After the split with International President of the T.S., ex-Colonel Olcott, Gaboriau bitterly declared; all the Theosophical Society had to offer were "hatreds, personal ambitions, calumnies, feminine gossip" and "national jealousies," particularly among English Theosophists, who considered themselves superior to adepts from all other countries. These problems had become so severe, he wrote, that the Society would only be able to eliminate them by remaking itself completely. If this type of radical transformation proved impossible, then it would be better for the Iongterm spiritual health of mankind to dissolve the organization entirely.
After the disappearance of the Lotus, Theosophy in France did indeed give way to a new organization, though not in a manner Gabodau would have endorsed. Papus, from his new position of influence, quickly set about laying the groundwork for a separate movement, which he called Occultisme. By late 1889, Occultism had a journal of its own, L 'Initiation. A year later, Papus established a central Occultist organization, the Groupe Indipendant d'Etudes Esoteriques, and formally broke with the Theosophical Society. During the next decade, Occultism expanded, emerging as the most vital heterodox movement in France.
As the title of its Journal indicated, organized Occultism's primary goal was to create "Initiates." An initiate, according to the definition Papus elaborated, was anyone who chose to undertake a study of esoteric wisdom and occult science. The process of initiation, in turn, was simultaneously social and individualistic. A shared quest for essential truth necessarily spurred initiates to come together in a "fraternity of intelligence," Papus wrote, but membership in this fraternity - which Papus extended to women as well as men - did not require adherence to a specific set of spiritual teachings. Instead, the role of- the -Initiatic society," as he conceived it, was to ---encourage the student to create a personal doctrine of his own.
However the disagreement over the proper definition of the term -initiate- sparked a new polemic between Papus and Blavatsky in 1889 and 1890. For Papus, an Initiate was a person who had begun the search for Esoteric knowledge; for Blavatsky, the term applied only to those who had achieved the highest level of spiritual mastery, a group Papus called adeptes (See L 'Initiaiion, vol. 2, 1889: 192-199.. and La Revue Theosophique. vol. 1, no.2 (Apr., 1889): 1-8)
By the end of the century, French Occultism had come to be associated with subjects as diverse as Gnosticism, Alchemy, and the study of Hypnosis.
The advent of this multifarious approach marked a dramatic shift in the nature of French heterodoxy. Where Spiritism had emphasized adherence to a single doctrine, Occultism fostered diversity. Where Spiritists prized the simplicity and modernity of their ideas, Occultists sought out the complex and the ancient.
One of the texts that most influentially defined Occultism's "general principles" for beginning initiates the Traiti Elimentaire de science occulte by Papus, dated from 1887. Papus as Gualta before, used the Hermetic concept of a lost golden age to critique what he saw as the nineteenth century's obsession with scientific progress and materialist philosophy. In Papus' view, for example, many of the vaunted discoveries "steam power, electricity, photography, and all our Chemistry" were well known to the sages of Greece and Egypt. Indeed, he wrote, the ancients had even succeeded in surpassing modem achievements: they could produce bolts of lightning at will, and had discovered a form of color photography.” (Traiti Elimentaire de science occulte, first edition. 1887,18.)
Contemporary science Papus argued, had only been able to devise pale imitations of these lost achievements, because their reductive materialism had blinded them to the knowledge the ancients had drawn upon in their study of nature.
Guaita added a sociological dimension to this epistemological critique. In his view, the scission between spiritualism and materialism that prevented modem man from recapturing the knowledge and power of the ancients was in large part a consequence of growing individualism.
The hermeneutic technique of analogy, Papus and Guaita argued, provided the cornerstone of this ancient, unified body of knowledge. By making nature an emblem for other presences equally real but invisible, analogy synthesized the epistemologies of science and religion. If an observer accepted the fundamental Hermetic principle that the world below always corresponded to the world above, then analogy provided a means of interpreting nature that was both empirical and metaphysical. (Stanislas de Guaita. Le Seuil du mystere, 1861.37.)
By observing, for example, that a telegraph needed an operator in order to produce coherent messages, Papus demonstrated that the brain required the presence of the soul - an intelligent force analogous to the telegraph operator - to produce coherent thoughts. The effectiveness of analogy as a means of explaining the world, for these two writers, demonstrated the futility of separating the study of matter from the study of the spirit, as modem science and metaphysics required. To study matter, after all, was to study the spirit, since one was the emblem and expression of the other.
For Papus and Gualta, analogy was not only a technique for interpreting nature, it was a means of controlling it. Like the generations of mages that had come before them, they believed that the manipulation of symbols -in talismans and incantations, for example - could produce irrefutably tangible results. Unlike their older predecessors, but like their mid-century forebears, both writers drew on the vocabulary of Mesmerism to explain how these results came about. The universal fluid, in particular, played a central role in their accounts. As Gualta wrote, this fluid, referred to esoterically in the Cabala as spiritual light, was "the central point of the great magic Synthesis." The mage who had discovered "the law of fluidic tides and universal currents," he wrote, possessed---the secret of human omnipotence, [ ... ] the practical formula for the incommunicable Great Arcana.---For Papus and Guata, in other words, magic was real. In the hands of those who understood the analogical principles that governed the universal fluid, they believed, spells and mysterious signs could produce powerfully tangible material results.
Both Papus and Guaita also emphasized the fundamentally Christian and French character of the philosophical system they elaborated. Though all religions taught the same truths, Papus argued, each was specifically suited to the culture in which it appeared. Therefore, Celts and Westerners, the tradition truly suited to our minds is the Cabalistic tradition as renewed by Christianity.
This is the same idea Rudolf Steiner would adapt, especially so after his break with Theosophy in 1913, calling it hence Anthroposophy.
The druids, spiritual ancestors of the modem-day French, were one of the only, privileged groups to have perpetuated the primordial traditions of the theocratic empire, which Saint-Yves had described so evocatively in his Mission des Juifs. French Occultists, therefore, were uniquely positioned to take advantage of a deep local reservoir of secret wisdom. The descendents of the ancient Gauls - even more than the Brahmins of India - had sorcerers' blood in their veins, Guaita believed, see also Encausse, Traite, 207.
In his Traite Elimentaire and the numerous works that followed it, Papus made the ideas of Occultism seem both impressively mysterious and easily approachable. Guata's approach was considerably, more forbidding. Where Papus emphasized the ease with which esoteric truths could be grasped, Guaita stressed the dangers the pursuit of such knowledge entailed. The mysteries of magic, Cabala and religious esotericism, he wrote, were not to be approached lightly:
High science cannot be an object of frivolous curiosity: the problem is sacred, many noble heads have whitened from contemplating it, and the sacrilege of capriciously importuning the Sphinx never goes unpunished, because such questions carry the text of their own condemnation. When faced with your indiscreet query, the Unknown will furnish an unexpected response, one so troubling it will obsess you forever. The veil of mystery has piqued your curiosity? Woe to you for raising it! It suddenly drops from your trembling hands, and what you believe to have seen fills you with panic.
This search for knowledge was no sterile intellectual endeavor; it was a gripping quest with extraordinarily high stakes. Those able to live up to the challenge, Guaita wrote, would find themselves in command of powers beyond their wildest dreams. The mysterious entities that appeared in the seance room, he wrote, were in fact elemental spirits, or larves, in which it is possible to see the rudiments of the plastic mediator, lacking both conscious soul and material body, but able to become visible, and even tangible, by condensation: thus they assume the form of the beings who approach them. The occultist (who attracts them, dominates them and directs them with his own astral body) can give them the appearance of any object at will, provided he determines the nature of that object mentally, and forcefully sculpts its contours in his imagination.
What Spiritists believed to be "the shades of ancestors," then, were in fact concentrations of fluid that could assume whatever forms their summoners wished.
As Papus and Gualta elaborated it, then, Occultism appeared to be a thrillingly intense spiritual undertaking. With the study of analogy, it seemed to provide a timeless way of reconciling the conflicting demands of science and religion without losing the best qualities of either; with magic, It offered an exciting new means of directly experiencing the sacred; and with its privileging of a Western esoteric tradition, it avoided posing too great a challenge to the fundamentally Christian religious assumptions French (and in the case of Rudolf Steiner German speaking) spiritual seekers continued to cherish.
Two secret societies developed within this group of writers: the Ordre Martiniste, which Papus founded in about 1887; and Gualta's somewhat older Ordre Kabbalistique de la Rose Croix. In 1890, Papus and his allies definitively abandoned the Theosophical Society, creating a public counterpart to the secret organizations they had already established. This new association was called the Groupe Indipendant d'Etudes Esoteriques. It soon overshadowed the Theosophical Society in France, and became the organizational hub of a rapidly growing interest in things Occult.
By January 1892, the regular print run of the Voile d'Isis had reached 10,000 copies, and the Groupe Indipendant counted seventeen branches throughout France.
As the group expanded, so did the two secret societies Papus and his friends had established in the late 1880s.
For members who lived near Martinist Lodges, initiation and advancement also involved participation in secret rituals, but these material components were not absolutely necessary. Provincials could join the Order and advance within it entirely by correspondence. (For a manuscript describing several of these secret rituals in detail, see the Bibliotheque Prinicipale de Lyon, fonds Papus (BNILFP), cote 5.490. 2t.For copies of these manuscripts called cahiers, see 13NILFP, cote 5,490. 12)
To become an initiator him or herself, the S: E: needed to copy and interpret three manuscripts, which described certain key symbols and rituals of the order. These interpretations received further critiques and commentaries from a senior member. Once aspiring members had completed this final training, they ended their pedagogical relationships with their initiators and began instructing new members on their own. All the individual Lodges to which these initiators and members belonged, in turn were part of an organization coordinated by, the Suprime Conseil de l’Ordre Martiniste, which was affiliated with the Groupe Indipendant and presided over by Papus.
Though Papus invented its specific rules and organizational structure, the Martinist Order derived its ideas and rituals from the writings of the late Eighteenth Century philosopher Jean-Claude de Saint-Martin, known in France as the philosophe inconnu. Saint-Martin's thought, as Papus glossed it, was based on "two great principles:
preservation of the initiatic tradition of Spiritualism, characterized by the Trinity, and the defense of Christ beyond the confines of any sect.
The second secret society affiliated with the Groupe Indipendant, Gualta's Ordre Kabbalisiiqite de la Rose Croix, took a very different approach. Where Martinism was well-publicized and easy to join, the Ordre Kabbalistique sought to maintain both secrecy and high barriers to entry.
The order received regular mentions in L'Itlitiation from 1889 onwards, but these announcements provided considerably less information than those concerning Martinism. The Ordre Kabbalislique, in fact, did not make its entry requirements public until mid-1892.
In 1901, however, the memoirist Georges Vitoux published the order's secret constitution, which helps give a sense of the way in which Guaita conceived the group's mission. To the profane outsider, the constitution declared, the order would appear to be "a dogmatic and visible society for the diffusion of Occultism,- much like the Groupe Itidipendant. In fact, however, the order had a rather more exciting mission: "It is a secret society of action devoted to individual and mutual support; to the defense of its members; to the multiplication of their vital forces by reversibility; to ritining adepts of black- magic; and finally, to THE STRUGGLE TO REVEAL THE ESOTERIC MAGNIFICENCES THAT ABOUND IN CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, BUT OF WHICH IT IS UNAWARE."
The Ordre Kabbalistique, at least in Gualta's opinion, was a considerably more risky and significant enterprise than it appeared to be to outsiders. To the uninitiated, this group seemed no different than any other organization of spiritual seekers eager to discuss ideas and publicize their beliefs. In fact, however, members of the Order were engaged in constant struggle with practitioners of black magic; and as their final goal, they sought nothing less than the transformation of Western religious life through the revitalization of esoteric Christianity.
As chief organizer of Occultism, Papus ensured that the colorful rhetoric these secret societies employed corresponded to an equally colorful reality. Where Spiritists had tried to make their seances as much like everyday, life as possible, Papus and his fellow Occultists strove to cultivate a clear distinction between the sacred and the profane. The meetings of both the Ordre Kabbalistique and the Ordre Martiniste were full of pageantry, with costumes, secret images, and appropriate color.
Lucien Mauchel, for example, provided an evocative reminiscence of the trappings that accompanied examinations for the doctorate of Cabala. The event took place in a room; "hung with red cloth, barely lit"; the examiners, separated from the student by a thin red curtain, wore red robes and the white initiatic headdress of the Martinist Order.
As the Groupe Indipendant grew more prosperous, Papus went to still greater lengths to create an appropriately. mysterious atmosphere, as a newspaper description of the organization's second headquarters, on the rue de Savoie, reveals:
The rooms for courses, meetings and lectures have mysterious inscriptions running along their walls, between Hermetic symbols, astrological signs and tables of Hebrew and Sanskrit letters, in an atmosphere of miracle and prophecy. (Le Matin, Nov. 6, 1899,1)
This accessible flamboyance attracted the attention of the press, which Papus held by staging an array of public spectacles intended to promote the Groupe Indipendant and its ideas. In October 1890, for example, Papus staged a series of demonstrations at the Salle des Capucines, a popular lecture hall. A journalist described one of them, in which Papus replicated an experiment. It involved the transfer of a medium's personality into the body of a volunteer from the audience. The medium sat across from the volunteer, and took hold of both his hands. Papus waved a magnetic wand between the two subjects and then called on the journalist, who came on stage to ask questions of the medium.` He gave the following account of the ensuing exchange:
Q. Are you wearing a flannel undershirt?
A. Now that's a strange question. What does it matter to you?
Q. I'm curious.
A. (The medium pats himself and responds) Yes! I am wearing a flannel undershirt.
The medium subsequently determined that this undershirt had no sleeves and fourteen buttons, and that the volunteer was also wearing cotton underpants.
According to Papus, it proved both the reality of the universal fluid and the power of magical techniques - in the form of the wand - to manipulate it. By the mid- 1890s, these various efforts to gamer publicity had made Papus a celebrity. Journalistic profiles reinforced his self-created persona: that of the exotic and flamboyant master of secret knowledge. (Le Journal, Aug. 25. 1893, 2. '36)
Once this persona had taken shape, Papus emerged as a well-known expert on things Occult, and was frequently asked to contribute articles to mass-circulation newspapers. In 1893, for example, he published a series of articles for the Figaro, introducing his readers to graphology, providing the recipe for a love potion, and suggesting ways in which a woman could read her husband's character by looking at his face. When Nicholas II became Czar of Russia in 1894, the Gaulois commissioned Papus to analyze the new ruler's signature.
In 1898, Papus' growing interest in a healer from a village near Lyon, Philippe Nizier Vachod, known as Maitre Philippe, however increasingly turned him away from the magical due to the influence of Philippe, who Papus would later call his -spiritual teacher. Philippe, derived his healing powers from simple meditation on the Gospels.
As Papus' interests changed, the Ordre Martiniste came to occupy an increasingly important place in the Occultist movement, since the Christian illuminism it espoused meshed quite well with its leader's new sensibility.
After an ambitious attempt at reorganization in 1897, which would have turned it into a formally organized Universite Libre des Hautes Etudes, the Groupe Indipendant gradually dwindled.` By the mid 1900s, the Martinist Order had become the central organization of French Occultism, and it would remain so until Papus' death in 1916. (For an extensive discussion of the proposed curriculum and structure of this new institution. see L'Initiation, vol. 34. 1897: 170-171, 258-263)
Papus' thirst for publicity however and the tone of hucksterism he sometimes used when encouraging people to subscribe to his Journal and join his organization can seem similarly undignified. Hence Papus and his Groupe Indipendant become the skeleton in the closet of the fine de-siecle French Occult vogue.
But Spiritism also flourished during this period, Since Occultists believed that a single, fundamentally Christian universal truth existed at the heart of all religious systems, they felt free to pursue whatever ideas or practices caught their fancies, from Alchemy, to Hinduism, to the study of phenomena produced in seances. The last decades of the nineteenth century and first decades of the twentieth saw a dizzying proliferation of new Spirit Societies and journals.
The growing influence of Papus and his circle however left Spiritists as followers of Kardec feeling embattled. But after the catastrophe of the First World War, Occultism virtually disappeared, and spiritual seekers turned again to Kardec's heirs.
In his quest for further enlightenment, Leymarie explored a variety of alternatives, including Anglo Saxon Theosophy and the teachings of J. Roustaing, which Kardec had condemned nearly twenty-five years before. And left many committed Spiritists nonplussed. As a former contributor to the Revue Spirite observed, for example, Leymarie's joining of the Theosophical Society was "something like a Protestant pastor becoming a devotee of the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church - the enemy of Protestantism.
At about the same time, Leymaric met a wealthy businessman from Bordeaux named J. Gudrin. Gudrin, an ardent disciple of Roustaing and executor of the deceased lawyer's estate, began making donations to the Societe de la Caisse Centrale in 1881. In 1883, he gave the society a building in Bordeaux worth 100,000 francs, which was to serve as a Spiritist lecture hall and meeting house. Many of the society's members seemed to regard Gudnin's growing influence with trepidation, particularly, in June 1883, when Leymanie sent each of his subscribers a copy of a polemical pamphlet by Roustaing attacking Kardec's authoritarianism. (Jean Baptiste Roustaing, Les Quatre Evangiles Response A ses critiques et ses adversaircs, 1882, 33.)
The result were a number of break away organizations. Between 1889 and 1893, five, new national spirit societies appeared. Though the membership of these groups often overlapped - the indefatigable A. Laurent de Faget, for example, presided over two of them - none were formally affiliated with one another, or connected to any provincial branches. At the same time, an increasing number of private, independent study circles began to appear in Paris. These groups, In turn, publicized their activities in a growing number of periodicals. In 1897, an eager Spiritist could subscribe to as many as five national Spiritist Journals, and could supplement them with local publications from Lyon, Nantes, Rouen, and Nice.
Crossing Over P.1: The Making of Spiritism
Crossing Over P.2: Christian Spiritist Conversion
Crossing Over P.3: Taming the Wild Spirits
Crossing Over P.4: Revelation of the Revelation
Crossing Over P.5: Phenomena on Trial
Crossing Over P.6: Theosophists a Galore
Crossing Over P.8: The Never Ending Story?
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