Sunday, January 08, 2017


François Jolivet Castelot - alchemist - and Madame de Thebes, society clairvoyant.

Turning a new page for a new year, {my contacts seem to like a rest between Advent and Twelfth Night}we will leave aside for a time the last days of Maïtre Philippe –  “Friend of God” and “spiritual master” of Papus – to follow the steps of a very active newcomer, the enthusiastic young alchemist François Jolivet Castelot.

After his initiation into the Martinist Order {that we described in SH16} he set about forming an alchemical society, devoted to collecting relevant books and manuscripts and encouraging  the performance of alchemical experiments; his belief being that Matter is inseparable from Life and that every atom and molecule of a metal or a mineral expresses the Universal Will according to the degree of evolution it has attained.

Founding a monthly magazine, Rosa Alchemica, he organised meetings at public restaurants to encourage enquirers, although was disappointed that many were what he regarded as too “Parisian”, that is to say preferring to chat and speculate about occult theories rather than apply themselves to the prayer, practice and discipline of laboratory work. 

Although this did not prevent François from seeking guidance from wherever he might find it, including the fashionable society clairvoyant, Madame de Thebes, who for the past twenty five years had operated a psychic consultancy in luxurious apartments near the Arc de Triomphe. Her impressive list of clients included the Empress of Austria and the Queen of Italy as well as a number of artistes from establishments such as the Opèra, the Vaudeville and the Comedie-Française.  Albums full of their autographed portraits decorated her rooms along with an impressive bevy of model elephants {don’t ask me why!}of various sizes, in bronze, copper or porcelain.

A bejewelled and matronly figure now in her fifties, an hour of whose time originally set back clients a golden ‘Louis’ – or 20 franc piece – the equivalent of ten Victorian sovereigns – that eventually inflated to twenty four times that sum.

Matching her style to those who came for guidance, she received the young alchemist rather after the style of an ancient temple priestess granting audience to a junior magus. In an analysis of his character and fortune, examining  his hands with the aid of a magnifying glass, she predicted eventual success that would be earned through his own efforts, for though luck might not always favour him, given due application he would  attain the mental poise that could bring high achievement.

She also encouraged  his current political sympathies, that at the time followed those of the Duc d’Orléans in supporting the restoration of the monarchy. With her list of aristocratic customers, perhaps this was to be expected!  Although it has to be said that twenty years later the highly idealistic young man became committed to Christian communism – a combination that did not help his prospects, political or mystical, terribly well.

However, in terms of the present, like many of her kind, Madame de Thebes’  high degree of popularity probably rested on the psychological skills of a sensitive and sympathetic ‘agony aunt’ rather than a mastery of the secrets of cheiromancy – or palmistry. But let credit rest where it is due!

One of the youngest of Papus’ trusted associates, Jolivet Castelot visited Paris frequently during the next few years, admitted to the higher Martinist lodges and appointed Professor of Alchemy and Spagyric Medicine.  He also covered Magic, Hermetic Therapeutics, Astrology, Alchemy, History of Occultism, Mysticism and the Divinatory Arts, although techniques of ceremonial magic gradually played a lesser role, becoming regarded as contrary to Martinist principles; preference being given to Kabbalistic tradition and esoteric Christianity.   An influence coming no doubt from Maïtre Philippe, although also implicit in Saint-Martin’s original approach to the doctrines and practice of his initial teacher, Martinès de Pasqually .


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