Monday, April 24, 2017



We casually remarked, in a masterpiece of understatement in SH17 that back in 1890 Paul Sédir  made himself extremely useful to Papus and his associates.  It is perhaps time we filled in some of the details of the following years until his death in 1926. For the first  decade he played a major part in helping  to build up the Faculty of Hermetic Sciences, overseeing its three year course on subjects that included alchemy, hypnosis, curative magnetism and divinatory arts. Then having met and been astounded by Maïtre Philippe, he developed a mystical equivalent to the traditional occult arts, including a five volume commentary upon the Gospels. This we recently mentioned, regretting its unavailability in English. The least we can do now is to give our version of a short example of his take on the all important subject, the dynamics of faith.

Anyway, here goes:

‘Ancient beliefs, still popular today, that affirm the existence of spirits of the elements in vegetable and mineral forms are true. In the invisible, everything possesses not only an aura and an etheric double, but a spiritual type, soul, intelligence, sensibility and free will.

‘An alchemist working on a mineral affects its aura; a magnetiser affects its etheric double; a magician works with its spirit, whether by force or ingenuity. Although only a ‘spiritually free’ man does so legitimately.

‘A mountain, a rock, a field  – a state, a province, a village   a spring, a stream, a river –  grass,  grain, or forest   gulf,  ocean, or lake – house, room, or furniture –  tool, book, or letter – all have a physical existence and an invisible being. Polytheistic belief  is the recognition of these agents and their power, and research into the right way to contact or conciliate them.

‘Theoretically, a polytheist has to master a very complex science and animistic disrupting force, and in practice, may work a little good with fragmentary knowledge and a fragile will.

‘Calming a storm can be effected in various ways. There are physical means such as oil or explosive. There are fluidic ways, given a knowledge of electro-telluric currents, to discern the poles of the perturbing whirlwind, and annul them by producing artificial ones in a contrary fashion. There are what could be called idolatrous ways, when a sailor makes a promise or a threat to his god, to a saint, or to a sanctuary in his country. The magician may determine the type of daimonic originators of a meteorological disturbance and send other agents to fight them, as they do on barbarous coasts or in the China seas.  There is also prayer pure and simple to God or to the Virgin. And finally there is the procedure of the Christ, the effortless command, a method possible only to a ‘free’ soul.

‘It is toward this last attitude that His disciples inclined, with one single method – the culture of faith. “Fear and doubt exist,” it has been said, “to prevent us over-reaching ourselves” and fear can be surmounted by pride or humility. But it is necessary to have confidence in God. Nothing comes to us without His permission; and so, as we are all His children, altruism tends to make us happy if trials come upon us more than upon our siblings.

‘But such self abandon is difficult, even the primitive protozoa in stagnant water fear for their ephemeral existence! As for ourselves, our whole life can be a succession of unjustified fears. That is what we must fight against. We have within us the seed of faith. For it to grow, we must first understand the all powerful Divinity. In the second place, throw ourselves completely into the effort. In the third place, know that, even when we seem to have done all that is possible, there remains the  supreme attempt to try.

‘Faith is a substance that exists only in Heaven. Its ‘biological mode’ is supernatural. Intelligence,  muscular or magnetic force, and reason are nothing. Among the powers of the human spirit, only passion and will have points of contact with it. It may seem ignorant, illogical, measureless, but it is light in a dark night; it is life where there was none; it is the impossible incarnating at our insistance.

‘But the Christ does not command only storms at sea. In all being there is a hydrological function; with man it is the circulatory system; in society it is commerce; in religion it is edificying doctrine. In physiology the Christ is the heart (although in present society its place may be taken by Mammon). In the Church, it is the celebration of the Mass. In mathematics it is called Number; in physical nature the Brahmans call it the dark sun; in philosophy it is truth; in art it is expression. In life the storms that it calms include anything undefined, sick, wrong or insignificant. And everywhere, for all and in all – is the Faith that we can employ to re-establish harmony.

‘Several times the evangelists affirm the power that Jesus exercised over the forces of Nature. Let us take the miracles on Lake Tiberiad.

 ‘Travellers tell many tales of this type, and, to confirm their numerous accounts it seems that over the whole world men can be met who can command the clouds, the winds, the rain, the storm, the hail. Enchanters in all races appear to possess this power. But there is an essential difference between their procedures and that of the Christ. They operate by means of a pact, expressed or tacit. Most give something to such spirits and, in return, the spirit performs a service – it is what popular legend calls selling one’s soul to the devil. Even those wonder workers who believe they obtain their power by rational culture of their own psychic forces, unconsciously conclude a pact with daimons on the mental plane.

 ‘Only mystics, whatever their religion, who limit themselves to a single accomplishment of charity by private prayer perform legitimate miracles. They ask, and the form of the Word of God particular to their race grants it. The Christ, being the supreme Master, knowing the language of all categories of creatures, commands and they obey. ...

`...For the being who has received the Holy Spirit, a miracle is a very simple act, such as a sentence, like “take up your bed and walk”. That being lives on the first plane, and has not, like the great poets and great thinkers, its feet on earth and head in the heavens. It is completely on the earth and at the same time completely in the heavens; it carries the heavens with it wherever it goes and anything it undertakes. Thus Jesus needed no great effort to heal, to resuscitate, to change the way of the worlds, to calm a storm or to multiply fishes or loaves. He ordered and His creatures obeyed.

‘What did He say to his terrified disciples?  “Why are you frightened, O ye of little faith?” In fact the only cause of our fears is a lack of faith. This is not a matter of theological faith, which  may be a belief in the Trinity, or the Immaculate Conception, and other dogmas because they have been told they are true.  But if these same sources affirm that the Christ can cure them, or save them from ruin, they no longer believe it. The dogmas do not touch us, do not move our terrestrial sensibilities, do not affect us much, so we accept them. But when it is a matter of our health we see nothing  but menacing catastrophe – and faith evaporates.

‘In fact, acceptance of certain truths incomprehensible to understanding but that are admitted by authorised witness – such as the great church councils  – do not penetrate to the depths of our being. The only true faith is to realise as far as the material sense the affirmations of the Apostles. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.”

‘If He is almighty, He can cure me, save me from fire, from bankruptcy; if I believe He is my Father, He will heal me and save me; if I am not convinced that He can do these things I have no faith. Now the only sign of my conviction will be the serenity whereby I find the true perspective of suffering, ruin and death; if these eventualities worry me, it is because I have no faith.

‘To adhere then with all the strength of our will, all the fervour of our love, to the words of the Christ, that central adhesion will gently illuminate our intelligence, and we will understand little by little that which at first appeared obscure. If, what is more, we come to oblige our body and its instincts to obey these words, then our faith will begin to live. Mental belief alone is not enough; for faith to work miracles it needs to live in our corporeal being. Faith without works is a dead faith. True faith is susceptible to unlimited growth.

‘It gives us peace of heart, knowledge of the mysteries, thaumaturgic power. But do not confuse these divine powers with its caricatures: of auto-suggestion, mentalism, artificial development of will power. An American religion proclaims “Believe that evil does not exist and you will be cured.” That is philosophic sophistry and a volatile illusion. Another, Belgian, religion proclaims “Anything exists only because we believe it”.   More sophistry; of oriental origin, and another illusion.

 'I hope I have been clear enough for you to see what antinomy exists between the faith the Christ proposes and its human imitation. May the length and minutiae of the necessary training necessary to render our personality capable of receiving this divine force not discourage us; consider how it needs the constancy of the athlete to develop muscles, cell by cell; or the musician to render fingers or larynx supple; or the business entrepreneur to amass a fortune coin by coin. Let us put ourselves to work. And not stop, once begun.’  Paul Sedir


Friday, April 14, 2017


Paul Sédir and the ‘Inconnu’

Yves le Loup (1871-1926) better known by his mystery name of Paul Sédir, one of the most erudite and experienced occultists in the circle of Papus and Stanislas de Guaita, and member of a number of initiatory societies, abandoned them to follow the mystical teaching of Maïtre Philippe, founding the Société des Amitiés Spirituelles (Society of Spiritual Friends) which still exists and publishes a number of his works. One of them, with the significant title of Quelques Amis de Dieu (Some Friends of  God), under the rubric of Un Inconnu (An Unknown) describes his Maïtre Philippe as follows.

“I affirm that I have had over a long period, the good fortune to see a living man who, without apparent effort, realised the perfection of the Gospels...Perhaps some anxious souls will be encouraged if one of their companions affirms that the promises of Christ are real because he has seen and touched experimental proof  of them. That Christ, our Lord, said that one day He would give his Friends the power to perform miracles greater than his own; I have seen these accomplished.  The Christ also said to his Friends that He would be with them until the end of the world; I have seen this hidden presence.

“The life of my Unknown one provides a series of such proofs...You will recognise in him, I hope, one of these mysterious ‘brothers’ of the Lord, one of the greatest, the greatest perhaps, of the heralds of the Absolute...His doctrine was entirely that of the Gospels and he valued books in proportion to their agreement with their teaching. He accepted the writings of the Apostles to the letter and regarded modern exegesis as superfluous.

“If one could love one’s neighbour like oneself, Heaven would reveal the true meaning of these texts. He showed little interest in argument, placing brotherly love before all, before prayer and even before faith. He called pride and egoism the greatest obstacles to our advancement. This man without any higher qualifications could reveal the errors of experts...He explained his powers and knowledge by saying “A child of God, (a being pure enough to sacrifice self for others and immediately forget it), knows all things without need of study...

“Now this Christian, this philosopher, was, above all, the most extraordinary wonder worker.  I have seen all the marvels performed by saints accomplished by him. Miracles flourished at his feet, they seemed natural, inevitable, and nothing but prayer evoked them...He exercised the same power in the same way over animals, plants, events and even the elements.”

(His causing a lightning strike and thunder bolt close to Papus was a particularly spectacular way of endorsing a conversion! And his daughter in law remarked that the expression on the face of Papus after the experience was enough to convince anyone that it had really happened!)

On many occasions Maïtre Philippe, Sédir’s ‘Inconnu’ demonstrated his powers to experts,  although it could happen that an ‘expert witness’ would refuse to bear witness to having seen facts deemed to be ‘inexplicable!’ That is to say, could not believe his eyes! {See ‘The  professor’s dilemma’ – Sons of Hermes 29 – for an example.}

Just who or what Monsieur Philippe was, remains the subject of intense debate in France.  Sédir, in a series of lectures at the end of 1920, recently discovered and published by Le Mercure Dauphinois as La vie inconnue de Jésus-Christ (The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ)  all but divinised him, whilst our old friend Victor-Émile Michelet, in his memoirs of 1938  felt this view to be greatly exaggerated.  However, Sédir was capable of flights of metaphysical realisation far beyond the worthy commonsense Michelet, who put down what he called such ‘deliquescent pseudo-mysticism’ to Sédir’s Breton and German background – although influences such as Boehme and Goethe are hardly to be sneezed at!

A few paragraphs taken almost at random from La vie inconnue de Jésus-Christ can demonstrate this.

“The birth of the Word did not take place at a certain moment in a certain place, but everywhere at once. Neither the works of Christ, nor the events of the Gospels can be situated in history. If we wish to make it food for our soul, we must remember that spiritual truths are always happening. The Christ was not only born at Bethlehem but everywhere a stable is willing to receive him.

“He did not cure this or that individual, 2000  years ago, but also now; this difficult action requires the healed to be joined with the healer in his domain, and the means for this joining is that power called Faith. For there is more than one Bethlehem, more than one Tabor, more than one Golgotha; they existed already, before they were given those names, and will continue to be until the end of the world. They are there today,  and the same events occur even more gloriously, because more hidden.

“A storm on the Pacific Ocean can be calmed because the waves were pacified one day on the Sea of Galilee. A criminal can find pardon because a certain thief was forgiven 2000 years ago on Golgotha

“The things we find in the Gospel, the drachma, the fig tree, the unleavened bread, the foolish virgins, the prodigal son....are living beings, virtues, on which our immortal being can feed if we wish it so. You would understand me if you had felt a little of the essential presence of these things in your secret life”

And apart from some small handbooks on the mystical life the five volumes of Sédir’s commentary on the  Gospels L’Enfance du Christ; Le Sermon sur la Montagne, Les Guérisons du Christ, Le Royaume de Dieu, and Le Couronnement de L’Oeuvre  surely deserve translation.

There is little information readily available in English, although we have done our best to throw a little light into what the French, with a Gallic shrug, call ‘the Anglo-Saxon world’ by translating Initiations  for Skylight Press, a series of essays written by Sédir over the years that present  Monsieur Philippe in semi-fictional form, something after the way Marc Haven mirrored aspects of his character in his biography of Cagliostro.

Upon which we wish everyone a fruitful Easter and gentle reminder to think what it was and is and ever will be all about!  The future is in eggs.

Sunday, April 09, 2017


 Marc Haven, Cagliostro and ‘Monsieur Philippe’

One evening the occult bookshop in the rue de Trévise, La Librairie du Merveilleux, attracted two serious minded young men, a medical student, Emmanuel Lalande, (1868-1926), and his friend, a student of pharmacy (and astrology) named Thomas.

Lalande would become widely known as Marc Haven, having followed the example of Papus by choosing a pseudonym from the list of spirits of the planetary hours in the Nuctémeron of Apollonius of Tyana. In his case ‘the spirit of dignity’. He was indeed a dignified character and became particularly influential after marrying Victoire, (1878-1904) the 19 year old daughter of Monsieur Philippe in 1897.

This close association with the family led him to write what was ostensibly a biography of an 18th century thaumaturge Le Maïtre inconnu: Cagliostro. (Cagliostro – the unknown Master), parts of which can be read between the lines, for under cover of presenting Cagliostro, he provided insights into the wonder working contemporary figure of his father-in-law Monsieur Philippe!

Who – or indeed what – was Monsieur (or Maïtre) Philippe? A saint, many people thought, and some, such as Paul Sédir, a form of the ‘second coming’ of Christ. Or, in the official view, a potentially dangerous charlatan? (One reason we have such detailed records of him is thanks to contemporary police reports!).

Papus, on the other hand, found in him a ‘spiritual’ guide who drew him, over the latter part of his life, from materialistically minded occult populariser towards a form of Christian mysticism. Some saw this as a weakness, although to my mind it was a broadening of his appreciation of the invisible world(s).

Ironically, Papus was responsible for Philippe’s involvement in Russian politics by introducing him to the royal family, over whom he developed an extraordinary influence – which was only to be expected given the couple’s personal and dynastic problems and Philippe’s ability to do something to relieve them. After which it came to be assumed by the brokers of power and their agents, rightly or wrongly, that no political initiative could be pursued without the assent of Philippe. Also that he had obtained his powerful influence by corrupting the court with beliefs of the most credulous kind, as in the example of a lady in waiting who joyfully told the tsarina “I have seen Monsieur Philippe!” only to be cut down by the reply “Nobody can see Monsieur Philippe, he is a pure spirit!”

In the end the combined efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Imperial court and the French diplomatic corps, to say nothing of the Russian secret police in Paris, succeeded in having Philippe return to France, but which only led to him being replaced by the sinister Raspoutin, a staretz or wandering ‘holy man’, who lasted until he was murdered in 1916, a decade after Monsieur Philippe had passed away from natural causes at home in Arbresle, shattered by the early death of his beloved daughter. In accordance with what many believed at the time – he could save others, but his own he could not save. Or indeed himself.

This is how Dr. Lalande described his father-in-law. (Note also the capitalisation of references !) “He was so different from us, so much greater in knowledge, so free, that none of our limitations applied to Him. Logic, morals, relationships, all for Him was not what it was for us, since the whole of life was present to Him, with past and future united in a single spirituality whose nature, essence, reasons, laws, ways of working, he knew.”

 Marc Haven’s brother, the philosopher André Lalande, also wrote how closely Emmanuel was attached to Philippe by friendship and admiration as well as relationship. That he was not simply a gifted healer due to some psycho-physiological faculty not yet understood, but that it went beyond that to a contact with divine power and inspiration. His moral authority over casual on-lookers or the afflicted who came in search of healing was indeed like a prophet surrounded by disciples, or even like Christ in the midst of the Apostles.

It was largely in celebration of Maïtre Philippe that Dr Lalande wrote his biography of Cagliostro although there was no direct parallel between the very different circumstances of Cagliostro’s 18th century life and times and those of Maïtre Philippe. It was rather a perceived similarity of character, as described in the following extracts that give the gist of Marc Haven’s vision of both men.

As for the sick, the unfortunate, who came to lay their troubles at his breast, they found in him a totally tested patience and miraculous help and their voice was unanimous in the attics of the poor and the mansions of the great in proclaiming his power and above all his kindness.

He was not only a lone dignity to be boasted about but a Friend of God and faithful soldier.

Always kindly, he refused no request; he listened, observed; his face receptive, his eye often took on a strange expression as if absorbed by the interior life for the moment and after he had replied, promising his intervention, his face resumed smiling.

When a being of light comes to you, and offers you, with proofs of great power, the witness of a good will without equal, is it admissible to harbour  a feeling of mistrust?

He overcame abuse, but always showed respect for the government and institutions of the country receiving him. But it is written in the laws of heaven that evil has a limit and that, when its tooth, after having savaged great and small, moves on to a friend of God and wounds him, it finally breaks itself there.

When asked where his knowledge and persuasive power came from he replied that, by a special favour, God inspired him and gave him the power.

He appears drying their tears, lifting those wounded by life, giving the lost traveller the strength and courage to walk until dawn, sowing joy and beauty in the shadows, illuminating the heavens, bringing the glorious beverage of immortality. That is what is important to humanity, which the earth remembers. These are the diamonds of nature preciously revealed at its breast which eternally mark the acts of its life. These letters of light  can be read; these voices of the earth can be heard; they speak of him. If our eyes are still greatly troubled and our ears unused to hear the witness, at least it is not in the phrases of a gazetteer or in police reports that we will seek his name, his titles or his face ... we evoke the kneeling crowds, the great and small of the earth before him; seeing again this being, so sublime in love within wisdom....

“I  am of no time and no place. Outside time and space, my spiritual  being lives its eternal existence, and if I plunge my thoughts into remounting the course of ages, if I bear my spirit towards a mode of existence far from that which you perceive, I become that which I desire. Consciously participating in absolute being, I rule my actions according to the milieu that surrounds me. My name is that of my function and I chose it, and thus my function, because I am free. My country is where I direct for the moment my steps. Identify yourself with yesterday, if you wish, by evoking the years lived by ancestors who are strangers to you; or of tomorrow, in illusory pride in a grandeur that will perhaps never be yours. As for me, I am that which is....

“Here I am: I am noble and a traveller; I speak and your soul trembles in recognition of ancient words; a voice within you which was killed a long time ago responds to the appeal of mine. I act, and peace returns to your hearts, and health into your bodies, hope and courage into your souls. All men are my brothers, all countries are dear to me; I cross them so that, everywhere, the Spirit can descend and find a way towards you....

“Like the South wind, like the brilliant light of the South that characterises the full knowledge of things and active communion with God,  I come towards the North, towards the fog and the cold, abandoning everywhere in my passage some parts of myself, dispensing me, diminishing me at each point, but leaving you a little clarity, a little warmth, a little strength, until I am finally stopped and definitively fixed at the end of my career, at the time when the rose blooms upon the cross...

“Why do you want anything more?  If you were children of God, if your soul was not so vain and curious, you would already have understood!...

“The progressive experience of my forces, of their sphere of action, of their scope and their limits, was the struggle I had to hold against the powers of this world. I was abandoned and tempted in the desert; I fought with the angel like Jacob, with men and with demons, and these, vanquished, have taught me the secrets that concern the empire of shadows, so that I can never lose myself in any of the routes from which no one returns. ..

“From then on I received, with a new name, a unique mission. Free and master of life, I only dreamed more to employ it for the work of God. I knew it would confirm my acts and my words, as I would confirm His name and His kingdom on Earth. There are beings who no longer have guardian angels; I am one of those.”

These citations from Cagliostro, selected by others and somewhat approximately translated by me, characterise the being and comportment of one ‘sent from Heaven’ applicable to both Cagliostro and Maïtre Philippe according to Mark Haven’s vision and observation.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017



The name “Barlet” crops up in many places in Parisian esoteric circles during the Papus period, and is the pseudonym for Albert Faucheux (1838-1921) derived from an anagram of  his Christian name. He had been a civil servant before his retirement, a registrar of births, marriages and deaths at Boulogne sur Mer and later at Abbeville, after which he seems to have maintained a toe hold in Paris in a tiny apartment down by the river. A modest and reclusive figure, dedicated and knowledgeable, never known to refuse a service to anyone, he was welcome as a senior member of esoteric groups of the time. Not only the Martinists and Rosicrucians but as a local representative for foreign organisations, such as the Anglo-American H.B.L. (Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor), who welcomed his reputation for a squeaky clean respectability.

            His name is found at the head of a number of articles in magazines or books of the period, particularly on astrology but not exclusively so, as for example 25 pages of ‘Notes on the Astral’ in the middle of Papus’ Traité Éleméntaire de Science Occulte. Michelet, as a dedicated gentleman of letters, considered Barlet’s style hardly an easy read, (and regretfully we would not quarrel with that) but the young Papus was obviously grateful, calling the notes remarkable extracts from a longer piece that he had published before in early issues of his journal l’Initiation.

            When it came to knowledge and wisdom, it is not difficult to rank Barlet alongside the likes of Saint Yves d’Alveydre, although completely different characters in temperament and social background. Barlet was certainly more modest and approachable. “Please,” he was heard to say to one enquirer, “Do not call me ‘master’ – I am just an old student.” And it was thought that, probably because of his innate modesty, he had never bothered to record his studies in any collected and systematic way, apart from a rumoured and unpublished work on the Zodiac and Planetary Spirits.  

Michelet, who met most leading occultists of his time, thought highly of him, and reckoned that Barlet was not only familiar with all myths and legends but had the ability to draw out their deeper significance, “rather like reducing fractions to a common denominator”. And even to verge on the prophetic, as he records a meeting with him in the middle of Paris in first days of July 1918.

It was easy to remember the date, for the situation was extremely worrying, as the populace expected the imminent bombardment of the city following the final desperate advance of the German army.

“Well,” he asked Barlet, “have you looked at the way things are going and worked them out?”

“Yes,” the old initiate replied, “the aspects are very good. Venus, who is our protector, is entering a favourable position. The second fortnight in July will be good for us and mark the point of the beginning of success.  In August the situation will be better and in September even better, and in October better still. I see the end of the war before the end of the year.”

As we know, this came in November 1918.

“There is one point though,” he added, “on which I am doubtful: Russia. Instead of finding guidance on that, I found myself concerned with Nicolas II and the death of the Tsar.”  (Who, in fact, with his family, had already been murdered although nobody in the west yet knew it.)

For an hour, Barlet elaborated on astrological concordances with physical events on the planet, and that day, after he left Barlet, Michelet felt convinced of the favourable process of events.

One regret bothered him though: it was that most of the knowledge and wisdom possessed by Barlet would never be presented in a coherent body of work, but simply scattered in occasional articles or conversations.

Which caused him to reflect that, although there are some people too busy teaching to be able to learn very much, Barlet was too concerned with learning to find time to teach!

A problem for actual or aspiring initiates everywhere?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


To get you started....

The Testament of Merlin  - by  Théophile Briant

translated by Gareth Knight

The one-eyed story teller began, while polishing his sword:

“In olden days things were not like they are now. Men and the gods knew each other. Men spoke with the gods, and knew their language. Animals also spoke, even the fish. I’m telling you the honest truth.”

“In olden days objects chose their owner. They were good servants to him, but not for others. One day, during the famous battle of Mag Tured, Ogma found the sword of Tethra, king of the Fomorians. Ogma drew the sword and cleaned it. Then the sword told her all that she had done since her birth. That was what swords did, when someone took it from its scabbard.”

The blacksmith showed the sword, whose steel shone in the night.

Today this sword is dumb. But I know its history.”

“How can you know it?” asked Ronan, the Seneschal’s squire.

“It speaks to me when I’m sleeping. It’s a very old sword that I keep in reserve on the orders of Merlin, the bard with the golden neck torque.”

“Keep it for who?”

“That’s a secret.”

This evocative story follows the life and work of Merlin as founder of the Round Table Fellowship, the return of Excalibur to the Lake, the safe conduct of Arthur to Avalon, the liaison with Viviane and the Faery powers in the Forest of Broceliande, the resuscitation of the disciple Adragante in the Cauldron of Keridwen, the remarkable sequence of initiations for the young knight, the tradition of the ‘threefold death’ of Merlin at the hands of some shepherds  at Drumelzier on the Scottish borders and his subsequent apotheosis.

Much of this is of great contemporary relevance in the current confrontation of Christian and Neo-Pagan dynamics – the religion of Divine Love and the religion of Ancestral Wisdom. The question  being – are they so irreconcilable as is sometimes thought?

Told by Théophile Briant , editor for twenty years of the remarkable  journal Le Goëland (The Seagull),and  a great  enthusiast and patron of all things Breton, Celtic and esoteric . Recently discovered by Gareth Knight,  translated from the French,  and published by Skylight Press.


ISBN 978-1-910098-02-8             £11.99     $18.99     Skylight Press  2017


Friday, March 24, 2017


Saint-Yves d’Alveydre - The Intellectual Master

The Marquis Saint-Yves d’Alveydre (1842-1909) was and remains one of the great names of fin de siècle French occultism. Even Papus acknowledged him as his ‘intellectual master’, superior to all apart from Maïtre Philippe who became his ‘spiritual master’. Whilst Victor-Émile Michelet writes that in his experience no one else carried such an enormous grasp of esoteric knowledge or so harmoniously expressed it.

He became something of a recluse after the death of his wife, devoted himself to esoteric study and was visited only by the occasional student, which could be something of a marathon.

Michelet recalls going to visit him one Sunday morning and not getting away until evening after a whole day’s discourse on various esoteric questions. Most of these Saint-Yves had never written about, as he was extremely cautious when it came to traditions of occult secrecy, despite writing a whole raft of books. His early studies had been under the influence of savants of the 18th century and we should not be misled by the assumption that this period was completely dominated by the rationalism of the Encyclopaedists or the mockery of Voltaire. The time was also rife with hermeticists and mystagogues. Fabre d’Olivet, in particular, (through his works, The Hebrew Tongue restored etc.) opened the way for Saint-Yves who, by his own efforts, went beyond his teachers, although some have accused him of plagiarising them.

What became his major works were a book La Mission des Juifs (The Mission of the Jews) and a device, l’Archéomètre. At least this is the opinion of Michelet, writing his memoirs many years later. In fact Saint-Yves wrote a whole series of books on the development of human civilisation of which La Mission des Juifs was generally reckoned to be the culmination, while the Archéomètre was a device similar to Wronski’s that ended up rescued, in a somewhat parlous condition, by Eliphas Levi. As far as one can gather, it was a three dimensional mechanical device with much the same functions as the Tarot plus considerable ancillary zodiacal and similar symbolism. It seems to have been a kind of ingenious pre-computer that fascinated many at the time but which appears something of an enigma nowadays. Whether this is to our loss or gain remains a matter for conjecture.

Certainly, when it comes to the series of books, we could categorise Saint-Yves as a kind of Western equivalent to Madame Blavatsky and later attempts, from W.B.Yeats to Alice A. Bailey, to account for the universe on umpteen cosmic planes. One is likely to be either very impressed or very sceptical – or awkwardly shunteded somewhere inbetween.

We may feel, from the sketchiness of his remarks, that Michelet was somewhat out of his depth when it came to interviews with the hyper intellectual and intuitional Saint-Yves. However, we also have an account from our alchemist friend Jollivet Castelot, who spent some time with the sage, whom he refers to as ‘the Grey Eminence of Hermeticism’ or  ‘the enigmatic Hermit’.

It was not easy to arrange a meeting, and had to be done through a number of intermediaries,  possibly after several attempts, as the great man disliked the idly curious or the importunate; his fastidious delicacy and high intellectuality caused him to avoid contact with those he regarded as imbeciles or fools, so he was quite incapable of being a populariser like the highly sociable Papus and his friends.

Castelot found the white furniture and Louis XV sculptures in Saint-Yves’ apartments in Versailles to be in much the same antique style as one would expect in a town conceived and steeped in ancient royalty. Whatever the semi-Bohemian Michelet says about Saint-Yves having come down in the world after his wife’s death, he was still comfortably off, thanks to connections with the family of Napoleon III. The carpets were soft and thick underfoot, the curtains heavy, the armchairs deep and covered in fine silk. Each piece of furniture and ornament indicating refined taste. Silence reigned; almost mystic in its calm fragrance.

Saint-Yves invited him into the little private salon that he kept as a sanctuary for his private thoughts and that communicated with an oratory. He asked Castelot to sit before him, his face to the light, and thus dominated his guests, keeping them under his regard. Sporting a well cut frock coat with the prestigious thin ribbon of the Legion of Honour, he sat in a throne-like chair of purple velvet, his legs casually crossed, a cigarette between his fingers, captivating all with a lordly charm - like an elderly courtier, senior churchman, or professional diplomat says Castelot..

Conversation was more like a monologue but Saint-Yves spoke admirably, handling words with consummate art that produced the effect of fine music – and he expected people to listen attentively. Any interruption cut his flow, and any contradiction was disagreeable to him, for he expected people to be convinced by the superiority of his discourse.

According to Jollivet Castelot it was best to sit back and let him express his ideas in full force, which were usually beautifully and harmoniously expressed in the context of a deep background of metaphysics. The Gnostic doctrines of Saint-Yves were vast and fruitful, like the universal nature that they claimed to express.

He commented on the theory of the Incarnate Word, the universal immanence and transcendence of Christian Redemption, the fundamental unity of all religions, derived from a Christianity developed from an original Catholicism, constituting a universal synthesis embracing the origin of languages and the symbolism of alphabets, hieroglyphs, philosophies, societies and arts, which he had reconstituted by means of his Archéomètre, to which he had put the final touch after twenty years of study, aided by the revelations of a Brahmin initiated into the ultimate divine Mysteries. Thanks to this, seekers would finally possess the sovereign key to all Nature, all religions, all knowledge, as the Archéomètre would reveal the supreme arcana of the Gnosis, Hermeticism, Alchemy, Astrology and Magic. The marquis stopped his flow of instruction only to offer another cigarette, glass of superior champagne or a pink biscuit.

Castelot was still there at six o’clock in the evening, and returned two days later to remain just as long under the prestigious charm and ennobling influence and dialectic of  this incomparable intellectual mystic, marvelling at the ease and grace of his metaphysical constructions and immense horizons, along with a general critique of diverse modern systems.

Saint-Yves made little of current occult teaching or the esoteric movement in general. His ideas on initiation, secret societies and magic differed considerably from the opinions of Papus, Guaita and others. He had little use for their occult systems or even most occultists, considering their definitions arbitrary and their practices dangerous. He identified true Magic with pure Religion and absolute Knowledge – that only those identified with Christ attained, for they then lived in God.

Nonetheless he enjoyed enormous respect from his contemporaries including Castelot and it is not easy for us to come to our own assessment of his teaching without wading through a great deal of untranslated work, at least until the recent translation of his Mission de l’Inde en Europe  (The Mission of India to Europe) of 1886 under the title of The Kingdom of Agartha – A Journey into the Hollow Earth, which book maintains that deep below the Himalayas were enormous underground cities under the rule of a sovereign pontiff known as the Brahâtma. Throughout history, the ‘unknown superiors’ cited by secret societies were believed to be emissaries from this realm who had moved underground at the onset of the Kali-Yuga, the Iron Age. Ruled in accordance with the highest principles, the kingdom of Agarttha, sometimes known as Shamballa, represents a world that is far advanced beyond our modern culture, both technologically and spiritually. The inhabitants possess amazing skills their aboveground counterparts have long since forgotten and it is home to huge libraries of books engraved in stone, enshrining the collective knowledge of humanity from its remotest origins. Saint-Yves explained that this secret world would be made available for humanity when Christianity and all other known religions of the world began to truly honour their own sacred teachings.

Personally a little of this goes a long way despite my respect for Joscelyn Godwin who claims “There is a grandeur to this book. Its vivid and elegant prose lifts it far above the logorrheic authors of visionary and channelled literature. It rivals the fantasy fiction of H.P.Lovecraft or Jorge Luis Borges and reminds us that the earth is a place with many unexplained corners, enigmas and surprises in store for us surface dwellers.”

I am still not convinced, not being a Lovecraft or Borges enthusiast anyway, but then I am known to have been wrong before. We must each find our own way through the labyrinth!

Friday, March 17, 2017



The COMPANY OF AVALON are putting on a short course at Hawkwood College from April 3rd to 6th  entitled FROM EDEN TO AVALON.  

and the annual Dion Fortune Seminar at Glastonbury Town Hall will take place on 23rd September 2017

for details go to their new web site

Wednesday, March 08, 2017


Eliphas Levi, the Tarot and Monsieur Philippe revisited

We began this series of chats about occultism in France during the belle époque by concentrating upon Eliphas Levi, and indeed it is only as we have progressed – looking at those he influenced – that I have realised what an important figure he was. Even if he didn’t get all his facts right he was convincing enough to persuade others to follow his vision; and so the movement grew, inspiring enthusiastic organisers, publicists  and researchers such as  Papus  and the rest. It is thus a little surprising that he comes rather late in the sequence of memoirs by Victor-Émile Michelet – but when he does his life story illustrates some of the deeper effects of initiation.

As Michelet records, Eliphas Levi died on 31st May 1875, after a turbulent life ranging from priesthood to imprisonment, wandering actor and popular portraitist, socialist agitator and guest of English lords, all the while coming to terms with ‘the astral light’ over years of meditation and experiment. As Michelet remarks, while it is true that ‘the spirit bloweth where it listeth’ it also brings testing times to those who seek to reveal its secrets; and after his initiation, from whatever source, he seemed sustained by an interior occult force, and became an excellent and compelling writer.

The contemporary poet Catulle Mendès used to recite sentences from Levi’s Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie that he had memorised for their beauty. But before his ‘second birth’ the political and religious pamphleteer Alphonse-Louis Constant was only a mediocre writer. Michelet puts the sudden change down to his inspiring ‘daimon’ in the Socratic sense, and reckons that one can see a similar case in the playwright Corneille, who wrote very ordinary plays in his early period, until suddenly, after Le Cid, he wrote masterpiece after masterpiece.

It was the same with Eliphas Levi, who in his early period wrote books and pamphlets with no more value than their generous intention, but in the light of initiation wrote several where the most profound knowledge was expressed in the language of a consummate artist. He may have written between times at a lower level, but in Michelet’s estimation, books written in the final period of his life attain the heights of his best. In my view this is probably more easily discerned in the original French rather than the somewhat ponderous English translations by A.E.Waite.

This has led to  Eliphas Levi’s interpretations being taken as the one and only true by the French, despite some gross and discernable errors of fact – picked up from Court de Gebelin’s earlier speculations – but nonetheless, honestly pursued, the system works, as systems usually will. In latter years, study of the Tarot has increased so exponentially and in so many directions that early differences of interpretation, once thought infallible, can now be realised for what they are; and for what an individual or a group can get out of them by sustained meditation and contemplation.

One can imagine however, how disconcerted earlier generations of occultists have felt when confronted with such differences of interpretation. No reason to wonder why Papus should have resigned so quickly from the French branch of the Golden Dawn when it was first set up in Paris. No excuse for differences from perceived or claimed authority in those days! 

So anyone who wants to get the best out of French occultism had best decide to follow Eliphas Levi – most of the rest of that nation have, from Oswald Wirth to Marc Haven to name but two respected later writers on the subject. In my own books on Tarot I have pursued a number of alternative lines, in the hope of broadening rather than confusing minds. One of them, Tarot & Magic, written some years ago, has just been translated into Italian; its latest incarnation being named Tarocchi e Magia, which gives me something of a warm glow to think that in a sense the Tarot is returning home on a ticket provided by me – for according to the best scholarship Italy is where the wondrous system started from in the form that most of us know it, (cf A Wicked Pack of Cards and A History of the Occult Tarot, by Professor Michael Dummett and his friends).

Marc Haven, by the way, was a Christian Qabalist like myself, and also had the best of both worlds – magical and mystical – in having married Victoria, the daughter of Maïtre Philippe, the remarkable thaumaturge, referred to by Michelet as “the little peasant of the Lyonnais” Philippe Nizier Vachod, whom they called ‘Monsieur Philippe’ whose role in secret history  has never been accurately told,  and perhaps never will. What seems certain to Michelet is that if the French government of the day and its diplomats had  been less stupid, they would have helped Philippe instead of persecuting him, the last imperial couple in Russia would not have fallen into the power of Rasputin, and the inevitable Bolshevik revolution would have been delayed.

So who was this Philippe? A great thaumaturge, a saint, some say, a popular charlatan the official world replies. But the official mind understands nothing of anything that does not fall into the narrow confines of rational belief. Truly, Philippe seems to have been an excellent ordinary kind of man but gifted with real powers as a healer and visionary . No doubt he would have spent the rest of his life in his house at Arbresle near Lyons attending to the needs of the sick if Papus had not precipitated him into political adventures.”

We will return to this educative but depressing story at a later date. For much hangs upon it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Thèophile Briant [1891-1956] and the Testament of Merlin

If any French writer could qualify for the title of a Son of Hermes then the Breton writer, magazine editor and publisher Theophile Briant would certainly be up there high at the top of the list. Born in 1891 he comes a little out of sequence in our listing but we mention him now in light of his remarkable  book The Testament of Merlin which has just been translated into English (by myself) and published by Skylight Press.

A great enthusiast of all things Breton, Celtic and Arthurian Briant spent twelve years writing this powerful account of the life and work of Merlin. Reviews were enthusiastic when it first appeared, (in  1975, 19 years after his death!) describing the author as  poet, visionary and novelist all at once. Able to create characters and give them life, he reveals a mastery of the art of evocative description and  scenes are impregnated with the Celtic and religious atmosphere of the epoch.

Steeped in the tradition of the Mysteries he structures his work on a three fold framework. The first section opens in a sixth century Summer Solstice as King Arthur’s fleet leaves Armorica en route for ‘the Last Battle’ against Mordred and the Saxons. The second is an initiatory sequence featuring faery mysteries in the Forest of Broceliande. And the third, which ends the life of Merlin (on the physical plane at any rate) is enacted against a back drop of claims between old and new religions.

Although the Round Table Fellowship is defeated at the Last Battle it nonetheless ends with the conviction that “We may have been beaten at Salisbury but King Arthur still lives”.  How can he be dead when he had Merlin for a friend and protector and had been transported, still living, off to Avalon?

As the King sleeps in Avalon the earthly action is taken up by Merlin ‘of the golden torque and star’ one of whose functions as a bard has been to rouse the blood of the warriors in battle; a druid certainly, brought up in the religion of the Ancestors, that of Nature, but who had in infancy met one of the many Christian missionaries of the time, bringing a message of love and forgiveness from a man in the the East called Christ. Son of an unknown God, who had been put to death by his fellows and of whom a certain Joseph of Arimathea has piously collected the blood. The Cup that was passed round in the meal of the Round Table Fellowship before the Last Battle was said to be the symbol of sacrifice of this god and was of some attraction to younger knights since it was said that the purest of  them might be worthy to possess this precious cup whose secret has not yet been revealed to anyone.

On the evening of the terrible battle of Salisbury unspeakable grief had been the lot of the few survivors, which include Merlin who, however, is able take charge of the bodies of the two whom he loves most, his king, and his young disciple, Adragante the Gael. Not being able to accept that the death of these two friends can be the ‘unimaginable dawn’ of the Christian god he appeals to the god of occult forces, via his former master, the Druid high priest of the forest, who has promised him help if he maintains the ancient faith. Like Roland on the evening of defeat at Roncevaux, Merlin sounds his silver horn, and in the night, from afar another horn responds.

The deal is done! No Christian any more, nor life as king’s bard, Merlin returns to the solitude of the forest, attentive to the voices of Nature to revive his soul in his own way, which involves the not unpleasant setting up in a rock crystal castle with the faery Viviane and renewing acquaintance with his old friend the ferryman Barynthus who drops by from time to time in his world encompassing ship.   

King Arthur is not dead; some time he will return. As for Adragante, ‘reborn’ by the old magic of his Master, he will be witness of what is to follow, but only by writing, for one problem of the cauldron of Keridwen is that although it can resuscitate it renders the recipient dumb – a child of silence, or son of  secrecy, product of a Truth that abandons itself to the Shadows. With the fervour of disciple, Adragante begins a journal and it is through his eyes and his pen that the story continues, which is also one of initiation.

Many tests await him: cold, hunger, storm, loneliness, on this coast of Armorica or confined  to the depths of the forest . But Merlin had warned and prepared him.

At the threshold of the route are many teachings and symbols;  a rebel boar, national emblem of Brittany, a solar bear that triumphs by Intelligence, a golden apple tree of Knowledge, a flower of the Graal, mystically flowing with blood issuing from the Crucifixion to perpetuate its memory. Here too is a sacred book of wisdom from which writing is absent (to avoid any error of interpretation) with 78 images, 22 Trumps, 9 numbers, that give the adept the Key to the Universe and Life.

Guided by his master, Adragante descends to the submarine depths and their inhabitants; lower still, to the centre of the Earth where the Fire, principle of all life, reveals to a few initiates the secret of the Great Work; finally to the hall of eternal Time, hung with its deceiving mirrors of Past and Future. It is in these that he sees the plain strewn with the corpses of Salisbury. And an even more terrible sight, a vague form, wearing the white robe of the druids, and the five pointed star of the bards, falling, face bloody, under a hail of stones. The ‘threefold death’ of Merlin at the hands of some shepherds in the Scottish border country.

 He must however vanquish his fears of menacing serpents until, winning free from the underworld caverns, aided by Merlin, he breaks through to the light of dawn by the sea, the sun flooding the bay of Cézembre, from whence the story began, now reflecting the Infinite Light of God the Creator. It had been necessary to confront the Shadows to approach the great mysteries of Life and Death, and accede to a new life, illuminated by Knowledge and Love.

That had been Merlin’s the wish for him:  the initiation of the disciple until he sees his Master disappear from his sight in a mysterious and triumphal ascension.

Merlin it seems was a man torn between two religions that he needed to reconcile, Druidism and Christianity, each necessary to his soul thirsting for the Infinite – and perhaps like Théophile Briant himself,  for in the front of one of his books is the following quotation.

“Modulating in turn, on the Lyre of Orpheus 

The sighs of the Saint and the Faery’s cry.”  [Gérard de Nerval]

Thursday, February 09, 2017


A View from the Lab

The alchemist François Jolivet Castelot felt that neglect of a laboratory approach to the occult  to be detrimental to the truth because too ‘mystical’ (by which he really meant psychological – the truly mystical power play of the likes of Maïtre Philippe or certain saints of the church is something yet again!).

So in support of the laboratory context, his book La Science Alchimique  (1904) contained a photograph of himself and three associates at work in ‘the laboratory of the Alchemical Society of France’. Or rather, not so much ‘at work’ as posed in smart suits, gentlemen amateurs in theatrical attitudes of scientific discovery.

The ‘laboratory’ is decorated with the kind of tasteful wall paper one might expect to find in a well furnished provincial villa in his hometown of Douai, garnished with an array of presumably scientific hardwear, including a lit Bunsen burner, to which, ironically and possibly dangerously, no one is paying any attention.

One of the four consults a book as bulky as a church bible, whilst the other three are gazing in awe, at the mysterious contents of a small bottle.

This genteel display is obviously a far cry from the lab work of the Curies, shovelling tons of uranium ore in their back yard in search of radium, but at least it demonstrates an awareness of public relations remarkable for 1904. It is a pity that they backed the wrong horse, so to speak. And it was the Curies who picked up the Nobel prizes - although at a heavy cost to their health.  

But the epoch was fertile for the exchange of ideas, and the most successful teachers and practitioners were also the most skilled communicators – such as Castelot, Papus or Paul Sédir in the esoteric field.

In part this meant involvement in group projects such as the recently revived Martinist Order but it included the willingness and ability to cross boundaries and talk to those of other schools of thought, including individuals of international reputation in other spheres.

One such was the Swedish playwright, August Strindberg, who for some years was preoccupied with alchemy and wrote a review of one of Castelot’s books in the daily paper Le Figaro. During a wandering life he came to live in Paris for a time and uncharacteristically invited the young man to call on him. So one cold foggy winter’s evening François duly turned up at the shabby hotel – mostly occupied by students – in which Strindberg chose to stay. The concierge had a standing order to admit no one, for Strindberg hated visitors, but on persisting and sending in his card François was eventually admitted to a small chilly room that even lacked  a fire.

The great  alchemist playwright was seated at a bare wooden table on which some manuscripts were scattered, the remains of supper, and some miscellaneous items of glassware upon which a candle cast a guttering light. The only other furniture was an iron bedstead, a bedside table, a couple of wicker chairs, a small trunk and a portable wash stand.

Strindberg rose, very tall and straight, and offered his hand, putting Castelot in mind of an old Viking, with grey hair cut short over an immense forehead. He described him as giving the impression of a shy colossus, with pale blue eyes, cold as the fiords, as limpid as a child’s, with icy reflections of nickel and steel, and a bushy moustache that bristled like an angry cat.

He spoke execrable French with a guttural accent of which Castelot could understand not a word, but knew enough German for some conversation to be possible, though not without difficulty.

August Strindberg was a member of the Swedenborgian church and his ideas appeared close to occultism as a result. In alchemy the two shared much the same views, both believing in hylozoism, the presence of life in all matter.

Strindberg showed his visitor the result of some experiments he had performed involving iron sulphide, ammonia and oxalic acid and in time their relationship became closer. They exchanged formulae in regular correspondence, with the Scandinavian becoming an adviser to the French Alchemical Association and a regular contributor its journal, the Rosa Alchemica.

Castelot tried to convert Strindberg entirely to hermeticism, and introduced him to Papus and Sédir, only to be met with misunderstandings as Strindberg’s distrust, brusqueness, and sensitivity clashed with Parisian self-regard and deference to leaders of the Martinist Order. The project was eventually abandoned and the Swede continued his solitary way.

Castelot still cast his net wide however, remarkably including one of the most important figures in the scientific world, Marcellin Berthelot (1827-1907) – considered by some one of the greatest chemists of all time, and called ‘the father of organic chemistry’ in that he synthesised a number of organic compounds from inorganic substances – a transition regarded as impossible by conventional chemists but which was not entirely at odds with alchemical theories and assumptions. And in later life Bertholet researched and wrote books on the early history of chemistry and the origins of alchemy, and translated a number of medieval texts and manuscripts.

He even admitted the theoretical possibility of transmuting metals and the synthesis of elements, despite rejecting the burgeoning atomic theory, and was sympathetic to Castelot’s aims and ideas if not a follower of them – discussing amicably and questioning sympathetically Castelot’s beliefs and procedures.

Another important contact, of immense personality, social contacts and administrative power,  was the colourful minor aristocrat Lieutenant-Colonel Count Rochas d’Aiglun, who was administrator of the archaic yet highly prestigious École Polytechnic, and played an important role in supporting and authorising research into subjects such as the theory and practice of hypnotic states, the exteriorisation of sensibility, the whole domain of magic, contact with the Other World , the appearance of phantoms, powers of the interior senses and the possiblities of enchantment and magnetic influence. Certainly no mage or sorcerer went further than Rochas into the realms of the after life. He was described by Castelot as a tough feverish little man with a sardonic expression on a face part faunlike and part Mephistophelean, fearless necromancer and pioneer magnetiser and magician without reproach who successfully thwarted occasional attempts to deprive him of his commanding academic position.

These early researchers  had the courage of their convictions and could be thoroughly unreasonable as well as successful men!