Eliphas Levi


Eliphas Levi (1810 - 1875) The pseudonym of Alphonse Louis Constant, a French occultist who was largely responsible for the revival of interest in magic in the 19th century. Levi studied magic and believed in it but was more of a commentator than and adept, though he did claim to practice necromancy on several occasions.

Constant was born in Paris, the son of a shoe maker. He was bright and quick and sent to the church at St. Sulpice for education. He was intrigued by magic and the occult, and the headmaster's belief that animal magnetism, the vital energy of the human body, was controlled by the devil only incited his curiosity. Nevertheless, he pursued an ecclesiastical career and became a priest. He was thrown out of the church for his left-wing political writings and because he could not observe his vow of chasity. His writings earned him three short jail sentances.

Constant was attracted an eccentric old man named Ganneau, who claimed to be a prophet and the reincarnation of Louis XVII.(Ganneau's wife believed she was the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette.) Constant became one of Ganneau's followers and was drawn deeper into the world of magic and the occult. In 1846 he married Noemie Cadot, who was no older than 18. They had one daughter who died very young. The marriage disintigrated in 1853 and was annuled in 1865.

For a time, Constant made a living from his writing and by giving lessons in the occult. He renamed himself Magus Eliphas Levi, the hebrew equivalents of his first and middle names.

In 1854 he took a trip to London, where he first tried necromancy. A mysterious woman who claimed to be an adept asked him to conjure the spirit of Appolonius Tyana, a renowned magician of ancient times. Levi undertook an enormous preparation that included two weeks of eating a vegetarian diet and a week of fasting, during which he mediated on Appolonius and imagined having conversations with him.

When he felt ready to perform the conjuration, Levi dressed in white robes and entered his magic chamber, where there were mirrors on the wals. In the center of the room he placed a table and covered it with white lambskin. He lit fires in two metal bowls and placed them on the table. Then he began his incantations, which went on for 12 hours.

According to Levi's account, he began to feel progressively colder as he went deeper into the ritual. After 12 hours had passed, the floor beneath him began to shake, and he saw an apparition in one of the mirrors. He asked the ghost to appear. At his third request, a greyish spirit appeared in front of him, thin and sad and wrapped from head to foot in a grey shroud. Levi, frightened, felt extremely cold. The apparition touched Levi's ritual sword, and his arm suddenly went numb. He dropped the sword and fainted.

Levi's arm was sore and numb for days after the incident. He said later that though he never spoke his questions, they were in his mind, and the apparition had responded in telepathy. The answers, he said, were "death" and "dead", but he never revealed the questions. Levi remained unconvinced that he had conjured the spirit of Appolonius. In subsequest rituals, however, he claimed that he called upon Appolonius several times.

His first and most important book, The Dogma and Ritual of High Magic, was published in 1861. He followed that with A History of Magic, Transcendental Magic, The Key of Great Mysteries and other occult books. His writing was "puple" and highly imaginative - and not very accurate. For example, he believed in the existance of a universal "secret doctrine" of magic throughout history, everywhere throughout the world.

In Dogma, Levi devoted 22 chapters to the 22 trump cards, or Major Arcana, of the Tarot, linking each one to letters of the Hebrew alphabet and to aspects of God. Some experts say this work is significant; others call it ignorant.

Levi Also put forth of Astral Light, based on his belief in animal magnetism. The astral light was rather like the ether, a fluidic life force that fills all space and living beings, another popular belief of the 19th century. To control the astral light, Levi said, was to control all things; a skilled magicians will was limitless in power.

Levi acknowledged being influenced by an earlier writer, Francis Barret, who had attempted unsuccessfully to revive magic in the early 1800's. In turn, Levi influenced another occultist and writer, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whom he visited in England in 1861. Bulwer-Lytton, who wrote The Last Days of Pompeii, was also the author of some occult books that helped make magic fashionable in the waning days of the 19th century in England. He and Levi joined an occult group - Bulwer-Lytton may have even organized it - and studied scrying, magic, astrology and mesmerism.

Until his death, Levi made his living from his occult writings and lessons. He was popular and had a cult of followers, some of them were inspired to write their own books.

Levi's magic was adopted by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded in London in 1888. Aleister Crowley, who was born the year that Levi died, claimed he was the reincarnation of Levi.