The Testament of Merlin - by Théophile Briant
translated by Gareth Knight
one-eyed story teller began, while polishing his sword:
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.”
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.”
blacksmith showed the sword, whose steel shone in the night.
this sword is dumb. But I know its history.”
you know it?” asked Ronan, the Seneschal’s squire.
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.”
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
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?
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
Saint-Yves d’Alveydre - The Intellectual
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
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
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
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for details go to their new web site
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.