Thursday, September 01, 2016


The Martinist Order or l’Ordre Martiniste

Despite their close collaboration there were major differences of principle and practice between Maître Philippe and Papus. Apart from Nizier Philippe’s rejection of ‘animal magnetism’ as a curative agent, as opposed to Papus’ research into it, Papus maintained a keen interest in  initiatory societies and in particular with the possibilities of a revived Martinism. Philippe, on the other hand, tended to regard initiatory grades (real or imagined) as vehicles of   personal pride, as indeed they can well be. As Israel Regardie once remarked, whoever claims to be an adept is hardly likely to be one!

Martinism had its immediate origins in the philosophy and practice of Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin  (1743-1803) who had been a student of Martines de Pasqually, founder of a group called l’Ordre des Chevaliers-Elus Cohens de l’Universe  (Order of the Elect Priest-Knights of the Universe). There were many such groups in those days it should be said, covering a broad field from social through political to esoteric.

After Pasqually’s death in 1772 Saint-Martin felt it incumbent upon him to try to continue the work, at the same time modifying some of Pasqually’s ideas and methods, which he found somewhat demanding and complicated.

As Papus later put it: “According to the account of Saint-Martin himself, the master gathered his disciples in a room, no doubt purified by a previous operation, traced a circle in the centre and wrote in Hebrew letters within it the names of angels and appropriate divine names. These preparations astonished the young disciple to the extent that he cried ‘Do we need to do all this to contact God?’

Nonetheless he had no cause to regret these arrangements,  for communication was made with ‘psychic Beings’ giving startling proofs of the reality of their existence in the invisible world. Those  present became ‘illumined’; that is to say that, for them, the existence of the invisible world and the immortality of the soul became more certain than the existence of matter in the physical world. And scorning death, they were ready for anything in propagating and defending the doctrines dear to them.”

A feature of Saint-Martin’s system that played an important role in its development was that, as well as group meetings and initiations, individual members were permitted to confer personal initiations on whomever they chose. Whether or not those concerned lived up to it, (and who is to tell?) they had the right to use the letters S.I. after their names with a triangle of dots, signifying ‘Supérieur Inconnu’ (Higher Unknown One).

Whatever the merits or drawbacks of this system it formed the starting point for the Martinist Order as revived, renewed or invented ( however one wishes to regard it) by Papus. And all apparently the result of a happy coincidence. Augustin Chaboseau (librarian at the Guimet museum), Papus and a couple of friends were in the habit of dining together every Tuesday at a small restaurant on the left bank, and discovered by chance in the course of conversation that both Chaboseau and Papus had been privately initiated in this way, without having thought very much about it at the time, or even since. Chaboseau by his aunt, Mme A. de Boisse-Montemart two years before in 1886, and Papus back in 1882, when he was only 17 years old, by the writer Henri Delaage (1825-1882) who sought to pass it on before he died.

It seems that over the course of years the practice, at any rate with the Chaboseaus, had become almost something of a family tradition. While Papus  said that apart from the letters S.I. and a triangle of dots, no arcane knowledge was passed on to him, due to lack of time apparently, but as a somewhat confused teenager he might not have appreciated it anyway.

On a broader front the system would almost certainly have been responsible for the spread of various forms of Martinist philosophy and practice as the ‘free initiators’ transmitted the ‘Sacrament’ of their Order through France, Germany, Denmark and particularly Russia during the 19th century.

In their biography of Papus the academics Marie-Sophie André and Christophe Beaufils cast their doubts on Papus’ claim to this initiation, but I am quite prepared to accept it. Apart from the fact of Papus’ basic rough and ready honesty, it has that ambience of unlikelihood that tends to go with coincidental facts that come up with from time to time in esoteric matters. I could match it with some even more unlikely! And it certainly produced results, for within three years l’Ordre Martiniste was founded.

What I also find convincing is the remarkable charge that it put into Papus himself, as shown by a trilogy of books he produced in 1895, 1899 and 1902,  called Illuminisme en France 1774-1803. They are detailed and scholarly works, with much first hand evidence from letters of the three characters who originated what became the Martinist movement – Martines de Pasqually, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin and Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (who did much to develop a Masonic form of the system).  In these books one senses a sea change and greater depth and discipline in the writing of Papus. So it was not entirely the influence of Maître Philippe that was responsible for what some regarded as Papus’ religious reorientation in the latter part of his life. The experience of running an ambulance unit on the Western Front may well have had something to do with that.

Certainly from his detailed quotations from Pasqually’s esoteric instructions to his students  we realise something of Saint-Martin’s concern about complication. Nor does there seem to be much differentiation between magic and mysticism.  Most of the invocations are taken from standard prayers of the Roman Catholic church. The requirements are very detailed, to be performed in a rigorous and formal way within a complex system of magic circles and six-rayed stars, that can take at least two hours to perform, much of the time prostrate, and with particular regard to the positioning of a large number of candles, accompanied by the preparation of a complex mixture of incense. The occasions close to the Autumnal and Vernal Equinoxes are on days calculated from the rising or setting of the moons of March and September. And when it comes to formal group rituals a high standard is obviously expected, as can be judged from the catechisms of each degree, which in the lowest, of Apprentice, consist of 99 questions and answers, some of them quite detailed, that will need to have been committed to memory. There follow the degrees of Companion, Particular Master, Elect Master, Grand Master (also called Great Architect), Grand Elect of Zorobabel, (or Knights of the East).  The latter character, Zorobabel, for those unfamiliar with the Old Testament, was leader of the chosen people on their return from exile and the rebuilding the Temple.
In much of this we find ourselves involved with an Old Testament based symbolism that can have a secular (such as restoration of the monarchy amongst others) as well as a spiritual interpretation. There was continuing controversy during the 19th century, with Eliphas Levi as well as Papus each involved in turn, as to whether Masonry was an esoteric or a secular system. Indeed the latter seemed the majority view in France, with the words Grand Architect of the Universe being formally abandoned by a leading authority.  A pretty big baby being poured out with the bath water in the esoteric view!

The newly formed Ordre Martiniste seems to have got under way in 1887, when a few S.I. initials start to appear behind names and rumours of a lodge meeting and by 1891 a Supreme Council of a dozen members was in place, with the familiar names of Charles Barlet, Chamuel, Paul Sédir, Jules Lejay, Montière, Stanislas de Guaita, Paul Adam, Jaques Burget, Maurice Barrès and Josephin Péledan, the latter two soon resigning and replaced by Marc Haven and Victor-Émile Michelet; and of which Papus was elected President for life.

 A life that came to an end in 1916.


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