The “Baphomet” of Eliphas Lévi:
Its Meaning and Historical Context
Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 ISSN: 2053-7158 (Online)
Although the Baphomet drawn by Eliphas Lévi (i.e., Alphonse-Louis Constant, 1810–1875)
is one of the most famous esoteric images worldwide, very little is known about its context
of emergence. It is well established that it has to be seen as a symbolic representation of
Lévi’s magnetistic-magical concept of the Astral Light, but the historical background of this
meaning remains largely obscure. This article demonstrates that a historical contextualization
of the Baphomet leads to an understanding of its meaning that is signicantly different from
prevalent interpretations. It will rstly be shown that the formation of Lévi’s historical narrative
can only be comprehended in the light of his radical socialist writings from the 1840s. It will
then be discussed which sources he used to elaborate and re-signify this narrative. Secondly,
it will be investigated how Lévi developed his magical theory in the 1850s by focusing on the
contexts of “spiritualistic magnetism,” Spiritism, and Catholicism. This analysis will show
that the Baphomet should be seen as more than a symbolization of Lévi’s magical theory. It
is the embodiment of a politically connoted tradition of “true religion” which would realize
a synthesis of religion, science, and politics.
Eliphas Lévi; Baphomet; occultism; socialism; Catholicism; magnetism
© 2016 Julian Strube
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7938
Eliphas Lévi’s androgynous, goat-headed “Baphomet” is one of the most
widely spread images with esoteric background. The drawing was originally
published in the rst livraisons of Lévi’s famous Dogme de la haute magie, pub-
lished by Guiraudet et Jouaust in 1854, and featured as the frontispiece for the
two-volume edition of Dogme et rituel de la haute magie, published by Germer
Baillière in 1855–1856, and for the extended second edition of 1861 (gure 1).
Today, the image and its countless variations are highly popular in new religious
movements and subcultures, most notably the various metal or gothic scenes.
It is frequently used in decidedly provocative counter-cultural contexts. In
2015, the so-called Satanic Temple unveiled a massive monument inspired by
the Baphomet drawing. The statue was intended as a tongue-in-cheek protest
against what was perceived as an improperly close relationship between religion
and the state. The organizers, who successfully attracted enormous media in-
terest, could draw on a close association between the Baphomet, devil worship,
and Satanism that had been established at least since the 1960s but reaches
back to the end of the nineteenth century.1 In this context, the Baphomet is
1 Cf. Christopher McIntosh, Eliphas Lévi and the French Occult Revival, 2nd ed. (London: Rider,
1975), 206–18 and Ruben van Luijk, “Satan Rehabilitated? A Study Into Satanism During the
Nineteenth Century” (Dissertation, Universiteit van Tilburg, 2013), 241–323.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 39
often—and erroneously—identied with an inverted pentagram superimposed
on a goat’s head, a symbol that was rst indicated by Eliphas Lévi himself and
later visualized by occultists such as Stanislas de Guaïta (1861–1897), in his Clef
de la magie noire from 1897.2 This variant was perhaps most prominently used
by Anton Szandor LaVey (1930–1997) in his Satanic Bible (1969), where it is
explicitly identied as “Baphomet.” It does not come as a surprise, then, that
the Baphomet is often associated with Satanism and anti-Christian attitudes.
At the same time, it is well known that Eliphas Lévi hardly qualies as a
Satanist, and that the meaning of the drawing, as ghastly as it may appear to the
beholder, is neither satanic nor anti-Christian. There is a wealth of academic
and non-academic literature that points out Lévi’s intention: a symbolization
of the equilibrium of opposites. The magnetistic connotation of this concept
was made very explicit by the author, and both early esoteric recipients such as
Helena Blavatsky, in 1877, and later scholars such as Christopher McIntosh, in
1975, emphasized this.3 While it is very easy to learn about the notion of the
“Astral Light” that formed the foundation of Lévi’s magnetistic theory, almost
no attention has been paid to the actual historical context in which he devel-
oped his understanding of the Baphomet.4 Although it is obvious that Lévi
related it to the Knights Templar, the actual sources he used to develop the
historical narrative in which he located the Templars has not been investigated.
This is mainly due to the fact that most observers more or less implicitly accept
the idea that Lévi was the continuator of an esoteric tradition, a rénovateur de
l’occultisme, who was less dependent on the historical context of the 1840s and
1850s than on ancient esoteric doctrines.5
2 Cf. Eliphas Lévi, Dogme et rituel de la haute magie, 2nd ed., 2 vols., vol. 2 (Paris/London/New
York: Germer Baillière, 1861), 93–94, 98, and Stanislas de Guaïta, Essais de sciences maudites, vol.
2: Le Serpent de la Genèse, seconde septaine: La clef de la magie noire (Paris: Henri Durville, 1920), 417.
3 Cf. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern
Science and Theology, 2 vols., vol. 1 (New York/London: J. W. Bouton/Bernard Quaritch, 1877),
137–38; The Secret Doctrine. The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy, 3rd ed., 3 vols., vol. 1
(London: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1893), 273–74 and McIntosh, Eliphas Lévi, 150.
4 With the notable exception of Karl Baier, Meditation und Moderne. Zur Genese eines Kernbereichs
moderner Spiritualität in der Wechselwirkung zwischen Westeuropa, Nordamerika und Asien, 2 vols., vol.
1 (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2009), 265–77.
5 This was established by Paul Chacornac, Eliphas Lévi. Rénovateur de l’Occultisme en France
(1810–1875) (Paris: Chacornac Frères, 1989), who reproduced narratives that were developed
by French occultists such as Papus or Stanislas de Guaïta. See Julian Strube, Sozialismus,
Katholizisimus und Okkultismus im Frankreich des 19. Jahrhunderts. Die Genealogie der Schriften von
Eliphas Lévi, Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter,
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7940
In what follows, it will be shown that Lévi’s Baphomet appears in a dif-
ferent light if it is historically contextualized. When developing his historical
narrative, Lévi was informed by scholarly debates about the emergence and
early development of Christianity, which often revolved around the question
of “true” religion and its role in contemporary society. The meaning and
intention of this narrative can only be comprehended if one takes into con-
sideration the ideas that he had propagated in the 1840s under his civil name
Alphonse-Louis Constant, when he was known as one of the most notorious
socialist radicals.6 At that time, he claimed to be the representative of a “true”
Catholicism which he opposed to the corrupted Christianity of the Churches,
and which he vehemently identied with “true” socialism. He regarded himself
as the latest representative of a long tradition of revolutionary heretics who
struggled for the realization of a universal religious association. In the 1850s,
he re-signied and elaborated this narrative, now identifying “occultism” with
“true Catholicism” and, at times more or less explicitly, with “true socialism.”7
His Baphomet has to be seen as an iconic representation of this “true” doc-
trine, as the Knights Templar were considered to be the successors of the very
same heretical revolutionary tradition that reached back to the “Gnostics” of
the late ancient School of Alexandria, the environment where the momentous
separation between “true” and “false” religion supposedly took place. In this
light, the Baphomet is not only a magnetistic symbol representing Lévi’s theory
of magic, but rst and foremost an embodiment of the one and only true
tradition whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a perfect social order.
2. Lévi’s Depiction of the Baphomet
It is relatively easy to trace the visual inspirations of Lévi’s notorious drawing.
Obviously, the Baphomet is depicted by Lévi primarily as a goat-like gure, which
is further emphasized by its identication with the “Goat of Mendes” or the
“sabbatical goat.” Depictions of a horned, goat-like demonic creature, or the
devil himself, were widespread. When Lévi wrote his books, the topos of a goat
being present at witches’ sabbaths had been commonplace for centuries. Having
6 As this article focuses on the period when Constant wrote under his new pseudonym, he
will only be referred to as Eliphas Lévi. His publications, however, will be listed using the name
under which they were published.
7 Julian Strube, “Socialist Religion and the Emergence of Occultism: A Genealogical Approach
to Socialism and Secularization in 19th-Century France,” Religion 46, no. 3 (2016): 371–79.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 41
received an ecclesiastical education, Lévi did repeatedly mention several “classics”
of demonology, such as Jean Bodin’s famous De la demonomanie des sorciers (1580),
but he only referred to or cited more recent works, such as Augustin Calmet’s
Traité sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires (1758) and Jean Baptiste Thiers’
Traité des superstitions qui regardent les sacrements (1697), where the sabbatical goat is
discussed.8 On a graphical level, most readers will be familiar with prints such
as those of the Compendium malecarum (1608) that show a goat-headed, winged
Devil who bears much resemblance to Lévi’s Baphomet (gure 2). Due to the
omnipresence of similar depictions, it is both impossible and needless to deter-
mine a limited set of sources for this motif. But there is little doubt that the most
direct inspiration for the Baphomet drawing was the Tarot card “Le Diable” from
the Marseille deck (gure 3), which was regarded by Lévi as the nest surviving
version.9 Some other inuences are more or less explicitly mentioned, namely the
famous alchemical androgyne in Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum sapientiae
aeternae (1595, gure 4), as well as a print from 1639 which joins Clovis Hesteau
de Nuysement’s Traittez de l’harmonie et constitution generalle du vray sel, secret des philoso-
phes, et de l’esprit universel du monde together with other alchemical tracts (gure 5).10 In
the beginning of his Dogme, Lévi provided a fairly detailed description of how he
understood the symbolism of each element of his eclectically assembled gure.11
8 Among those, the numerous references to Calmet in Alphonse-Louis Constant, Dictionnaire
de littérature chrétienne, ed. Abbé Migne (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1851), e.g. 249; Lévi, Dogme et rituel, 2,
286–88 and to Thiers in Constant, Dictionnaire, 384; Lévi, Dogme et rituel, 2, 308. Cf. the original
passages in Augustin Calmet, Traité sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires, vol. 1 (Senones:
Joseph Pariset, 1769), 119–20 and Jean Baptiste Thiers, Traité des superstitions qui regardent les
sacrements, vol. 2 (Paris: Antoine Dezallier, 1697), 365–68.
9 Lévi, Dogme et rituel, 2, 172. Lévi mentioned the “Italian Tarot,” which at the time signied
the Tarot of Marseille, as well as the Tarot of Besançon, which was based on the Marseille
deck. For further information on Lévi and the Tarot, see Strube, Sozialismus, 442–45, 78–79,
500–01, 61–463 and Ronald Decker, Thierry Depaulis, and Michael Dummett, A Wicked Pack
of Cards: The origins of the Occult Tarot (London: Duckworth, 1996), esp. 166–93.
10 See Clovis Hesteau de Nuysement, Traittez de l’harmonie et constitution généralle du vray sel, secret
des philosophes, et de l’esprit universelle du monde, suivant le troisiesme principe du Cosmopolite (La Haye:
Theodore Maire, 1639), between the preface and the dedication, cf. Eliphas Lévi, Dogme et rituel,
236 and ibid., 2: 208, 22–23 For more about Hesteau de Nuysement, see Kathleen P. Long,
Hermaphrodites in Renaissance Europe: Women and Gender in the Early Modern World (Aldershot/
Burlington: Ashgate, 2006), 137–62. About the engravings in Khunrath, see Peter J. Forshaw,
“‘Alchemy in the Amphitheatre’. Some Consideration of the Alchemical Content of the
Engravings in Heinrich Khunrath’s ‘Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom’,” in Art and Alchemy,
ed. Jacob Wamberg (Kopenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2006).
11 Lévi, Dogme et rituel, 1, VI–VII. Cf. Ibid., 2: 211–12 and La clef des grands mystères (Paris:
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7942
(Figure 4) (Figure 5)
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 43
Apart from these visual aspects, the magnetistic context of the Baphomet
was expressed repeatedly by Lévi, his publishers, and his critics. In 1854,
Guiraudet et Jouaust advertised for Dogme et rituel de la haute magie with an
extract from the rst volume, which at that time was still a work in progress.12
The selected passage, which has been abbreviated for the advertisement, is still
among the most quoted from Lévi’s oeuvre:
There exists in nature a force which is much more powerful than steam. ... This
force was known to the ancients: it consists of a universal agent whose supreme
law is equilibrium, and whose direction is concerned immediately with the great
arcanum of transcendental magic. ... This agent, which barely manifests itself
under the trial and error of the disciples of Mesmer, is exactly what the adepts
of the Middle Ages called the rst matter of the great work. The Gnostics repre-
sented it as the ery body of the Holy Spirit, and it was the object of adoration
in the secret rites of the Sabbath or the Temple, under the hieroglyphic gure of
Baphomet or the Androgynous Goat of Mendes.13
This passages makes perfectly clear that Dogme et rituel was presented and
understood as a magnetistic work, which wanted to distance itself from
Mesmerist publications. It is remarkable that Lévi did not attempt to challenge
other magnetists on the grounds of practical experiments; instead his argument
was a thoroughly historical one. Claiming to possess the key to a tradition
of superior secret, ancient knowledge, he dismissed the “Mesmerists” as
amateurish dabblers who could only guess what powers they are dealing with.
The protagonists of Lévi’s tradition are openly named: the medieval “adepts”
who were the successors of the ancient Gnostics, most prominent among
them the Templars who worshipped the Baphomet. Lévi did not claim to
depict the exact idol that was supposedly the object of adoration of medieval
adepts, but he did claim to present an allegorical drawing of the ideas that
were represented by it. First and foremost, he described the Baphomet as a
“pantheistic and magical gure of the absolute” and identied it with Pan.14 It
Baillière, 1861), 234.
12 A note informed the readers in the future tense that “this work will be limited to 500”
copies and “will be composed of 20 livraisons,” in addition to the present one. Subscribers
“before October 15th, 1854” would receive a discount, and if “it should need more than 20
livraisons to complete this work” the additional numbers would be free. This allows for a
dating ante quem and shows that the eventual size of the volume was as yet unclear.
13 Lévi, Dogme et rituel, 1, 83–84. The translations in this article do not rely on Waite’s trans-
lations of Lévi’s works.
14 Ibid., VI.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7944
was much more than an imaginative symbol for a magnetistic theory. It stood
for a specic secret tradition that formed the key to the understanding of the
true form of religion. The narrative that forms this “traditional” background of
the Baphomet has, until recently, not been historically contextualized. It will be
shown that the Baphomet is more than a bricolage of older esoteric traditions.
Its meaning can only be understood in the context of the 1840s and 1850s.
3. Lévi’s Historical Narrative and its Sources
The fundamental idea behind Lévi’s writings was the existence of a single,
true tradition that resulted from a primitive revelation.15 Due to a series of
degenerations and misinterpretations destroying this pristine unity, the reli-
gious traditions of humanity had multiplied, but they all carried traces of the
universal divine dogma. Explaining the meaning of the pentagram that adorns
the Baphomet’s head, Lévi declared that “every new cult is just a new route
to lead humanity to the one religion, that of the sacred and the radiant penta-
gram, the sole eternal Catholicism.”16 It has already been indicated that Lévi had
identied as the representative of “true” Catholicism since his radical writings
of the 1840s, a self-understanding that he constantly articulated in his occultist
writings. The major inuence on his Catholic identity was the famous priest
Félicité de Lamennais (1782–1854), the founder of a so-called “Neo-Catholic”
movement that sought to establish a progressive form of Catholicism that was
marked by a rationalistic and scientic stance. After spectacularly breaking with
Rome, Lamennais turned to a Christian socialism in 1834 that inspired a whole
generation of young socialists, including Lévi, who was perceived by contem-
poraries as one of his most radical disciples.17 A key concept of Lamennais and
other Neo-Catholic authors was the révélation primitive, a theory that sought to
prove the eternal and exclusive truth of Catholicism on the basis of “historical
evidence” gathered from all religious traditions.18 Lévi’s approach to history
decisively relied on this theory, as becomes most obvious in the light of his
15 See, e.g., Histoire de la magie (Paris: Baillière, 1860), 256.
16 Dogme et rituel, 2, 98.
17 Strube, “Socialist Religion,” 372; “Ein neues Christentum. Frühsozialismus, Neo-
Katholizismus und die Einheit von Religion und Wissenschaft,” Zeitschrift für Religions- und
Geistesgeschichte 66, no. 2 (2014): 154–60.
18 For more details, see Sozialismus, 190–96; “Socialist Religion,” 377 and Arthur McCalla, “The
Mennaisian ‘Catholic Science of Religion’: Epistemology and History in Early Nineteenth-
Century French Study,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 21, no. 3 (2009).
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 45
constant emphasis on the true tradition being nothing else but “Catholicism.”19
Similar to Neo-Catholic writers, he certainly did not seek to abolish the Church
but to reform it and establish its true character, which would eventually lead to
a universal—that is literally “Catholic”—religion of humanity. However, his
attitude towards the status quo of the Church was much more radical in that it
was marked by an aggressive anti-clericalism, directed not against the ofce of
the priest but against the corrupted holders of this ofce.20
This concerns one of the aspects that can be most confusing for the readers
of Lévi’s works. His occultist narrative is marked by an ambiguousness that
often appears incoherent and self-contradictory. He constantly emphasizes
the need for the “authority and hierarchy” of the Church while denouncing
it as corrupted in the most aggressive terms.21 In a similar vein, he frequently
attacked the supposed holders of pristine knowledge—such as the Gnostics,
the Templars, or the Freemasons—as corrupted and ignorant, while at the same
time depicting them as the heirs of the one and only secret tradition. Although it
can hardly be denied that there are numerous inconsistencies in Lévi’s narrative,
especially when one compares the volumes of Dogme et rituel with his later works,
it gains a lot of clarity when one realizes that he understood the succession of
“adepts” as a history of repeated corruptions. From early on, the wise bearers
of the one true dogma saw the need to conceal it from the “masses,” but at
some point they lost the key to its understanding, which required another gen-
eration of initiates to take up the noble task of handing it down.22
Lévi made his ideas known to a broader readership for the rst time in
a series of articles published between 1855 and 1857 in a socialist journal,
19 Strube, Sozialismus, 404–05, 93–501.
20 Ibid., 505. Unlike his fellows, Lamennais turned his back on Roman Catholicism after his
break with the Holy See and proclaimed a “religion of humanity.” This is a notable contrast
to Constant, who never renounced his Catholic identity.
21 Lévi, Clef, 40–41: “Aussi regardez les prêtres indignes, contemplez ces prétendus serviteurs
de l’autel. Que disent à votre cœur ces hommes gras ou cadavéreux, aux yeux sans regards,
aux lèvres pincées ou béantes ? … Ils prient comme ils dorment et ils sacrient comme ils
mangent. Ce sont des machines à pain, à viande, à vin, et à paroles vides de sens.” Cf. Ibid., 6:
“… dans l’Eglise hiérarchique et divinement autorisée, il n’y a jamais eu et il n’y aura jamais ni
mauvais papes ni mauvais prêtres. Mauvais et prêtre sont deux mots qui ne s’accordent pas.”
Nota bene that Lévi talks about the “true” form of the Church here.
22 This is further complicated by the fact that Lévi had adopted the notion of palingénésie from
the writings of Pierre-Simon Ballanche, which implied that the history of humanity was marked
by a succession of stages where one essentially true and eternal dogma went through a progressive
transformation. Strube, Sozialismus, 131, 98, 357, 80, 449, 99, 507; cf. “Socialist Religion,” 367.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7946
the Revue philosophique et religieuses—notably using his civil name.23 In “The
Kabbalistic Origins of Christianity” he declared that the Kabbalah (or what
he understood under this term) was the core of true Christianity and thus
the carrier of the “universal tradition” that he opposed to the corrupted
doctrine of the established Churches. This separation was initiated by the
burning of the works of Hermes and Pythagoras by Saint Paul—the moment
when “Christianity emancipated itself ” by “lighting the re of the stake of
his mother.” This negation of the old tradition was necessary to create a
new synthesis “in the name of the original and traditional dogma against the
despotic and ignorant interpretations of the degenerated priesthood.” With his
actions, Paul followed the “pacistic revolutionary” Jesus Christ, a successor
of Osiris, Orpheus, Moses “and all great men of enlightenment.”24 However,
this chain of initiates was rst interrupted when a schism took place between
Paul and John. Lévi clearly took the side of the latter, who was initiated by Jesus
and wrote his Apocalypse in the “hieroglyphic language” handed down to him.
The meaning of this language had been lost by “the ofcial Roman Church,”
while the goal of the “Platonic” and “Kabbalistic” doctrine of John, as of all
“true Kabbalists” and “high initiates,” was “the realization of the divine ideal
in humanity.”25 At the same time, Paul, a “free-thinker” eagerly seeking the
emancipation of Christianity, “re-veiled” the dogma and unintentionally paved
the way for “Catholic absolutism.”26 The consequences were disastrous, as the
followers of the Church were now misled: “From the burning of books they
came to the burning of their authors.”
In the meanwhile, the true Christianity, the Kabbalistic Christianity of Saint
John, has always existed and it has always protested; but it was attacked with the
most hateful calumny and confused by the ofcial asceticism, under the name of
Gnosticism, with all the delirium of depraved minds: so the Christians of Saint
John concealed themselves and adopted a series of signs taken from the Kabbalah
to recognize each other. So began the occult initiations which attracted the whole
Order of the Temple to the light, by revealing to it its veritable destination.27
23 The articles were later used in La clef des grands mystères (1861).
24 Alphonse-Louis Constant, “Des origines cabalistiques du christianisme,” in La revue
philosophique et religieuse (Paris: Bureaux de la Revue, 1855), 35, 40–41. Here, the concept of
Palingenesis is essential for an understanding of the narrative.
25 Ibid., 35–39.
26 Ibid., 41–42. In French, Lévi made a pun playing with the words révélateur (revelator) and
27 Ibid., 42.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 47
Thus the Templars became the torchbearers of the secret tradition of true
Christianity, the “champions of humanity” who strived for the establishment
of the association universelle—a prominent socialist concept that had been
essential for Lévi’s radical writings since 1841.28 In another article about
“The Classics of the Kabbalah,” he emphasized that the true meaning of the
Temple was “a social utopia and a symbol for the perfect government, based
on an egalitarian hierarchy of intelligence and merit.”29 The adversaries of this
revolutionary project were “the so-called orthodox sectarians who obstinately
deny progress” and “claim authorities that they do not understand”: “The
ecclesiastical hierarchy is only temporary and must end when the time of the
virility of humanity has come, the age of force and reason” which will bring
“the second coming of Christ,” the explanation of all symbolical gures, and
the erection of the Temple.30 Then the universal religion will nally be realized:
But this puried religion will not be invented, it exists and it has always existed in
humanity; but it had to be concealed by the sages, because the vulgar have been
incapable of comprehending it. It is the tradition of all the great sanctuaries of an-
tiquity, it is the philosophy of nature, it is God living in humanity and in the world,
it is being demonstrated by being, it is reason proven by harmony, it is the analogy
of the contraries, it is faith based on science and science elevated by faith.31
The reformist tenor of this rhetoric illustrates that Lévi had not at all
abandoned his socialist thought. Given the fact that he had been imprisoned
for political reasons in 1855 for the third time in his life, and that he had faced
the harsh anti-socialist restrictions of the new government since the Coup of
1851, he exercised much caution in Dogme et rituel and the Histoire de la magie but
apparently felt safe enough to employ a more radical language in the socialist
Revue.32 Despite the lack of open calls for the revolutionary establishment of
a socialist utopia, the narrative in the monographs was more or less the same:
The “great Kabbalist John” had been initiated into the secret doctrine by his
master Jesus and communicated it in his Apocalypse, “the key to Christian
28 Ibid., 42–43. Cf. Strube, “Socialist Religion,” 366–67.
29 Alphonse-Louis Constant, “Les classiques de la Kabbale. Second article. Les Talmudistes
et le Talmud,” in La revue philosophique et religieuse (Paris: Bureaux de la Revue, 1856), 393. This
is a typical Saint-Simonian notion.
30 “Origines,” 43–44; “Classiques,” 393.
31 “Origines,” 45.
32 After a general amnesty, Lévi resumed to frank radicalism, beginning in La clef des grands
mystères (1861). See Strube, “Socialist Religion,” 378–79; cf. Sozialismus, 565–77.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7948
Kabbalah.”33 Lévi put an even stronger emphasis on the Kabbalah as the
essence of the primitive revelation. He also elaborated his narrative about the
consequences of the “emancipation” of Christianity and the founding of an
ésotérisme chrétien:34 “The ones to be initiated did not nd initiators anymore, and
in the long run the directors of consciences became as ignorant as the vulgar…:
the path to light was lost.”35 As a consequence, the “profane” could “erect altar
against altar” and cause countless schisms.36 Within the Church, the last remnants
of the Kabbalistic traditions were lost until the ninth century.37
Against this background, it is highly signicant that Lévi presented the
Templars as the advocates of johannisme.38 But he was far from hailing them as
the infallible guardians of true Christianity. He maintained that “the johannisme
of the adepts was the Kabbalah of the Gnostics, which soon degenerated into
a mystical pantheism amounting to the idolatry of nature and the hatred of all
revealed dogma.” Having lost the true meaning of the dogma and deceived by
hubris, some of them even came to acknowledge “the pantheistic symbolism”
of black magic and worshiped the “monstrous idol of Baphomet.”39 Once
more, the chain of initiates had been interrupted because of human error, but
Lévi suggested that their teachings lived on in the maçonnerie occulte, while the
Templars themselves, or their remnants, turned into “anarchistic” assassins.40 The
central idea behind this complex and ambivalent tangle of groups, currents, and
individuals is relatively simple: by declaring that literally everybody had, at some
point, lost the key to an understanding of the true tradition, Lévi could position
himself as the one who had rediscovered it. He was the one who could sort out
all the “truths and errors” that had resulted from the upheavals in late antiquity.41
In order to understand the construction of Lévi’s tradition, it must rst be
33 Lévi, Dogme et rituel, 1, 145, 98, cf. Ibid., 2: 67; Histoire, 105.
34 Histoire, 212, 126–27.
35 Dogme et rituel, 1, 114; cf. Histoire, 5.
36 Histoire, 152.
37 Ibid., 222. Earlier, Lévi stressed that the “war against magic” had been necessary to battle
“the false Gnostics”—keeping in mind that “the true science of the mages is essentially
Catholic” (ibid., 33).
38 Ibid., 277, with the following differentiation: “Les templiers avaient deux doctrines, une
cachée et réservée aux maîtres, c’était celle du johannisme; l’autre publique, c’était la doctrine
39 Ibid., 278.
40 Ibid., 280; cf. Clef, 219–20.
41 Histoire, 207.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 49
investigated which sources he used. To begin with, any contemporary learning
about the Knights Templar inevitably would have consulted literature about
Freemasonry. The controversial rise and great success of neo-Templarism in
the eighteenth century sparked a myriad of writings discussing the relationship
between Freemasonry and the historical Templars, often in a highly polemical
way.42 The literature about Freemasons, Templars, conspiracy theories, and
related topics is so vast in the rst half of the nineteenth century that, again,
it would be futile to determine a xed set of sources. However, the grouping
of certain names and the presentation of certain genealogies clearly show that
Lévi relied on recent debates about the (Neo-)Templars and their historical
origins. In 1818, the Austrian Orientalist Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774–
1856) had published a Latin piece in the Mines de l’Orient, called “Mysterium
Baphometis revelatum, seu fratres militiae templi, qua Gnostici et quidem
Ophiani apostasiae, idoloduliae et impuritatis convicti per ipsa eorum
monumenta.” Therein he maintained that the Templars were Gnostics and that
they worshipped the Gnostic idol of the Baphomet, thus following a doctrine
that he also related to the “Cabala.”43 The study received some attention in
France, where it was reviewed in the Annales de philosophie chrétienne in 1832,44 a
journal with Neo-Catholic background.45 Hammer-Purgstall’s accusation that
42 The most extensive study of this is still René Le Forestier, La franc-maçonnerie templière et
occultiste aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles (Paris/Louvain: Aubier-Montaigne/Editions Nauwelaerts,
1970); cf. Pierre Mollier, “Freemasonry and Templarism,” in Handbook of Freemasonry, ed.
Henrik Bogdan and Jan A. M. Snoek (London/Boston: Brill, 2014). For a discussion of the
contexts that are most relevant for the present argument, see Julian Strube, “Revolution,
Illuminismus und Theosophie. Eine Genealogie der ‘häretischen’ Historiographie des frühen
französischen Sozialismus und Kommunismus,” Historische Zeitschrift (forthcoming).
43 Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, “Mysterium baphometis revelatum, seu fratres militiae
templi, qua Gnostici et quidem Ophiani apostasiae, idoloduliae et impuritatis convicti per ipsa
eorum monumenta,” in Mines de l‘Orient (Vienna: Antoine Schmid, 1818), 2. He was convinced
that the name Baphomet came from βαφη μητεος, which he translated as “tinctura (seu baptis-
ma) Metis,” i.e. “Baptism of Knowledge.” Referring to inscriptions that served as his archaeo-
logical evidence, he concluded: “Huic baptismati spirituali et tincturae igneae inserviebant crateres
ad pedes idolorum nostrorum exsculpti, et igne repleti, ita ut palam at, quomodo ritus ille
mysticus administraretur.” See ibid., 16–17. It should be noted that βαφη (washing) was not
the term usually applied to denote baptism. However, it was used in alchemical contexts, where
the meaning was often symbolically conated with the act of baptizing. This is why, quite cor-
rectly, Hammer-Purgstall chose the translation tinctura. Many thanks for this information are
due to Dylan Burns.
44 Annales de philosophie chrétienne, 2nd ed., vol. 4, (Paris: Au Bureau des Annales de la
Philosophie Chrétienne, 1835), 317–319.
45 Lévi certainly knew the journal and referred to it in Constant, Dictionnaire, 899. References
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7950
the historical Knights Templar were worshipping a pagan “idol” in the form
of a head had been described by various sources throughout the centuries, but
the explosive nature of the notion of the Baphomet can only be understood
in light of the more recent quarrels about Neo-Templarism.
The old accusations gained fresh interest when Masonic Neo-Templarism
was established in the eighteenth century and, due to its outstanding success,
caused much controversy. The Masonic Templar legend was most famously
outlined in a writing published in Strasbourg in 1760, which claimed that the
prosecuted Templars had ed to Scotland and founded the “Scottish Rite.”46
This legend was taken up by Karl Gotthelf von Hund (1722–1776) for his
Rectied Scottish Rite and, after 1764, his Rite of Strict Observance.47 In what
followed, multiple Masonic systems focusing on the Templar legend emerged,
especially in Germany, including Johann August von Starck’s (1741–1816)
Templar Clerics who like other Neo-Templars claimed to represent a chain
of initiates that reached back to late antiquity.48 In France, this genealogy was
controversially discussed in the 1770s, most notably by the Martinist Ordre des
Elus Coëns whose lodge in Lyon, under Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824),
joined the Strict Observance. However, Willermoz soon turned his back to the
Strict Observance and prepared, during the “Convent des Gaules” in 1778,
the foundation of his Régime Ecossais Rectié.49 One of the outcomes of
those efforts was the foundation of the Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la Cité
Sainte, which soon became a major voice in Masonic circles.50 The Templar
legend would be an ongoing subject of Masonic quarrels in the early 1780s.51
Apart from these disputes, the “mystically” oriented lodges clashed with their
skeptical counterparts at the important Convent of Wilhelmsbad in 1782. The
success of the “mystics” spawned a whole genre of literature denouncing the
historical accuracy of the Templar legend and attacking the Neo-Templars in
to Hammer-Purgstall were so widespread that he most likely encountered them elsewhere.
46 Le Forestier, Franc-maçonnerie, 68–70, cf. Gustav Adolf Schiffmann, Die Entstehung der
Rittergrade in der Freimaureri um die Mitte des 18. Jahrhunderts (Leipzig: Bruno Zechel, 1882),
178–90 and Pierre Mollier, La chevalerie maçonnique. Franc-maçonnerie, imaginaire chevaleresque et
légende templière au siècle des Lumières (Paris: Editions Dervy, 2005), 59–120.
47 Le Forestier, Franc-maçonnerie, 103–221.
48 Ibid., 152–97.
49 Ibid., 476–97; Alice Joly, Un mystique lyonnais et les secrets de la Franc-Maçonnerie, 1730–1824
(Mâcon: Protat Frères, 1938), 105–20.
50 Le Forestier, Franc-maçonnerie, 498–531. The Chevaliers joined the Grand Orient de France
but maintained an afliation with the Strict Observance, which was now led by Ferdinand von
Braunschweig (1721–1792) and Karl von Hessen (1744–1836).
51 Mollier, Chevalerie, 126.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 51
the name of rationality and Enlightenment.52 One of the most vocal critics
was the publisher and writer Friedrich Nicolai (1733–1811), who questioned
the authenticity of the Templar legend and the role of the historical Knights
Templar.53 In his Versuch über die Beschuldigungen welche dem Tempelherrenorden
gemacht worden, und über dessen Geheimniß of 1782, which was used by Hammer-
Purgstall as a reference,54 Nicolai argued against the identication of the
mysterious baffometus or Baphomet and “Mahomet,” which implied that the
Knights Templar had secretly been converted to Islam and were worshipping a
kind of “Muslim idol.”55 Instead, he was convinced of the “Gnostic” beliefs of
the Knights Templar.56 Speaking of a “kabbalistisch-gnostische Philosophie,”
he explained that Gnosticism had emerged from Kabbalah and represented
an erroneous heretical strand that was taken up by the Templars.57 In France,
these polemics were adopted in several conspiracy theories, most prominently
by the anti-Masonic Jesuit Augustin Barruel (1741–1820) in his Mémoires pour
servir a l’histoire du jacobinisme, from 1797. Barruel maintained that the French
Revolution had been the outcome of a Masonic complot, whose ideology he
traced back to the “Kabbalistic Freemasons,” the Templars, the Cathars, the
Gnostics, and eventually the Manicheans.58
This is only a glimpse into a highly diverse and complex genre of
literature, which serves to illustrate how certain historical narratives and
chains of equivalences sedimented at the end of the eighteenth century. In
early nineteenth-century France, they stimulated a wave of Masonic literature
that tried to discuss the history of Freemasonry in a positive, self-referential
light. These works include Marcello Reghellini’s La Maçonnerie considérée comme
52 Ludwig Hammermayer, Der Wilhelmsbader Freimaurer-Konvent von 1782. Ein Höhe- und
Wendepunkt in der Geschichte der deutschen und europäischen Geheimgesellschaften (Heidelberg: Lambert
Schneider, 1980), esp. 37–43; Le Forestier, Franc-maçonnerie, 533–706; Joly, Mystique, 147–214.
53 Ludwig Hammermayer, “Illuminaten in Bayern. Zur Geschichte, Fortwirken und Legende
des Geheimbundes. Entstehung, System, Wirkung (1776/1785/87),“ in Der Illuminatenorden
(1776–1785/87), ed. Helmut Reinalter (Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, 1997), 24–28.
This resulted in a controversy with Herder which unfolded between March and June 1782 in
the Teutschen Merkur.
54 Hammer-Purgstall, “Mysterium,” 16.
55 Friedrich Nicolai, Versuch über die Beschuldigungen welche dem Tempelherrenorden gemacht worden,
und über dessen Geheimniß (Berlin/Stettin 1782), esp. 57–90.
56 Ibid., esp. 89–90: “… daß Übereinstimmung der gnostischen Gebräuche mit den Geb-
räuchen der Tempelherren unwidersprechlich ist …”
57 Ibid., 91, cf. 117–125.
58 Augustin Barruel, Mémoires pour servir a l’histoire du jacobinisme, 4 vols., vol. 2 (London et al.:
L’Imprimerie Françoise et al., 1797), 396–419.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7952
le résultat des religions égyptienne, juive et chrétienne from 1828, where one can read
that “the Baphomet of the Gnostics became the one of the Templars.”59 Or
François-Timoléon Bègue Clavel’s Histoire pittoresque de la franc-maçonnerie et
des sociétés secrètes anciennes et moderne from 1843, which referred to Hammer-
Purgstall’s discussion of the Baphomet.60
With the exception of Barruel’s,61 none of these works were explicitly
cited by Lévi, but it can be assumed that he was familiar with them either
directly or indirectly. There is hard evidence for his fascination with the
topic in a review of Ragon’s Orthodoxie maçonnique, suivie de la maçonnerie occulte
et de l’initiation hermétique (1853), which he wrote for the Revue progressive in
1853. Jean-Marie Ragon de Bettignies (1781–1862) was a highly inuential
Freemason with revolutionary and reformist tendencies.62 It will be recalled
that Lévi had referred to the maçonnerie occulte as the heiress of the Templar
doctrine, and it is highly remarkable that Ragon employed the term occultisme
in his work, a year before Lévi was writing his Dogme—identifying no one else
but Charles Fourier, one of the “fathers” of socialism whose ideas exerted a
decisive inuence on Lévi in the 1840s, as a representative of occultisme.63 It is
quite possible that Lévi became aware of the Baphomet from reading Ragon’s
Orthodoxie maçonnique, although his review contains harsh criticism that reveals
59 Marcello Reghellini, La Maçonnerie considérée comme le résultat des religions égyptienne, juive et
chrétienne, 4 vols., vol. 1 (Bruxelles: H. Tarlier, 1829), 289–90, cf. 444–46.
60 François-Timoléon Bègue Clavel, Histoire pittoresque de la franc-maçonnerie et des sociétés secrètes
anciennes et modernes, 2nd ed. (Paris: Pagnerre, 1843), 355.
61 Alphonse-Louis Constant, “Orthodoxie maçonnique, suivie de la maçonnerie occulte et
de l’initiation hermétique, par J.-M. Ragon,” in Revue progressive (Paris/London/Brüssel: Au
Bureau de la Revue/Barthés et Lowell/M. Périchon, 1853), 131.
62 A comprehensive study of this remarkable personality remains to be written. See, however,
Claude Rétat, “Jean-Marie Ragon. Ou: Qu’est-ce qu’un Maçon Instruit?,” Renaissance Traditionnelle
143/144 (2005); André Combes, Histoire de la franc-maçonnerie au XIXe siècle, 2 vols., vol. 1
(Monaco: Editions du Rocher, 1998), 121–22; Jean-Pierre Laurant, L’ésotérisme chrétien en France
au XIXe siècle (Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1992), 101; Le Forestier, Franc-maçonnerie, 964–65
and Strube, Sozialismus, esp. 445–46. Ragon’s “Trinosophes” became a gathering point for
Freemasons who adhered to the ideals of the French Revolution, including Nicolas Desétanges,
who had participated in the Storming of the Bastille, and Jean-Baptiste Chemin-Dupontès, the
old “pope” of Théophilanthropie. For a while, Ragon was a member of Fabré-Palaprat‘s Ordre
du Temple and “Vicaire primatial” of the Eglise catholique française of the Abbé Châtel.
63 Jean-Marie Ragon, Maçonnerie occulte suivie de l’initiation hermétique (Paris: Dentu, 1853),
170. In the second half of the 1840s, Lévi openly identied as a Fourierist, wrote for the
leading Fourierist newspaper, La démocratie pacique, and published his book in the Librairie
phalanstérienne, the main Fourierist publisher.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 53
that he had already developed some opinions of his own.64 It is no surprise
that Lévi criticized Ragon’s anti-Christian attitude and his “materialism,” but
at the same time he lauded the Orthodoxie maçonnique as a “great project” that
attempted to give Freemasonry a coherent dogma in the form of an “occult
philosophy.” However, Lévi regarded the “protestant” Freemasons with
outspoken suspicion and even disdain. He rejected their “puerile rites” and
declared that the “establishment of a new world” would not be achieved “by
simple workers, and certainly not by masons”—a strikingly condescending
remark.65 It is curious that Lévi expressed disappointment that he was not able
to learn more from Ragon about “the ancient initiations and the gatherings
of the middle ages,” as well as about “the traditional goat of the Sabbath, the
Bophomet [sic] of the Templars” and the “philosophical and divine meaning
of these monstrous allegories.”66 This criticism was not entirely fair, as Ragon
did, as a matter of fact, identify the “matter of the alchemists” with, among
others, the Goat of Mendes, Pan, Kabbalistic doctrines, and—perhaps most
notably—with “magnétisme spécique.”67 This equation is practically identical
to Lévi’s description of the Baphomet, and it is very likely that this is no
coincidence. That being said, it must be noted that Ragon was himself only
reproducing tropes that were omnipresent in Masonic and anti-Masonic
writings, as well as the vast literature they had inspired since the second half
of the eighteenth century.
Works about the occult sciences and magic
Lévi frequently referred to contemporary compendia of the fashionable sciences
occultes, a catch-all phrase for topics such as magic, alchemy, astrology, and so
on.68 Interestingly, Lévi’s initial remarks about the sciences occultes were highly po-
lemical. In 1853, he published a scathing article about “Les prétendues sciences
occultes, ou la folie articielle et les manœuvres qui la produisent” in the Revue
64 Constant, “Orthodoxie,” 132–34. Lévi mentioned some works and names that indicate his
reading at the time. He also criticized Ragon, rather vaguely, for knowing nothing about the
Tarot. For a more detailed analysis, see Strube, Sozialismus, 445–50.
65 Constant, “Orthodoxie,” 137. For Lévi’s later relationship with Freemasonry, see Strube,
Sozialismus, 581–82, cf. 482–88.
66 Constant, “Orthodoxie,” 134–35.
67 Ragon, Maçonnerie, 220, 154–55, 95. In another text from 1841, Ragon had written: “Le
maillet est aussi devenu la croix tronquée gnostique ou baphométique.” See Cours philosophique
et interprétatif des initiations anciennes et modernes (Paris: Berlandier, 1841), 175.
68 Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy. Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 230–39.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7954
progressive. Therein he decried them as “intellectual aristocracy, without hierar-
chy and reason,” as “charlatanism,” and as “scientic atheism.”69 However, it
becomes clear that he directed his rant against the vogue of the tables tournantes,
which he strongly opposed, as well as against the “street sibyls,” implying that
he believed he had discovered a superior form of magical knowledge that was
contained in the Tarot.70 This suggests that Lévi had started to learn about
magic and the Tarot at that time, a process that cannot be investigated in more
detail at this point.71 But the sources to which he referred enable us to learn
more about his development of the Baphomet motif.
His rst discussion of the sciences occultes can be found in the somewhat
puzzling Dictionnaire de littérature chrétienne from 1851, where he made extensive
use of Ferdinand Denis’ Tableau historique, analytique et critique des sciences occultes
(1830).72 From this popular work he could learn that the Templars, inuenced by
Gnostic ideas, were practicing the sciences occultes and handed down the doctrines
related to them.73 In a similar work, Jacques-Albin-Simon Collin de Plancy’s
Dictionnaire infernal (1844), which was reprinted as Dictionnaire des sciences occultes
(1846) in the same series that contained Lévi’s Dictionnaire, the entry “Goat”
(bouc) discusses its identication in Egypt with Pan, as well as with Azazel and the
Sabbatical Goat.74 Another “classic” that Lévi worked with was Jules Garinet’s
Histoire de la magie en France (1818), which contains a passage about the trial of
the Templars.75 It appears that Lévi used those compendia from 1851 onwards
to gather knowledge about these topics, which would surface in his articles for
the Revue philosophique et religieuses and eventually in his monographs about magic.
It has become clear by now that the Templars were commonly regarded as the
successors of the ancient Gnostics. In this light, Lévi’s genealogy of “esoteric
69 Alphonse-Louis Constant, “Les prétendues sciences occultes, ou la folie articielle et les
manœuvres qui la produisent,” in Revue progressive (Paris/London/Brüssel: Au Bureau de la
Revue/Barthés et Lowell/M. Périchon, 1853), 235–37.
70 Ibid., 240–42.
71 See Strube, Sozialismus.
72 For a detailed analysis, see ibid., 394–416.
73 Ferdinand Denis, Tableau historique, analytique et critique des sciences occultes (Paris: Bureau de
l’Encyclopédie portative/Bachelier, 1830), 11, 181–82.
74 Jacques Albin Simon Collin de Plancy, Dictionnaire infernal, 3rd ed. (Paris/Lyon: Paul
Mellier/Guyot, 1844), 97–98. Lévi refers to this work in Dogme et rituel, 2, 232.
75 Jules Garinet, Histoire de la magie en France (Paris: Foulon et Compagnie, 1818), 77–80. This
work is also a source for later occultists, e.g. Guaïta, Clef, 282–85.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 55
Christianity” appears a lot less inventive than it might have at the beginning of
this section. An initial occupation with the history of the Gnostics is tangible
in the Dictionnaire of 1851, where Lévi discussed the environment of the late
antique School of Alexandria. He maintained that the early Christians had
been forced by their pagan adversaries to adopt “a kind of Christian esoter-
icism” (ésotérisme chrétien). At this point, he already laid a strong emphasis on
the Apocalypse of John, to which he referred as “the book of initiation of the
true Gnostics.”76 In his later monographs, he reiterated his conviction that the
Gnostics had been “Christian Kabbalists” following John, but he explained
that early on a current of “false Gnostics” emerged, which was responsible
for the loss of the Kabbalistic keys.77 This corrupted Gnosticism resulted, like
Arianism and Manicheism, from a “misunderstood Kabbalah” and was based
on “materialistic and pantheistic” errors.78 It is signicant that Lévi referred to
the Dictionnaire des sciences philosophiques (1847) by the respected scholar Adolphe
Franck (1810–1893) for his identication of Gnosticism and Kabbalah.79 The
respective entry “Kabbale” was Lévi’s rst evident source for the topic of
Kabbalah.80 This is especially interesting because Franck emphasized the trans-
lation of Kabbale as tradition—a tradition that included Gnosticism, the School
of Alexandria, “Indian mysticism,” and the theosophy of Jakob Böhme.
Yet, more importantly, Lévi’s Dictionnaire referred to the authority on the
history of Gnosticism, Jacques Matter (1791–1864).81 It is well-known that
Matter appears to have been the rst author to have used the word ésotérisme in
the French language,82 and indeed Lévi employed it in the context of his work.
The Alsatian scholar had published a widely acknowledged Essai historique sur
l’école d’Alexandrie in 1820, which was succeeded in 1828 by a Histoire critique du
gnosticisme. In the second volume of this work, Matter used the term ésotérisme
to characterize the doctrines of the Pythagoreans and the Gnostics.83 In 1840,
76 Constant, Dictionnaire, 83, cf. 635.
77 Lévi, Dogme et rituel, 1, 148; Histoire, 217.
78 Histoire, 222; cf. 68–70, where the errors of the Gnostics are attributed to the inuence of
“the false Kabbalah of India.”
79 Constant, Dictionnaire, 126.
80 Adolphe Franck, Dictionnaire des sciences philosophiques, vol. 3 (Paris: L. Hachette, 1847),
382–92. Lévi referred to a passage on p. 384. Cf. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, “The Beginnings of
Occultist Kabbalah. Adolphe Franck and Eliphas Lévi,” in Kabbalah and Modernity. Interpretations,
Transformations, Adaptations, ed. Boaz Huss, Marco Pasi, and Kocku von Stuckrad (Leiden: Brill,
2010), 118: Hanegraaff suspected that Lévi might have been familiar with Franck’s scholarship.
81 Constant, Dictionnaire, 878–95.
82 Laurant, Esotérisme, 7–13.
83 Jacques Matter, Histoire critique du gnosticisme et de son inuence sur les sectes religieuses et
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7956
a revised and considerably expanded version of the Essai appeared as Histoire
de l’école d’Alexandrie. It contains the thesis that the merging of Christian and
pagan doctrines lay at the root of the new Gnostic school, which propagated
an emanationist doctrine of creation in the Jewish-Platonic tradition of Philo
that was opposed to the Christian creatio ex nihilo—two rival traditions whose
struggle has continued well into the present day.84 Matter was deeply fascinated
by this “mystical” religious tradition. He had evident contacts to the High
Degree Masonry in Strasbourg and sustained contacts with leading Martinists.85
He was married to the daughter of Friedrich Rudolf Salzmann (1749–1821,
also Saltzmann), a friend of Willermoz and Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin.86
Over the years, he published several works about Saint-Martin, Swedenborg
and the history of mysticism. This shows that his interest in the School of
Alexandria was not motivated by mere scholarly curiosity but a determination
to unveil the history of an authentic religious tradition that would provide
the path to the nal religion of the future.87 This idea mirrored contemporary
discourses about the nature of a “true” religion, which would resurface in the
writings of Eliphas Lévi.
Matter often emphasized the “analogy between the Kabbalah and
Gnosticism.” Remarkably, he also did so with regard to the emblems, diagrams
and gures of the Kabbalistic and Gnostic traditions, for which he provided
a separate volume of plates.88 He based these analogies especially on the
Kabbala Denudata, the Sefer Jezirah, and the Zohar—which would soon function
as main sources for Lévi.89 In his Histoire critique du gnosticisme he also expounded
philosophiques des six premiers siècles de l’ère chrétienne, 2 vols., vol. 2 (Paris: F.-G. Levrault, 1828),
83, 489. He maintained that the early Christians had been opposed to the pagan differentiation
between an ésotérique and an exotérique religion, see ibid., 1: 13–14.
84 Histoire, 1, preface and introduction, esp. 29–32, 291–94, 305–11, 52–53. For more details,
see Strube, Sozialismus, 118–21, 398–400 and “Socialism and Esotericism in July Monarchy
France,” History of Religions (forthcoming).
85 Joly, Mystique, 105. Saint-Martin introduced him to the works of Böhme: see Antoine
Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 73. It
has been argued that his understanding of emanation was based on Martines des Pasqually:
Hanegraaff, Esotericism, 335–36.
86 Laurant, Esotérisme, 42; cf. Le Forestier, Franc-maçonnerie, 419f., 516–19, 94f., 651–56,
803–10, 909–12 and Jules Keller, Le théosophe alsacien Frédéric-Rodolphe Saltzmann et les milieux
spirituels de son temps. Contribution à l’étude de l’illuminisme et du mysticisme à la n du XVIIIe et au
début du XIXe siècle, 2 vols., Europäische Hochschulschriften (Bern et al.: Peter Lang, 1985).
87 Strube, Sozialismus, 120–21.
88 Jacques Matter, Histoire critique du gnosticisme: Planches (Paris: F.-G. Levrault, 1828), 7.
89 Histoire, 1, 104. In the same footnote, those traditions are also linked to India, because
“Tout est lié dans l’antique Asie…”
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 57
analogies between the god of Mendes, its emblem of a goat, and the god Pan.90
It is tantalizing to imagine Lévi scanning through the volume of plates provided
by Matter and comparing “Gnostic” and “Kabbalistic” iconographies. What is
for sure is that he was familiar with contemporary debates about the origins of
Christianity and a supposed schism between an “esoteric,” “Gnostic” Christian
current and the established doctrine of the Church.
The political character of Lévi’s genealogy has already been discussed at the
outset. It should be recalled that Lévi did not only have a radical socialist past,
but that his ideas from the 1840s formed the basis for the development of
his “occultism” from the 1850s forward. From today’s perspective, it might
appear strange that Lévi’s socialist background should be essential for his
occultist narrative, but a brief look at the historiographies of July Monarchy
socialism will support this point. Literally every French study of socialism
that appeared between the 1830s and early 1850s depicted the socialists as the
heirs of a heretical tradition that included the theosophists of the eighteenth
century, medieval groups such as the Templars and the Cathars, and eventually
the very same protagonists of the School of Alexandria, most notably the
Gnostics, that were discussed above. These studies included Louis Reybaud’s
pioneering Etudes sur les réformateurs contemporains ou socialistes modernes (1840),91
Alfred Sudre’s Histoire du communisme ou Réfutation historique des utopies socialistes
(1848), Adolphe Franck’s Le communisme jugé par l’histoire (1848), and Jean
Joseph Thonissen’s Le socialisme depuis l’antiquité jusqu’à la constitution française du
14 janvier 1852 (1852). Unfortunately, the scope of this paper does not allow
for a discussion of the reasons for these depictions.92 But it must be noted
that these studies, as well as the (self-)perceptions of socialists, were inherently
intertwined with the questions of the authenticity of “true” religion and the
origins of Christianity. In those debates, the School of Alexandria came to
be a focal point, to the degree that Thonissen’s study, for example, almost
identically copied the “ésotérique vs. exotérique” passage from Matter’s Histoire
critique du gnosticisme in order to dene the origins of socialism.93 This conation
90 Ibid., 2: 12.
91 Esp. Louis Reybaud, Etudes sur les réformateurs contemporains ou socialistes modernes (Paris:
Guillaumin et Compagnie, 1840), 132–33; cf. “Des idées et des sectes communistes,” in Revue
des deux mondes (Paris: Au Bureau de la Revue des deux mondes, 1842), esp. 12–18.
92 See Strube, “Socialism and Esotericism,” and Sozialismus, 97–147.
93 Compare Jean Joseph Thonissen, Le socialisme depuis l’antiquité jusqu’à la constitution française
du 14 janvier 1852, 2 vols., vol. 1 (Louvain/Paris: Vanlinthout et Compagnie/Sagnier et Bray,
1852), 151, and Matter, Histoire, 1, 13–14.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7958
of revolutionary currents, socialism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, magic, the sciences
occultes, and related topoi reaches back to the genre of eighteenth-century
historiographies by authors such as Barruel and Nicolai.94
As he was deeply involved in socialist as well as in Romantic circles, where
such narratives were picked up with great enthusiasm, Lévi was certainly famil-
iar with these historiographies. While some of the sources discussed previously
are more relevant for an understanding of the general context of certain
motifs regarding the Templars, the Baphomet, and their supposed Gnostic
origins, these narratives about the history of socialism can be situated in Lévi’s
immediate proximity. This becomes particularly evident from the fact that his
best friend and closest political comrade, Alphonse Esquiros (1812–1876),
published one of the most fascinating versions of a “heretical historiography”
of socialism, the Histoire des Montagnards from 1847.95 At this time, Constant
and Esquiros lived through their most radical phases. They founded, in the
revolutionary year of 1848, one of the most notorious revolutionary clubs,
the Club de la Montagne.96 Adhering “au socialisme le plus radical,” as they
proudly proclaimed,97 they represented the Montagnard faction, which received
their name from their upper ranks in the National Assembly and would today
be referred to as the Extreme Left. Thus, when Esquiros wrote his Histoire,
he attempted to establish the genealogy of his own ideology and that of his
political comrades. According to Esquiros, the superior “science” that was at
the root of political radicalism originated with Jesus Christ (the rst revolu-
tionary) and was handed down in the form of the sciences occultes: “astrology,
alchemy, magic,” which “concealed the opposition of the human spirit during
the centuries of darkness: especially the religious opposition, followed by the
opposition against monarchy.”98 The book of the Kabbalists, Esquiros went
on, had to be written in an encrypted language to avoid prosecution by the
authorities. Although the medieval magicians were not usually reformers in
the modern sense, they were dissidents whose practices betrayed a hatred of
the established powers.99 The French Revolution was an “explosion” of those
94 Strube, “Revolution, Illuminismus und Theosophie.”
95 Sozialismus, 408–11. For more details about Esquiros, see Jacques P. van den Linden,
Alphonse Esquiros. De la bohème romantique à la république sociale (Heerlen/Paris: Winants/Nizet,
1948) and Anthony Zielonka, Alphonse Esquiros (1812–1876): A Study of his Works (Paris/
Genève: Champion/Slatkine, 1985).
96 Strube, Sozialismus, 370–75.
97 Le Tribun du Peuple, no. 3, March 23, 1848.
98 Alphonse Esquiros, Histoire des Montagnards (Paris: Victor Lecou, 1847), 26–27.
99 Ibid., 28–29.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 59
tendencies, which had passed on from the Kabbalah to the Freemasons, and
from there to the revolutionary clubs.100 This fascinating genealogy is the one
which was closest to Lévi, but it was just one among a number of others.
These genealogies could also be found in the Socialist-Romantic litera-
ture that Lévi had been highly enthusiastic about since the late 1830s, most
prominently George Sand’s Spiridion (1839), whose reading he described in
1841 as a life-altering experience.101 It is no wonder then, that his notorious
Bible de la liberté from 1841, which earned him a prison sentence and a hefty
ne, did reect “traditionalist” ideas that are almost identical to his later oc-
cultist narrative. For example, he described a tradition reaching from Moses,
Enoch, Hermes, Orpheus, Socrates, Pythagoras, and Plato, among others, to
Jesus Christ and nally to the revolutionary heretics who succeeded him.102 He
expounded the thesis of a primitive and universal revelation that proved the
identity of the Abrahamic, Greco-Roman, and Indian religions, which would
soon be joined in universal unity.103 In his Doctrines religieuses et sociales from 1841,
he stressed that the Bible was written in “gures,” “symbols,” and “images.”
It could only be decrypted with the key of the Apocalypse of John, which
contained the “eternal revelation” and “the gospel in all its purity.”104 Written
at a time when Christianity had been outlawed, it could only be understood
by élus, chosen ones.105 Using a socialist, Saint-Simonian terminology, Lévi
maintained that hommes d’élite—inspired or holy men; prophets—had commu-
nicated divine truths to generations of seekers who wrote them down in books
“which are venerated by the vulgar without comprehending them,” especially
100 Ibid., 37–39. It may be noted that a later edition of the Histoire, from 1875, did not contain
any relativizing and critical remarks about magicians, Freemasons, etc., but depicted them in a
very enthusiastic light. Also, the Kabbalah receives signicantly more attention. At one point,
it is even referred to as a “Counter-Church”: “Elle [la science] se t société secrète et prit le
nom de cabale. La cabale était une contre-Eglise” (Histoire des Montagnards, Œuvres d’Alphonse
Esquiros (Paris: Librairie de la Renaissance, 1875), 18).
101 Alphonse-Louis Constant, L’Assomption de la femme ou Le livre de l’amour (Paris: La Gallois,
1841), XIX. In this passage, Lévi also referred to his reading of “the ancient Gnostics.” For
Lévi’s reception of the Spiridion and its content, see Strube, Sozialismus, 223–27. For a similar
account by Gérard de Nerval, a fellow romantique from Lévi’s milieu, see ibid., 411–14.
102 Alphonse-Louis Constant, La Bible de la Liberté (Paris: Le Gallois, 1841), 88.
103 Ibid., 93. The passage contains several names that would be central to the later occultist
writings, such as the Indian “Trimourti.”
104 Doctrines religieuses et sociales (Paris: Le Gallois, 1841), 65–66.
105 Ibid., 60. In contemporary times it was particularly the poet who could decipher it, as Jesus
had been a poet himself, and the Apocalypse a poem: ibid., 66; cf. Bible, 77–81.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7960
the Apocalypse of John.106 This demonstrates that Lévi had articulated his
idea of a tradition of true divine knowledge that was only understandable for
“initiates” as early as his very rst radical writings. After further developing
this idea during the 1840s, most notably in his Livre des larmes of 1845 and his
Testament de la liberté of 1848, it was only a relatively small step to the occultist
narrative outlined in the beginning of this section.
In contrast to his friends, in the 1840s Lévi’s writings do not reveal any
concern for the occult sciences, magic, or Kabbalah. Lévi only took active
interest in those matters after 1848. However, his radical socialist writings do
contain a number of ideas that would later resurface in his occultist oeuvre,
most specically in the concept of the Baphomet. Perhaps most fundamental
among these were his concept of “universal harmony”—a socialist association
universelle—and the notion of a science universelle that he believed to have found in
the teachings of Lamennais, Swedenborg, and Fourier.107 This science universelle
precongured much of his later concept of “magic.” His Fourierist under-
standing of “harmony” and the equilibrium necessary to establish it would be
of central importance to his Baphomet. The language of harmony, analogies,
and correspondences was commonplace not only in Fourierist parlance, but
also in the socialism-infused Romanticism of Lévi’s fellow petits romantiques.108
Other topics essential to the radical socialist writings were the gure of
Lucifer and the notion of the redemption of Satan, which were widely popular
in Romantic circles during the 1830s and 1840s.109 Artists such as Balzac, Hugo,
Lamartine, Michelet, Alexandre Soumet, and George Sand wrote about Lucifer
and Satan as revolutionary and tragic gures, symbolizing the human quest for
freedom and redemption.110 Lévi was personally acquainted with some of these
106 Doctrines, 10–11. See also La mère de Dieu. Epopée religieuse et humanitaire (Paris: Charles
Gosselin, 1844), esp. 190–91 and Le Livre des Larmes ou Le Christ Consolateur. Essai de conciliation
entre l’Église catholique et la philosophie moderne (Paris: Paulier, 1845), 193–94: “Dès mon adolescence
je lisais l’Apocalypse avec une avidité presque fébrile.”
107 Strube, Sozialismus, 316–51.
108 Lévi’s role as a petit romantique was especially highlighted by Frank Paul Bowman, Eliphas
Lévi, visionnaire romantique (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1969), 5–60.
109 Per Faxneld, Satanic Feminism: Lucifer as the Liberator of Woman in Nineteenth-Century Culture
(Stockholm: Molin & Sorgenfrei, 2014), 113–60; Luijk, “Satan,” 83–173.
110 Max Milner, Le diable dans la littérature française, de Cozotte à Baudelaire, 1772–1861, 2 vols.,
vol. 1 (Paris: J. Corti, 1960), 164–72, 516–622; ibid., 2: 117–56, 358–422; Léon Cellier, L’épopée
romantique (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1954), 221–45; Ursula Müller, “Die Gestalt
Lucifers in der Dichtung vom Barock bis zur Romantik” (Dissertation, Universität Gießen,
1940), 53–69; Frank Paul Bowman, Le Christ des barricades (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1987), 266;
Faxneld, Satanic Feminism, 137–38; Luijk, “Satan,” 140–42.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 61
authors, including other romantiques such as Théophile Gautier and Gérard de
Nerval, who were friends and collaborators of Esquiros.111 It does not come as
a surprise, then, that he was highly enthusiastic about their works and deeply
inuenced by them.112 In his Bible de la liberté, he described Lucifer as the “angel
of liberty” who stood for the emancipation of human “intelligence.” Only
“centuries of ignorance” had falsely turned him into the “prince of demons.”
Far from being an evil entity, he would eventually be rehabilitated and unied
with God through his revolutionary striving for freedom and science.113 This
understanding of Lucifer appears almost identically in Lévi’s occultist writ-
ings, where he quoted extensively from his publications from the 1840s, most
notably the Bible and the Testament. As will be seen in section 4, this was not
only decisive for the creation of his Baphomet, but it would also be central to
his polemics against Catholic writers.
It will be recalled that Lévi’s attitude towards “pantheism” was very
negative. His description of the Baphomet as a “pantheistic gure” and a
“Panthée” calls for clarication. In his rst socialist writings, Lévi openly
identied as a “pantheist.”114 This does not come as a surprise, as “pantheism”
was a term widely used to decry recent philosophical and religious tendencies,
including the contemporary socialist currents to which Lévi adhered. Henry
Maret (1837–1881), for example, a former disciple of Lamennais and one of
the most distinguished Catholic apologists, saw the socialist school of the
Saint-Simonians as the successors of a tradition that had originated in India
before spreading to Egypt and Chaldea and then manifesting in the Greek
Mysteries, the doctrine of Pythagoras, and the School of Alexandria with its
Gnostic and Neoplatonist protagonists. From there, it started a tradition of
erroneous “mysticism” that had recently manifested in eighteenth-century
philosophy, most importantly German Idealism, and nally in contemporary
socialist currents.115 In light of Lévi’s later writings, it is also noteworthy that
the Kabbalah featured as an example of “pantheism” in contemporary debates,
which Lévi was certainly aware of.116 Apart from this (Neo-)Catholic context,
111 For Gautier’s treatment of Satan, see Milner, Diable, 2, 173–77; cf. Ibid., 1: 522–31. For
Nerval, see ibid., 2: 274–309; cf. Ibid., 1: 583–94.
112 Strube, Sozialismus, 236–39; cf. Luijk, “Satan,” 154.
113 Constant, Bible, 17–19. Cf. Milner, Diable, 2, 249–51, where the parallels to Lamennais and
Sand are highlighted. Also see the striking passage in Constant, Mère, 265.
114 E.g., Assomption, XI.
115 Henry Maret, Essai sur le panthéisme dans les sociétés modernes (Paris: Sapia, 1840), 97–111.
116 This is especially the controversy between Paul Drach (1791–1865) and Adolphe Franck.
See François Laplanche, La Bible en France entre mythe et critique, XVIe–XIXe siècle (Paris: Albin
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7962
the publications of Lévi most notably reected the Romantic tendencies of
July Monarchy socialism, which led critics to identify the socialist reformers
as “modern pantheists.” Indeed, one of his most impressive works from this
period, La Mère de Dieu (1844), is profoundly marked by a mystical pantheism.117
In his Livre des larmes of 1845, however, Lévi had turned to a Catholic
traditionalism and rationalism propagated by Joseph de Maistre.118 He came
to denounce pantheism as erroneous and emphasized the need for Catholic
authority and hierarchy.119 This stance would harden in the following years.
Most likely very aware of his “pantheistic” past, he did not merely abandon his
old beliefs. As in so many other respects, he was convinced that he had come
to understand their “true” meaning, regarding himself as superior to others, be
they rival socialists or Catholics, in his quest to establish “true” socialism and
“true” Catholicism. This explains the ambiguousness of his language about
“pantheism.” It has to be seen within the changing dialectic between “true” and
“false” doctrines that determined his historical narrative from the 1840s on.
One of the most striking aspects of the Baphomet is its androgynous
form. Indeed, androgyny is one of the most central themes in Lévi’s writings
from the 1840s. In his Bible, as well as another publication from 1841 entitled
L’assomption de la femme, Lévi envisioned the redemption of humankind and
establishment of the association universelle after the second coming of Christ,
the rehabilitation of Lucifer, and the emancipation of woman. He regarded
the emancipation of woman as a prerequisite for the progress of society—a
widespread notion in socialist circles—but she was also the one who, in the
personication of Mary, redeemed humanity by her Christ-like suffering and
would eventually rehabilitate Lucifer, heralding the nal universal synthesis.120
Michel, 1994), 124–25, and Strube, Sozialismus, 404–05. Gougenot des Mousseaux, who was
known for his notoriously anti-Semitic stance, leveled similar accusations against the Kabbalah.
117 See esp. Constant, Mère, 273, 360. Cf. Paul Bénichou, Romantismes français, 2 vols., vol. 1
(Paris: Gallimard, 2004), 865–66. Léon Cellier viewed this work as one of the most remark-
able products of the period, see his Epopée romantique, 209–20.
118 Strube, Sozialismus, 308–15.
119 This was no renunciation of his socialist ideas, as the reception of de Maistre, including
his notion of hierarchy and authority, had been central to the development of French social-
ism, especially Saint-Simonism and later Fourierist variants. See “Socialist Religion,” 367–68;
“Neues Christentum,” 148–49.
120 Lévi equaled the suffering of suppressed women to that of Christ, a notion that he proba-
bly adopted from his friend Esquiros. For a study of July Monarchy socialist feminism, includ-
ing the “Abbé Constant” as an example, see Naomi Judith Andrews, Socialism’s Muse: Gender in
the Intellectual Landscape of French Romantic Socialism (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006) and “’La
Mère Humanité’: Femininity in the Romantic Socialism of Pierre Leroux and the Abbé A.-L.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 63
Quite remarkably, this synthesis would bring forth a union not only of humani-
ty and God but also of man and woman: “The two sexes will be one, according
to the word of Christ; the great androgyne will be created, humanity will be
woman and man.”121 In Mère, Lévi described a “new Earth” in the form of
the “universal Church”: “This is the palace of the husband and the wife; here
lives pure and celestial love; here exists no distinction between the ranks and
the sexes anymore: God alone is all in all.”122 Although androgyny used to be a
typical motif in Romantic literature, and although some of the ideas expressed
by Lévi can be traced back directly to his friend and mentor Simon Ganneau—
an eccentric socialist known as the “Mapah”123—the eclectic vision formulated
in his 1840s writings stands out as one of the most remarkable products of
Romantic socialism. Given the prominence of androgyny in this vision, it is no
surprise that the Baphomet, whom Lévi referred to as “the great androgyne,”
represents a fusion of the sexes. It has to be seen as a symbol of the realization
of the nal universal synthesis, which had been Lévi’s ultimate goal since he
began to publish his radical ideas as the notorious Abbé Constant.
The political dimension of these ideas can hardly be overestimated. It did
not disappear in Lévi’s occultist writings. More prominently than ever before, he
began to propagate his idea of an élite of initiates that was supposed to lead hu-
manity to emancipation. He had already intensied this notion in his Testament de
la liberté, but the disastrous aftermath of the February Revolution of 1848, which
brought forth the irreversible demise of July Monarchy socialism, robbed him of
his belief in the ability of “the masses” to emancipate themselves.124 However,
he did not break with his former beliefs but modied them. Echoing his earlier
writings, Lévi wrote in La clef des grands mystères that the hommes d’élite would be
responsible for the administration of “the interests and goods of the universal
family. Then, according to the promise of the Gospel, there will only be one
ock and one shepherd [i.e., God].”125 He repeatedly differentiated between the
“chosen ones” and the “masses,” but emphasized that it was the destiny of man
to “create oneself ” and gain freedom from enslavement.126 It was the task of the
people to “initiate themselves,” and as soon as their leaders would become wise,
“the paths to emancipation will be open for everyone, to personal, successive,
Constant,” Journal of the History of Ideas 63, no. 4 (2002).
121 Constant, Assomption, 78–79.
122 Mère, 279.
123 Strube, Sozialismus, 256–68.
124 Socialist Religion,” 369–70, 78; cf. Sozialismus, 512–22.
125 Lévi, Clef, 64.
126 Dogme et rituel, 2, 140f., Histoire, 47f., Clef, 20, 290.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7964
progressive emancipation, by which all those following their vocation will be
able, through their efforts, to achieve the rank of the chosen ones.”127 This is
the fundamental idea behind Lévi’s occultism. Its core elements are represented
by the Baphomet. This is nowhere more obvious than in the last lines of the
chapter “Le Baphomet” in the posthumous Livre des splendeurs. In a dramatic
conclusion, Lévi heralded the establishment of the nal universal religion on
Earth in an enthusiastic socialist tenor: “The association of all interests, / The
federation of all people, / The alliance of all cults, / And universal solidarity.”128
4. Polemics against Catholics and Spiritists
The historical narrative underlying Lévi’s Baphomet has now been discussed,
and it has been shown which main sources he used to develop it. A comprehen-
sive understanding of its meaning, however, requires a closer look at the 1850s,
when Lévi engaged in polemics with different opponents in order to defend his
magical doctrine and distance himself from others. It has already been indicated
that he was part of a generation of disillusioned socialists who were excited by
the vogue of the tables tournantes in 1853, which eventually led to the emergence
of the French Spiritist movement.129 Unlike many other socialists, he took a de-
cidedly hostile stance towards the new phenomena, as his condescending article
about the “folly” of the “prétendues sciences occultes” has illustrated. His sense
of superiority can be understood against two backgrounds: rst, he had gath-
ered his knowledge about the workings of magic in a specic context which can
be referred to as “spiritualistic magnetism”; second, as a “true” Catholic he was
much less concerned about his magnetistic or Spiritist opponents than about
prominent Catholic writers who occupied themselves with spirit phenomena.
Magnetism and Spiritism
Lévi’s notion of the Astral Light (lumière astrale) is perhaps the best-known
aspect of his magical theory. Early recipients, such as Blavatsky, were mainly
interested in this concept, and, as noted above, the Baphomet is in several
ways an embodiment of the Astral Light. Contrary to occultist perspectives
on the Astral Light, and contrary to recent scholarship, it must be stressed that
127 Histoire, 558.
128 Le livre des splendeurs, contenant le soleil judaïque, la gloire chrétienne et l’étoile amboyante, études sur
les origines de la cabale, avec des recherches sur les mystères de la francmaçonnerie, suivies de la profession de
foi et des éléments de cabale (Paris: Chamuel, 1894), 113.
129 Strube, “Socialist Religion,” 373–74.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 65
Lévi did not rely on ancient, medieval, or even early modern sources when
he developed this theory.130 He pointed out himself that he had borrowed the
notion from “the school of Pasqualis Martinez,” i.e. Martinism.131 However,
his actual sources came not from the late eighteenth century but from the
1850s. Most likely, he discovered the notion in a publication from 1852, La
magie devoilée by Jean Du Potet de Sennevoy (1796–1881), which Lévi explicitly
named as a source.132 He agreed with Du Potet’s conviction that the Astral
Light denoted an agent magique that had been known to the Kabbalists, the
Chaldean mages, the alchemists, and the Gnostics.133 As a médiateur plastique,
it was the force behind magnetism and consequently the ultimate cause of
magical operations.134 Lévi took great pains to distinguish this theory from
other magnetistic approaches, and especially from somnambulism—hence
his ongoing polemics against “dabblers.” In his view, the true practitioner of
magic needed two fundamental qualications: rst, a natural disposition and
individual training of the “will,” and second, an “initiation.”
Although the Astral Light was a “blind mechanism” that worked
“mathematically” and followed immutable laws,135 it was the will (volonté) of
the magician that was needed to control it, and the exercise of this will required
130 See Bernd-Christian Otto, Magie. Rezeptions- und diskursgeschichtliche Analysen von der Antike bis
zur Neuzeit (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011), 520–21, where the Astral Light is traced from Agrippa and
Paracelsus to Ficino; cf. “A (Catholic) ‘Magician’ Historicizes ‘Magic’: Eliphas Lévi’s Histoire de
la Magie,” in History and Religion: Writing a Religious Past, ed. Bernd-Christian Otto, Susanne Rau,
and Jörg Rüpke (Berlin: De Gruyter), 436.
131 Lévi, Clef, 217.
132 Dogme et rituel, 2, 75. The work contained a passage from the Philosophie divine by the Martinist
Jean-Philippe Dutoit-Membrini (1721–1792), which was copied by Lévi and put in the very
same context. Cf. Jules Du Potet de Sevennoy, La magie dévoilée ou principes de science occulte (Paris:
Pommeret et Moreau, 1852), 137 and Jean-Philippe Dutoit-Membrini, La philosophie divine
appliquée aux lumières naturelle, magique, astrale, surnaturelle, céleste et divine, vol. 1 (n.p., 1793), 35–36:
“Cet esprit astral, ou feu ou lumière astrale, qui est le plus haut degré de la lumière des esprits,
est supérieur toutefois à ce qu’on appelle l’esprit de la nature; et il en fait la force, les vertus
et les rapports.” For more about Dutoit-Membrini, see Auguste Viatte, Les sources occultes du
romantisme. Illuminisme, Théosophie 1770–1820, 2 vols., vol. 1 (Paris: Champion, 1928), 116–19.
Also see Baier, Meditation, 1, 267–70, who recognized Du Potet’s importance to Lévi’s magical
133 Lévi, Clef, 217–18; Dogme et rituel, 1, 205. Cf. Ibid., 2: 48: “Scientiquement on peut
apprécier les diverses manifestations du mouvement universel par les phénomènes électriques
ou magnétiques. Que les physiciens cherchent et découvrent : les cabalistes expliqueront les
découvertes de la science.”
134 Clef, 113–14.
135 Dogme et rituel, 1, 185; Histoire, 18–19.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7966
intensive schooling.136 This had been a common notion in magnetistic theories since
the pioneering works of Puységur, and it is no surprise that Lévi came to adopt
it. It is noteworthy, however, that he had already come into contact with it in the
1840s and maybe even the 1830s. Discussions of magnetism were omnipresent
in the Romantic literature that he had devoured, for example in the works of
Lamartine, Gautier, Nerval, Sand or Hugo. In his Rituel, he explicitly referred to
Sand’s Spiridion in the context of magnetism.137 A look into the works of Balzac, to
which Lévi referred enthusiastically throughout his lifetime, is very illuminating.138
In the so-called Livre mystique, which combined Balzac’s Séraphîta, Louis Lambert, and
Les proscrits, and which was held by Lévi in the highest regard, one nds a “Traité de
la volonté.”139 This Traité contains a number of ideas that would be central to Lévi’s
occultism, such as the importance of the “imagination,”140 the notion of a tradition
of magisme (also mentioned by Ragon),141 and an identication with the doctrine of
Swedenborg, which Lévi critically discussed repeatedly.142 It will be recalled that Lévi
had incorporated the ideas of Fourier and Swedenborg in his science universelle, and
that he had become acquainted with magnetistic and “Swedenborgian” theories (or
theories that were perceived as such) in a socialist and Romantic context.143
In any case, Constant only revealed an interest in magnetism in his publica-
tions after 1853. His most immediate sources, including Du Potet, were those by
the “spiritualistic magnetists.”144 Soon he “ofcially” joined their ranks, as his own
books were printed by Germer Baillière, a medical publisher that housed the leading
136 Dogme et rituel, 1, 106; Clef, 287.
137 Dogme et rituel, 2, 183, 206–07. Cf. George Sand, “Spiridion,” in Œuvres complètes (Genf:
Slatkine, 1980), 414–16.
138 E.g., he compared himself and Esquiros with Balzac’s Louis Lambert: Lévi, Histoire,
522–23. A comprehensive discussion of the role of esotericism for the writings of Balzac can
be found in Anne-Marie Baron, Balzac occulte. Alchimie, magnétisme, sociétés secrètes (Paris: L’Age
139 See Honoré de Balzac, Le livre mystique, 2 vols., vol. 1 (Paris: Werdet, 1835), 181–203. For a
detailed discussion, see Strube, Sozialismus, 342–49. Cf. Robert Darnton, Mesmerism and the End
of the Enlightenment in France (Cambridge/London: Harvard University Press, 1968), 150–59,
and Lynn R. Wilkinson, The Dream of an Absolute Language: Emanuel Swedenborg and French
Literary Culture (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), esp. 163–64 and Baron,
140 Lévi, Dogme et rituel, 2, 158; Histoire, 220; Clef, 122, 96.
141 E.g., Dogme et rituel, 1, 8; Histoire, 55–56, 92, 177. Cf. Ragon, Maçonnerie, 79–93.
142 Lévi, Dogme et rituel, 1, 169; ibid., 2: 182f.; Histoire, 412.
143 See Strube, Sozialismus, 339–42, where the role of the eccentric Constant Chéneau is dis-
cussed in the context of the French reception of Swedenborg.
144 See ibid., 460–70, 524–34; cf. John Warne Monroe, Laboratories of Faith: Mesmerism, Spiritism,
and Occultism in Modern France (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), 64–94.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 67
spiritualistic magnetists.145 In contrast to theoreticians who perceived the magnetic
force to be purely physical matter, these spiritualists were convinced of its pro-
foundly religious and traditional implications. By arguing that the recent magnetistic
approaches were only a rediscovery of ancient magical wisdom, they heralded a
future synthesis of science and religion. Lévi had probably met some of them in
the salons of an old friend and comrade, Charles Fauvety (1813–1894), who had
argued that the doctrines of Swedenborg, Fourier, and Mesmer were essentially
identical. He did so in a journal that he edited with Lévi in 1846, La vérité sur toutes
choses.146 These magnetists included Louis Goupy, whose Quaere et invenies (1853) was
advertised together with Lévi’s Dogme et rituel.147 Remarkably often, the spiritualistic
magnetists were socialist veterans who were pursuing their old dream of a synthesis
of religion, science, and politics, seeking to establish a perfect social order. Du Potet,
perhaps the most important source for Lévi’s magnetistic-magical theory, had an
openly revolutionary past and concealed his socialist tendencies only because of the
unfavorable atmosphere of the 1850s.148 Alphonse Esquiros, who corresponded
with Du Potet during the revolutionary years about the implications of magnetism,
had discussed “magic, magnetism, and occult medicine” as early as in his Evangile du
peuple from 1840, a sort of partner publication of the Bible de la liberté.149 In his La vie
future au point de vue socialiste, which was written after the disastrous June Uprising of
1849 and contains an impressive depiction of Lévi’s and Esquiros’ despair, he main-
tained that knowledge about the universal force of magnetism and the “occult” laws
of God would be the key to the emancipation of the people: “Until now, science
has been the privilege of the rich.”150 For Esquiros, the popularization of magnetism
equaled a democratization of science, which opened the paths for social progress.151
145 E.g., Du Potet published his Manuel de l’étudiant magnétiseur in 1846. Other publications
include Deleuzes’ Instruction pratique sur le magnétisme animal, and works by Louis-Alphonse
Cahagnet—especially his Magie magnétique (1854), which was repeatedly cited by Lévi—Louis
Goupy, Alexandre Brierre de Boismont, Charles Lafontaine, and André-Saturnin Morin.
146 Charles Fauvety and Alphonse-Louis Constant, Le vérité sur toutes choses (Paris: Auguste Le
Gallois, 1846), 41.
147 Strube, Sozialismus, 461.
148 See, e.g., Du Potet de Sevennoy, Magie, 112: “… c’est ainsi que nous pouvons prévoir et
annoncer les plus grands changements dans l’humanité. Dieu me garde pourtant de formuler ces
changements; on me prendrait pour un socialiste tout rouge.” Between 1846 and 1848, Du Potet
had praised Mesmer as a great revolutionary and equaled his doctrine with those of Saint-Simon
and Fourier in his Journal du magnétisme.
149 Alphonse Esquiros, L’Evangile du peuple, 2nd ed. (Paris: Le Gallois, 1840), 93.
150 De la vie future au point de vue socialiste (Paris: Comon, 1850), 143.
151 Years later, his (then ex-)wife Adèle wrote: “Les communistes ont cru trouver l’égalité
dans le partage des biens. Mais quand même les parts seraient égales, il y aurait toujours les
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7968
The parallels to Lévi’s political dimension of occultism are even more striking
in the writings of another friend, Henri Delaage (1825–1882), a longtime
collaborator of both Du Potet and Esquiros.152 After he had heralded the
regeneration of woman and the “resurrection of the crucied people” in the
atmosphere of 1848, he published a remarkable book entitled Le monde occulte
in 1851. Denouncing contemporary “materialism,” he demanded the study of
“occult forces” which had been mastered by the ancients.153 Delaage expressed
a decidedly “Catholic” identity and emphasized the need for “initiation,” which
was inspired by Esquiros and in turn exerted a notable inuence on Ragon.154 He
also was visibly inuenced by the doctrines of Fourier. Similar to Lévi, he had
distanced himself from the “wrong” kinds of socialism after 1851, which he,
again like Lévi, saw as especially represented by the “materialist” and “atheist”
school of Proudhon. The key to the realization of a perfect social order was,
in his eyes, the somnambulism taught by the ancient “initiations,” though this
could only be understood in the light of the gospel: “Somnambulism without
Kabbalistic initiation is nothing but a meteor that passes over our heads.” This
true knowledge was about to be rediscovered, and Delaage viewed himself in
the ranks of the “glorious battalion of artists and literates” that would, “despite
the jealous attacks of the bourgeoisie,” march towards an “immortal future.”
As soon as this true somnambulism was adopted by “the priests,” the synthesis
of science and religion and the unity of “social and religious institutions”
would be realized, thus achieving true socialism and the “paradise on Earth.”155
Initiation and Catholicism were for Delaage, as they were for Lévi, obligatory
prerequisites for understanding the key to truth.156
These striking parallels prove that Lévi developed his magnetistic-
magical theory in the context of spiritualistic magnetism. This milieu was
quite distinct from the emergent French Spiritist movement, although Allan
différences individuelles. … Le secret de l’égalité ne serait-il pas dans le magnétisme, dans
cette vie qu’on se passe les uns aux autres?” See Adèle Esquiros, “Banquet de la Pentecôte,”
in Petite encyclopédie magnétique pour tous. Recueil complémentaire du “Magnétiseur universel”, ed. Fauvelle
Le Gallois (Paris: E. Voitelain et Compagnie, 1868), 26.
152 Strube, Sozialismus, 464–67.
153 Delaage, Monde, 21–25.
154 Cf. Delaage, Initiation and Delaage, Doctrines. For Ragon’s acknowledgement, see his
155 Henri Delaage, Le monde occulte, ou Mystères du magnétisme dévoilés par le somnambulisme (Paris:
P. Lesigne, 1851), 21–25.
156 This also becomes evident in the criticism of Esquiros in Les ressuscités au ciel et dans l’enfer
(Paris: E. Dentu, 1855), 188–89.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 69
Kardec (1804–1869) and his followers, the spirites, had also been decisively
inuenced by socialist, especially Fourierist theories.157 Lévi’s attacks on the
tables tournantes were exacerbated by his antipathy towards public spectacles. In
July 1857, he published a scathing series of articles in the newspaper L’Estafette,
denouncing the performances of the popular medium Daniel Dunglas Home
(1833–1886), who came to be one of his favorite targets.158 With a typical
absence of modesty, Lévi challenged the spectacles by comparing them to
his superior “haute magie,” a behavior that was ridiculed by the magnetist
Louis-Constant Cahagnet as an “advertisement” for his own books.159 Lévi
made no secret of his contempt for somnambulists and mediums, who he
regarded as “sick, eccentric, and unbalanced beings.”160 He insisted that “the
American doctrine” posed serious risks because it was detached from “priestly
authority” and “control by hierarchy.”161 When the Spiritist movement became
a recognizable force in public discourse, Lévi launched several attacks on it.162
Yet, his engagement with the actual spirite doctrine was strikingly cursory and
supercial, even in his Science des esprits of 1865.163
Modern Catholic Demonology
Lévi paid relatively little attention to the Spiritists and simply referred to them as
puerile amateurs. He usually did so by stressing the need for initiation into the
Kabbalistic secrets of “true” Catholicism. This strategy, however, did not work
so easily against another class of opponents, Catholic authors who started to
denounce the new phenomena and the theories they entailed, most especially
Jules-Eudes de Mirville (1802–1873) and Roger Gougenot des Mousseaux
(1805–1876), who interpreted the magnetistic and spirit phenomena as the
157 For the central role of Fourierism in Spiritism (and Spiritualism in the USA), see the ref-
erences in Strube, “Socialist Religion,” 373–74.
158 Lévi, Histoire, 172, 88, 456.
159 Louis-Alphonse Cahagnet, Encyclopédie magnétique spiritualiste, traitant sécialement de faits
psycologique, magie magnétique, swedenborgianisme, nécromancie, magie céleste, etc., vol. 3 (Paris: Chez
l’Auteur/Germer Baillière, 1858), 202. Cahagnet repeatedly criticized Lévi and his friends,
especially because of their self-identication as Catholics.
160 Lévi, Histoire, 172, 494; Clef, 140–44, 93.
161 Histoire, 297.
162 Clef, 167. Cf. his earlier treatment of disciples of Kardec, the Comte d’Ourches and the
Baron de Goldenstubbé in Histoire, 500–07.
163 Interestingly, Kardec was simply dismissed as a “pantheist” and a poor imitation of the
Saint-Simonians, Swedenborgians, and Mormons: La science des esprits. Révélation du dogme secret des
kabbalistes, esprit occulte des évangiles, appréciation des doctrines et des phénomènes spirites (Paris: Germer
Baillière, 1865), 122, 364–65.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7970
workings of the devil and his demons. While they welcomed the new interest in
spirituality and the overdue criticism of materialism, they warned of diabolical
forces behind the phenomena and urged people to adhere to the Catholic faith
in order to avoid being misled by them.164 Their works have to be counted among
the most important sources for Lévi, especially de Mirville’s Pneumatologie: Des
esprits et de leurs manifestations uidiques, which appeared between 1851 and 1864
in ve volumes and was critically reviewed by Lévi’s wife Marie-Noémi in the
Revue progressive (1853). Gougenot des Mousseaux’s Mœurs et pratiques des démons
ou des esprits visiteurs (1854) and his study of La magie au dix-neuvième siècle (1860)
were less central to Lévi, but still functioned as an important point of reference.
Both authors reacted not only to the vogue of magnetism, somnambulism, and
Spiritism, but also to the countless cases of possession and other “supernatural”
events that had occurred en masse since the beginning of the century.165
Within the Church, the attitude towards magnetism was anything but
monolithic. Famously, Henri Lacordaire (1802–1861), one of the most prolif-
ic former disciples of Lamennais, had adopted magnetistic theories as early as
the late 1840s for his spiritualist apology of Catholicism. In his enormously
successful Conférences in Notre-Dame, which attracted an audience amounting
to tens of thousands,166 he had even attributed the miracles of Jesus Christ
to his mastery of “occult forces.”167 As a matter of fact, Lacordaire, who had
taken a seat among the Left in the National Assembly of 1848, was a friend
of Delaage’s and wrote a preface to Le monde occulte.168 Such exchanges were
possible because it took the Church several decades to agree upon an ofcial
position towards these matters.169 It has to be kept in mind that the nineteenth
century saw a surge in miracles and apparitions of saints and the Holy Virgin,
such as the one in Salette (1846). Church authorities faced the difcult task of
164 Strube, Sozialismus, 537–38; cf. Laurant, Esotérisme, 89–92; Nicole Edelman, Voyantes, guérisseuses et
visionnaires en France (Paris: Michel, 1995), 165–68; Yves Vadé, L’enchantement littéraire. Ecriture et magie
de Chateaubriand à Rimbaud (Paris: Gallimard, 1990), 272; Frank Paul Bowman, “Une lecture politique
de la folie religieuse ou théomanie,” Romantisme 24 (1979): 85–86; Monroe, Laboratories, 30–36.
165 For a comprehensive overview, see the seminal study by Bertrand Méheust, Somnambulisme
et médiumnité (1784 – 1930), 2 vols. (Le Plessis Robinson: Synthélabo, 1999).
166 Julien Favre, “Lacordaire orateur. Sa formation et la chronologie de ses oeuvres”
(Dissertation, Universität Fribourg, 1906), and Renée Zeller, Lacordaire et ses amis (Paris: Ernest
167 Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, Conférences de Notre-Dame de Paris, vol. 3 (Paris: Poussielgue
Frères, 1872), 59–60.
168 Delaage, Monde, 5–10.
169 Jérôme Rousse-Lacordaire, Esotérisme et christianisme. Histoire et enjeux théologiques d’une
expatriation (Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 2009), 196–203.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 71
differentiating between legitimate and reprehensible supernatural phenomena.
Lacordaire can be seen as one of those Catholics who interpreted magnetism
as a natural “occult force,” while de Mirville and Gougenot des Mousseaux
represented those who warned of the infernal forces behind it.170
Authors such as Du Potet and Lévi, who explicitly referred to a tradition
of magical wisdom, naturally came into the ring line of the new Catholic
demonologists. Lévi was not outright decried as a necromancer by these vocal
adversaries, but they argued that he, just like so many magicians before him, was
unwittingly dealing with demons which he was fatally mistaking for a neutral
natural agent. An obvious point of attack was the Baphomet and the heretical
tradition it represented. De Mirville regarded Lévi as one of the “faux alexan-
drins modernes,” referring to the Baphomet of the Templars and citing Matter’s
study.171 This reminds us once more how prominently the School of Alexandria
and the theory of the two opposing traditions emerging from it featured in
nineteenth-century debates about religious legitimacy. De Mirville devoted a
long passage in the third volume of his Pneumatologie to a crushing criticism of
Lévi’s works, which supposedly represented a “false spiritualism” rooted in the
mystical-pantheistic errors of Alexandria. The Baphomet served him as an easy
target, as Lévi himself had presented it as a “pantheistic and magical gure.”172
Similarly, Gougenot des Mousseaux warned of the dangers of the Astral Light
theory symbolized by the Baphomet. Quite correctly, he described Lévi as one
of the contemporary magnétistes transcendants, alongside Du Potet and Goupy,
and warned of his confusion of demonic and natural forces.173
Lévi’s defense against such accusations was radical. He simply denied the
existence of the devil altogether: “Satan, as a superior personality and as force,
does not exist. Satan is the personication of all errors, all perversities, and
consequently also of all weaknesses.”174 That which is referred to “in a vulgar
manner” as the devil is nothing but the malicious intentions of misled persons:
“The devil, in black magic, is the great magical agent employed for evil by a per-
170 In 1863, both were invited as referents on an important Catholic congress in Malines
where such matters were discussed. See Nicole Edelman, “Somnambulisme, médiumnité et
socialisme,” Politica Hermetica 9 (1995): 167.
171 Jules-Eudes de Mirville, Pneumatologie, Des Esprits et de leur manifestations uidiques, 5 vols., vol.
2 (Paris: H. Vrayet et Surcy, 1863), 143.
172 Ibid., 3: 399–414, cf. 240, 75.
173 Roger Gougenot des Mousseaux, La magie au dix-neuvième siècle. Ses agents, ses vérités, ses
mensonges (Paris: H. Plon, 1860), 45, 360–61, 37, 227–28, 45; cf. Moeurs et pratiques des démons ou
des esprits visiteurs du spiritisme ancien et moderne, 2nd ed. (Paris: Henri Plon, 1865), xxiv–xxv.
174 Lévi, Dogme et rituel, 2, 213.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7972
verted will.”175 In his earliest writings, Lévi had adopted a kind of Augustinian
doctrine of privation, which interpreted the devil as nothing but the negation
of good. In his Assomption, he declared that his reading of mystics like Madame
Guyon had taught him to “crush the leaden gure of Satan under my feet”
and reject the notion of evil and damnation.176 Also he vehemently protested
against the identication of Lucifer with Satan.177 He developed this further in
his theory of the Astral Light and in the broader context of magnetism.178 Lévi
regarded belief in Satan and his machinations as nothing but “superstition.”179
However, in his occultist writings Lucifer and Satan came to symbolize two
opposing tendencies in human nature, which did not exist as independent
forces but as positive or negative instrumentations of the Astral Light.180 This
metaphor was applied in religious, philosophical, and political ways, as Lucifer
was depicted as the force of liberty and progress, while Satan stood for per-
version and anarchy—this is the main reason why it is mistaken to identify the
Baphomet with the inverted pentagram described in Rituel.181 Lévi’s notion of
equilibrium, as represented by the Baphomet, has to be seen against this back-
ground. This becomes especially clear in the following passage:
Let us say now, for the edication of the vulgar, for the satisfaction of Monsieur le
Comte de Mirville, for the justication of Bodin the demonomaniac, for the great-
est glory of the Church, which has persecuted the Templars, burnt the magicians,
excommunicated the Freemasons, etc., etc.; let us boldly and frankly say that all
initiates of the occult sciences (I am talking about inferior initiates and profaners
of the great arcanum) have adored, still adore, and will always adore that which is
signied by this dreadful symbol.
Yes, in our profound conviction, the grand masters of the Order of the Temple
have adored the Baphomet and they have made their initiates adore him…; but the
adorers of this sign do not think like us that it is the representation of the devil,
but rather that of the god Pan, the god of our schools of modern philosophy, the
175 Ibid., 1: 289; cf. Ibid., 226, 107; ibid., 2: 102.
176 Constant, Assomption, xx.
177 For a detailed discussion of the sometimes ambiguous relationship between Lucifer
and Satan in Lévi’s works, see Strube, Sozialismus, 541–43 and “Eliphas Lévi. Lucifer as
Revolutionary and Redeemer,” in Satanism: A Reader, eds. Per Faxneld and Johan Nilsson
(New York et al.: Oxford University Press). Cf. Luijk, “Satan,” esp. 155–67.
178 Lévi, Clef, 219, 50.
179 Histoire, 291–97, 417.
180 Ibid., 12–16, 192–201.
181 Dogme et rituel, 2, 98.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 73
god of the theurgists of the School of Alexandria and of the Neoplatonic mystics
of our days: the god of Lamartine and of Monsieur Hugo, the god of Spinoza and
Plato, the god of the primitive Gnostic schools; even the Christ of the dissident
priesthood; and this last qualication, ascribed to the goat of black magic, will not
astonish those who study the religious antiquities and who are acquainted with the
phases of the diverse transformations of the symbolism and dogma, be it in India,
be it in Egypt, be it in Judea.182
This is one of the most quoted passages referring to the Baphomet, but oddly
enough it has never been put in the context that was made very explicit by Lévi
himself: his polemics against Mirville and other Catholic authors. Obviously,
his statement about the Baphomet and the tradition behind it is marked by a
curious ambiguousness, which might appear puzzling if taken out of context.
Lévi was implicitly conrming that the Baphomet was the object of Devil
worship, witches’ sabbaths and other abominable practices, while at the same
time presenting it as an embodiment of the tradition that he regarded as the
bearer of the one and only eternal truth. This equivocalness has hopefully
become more comprehensible for the reader in light of the dialectical narrative
discussed in the previous section, and in light of the various contexts in which
Lévi positioned himself as the provider of the universal key to occult wisdom.
It has been shown that the notion of synthesis and harmony that underlies
Lévi’s Baphomet can only be comprehended against the background of the
socialist doctrines he articulated in his writings of the 1840s. This political
character of his occultism, which became most obvious in his articles for
the Revue philosophique et religieuses, and then in his writings from La clef des
grands mystères forwards, is expressed by its nal aim to create a perfect social
order. Lévi wanted to realize this project by creating an élite of initiates, a kind
of occultist Avantgarde, who were to take up the secret tradition represented
by the Baphomet. The rst step towards this was “to create oneself,” a task
that should follow the emancipatory Luciferian aspiration towards liberty and
knowledge. Lévi wrote quite explicitly that he wanted to open up the path to
emancipation for everyone, until there would only be “one family” equal before
God. Until then, however, the barrier of “initiation” would ensure that only
182 Ibid., 209–10. The reference to “symbolism” reects the countless plates that can be found
in works such as Matter’s and the numerous contemporary studies about the origins of religion.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–7974
the worthy would lead the ock towards the light. In developing his notion
of initiation he was clearly inspired by Freemasonry, as represented in works
such as Ragon’s. In the 1850s, Freemasonry had become a gathering point for
the opposition, and the salons of Fauvety turned into an important platform
for this process.183 However, Lévi had been highly skeptical of Freemasonry
from the beginning, and only became a Freemason for a short period before
polemically distancing himself from the movement and denouncing it sharply.
Once more, he had turned his back on those who he regarded as “false”
representatives of a tradition which they failed to understand.
The superior “science” that Lévi propagated was supposed to lead to the
nal synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy. This required the for-
mation of the science universelle that Lévi rst described in the 1840s and later
developed into his magical theory. The reader will have noted the absence of
Medieval and Early Modern sources in this article. Lévi did consult the works
of authors from those periods, most notably Guillaume Postel, Paracelsus,
Franciscus Patricius or Heinrich Khunrath, but his treatment was cursory and
remarkably supercial.184 Instead, it has been demonstrated that his magical
theory was developed in the context of spiritualistic magnetism and his po-
lemics against Catholic writers. His concept of the Astral Light, which was so
central to his drawing of the Baphomet, can only be understood against the
background of the 1850s.
At the center of Lévi’s writings stood his identity as a “true Catholic,” an
identity that he shared with authors such as Delaage. This question of “true”
religion was the subject of literally all the discourses that have been discussed
in the present article. It is curious that the School of Alexandria became the
focal point not only of debates about the history of Freemasonry, but also
about the origins of Christianity, the history of Gnosticism, and the develop-
ment of socialism, which supposedly ranked among the most recent heirs of
either the tradition of error or that of truth. This shows the preoccupation of
contemporaries with the origin and the future of religion, which often man-
ifested as a belief in the primitive unity of all religions and its restoration in
a future synthesis. Lévi’s historical narrative appears against this background,
not as the result of an ancient esoteric tradition, but as the outcome of prom-
inent discourses about the meaning and place of religion in modern society.
183 Strube, Sozialismus, 482–84.
184 Ibid., 544–63. Cf. the early criticism by Arthur Edward Waite in Eliphas Lévi, Transcendental Magic:
Its Doctrine and Ritual, trans. Arthur Edward Waite (London: Redway, 1896), xi–xiii. Waite developed
his own highly speculative narrative of initiation to explain the ambiguous doctrine of Lévi.
Strube / Correspondences 4 (2016) 37–79 75
As one of many socialists who had been disillusioned by the failed revolution
of 1848, he developed his occultism in distinct opposition to “false” socialism
and “false” Catholicism, the two constant points of reference in his writings,
which consequently functioned as his main identity markers. The monstrous
gure of the Baphomet is an embodiment of all those aspects: the nal syn-
thesis of science, religion, philosophy, and politics, which would be realized
through the progressive decryption of the tradition of “true” religion and the
creation of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
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