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!


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