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!


Thursday, April 21, 2016

OCCULTISM & THE STARS - by Dion Fortune



Issued as an early reminder of the Dion Fortune seminar at Glastonbury on 24th September 2016.

For programme and booking details see Company of Avalon website.

The following text is taken from  letters to students by Dion Fortune in 1942/3. Also published as part of ‘Principles of Hermetic Philosophy’ by Dion Fortune & Gareth Knight (Thoth Publications 1999).

It is no intention of mine to add to the extensive literature dealing with astrological interpretation but to examine the basis on which the whole elaborate superstructure rests. Astrological prediction has had some notable successes, but it has also had much more notable and frequent failures. Nevertheless, the fact that it has scored many successes beyond those attributable to the law of averages or of chance means that there is ‘something in it’; not, perhaps, as much in it as its more ardent exponents would have us believe, but not, at any rate, the absolute vacuum its denouncers declare. Therefore it is worthy of serious investigation by serious thinkers.

The only type of investigation of any value is that which deals with percentages of accuracy over a large number of cases. Such an investigation was conducted by a well known paper upon the predictions concerning national affairs, and especially the turn of the war, appearing week by week in the columns of its contemporaries, and the results were such as to discourage most comprehensively any serious attention to such methods of diagnosis as an alternative to common sense, or even guesswork. {The investigation was probably that featured in ‘Picture Post’ in September 1941, which drew up a table of spectacular failures in the accuracy of newspaper astrological predictions over the previous two years. However, the errors were, without exception, failures to forecast catastrophes. Whether or not the astrological columnists foresaw the worst or not, it needs to be remembered that the government  of the time was keenly anxious to preserve the morale of the civilian population. The astrological columns were regarded as a means whereby to keep the population optimistic. Indeed had they gone so far as to predict any disasters they would have been contravening Defence Regulations by spreading alarm and despondency. GK.}  

One astrologer, and one only, has been noted as scoring any high degree of reliability {probably  Edward Lyndoe, who I recall greatly impressed my mother – which was not easy! GK} and he, unlike his fellows, does not, curiously enough, give the astrological data on which his opinions are based; the irresistible conclusion being that his data is not astrological, but of a much less celestial nature, being derived from ‘information received’ and not from calculations based on the movements of the heavenly bodies.

On the other hand, there are few people who have not had in their own experience firsthand knowledge of personal predictions of remarkable accuracy and outstandingly good delineations of character made by purely astrological means. Equally, however, I have observed over a period of years the activities of an astrological friend who never successfully predicted anything, but could always demonstrate most convincingly why any given incident had happened after it had occurred, and the demonstrations were genuinely convincing. There in black and white in her textbooks were the statements, and there on the chart were the positions of the planets. Her trouble had been that the textbooks contained such a wide choice of factors among which as selection had to be made as to invalidate all accuracy until events themselves indicated which factor was effectual. Once that was ascertained, it was possible to work an astrological divination backwards in very evidential manner. This statement is not made in any spirit of irony, but in order to indicate that there is something in astrology if we only knew better how to extract it in a pure state.

It may be replied that the skill of the astrologer is the essential extractive, and that astrology is an art rather than a science. This proposition may in actual practice prove unanswerable, but it is not a very satisfactory position. If we are compelled to accept it, then astrology is in the same position as medicine in the days of Galen, of which Kipling aptly said: ‘Half of their remedies cured you dead; Most of their doctrines were quite untrue.’ Much of the early success of homeopathy was due to the fact that the smallness of the dose avoided drug-poisoning in an age accustomed to massive dosage, and the consequent drastic after effects. For the same reason the sceptics are justified in condemning the practice of astrology because of its disturbing and debilitating effect on great numbers of those who resort to it. Greater knowledge, however, may reveal the real significance and proper limitations of astrology, together with factors not as yet taken into the reckoning when casting horoscopes and which may be accountable for the uncertainty of the results.

Astrology labours under the added misfortune of being based in the first place upon a geocentric concept of the cosmos wherein the heavenly bodies circle around a fixed and flat earth, and in the second place by the fact that the constellations composing the Zodiacal Belt have in the course of ages gradually shifted their positions relative to the earth, so that they no longer occupy the positions assigned them in the astrological calculations. Nevertheless, the fact remains that accurate divinations can be made despite these seemingly insuperable obstacles. As Galileo said when forced to withdraw his statement concerning the movement of the earth around the sun, ‘Nevertheless, it moves.’ Our conclusion then must be there is something in astrology, but that the accepted theories of its basis are not wholly correct. Let us then see whether we can formulate a theory which will serve to explain the known facts and rule out the sources of error that render its operations so notoriously unreliable.

Not all astrologers are occultists, but it is in the occult doctrines that we find certain useful clues to the real nature of the celestial influences. Examining astrology in the light of these, we find that many discrepancies are explained and the missing factors indicated.

Esoteric tradition declares that different phases of evolution took place on the different planets, and we may not unreasonably conclude that the kind of development that took place on a planet determined its ‘temperament’. Into the question of ‘temperament’ or aura of planets and the phases of cosmic evolution I cannot enter in detail in these pages, but must presume a  knowledge of them on the part of my readers, or failing that, refer them to recognised authorities such as Mme. Blavatsky’s ‘Secret Doctrine’ or the many popular derivatives based thereon. Some information will also be found in my ‘Mystical Qabalah’. Students of the subject are agreed upon its broad principles, and I do not feel obliged to re-argue them before proceeding to the discussion of the matter in hand. Such re-argument could not be satisfactory unless conducted at considerable length, and would involve the introduction of too much matter irrelevant to our topic to make it a practical proposition. Unless, therefore, the reader is prepared to concede my esoteric propositions, the consideration cannot be pursued, so I shall only write for those who can. The rest must either seek the evidence where it is set out at length or abandon the quest for truth in my company.

Esoteric philosophy also declares that every organism has an aura or field of psycho-magnetic emanations surrounding it. It will be noted that I use the term organism, not living creature, for to the esotericist all existence is life in one form or another and there is no such thing as inanimate matter. On this basis, then, it may be concluded that the heavenly bodies have auras of varying characters, and that the study of their nature, changes and radius is not without either interest or practical value.

Let us consider first of all the solar system as a whole. It is believed to have condensed out of a solar nebula that occupied vastly more space than is contained within even the orbit of the outermost planet, but that the nearest fixed star is at so great a distance from our sun that even the vast extent of their mutual nebulae when they were at the nebulous stage of their evolution did not interfere with each other. Most probably matter in a nebulous condition was at one period of evolutionary time spread evenly through space, and the nebulae, and the stars and constellations into which they subsequently condensed, arose through the condensation of this tenuous, amorphous pre-matter around different centres of attraction. The why and how of this process concerns astronomy rather than astrology, so we will not pursue its investigation, as it cannot aid our understanding save as a background lending perspective. Nevertheless it is useful to assume that the line of demarcation between our solar system and its next door neighbour in the vast fields of space is the cosmic watershed, as it were, along which the airy particles of pre-matter divided, some going one way and some another as the process of attraction and condensation began to make itself felt among them.

We have no data as to whether magnetic or psychic influences from one stellar system cross the gulf to another, but as their light comes to us, it is not unreasonable to conclude that other influences may do so, even though unobserved and unrecorded by us. Such influences, in order to pass unobserved by modern science must either be so subtle as to be negligible for all practical purposes, or so closely correlated with other phenomena as to have been confused with them. The distinction is an academic one, therefore, so far as the bearing of astrology on human life is concerned, and we may safely leave the matter unargued in our present investigation, it is one of the background factors which we may from time to time need to refer to in order to gain perspective or use as markers in the cosmic scheme.

For practical purposes, then, let us take the solar system as an interacting unit consisting of the Sun and its planets, and so far as earth life is concerned, with special reference to our satellite the Moon. Astrology, as an empirical science of practical experience, declares that the  planets influence each other by virtue of their temperaments and according to their positions relative to each other in their circuits, and that their influence, thus modified and permuted, affects our earth. We shall probably express the position with greater accuracy and relevancy if we take this influence to be psychic rather than physical and regard it as exerted by the aura of the planets rather than by their light-rays, for the cloudy sky is not taken into account in casting a horoscope, though it has to be taken into account in reckoning the ultra violet rays that reach us from the sun. Let us assume, then, that the Earth has an aura, and the planets have auras, and that these interpenetrate each other, and the sum total of the auric influences at a given spot in the solar system determine the psychic atmosphere of that spot. Some emanations would reinforce each other, some would modify each other, and some would neutralise each other. Consequently for beings living on the surface of the earth the calculations of such influences would naturally be geocentric, and the heliocentric nature of the solar system would not need to be taken into account, thus disposing of one great objection to the unscientific nature of astrology.

In addition to the planets, however, the influence of the Zodiac is taken into account by astrology. The Zodiac consists of the circle of constellations surrounding the solar system, and in considering the influences attributed to the twelve segments into which it is divided, we should ask ourselves whether these influences are due to emanations proceeding from the constellations which give their names to the twelve segments, or whether the emanations really proceed from the Sun and create bands of psychic atmosphere in the earth’s orbit. In the days when the geocentric theory was held, it was taken for granted that the influences emanated from the constellations in question, but although I am not prepared to be dogmatic on this point, it appears to me that some of the difficulties presented by the translation of a geocentric philosophy of astrology into the heliocentric one demanded by modern astronomical knowledge are solved if we look upon the constellations of the Zodiac as markers in the heavens against whose background we see the sun as we circle round it, rather as sources of influence. Neither theory affects the practical work of judging horoscopes, but the theory of solar as opposed to stellar emanations enable us to construct a philosophy of astrology that does no violence to astronomy.

Finally there remains the factor of the houses of the heavens to be considered. Viewed from the heliocentric standpoint, these are not segments of the sky at all, but represent the angle of incidence of the various influences upon any given spot on the earth’s surface. This presents no difficulty if considered from the point of view of esoteric philosophy, for according to its doctrines, the Earth, like all other beings, possesses an aura which consists of several layers, it also has a magnetic core, and if the analogy of the auras of other beings is any guide to us, there will be centres of specialised activity in that core. Influences reaching a particular spot on the Earth’s surface will then have passed through a grater or less depth of aura according to the angle at which they enter it. If they come from low down on the horizon, they will pass through much more of the Earth’s aura, and enter each layer at a different angle from that which will prevail if they fall directly upon the earth’s surface from the mid-heaven. We well know the difference in appearance between the red sun of dawn or dusk and the golden sun of midday, the difference being solely due to the depth of atmosphere through which its rays travel. Moreover, the emanations of planets that are below the horizon will also have to pass through the dense body of the earth. There is no intrinsic difficulty in conceiving this, in view of what we know of X-rays and radium. We can quite conceive, however, that certain emanations would fail to penetrate, and that it is probable that it is only the more subtle that would get through. The view of some astrologers that planets below the horizon act on the subconscious levels of the mind would bear out this hypothesis.

To sum up, I suggest that we conclude from these considerations that a horoscope map should enable us to diagnose the conditions prevailing in the psychic atmosphere of the earth at any given moment. The factors to be taken into consideration are:

1. The natures of the various planets, which they developed during the phase of evolution which took place in their respective spheres, and which extends throughout their auras, creating a psychic atmosphere therein.

2. The effect of the interpenetrating auras of the different planets at different aspects, each modifying the influence exerted by the others, so that the psychic condition of the spot consists of a blend of planetary influences, modifying each other.

3. The effect upon each planet of its position in its orbit, due to the psychic atmosphere of that section of the cosmos, whether that atmosphere be derived from the influences of zodiacal constellations or of emanations from the Sun.

4. The effect of the Earth’s mass and aura on the emanations reaching any given point on its surface.

If these four sets of factors are calculated mathematically, and weighed up in the light of observed experience, which is what astrological tradition really is – for it is an empirical science like medicine, consisting of practical observations resting upon a very imperfectly ascertained basis of theory – it should be possible first to analyse the psychic atmosphere into its component parts, which is a purely mathematical operation, and then to synthesise the resulting deductions into a diagnosis or judgement. The latter operation is the real difficulty, for the factors are so numerous and so subtle that it might well be held beyond the power of the human mind to assess them with comprehensiveness and accuracy. In this matter, however, the subconscious mind comes to our aid, just as it does in learning to read, and there comes a point when we cease to spell out letter by letter, and recognise words as a whole. So it is with the experienced astrologer – he interprets the significance of aspects as a whole, and though no doubt he could analyse his deductions into their component parts and give reasons for them if required to do so, he does not interpret a horoscope in that laborious manner, any more than he spells out the columns of his morning paper letter by letter.

Another factor also comes into the reading of horoscopes, a factor beyond the rational and empirical. Each chart forms a glyph or composite symbol; symbols speak to the ultra-conscious levels of our minds as well as to the intellectual level. By means of subconscious and super-conscious mentation, the significance of the chart can be interpreted and findings beyond the range of consciousness used to supplement the work of the rational mind. It is probable that the best astrologers work in this way. Needless to say, intuitive readings are no substitute for exact knowledge, but without such extended interpretations exact knowledge is a barren affair. Who could appreciate poetry if he had to spell it out letter by letter?