SONS OF HERMES 1
Back in the closing years of the last millennium, when I was approaching 70 years of age and thinking I might be reaching the end of my useful time, I found myself called to the colours again with an invitation to rejoin the Society of the Inner Light, where I had learned my trade back in the 1950’s. What I have found useful – and printable – to say about all that I glossed in my esoteric memoirs I Called It Magic having reached 80, when I thought that might have come to the effective end of the line as far as this incarnation goes. However, here I am, another half decade on, and somewhat awed by my impending approach towards ninety. Shall I make it that far? And in the meantime however – what to do?
I am not sure that I am up to writing another book. Assuming there is any kind of hunger out there for yet another one. Nonetheless I have had one at the back of my mind that has been nagging away with increasing insistence, and stems from some time I spent in France back in those pre-millennium days. There had been over the years a small French publisher, (Ediru) , now alas defunct, who translated and published some of my books: A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism, A History of White Magic, The Rose Cross and the Goddess, The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend which led to me undertake some lecture trips around France to help along sales between 1984 and 1999.
In the course of those trips and getting to know a number of French occultists I began to realise what a huge gap there was between the English and the French when it came to the development, aims and attitude toward the esoteric. The English Channel might just as well have been a Cosmic Abyss.
I thought not a lot more of this at the time although I was conscious, on one or two occasions when invited to sit in on some practical workings with the French, that something was happening on an inner level of which I ought to take notice – although at the time I could not think what it might be. One just had to ‘bear it in mind’ for possible future use.
It seems as if the time for this possible further use is upon me. I have been prodded by some very sharp elbows on the inner planes to do something about it, and as a result in the last few months have gradually amassed about a couple of yards of books in French that weigh heavy on my mind and my bookshelves. I also realise why it was, when I retired from fulltime work, that I was obsessed into spending the next eight years at the University of London acquiring an external BA in French language and literature.
The hour has now struck. Or as one of my French friends said in relation to the Tarot card of the Magician, that they call Le Bateleur – it is Le Bat á l’Heure! Or in good old plain English: “Get on with it!”
The trouble is that, being a highly Aries kind of person, I am not good at being patient about things. If I am going to do something I need to have done it yesterday – not tomorrow! And at the age of 85, how many tomorrows have I got to look forward to? I don’t intend to ask the Tarot or anyone else. Sufficient unto the day is the labour thereof. However I cannot bring myself to embark on what might turn out to be a lengthy task that I might not be able to finish. So a formal kind of book I find out of the question.
After a deal of pushing and shoving between the planes a compromise has come to me that I can live with, which is to deal with it all in a piecemeal episodic manner. As a series of separate articles or chapters that feature in each case a particularly important character or issue on the French occult scene during its heyday at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
At the time when the London occult scene was dominated by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the characters that went with it, Paris had its equivalent organisations and colourful characters. Some of these I would like to take a good look at, one by one, as Sons of Hermes, as they liked to regard themselves.
Very little has made it across the English Channel apart from A.E.Waite’s rather stodgy translations of Eliphas Levi (History of Magic and Transcendental Magic) and a grotesquely inaccurate ‘professional’ translation of Papus’ Tarot of the Bohemians, where they even got the title wrong! Over a period of fifty years these were the only serious occult books translated from French into English after the 1890’s, until a highly imaginative History of Magic by Paul Christian.
In the meantime, if anyone wants to acquaint themselves with a little of the material ahead, in the form of the French interest in ‘animal magnetism’ during the 19th century, from Anton Mesmer onward, they could do worse than peruse a copy of The Circuit of Force, subtitled Occult Dynamics of the Etheric Vehicle.
This was written by Dion Fortune as a series of fifteen articles between February 1939 and August 1940, published by Thoth Publications in 1998, with commentary by me. My commentary is largely based on a strange book, Théories et procédés du Magnétisme by Hector Durville, that I picked up from a bouquinist’s bin on the quays of the Seine. This was a subject that greatly interested Dion Fortune in the late 1930’s and in her private library I came across, amongst others, Private Instructions in the Science and Art of Organic Magnetism by Miss Chandos Leigh Hunt, privately published in 1884 in a lockable binding of gold velvet. Style as well as substance in those days!
This caused some fluttering in the esoteric dovecots, then and in later years. So much so that with the publication of a collection of her articles, Applied Magic, in 1962, the alleged inclusion of The Circuit of Force was reduced to the first and last chapters. The other thirteen chapters were missing! A very frugal sandwich! Which no doubt led to Ernest Butler’s fondness, in relation to occult groups, for quoting the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass – “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today!” A rule that, I must say, has never appealed to me.