Sunday, February 28, 2016


Papus - A Methodical Treatise on Practical Magic

Having produced an Elementary Treatise on Occult Science and done his best to provide a Kabalistic philosophy behind it, it is only natural to expect Papus to have moved on to its more practical elements. This occurred in 1892 with his Traité Méthodique de Magie Practique (Methodical Treatise on Practical Magic) which in typical fashion tended to grow bigger and bigger over the years – in fact like its predecessor it first appeared entitled more humbly as an ‘Elementary Treatise’. The edition I happen to have (called the 11th) was printed in 1983 (apparently after being out of print for half a century) and runs to 639 pages with evidence of additions as late as 1910.

He announces magic to be as legitimate as any other science but one that is devoted to the study and control of the hidden forces of Nature. Also that his book has no other purpose than to serve as an introduction to Eliphas Levi’s Rituel de la Haute Magie, (aka part two of Transcendental Magic), that had been criticised for not being practical enough, though only by those who do not understand it.

Before getting down to the traditional accoutrements of practical magic which take up most of the book, he attempts to describe the process of magic in as direct and elementary a way as possible, using an example from the East.

There are in India individuals called fakirs who are able to manipulate hyperphysical forces by the force of their will. A number of witnesses have described presenting a fakir with a seed of their choice, along with a pot full of earth. This is placed on the floor before the fakir, naked apart from a loin cloth and turban, who sits cross legged before it, fixes his gaze and extends his arms toward it, and appears to fall into a cataleptic trance. He remains in this state for an hour or two, during which time the seed sprouts and the plant grows to a metre or more in height, and if the experiment is continued for three or four hours will begin to bear flowers and fruit.

What has happened here? According to Papus the fakir’s will has activated a force within the plant to produce a year’s growth within a few hours. A force that can only have one identity – natural organic life!  The fakir has acted upon the life sleeping within the plant, awakened  its vital forces and put them in motion, provoking degrees of activity greater than is generally perceived in nature.

 Has he performed a supernatural act? Not at all. He has precipitated and exaggerated a natural one. He has performed what seems like a magical action by the force of his will, but nothing that goes against the laws of nature.

Which leads Papus to make the somewhat surprising affirmation at the end of the book that THE SUPERNATURAL DOES NOT EXIST.

Apart from wanting to justify occult powers before a possibly nervous or unsympathetic general public Papus was at this time still very much the scientist, asserting that anything that occurs can only happen in accordance with natural law. It is called magic only because the natural law expressed has not yet been understood.

He had reason in later life to amend this denial of the supernatural after meeting Nizier Philippe, whom he came to recognise as his ‘spiritual master’, but at this time he was still very much the bright medical student specialising in the study of hypnosis at the St Antoine and La Charité hospitals in Paris, testing the theories of the German naturalist Baron von Reichenbach that animated beings and some magnetic materials gave off energies visible to sensitives, called Odic force.

Trying to keep things simple, he goes on to elaborate the theory of magic in psychological terms with the analogy of a horse-drawn cab. (We are still in a pre-automotive age!)

 The cab driver represents intelligence and the human will, – otherwise called the DIRECTING PRINCIPLE     that governs the whole vehicle.

The cab represents matter, which is inert but which carries all – and functions as the MOVED PRINCIPLE.

The horse represents force, acting on the cab, directed by the driver, that moves the whole system. It is the MOVING PRINCIPLE and at the same time the INTERMEDIARY between cab and driver. The link that joins and supports that which rules. That connects matter to the will.

So in practice, the driver is the human will, the horse is life, identical in its cause and effect within all animate beings, the intermediary without which the will could no more act on matter than the driver could move his cab if one took away his horse.

However, is it enough just to know this in order to be a magician? Alas, no! Not until one has learned how to drive. The difference between the practice of magic and occult science is that the first is practical while the second is theoretical. To expect to perform magic without knowing occultism is to expect to drive without having been taught how.

But if magic, being practical, is an applied science, to what is it applied?

The answer is the Will. The directing principle, the driver of the system.

 And to what is the will applied?  Never directly to matter. That would be like the driver sitting in his seat shouting at the cab while the horse is still in the stable.

The operator must therefore apply the will, not directly to  matter, but to that which modifies matter, which in occult science is called the Formative World, the astral plane. Or that Eliphas Levi called the Astral Light.

Although if we refuse to believe it exists, then of course we will have little chance of working with it!

Monday, February 22, 2016


The Qabalah - Secret Tradition of the West - 3

Having hinted at the formidable extent of the work to be tackled, Eliphas Levi, who had drunk deep of both mysticism and logged up a very considerable range of life experience, proceeds to set his aspiring student upon the right course with the right attitude, which is a high respect for the Tarot along with a religious dynamic that is both ancient and modern, Jewish and Christian, Egyptian and Greek, and even further afield.


Dear sir and brother,

The Bible gives two names to man. The first is Adam, which means ‘drawn from the earth’, or ‘the man of earth.’ The second is Enos or Enoch, which means ‘divine man’ or ‘risen to God.’ 

According to Genesis it is Enos (as principle of beings) to whom Adam addressed his public worship. And Enos was, like Enoch, raised alive to heaven, after having inscribed the basic elements of religion and universal science onto two stones – called the columns of Hénoch.

This Hénoch was not a person, but a personification of humanity raised by religion and science to the level of immortality. In the epoch called by the name of Enos or Hénoch, the worship of God, and the principle of  priesthood appeared on Earth. Thus civilisation began – along with writing.

The civilising spirit that the Hebrews personified in Hénoch the Egyptians called Trismegistus and the Greeks Kadmos or Cadmus, he who, to the notes of the lyre of Amphion,  saw the living stones of Thebes rise and arrange themselves. {Hermes taught Amphion music and gave him a beautiful golden lyre to the music of which the stones of the walls of Thebes, of which he became king, moved to their right places. GK. }

The primitive holy book, the book that Postel {Guillaume Postel, 1510-81, French Kabbalist} called the genesis of Hénoch, is the first source of Kabalah or tradition, at the same time divine,  human and religious. There, in all its simplicity, appears the revelation of supreme intelligence to the reason and love of man. Eternal law ruling infinite expansion. Numbers in infinite extension. Numbers in immensity and immensity in numbers. Poetry in mathematics and mathematics in poetry.

Who would believe that the inspirational book of all religious theories and symbols had been conserved, and  remained so until ourselves, in the form of a game of  cards? Nothing is more evident however as, in the last century, Court de Gebelin, followed by all who have seriously studied the symbolism of these cards, was the first to discover.

The alphabet and the ten signs for numbers. There is certainly nothing more elementary in the sciences. Join the signs of the four cardinal points of the heavens, or the four seasons, and you have the complete book of Hénoch. Where each sign represents an absolute, or if you will, an essential, idea.

The form of each number and each letter has its mathematical reason and hieroglyphic significance. The ideas, inseparable from the numbers, follow the function of numbers in acquiring exactitude.  The book of Hénoch is ultimately the arithmetic of thought.

Yours in the sacred science, Eliphas Levi.

{We may perhaps discern from these remarks Papus’ apparent obsession with number theory in his book on Tarot. Although whether he got it right may be another matter. G.K. }


Dear Sir and Brother,

Court de Gebelin saw in the twenty two keys of the Tarot the representation of the Egyptian mysteries and attributed their invention to Hermes or Mercury Trismegistus, who has also been called Thaut or Thoth. It is certain that the hieroglyphs of the Tarot are found on the ancient monuments of Egypt.  It is certain that the signs of this book, traced in synoptic groups on steles or metallic tables, like the Isiac table of Bembo, were also reproduced separately on carved stones or on medals, that later became amulets and talismans. They thus divided the pages of the infinite book into diverse combinations – to assemble, transpose and dispose in ever new ways the inexhaustible oracles of truth.

I possess one of these antique talismans, given me by one of my friends, a traveller in Egypt. It represents the Binary of Cycles, or popularly, the Two of Coins. It is the figurative expression of the great law of polarisation and equilibrium, producing harmony by the analogy of contraries. This is how the symbol appears in the Tarot we possess – S.  The medal I have, that is still for sale nowadays, is roughly like a five franc silver piece but thicker. The two polar cycles are drawn exactly like our Italian Tarot, a lotus flower with an aureole or nimbus. {It is worth taking a look at the 2 of Coins in a commercial playing card Tarot pack, such as the M\arseilles, to see if it features the figure that Eliphas Levi is describing. GK.}

The astral current that at the same time separates and attracts the two polar foci is represented in an Egyptian talisman by the goat of Mendes placed between two vipers, analogous to the serpents of the caduceus. On the reverse of the medal one sees an adept or Egyptian priest who, being substituted for Mendes between the two cycles of universal equilibrium, drives the animal down an avenue planted with trees, the goat become docile  under the wand of the man imitating God.

The ten signs for numbers, the twenty two letters of the alphabet and the four astronomical signs of the seasons are the summary and résumé of all the Kabala.  Twenty two letters and ten numbers give the thirty two paths of the Sepher Jetzirah; four giving the Mercavah and the Schemhamphoresh. It is as simple as a childrens’ game and as complicated as the hardest problems of pure mathematics. Naive and profound – like truth or nature. They are the four elemental astronomical signs – under the four forms of the sphinx and the four animals of Ezekiel and St. John.

Yours in the sacred science, Eliphas Levi.


Dear Sir and Brother,

The knowledge of Kabalah makes it impossible to doubt the matter of religion, because it alone reconciles reason with faith and shows that this universal dogma, diversely formulated but in the end always and everywhere the same, is the purest expression of the aspirations of the human spirit lit by the necessary faith.

It helps us understand the use of religious practices, that by fixing the attention strengthen the will, and throw a superior light on all cults. It proves that the most efficacious of all cults are those which, by their effective signs, approach the divinity of man in some way –  make him see, touch and in some way incorporate it.

Which includes the Catholic religion.

This religion may popularly seem the most absurd because, it is the most revealed. I use this word in its true sense, revelare, ‘re-veil’, ‘veil again’. It is said in the Gospels that at the death of Christ the veil of the temple was torn through. It follows that all the dogmatic work of the Church through the ages has been to weave and embroider a new veil.

It is true that the heads of it, through wanting to be princes, for a long time lost the keys of high initiation, which prevented the letter of dogma from being sacred and the sacraments from being efficacious. I have explained in my works how Catholic Christian worship is high magic organised and regularised by symbolism and hierarchy. A combination of ways of help offered to human weakness to maintain its will to the good.

Nothing has been neglected, neither mysterious and dark temple, nor incense that calms and exalts at the same time, nor prolonged and monotonous chants that soothe the brain to a light somnambulism. Its dogma, which may seem obscure formulae to the despair of reason, serves as a barrier to the petulance of the inexperienced and indiscrete critic. It appears unfathomable, the better to represent the infinite.

Even the liturgy, celebrated in a tongue that the mass of the people do not understand, widens the thought of those who pray, leaving them to find in prayer all that is in rapport with the needs of the spirit and the heart. That is why the Catholic religion resembles the fabulous sphinx, which renews itself from century to century, and is ever reborn from its ashes.

This great mystery of faith is quite simply a mystery of nature. It seems an enormous paradox if one says that the Catholic religion is the only one that can truly be called natural. However, this is true, since only it satisfies fully the natural need of man – which is the religious sense.

Yours in the sacred science,  Eliphas Levi.

{The above analysis of the benefits of established religious worship is worth pondering – unwelcome as it may appear to the agnostic, neo-pagan or even protestant. It may also be none too welcome, for different reasons, to the committed Roman Catholic, being a psychological  analysis of religious worship and the sacraments.

 The  overtly Catholic assumptions are due to the time of writing when Christian worship in France was 98% Catholic, with the Mass celebrated in Latin. Levi’s remarks seem primarily addressed  to an esoteric student who has lost touch with or is in some doubt about traditional forms of religious belief or practice – possibly to his own detriment. GK. }


If  Christian Catholic dogma is kabalistic we should also include the great sanctuaries of the ancient world. The legend of Krishna, that gave the Bhaghavadam, is a true gospel, similar to ours, although more naive and bright. The incarnations of Vishnu are ten in number, like the Sephiroth of the Kabala, and form a revelation more complete, in some ways, than our own.

 Osiris was killed by Typhon, then resurrected by Isis. That is the Christ repudiated by the Jews, then honoured in the person of his mother.

 The Thebiad is a great religious epic that should placed beside the great symbol of Prometheus.

Antigone is a type of divine woman as pure as Mary. Everywhere the good triumphs through voluntary sacrifice after having suffered for a time the unruly assaults of fatal force. Even the rites are symbolic and transfer from one religion to another. The tiaras, the mitres, the robes appear in all the great religions.

Some might therefore conclude that all are false, but it is their own conclusion that is false. The truth is that religion is one, like humanity. Progressive like humanity. Remaining ever the same by always transforming.

If with the Egyptians Jesus Christ is called Osiris, with the Scandinavians Osiris is called Balder. He is killed by the wolf Jeuris, but Woden or Odin recall him to life, and the Walkyries themselves bring him hydromel in Valhalla. The scaldes, the druids, the bards sing the death and resurrection of Tarenis or Téténus, distributing to their faithful the sacred gui like we drink, blessed at the feasts of the summer solstice to render a cult that  inspired the virginity of the priestesses of the Ile de Seyne.

We can thus, in all conscience and with all reason, accomplish the duties that our maternal religion imposes on us. The practices are collective acts, repeated with direct and persevering intention.

 Such acts are always useful to employ and, by strengthening the will, of which they are the gymnastics, they cause us to arrive at the spiritual end we seek to attain. Magical acts and magnetic passes have no other end, and give analogous results, to religious practices, but more imperfectly.

How many men lack the energy to say what they want or do what they should? Yet there are great numbers of women who devote themselves, without discouragement, to work as difficult and demanding as nursing and teaching! Where do they find such strength? In little repeated practices. They say the holy office and their chaplet every day and give praise on their knees in personal examination.

Yours in the science, Eliphas Levi


Religion is not a servitude imposed on man, it is a help that is offered to him. The priestly castes have ever sought to exploit, to sell and to transform this help into an insupportable yoke, but the evangelical work of Jesus had for its aim to separate religion from the priest – or at least to put the priest back in his place as minister or server of the religion, rendering all his freedom and reason to the consciousness of man.

See the parable of the good Samaritan and those precious texts that ‘the law is made for man and not man for the law’. Ill fortune to those who read and impose on the shoulders of others the burdens they themselves would only deign to touch with their finger tips (etc., etc.).

 The official Church calls itself infallible in the Apocalypse, which is the kabalistic key to the gospels. There has always been in Christianity an occult or Johanite church that, while respecting the necessity of the official Church, conserved an interpretation of dogma quite other from that given to the populace.

Before the French Revolution the Templars, Rosicrucians and high grade Freemasons all belonged to the Church of which Martinez Pasqualis, Saint-Martin and even Mme Krodemer were the apostles in the last century. The distinctive character of that school was to avoid publicity and never to constitute a dissident sect. Count Joseph de Maistre, that so radical a Catholic, was, more than is realised, sympathetic to the Martinist society and announced a new regeneration of dogma by the light that came from the occult sanctuaries. {We, like Papus, will have more to say about Martinism as we progress. GK.}

The disturbing character of this school was that there now once more existed fervent priests initiated into the old doctrine. One bishop, amongst others, on approaching death, asked me for kabalistic communications.

The disciples of Saint-Martin, called ‘the unknown philosophers’, and those of a modern master, quite happy to be ignored, had no need to take any name, for the world did not suspect their existence. Jesus had said that the leaven should be hidden at the bottom of the vessel that contained the dough, to work day and night in silence until little by little the fermentation had penetrated the whole loaf that was to become bread.

An initiate can thus with simplicity and sincerity practise the religion into which he was born, for all its rites represent diversely a single and same doctrine. But he should only reveal the depths of his conscience to God – and  not tell anyone his most intimate beliefs.

The priest should not judge what the Pope himself does not understand.

The external signs of the initiate are modesty in knowledge, discrete philanthropy, balanced character and permanent good will.

Yours in the sacred science, Eliphas Levi.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


The Qabalah - Secret Tradition of the West – 2

I don’t know if anyone noticed that despite Eliphas Levi saying he was listing twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet in fact he only gave twenty one!? The missing one is Shin –  which in his system of correspondences in the Tarot section of his Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magic (Chapter 22 of Transcendental Magic)  is allocated to Trump 0 – the Fool.

This card and image should also give us pause for thought when at the beginning of his next lesson he tells his student to take up his Tarot pack and lay out the sequence of Trumps “in two lines of ten... from one to twenty one”.  This is a mathematical impossibility. He must intend two lines of eleven – with Trump Zero included in there somewhere. The question is – “Where?”

The answer is plain to see in the book – which he later advises the student to study. It falls between Trumps XX and XXI – the Last Judgement and The Universe. As we shall see from Eliphas Levi’s lessons, and also from the evidence of other French occultists who follow him, they like to see the sequence of Tarot Trumps as the story of a typical initiate (represented by Trump I – the Juggler) going through a series of initiatory experiences that conclude with the final judgement of his suitability for resurrection to the higher life  (Trump XX)  leading him to final achievement in the balanced harmony of Trump XXI. However   should the Last Judgement go against him, then he shows himself to be the Fool – worth nothing!  Or to quote from the book: “A man in the garb of a fool, wandering without aim, burdened with a wallet, which is doubtless full of his follies and vices; his disordered clothes discover his shame; he is being bitten by a tiger and does not know how to escape or defend himself.”

This is a far cry from the Golden Dawn conception of the Fool, placed at the start of the sequence of Trumps and representing a newly created innocent spirit entering material life or  initiatory experience. However, it is not our intention to become entangled in the webs of differing ideas of symbolic correspondence between one school of esoteric thought and another. Even if – and indeed precisely if – those who hold to them consider them to be the one and only true vouchsafed to them on the highest authority. Suffice to say, that for the comparative beginner, any reasonable system is likely to work, and they do best to stick to it – right or wrong – until such time as they are mature enough and practised in the ways of esoteric symbolism to be able to work with any – or to forge their own without being distracted by academic party poopers.  

There is, back of Levi’s magical symbolism, a profound religious interpretation within the line of the visionary Biblical books of Ezekiel and of the Apocalypse. As he plainly spells out in Lesson Three – the Tarot is “the great key to the hieratic hieroglyphs. We find there the symbols and numbers in the prophecies of Ezekiel and St John. The Bible is an inspired book, but the Tarot is an inspirational one.”

So much for Lesson Three. In the fourth lesson he raises the question of two great Kabbalistic traditions:  Bereshith, which means genesis or beginning, and Mercavah, which means chariot or throne. Bereshith and the Mercavah contain knowledge of God and of the world. 

Bereshith is the first word of the Old Testament, and usually translated into English as ‘In the beginning’. The opening pages of the Zohar (the Kabalistic Book of Splendour) analyse it and its implications at great length. The symbolism of the Throne of God, or its wheeled version as a Holy Chariot, comes from the first three chapters of the Book of Ezekiel, written soon after 600 BC with the exile of the Jews to Babylon. It is a book of visions and symbolic actions, beginning with the appearance of God in human form, throned  in glory and  surrounded by a rainbow and four winged cherubim. Apart from the Tarot figure of the Chariot one might speculate how far seated figures in the Tarot Trumps may reflect various elements of Throne mysticism.

Levi concludes the lesson with a rundown of the symbolism of the ten spheres of the Tree of Life seen as expressions of God, a great harmony of physical and moral worlds revealing and demonstrating the existence of eternal wisdom, eternal principles and eternal laws, emanating from an infinitely active creative intelligence. A wisdom and  understanding that are inseparable from each other, resting upon a supreme power called the Crown. Not a king, for that would imply an idol. The supreme power is, for kabalists, the Crown of the universe. And the whole creation is the kingdom of the Crown, or the Crown’s domain.

God is thus the power or supreme Crown (Kether) that reposes on eternal wisdom (Chokmah) and creative intelligence (Binah); in which are goodness (Chesed) and justice (Geburah) which are the ideal of beauty (Tiphareth). In Him are ever victorious movement (Netzach) and great eternal rest (Hod). His will is a continual childbearing (Yesod) and His kingdom (Malkuth) the immensity that peoples the universe.

“Let us stop here!” says Eliphas, “For we know God!

In the fifth lesson he tells how this rational knowledge of divinity is spread over the ten figures from which all numbers are composed, which gives the whole method of kabalistic philosophy.

This method is composed of thirty two instruments, or means of knowledge, called the thirty two paths; and the fifty subjects to which knowledge can be applied are like fifty gates.  This synthesising universal knowledge is thus like a temple to which thirty two ways lead and which one can enter by fifty doors. The fifty gates or doors are a classification of all beings into five series of ten that embrace all possible knowledge. This is sometimes depicted as five Trees of Life depending from each other, representing the four manifest worlds of the Kabalists and the Limitless Light behind them.

This numerical system, called decimal because it has the number ten as its base, establishes by analogies an exact classification of all human knowledge. In Levi’s view, nothing is more ingenious, nothing more logical or exact.

This high knowledge acquired, one can pass to the final revelations of the transcendental Kabala, and the study of the schemhamphorasch, a 72 letter name of God that also figures in traditions of angelology, and is said to be the source and reason for all dogmas. 

“There, my friend,” says Eliphas Levi, “ is what we have to learn. See if it does not frighten you. My letters are short, but they are very concise résumés that speak much in few words. I have left quite a long gap between my first five lessons to leave you the time to reflect on them, and I can write to you more often if you wish.

“Believe me, sir, with the ardent desire to be useful to you, your totally devoted one in the sacred science.” – Eliphas Levi.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


The Qabalah - Secret Tradition of the West [part 1]

Whether or not the Tarot has its roots in the Jewish Qabalah as Eliphas Levi assumed, there is no doubt that this Jewish secret tradition, however spelled, has long and almost universally been regarded as a source of esoteric wisdom in the West.

It was not for nothing that S.L.MacGregor Mathers went to the trouble of translating the Latin of Knorr von Rosenrath’s Kabbalah Denudata (The Kabbalah Unveiled) into English, even if the veil might still seem pretty opaque. Or Gérard Encausse rendering the ancient Sepher Yetzirah (Book of Formations) into French, making an early appearance in L’Initiation magazine in 1887.  His academic biographers André and Beaufils find it difficult to understand how he managed this without any proven  knowledge of the original language and hint that he might actually have done it from an already translated Spanish version.

Be this as it may, in 1892 he came out with a book on the subject, called La Kabbale – for which he sought the blessing of Adolphe Franck, (1809-1893) a distinguished scholar who had produced an academic work on the subject back in 1843. The gentleman concerned, perhaps slightly surprisingly, came back with an encouraging letter, although one in which he kept his options open by saying he had not yet had time to study Papus’ work in detail.

I accept with the greatest pleasure the dedication you wish to offer me in your book on the Kabbale, which is not an ‘essay’ as you choose to call it, but a book of great importance.

I have only been able to run through it quickly, but I know it enough to tell you that, in my opinion, it is the most curious, instructive, and knowledgeable that has appeared so far on this obscure subject.  

As Papus remarked at the head of his translation of the Sepher Yetzirah: “All the scientific, philosophical or religious teachings of the Kabbale are taken from two fundamental books, the Zohar and the Sepher Yesirah. It is translated into Latin in the Kabbala denudata and into English in the Kabbala Unveiled of M.A.Matthers.” (sic)  It is interesting to see this acknowledgement by Papus of one of the founders of the Golden Dawn, even if mispelled.

 Papus’ book of 1892 was succeeded, in 1903 by a much expanded version, retitled La Cabbale, Tradition secrete de l’Occident (Secret Tradition of the West) considerably augmented by contributions by friends and colleagues such as Stanislas de Guaita, Paul Sédir, Marc Haven and others – of whom more later.

It included an interesting set of personal lessons from the pen of Eliphas Levi, recently discovered, and which seem interesting enough also to  reproduce here. Letters 1 and 2  include a list of Levi’s symbolic correspondences which devoted symbolists may like to ponder.

 The numbers 1 to 10 accord fairly well with generally accepted attributions of the ten spheres of the Tree of Life, but when it comes to the Hebrew alphabet there is plainly a difference of perspective between adepti on one side of the English Channel and the other. Rather than taking sides you may find profit in meditating on what your own might be – and why! You can then start calling yourself a Kabbalist!

 But whatever your conclusions, there is much good sense in the general teaching of Eliphas Levi who was far more experienced mystically and magically than most of his contemporaries and many who came after. It is certainly worth pondering.



Dear Sir and Brother,

I can address you like this since you seek the truth in the sincerity of your heart and are ready to make sacrifices.

The truth is not difficult to find, being the  essence of all that is. It is within us and we are within it. It is like a light that the blind cannot see.

Being is. That is, incontestable and absolute. The exact idea of Being is truth; its knowledge is science; its ideal expression is reason; its activity is creation and justice.

You want to believe, you say. For that, it is enough to know and to love truth. For true faith is the unshakable adherence of the spirit to the necessary deductions of science in the conjectured infinite. 

The occult sciences alone give certainty, because they take reality for their base and not dreams.

They make true and false discernable in each religious symbol. Truth is the same everywhere, but the false varies according to place, time and people.

The occult sciences are three in number: the Kabbale, Magic and Hermeticism.

The Kabbale, or traditional science of the Hebrews, could be called the mathematics of human thought. It is the algebra of faith. It solves all problems of the soul by identifying the unknown, like equations. It gives to ideas the clarity and rigorous exactitude of numbers; its results are infallible for the spirit (relative, all the same, to the sphere of human consciousness) and peace profound for the heart.

Magic, or the science of the magi, has had for its representatives in antiquity the disciples and also perhaps the  Zoroastrian masters. It is the knowledge of secret and particular laws of nature that produce hidden forces. The magnetism, whether natural or artificial, that can exist beyond the world of metals. In a word, to use a modern expression, it is the science of universal magnetism.

Hermeticism is the science of nature hidden in hieroglyphs and symbols of the ancient world. It is research on the principle of life, with the dream (for those who have not yet arrived) of accomplishment of the great work. The reproduction, by man, of the natural and divine fire that creates and regenerates beings.

There you have, sir, the things that you wish to study. Its circle is immense, but the principles are so simple that they are represented and contained in the forms of numbers and letters of the alphabet. “It is a labour of Hercules that is like a children’s game” say the masters of the sacred science.

The dispositions to be successful in this study are: great rectitude of judgement, and great independence of spirit. It is necessary to abandon all prejudice and all preconceived ideas, which is why Christ said: “If you do not come with the simplicity of a child, you will never enter Malkuth,” which is to say, into the kingdom of knowledge.

We will start with the Kabbale – which can be divided into Bereshith, Mercavah, Gematria and Lemurah.

Yours in the holy science, Eliphas Levi.




That to which one aims in studying the Kabbale is to arrive at peace profound through the tranquillity of the spirit and a peaceful heart.

Tranquillity of the spirit is a consequence of certainty; peace of heart of patience and faith.

Without faith, knowledge leads to doubt; without knowledge, faith leads to superstition. United, the two give certainty –  but uniting does not mean confusing them. The object of faith is a hypothesis, and it becomes a certainty when the hypothesis is necessitated by evidence or by the demonstrations of science.

Science consists of facts. The repetition of facts suggests laws. The generality of facts in the presence of this or that force demonstrates the existence of laws. Intelligent laws are necessarily wanted and directed by the intelligence. Unity in laws leads us to suppose the unity of a legislative intelligence. This intelligence, that we are led to suppose because of its manifest works, is impossible for us to define. It  is what we call God!

You receive my letter, which is an evident fact. You recognise my writing and my thoughts, and conclude from that that it is truly me who has written to you. This is a reasonable hypothesis, but the necessary hypothesis is that someone has written that letter. It could be counterfeit, but you have no reason to suppose that. If you suppose it anyway, you make a very doubtful hypothesis. If you claim that the written letter has fallen from the sky, you make an absurd hypothesis.

Here then, following the kabbalistic method, is how certainty is formed:


            Scientific demonstration............................certainty

            Necessary hypothesis................................certainty

            Reasonable hypothesis..............................probability

            Doubtful hypothesis..................................doubt

            Absurd hypothesis.....................................error

In following this method the spirit acquires real infallibility, since it affirms what it knows, believes what it must necessarily suppose, admits reasonable suppositions, examines doubtful suppositions, and rejects absurd suppositions.

All Kabbale is contained in what the masters call the thirty two Paths and fifty Doors or Gateways.

The thirty two paths are thirty two absolute and real ideas attached to the signs of the ten arithmetical numbers and the twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Here are these ideas:


1 Supreme power

2 Absolute wisdom

3 Infinite intelligence

4 Good

5 Justice or rigour

6 Beauty

7 Victory

8 Eternity

9 Fecundity

10 Reality


Aleph                       Father

Beth                         Mother

Ghimel                     Nature

Daleth                      Authority


Vau                          Liberty

Dzain                       Propriety

Cheth                       Repartition

Theth                      Prudence

Iod                           Order

Caph                        Force

Lamed                      Sacrifice

Mem                        Death

Nun                          Reversability

Samech                    Universal Being

Gnain                       Equilibrium

Phè                          Immortality

Tsade                       Shadow and reflection

Koph                       Light

Resch                       Recognition

Thau                        Synthesis


Friday, February 05, 2016



The Tarot of the Bohemians

Papus, along with the Tarot, came to the attention of English readers in 1896 through a translation of his 1889 book Le Tarot des Bohémiens. Whether or not it can be considered a classic work it was certainly a pioneering one, reproducing line drawings of Marseilles Tarot originals of the 22 Trumps along with ‘esoterically improved’ versions by Oswald Wirth, a Swiss freemason and budding Tarot authority. A.E.Waite’s fully illustrated coloured cards, drawn by Pixie Coleman-Smith, that have become classics in their own right and usually unacknowledged pattern for dozens of latter day Tarots, did not appear for another fourteen years.

The originality of Papus’ subject brought a number of  problems, and not only esoteric ones. Although a professional translator had been engaged  he plainly suffered from complete  ignorance of his subject including even the common nomenclature of playing cards. For instance, the word in French for playing card suits is ‘couleurs’ which he blithely rendered as ‘colours’ although presumably most readers realised what was meant. And  when it came to occult matters, anyone interested in spiritual topics is called a ‘spiritualist’; initiations are referred to as ‘initiatives’; the Theosophical Society renamed the Theosophite Society and the Egyptian god Ammon rechristened ‘Amen’. Most fundamental was, however, the translation of the title. Le Tarot des Bohémiens means ‘The Tarot of the Gypsies’ so to call the English version The Tarot of the Bohemians was to name it the Tarot of the Inhabitants of Bohemia or alternatively members of the Parisian artistic community, like Mimi in La Bohème.  I don’t think she shuffles the cards to tell fortunes in the opera.

None of which probably matters in the longer view as there is considerable doubt as to whether the Gypsies had anything to do with the Tarot anyway!  The idea began as a random speculation (among many) by Court de Gebelin, the late 18th century originator of occult interest in the Tarot. The gypsies’ preferred method of fortune telling was palmistry. Oddly enough, although Gerard Encausse’s claim to gypsy blood was almost certainly spurious, he was quite good at palmistry. Soon after their first meeting, he showed Victor Émile Michelet his hand and said it foretold he would die at the age of 53. He was only a couple of years out. Papus died in 1916 at the age of 51 as a result of his medical work in the trenches of the 1st World War.    

Like a number of his works, Papus’ Tarot book is divided into three parts. The first is devoted to the kind of number symbolism we found in his Traité Élémentaire de Science Occulte, and as he all but admits later on, we could probably just as well have done without it! It is a numerological analysis of the Jewish divine name Yod – Heh – Vau – Heh that will probably cause any kosher student of the Jewish Qabalah to cry aloud and leave the rest of us very confused. Those of long patience can try their luck with pages 243 to 251 of Professor Michael Dummett’s analysis in A Wicked Pack of Cards    a detailed work on the origins of the occult Tarot that contains a chapter on Papus.

With the second part of the book we are into the diagrams and lists of correspondences dear to the hearts of dedicated occultists. The only problem here will be, for those of us who have been brought up on Golden Dawn attributions, that the correspondences are all different to what we are used to. The reason for this being that Eliphas Levi, whose lead Papus follows, chose to list the Tarot Trumps in a different order.

We gave forewarning of this back in Sons of Hermes 2. There need be no problem at all if one takes to heart that the Tarot is a system of symbolism big enough and well integrated enough to stand on its own merits, without close correspondence with any other symbolic system – be it Qabalah, Astrology, or Egyptian hieroglyphs. Insofar that any magical symbol system is an attempt to describe elements of the inner worlds, it may have similarities with others insofar that each is trying to describe the same general landscape. However, such is the range and complexity of the interlocking spheres of the inner worlds, that expecting close correspondence between one system and another is doomed to disappointment. (But as a wise old teacher of mine once remarked – the way toward reality tends to be a process of shedding illusions – another word for which can be disillusionment.)

So to get the most from the Tarot my advice is to treat it as a stand alone system. It will work very well like that, without a lot of constricting webs. The same might be said for the Paths and Spheres of the Tree of Life, or the I Ching hexagrams, or the constellations of the Starry Wisdom of the Ptolemaic cosmos. If you come across what looks like a close correspondence of realities between one system and another, tip your hat in respect, reflect upon your good luck, or inherent wisdom if you should be so foolish, and then pass on. However, I grant that there can be fascinating speculation in juggling with correspondences and some occultists have come up with interesting alternatives. 

Actually Papus comes close to this in the third part of his book, which is a typical Papusian bran tub of bits and pieces gathered from here and there, including a long contribution from Albert Foucheux, otherwise known as Barlet (anagram of Albert) a civil servant who seems to have been a permanent fixture of Parisian occultism, and member of every committee, ever ready with words of wisdom on whatever subject required, and local representative of the Anglo-American H.B.L. or Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (Luxor being a Latin/Hebrew code for Light (Lux + Aur). As will later be seen, Papus and his circle had a great weakness for secret societies and their titles and paraphernalia.  

But more striking is Papus’ advice on how to read the Tarot – a long chapter consisting of seven lessons intended for lady readers. Successful card reading, he says, is largely a matter of intuition, the implication being that they need not bother about trying to understand all the difficult stuff in the rest of the book.

“The first part of our study of the Tarot, full of numbers, of Hebrew letters, and abstract deductions, is not calculated to attract the attention of ladies...and I hope that the pleasure gained by the fair inquirers will balance the scepticism of sterner intellects.”

For myself, I wonder how it is that for someone who from 1888 until the eve of his marriage in 1895 was very close to a prominent feminist, Anna Wolska, could not have had this arch chauvinism posing as gallantry knocked out of him. But he was at this time still only 23 and maybe he had only just met her.