Monday, March 28, 2016


Stanislas de Guaita & Joséphin Péladan as pen pals

In the hundred or so letters written by Stanislas de Guaita to Joséphin Péladan over a seven year period from 1884 to 1891, we can trace the story of the re-launching of a Rosicrucian fraternity in Paris and the development of de Guaita’s life long commitment to the occult sciences and traditions.

On receiving a reply to his enthusiastic letter of 3rd November 1884 praising Le Vice suprême Stanislas followed up by saying he had been aware of Péledan’s work over the past couple of years in support of painters such as Puvis de Chavannes, Félicien Rops and Gustave Moreau, who later became associated with the Symbolist movement in the arts.

His enthusiasm for Péledan’s novel, with its magus hero, suggests that Stanislas was ripe for a greater acceptance of the occult world, a fact that had been suspected by others such as the  poet, playwright and novelist Catulle Mendès who presented him with the works of Eliphas Levi. He duly read these, but, as he admits to Péladin, only superficially. It needed the novelist’s vivid descriptions of the rottenness in contemporary high life, countered by Mérodack, an aspiring ‘magus’, to stimulate his imagination.

It was not long before the two met when, in March 1885,  the perfectionist young  poet offered to tighten up some of Joséphin’s work before it went to press – an offer that, to his credit, Péladan was not too proud to refuse. It is true that, highly gifted as he was as a popular and perceptive novelist, correct and elegant prose was not one of his priorities.

They also enjoyed an enthusiastic search for rare books throughout their correspondence as, apart from occasional short term domestic crises, Stanislas was not short of cash. He lived with his mother in a large modern chateau at Alteville in Lorraine for much of the year, when not drawn to Paris.

The two got on very well despite a marked difference in life style. For whilst Stanislas was quite conventional as befits a hereditary marquis, Péladan was a born exhibitionist to the point of self caricature. A trait which may have helped him in the earlier part of his career but which became a liability when later detractors tried to dismiss him as a buffoon and poseur. He had, for instance, a great passion for ancient Assyria and Chaldea to the point of insisting that he was of the ancient blood royal and bestowing the title “Sâr”– meaning “king” – upon himself. He also dressed the part, complete with abundant aureole of black hair and forked beard.

Their friendship deepened in June 1885 with Péladan’s second novel, Curieuse, which contained a character Nébo, an apprentice to the magus Mérodack. It did not take long for Stanislas to associate each of them with these two characters. Thus we find them calling each other Mérodack and Nébo – complete with mystic signs – of Jupiter for Mérodack and Mercury for Nébo. And although this may have begun as something of a joke there was evidently a deeper side to it as revealed in a letter of August 1886 which tells that Stanislas has been in touch with a leading member of a Rosicrucian fraternity based in Toulouse. One to which Péladan’s elder brother had belonged until his death the year before.

It confirms that, at Josephin Péladan’s suggestion, Stanislas had made contact with the writer of Adrian Péladan’s obituary – signed “a Catholic R+C” and probably Firmin Boissin – which had led to Stanislas’ initiation into the Order. For he refers to Boissin as “Bois+sin”,  begins to add the logo “R+C” to his own signature, and to call Joséphin “mon cher Frère” (dear Brother).

It also appears that the Toulouse Rosicrucian order had began to lose momentum, as there is an interesting reference in the 2nd (1890) edition of de Guaita’s Au Seuil du Mystère, that reads: “The ancient order of the Rose-Croix being on the point of going dormant three years ago when two direct heirs of its august traditions resolved to restore it by consolidating it on new foundations...”

This would have been written some time in 1889, putting the year in question as 1886, and a time when things had been begun to hot up in Paris with the activities of Papus and his friends. It was not long before they began to join forces in addition to contributing to Le Lotus and l’Initiation. There begin to appear against writers’ names the letters S.I. or the Hebrew letter Aleph () accompanied by a triangle of dots, indicating, to those who knew,  allegiance to the Martinist Order or to the Kabalistic Order of the Rose+Croix.

The two organisations were closely connected, with much the same members in their ruling councils. The Ordre Martiniste was the initiative of Papus and Augustan Chabaseau, who claimed to have been initiated by close relatives some years before. (One Martinist tradition was the right of any member to initiate anyone else of their choosing, thus there was an individual as well as a corporate side to the movement).

Membership of l’Ordre Kabbalistique de la Rose-Croix seemed rather more prestigious, being restricted to members of the Martinist Order who had attained its third degree – S.I. standing for “senior inconnu” or unknown senior, following the tradition of the reclusive Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, often called “the Unknown Philosopher”.

In support of this we also find in the 1892 and 1894 (3rd  and 4th) editions of de Guaita’s Au Seuil du Mystère the text of an address to a newly initiated 3rd Degree Martinist  – delivered by Stanislas de Guaita – who was accorded the honour of head of the Rosicrucian Order for life, no doubt in recognition of his activity at this time, intellectual standing, social prestige, wealth and willingness to devote an apartment in Paris, along with use of its library, to meetings of friends and associates.

The organisation soon proved unstable however, and began to unravel before the end of 1890, as Joséphin Péledan found himself increasingly out of sympathy with the aims of the others. The reasons for this we will pursue when we turn to the history of his breakaway group  l’Ordre de la Rose+Croix Catholique du Temple et du Graal, with himself as Grand Master using the name of Sâr Mérodack Péladan.

Whilst this gave the appearance of a sudden outburst of self indulgence on his part, or an inability to share power with anyone else (and there is no doubt some truth in this) the differences go far deeper than this. With the benefit of hindsight it is possible to see points of difficulty that came up in earlier correspondence, but differences that could be tacitly accepted or glossed over as honest differences between friends became a different matter when concerned with the policy of public organisations.  They might all have felt increasingly at odds with the oriental bias of the Theosophical Society and sought to recover and promote a Western esoteric tradition, but Papus, with his vastly successful and largely secular G.I.E.E. tended to regard occultism as a branch of science, which could be pursued as such, whereas to Joséphin Péladan the issues were deeper, involving aesthetic, moral, religious and political elements.

{P.S. for pedants – Merodack can be variously spelled according to whether you read the novel or the letters. G.K.}

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