Monday, March 28, 2016


Stanislas de Guaita & Joséphin Péladan as pen pals

In the hundred or so letters written by Stanislas de Guaita to Joséphin Péladan over a seven year period from 1884 to 1891, we can trace the story of the re-launching of a Rosicrucian fraternity in Paris and the development of de Guaita’s life long commitment to the occult sciences and traditions.

On receiving a reply to his enthusiastic letter of 3rd November 1884 praising Le Vice suprême Stanislas followed up by saying he had been aware of Péledan’s work over the past couple of years in support of painters such as Puvis de Chavannes, Félicien Rops and Gustave Moreau, who later became associated with the Symbolist movement in the arts.

His enthusiasm for Péledan’s novel, with its magus hero, suggests that Stanislas was ripe for a greater acceptance of the occult world, a fact that had been suspected by others such as the  poet, playwright and novelist Catulle Mendès who presented him with the works of Eliphas Levi. He duly read these, but, as he admits to Péladin, only superficially. It needed the novelist’s vivid descriptions of the rottenness in contemporary high life, countered by Mérodack, an aspiring ‘magus’, to stimulate his imagination.

It was not long before the two met when, in March 1885,  the perfectionist young  poet offered to tighten up some of Joséphin’s work before it went to press – an offer that, to his credit, Péladan was not too proud to refuse. It is true that, highly gifted as he was as a popular and perceptive novelist, correct and elegant prose was not one of his priorities.

They also enjoyed an enthusiastic search for rare books throughout their correspondence as, apart from occasional short term domestic crises, Stanislas was not short of cash. He lived with his mother in a large modern chateau at Alteville in Lorraine for much of the year, when not drawn to Paris.

The two got on very well despite a marked difference in life style. For whilst Stanislas was quite conventional as befits a hereditary marquis, Péladan was a born exhibitionist to the point of self caricature. A trait which may have helped him in the earlier part of his career but which became a liability when later detractors tried to dismiss him as a buffoon and poseur. He had, for instance, a great passion for ancient Assyria and Chaldea to the point of insisting that he was of the ancient blood royal and bestowing the title “Sâr”– meaning “king” – upon himself. He also dressed the part, complete with abundant aureole of black hair and forked beard.

Their friendship deepened in June 1885 with Péladan’s second novel, Curieuse, which contained a character Nébo, an apprentice to the magus Mérodack. It did not take long for Stanislas to associate each of them with these two characters. Thus we find them calling each other Mérodack and Nébo – complete with mystic signs – of Jupiter for Mérodack and Mercury for Nébo. And although this may have begun as something of a joke there was evidently a deeper side to it as revealed in a letter of August 1886 which tells that Stanislas has been in touch with a leading member of a Rosicrucian fraternity based in Toulouse. One to which Péladan’s elder brother had belonged until his death the year before.

It confirms that, at Josephin Péladan’s suggestion, Stanislas had made contact with the writer of Adrian Péladan’s obituary – signed “a Catholic R+C” and probably Firmin Boissin – which had led to Stanislas’ initiation into the Order. For he refers to Boissin as “Bois+sin”,  begins to add the logo “R+C” to his own signature, and to call Joséphin “mon cher Frère” (dear Brother).

It also appears that the Toulouse Rosicrucian order had began to lose momentum, as there is an interesting reference in the 2nd (1890) edition of de Guaita’s Au Seuil du Mystère, that reads: “The ancient order of the Rose-Croix being on the point of going dormant three years ago when two direct heirs of its august traditions resolved to restore it by consolidating it on new foundations...”

This would have been written some time in 1889, putting the year in question as 1886, and a time when things had been begun to hot up in Paris with the activities of Papus and his friends. It was not long before they began to join forces in addition to contributing to Le Lotus and l’Initiation. There begin to appear against writers’ names the letters S.I. or the Hebrew letter Aleph () accompanied by a triangle of dots, indicating, to those who knew,  allegiance to the Martinist Order or to the Kabalistic Order of the Rose+Croix.

The two organisations were closely connected, with much the same members in their ruling councils. The Ordre Martiniste was the initiative of Papus and Augustan Chabaseau, who claimed to have been initiated by close relatives some years before. (One Martinist tradition was the right of any member to initiate anyone else of their choosing, thus there was an individual as well as a corporate side to the movement).

Membership of l’Ordre Kabbalistique de la Rose-Croix seemed rather more prestigious, being restricted to members of the Martinist Order who had attained its third degree – S.I. standing for “senior inconnu” or unknown senior, following the tradition of the reclusive Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, often called “the Unknown Philosopher”.

In support of this we also find in the 1892 and 1894 (3rd  and 4th) editions of de Guaita’s Au Seuil du Mystère the text of an address to a newly initiated 3rd Degree Martinist  – delivered by Stanislas de Guaita – who was accorded the honour of head of the Rosicrucian Order for life, no doubt in recognition of his activity at this time, intellectual standing, social prestige, wealth and willingness to devote an apartment in Paris, along with use of its library, to meetings of friends and associates.

The organisation soon proved unstable however, and began to unravel before the end of 1890, as Joséphin Péledan found himself increasingly out of sympathy with the aims of the others. The reasons for this we will pursue when we turn to the history of his breakaway group  l’Ordre de la Rose+Croix Catholique du Temple et du Graal, with himself as Grand Master using the name of Sâr Mérodack Péladan.

Whilst this gave the appearance of a sudden outburst of self indulgence on his part, or an inability to share power with anyone else (and there is no doubt some truth in this) the differences go far deeper than this. With the benefit of hindsight it is possible to see points of difficulty that came up in earlier correspondence, but differences that could be tacitly accepted or glossed over as honest differences between friends became a different matter when concerned with the policy of public organisations.  They might all have felt increasingly at odds with the oriental bias of the Theosophical Society and sought to recover and promote a Western esoteric tradition, but Papus, with his vastly successful and largely secular G.I.E.E. tended to regard occultism as a branch of science, which could be pursued as such, whereas to Joséphin Péladan the issues were deeper, involving aesthetic, moral, religious and political elements.

{P.S. for pedants – Merodack can be variously spelled according to whether you read the novel or the letters. G.K.}

Monday, March 14, 2016


Stanislas de Guaita & Joséphin Péledan at the Threshold of the Mysteries

So far we have been largely concerned with the life and work of Gérard Encausse, or ‘Papus’,    but remarkable though his influence was, he was not the only young man to cause a stir in esoteric circles in late 19th century Paris. Another mover and shaker was a very different individual, by the name of Stanislas de Guaita, a descendant of minor Italian nobility with considerable literary abilities and inherited wealth.

Once again the memoirs of  Émile-Victoire Michelet provide us with an introduction. And while he had not been too impressed at his first encounter with Papus – the stumbling orator at the Theosophical Society meeting – his impressions of Stanislas could hardly have been greater. Indeed so impressed was he that in the end he ranked him with such pioneers as  Eliphas Levi, Hoene Wronski and Fabre-d’Olivet.

But at the time of their first meeting, in 1880, when both had not long turned 20, their ambitions lay in the direction of literature rather than occultism. Both were budding poets and indeed in this same year Stanislas saw publication of his first slim book of poetry Oiseaux de Passage (Birds of Passage). Apart from a brief reference to Alchemy there was no hint esoteric interest in it, although next to literature his burning interest at school and college had been chemistry, with a somewhat darker leaning toward toxicology.  

It may have been something a little more than youthful romanticism that led Michelet to fantasise about some deeper significance to their meeting. In that he, a young Breton poet from the west, should be meeting up with one from Lorraine in the east, on the ‘mount of St. Geneviève’ in Paris. That is to say a promontory on the left bank of the Seine that has the Pantheon, the resting place of the nation’s great at its summit. More prosaically their meeting was in a Latin quarter café, the introductions being effected by Maurice Barrès, a former schoolfriend of Stanislas and fellow literary hopeful.

But it was not a pairing of these two in the field of literature that was to come to pass. Stanislas certainly attained great stature in the literature of French occultism but only after coming under the influence of another young man who had recently arrived in Paris – come up from the south. His name was Joséphin Péledan, eager to make his way in the artistic world, scraping a living as a bank clerk while trying to establish a reputation as an art critic.

Back home his elder brother Adrian, a member of a Rosicrucian society in Toulouse, had been deeply committed to occultism. Ten years older than Joséphin, he was a qualified doctor and one of the first to practice homeopathy. Unfortunately he was not to live much longer. In 1885 a pharmacist’s error caused his death by strychnine poisoning but not before young Joséphin had found sudden fame – not as an art critic but as a  novelist.

In 1884, his self-published  Le Vice suprême took the book trade by storm. Far from being a salacious pot boiler as its title might suggest it was a critique of modern society with leading characters accomplished in the esoteric arts. Indeed, along with a series of similar novels, Péladan ‘spiritual adventurer and lover of life’ as a blurb described him, followed up with a collection of teachings Comment on devient Mage  (How to become a Magus), although it had nowhere the impact of the  novel.

When Stanislas de Guaita read Le Vice suprême he was bowled over by it. We are fortunate that a series of letters has survived from him to Péledan. Quoting from the first, sent on November 3rd 1884 ....I have just read your fine book ‘Le Vice suprême’ – and have re-read it several times for it is one that can only enthuse or horrify a reader – for it appears to be either a masterpiece or a hoax.  I dare to admit that I am one who has been enthused by it......It seems to me that the Kabbala is a superb science with grandiose dogmas and incomparable myths. I consider the abbé Constant a great man and the mockery to which he is subjected make him all the greater in my eyes.

 Indeed Stanislas was inspired to devote the rest of his life to an analysis of occult theory and practice in a series of books. The first, Essais de Sciences maudites  (Essays on Forbidden Sciences) in 1886, was eventually extended to three times its length and renamed Au Seuil du Mystère (At the Threshold of the Mysteries). It was the forerunner for Le Serpent de La Genèse (The Serpent of Genesis) planned to be published  in three volumes as Le Temple de Satan, (The Temple of Satan) in 1891; La Clef de la Magie Noire (The Key to Black Magic) in 1897,  and Le Problème du Mal (The Problem of Evil) that unfortunately was never finished, in fact barely started. He died at the age of 36 at the end of 1897  probably hastened by narcotics taken as a relief from persistent migraines.

The writing of these books was not his only legacy however. Along with Péladan, and later incorporating Papus, he founded the Ordre Kabbalistique de la Rose+Croix (Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross). He also amassed a remarkable occult library of over 2000 volumes that he made available to associates and friends in Paris, along with use of his extensive apartment for meetings and practical occult work.

In the meantime Joséphin Péladan, with a separate agenda and eventually separate Kabbalistic Order made great inroads into French and European artistic culture with a series of projects embodying the Symbolist movement in art, music and theatre.

The story of their achievements, and vicissitudes, was instructive at the time and remains so, not only as bench marks of what can be achieved, but also as warning signals on what it may be best to avoid. As with Papus and his friends, the ideals and inexperience of youth (most were under 30) were both advantages and disadvantages in their voyages of discovery.

Monday, March 07, 2016


The Science of the Magi

Papus liked to divide his books into three parts. First the theory.  Then principles for putting the theory into practice. And finally examples of actual practice. After which there might be a number of Appendices on various topics. His Treatise on Practical Magic is no exception.

Those who move on from his elementary introduction are, however, in for a shock, for the next chapter plunges into erudite theorising. It is in fact not by Papus himself but reprinted from l’Apodictique Messianique by Hoëné Wronski (1776-1853) a tragic figure who wrote a number of abstruse works of esoteric philosophy that few could understand and others didn’t want to. Latterly a friend of Eliphas Levi, he died of starvation when faced with the prospect of selling former published works as waste paper in order to pay for publishing new ones. A computer buff before his time, he also invented a kind of encyclopaedic machine, the remains of which ended up in a junk shop until discovered and kept as a curio by Eliphas Levi.

Obviously high on Papus’ list of esoteric pioneers, Wronski’s encyclopaedic review of the different forms of magic makes for challenging reading even though Papus claimed that differences from his own ideas were so slight as to be not worth mentioning. By no means a plagiarist, for he always acknowledged his sources, but with all the demands on his time along with his sense of missionary urgency, Papus did not believe in doing his own writing if he could use someone else’s. A trait which, in other areas, made him a formidable organiser of other peoples’ talents.   

However, passing on from Wronski to his own description of the inner constitution of the human body and its correspondences with the natural world, we can begin to appreciate the relevance of his medical studies, and his esoteric approach to them, which was in terms of  a triplicity, with an overriding fourth. Thus (i) the head, (ii) the torso above the diaphragm, and (iii) the torso below the diaphragm –  which are embraced and overseen by a higher form of consciousness.

The lower torso corresponds anatomically to the digestive organs, physical form expression, and the domain of sensation and instinct. The upper torso corresponds to the chest, heart and lungs, physical vitality and the domain of emotion and higher feelings. The head corresponds  to the back of the head, prolonged by the spine, to nervous force and the domain of  intellect and collection of knowledge.

 Whilst enveloping these centres like an angel’s wings are the functions of the brain with the five senses and organs of expression as its servants. In other words a Higher Self.

 Papus liked to refer to an early Platonic idea of people being originally created only as heads, to which body and limbs were later added by celestial powers to give them a means of physical expression. Somewhat bizarre imagery if taken literally but that can be aligned with traditional symbol systems such as the Tree of Life.

Papus indeed launches off into many directions from here on – which makes his book hardly one to recommend as a ‘do-it-yourself’ guide to the aspiring beginner. And one point he acknowledges that for serious progress to be made, enrolment with a responsible initiatory group is probably essential. Indeed he did much in the course of his life to establish or encourage such organisations and became involved with a considerable number.

There was also a kind of middle way provided by the Groupe Indépendant d’Études Ésoteriques (or G.I.E.E.)  he had founded in 1889, that had grown in size and influence until this same year of 1892 saw publication a 60 page booklet about it – La science des mages et ses applications théoriques et pratiques. (‘The Science of the Magi and its theoretical and practical applications’. We have already mentioned it in SOH No 4).

Published by Louis Chamel at the Librairie du Merveilleux for 50 centimes, and described as “a little résumé of occultism”,  it covers in a tenth of the space the essence of the overblown Traité Méthodique de Magie Pratique. Not that the latter does not have its value as an old curiosity shop with its considerable detail on elementary astrology, planetary talismans, country magic, love charms, and even how to win a lottery by means of kabbalistic numerology and imagery in dreams - with the proviso however, that one should not attempt to gain personally from the operation!

So we probably do best to concentrate our attention on the smaller book, which tells us that occult science taught in the ancient sanctuaries was divided into four main subjects. The study and handling of elemental beings and forces, or Alchemy. The study and handling of astral forces, or Magic. The study and handling of the occult forces within man, or Psychurgy. And the study of the forces of the Empyrean, or Theurgy. But that nowadays the remnants of these teachings had been put to work under the names of Magnetism, Hypnotism, Spiritualism, Telepsychism, Telepathy, Psychometry and Sorcery.

By special breathing exercises we can accumulate nervous energy within ourselves, spiritualise it by prayer, and by the will project it beyond ourselves. The nervous tension brought about by the exercises produces a condition in which a part of the astral body exteriorises and can act at a distance. This action corresponds to that of the Hindu Fakirs and the Magic of the ancients. But in the majority of cases with modern mediums and movement of objects at a distance the process is either partly or completely unconscious.

The phenomena are analogous to those of a magnet acting on metallic objects at a distance or even through other material substances. But here the magnet is replaced by a human being, and the astral body takes the place of the magnetic field.  Cures by ‘animal magnetism’ are produced by the action of the astral body (or fluid) of a human being on the physical or astral body of another. The power was described in the 16th century by Cornelius Agrippa in his chapter on Sorcery.

The process can be carried out either by astral images or by Elementals. In the first case, a particular stimulation puts the evoker into a state of semiconscious somnambulism, that is to say opens his eyes to the astral. Practically all modern instances are of this type.

In some villages one still finds ‘sorcerers’ capable of producing serious phenomena, having conserved fragments of ancient practical occultism, concentrated by a will brooding in solitude,  manipulating magnetic and psychic fluids with much power. {Note, an excellent example is to be found in my translation of Paul Sédir’s ‘Initiations’ in the account of a Breton werewolf. XX – ‘Invisible Enemies’. G.K.}

The sorcerer is to the occultist what a workman is to an engineer. The workman knows how to perform a task according to rules he has learned in the workshop but does not understand  the theoretical principles behind them. The engineer, on the other hand, would be capable of establishing the rules that guide the workman but might be at a loss if called upon to do the job himself!  The equivalent in the esoteric field a self styled expert incapable of producing  phenomena.

Ceremonies and symbols accumulated in ritual provide elementary procedures for engaging the human will, and the employment of magical weapons and evocative words of power are directed at action on the astral and the beings who populate it. A magical operation consists of obtaining consciously and without a medium contacts obtained by spiritualists and others in their séances.

In this a part of the astral body of the operator(s) is projected to establish a point of application in the substances disposed in advance for this effect. In which the operator must never lose consciousness, for then he or she would no longer be a practising occultist but a passive subject or unconscious medium.

In sum, practical occultism demands a series of very serious efforts based on a profound knowledge of the occult forces of Nature and of Mankind. The more one studies it the more one realises that there is nothing that opposes positive teachings of our present knowledge. The forces studied are analogous to magnetism and electricity with animal intelligence thrown in as well, the generators of the forces being living beings rather than machines or physical apparatus. There are new proprieties and new methods of experimentation; but nothing of this is supernatural for anything that exists must be natural.  

The sorcerer who collects plants at midnight on the mountain, pronounces strange words and makes bizarre gestures is no more alienated than the locomotive that whistles and jets forth fire on the railway track. The locomotive is a generator of physical forces. A magician is another kind of generator – of higher forces – and  in full control of  himself or herself.