Eliphas levi (Alphonse Louis Constant)
(February 8, 1810 – May 31, 1875)
A french occultist and writer that made a great impact on a number of esoteric
and magical orders in 19th century. Born in Paris as the only son of a
shoemaker, the only way to get a decent education was to become a priest. He
was sent to a seminary of Saint Nichols du Chardonnet and later to Saint
Sulpice. It was there where he become intrigued with a mystical vital force that
was than called animal magnetism, allegedly controlled by the Devil himself. He was
determined to gain as much knowledge about that force he could. He begun to
study all he could find about the magic and the occult.
In his early 20's he became
a follower of an obscure couple that belived
they were reincarnations of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In that time he
started writing some of his religiously orientated books but in 1848
in the time of the French revolution he was thrown out of the church,
excommunicated and incarcerated because of his leftist views. After that, while in
rather problematic financial situation he started to work as a journalist and
give lessons about the occult practices under a pseudonym 'Magus Eliphas Levi',
translation of his name into Hebrew.
In 1854 he travelled to England to give lectures in London but his lousy
knowledge of English hindered him. Nevertheless he made a friendship with Edward
Bulwer-Lytton, a leading authority on the field of esoteric and occult practices
in England at that time. He was presiding a local Rosicrucian group and asked
him to write down his treatise on magic. He wrote
Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie in 1855, one of the most influential writings
at that time that heavily influenced groups such as S.R.I.A. (Societas
Rosicruciana in Anglia), the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Theosophical
Front page of the book has a very familiar image to all who were in contact
with the occult, the image that we can connect to
The Devil in Raider-Waite
Tarot deck. No wonder it is A. E. Waite who
afterwards translated his book.
"Sabbatic Goat", by Eliphas Lévi,
"sum total of the universe", male and female, good and evil
today usually associated with the term "Baphomet".
In Arthur Edward Waite’s translation of his work: Transcendental Magic, its
Doctrine and Ritual, we can find an interesting account of a ceremony where
after three weeks of fasting and preparation he commenced 12 hours of
incantations after which purportedly a floor began to shake and a ghostly
apparition appeared. For Levi that was very stressfull and dangerous encounter.
He was feeling very cold and when the apparition touched his ritual sword his
hand had gone numb for two days. He later declared similar actions very damaging to
the persons involved.
His works are filled with tarot allusions though he never wrote a book
specifically aiming on that theme. Like his "successor" A. E. Waite he also believed that there is one
source and one doctrine of all magic that could be seen around the world, he
also introduced the concept of "Astral Light" in connection with the
animal magnetism. In his late years he lived comfortably from his lessons and
writings. He died the same year Alister Crowley was born, the former often
claiming he was his reincarnation. He wasn't an advocate of the Egyptian origin of
the tarot that Court De Gebelin had proposed, he was
centered around the Tarot de Marseille as
the beginning of the divinatory Tarot, connecting it with Kabbala and even
suggesting that the Major Arcana represents the stages in life.