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!