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.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Thèophile Briant [1891-1956] and the Testament of Merlin

If any French writer could qualify for the title of a Son of Hermes then the Breton writer, magazine editor and publisher Theophile Briant would certainly be up there high at the top of the list. Born in 1891 he comes a little out of sequence in our listing but we mention him now in light of his remarkable  book The Testament of Merlin which has just been translated into English (by myself) and published by Skylight Press.

A great enthusiast of all things Breton, Celtic and Arthurian Briant spent twelve years writing this powerful account of the life and work of Merlin. Reviews were enthusiastic when it first appeared, (in  1975, 19 years after his death!) describing the author as  poet, visionary and novelist all at once. Able to create characters and give them life, he reveals a mastery of the art of evocative description and  scenes are impregnated with the Celtic and religious atmosphere of the epoch.

Steeped in the tradition of the Mysteries he structures his work on a three fold framework. The first section opens in a sixth century Summer Solstice as King Arthur’s fleet leaves Armorica en route for ‘the Last Battle’ against Mordred and the Saxons. The second is an initiatory sequence featuring faery mysteries in the Forest of Broceliande. And the third, which ends the life of Merlin (on the physical plane at any rate) is enacted against a back drop of claims between old and new religions.

Although the Round Table Fellowship is defeated at the Last Battle it nonetheless ends with the conviction that “We may have been beaten at Salisbury but King Arthur still lives”.  How can he be dead when he had Merlin for a friend and protector and had been transported, still living, off to Avalon?

As the King sleeps in Avalon the earthly action is taken up by Merlin ‘of the golden torque and star’ one of whose functions as a bard has been to rouse the blood of the warriors in battle; a druid certainly, brought up in the religion of the Ancestors, that of Nature, but who had in infancy met one of the many Christian missionaries of the time, bringing a message of love and forgiveness from a man in the the East called Christ. Son of an unknown God, who had been put to death by his fellows and of whom a certain Joseph of Arimathea has piously collected the blood. The Cup that was passed round in the meal of the Round Table Fellowship before the Last Battle was said to be the symbol of sacrifice of this god and was of some attraction to younger knights since it was said that the purest of  them might be worthy to possess this precious cup whose secret has not yet been revealed to anyone.

On the evening of the terrible battle of Salisbury unspeakable grief had been the lot of the few survivors, which include Merlin who, however, is able take charge of the bodies of the two whom he loves most, his king, and his young disciple, Adragante the Gael. Not being able to accept that the death of these two friends can be the ‘unimaginable dawn’ of the Christian god he appeals to the god of occult forces, via his former master, the Druid high priest of the forest, who has promised him help if he maintains the ancient faith. Like Roland on the evening of defeat at Roncevaux, Merlin sounds his silver horn, and in the night, from afar another horn responds.

The deal is done! No Christian any more, nor life as king’s bard, Merlin returns to the solitude of the forest, attentive to the voices of Nature to revive his soul in his own way, which involves the not unpleasant setting up in a rock crystal castle with the faery Viviane and renewing acquaintance with his old friend the ferryman Barynthus who drops by from time to time in his world encompassing ship.   

King Arthur is not dead; some time he will return. As for Adragante, ‘reborn’ by the old magic of his Master, he will be witness of what is to follow, but only by writing, for one problem of the cauldron of Keridwen is that although it can resuscitate it renders the recipient dumb – a child of silence, or son of  secrecy, product of a Truth that abandons itself to the Shadows. With the fervour of disciple, Adragante begins a journal and it is through his eyes and his pen that the story continues, which is also one of initiation.

Many tests await him: cold, hunger, storm, loneliness, on this coast of Armorica or confined  to the depths of the forest . But Merlin had warned and prepared him.

At the threshold of the route are many teachings and symbols;  a rebel boar, national emblem of Brittany, a solar bear that triumphs by Intelligence, a golden apple tree of Knowledge, a flower of the Graal, mystically flowing with blood issuing from the Crucifixion to perpetuate its memory. Here too is a sacred book of wisdom from which writing is absent (to avoid any error of interpretation) with 78 images, 22 Trumps, 9 numbers, that give the adept the Key to the Universe and Life.

Guided by his master, Adragante descends to the submarine depths and their inhabitants; lower still, to the centre of the Earth where the Fire, principle of all life, reveals to a few initiates the secret of the Great Work; finally to the hall of eternal Time, hung with its deceiving mirrors of Past and Future. It is in these that he sees the plain strewn with the corpses of Salisbury. And an even more terrible sight, a vague form, wearing the white robe of the druids, and the five pointed star of the bards, falling, face bloody, under a hail of stones. The ‘threefold death’ of Merlin at the hands of some shepherds in the Scottish border country.

 He must however vanquish his fears of menacing serpents until, winning free from the underworld caverns, aided by Merlin, he breaks through to the light of dawn by the sea, the sun flooding the bay of Cézembre, from whence the story began, now reflecting the Infinite Light of God the Creator. It had been necessary to confront the Shadows to approach the great mysteries of Life and Death, and accede to a new life, illuminated by Knowledge and Love.

That had been Merlin’s the wish for him:  the initiation of the disciple until he sees his Master disappear from his sight in a mysterious and triumphal ascension.

Merlin it seems was a man torn between two religions that he needed to reconcile, Druidism and Christianity, each necessary to his soul thirsting for the Infinite – and perhaps like Théophile Briant himself,  for in the front of one of his books is the following quotation.

“Modulating in turn, on the Lyre of Orpheus 

The sighs of the Saint and the Faery’s cry.”  [Gérard de Nerval]

Thursday, February 09, 2017


A View from the Lab

The alchemist François Jolivet Castelot felt that neglect of a laboratory approach to the occult  to be detrimental to the truth because too ‘mystical’ (by which he really meant psychological – the truly mystical power play of the likes of Maïtre Philippe or certain saints of the church is something yet again!).

So in support of the laboratory context, his book La Science Alchimique  (1904) contained a photograph of himself and three associates at work in ‘the laboratory of the Alchemical Society of France’. Or rather, not so much ‘at work’ as posed in smart suits, gentlemen amateurs in theatrical attitudes of scientific discovery.

The ‘laboratory’ is decorated with the kind of tasteful wall paper one might expect to find in a well furnished provincial villa in his hometown of Douai, garnished with an array of presumably scientific hardwear, including a lit Bunsen burner, to which, ironically and possibly dangerously, no one is paying any attention.

One of the four consults a book as bulky as a church bible, whilst the other three are gazing in awe, at the mysterious contents of a small bottle.

This genteel display is obviously a far cry from the lab work of the Curies, shovelling tons of uranium ore in their back yard in search of radium, but at least it demonstrates an awareness of public relations remarkable for 1904. It is a pity that they backed the wrong horse, so to speak. And it was the Curies who picked up the Nobel prizes - although at a heavy cost to their health.  

But the epoch was fertile for the exchange of ideas, and the most successful teachers and practitioners were also the most skilled communicators – such as Castelot, Papus or Paul Sédir in the esoteric field.

In part this meant involvement in group projects such as the recently revived Martinist Order but it included the willingness and ability to cross boundaries and talk to those of other schools of thought, including individuals of international reputation in other spheres.

One such was the Swedish playwright, August Strindberg, who for some years was preoccupied with alchemy and wrote a review of one of Castelot’s books in the daily paper Le Figaro. During a wandering life he came to live in Paris for a time and uncharacteristically invited the young man to call on him. So one cold foggy winter’s evening François duly turned up at the shabby hotel – mostly occupied by students – in which Strindberg chose to stay. The concierge had a standing order to admit no one, for Strindberg hated visitors, but on persisting and sending in his card François was eventually admitted to a small chilly room that even lacked  a fire.

The great  alchemist playwright was seated at a bare wooden table on which some manuscripts were scattered, the remains of supper, and some miscellaneous items of glassware upon which a candle cast a guttering light. The only other furniture was an iron bedstead, a bedside table, a couple of wicker chairs, a small trunk and a portable wash stand.

Strindberg rose, very tall and straight, and offered his hand, putting Castelot in mind of an old Viking, with grey hair cut short over an immense forehead. He described him as giving the impression of a shy colossus, with pale blue eyes, cold as the fiords, as limpid as a child’s, with icy reflections of nickel and steel, and a bushy moustache that bristled like an angry cat.

He spoke execrable French with a guttural accent of which Castelot could understand not a word, but knew enough German for some conversation to be possible, though not without difficulty.

August Strindberg was a member of the Swedenborgian church and his ideas appeared close to occultism as a result. In alchemy the two shared much the same views, both believing in hylozoism, the presence of life in all matter.

Strindberg showed his visitor the result of some experiments he had performed involving iron sulphide, ammonia and oxalic acid and in time their relationship became closer. They exchanged formulae in regular correspondence, with the Scandinavian becoming an adviser to the French Alchemical Association and a regular contributor its journal, the Rosa Alchemica.

Castelot tried to convert Strindberg entirely to hermeticism, and introduced him to Papus and Sédir, only to be met with misunderstandings as Strindberg’s distrust, brusqueness, and sensitivity clashed with Parisian self-regard and deference to leaders of the Martinist Order. The project was eventually abandoned and the Swede continued his solitary way.

Castelot still cast his net wide however, remarkably including one of the most important figures in the scientific world, Marcellin Berthelot (1827-1907) – considered by some one of the greatest chemists of all time, and called ‘the father of organic chemistry’ in that he synthesised a number of organic compounds from inorganic substances – a transition regarded as impossible by conventional chemists but which was not entirely at odds with alchemical theories and assumptions. And in later life Bertholet researched and wrote books on the early history of chemistry and the origins of alchemy, and translated a number of medieval texts and manuscripts.

He even admitted the theoretical possibility of transmuting metals and the synthesis of elements, despite rejecting the burgeoning atomic theory, and was sympathetic to Castelot’s aims and ideas if not a follower of them – discussing amicably and questioning sympathetically Castelot’s beliefs and procedures.

Another important contact, of immense personality, social contacts and administrative power,  was the colourful minor aristocrat Lieutenant-Colonel Count Rochas d’Aiglun, who was administrator of the archaic yet highly prestigious École Polytechnic, and played an important role in supporting and authorising research into subjects such as the theory and practice of hypnotic states, the exteriorisation of sensibility, the whole domain of magic, contact with the Other World , the appearance of phantoms, powers of the interior senses and the possiblities of enchantment and magnetic influence. Certainly no mage or sorcerer went further than Rochas into the realms of the after life. He was described by Castelot as a tough feverish little man with a sardonic expression on a face part faunlike and part Mephistophelean, fearless necromancer and pioneer magnetiser and magician without reproach who successfully thwarted occasional attempts to deprive him of his commanding academic position.

These early researchers  had the courage of their convictions and could be thoroughly unreasonable as well as successful men!

Sunday, January 22, 2017


An approach to Star Alchemy                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         François Jollivet-Castelot, a leading alchemical enthusiast, like Gérard Ecausse, was an early starter when it came to writing books. In fact even more so! He started at the age of 20. No wonder Papus was impressed.

The first, entitled  La Vie et l’Ame de la Matière (The Life and Soul of Matter) came out in 1894. It was his belief that all matter was alive, a philosophy going by the name of ‘hylozoism’ with the laboratory discipline of ‘hyperchemistry’ trying to encourage the progress of that ‘evolution’. The natural route was hoped to be from lead into gold!  

The contemporary discovery of radioactivity and of sub-atomic particles such as the electron and atomic nucleus at first encouraged theories of the alchemically minded although, as has since been established, lead tends to be the end of a process of decay from unstable elements such uranium, radium and polonium rather than the start of a progress into bankable precious metals.  

Comment on devient Alchimiste (How to Become an Alchemist) came out at much the same time that J.J.Thomson discovered the electron, Ernest Rutherford the atomic nucleus, and Paul and Marie Curie radioactivity.  A fascinating period, when interest in alchemy by sons of |Hermes was running alongside discoveries on the nature of matter that at first did suggest that all matter came from a common base – an electromagnetic spectrum.  It was the orthodox who proved right in the end through the magical wonder of the creation of matter progressively cooked up in stars or in cosmic rays to be explosively distributed to solar and planetary systems via hydrogen, helium, lithium and the like to make us what we are, beings who originated as star dust.   

Divided into three parts, this Jollivet-Castelot book claimed to be the most complete on the subject, presenting an Initiation to Alchemy. The first part devoted to ALCHEMY AND THE KABBALA; the second to MAGICAL TRAINING on HOW TO BECOME AN ADEPT; the third under the title PRACTICE details of experimentation, historic and critical. A SYNTHESIS to sum it all up. It was considered by enthusiasts to be an important work of initiation that would  convince many chemists and philosophers, for, addressed to the sceptical expert, it brought - through the Laboratory - the laws of Analogy and the principles of mineral Transformation.

There was, however, not a great deal in practical terms from the efforts of the alchemists, although in 1925 Jollivet-Castelot did claim to have transmuted a small amount of silver into gold and became somewhat embittered that his work was never tested or verified, let alone approved, by official science. Reluctance of academia to take him too seriously may have been a consequence of his initial book, which was not so much evidence of scientific research as the musings of an occult student speculating on the significance of the Tarot Trumps as outlined by Eliphas Levi – ground already turned over by the youthful Papus, nine years his senior.

He had however, published, in 1904,  La Science Alchimique, covering the history of the subject through predecessors such as Roger Bacon, Raymond Lully, Arnold de Villeneuve and Nicolas Flamel up to contemporaries such as Albert Poisson and Stanislas de Guaita, and in which he took account of recent scientific discoveries which he felt to be in support of alchemical theory, such as the common electromagnetic basis of all the chemical elements, which could, theoretically at least, point to the possibility of transmutation of one element into another.  

Thus he hailed the discovery of radioactivity by Paul and Marie Curie in a chapter on ‘The Life of Metals’ even if evident only in certain elements. His enthusiasm is quite infectious.

A new state of matter, to which physicists have given the name of radio-activity, has been discovered by M. and Mme Paul Curie, who have thus recorded, if that is what one could call it, of the life and soul of certain remarkable metals. In fact, polonium, radium and actinium possess a spontaneous radiation, a luminosity analogous to phosphorus, but much more intense and permanent; radioactivity a hundred thousand times more intense than that of uranium (recorded in 1896 by Becquerel) luminous energy particular to these metals, that they derive from no external agent, and that develop electricity, impress photographic plates, pass through solid bodies, exercise on animate beings a marked physiological action , finally communicating properties, by induction, to the substances which one finds in contact with particles of polonium, radium and actinium.

The emission of these radio-active bodies is composed of a gaseous emanation, arrested by glass, and  a radiation that penetrates glass and metals; this radiation divisible into two types: one responsive to magnetism, the other not so.

Research on these bodies is still very difficult and expensive: one retrieves about a tenth of a gram of chlorate of radium from a ton of the mineral residues of uranium. [Note: Philosophically the radium, by its energetic spontaneity, demonstrates the reality of Monism, that is to say the identity of force and matter, essential forms of Being, and beings, of the Universe. The living unity of the Cosmos thus appears in its simple beauty.]

Experts are literally plunged into a stupor by the demonstration of this strange physico/chemical phenomenon that contradicts the ‘static and unchangeable’ principles of Contemporary Science regarding the conservation of Force and Matter. What is it that constitutes this focus of spontaneous energy, this radiation that nothing is needed to feed and that cannot lose an atom of its weight of substance. That is the enigma that has come to trouble the self satisfaction of official Science. The Soul of Matter, the Life of metals under the form of Od, appears astonishing to the eyes of physicists! They state undeniably, by means of the fact, the irrefutable experience. Hylozoism!

 There, where they think they are manipulating an inert substance, they are, on the contrary, touching animate matter, living, bizarre and mysterious, that delivers to them its indistinguishable astral spark! “Matter is one, it lives, it evolves and transforms.”

This is a far cry from speculation about the relevance of Tarot cards to the creation and behaviour of matter but is a fair shot at the constitution of physical chemistry and shows a sense of wonder that is altogether admirable, similar to scientific workers in the field today, such as the French astrophysicist Michel Cassé, whose Stellar Alchemy The Celestial Origin of Atoms I have found to be one of the most inspiring books on the creation of the elements I have met. {English translation by Cambridge University Press}. It is, regrettably, priced at far more than it should be in my opinion, but by shopping around the second hand markets it is possible to pick up a bargain.   

It contains a defence and illustration of nuclear astrophysics, one of the most beautiful sciences there is. It bridges the gap between the atomic microcosm and the celestial macrocosm, setting out the origin and evolution of all the elements that make up our universe. It combines the physics of the very small and the very large, the inner workings of nuclei at one end of the scale and stars at the other. A sumptuous marriage between nuclear physics and astronomy, Earth and sky, celebrated in scientific thought, opening the way to a genuinely universal history of the material substance constituting all visible things.

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 .


Sunday, November 06, 2016


Maïtre Philippe and the Tsar of Russia

On his initial visit to Russia Papus referred in glowing terms to his own “spiritual master” but without saying who it was. However, somewhat to mutual embarrassment, it was revealed by a local Martinist and not long before a couple of aristocratic ladies of the Court made it their business to call on Maïtre Philippe down in Lyons. They in turn were considerably impressed by his powers, which led to him receiving, at the end of 1900, an invitation from Grand-Duke Vladimir to visit Russia.  

He stayed on for two months and gained such a reputation that on his departure the Tsar, who must have felt a bit upstaged, let it be known that he and the Tsarina wished to meet M. Philippe themselves on their forthcoming state visit to France.

This was all highly irregular, but the Tsar could not be gainsaid, and on the official visit, in September 1901, a private meeting was arranged between the three of them in the grounds of the ancient palace of Compiègne, north of Paris, under the tightest security, in the far off presence, at a very respectful distance, of a small number of security guards.

Such was the impression Philippe made on the royal couple that they invited him to visit Russia again, this time as their personal guest. In view of his extraordinary powers, it is not surprising that within a very short time, his influence over the ruling family was becoming such that that no important decision could be taken without consulting him.

His ability to effect some amazing cures led the Tsar to ask why he was not recognised as a qualified doctor of medicine in France, and insisting that he should become one. This caused considerable embarrassment in French official circles, where he was considered to be some kind of dangerous political adventurer. From the 1880’s  his powers  had brought him in touch with other foreign courts and their aristocracy, including the Bey of Tunis; the Sultan of Turkey; Kaiser Wilhelm, King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany; Franz-Josef, Emperor of Austria; Leopold, King of the Belgians; Edward, Prince of Wales; the royal families of Italy and Montenegro, and even Pope Leo XIII whom Philippe urged to sell some of the Church’s treasures in aid of the poor, and melt down the gold statues hoarded in the Vatican cellars.

In the end the Tsar insisted he be recognised as a doctor of medicine in Russia, with a practical examination to show that his elevation was not merely a result of the Tsar’s whim. Part of the examination involved diagnosing half a dozen difficult hospital cases, which he not only did with accuracy but brought about cures for them as well! As a result he was given an important position in public health, with the rank of general – all official positions in Tsarist Russia carrying a military rank in those days. And no doubt the uniform rivalled that of Head of the Fire Brigade at Arbresle even if the latter did include a ceremonial sword!

He was loaded with gifts by the Tsar, including a couple of new fangled horseless carriages, one of which he drove occasionally, of which there exists a charming photograph – an open three wheeler, like a cross between a motorcycle and an invalid carriage, with the driver at the rear and two passengers, side by side, at the front.

Although the other vehicle was so grand that it was quite useless, being on the scale of a six seater presidential limousine, suitable only for great occasions of state. It was last heard of as unsalable in an auctioneer’s warehouse. His favourite gift from Russia however looks to have been an enormous sheep dog – standing on its hind legs it is fully his own height. {This along with about 80 other pictures of the time appear in a souvenir album Monsieur Philippe de Lyon 1905-2005 compiled by Philippe Collin for Editions Le Mercure Dauphinois, Grenoble. And well worth the price, currently 17 Euros, even if you don’t read French.}

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Papus and the Russian court

When the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia paid a state visit to France in 1896 Papus seized the opportunity to present them with a message of welcome and self introduction, encouraged by the fact that there had ever been a keen interest in mystical traditions by the Romanov family throughout the 19th century, ranging from Martinism with Alexander I, through astrology with Alexander II, and spiritualism with Alexander III. Not forgetting Nicolas I’s patronage (for a time) of the legendary Wronski. The present Tsar had more intimate and immediate problems, including the need to produce a son and heir and to cope with a budding revolution, which led him to cultivate in turn Papus, Maïtre Philippe, and finally, in desperation,  the ‘mad monk’ Rasputin. 

The tone of Papus’ letter (too tedious to quote) can be judged by the concluding two paragraphs:  

 “It is because your Majesty rules a Western Empire, most truly religious and closest to the ways of Providence, that we salute his arrival to the land of France, which itself, amongst other interventions of Divine Providence, has merited Charles Martel, who began the work that Holy Russia is called upon to conclude, and Joan of Arc, who re-established our Country in the name of Heaven.

“May your Majesty deign benevolently to accept our welcome and may his Empire be immortalised  by total union with divine Providence. Such is the dearest wish of those who pray your Majesty to accept our homage and deepest respect.

Director of  ‘Initiation’ – Gérard ENCAUSSE (Papus) Doctor of Medicine of the Faculty of Paris, President of the Independent Group of Esoteric Studies, President of the Supreme Council of the Martinist Order, Delegate General of the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross.  

Papus certainly knew how to lay it on!  And accompanied his message with presentation copies of l’Initiation; le Voile d’Isis; la Paix Universelle; l’Hyperchimie; Le Journal du Magnétisme; La Chaine Magnétique; Le Progrès spirite; Le Groupe indépendant d’études ésoteriques; L’Ordre Martiniste; L’École secondaire de Massage de Lyon.

And it brought its fruits.  Helped by the influence of some Russian Martinists he was presented to Nicolas II in 1901 by the Tsar’s uncle, Grand Duke Nicolas, on the first of three visits to Russia, in 1901, 1905 and 1906. And until his death he remained in touch with the imperial family and the Court.

As President of the Supreme Council of his own Ordre Martiniste he founded a lodge at St Petersbourg of high dignitaries, of which the Tsar himself was probably President. Papus became greatly esteemed by members of the royal family, who gave him many presents, and even published a Russian language edition of his Traité élémentaire de Science occulte.

Indeed such was his prestige that the French ambassador to Russia, Maurice Paléologue, revealed in his memoirs an intriguing situation that almost beggars belief.  

At the beginning of October, 1905, Papus was called to St Petersbourg by some of his highly placed supporters, who begged him to throw some light on a serious political situation. Military setbacks in Manchuria (possibly including sending truckloads icons to troops instead of weapons) had provoked civil unrest in many parts. The Tsar lived in a state of anxiety, harassed by conflicting and passionate advice from family, ministers, dignitaries, generals, and unable to choose between them. Some declared he had no right to renounce his ancient ancestral powers and must rigorously defend the status quo. Others urged him to recognise that the time had come to introduce a new constitution.

The very day that Papus arrived in St Petersbourg, terror spread in Moscow where a revolutionary syndicate proclaimed a general strike on the railways. (Film buffs may also recall events on the Odessa steps and at sea in Griffith’s early classic Battleship Potemkin.)

Papus was immediately summoned to the imperial palace at Tsarskoie-Sélo where, after a hurried consultation with the Emperor and Empress he set up a magical ritual for the next day. Apart from the royal couple no one else was present, apart from a young aide de camp,  an army captain who later became governor of Tiflis. Allegedly by intense concentration of willpower and magnetic exaltation Papus was able to evoke the spirit of Alexander III, a keen spiritualist and father of the present Tsar.

Despite the fear that seized him in addressing this invisible being, Nicolas II asked his late father how he should deal with the new current of liberalism that menaced Russia.

The reply was unequivocal: “Whatever the cost, you must crush this present Revolution, even though it will rise again one day, more violent than its repression today must be. No matter! Take courage, my son! Do not give up the fight!”

While the royal couple tried to take on board this fearsome prediction Papus assured them that by his magical powers he could put off the predicted catastrophe as long as he remained ‘on the physical plane.’ He then performed the necessary rites.

As things turned out, Papus died at the end of October 1916 and the 1917 Revolution, that ultimately saw the end of the old Russia, broke out within three months. One can play about with various dates concerning all of this if one likes to play such mind games; it is made rather more numerologicaly complex by the fact that Russia still used the old Julian calendar, so all recorded dates of the period are 13 days behind the rest of the world.

At a more personal, perhaps cynical, level one might even consider Papus’ prediction to have been a form of insurance policy for his own safety, for along with Maïtre Philippe, he came under the close and hostile attention of both Russian and French secret police, who had no understanding of what this magical stuff was all about, and suspected the worst. After all, the Elizabethan magus Dr John Dee had had a reputation for combining occultism with espionage. And one hesitates to think what a combination of Harry Potter and James Bond might be like!

At another level, the wisdom of the advice of the deceased Alexander III might be questioned, if its first result was ‘Bloody Sunday’, on 9th January 1905 (old style), when a peaceful demonstration that tried to present a deputation to the palace was fired upon by the Imperial Guard, resulting in a thousand casualties, including two hundred deaths.

The event became of huge symbolic significance in that it was in commemoration of ‘Bloody Sunday’ that, twelve years later, the 1917 Revolution broke out that finally put paid to the Tsarist regime, with the murder of the Tsar and Tsarina and their four children a year later.


Friday, October 21, 2016



Stanislas de Guaita  and Spiritualism

 Following his reservations about the use of animal magnetism and hypnosis Stanislas de Guaita turned his attention to Spiritualism, which is more logically called Spiritism in France. With his somewhat jaundiced aristocratic eye he considered its contacts to be, at best  primitive and useless,  and at worst parasitic and harmful. This despite its following by some respected writers such as Allan Kardec and the distinguished astronomer  Camille Flammarion.

He did not deny that it was possible to establish relations with superior intelligences, but believed that such contacts could be safely pursued only in a hierarchical context, using procedures that only initiation could confer, and that the problem with spiritualists was that they lacked reliable discernment of the identity and nature of their contacts.

Contemporary popular spiritualism caught the public imagination in America in 1848 and by 1853 had successfully crossed the Atlantic. Not that there was anything particularly new about it, he said. It had been practised in various forms in ancient times, as in Chinese ancestor worship, and even in the classical period – mensae divinatoriae, (divinatory tables)were mentioned by Tertullian.

Once established in Europe it was not long before phenomena became increasingly sensational. Tables not only tilted under the impress of hands but moved without physical contact. Other objects, from chairs to musical instruments, soon joined in the show. And when all this began to seem commonplace there was further diversion into self writing pencils and chalks, luminous hands and eventually complete phantoms.

The common denominator in all of this was the presence of a medium, one who could act as a link between the planes, as a consequence – in Stanislas de Guaita’s view – of a pathological condition, an incontinence of vitality that energised the phenomena.

Disembodied hands appeared, which might be luminous or flesh coloured, their shape clearly seen but becoming cloudy around the area of the wrist. They were palpable, and those who touched them described them as being like skin gloves filled with warm air. No bones could be felt, and if they were firmly grasped they became a vague mass of problematic substance that gave way under further pressure.

That these exteriorisations emanated from the medium was suggested by the fact that the more they increased, the more depleted the medium became. To the point that if, to replenish a sudden loss of nervous force, the medium grasped the hands of another, (preferably a young person in good health), the one so seized would experience a sensation of languor, perhaps accompanied by shivering, when in contact with the parlour vampire.

The room temperature might also drop by several degrees and cold draughts blow at the precise moment that any major phenomena  took place.

There was also the phenomenon of ‘repercussion’. If any apparition was struck by a physical object, the medium might physically suffer a counterpart of the injury.

De Guaita cites the case of a public séance in New York recounted to him by an eye witness, when a spectator drew a hand gun and shot a phantom. There was an immediately cry of distress from the medium, who fell unconscious to the floor, chest marked with a deep bruise, and who afterwards lay between life and death for more than a month. Yet he had not been struck by the bullet, which was found in the wall opposite to where he had been located.

This could be likened to the case of the shepherd Thorel, whose face was covered in scratches from the sword blows struck the day before on his astral form. And on another occasion when two slugs from a small calibre pistol for shooting sparrows had been fired by the curé Tirel in the direction of a ghostly commotion, the young boy who was the only one able to see the astral form of the shepherd, declared it had been struck twice in the face. And two equivalent bruises  were indeed later to be seen on Thorel’s physical face.

Stanislas de Guaita goes on to point out that there are mediums of different kinds apart from  materialising ones and in particular cites those he describes as ‘incarnatory’ mediums, who offer up their bodies for other beings to take over. He has, he says, witnessed strange and stupefying scenes, when, in a few seconds the medium was transformed in posture, voice, looks, and gestures, in a sudden metamorphosis of the whole person.

His graphic account suggests that he himself was the amazed witness on such an occasion, leaving  him to wonder if he had been deceived by some inner impersonator, whether human, elemental or larval, when this equivocal being, using him as a kind of  ‘psychic mirror’, had reflected the image of his friend stored in the depths of his memory. That is to say, reflecting the contents of his own soul back to him!

There is room for endless speculation in all of this, but it seems likely that some form of telepathic communication plays a part. In my own experience, such an explanation cannot be discounted in any form of psychism – with the pooled consciousness of all participants forming a kind of group mind that can tap into individual and group memories or assumptions.

After beginning to drift into speculations on the possible abuse of psychical contacts, each seedier than the last, Stanislas de Guaita suddenly breaks off to conclude with an account of an experiment in telepathic communication.

STATEMENT relating three instances of MENTAL SUGGESTION obtained by Messieurs  Liébeault (Antoine) and de Guaita (Stanislas) at the residence of Dr. Liébeault, 4, rue de Bellevue (Nancy).

We, the undersigned, Liébeault (Antoine), doctor of medicine, and de Guaita (Stanislas) man of letters, both currently living at Nancy, attest and certify having obtained the results that follow.

Mlle Louise L..., put into a magnetic sleep, was informed that she would have to reply to a question put to her mentally without the use of any word or sign.

Dr. Liébeault, his hand pressed to the forehead of the subject, collected his thoughts for an instant, concentrating his attention on the question:- “When will you be cured?” which was his intention. The lips of the somnambule suddenly moved: “Soon”, she murmured distinctly.

She was then asked to repeat, before all persons present, the question she had intuitively perceived. She repeated it, in the same words that the question had been formulated in the mind of the experimenter.

This first experiment, undertaken by Dr. Liébeault at the instigation of Mr. De Guaita, was thus plainly successful. A second test gave less rigorous results, but perhaps more curious.

Mr. de Guaita, being put in rapport with the magnetised, mentally posed another question:- “Will you come back next week?” “Perhaps,” was the subject’s reply; but invited to tell everyone present what the mental question was, replied “You asked me if you would come back next week.”

This confusion, over a word in the sentence, is very significant, it seems, in that the young lady had erred through reading the mind of the magnetiser.

So that no indicative phrase be pronounced, even in a low voice, Dr. Liébeault wrote on a piece of paper: - “Mademoiselle, on waking, see your black hat changed into a red one.”

The note was passed in advance to all witnesses, then Messrs. Liébeault and de Guaita, in silence, placed a hand on the forehead of the subject while mentally formulating the agreed sentence. Then the young lady, told that she would see something unusual in the room, was awakened.

Without hesitation she looked at her hat and with a great burst of laughter cried “That’s not my hat,” and did not want it. It had just the same shape, but the situation became rather embarrassing, as it was necessary she take her own...

But at last, “What do you think is different about it?”

“You know very well. You’ve got eyes as well as me!”

“But what?”

It was a long time before she agreed to say what was different about her hat.

“You are teasing me...”

Pressed with more questions she finally said,: “You can see very well that it‘s red!”

As she still refused to take it, to put an end to the hallucination, they persuaded her that it would return to its original colour. The doctor blew on it, and in her eyes it became her own again, and she agreed to take it.

These are the facts that we certify have obtained together, in confirmation of which we have signed the present statement.

Dr. A.A.Liébeault – Stanislas de Guaita – Nancy, June 9th 1886.

It goes without saying, added Stanislas, that Dr Liébeault, extremely sceptical on the matter of thought transference, did not agree on the success of any other experiment.