be using up reserves of his energy he gave up further experiment.

Then at the age of twenty he came across the Société magnétique de France which practised a system of animal magnetism developed by Jules-Denis, Baron du Potet de Sennevoy (1796-1881).  Du Potet was one of the most successful 19th century practitioners, whose career had begun in spectacular fashion when, as a medical student in 1820,  he took up  a challenge issued by the head of the Hotel-Dieu hospital to effect a cure by animal magnetism.

A young woman was brought in on a stretcher, reduced to a state of exhaustion by constant vomiting, was ‘magnetised’ by du Potet, and after about twenty minutes the vomiting stopped. The doctors were still not convinced but agreed to further experiment and four weeks later, after several more treatments, she showed appreciable improvement and was able to be discharged. [Théories et procédés du Magnétisme – Hector Durville,  5th edition, pp129-180. ]

Those who believed in the existence of animal magnetism considered it to come from two different causes, one material and the other mental. Most favoured an unseen fluid transmitted under direction of the will, whilst others claimed that all was achieved through action of the mind. Du Potet, tried to reconcile these two positions, leaning towards a material explanation at the beginning of his career but later placing more importance upon the action of the mind. Which is rather how attitudes generally changed over the century from Mesmerism through to Hypnosis.

Whatever de Potet’s theories, he seems to have been a remarkably gifted practitioner, with a high degree of medical intuition and instinct for diagnosis and prognosis. As far as he was concerned, magnetism was a fact of nature, long misunderstood, which ought by now to be generally accepted and he was ready to take on any doctor or clergyman in defence of it. He wrote a major work on magnetic therapy and twenty volumes of a Journal of Magnetism, was a great advocate of the somnambulistic state and the remarkable faculties sometimes developed under it. Indeed, much the same as Papus as an extern at La Charité hospital sought with Dr Luys and Stanislas de Guaita with Dr Antoine Liebault at Nancy.

But before Oswald Wirth was able to take up with de Potet’s society, he had, for personal reasons, to spend some time in England and was recommended to seek personal tuition from Adolphe Didier, a successful practitioner in London. Didier claimed to be sensitive to animal magnetism and liked to demonstrate this by leaving a visitor in his library with instructions to select a book, hold it for half a minute and then replace it. On his return, moving his hand in front of the shelves, with eyes closed, he would pick out the chosen volume. He taught that whilst it was not possible to see the current of force, that is what it was and could be felt at the end of one’s fingers. The sensation was very faint but could be developed by practice.

On Oswald Wirth’s return to France, the army allowed him, during his national service, to practise as a magnetic healer throughout  the regiment and with the local civilian community, although this led to an unfortunate but instructive experience. A volunteer claimed that he would like to experience being magnetically entranced but had so far found no one able to put him under. Wirth was challenged to try. Whilst far from claiming to be an expert he made the attempt but with no signs of success, eventually gave up.

Nonetheless, he ought to have gone through a process of ‘demagnetising’ the subject, but convinced that he had failed to make any impression whatever upon him, did not bother to do so. Three months later he heard some disquieting news. After he had left, the subject had become passive and fallen into a deep sleep that lasted for almost twenty four hours, including bouts of delirium. Those about him lost their heads and did not dream of notifying Wirth, terrified of assumed devilry.  The man never recovered his mental equilibrium and some regarded Wirth’s experiment as responsible for his death, which eventually was due to alcoholism. Whatever the truth of the matter,Wirth realised how dangerous the practice could be and determined never to perform any demonstrations simply to convince the curious.

He continued to practise however in what he felt was a responsible way, which led him to stumble upon a prophetic element in the entranced mind, forecasting his meeting with Stanislas de Guaita.

At the beginning of 1887 he was practising curative magnetism on a woman patient and, with her course of treatment almost complete, she was running through subjective impressions in a relatively routine way. When suddenly she startled them both with a vivid vision, and announced she saw a very important letter coming for him, with a red seal and coat of arms.

He asked from whom it was likely to be.

She described a young man of his age, not quite so tall, fair haired and with blue eyes; who was very knowledgeable and interested in much the same things.  

He asked when the letter would arrive.

She replied, very soon, within a couple of weeks.

Wirth waited without any great expectations, having heard too many trance predictions to place much reliance upon them, and after some weeks had almost forgotten the incident.  Then one day a letter sealed in red with a coat of arms duly arrived.

Good Friday, 7 p.m.

Sir, my good friend Canon Roca has spoken about you in terms that cause me to wish to meet you. If you would like to call tomorrow, Saturday, at 6 o’clock, we could dine informally, giving  me the opportunity to make your acquaintance.

 Stanislas de Guaita, 24, rue de Pigalle.

One must say, that whilst the timing of the predicted receipt of the letter was somewhat wide of the mark, one feels quite amazed at the speed and apparently reliability of the French postal service in those days! Another surprising effect is that the letter, with its red armorial seal of the Guaita family, had been described weeks before it physically existed!

Wirth was surprised in his turn to find Stanislas de Guaita as had been predicted, physically and mentally and close to his own age. The two got on extremely well. His host immediately put him at ease by talking about curative magnetism and revealing that he had been investigating the matter himself in conjunction with a Dr Antoine Liébault during the previous year, in which an entranced subject had been shown able to answer questions put  telepathically.

This was the beginning of a close association between the two young men which lasted for the ten remaining years of de Guaita’s short life. A relationship that had a very wide remit, including helping Wirth to master the French language as well as act as companion and secretary; and utilising his interest in symbolism and talent for drawing.   

Wirth had been a Freemason for some five years, fascinated with the possible esoteric significance of its symbolism. A fact that seemed lost or was even strenuously denied by many in French Masonry as Papus and Eliphas Levi pointed out.

Ironically, Wirth was quite familiar with the Tarot, having played it as a card game back home in Switzerland, but had never realised its esoteric implications!

As a skilled draughtsman, encouraged and informed by de Guaita’s formidable erudition, he  produced a set of designs of the Tarot Trumps, emphasising their possible esoteric significance. These first appeared as illustrations to the first edition of Papus’ Tarot de Bohèmiens, although replaced in later editions for reasons that remain obscure by a set called Le Tarot de Papus credited to a Gabriel Goulinat. Wirth’s designs still appear however in reprints of the English translation of the book, and over the years various designs of his appeared with a Germanic kind of formality that is not to everyone’s taste, and his interests tending to concentrate upon freemasonry and astrology rather than the magic of the de Guaita years. He outlived most of his contemporaries, born in 1860 and passing on at the age of 83 in 1943 as compared with Stanislas de Guaita (1860-1897),  Papus (1865-1916),  Joséphin Péledan (1858-1918),  Marc Haven (1868-1926),  Paul Sédir (1871-1926).  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Joséphin Péladan, the Catholic Rosicrucian

We have seen from their correspondence how Joséphin Péladan was responsible for introducing Stanislas de Guaita to the Rosicrucian tradition via an esoteric group in Toulouse, which led on to their working alongside Papus and his associates as they made inroads into the Isis lodge of the Theosophical Society in Paris. In a relatively short space of time there came the establishment of the C.I.E.E. training organisation, l’Initiation journal, a renewed Martinist Order and a newly conceived Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross.

 However, along with this there were a number of internal contradictions that began to come  to the fore. In part due to the inexperience and big egos of some of the parties involved but due more fundamentally to the roots of their esoteric assumptions. There was a great divide of occult traditions and aspirations between the great provincial centres in the south (Lyons, Toulouse, and so on) and Paris in the north. And particularly so with the Péladan family.

For most of the 19th century France was riven with counter-revolutionary movements of a  romantic kind, looking for some kind of return of monarchy – such as the rumoured survival of Louis XVII, son of the guillotined  Louis XVI.  A situation broadly equivalent to the Stuart cause in Great Britain with its romantic Bonnie Prince Charlie and toasts to the “king over the water” after the Hanoverian succession,  and it gave vitality to a number of quasi-masonic societies with various degrees of political aims behind their charitable pretensions.

Joséphin’s father, Louis-Adrien Péladan (b.1815) was a vigorous propagandist and journal proprietor in support of this kind of movement and, being staunchly Roman Catholic with it, had a penchant for arguments relying on mystical visions, apparitions and prophecies. There is an historical irony in his deep Catholic religiosity, for at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, his branch of the family had been forcibly converted to the Catholic faith, whilst other branches, despite persecution, had remained Protestant.   

Anyhow, whatever beliefs Louis-Adrien held he stuck to passionately, and the same went for his sons Adrien (b.1844) and Joseph-Aimé, or Joséphin (b.1858). The 14 year gap between the birth of the two sons seems to have led almost to a hero worship of the younger for the elder, exacerbated by the latter’s tragic death.

 Adrien was dedicated to a medical career, although there is a  degree of uncertainty about his educational attainments en route to it, that range from a family version of a child prodigy, whose academic work was so brilliant that his examiners sometimes could not understand it, to medical records that imply that it was barely up to pass standard. Or it may have been a result of his enthusiasm for animal magnetism and the practice of homeopathy of which he became one of the first practitioners.

However, for Adrien Péladen it was a choice of career that ended in disaster, for at the age of 41 he died of strychnine poisoning, the result of a massive overdose, erroneously prepared by a German pharmacist. Joséphin Péladan was so embittered by this that he condemned the man in no uncertain terms in the dedication to Curieuse, his second novel, published shortly afterwards.

“A mon frère et à mon maitre le docteur Adrien Péladan Fils, empoisoné le 29 septembre 1885 par le pharmacien Wilmar Schwabe, de Leipzig, qui lui avait envoyé au lieu de la troisième décimale demandée, une première de strychnine, c’est-á-dire la mort de 1250 personnes. (To my brother and teacher, Dr Adrien Peladan Jnr, poisoned on 29th September 1885 by the pharmacist Wilmar Schwabe of Leipzig, who instead of the thousandth part of strychnine ordered, sent him a tenth; enough to kill 1250 people.)

But Péladan’s bitterness went deeper than personal resentment or brotherly grief. He could never forgive the Germans for being the cradle of Protestantism, that he saw as “Deformation” rather than Reformation, or the ‘lavatorial ideas’ of philosophers such as Hegel. So it was tempting to flirt with ideas such as religiously or politically motivated assassination. Indeed Stanislas de Guaita had to ask him to be more cautious in their correspondence. The Franco-Prussian war might have been over for fifteen years but Prussian power was still to be feared in occupied areas such as Lorraine.

Oddly enough, after the success of Le Vice suprême, Joséphin found  his novels (and there were eventually twenty one of them in La Décadence latine series) to be highly popular in German translation, and thus in the bizarre situation of detesting a large section of his readers. The main target of his satire had always been ‘Latin thought’.

“Anti-psychism has become the very character of Latin thought,” says the hero mage Merodack, “they violate concepts inversely. The mystics of our time are perverse; the believers superstitious; the virtuous inert. They laugh at the real presence in the Eucharist but believe in that of spirits in tables. They pass from the divine right of the king to the divine right of the people. From the injustice of the aristocracy to the ignominious aristocracy of the stock market.”

However he found no great conflict between occult speculation and religious belief. As we have seen, the Catholic authorities took a somewhat relaxed, if distant, attitude to Eliphas Levi’s works on magic.

So Joséphin Péladan was not opposed to the esoteric per se. He simply saw it as having its proper place within established religion rather than outside it. After all there can well be a small divide between the doctrine of the communion of saints and the imaginal contacts of the occult aspirant with tested and trusted inner contacts.

Thus he found no difficulty in co-founding , with Stanislas de Guaita, and later Papus and his friends, l’Ordre Kabbalistique de la Rose-Croix (the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross). Although as he observed prominently at the beginning of his 1892 book Comment on Devient Mage (How to Become a Magus):  “I believe and proclaim that the Roman Catholic and apostolic church is the True one. I profess to be its son and devote my mind and my heart to it. I recognise the infallibility of the Pope when he pronounces upon dogma “Ex cathedra” and “Urbi et Orbi”. That my conscience and my knowledge embrace no heterodoxy, I am ready to burn my work with my own hands should the infallible Peter judge it to be wrong or untimely.”

And in a Foreword addressed to “A Contemporary Young Man” he writes: Before 1891 Magic was absent from French culture: I have brought light and glory to it, not by risky and dangerous pacts, but in a form of art that does not engage the sacred science in  possible mistakes.”

Whatever the truth of this, the problem the others found with Joséphin Péladan was his tendency to make public pronouncements off his own bat without feeling the need to consult them on the matter. Thus in May 1890 he embarrassed everyone with a high handed condemnation of an important socialite Mme. Salomon de Rothschild who had recently purchased a property containing a chapel and small building associated with the writer Balzac and demolished them. His Rosicrucian Excommunication de la femme Rothschild commences: “For these crimes, We declare this woman infamous, and those who bear her name unless they publicly disavow her actions, and forbid others to receive her or even to greet her, and if she enter a church, a library, a museum, or concert have the right to expel her, and that any artist that works for her be regarded a renegade – in the name of all religions and arts, the decision of the Rose Cross.”

Naturally neither Papus nor Stanislas de Guaita could remain indifferent to this. Papus particularly because he relied to an increasing extent on attracting and influencing ‘big names’ in his general esoteric mission.

Similarly Péladan sent a letter to the Archbishop of Paris protesting about the move to allow bull fighting in the city as a tourist attraction. Although his protest was not so much on account of cruelty to animals but the moral degradation of women who went to watch it, on the grounds that they went in search of a sexual thrill from the spectacle.

However, he felt strongly enough in June 1890 to approach his fellow members of the Supreme Council of the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross to express some of his concerns. He  confirmed his commitment to a Hermetic philosophy but, despite the largely Protestant stance of the 16/17th century Rosicrucian manifestoes, sought to concentrate upon Catholic tradition and the expression of the spiritual in the arts.

All of which led him to break away publicly early next year, proclaiming himself Grand Maïtre et Hiérarque suprême du Tiers Ordre de la Rose Croix Catholique (Grand Master and Supreme Hierarch of the Third Order of the Catholic Rose Cross) and commitment to a new organisation La Rose Croix du Temple at du Graal (the Rose Cross of the Temple and the Graal).

By now the others felt things had gone far enough and publicly proclaimed that a resigned member of their Council, Mr Joséphin Péledan, had  founded a schismatic sect of which he proclaimed himself Grand Master and Arch Mage, claiming instransigent ultramontanist principles, obedience to the Holy See etc., that was diametrically opposed to those principles ever professed by the illuminated brothers of the Rose Cross.

This might have been regarded in other places and at other times as no more than the rustling in a couple of obscure esoteric dovecots, but national attention came when, under the headline “The War of the Roses”, Le Figaro took up the story of this dispute between two high handed esoteric brotherhoods with ridiculous assumptions of their own importance,

It is something of an irony that the placing of l’Initiation on the Papal Index came after this turmoil and had little to do with it, coming almost by accident on account of some articles on Gnosticism which for some reason the Church deemed a greater threat to faith and morals than magic and psychism. Gnosticism would begin to attract the attention of Papus and his friends a little further down the line.

However Péladan’s initiative developed a wider and healthier public image with a series of expositions of “Symbolist” art. The term has since tended to be taken over to mean the work of Gauguin and his associates, but it originally signified the use of evocative symbols in art. The most famous examples that may come to mind are probably the highly evocative pictures such as Semele and Zeus, or Salome and the head of John the Baptist –  by Gustave Moreau (1826-98)  – whom Péladan had earlier supported in his art journalism.

From 1892 to 1897 a series of ‘Salons de la Rose Croix’ appeared annually in various locations with varying degrees of success, featuring avant garde music by Erik Satie, sculpture, poetry readings and dramatic and operatic performances, some written by Péladan himself. Gradually they petered out, Péladan not even bothering to turn up to the last two, as he and they slipped from memory, until he died, by now an almost forgotten figure, in 1918.

Nonetheless there remains a society devoted to his memory, although his work has never, so far as I can discover, ever appeared in English. At his best, a combination of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw in my estimation, with a facility to shock and amuse and wonder how far to take seriously. And I find works of art in the Moreau tradition, which includes a number of Belgian artists verging toward surrealism, usually worth seeking out.

It is possible we have not heard the last of any of these characters.


Saturday, May 07, 2016


The remarkable Paul Sédir

It is time we took a look at the young man with the long (and at the time very fashionable) clay pipe who opened the door to François Jollivet Castelot at his initiation into the Martinist Order, who will take on an increasingly important role in our story. He was a young Breton by the name of Yvon LeLoup, although he wrote and became more widely known under the name of Paul Sédir – the surname being an anagram of ‘désir’  (desire) taken from the writings of the founder of the Martinist Order, Louis Claude de St. Martin.

 I have translated Sédir’s remarkable work, Initiations, into English for Skylight Press and it remains one of my favourite reads that I go back to again and again, as well as having been one of the most rewarding literary jobs I have taken on. A book of power as well as information on many levels.

Until his arrival one evening at the famous occult bookshop the ‘Librairie du Merveilleux’ at 29, rue de Trévise  Yvon LeLoup had had a hard and not very promising life.  But many things of lasting quality have their beginnings in Brittany, and in one of the poorest dwellings in the ancient walled town of Dinan, with its network of medieval streets and acrid smells of the fish market, the future Paul Sédir was born at three o’clock in the afternoon on 2nd January 1871.

His father, Hippolyte, a soldier in the French army, was away fighting in the Franco-Prussian war, and his mother Seraphine, a native of Hesse, one of the German states being fought over, could hardly have been in a less enviable position   impecunious and alone, evacuated to an alien town in the far west.

It was a punishing situation that, along with the privations of war, affected the health of the child, developing a latent tuberculosis of the leg, not helped by imperfect treatment; and for some time even his sight was at risk, leading to more problems; for reading  the eye-test chart  in an optician’s shop, unused to standing upright, he fell awkwardly and broke his leg, and not for the last time either; which was the reason for his lifelong limp, noted by François Jollivet Castelot.

His father, discharged from the army on a meagre military pension, found work as a domestic servant in the well-heeled Monceau Park district of Paris, putting up his family in various poor lodgings in the bustling  Batignolles area nearby.  Here Yvon spent much of his time confined to a little iron bed, filling a notebook with imaginative stories or exercises in calligraphy.

His mother taught him German, so by the age of 15 he was able to read the memoirs of Goethe and the adventures of Wilhelm Meister, with its hints of mysterious research and curious meetings, which probably led him on to the challenging metaphysical writings of the 16th century Protestant mystic Jacob Boehme. Between times he limped through the city streets and dreamed of becoming a shepherd, there still being fields close to the city walls. Later he wondered if it had anything to do with a destiny of one day becoming a ‘shepherd of men’ as his choice of the name Paul might suggest.

After a few years his father found rather more lucrative employment  nearer the centre of town and Yvon was able to take violin lessons and develop a talent for drawing. So to the old dream of becoming a shepherd was added the hope of taking up painting, literature or music when he grew up. The new location was near the newly built church of Saint-Augustin, most impressive with its shining gold leaf and recently applied frescos, where he went to learn his catechism.  His health improved and he was able to attend a nearby school of the Francs-Bourgeois, reputed to be one of the best in Paris, that even included literature in its curriculum.  But despite any aspirations for higher education circumstances ruled that he find some form of paid employment.

 A friend of the family put in a word for him at the Bank of France, where he was taken on as an ‘auxiliary agent’ at 5 francs a day, with the possibility of occasional overtime for an extra franc. And so he quietly accepted the life of a bank clerk where he remained for 20 years without seeking any professional advancement. His interests lay elsewhere.  He worked from nine in the morning until six o’clock in the evening, with an hour and a quarter for lunch, which he would spend down by the riverside quais in search of bargains from the stalls of the second hand booksellers (or ‘bouquinists’ ) who still ply their trade there to this day. And so for two years he provided himself with a self education and a small library in the realm of mystical and occult symbolism.

Like the considerably more wealthy Stanislas de Guaita he was particularly impressed by the romantic occult novels of Joséphin Péladan. And like Stanislas de Guaita, he wrote an admiring letter to the author, which resulted in a personal interview.  

We know nothing of this meeting, or what he made of the larger than life Joséphin Péladan, with his aureole of long black hair and Assyrian beard, calling himself ‘Sar’ (or King!) Péladan and claiming direct descent from of ancient Assyrian and Chaldean royalty. What we do know is that it seems to have led to helpful advice and important introductions.  Not far from the Bank of France, the ‘Librairie du Merveilleux’ had recently opened, and one evening the young Yvon LeLoup presented himself there.

The event was recorded by Victor-Émile Michelet – if in grudging rather than flattering terms.  

I found myself one evening in the famous shop on the rue de Trevise where the good Chamuel reigned, when in came a slow witted young man who abruptly declared :

 “I’ve come  to take up occultism!”

I could hardly stop from laughing at the awkward and unpolished appearance of this new arrival. What followed showed me how wrong I was. Papus, who knew how to make use of people, didn’t laugh. He said:

“Very well old chap. Come over to my place tomorrow morning.”  

And that Sunday Papus entrusted the neophyte with putting his precious library in order.

Thus began the advanced studies of the Breton youth called Yvon LeLoup.

This story may not be quite as recounted or assumed by Michelet, who over the years found it difficult to keep up with Sédir’s progress through the mysteries, and fell out of sympathy with him. Yvon and Papus had probably already met, for the shop did not open until 1890 and Sédir recalls their first meeting being in 1889. Thus the lad was not quite so gauche nor Papus quite so naively trusting with strangers as might appear.

Whatever the case, Yvon Le Loup certainly made himself extremely useful to Papus and his associates. Not only did he help Papus to sort out his library and organise his somewhat chaotic affairs but he was welcomed to Stanislas de Guaita’s  large Paris apartment where he was building  his own extensive (and indeed unique) occult library of a couple of thousand volumes.  Thus Yvon began to spend more and more time in the company of this group of esoteric activists, who were in the thick of building the C.I.E.E. organisation, establishing  the journal l’Initiation, and founding their Martinist and Rosicrucian Orders.

During this time he was not only helping to organise, but learning how to write articles and later small books on various aspects of occultism. He was helped in this by having the run of the libraries of his friends, and may well have found it possible to do a certain amount of writing during banking hours. He also developed a very wide correspondence, not only with like-minded provincials such as Jollivet Castelot, but internationally as well, making him highly knowledgeable in oriental as well as western esoteric traditions. Thus in his little book the 48 page Le Fakirism Hindou  he expands on what Papus, in his early explanations of magic, had first had to say about the Hindu fakirs, but states that his references are taken not so much from books but from what he has learned  of oriental occultism from travellers and initiates in these countries.

Rightly or wrongly Jollivet Castelot considered Sédir to have advanced clairvoyant powers and assumed he had developed them by the use of “magic mirrors”;  and indeed Sédir did write a 64 page booklet  Les Miroirs Magiques. In addition to mention of traditions associated with the likes of Swedenbourg, Cagliostro, John Dee and Nostradamus, Sédir also typically cites in some detail an oriental group event reported by a Colonel Stephen Fraser.

Magic mirrors are obviously devices for focussing attention upon inner perceptions, whether  by way of a concave mirror, a circle of tin foil,  a copper sphere, a black obsidian disc or a crystal (not glass!) vase full of water, accompanied by various spoken formulae. One is aware of similar approaches to hypnosis being experimented with at about this time, but without the quasi-religious formulary.

What is clairvoyance?  Sédir calls it the faculty to see beyond the range of physical sight, and that can be exercised in Time or Space. In Time it is a question of future things (presentiments or prophecies) or revelation of events in the past. In Space it produces what the psychotherapists of the day called “visual telepathic hallucinations”.  Since Mesmer, famous philosophers, particularly Germans such as Kant or Schopenhauer, had been preoccupied with this faculty, looking for a theory. At this period, Papus and his friends were principally concerned with the practice and ways to develop it.  

Friday, April 22, 2016


Initiation of an Alchemist

Time to introduce another character, not only interesting in himself but a valuable witness to  others he met. François Jollivet Castelot was a talented young man particularly drawn to alchemy. A native of Douai in northern France, he was able to visit Paris relatively easily where he greatly impressed Papus to the point of being offered initiation at a high level into the Martinist Order.

He is particularly useful to us in that he set about writing a long novel, Le Destin (Destiny) or Les Fils d’Hermès (The Sons of Hermes) that was really a diary in disguise. Published in 1920 it is more revealing in many ways than Victor-Émile Michelet’s memoirs in Les Compagnons de la Hierophanie of 1938. Apart from making his hero a couple of years younger than himself and investing him with a minor aristocratic title {how they loved titles, aristocratic or esoteric, these fin de siècle young Frenchman! G.K.} with a little adjustment to dates his novel appears to be a remarkably accurate pen portrait of those he met and worked with on the Parisian occult scene, including his initiation into Martinism in a ceremony conducted by Papus one Saturday evening.

After dining together, the two had made their way to a short, narrow, dark, deserted little street on the Left Bank off the Quai des Grands-Augustins. The rue de Savoie led to nowhere in particular and so was very quiet by night or day, consisting of cheap lodging rooms along with a student hostel optimistically called the Hotel de Savoie whose overhead lantern halfway down the street provided the only lighting. The ambiance evoked in the mind of the young provincial a back alley in 16th century Paris that might have been the haunt of alchemists, astrologers, necromancers, and ancient Jews devoted to kabbalistic studies.

They made their way to a dilapidated looking house, No. 4, next to the only shop, No. 3, run by Papus’ friend Chamuel, one that sold only occult books.  A steep narrow staircase lit by an inefficient oil lamp led to a small door on the first floor, bearing the words Ordre Martiniste. Bureau de ‘l’Initiation’.  (Martinist Order. Offices of ‘l’Initiation’ on a copper plate. Papus gave three knocks and after a pause the door was opened by a young man of about François’ age, clad in a black smoking jacket and puffing away at a long clay pipe. This turned out to be Paul Sédir who was one of Papus’ most useful and dedicated acolytes.

After shaking hands he led them, limping slightly, into a room filled with books and ledgers that served as an editorial office, where he introduced them to several gentlemen in formal dress, including Oswald Wirth, friend and personal secretary of Stanislas de Guaita, and the celebrated Dr Rozier who claimed astonishing cures by magical and theurgic means. He also met a modest old gentleman, a retired civil servant who went by the pen name of Barlet (derived from his baptismal name of Albert Faucheux), greatly respected for his erudition into obscure esoteric subjects, if somewhat obscure prose style. After a while the room emptied, and François was asked to remain until called for.

Some minutes later he was joined by a man wearing a mask {somewhat akin to those that, as a child, I associated with the Lone Ranger! G.K.} who led him to a room lit by candles placed in three-branched candelabra around which stood a circle of about a dozen persons dressed in robes of white linen, and about their eyes the romantic looking mask of black satin. The officers also wore a sash of white silk with the insignia of their function embroidered in gold and the jewel of their order attached.

Before a table covered with an equally white cloth, upon which rested the Ritual and Manual of the Order, the President of the Lodge and his two assessors stood immobile.

All sat, and François, at their invitation, approached. He found the initiation very simple and brief and devoid of any phantasmagoria he associated with contemporary Freemasonry. 

There were no tests. They required no oaths, and expressed no profession of particular faith, for moral freedom was considered sacred.

Papus, whom François easily recognised by his corpulence, his forked beard and his voice,  conferred upon him the third grade and functions of a General Delegate and Member of the Supreme Council of the Martinist Order by reason of the light he possessed and services he had rendered to the Hermetic cause.

One of the assessors now tendered a linen robe which he put on along with the insignia of his grades, and Papus pronounced the discourse of reception, speaking without notes, his intonation clear, pleasant, slightly chanting, with occasional emphasis:

“You are now our brother.

“You are joined to us, not by any pact, nor by obligation, but through the communality of ideas, thoughts and feelings that inculcate the purest Ideal.

“You have come to us freely. You can leave us the same way. But never forget the obligations of friendship and discretion.

“We have joyfully received you, for we know that your mind is clear by the hyperphysical ray of the inner light, and that your soul is true. That peace and good will are at your heart.

“We initiates receive you as an initiate. But there is one thing you should know. Strictly speaking, we have not conferred initiation upon you.

“Initiation is personal. It communicates nothing, any more than the spirit, the sense of beauty or talent. Each one, at the appointed hour, will find the depth of his consciousness illuminated by the Eternal Being.

“You were initiated, despite your youth, thanks to your own knowledge, and you have already discovered a way extending into the mysterious domain of the Occult.

“Man is his own master, since it is an effect of his harmonious will, but it is the Invisible that will guide and direct him.

“And it is the Invisible too that leads him among us, to collaborate on the edifice that we construct: the Cubic Stone of the Temple of Hiram.

“Here, we can only confirm, among assembled companions who have resolved to accept you, the divine light that you have obtained and that you hold within you with love and fidelity, without flinching. In short we guarantee it.

“You were called, a long time ago, my brother and are here and now elected to the Sanctuary of Hermes where you take your place as one of the particularly loved sons of the thrice greatest: Trismegistus...

...You know why we enclose in the secrecy of the Order the majestic truths, and to the opportune diffusion of which, on the other hand, we work with enthusiasm and prudence.

The reason for our apparent obscurity you know. It resides in the circumspection of the mage. And I have no need to tell you the commandment to be superior and yet remain unknown.  The symbols are familiar to you, my brother, and the mask that hides our face indicates the danger, folly and vanity of daring revelations and glories of the world. The Initiate withdraws, hides his life and shows it only by his actions. Humility serves his power, whilst pride and egoism destroy it.

We must be unknown, so as to conserve the independence of our mind and soul. We are only as shadows to the crowd, for it is forbidden to us to throw pearls before the profane, on the advice of the most perfect of the Sons of God: Jesus the Christ, our Supreme Master. And so that we are not robbed of the treasures that fill our hands, they must pass unseen.

Besides, these treasures offer the greatest danger to those whose heart is not pure.

That is why the imperfect are kept from the garden of the Knowledge of Good and of Evil.

We distance ourselves from the indiscrete, the curious, the sceptical, who would perish if they should imprudently use the magical forces at our disposal. Nobility of soul is indispensible to whoever seeks to face the invisible worlds without peril.

The guardian is there, armed with a sword, fierce and incorruptible, on the sacred mountain from which the Eternal lets his Voice be heard.

He only opens the threshold of the mystery to those who know, will and remain silent.

Always remember, as an initiate, in whatever circumstances you may be, your essential moral obligations.

Chosen by the Invisible, consecrate your understanding and energies to the elucidation of the intimate nature of bodies, their combinations and struggles, in the Alchemy whose regard penetrates the depths of living Matter. Thus conserve intact the heritage of its millennial tradition.  Conform your acts to the superhuman Ideal that you carry religiously within you. Never use gold to a personal or unworthy end.

Remember, as an initiate and our chosen brother, that Gold is the symbol of the Absolute. Of  Unity for ever regained. And that Gold, the fruit of the Work of the Sun, does not shine with all its brightness while dust obscures its essence.”


Then, all the initiates of the Lodge, as one, removed their masks, since all were now faithful brothers.

Before leaving Paris, François realised a project that he had planned for a long time, to found an alchemical association. Papus, Stanislas de Guaita, Barlet and Paul Sédir lent their help and formed part of the Council of the Society.

The object was to found a group of competent researchers to synthesise their efforts in gathering documents and attempting appropriate experiments to renew Alchemy as the sublime Philosophy of Nature, resolving scientifically the possibility of the transmutation of bodies included in hylozoic doctrines.

“Matter is One. It lives, it evolves and transforms itself. There are no simple bodies.”

This was axiomatic for François Jollivet Castelot, who felt he had penetrated into the inner side of the World, and knew intuitively that Matter is the inseparable substratum of Life.

That all atoms, all molecules that composed minerals and metals were an agglomeration of animated particles, objectively and subjectively one Being, conscious in proportion to the degree of evolution it had attained, a Being that incarnated in itself the universal Will.

That there was only Life in the Cosmos and pure Matter was absolutely comprised of this eternal and infinite Principle. Being in Itself, whose first phenomena are expansive Will, Desire and elementary Consciousness. Then by indefinite transformation, by mutations at the heart of its own substance, its source of existence, Life developed, took more and more knowledge of its acts, of its phenomena and exteriorisation – and so Thought was born and grew.

These things were evident truths for him but modern thinkers, blinded by materialism and agnostic scepticism, stumbling into mechanism, saw nothing of these certainties. So he went on to create an alchemical centre with the intention of conserving the Hermetic tradition, to which end he launched a monthly journal called the Rosa Alchemica. Of which more later!