Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Magic 3: The Magical Origin of Freemasonry (E. Levi; A.E. Waite)

Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant) in 1878 

        That great Kabalistical association known in Europe under the name of Masonry appeared suddenly in the world when revolt against the Church had just succeeded in dismembering Christian unity.  The historians of the Order are one and all in a difficulty when seeking to explain its origin.  

Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant) in 1848  

        According to one, it derived from a certain guild of Masons who were incorporated for the construction of the cathedral of Strasburg.   Others refer its foundation to Cromwell, without pausing to consider whether the Rites of English Masonry in the days of the Protector were not more probably developed as a counterblast to this leader of Puritanical anarchy.  In fine, some are so ignorant that they attribute to the Jesuits the maintenance and direction, if not indeed the invention, of a society long preserved in secret and always wrapped in mystery (1). 

Strasbourg Cathedral, constructed 1015-1439; from 1647-1874, the world's tallest building.

Pulpit at Strasbourg Cathedral attracting a ray of green light, 2009

        Setting aside this last view, which refutes itself, we can reconcile the others by admitting that the Masonic Brethren borrowed their name and some emblems of their art from the builders of Strasburg cathedral, and that their first public manifestation took place in England, owing to radical institutions and in spite of Cromwell’s despotism.   It may be added that the Templars were their models, the Rosicrucians their immediate progenitors (2), and the Johannite sectarians their more remote ancestors. 

Arthur Edward Waite, co-creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, author of its companion volume, the Key to the Tarot, and translator and annotator of Eliphas Levi's The History of Magic, in early adulthood (date and photographer unknown).

        Their doctrine is that of Zoroaster and of Hermes, their law is progressive initiation, their principle is equality – regulated by the hierarchy and universal fraternity.  They are successors of the school of Alexandria, as of all antique initiations, custodians of the secrets of the Apocalypse and the Zohar. Truth is the object of their worship and they represent truth as light;  they tolerate all forms of faith, profess one philosophy, seek truth only, teach reality, and their plan is to lead all human intelligence by gradual steps into the domain of reason.

Arthur Edward Waite in 1915.  Photographic portrait by E.O. Hoppe*.


(     (1) This remark, in which I concur unreservedly, may be noted by students of Masonic history as an offset against the pretentious nonsense which has been talked on the subject by French makers of fable and especially J.M. Ragon**, the dullest and most imbecile of all.
              (2) This opinion is showing signs of recrudescence at the present day, and it is well to say that there is no evidence to support it.   

       ACravan Notes:    

 *  For more examples of Emil Otto Hoppe (1878-1972) photographs, see here. 

** Waite is referring to Jean-Marie Ragon, author of Orthodoxe Maconnique (Suivie de la Maconnerie Oculte et de l'Initiation Hermetique).  Paris, E. Dentu, 1853. Should any reader wish to peruse this book, a copy is available here.


      Excerpt from: Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant), The History of Magic.  New York, Samuel Weiser, 1971.   Translated, with a Preface and Notes, by Arthur Edward Waite. 


  1. The Strasbourg cathedral has the most amazing mechanical clock, extremely intricate workings and movements. And it's still accurate. So it doesn't surprise me that it inspired a mystery society.

  2. Actually, I thought of you and your family's trip to Strasbourg and the cathedral (and the clock; you posted something about this) when I wrote this. I first became interested in Levi (in a sort of reference/academic way) when reading about the Surrealists as a teenager. But The History of Magic is well worth reading on its own account. It's very enjoyably written and quite fascinating. Curtis

  3. By the way, in case you don't know this (I didn't), the forget-me-not pictured at the bottom of the post, is a traditional freemason's symbol. Curtis

  4. After reading about him in Anthony Powell (whose treatment of the occult, especially the seer Mrs. Erdleigh, is very adept and entertaining), I bought something else by Levi which I never got very far in. You tempt me with his History of Magic. I find this stuff interesting, but the texts usually not so much.

  5. Hi. I'd forgotten about Powell. I bought The History of Magic at Samuel Weiser a long time ago. Initially, I found the text a little daunting, but I don't know why that is based on how I feel about it now. It's really enjoyable and sometimes gripping. I love the use of the word "counterblast" and "setting aside this last view, which refutes itself". Waite's notes are wonderful also. Hope you had a good day. I have an Excedrin headache and it's not yet "Miller Time". I picked up a Satan Bug in LA. So did Caroline. Jane fights these things off. Curtis

  6. Get well.

    I am trying to lose 10 pounds and this is my fifth day without beer. Not sweetening my disposition any.

  7. Only 10 pounds? You're lucky. I'm facing something grimmer but trying to be optimistic. I think I can, I think I can. It would be easier if it were my only task. Curtis

  8. Fell of wagon this weekend. Two delicious bottles of Anchor Steam with a friend Friday evening. Passion Fruit mimosa at brunch with college roommates Saturday at Shorty's .32 on Prince Street. Two rum punches at Alvin & Friends, the new (excellent) Southern restaurant in New Rochelle Saturday night (neighbor's birthday). A Guinness with dinner at home on Sunday.
    Intend to have another Guiness tonight.

  9. I guess you did. I would currently kill for a Guinness but I'm walking the straight and narrow. In my refrigerator, staring out at me, are bottles of Victory Hop Devil Ale, a very fine local beer from Downingtown. I think I'll just go upstairs and watch X-Files and not torment my family further. Curtis