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Eliphas Lévi and the French Occult Revival

Christopher McIntosh

Publication Year: 2011

A searching study of Eliphas Lévi and the French occult revival. This classic study of the French magician Eliphas Lévi and the occult revival in France is at last available again after being out of print and highly sought after for many years. Its central focus is Lévi himself (1810-1875), would-be priest, revolutionary socialist, utopian visionary, artist, poet and, above all, author of a number of seminal books on magic and occultism. It is largely thanks to Lévi, for example, that the Tarot is so widely used today as a divinatory method and a system of esoteric symbolism. The magicians of the Golden Dawn were strongly influenced by him, and Aleister Crowley even believed himself to be Lévi's reincarnation. The book is not only about Lévi, however, but also covers the era of which he was a part and the remarkable figures who preceded and followed him – the esoteric Freemasons and Illuminati of the late 18th century, and later figures such as the Rosicrucian magus Joséphin Péladan, the occultist Papus (Gérard Encausse), the Counter-Pope Eugène Vintras, and the writer J.-K. Huysmans, whose work drew strongly on occult themes. These people were avatars of a set of traditions which are now seen as an important part of the western heritage and which are gaining increasing attention in the academy. Christopher McIntosh's vivid account of this richly fascinating era in the history of occultism remains as fresh and compelling as ever.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Eliphas Lévi and the French Occult Revival

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p. 3-3

List of Illustrations

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pp. 4-6

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Preface to the New Edition / Acknowledgments

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pp. 7-10

Bringing this book out again some four decades after it was first published has revived memories of the experience of writing it in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After publishing my first book, The Astrologers and Their Creed (London: Hutchinson, 1969), I was looking for another subject within the study of western...

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pp. 11-14

Occult movements and secret cults have always played a significant part in society. Like a subterranean current they have moved beneath the ground of history, occasionally bursting forth to flow for a spell in the light of day, revealing some strange and exotic fish in the process. This book deals with one...

Part 1: The Age of Unreason

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pp. 15-16

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1. The Rebirth of Magic

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pp. 17-33

A French Countess tells in her memoirs' of a bizarre character who arrived in Paris in the 1720S and soon had the court and the salons buzzing with stories of his remarkable deeds. He was reported to be fluent in every European language, as well as Chinese, Arabic and Sanskrit. He was a skilful pianist...

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2. The Occult and the Revolution

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pp. 34-43

The members of Pasqually's Order of the Elect Cohens may have included one Jacques Cazotte, poet and author of a fanciful romance called Le Diable amoureux. Cazotte was evidently also a clairvoyant of remarkable power. In 1788 he was present at a dinner party in Paris given by the Duchesse de Gramont...

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3. Revolutionary Cults

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pp. 44-50

A new social order demanded a new faith to go with it. But a faith, like a language, is not an easy thing to construct artificially, and it is not surprising that several different cults superseded one another in rapid succession during the early post-Revolution years. One of the first attempts was the revolutionary faith...

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4. The Beginnings of Popular Occultism

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pp. 51-54

One of the celebrities who received a miraculous cure from Mesmer was an eccentric Protestant theologian from the Languedoc by the name of Court de Gebelin, who had been reduced to a bad physical condition by forty years of sleepless nights and overwork. When he presented himself at Mesmer's consulting...

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5. Magnetisers and Mediums

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pp. 55-60

Animal magnetism, which had languished somewhat in the turbulent years of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, reawakened in 1815. In that year the Société de l'Harmonie was founded by the Marquis de Puységur to spread the gospel of Mesmer. Puységur was the eldest of three brothers, all of...

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6. The Holy King

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pp. 61-70

Before looking any further at the growth of occult movements in France it would be helpful to examine the general condition of the country as it developed in the years after 18I5. After the débâcle of that year the monarchy returned in the person of the obese Louis XVIII, brother of the luckless Louis XVI, an astute...

Part 2: Eliphas Lévi

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pp. 71-72

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7. The Early Years

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pp. 73-82

The man who was to become the nineteenth century's most prolific and skilful proponent of occultism was born in Paris on 8th February 1810 and christened Alphonse-Louis Constant. A baptismal register states that his parents were Jean-Joseph Constant, shoemaker, and Jeanne-Agnès Constant...

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8. The Radical

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pp. 83-95

Constant emerged from Saint-Sulpice confronted by the daunting problems of adjusting to a secular life. His first thought was to avoid them by entering a monastery. 'I do not wish', he wrote to one of his friends 'to resume in the world a life of which the seminary has taken the best part, and to lead here the degrading...

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9. Enter Eliphas Lévi

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pp. 96-104

From an early age Constant had been attracted towards mysticism amd occultism. His knowledge of Hebrew had enabled him to delve into the Cabala, and he was familiar with Knorr von Rosenroth's Kabbala Denudata. He was attracted by Gnosticism and Christian mysticism and had read works by Boehme, Swedenborg...

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10. The Magician

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pp. 105-123

The autumn of 1854 found Eliphas Lévi living in a first-floor apartment at 120 Boulevard du Montparnasse, consisting of a single modest room. Besides the scanty pieces of furniture there was an easel, for once again he had fallen back on his talents as an illustrator when times were hard. A Carmelite community in the Rue d'Enfer had commissioned him to...

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11. The Pundit

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pp. 124-135

In July 1861 an Italian nobleman of occult leanings was walking past a bookshop in Marseilles and noticed in the window a copy of Lévi's Dogme et rituel de la haute magie. He bought the book and was soon eager to get in touch with its author. The correspondence which ensued was later to result in his becoming one of Lévi's closest disciples. This man was Baron Nicolas-Joseph...

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12. The Last Years

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pp. 136-140

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the humiliating defeat of France came as a bitter blow to Eliphas Lévi, who saw France as the future saviour of civilisation. Sitting in his little book-lined refuge in the Rue de Sèvres while the war raged outside, he wrote : 'The palace of Louis XIV has become the home of the king of...

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13. Eliphas Lévi: An Assessment

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pp. 141-154

The generation of occultists that followed Levi regarded him as its guide and master. And it was not only in France that his name was revered. Kenneth Mackenzie, as we have seen, came to Paris to sit at his feet, MacGregor Mathers called him a 'great qabalist', and Aleister Crowley believed himself to be a reincarnation...

Part 3: Towards the Kingdom of the Paraclete

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pp. 155-156

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14. The Heirs of Eliphas Lévi

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pp. 157-170

One of the topics of conversation in occult circles in 1884 was an interesting phenomenon which had appeared in Paris in the form of the ample frame of Mme Blavatsky, whose Theosophical Society was by now well established in America and who had come to preach her gospel in France. By the time of...

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15. The War of the Roses

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pp. 171-176

Péladan, like Eliphas Lévi, combined his occultism with a strong adherence to Catholicism, and he soon found himself affronted by some of the more pagan activities of de Guaita's order. He was, in any case, too big a fish to swim for long in the same pond as de Guaita, and the inevitable split became public when...

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16. The Magical Quest of J.-K. Huysmans

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pp. 177-194

A favourite rendezvous of Paris occultists was Edmond Bailly's bookshop in the Rue de la Chausée d'Antin, where the review La Haute Science was published. It was a place frequented by representatives of every kind of cult, and among its habitués were de Guaita, Papus and Paul Adam. One of the people who...

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17. Writers and the Occult

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pp. 195-205

Huysmans was not the only French writer to be influenced by occultism. Indeed the influence of the occult in French nineteenth- century literature is so widespread than an exhaustive study of it would be impossible in one volume, let alone a single chapter. The literary aspect of the occult revival can therefore...

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18. Satanists and anti-Satanists

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pp. 206-218

One of the cruder by-products of the nineteenth-century occult revival was a widespread preoccupation with satanism. Encouraged by an extensive literature on the subject, many people derived titillation from the idea that a great diabolical conspiracy existed. Most of this literature professed to expose...

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19. The Indian Summer of Occultism

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pp. 219-224

By the turn of the century the more extravagant forms of magical activity had begun to give way to an armchair occultism which was more of a point of view than a doctrine. It became fashionable to take an 'occult' view of history, such as was propounded by Mme Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine and Edouard Schurès'...

Appendix A: Eliphas Lévi's Descendants

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p. 225-225

Appendix B: Eliphas Lévi and Aleister Crowley

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pp. 226-227

Select Bibliography

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pp. 228-232


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pp. 233-238

E-ISBN-13: 9781438435589
E-ISBN-10: 1438435584
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438435572
Print-ISBN-10: 1438435576

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1