[The following is taken from Eliphas Levi’s Introduction to his
Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual
The translation is by Arthur Edward Waite.]
BEHIND the veil of all the hieratic and mystical allegories of ancient doctrines, behind the darkness and strange ordeals of all initiations, under the seal of all sacred writings, in the ruins of Nineveh or Thebes, on the crumbling stones of old temples and on the blackened visage of the Assyrian or Egyptian sphinx, in the monstrous or marvellous paintings which interpret to the faithful of India the inspired pages of the Vedas, in the cryptic emblems of our old books on alchemy, in the ceremonies practised at reception by all secret societies, there are found indications of a doctrine which is everywhere the same and everywhere carefully concealed. Occult philosophy seems to have been the nurse or god-mother of all intellectual forces, the key of all divine obscurities and the absolute queen of society in those ages when it was reserved exclusively for the education of priests and of kings.
It reigned in Persia with the Magi, who perished in the end, as perish all masters of the world, because they abused their power; it endowed India with the most wonderful traditions and with an incredible wealth of poesy, grace and terror in its emblems; it civilized Greece to the music of the lyre of Orpheus; it concealed the principles of all sciences, all progress of the human mind, in the daring calculations of Pythagoras; fable abounded in its miracles, and history, attempting to estimate this unknown power, became confused with fable; it undermined or consolidated empires by its oracles, caused tyrants to tremble on their thrones and governed all minds, either by curiosity or by fear. For this science, said the crowd, there is nothing impossible, it commands the elements, knows the language of the stars and directs the planetary courses; when it speaks, the moon falls blood-red from heaven; the dead rise in their graves and mutter ominous words, as the night wind blows through their skulls. Mistress of love or of hate, occult science can dispense paradise or hell at its pleasure to human hearts; it disposes of all forms and confers beauty or ugliness; with the wand of Circe it changes men into brutes and animals alternately into men; it disposes even of life and death, can confer wealth on its adepts by the transmutation of metals and immortality by its quintessence or elixir, compounded of gold and light….
After the colossal fable of Oedipus we find the gracious poem of Psyche, which was certainly not invented by Apuleius. The Great Magical Arcanum reappears here under the figure of a mysterious union between a god and a weak mortal, abandoned alone and naked on a rock.
Psyche must remain in ignorance of the secret of her ideal royalty, and if she behold her husband she must lose him.
Here Apuleius commentates and interprets Moses; but did not the Elohim of Israel and the Gods of Apuleius both issue from the sanctuaries of Memphis and Thebes? Psyche is the sister of Eve, or rather she is Eve spiritualized. Both desire to know and lose innocence for the honour of the ordeal. Both deserve to go down into hell, one to bring back the antique box of Pandora, the other to find and to crush the head of the old serpent, who is the symbol of time and of evil. Both are guilty of the crime which must be expiated by the Prometheus of ancient days and the Lucifer of the Christian legend, the one delivered by Hercules and the other overcome by the Saviour. The Great Magical Secret is therefore the lamp and dagger of Psyche, the apple of Eve, the sacred fire of Prometheus, the burning sceptre of Lucifer, but it is also the Holy Cross of the Redeemer. To be acquainted with it sufficiently for its abuse or divulgation is to deserve all sufferings; to know as one should alone know it, namely, to make use of and conceal it, is to be master of the Absolute.
A single word comprehends all things, and this word consists of four letters: it is the Tetragram of the Hebrews, the AZOT of the alchemists, the Thot of the Bohemians, or the Taro of the Kabalists. This word, expressed after so many manners, means God for the profane, man for the philosophers, and imparts to the adepts the final term of human sciences and the key of divine power; but he only can use it who understands the necessity of never revealing it. Had Oedipus, instead of killing the sphinx, overcome it, harnessed it to his chariot and thus entered Thebes, he would have been king without incest, without misfortunes and without exile. Had Psyche, by meekness and affection, persuaded Love to reveal himself, she would never have lost Love. Now, Love is one of the mythological images of the Great Secret and the Great Agent, because it postulates at once an action and a passion, a void and a plenitude, a shaft and a wound. The initiates will understand me, and on account of the profane I must not speak more clearly.
After the marvellous Golden Ass of Apuleius, we find no more magical epics. Science, conquered in Alexandria by the fanaticism of the murderers of Hypatia, became Christian, or rather concealed itself under Christian veils with Ammonius, Synesius and the pseudonymous author of the books of Dionysius the Areopagite. In such times it was necessary to exonerate miracles under the pretence of superstition and science by an unintelligible language.
Hieroglyphic writing was revived; pantacles and characters were invented to summarize an entire doctrine by a sign, a whole sequence of tendencies and revelations in a word.
What was the end of the aspirants to knowledge? They sought the secret of the Great Work, the Philosophical Stone, the perpetual motion, the quadrature of the circle, the Universal Medicine—formulae which often saved them from persecution and hatred by causing them to be taxed with madness, but all signifying one of the phases of the Great Magical Secret, as we shall show later on. This absence of epics continues till our Romance of the Rose; but the rose-symbol, which expresses also the mysterious and magical sense of Dante’s poem, is borrowed from the transcendent Kabalah, and it is time that we should have recourse to this vast and hidden source of universal philosophy. The Bible, with all its allegories, gives expression to the religious knowledge of the Hebrews only in an incomplete and veiled manner. The book which we have mentioned, the hieratic characters of which we shall explain subsequently, that book which William Postel names the Genesis of Enoch, existed certainly before Moses and the prophets, whose doctrine, fundamentally identical with that of the ancient Egyptians, had also its exotericism and its veils….
On penetrating into the sanctuary of the Kabalah one is seized with admiration in the presence of a doctrine so logical, so simple and at the same time so absolute. The essential union of ideas and signs; the consecration of the most fundamental realities by primitive characters; the trinity of words, letters and numbers;1 a philosophy simple as the alphabet, profound and infinite as the Word; theorems more complete and luminous than those of Pythagoras; a theology which may be summed up on the fingers;2 an infinite which can be held in the hollow of an infant’s hand; ten figures and twenty-two letters, a triangle, a square and a circle: such are the elements of the Kabalah.
Such also are the component principles of the written Word, reflection of that spoken Word which created the world! All truly dogmatic religions have issued from the Kabalah and return therein. Whatsover is grand or scientific in the religious dreams of the illuminated, of Jacob Bohme, Swedenborg, Saint-Martin and the rest, is borrowed from the Kabalah; all Masonic associations owe to it their secrets and their symbols. The Kabalah alone consecrates the alliance of universal reason and the Divine Word; it estab- lishes by the counterpoise of two forces in apparent opposi- tion, the eternal balance of being; it alone reconciles reason with faith, power with liberty, science with mystery: it has the keys of the present, past and future! To become initiated into the Kabalah it is insufficient to read and to meditate upon the writings of Reuchlin, Galalinus, Kircher, or Picus de Mirandola; it is necessary to study and understand the Hebrew writers in the collection of Pistorius, the Sepher Yetzirah above all; it is essential in particular to master the great book Zohar, to investigate the collection of I684, entitled Kabbala Denu- data, especially the treatise on “Kabalistic Pneumatics” and that on the “Revolution of Souls”; and afterwards to enter boldly into the luminous darkness of the whole dogmatic and allegorical body of the Talmud.1 We shall be then in a position to understand William Postel, and shall admit secretly that–apart from his very premature and over- generous dreams about the emancipation of women–this celebrated, learned, illuminated man could not have been so mad as is pretended by those who have not read him. The present division of our work refers only to the science, but Magic, or rather magical power, comprehends two things, a science and a force: without the force the science is nothing, or rather it is a danger. To give knowledge to power alone, such is the supreme law of initiations. Hence did the Great Revealer say: ‘The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent only shall carry it away.’ The door of truth is closed, like the sanctuary of a virgin: he must be a man who would enter. All miracles are promised to faith, and what is faith except the audacity of will which does not hesitate in the darkness, but advances towards the light in spite of all ordeals, and surmounting all obstacles? It is unnecessary to repeat here the history of ancient initiations: the more dangerous and terrible they were, the greater was their efficacy. Hence, in those days, the world had men to govern and instruct it. The Sacerdotal Art and the Royal Art consisted above all in ordeals of courage, discretion and will.
It was a novitiate similar to that of those priests who, under the name of Jesuits, are so unpopular at the present day, but would govern the world notwithstanding, had they a truly wise and intelligent chief.
After passing our life in the search for the Absolute in religion, science and justice; after revolving in the circle of Faust, we have reached the primal doctrine and the first book of humanity. At this point we pause, having discovered the secret of human omnipotence and indefinite progress, the key of all symbolisms, the first and final doctrine: we have come to understand what was meant by that expression so often made use of in the Gospel–the Kingdom of God.
To provide a fixed point as a fulcrum for human activity is to solve the problem of Archimedes, by realizing the use of his famous lever. This it is which was accomplished by the great initiators who have electrified the world, and they could not have done so except by means of the Great and Incommunicable Secret.
The Nuctemeron of Apollonius of Tyana
[This appears as a “supplement” by Levi at the end of the book.]
In the unity, de daimons sing the praise of God, they loose their malignity and their wrath.
By the binary, the fishes of the Zodiac sing the praise of God, the snakes of fire intertwine around Hermes’ staff and the thunder becomes harmonious.
The snakes of Hermes’ staff intertwine trice, Cerberus opens his triple mouth and fire sings the praise of God by the three tongs of the lightning.
At the fourth hour the soul returns for a visit to the sepulcher. It is the time to light the magical lamps at the four corners of the circles. It is the time for incantations and illusions.
The voice of the great waters sing the God of the heavenly spheres.
The spirit remains motionless. He sees the infernal monsters work against him and he is without fear.
A fire, giving life to all animated beings, is directed by the will of the pure men. The initiate raises his hand and the suffering disappears.
The stars speak to each another, the soul of the suns communicate with the breath of the flowers, the chains of harmony make all the beings of nature correspond with one another.
The number that is not to be reveled.
It is the key of the astronomical cycle and of the circular movement of human’s life.
The wings of the geniuses move with a mysterious humming, they fly from one sphere to another and carry the message of God from one world to another.
Here are accomplished the deeds of the eternal light.
[Here is Levi’s explanation for the last illustration, named by him “The Sabbatic Goat. The Baphomet of Mendes.”:
A pantheistic and magical figure of the Absolute. The torch placed between the two horns represents the equilibrating intelligence of the triad. The goat’s head, which is synthetic, and unites some characteristics of the dog, bull and ass, represents the exclusive responsibility of matter and the expiation of bodily sins in the body. The hands are human, to exhibit the sanctity of labour; they make the sign of esotericism above and below, to impress mystery on initiates, and they point at two lunar crescents, the upper being white and the lower black, to explain the correspondences of good and evil, mercy and justice. The lower part of the body is veiled, portraying the mys- teries of universal generation, which is expressed solely by the symbol of the caduceus.
The belly of the goat is scaled and should be coloured green; the semicircle above should be blue; the plumage, reaching to the breast, should be of various hues. The goat has female breasts, and thus its only human characteristics are those of maternity and toil, otherwise the signs of redemption. On its forehead, between the horns and beneath the torch, is the sign of the Microcosm, or the Pentagram with one point in the ascendant, symbol of human intelligence, which, placed thus below the torch, makes the flame of the latter an image of divine revelation. This Pantheistic figure should be seated on a cube, and its footstool should be a single ball, on a ball and a triangular stool. In our design we have given the former only, to avoid complicating the figure.]