The Boullan affair
Despite its monolithic appearance the Roman Catholic church has never lacked for would-be reformers, one of whom was the Abbé Roca responsible for the initial coming together of Stanislas de Guaita and Oswald Wirth. He was one of the more responsible ones, with a mission for a kind of Christian socialism that attained a small respectable following before being formally examined and rejected by the papal authorities.
Not that all such maverick theologians were as personable. In 1879 an unfrocked priest by the name of Boullan, who claimed to be a reincarnation of John the Baptist, had taken over a breakaway group in Châlons-sur-Marne. His mission was to renew the church by means of a novel approach to sex in the cosmic scheme of things, which he taught was dual – one ‘generational’ for animals and the common herd of humanity – and the other ‘inspirational’ and ‘sacramental’ for high adepts. This involved intimate relations with angels and saints, as well as each other, at first remotely by animal magnetism but leading on to sacramental physical encounters either before the altar or in bed.
In short, Boullan was a sexually obsessed fantasist eager to increase his circle. However, he picked the wrong man when, in August 1885, he approached Oswald Wirth as a likely “Fils du Ciel” or Son of Heaven. On discovering that the sage had served a three year prison term for embezzlement of a religious society’s funds, Wirth duly lured him into a sequence of self incriminating correspondence along with evidence of his preying upon the lonely and vulnerable.
Two years later, on their meeting, he showed the bulky dossier to Stanislas de Guaita, who was horrified and sought some way whereby Boullan might be stopped. The method chosen was somewhat convoluted. It was to send the self styled saint a formal warning from the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross, with the threat that if he did not mend his ways he would be dealt with by ‘exposure to the light’.
What they meant by “exposure to the light” was revelation to the public in the first volume of de Guaita’s planned trilogy, Le Serpent de la Genèse. But as this was not likely to be published until 1891 Boullan was told that, as an act of clemency, he was being allowed three years grace before suffering the threatened consequences. Dictated by Stanislas de Guaita to Oswald Wirth, and purportedly coming from an esoteric tribunal of high initiates, the lengthy letter concluded: Thus you stand condemned. But concerned with Christian charity rather than strict justice, the initiatory tribunal agrees to a period of grace. Thus the sentence will remain suspended over your head until the day when, by default of these most merciful arrangements, its application becomes inevitable...”.
It was confidently expected that this would inspire such fear in the pontiff as to bring about full contrition and conversion on his part.
This turned out to be a false hope, for the letter served only to exalt Boullan’s pride. He claimed, that jealous of his mystical powers, a powerful organisation of Parisian necromancers had declared war on him! But having God on his side, he braved all these threats. His enemies could mobilise all the legions of hell against him but he would defend himself with prayer and holy liturgical sacrifice, certain of victory.
Nonetheless the threat must have worried Boullan to some extent by reason of the alarming speculations of a female member of his group known as the holy mother Thibault, doubling as his housekeeper, who was accorded the status of a divine oracle. She claimed to be able to perceive the secret intentions of the Paris Rosicrucians, and saw them activating larvae on the astral plane each night that would come to assail Father Boullan, and although the fierce struggle might tire the worthy old man, criminally deprived of sleep, there was nothing to fear as he had command of heavenly legions.
Nor did the eventual publication of de Guaita’s book containing sixty pages condemning Boullan have the expected result upon him. He simply refused to accept the copy sent to him and warned his followers that it contained such malevolent poison that it could prove fatal to any who read it.
It was, however, eagerly devoured by the novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans, who wanted to describe Satanic worship in his next novel – La-Bàs (The Damned) – but knew nothing about the subject. What a godsend it was therefore to find a contemporary sorcerer anonymously described! (For rather than use Boullan's actual name, de Guaita had sarcastically referred to him throughout as 'the Baptist')
Discovering Boullan's identity (via Oswald Wirth) he sought more information from him, who, flattered at receiving a letter from a well known author, invited Huysmans to visit. Thereafter Huysmans took from Boullan whatever he was told, notwithstanding the fact that Boullan, convinced he was on the side of the angels, knew nothing of Satanic worship or the so-called Black Mass. What Huysmans received, and wrote up in his book, were in fact the fantasies of Mother Thibault.
The novel was eventually published in 1891, and achieved success as the first of a series describing the moral quest of its hero, who, like the author himself, eventually finds salvation as an oblate in the Roman Catholic church. (The sequels are En Route (1895), La Cathédrale (1898) and l’Oblat 1903).
And so things might have rested had not, in January 1893, Father Boullan died!
Although his age and natural causes were quite sufficient to have carried him off, this seemed too much of an opportunity for a 23 year old graduate of literature by the name of Jules Bois. Fresh out of college, he was looking to make his way in journalism, specialising in the esoteric. He was at one point an acolyte of the veteran poet Catulle Mendès, who, it may be remembered, had first gifted Stanislas de Guaita with the works of Eliphas Levi.
Huysman’s book enjoying great success, Jules Bois published an interview with the author in the national papers Le Figaro and Gils Blas, in the course of which it was suggested that the old priest from Châlons-sur-Marne had been threatened by Stanislas de Guaita and feared being killed by enchantment in a magical feud!
There was only one possible response to this in the eyes of Stanislas de Guatia, which was to challenge both author and journalist to a duel. Seconds were appointed, who called upon them both.
Huysmans, a middle aged civil servant, was naturally terrified on receiving the letter they bore:
To Monsieur J.-K Huysmans
Paris, 13th January 1893
Infamous and ridiculous gossip has been appearing about me in the press for several days, and you have been the propagator in the midst of it.
I call upon you to give satisfaction, not with occult weapons of this sorcery that you claim to fear and which I do not practise, but honestly with sword in hand.
This notice will be presented to you by my seconds whom you should put in touch with your own.
I have the honour, sir, to present my regards,
Stanislas de Guaita
However, on the advice of Victor-Émile Michelet and Maurice Barrès, (de Guaita’s seconds, who were really a bit embarrassed by all this) Huysmans published a contrite apology and retraction that was duly accepted by de Guaita.
However, such was not the case with the young Jules Bois, who did not want to let a good story die, even if at some physical risk to himself. All of which suggests that he had no intention of apology or retraction and was determined to milk the situation for what it was worth. It was thus arranged that he should meet Stanislas de Guaita with pistols on 10th April and, (for some reason which remains obscure) Papus on 13th April with swords.
And as if this were not enough, there was the added spice of a suggestion of enchantments at a distance playing their part against him on his journey to each event.
At the first, on the way to meet Stanislas de Guaita, one of the horses in the equipage suddenly stopped and stood shivering for twenty minutes before it could be induced to continue. And in the second, three days later, against Papus, travelling by cab, the horse shied, upsetting the vehicle so that Bois arrived at the duelling ground some minutes late, bloodied and bruised. Nonetheless the duel went ahead, and he was easily wounded, twice in the forearm, by Papus, who was a skilled swordsman. It was thereupon agreed that honour had been satisfied and the two went off arm in arm, the greatest of friends. A not un-typical Papus scenario!
Neither participant was wounded in the pistol duel between Bois and de Guaita. Presumably both missed, either by incompetence or intention. One suspects that de Guaita would have deliberately missed, who although generally contemptuous of Bois, particularly as a writer, grudgingly acknowledged his courage in turning up for the affair.
In much of this, there is an ambience of someone trying to cast as much mystery over the proceedings as possible. Jules Bois would seem to be the likely candidate. He followed up with writing a couple of occult interest books with a popular slant, L’au Dela et les Forces Inconnus (The Other World and Unknown Forces) and Le Satanisme et la Magie (Satanism and Magic), the first being paragraphs from newspaper columns to which he contributed.
Ironically, Stanislas de Guaita came off worst in terms of reputation, and long remained the subject of rumours as to his magical activities, some of them bordering on the ridiculous, such as the tale of a familiar spirit kept in a cupboard in his apartments in the avenue Trudaine, a demon that was let out to execute at a distance sentences of death. The prison of this redoubtable entity did actually exist and, de Guaita remaining a keen amateur chemist, was no more esoteric than a fume cupboard and depository for dangerous chemicals. For safety’s sake his old domestic servant was warned of catastrophe if she risked opening it, which frightened the old countrywoman into believing the cupboard to be haunted, a line of gossip eagerly taken up by the press and casual visitors.
The sequence of events may also have played a part in the transformation of the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross, perhaps rather too high minded for its own good as an esoteric fraternity, taking on a more academic function, and awarding degrees at Bachelor, Master and Doctorate levels in Kabbalistic and associated studies. There was no shortage of other initiatory bodies to join.