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.