Get our toolbar!

By The Notorious Doctor Zoom Zoom   

ELIPHAS LEVI (1810 - 1875)

 Wrote several books on the occult, and put a new spin on magic. Born Alphonse Constant, Levi became a Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. He found the vow of celibacy hard to keep, and left the Church to marry a young girl. The marriage only lasted a year. Levi made abig splash by trying to make sense of the occult by translating and reinterpreting (“misinterpreting” would be a more accurate word) medieval grimories. He basically rewrote them to make old spell-books sound as though they were sources of hidden wisdom. He transformed them from the superstitious books that had previously been for slackers, who thought spirits could be compelled to find buried treasure, or lovesick old men trying to win the hearts of teenage maidens via magic spells. By Levi’s reinterpretation for instance, a love charm in an old grimorie might now be re-written as a “seal to commune with the Olympian spirit of Venus”. Levi is probably best known for his drawing of the Devil, which he now called “the god of witches”  also known as “Baphomet” or “The Goat of Mendes”. This drawing is a favorite of occultists of all types, including Wiccans and Satanists, and no doubt you’ve seen it previously as it has become somewhat famous.

     Under Levi, sorcery was now a religious path...something it had not previously been. He tried to make the occult more respectable and to the more naive types, he succeeded. He’s credited with creating the term “occult” to describe sorcery, fortune telling, necromancy, and all kinds of spooky weirdness to make it sound less like spooky weirdness.  Levi created a myth that all, occult teachings and magic practices were all connected. Tarot cards, alchemy, sorcery, astrology, thecabala, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, etc., were all part of a mystical religious knowledge that was handed down from time immemorial and had been all but lost. Levi was convinced the key to this knowledge was through ritual magic. Not everyone agrees with his theory. Occult historian Collin Wilson bluntly called it “a lie” [The Occult: A History by Collin Wilson, pg.326) . The man who had many of Levi’s books translated, occultist A. E. Waite, warned readers Levi was prone to use his imagination...a case of the pot calling the cauldron black.

    Even though Levi wrote extensively about sorcery, he didn’t actually do things anyone would consider “magical”. While Levi may have thought of the occult as a science, he was never able to repeatedly produce results through magic (not even once) under the observation of others, which would have been necessary to validate this idea. He traveled to England in 1854, but the English expected him to be able to actually produce miracles which he couldn’t do. Although this event ended in failure, he did make a few contacts, notably author Bulwer-Lytton who gave him a well needed infusion of cash. Levi returned to France and still continued on as an occultist.

    Determined to actually produce magic after this, he later claimed he had conjured the spirit of Apollonius of Tyana (a Greek mystic who lived around 30 A.D.) to ask him two questions...obviously, Levi had a lot of time on his hands. In some accounts of the story,  Levi got so scared when the spirit appeared, he forgot the two questions and passed out! No one else was present when this incident supposedly occurred, so it’s possible the story is a deliberate invention of Levi, or the product of his vivid imagination. He had to prepare for three weeks before this ritual that included 2 weeks of vegetarian dieting and a week of fasting. During this three weeks, Levi constantly meditated on Apollonius and imagined having conversations with him (visualization).  The conjuration itself consisted of a grueling 12 hours of incantations. It’s not hard to believe since Levi wanted the spirit to appear so desperately, coupled with weakness from weeks of starving and constantly visualizing the “ghost” that he had simply hallucinated. Since by his own admission he passed out (which can happen from starvation), it’s even possible the whole thing was just a dream. Even Levi later admitted it was possible he had  imagined it. If so, where was the magic? Passing out and having hallucinations aren’t magic!

    Nevertheless, Levi’s books about sorcery were a big inspiration to later occultists such as H.P.Blavatsky, A..E. Waite (who translated several of Levi’s books into English), MacGregor Mathers and the occultists of the Golden Dawn, and Aleister Crowley. Crowley even declared he was the reincarnation of Levi, who died in 1875, the same year Crowley was born. Gardner was familiar with the works of Levi and seems to have followed in his footsteps; Just as Levi had taken ancient grimories and changed them from superstitious spell books to repositories of religious wisdom, so Gerald Gardner later took witchcraft and changed it from nefarious sorcery to a pre-Christian Pagan priesthood.

    Levi did not seem to begin his career in the occult until his wife left him, which suggests to me that initially he got into the occult for the reason so many people do, to win back a lost lover through love spells.  I wonder if his wife had never left him what would have happened. Perhaps he would have never got into the occult in the first place, and the occult revival would not have lasted as long as it did, nor had the long reaching impact.

 Eliphas Levi; A man with an active imagination who didn’t really have occult powers.

No part of this website may be reproduced by any means in any way shape or form without express written consent of the owner. Some of the materials on this web site are copyrighted by others, and are made available here for educational purposes such as teaching, scholarship, and research FREE OF CHARGE.  Title 17, Ch. 1, Sec. 107 of the US Copyright law states that such Fair Use "is not an infringement of copyright"(click here to read it all).    Links to external web sites do not necessarily  constitute endorsements, but are provided as aids to research. NONE OF THESE MATERIALS ARE TO BE SOLD.  All HTML is Copyrighted by Uncommon Sense Media. .