“PAPUS” – DR GÉRARD ENCAUSSE [continued]
References to Martinism and Rosicrucianism had not been plucked from thin air by Papus. During 1888, the first steps had been taken to revive the activities of both these early western traditions. He himself the Martinist Order, founded toward the end of the 18th century by Louis Claude de Saint Martin (1743-1803); and a Rosicrucian revival – l’Ordre Kabbalistique de la Rose+Croix under the joint aegis of an aristocratic young poet and intellectual Stanislas de Guaita and a popular occult novelist and art critic Joséphin Péladan. Mysterious initials began to appear after their names, such as S...I... (Supérieur Inconnu) or ‘Unknown Superior’ of the Martinist Order – or in the case of the Kabbalistic Rosicrucian Order the Hebrew letter Aleph with three dots in triangular formation signifying, for those in the know, a Rosicrucian Grand Master.
A manifesto for each organisation appeared in l’Initiation, a new monthly journal founded in October 1888, the financing of which Papus was inclined to regard as an act of Providence. For one day a young man had unexpectedly called on him, and thrusting a bundle of banknotes into his hands announced that observers on the astral plane were aware that he lacked the resources to start an important new work.
The source of the cash turned out to be a philanthropic industrialist with esoteric sympathies by the name of Jean Jacques Bourcart, who may have been stimulated by the prospect of a great Exposition Universelle, or World Fair, to be held in Paris from May to October 1889. A glorification of the 3rd Republic, founded in 1870, celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, and that saw the erection of the Eiffel Tower, considered by some a mark of technological progress, by others a supreme vulgarity.
In conjunction with this general celebration some spiritually minded enthusiasts seized the chance to launch a week long esoteric convention, Le Congrès spirite et spiritualiste international from 9th to 15th September 1889. Thirty four esoteric organisations took part, with the theme of ‘the survival of the conscious self and the possibility of communication between the living and the dead’.
In the mean time a confrontation had developed between Papus and Mme Blavatsky on the meaning of the word ‘initiate’. She insisted that the term applied only to a ‘hierophant’ or very high adept (no doubt with her own ‘mahatmas’ in mind). And as something of a put down said that for Papus to think it was anything else was an error ‘typical of Freemasons’. She wanted to know, with heavy sarcasm, if this brilliant young man, until now one of the most promising French recruits to Theosophy, had turned away from the light and was wandering toward the shadows?
The ‘recruit’ retorted by refusing to change his definitions, and referred to inconsistencies in her great work, the Secret Doctrine, recently published, in which, he said, the terms ‘initiate’ and ‘adept’ were often referred to with the meaning that he himself had attributed to them. And if she was unaware of the fact (implying blind plagiarism, muddle headedness, or ignorance of her own work) he would be happy to provide details of the relevant passages.
Apart from this, the relative success of the esoteric convention in 1889 led him to think the time was ripe for a permanent centre devoted to the various aspects of occultism. Not having the resources to found one himself he put the idea to a friend, the mature law student Lucien Chamuel, who promptly hired a shop at 29, rue de Trévise and named it the ‘Librairie du Merveilleux’ (Bookshop of the Marvellous).
It included the facility of a circulating library and space for a meeting hall at the back and soon became a great success. And its appearance coincided with the foundation and growth of a remarkable organisation inspired and headed by Papus. Its work and aims were summarised in a small but significant publication, La science des mages et ses applications théoriques et pratiques (The Science of the Magi and its Theoretical and Practical Applications), and were as follows.
1. The impartial study, beyond the academic and priestly, of scientific, artistic and social evidence to be found in the symbolism of all cults and traditions.
2. The scientific study, by experiment and observation, of yet unknown forces within man and nature (spirit phenomena, hypnosis, magic and theurgy).
3. The grouping of all these scattered elements in view of the struggle against doctrines of materialism and atheism.
With regard to spiritualism (or spiritism) occultists did not deny the possibility of communicating with the departed but doubted the number of genuine instances, as for much of the time it seemed more likely to be a matter of auto-suggestion or transcendent hypnosis, for which only the forces of the medium and those physically present were responsible.
Enquirers were advised, if unfamiliar with these matters, to study the theory and practice of spirit communication and if spiritualism with its essentially consoling doctrine seemed to provide them with a total expression of truth, and satisfied their hopes, then not to seek any further. However, the philosophically inclined would seek in vain for a cosmogony, or even an original metaphysic, in spiritualism and might do better to move on to occultism, which was more abstract and complex in its explanations of psychic phenomena. True occultists did not claim exclusive possession of the truth but were independent seekers, and, although some may have wanted to make occultists adversaries of spiritualism, those who ran the G.I.E.E. were persuaded that time would serve to bring everyone into agreement.
As for the Theosophical Society, if anyone desired to occupy themselves with Oriental occultism they would do better to consult the Guimet Museum in Paris which had more accurate information on Buddhism and the religions and philosophies of India. Or alternatively the Paris branch of the English language Buddhist Propagation Society.
With this announcement, Papus had plainly shaken the dust of the Theosophical Society from his feet! Not only that, it has been estimated by some scholars that his activities set back the growth of the Theosophical Society in France by some twenty years!
Nor had Papus neglected his medical career, which he contrived to link with his esoteric interests. Although still a student, he produced an essay, as Gérard Encausse, on physiology relating to the theory and practice of animal magnetism, and was evidently doing well enough in his medical studies to be entrusted to write, together with Dr Luys, a professor at La Charité hospital, a report for the Annales de psychiatrie et d’hypnologie, describing experiments with a form of clairvoyance at a distance by a hypnotised subject, aided by magnetic devices applied to the head.
Over the next few years the G.I.E.E. developed branches not only throughout France but also Europe, Egypt, and the Americas, issuing diplomas to successful students and eventually degrees and doctorates in Kabbalistic studies.
The organisation also encouraged and grew through the development of bright young newcomers who became its writers and lecturers, developing their writing, speaking, esoteric and organisational skills. Some of whom we shall later follow.
But first we would do well to examine the remarkable efforts of Papus himself, particularly through the written word.
[to be continued]