Saracens disguised as devils
MSS BNF FR 2813 Grandes Chroniques de France, f. 119



augmented and adapted from:



Jean-Pierre Laurant (tr. Stephen Voss) Modern Esoteric Spirituality. ed Jacob Needleman ,  Karen Voss (Crossroad Pub.New York, 1992). pp.277.-286

THE words “esotericism” and “occultism” and their cognates appeared, as derivatives of the corresponding adjectives, in the second quarter of the century. They surfaced first in French-” ésotérisme “ In 1828, in Jacques Matter Histoire critique du gnosticisme ( Paris: Levrault), within a Protestant environment in Strasbourg in contact with German Illuminism. They turned up next in English-esoterism” in 1835 ( Maurice, Letter to Acland. Oxford English Dictionary) and “esotericism” in 1846 ( Christian Observer, OED). The dictionaries of the chief European languages quickly followed suit.

“Occult” and “occultism” arose in parallel fashion from older usages. The English words appear in 1545 (OED); “ occolto “ belongs to the philosophical vocabulary of the Italian Renaissance, Giordano Bruno ( 1548-1600) in particular;  and Henry Cornelius Agrippa celebrated De occulta philosophia ( 1533) summarizes under this title the teaching of the “occult sciences.” The French noun “occultisme” is recorded in Richard de Radonvillier Dictionnaire des mots nouveaux in 1842, confirming one of its usages.

(The word “occulte” appears in French in 1120 in the Psautier d’Oxford. In 1633 it is enriched, according to the Oxford Dictionary, with a new meaning related to ancient knowledge and the secrets of antiquity and the Middle Ages) .

  See Michele Ciliberto, Lessico di Giordano Bruno ( Rome: Edizioni dell’Ateneo, 1979), notably in Cena de le ceneri, 1584.

These transformations were the marks of a desire to substitute an autonomous system of thought or explanation of the world for a type of outlook attached to a preexisting discipline - theological exegesis, astrological or alchemical scientific speculation, and so on. But at the same time they expressed the desire to recover a lost ancient tradition, a prisca theologia or philosophia perennis, as the dying Middle Ages and Renaissance had dreamed of doing. There was at once a resurgent reach for the immemorial and an aspiration to complete an age of progress. Again, Edward A. Tiryakian’s analysis may be applied to the nineteenth century; on his analysis “esotericism” designates “religio-philosophic belief systems which underlie occult techniques and practices; that is, it refers to the more comprehensive cognitive mappings of nature and the cosmos . . . which mappings constitute a stock of knowledge that provides the ground for occult procedures.”   (Edward A. Tiryakian, “Toward the Sociology of Esoteric Culture,” American Journal of Soct’ology 78 ( November 1972) 498.)

In various degrees the movement had an impact throughout Western culture, already stamped by the shock of the French Revolution, which had profoundly altered the direction and significance that the eighteenth century Enlightenment, for example, might have taken. The shock had been felt in France in particular, where people were debating what status to give reason and what place to accord traditions. How was it possible to reintegrate into society the spiritual power that Montesquieu had forgotten in L’Esprit des lois, a power that people had attempted in vain to root out between 1792 and the Napoleonic Concordat, an internal force like the external one at the frontiers where the victories of revolutionary imperial armies had swept away the traditional structures of society?

The Catholic Church rejected entirely a society that was born of the terror and de-christianization and was bent on a path of secularization. It had to face an ineluctable modernity and found it impossible to restore the old order. Hence the search for new ways and the allure of esotericism.

In the camp of the “spiritualists,” the adherents of modernity attributed the population’s failure to become emancipated to insufficient education. Because the times were not ripe, it seemed proper to hide the liberating light under a bushel. Since the Catholic Church identified itself with the old order, and since the reason of the philosophes by itself was impotent, they sought a way out in “the new religion,” or more precisely in the religion of a new period, which was to be the heir of the persecuted ancient traditions that were preserved in occult sanctuaries. The secrecy and the style of secret societies accompanied the rise of the democratic age, particularly in Italy and France.

On the one hand, the Freemasonry which in the eighteenth century had crystallized aspirations for renewal no longer played the same role in the next century. Abbé Barruel’s denunciation in his famous Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire du jacobinisme (London, 1798; Hamburg, 1799), in spite of its implausibility, rendered the institution suspect in the eyes of Catholics. Count Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), the ambassador from the king of Piedmont to Russia and a fervent architect of Christian renewal, had to take great precautions in order to justify his membership in the order. He found it necessary to distinguish good Illuminism, which could only be Christian, from that which had made its bed with rationalism and the Revolution. In France Masonry had first served the empire, then the restored Bourbons ready to rally to the side of Napoleon III, and finally the Republic. Those who contested the established order withdrew from it, as did their Italian counterparts, to the benefit of the marginal rites and secret societies which from time to time emerged from the old trade guilds like the Carbonari.

Esotericism was therefore to develop, especially in continental Europe, in environments in rupture with the great institutions -- politico-mystical groups and sects, utopian socialists, friends of Lamennais after his rejection by Rome, partisans of the republican Mazzini or Garibaldi in Italy. On the other hand, the partisans of theocracy were happy to rely on visions and prophecies of an esoteric character (both orthodox and heterodox) and on the heritage of Christian theosophy in the Germanic world in their attempts to change the course of history.

The ground had been prepared by the return of religious feeling which animated the resistance to attacks upon the revolution in Europe and accompanied the fall of the empire. The movement asserted itself within the ferment of ideas in the “People’s Spring” of 1848. It realized an extraordinary success around the 1880s in England, the United States, and France; in the latter country it sought, under cover of anticlerical struggles within the Republic, to transform itself into an official church. It spread to Germany a little later. But all those who participated in it were bound together: they sought beyond frontiers and seas a legitimacy which they were not always assured.

History, theology, and the sciences, as well as literature and the arts, were to be touched in various ways by esoteric thought and occultism.





Jacques Etienne Marconis de Nègre (1795-1868), the son of an Italian officer in the Napoleonic army, was cofounder of the so-called Memphis Egyptian Masonry, which spread into Italy, into England after 1850, and to the United States in 1856 under the leadership of Harry J. Seymour. He defined the notion of esotericism in this way: “A Greek philosopher, after passing through Egypt and visiting the main sanctuaries of science, reported . . . that one of the main points of the doctrine of the priests of Egypt was the division . . . into exotericism or external science and esotericism or internal science.” (J. E. Marconis de Nègre and E. N. Mouttet, Le Hiérophante, développements complets des mystères maçonniques ( Vallée de Paris, 5839 [ 1839]).  He was immediately followed by the socialist writer Pierre Leroux ( 1797-1871), a friend of George Sand, in De I’humaniti ( 1840). Esoteric argument is used in a debate over an afterlife different from the metempsychosis which “Plato allowed himself to teach,’ although his master Pythagoras, who had nothing to do with the masses, “himself had . . . esotericism, the secret school, the religious and political sect, a kind of superior caste, raised to comprehension by initiation, having as its mission moralizing, teaching, and the governance of common people.” Le Dictionnaire universel of Maurice Lach’atre ( 1814-1900) confirmed in 1852 the links with utopian socialism: a number of the followers of Saint-Simon sought to make of their doctrine a kind of esotericism.

   Eliphas Levi - [Deacon] Louis Constant

“Abbé” Louis Constant ( 1810-1875) made the word “ occultisme “ famous, with a sense akin to that of the word just characterized, on the occasion of his own transformation into a magus under the name Eliphas Levi: “We have dared to dig into the old sanctuaries of occultism.” [L. Constant, Dogme et rituel de la haute magie ( Paris: Baillière, 1856) 3]. His discoveries were meant to end the monstrosity of a world without God, by revealing the unity of universal dogma in the secret doctrines of the Hebrews, Egyptians, and Chaldeans, following here J. de Maistre, who had demonstrated that Newton was reducible to Pythagoras.

[Levi was especially fascinated with Jewish Kabbala and attempted to link it with the Triumph Cards of the Tarot deck.  ]


The theosophist Alfred P. Sinnett made use of the English “occultism” in Occult World in 1881, locating its sanctuaries in the Orient, mainly India.

In connection with both “ ésotérisme “ and “occultisme,” the pair secret/ revelation rested on needs that were characteristic of the time. Esotericism was a response to history.





This approach to knowledge was inspired by the Renaissance, but it sought to constitute itself a system appropriate to its own time. Following Kant, the universality of reason was affirmed; but its limits were ignored, for the approach held in low esteem both Aristotelian distinctions and the medieval division between the book of nature and the book of revelation. Reacting to the explosion of knowledge and of religious, intellectual, and political authorities, the occult sciences aspired to transfigure the world by submitting revelation to criticism -- not to deny it, which had been the fatal error of eighteenth-century ideologues, but to render it obvious.

Popular orthodox traditions and Celtic legends supplied the material for the Myvyrian Archaeology of Wales. An Anthology of Welsh Literature by Owen Jones ( 1741-1814). [London: S. Rousseau, 1801-1807]   In it there were mingled divination, astrology, magical medical recipes, philters, and legends, as there also were in the Dictionnaire des sciences occultes by Collin de Plancy ( 1846). The reworking of these prescientific -- in Auguste Comtés sense, in his law of three stages-intuitions would give them their reality.


The intermediate powers -- spirits, angels, and demons -- and obscure forces of the ancients which Dom Calmet (1672-1757) had restored to honor, like the animal magnetism of Mesmer (1734-1815) at the end of the eighteenth century, played a large role in the elaboration of these theories. In the first place spiritualism, whose manifestations began in Hydesville, New York, in 1847, revived the debate over the structure of the cosmos and the plurality of worlds. The practice spread rapidly into all of Europe, accompanied by theories of the evolution of souls. Emma Hardinge- Britten (d. 1890) wrote in Modern American Spiritualism (1870) that its phenomena had been aroused by living men who had been initiated into secret techniques by a mysterious Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, of which she herself was a member. The novel Zanoni ( 1842) by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1802-1873) echoed these practices and realized an enormous success. The Parisian magus Eliphas Levi met its author in London in 1854 and 1861, where he devoted himself to the evocation of Apollonius of Tyana, along with an exchange of initiations. Nor was there any lack of scientific guarantors, such as Ferdinand Denis ( 1798-1890), a traveler in the style of Humboldt, great connoisseur of ancient manuscripts at the Biblioth’eque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, which he directed, and patron of romantic writers who gave their thought a mystical and “missionary” turn. Denis justified occult sciences [“Sciences occultes,” Encyclopédie Paul Lacroly, Le Moyen-Age et la Renaissance, vol. 4, part 2 ( Paris, 1851)]  by the social function of all knowledge and argued that the solitary inquirer, persecuted because of general incomprehension, had to take shelter within secrecy. He argued that a different kind of knowledge could be transmitted from ancient initiations through the sects of the Middle Ages to modern societies.

In addition, occultist attempts at synthesis of the sciences and religion abounded from one end of the century to the other. In the first years of the nineteenth century, the Polish mathematician Hoene Wronski ( 1776-1853) worked out a universal law of creation, based on the final causation or teleology of numbers, to explain the historical evolution of the world. His speculations, which the Academy of Sciences in Paris at first received favorably, were accompanied by technical achievements like the invention of chain-treaded tractors.

At century’s end occultists like Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre ( 1842-1909) revived the idea of synarchy, a political, intellectual, and social system in which all forces are balanced in a restored spiritual harmony. L’Archéomètre, published after his death, established universal correspondences of colors, sounds, and geometrical shapes on the basis of the recovered primordial language Vatan. A disciple, F. C. Barlet ( 1831-1921), defended his theses on the basis of new sciences, like sociology, which seemed capable of recovering “spirit” ( Principes de sociologie synthétique, 1894). He attempted as well to apply Saint-Yves’ theses to domains which lay beyond the rational positivism of the “hard sciences.” To this end he posited in L’Art de demain ( 1897) laws governing the evolution of painting and sculpture, on the basis of a spiritualist philosophy of history involving a prefiguration of forms manifested subtly in the astral world.





Christian renewal was visible from the beginning of the century, with the success of pietism, for example, and Bible societies, whose development had been favored by the English as an antidote to the revolutionary spirit. German theosophy, so dazzling in the eighteenth century, bent its debates and positions in this direction. For example, Bern’s Friedrich Herbort ( 17641843) and Strasbourg’s Friedrich Saltzmann ( 1749-1821) bore witness to the concern to act within the very bosom of the churches (in Herbort’s case, the Soctiti Chrittenne ), constituting an inner circle where it was possible to grapple with speculations inspired by Jacob Boehme ( 1575-1624) or Karl von Eckartshausen ( 1752-1803) on the divine unity and the creation and transmigration of souls. Franz von Baader ( 1765-1841), whose work essentially involves the conception of a modern Christian gnosis, after the fracture of the Enlightenment, [See Philosophische Schriften und Aufsaetze ( Münster: Theissing, 1831-32); Der moergenlaendische und abendlaendische Katholicismus ( Stuttgart: H. Koehler, 1841)] produced the bulk of his theosophical writings between 1815 and 1822. Relying on the teaching of Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin and Jacob Boehme, he attempted to integrate faith and science by means of a system based on correspondences, a Naturpbllosophie linking God, world, and man. It is in the heart of the latter that the model of the heavenly Jerusalem is built, the spiritual city that is to reign over the earth. The same concern for regeneration inspired Ivan Lopoukhlne ( 17561816) in Quelques traits de l’Eglise intérieure ( 1798), which was immediately translated into French and then German by Jung Stilling ( 1740-1817), another theosophist, who insisted on the eschatological and millenarian aspect of postrevolutionary Christianity. Joseph de Maistre also reflected on this fracture in Les Soirées de Saint-Petersbourg, written during his sojourn in Russia between 1802 and 1817. [Published upon his death in Paris in 1921] Maistre rehabilitated the notions of revelation and the primacy of spiritual power in a true remythification of history, which he called an “ événement immense “ which gave past suffering its spiritual significance. The entire romantic movement was impregnated with these ideas. Chateaubriand, for example, pirated the ideas of Pierre-Simon Ballanche ( 1776-1847), whose La Ville des expiations and Essais de palingénésie sociale ( 1827) called for a reconciliation in the New Jerusalem. Ballanche influenced the first socialists, the followers of Saint-Simon and the Catholic disciples of Fourier, who turned toward esotericism. The Fourier communities, sometimes inspired as well by the thought of Swedenborg ( 1688-1772), spread to the United States and Russia.

The comparative study of non-Christian traditions and the symbols of ancient and oriental religions, which had gained currency with the publication of Syrnbolik und Mythologie der alten Voelker, besonders der Griechen by Friedrich Creuzer ( 1771-1858), professor at the University of Heidelberg, was meant to supply a confirmation of Holy Scripture, by tracing a path back to the primordial revelation.   (Leipzig and Darmstadt: Karl W. Leske, 1810-12. Three editions followed, with considerable success in Germany up to 1824) This entire unitary procedure in opposition to naturalism and Rousseau’s position was sustained by the idea of an original revelation.

After advances in historical criticism had shaken these theories, and Rome’s condemnation of traditionalism had been followed by a return to Thomas Aquinas, they were salvaged in part by “symbolizers,” who applied to Christian art and liturgy ideas that official theologians now preferred to ignore, and in part by esotericists. “Learned canons of the cathedrals” like J. S. Devoucoux à Autun ( 1804-1870), bishop of Evreux in 1858, found the key to religious architecture in kabbalistic number speculations -- techniques which the freemasons had inherited and whose monopoly over the occult sciences had to be overcome. The influence of this current on literature was considerable (see Huysmans, La Cathidrale, 1898).

If millenarianism had marked theosophy, it was prophecy -- present at the start of the nineteenth century with Mme. de Kruedener (1764-1824), the inspiration of Czar Alexander I at the Congress of Vienna -- that imbued occult theories. It staked its legitimacy on certain passages from Paul’s epistles (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 4:11) and aspired to serve as spiritual guide in political and even scientific matters. In France, a laborer, Martin de Gallardon, had shifted the question of legitimacy in the direction of mysticism by affirming the survival of Louis XVII, the child martyr of the temple. In Germany, the clairvoyant of Dulmen, Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1823), described the life and passion of Christ with a profusion of details intended to silence textual criticism, but her description of the resurrection owed much to theories of the astral body. Clemens Brentano, whose interest in occultism was common knowledge, made sure that these visions were written up.

Pierre-Michel Vintras (1807-1875), who was favored by visions of the Virgin and founded a sect, is a good example of this amalgam. The Abbé Charvoz, a theologian, collected his narratives in a Livre d’or ( 1849), which attracted numerous disciples endowed with the mission of announcing the time of the transfigured woman, who was identified with the Holy Spirit. Vintras had recognized in Naundorff, Louis XVII, the Great Monarch sought by the nations, the “arm” of the regeneration of peoples. Vintras was imprisoned and persecuted, but his work survived him, and the “Vintrasian Cloister” of Lyon, which was accused of satanism, helped to generate a debate at the end of the century between the occultists Stanislas de Guïta (1861-1897), Papus (1865-1916), and Huysmans. They all sought in the fulfillment of prophecies rational proofs of a counterhistory that could be

set against “science without God”; they sought in their cyclical and even kabbalistic exegesis an application to modern times.





The great hopes for progress and unity among the peoples of the world, which had inspired such events as the Universal Exposition of 1855, were slowly effaced. The Eiffel Tower -- a work of the iron age -- marked the 1889 Exposition, and the emperor of Germany was not received in Paris. The spirit of the century nevertheless survived, projected into an ideal Orient to support the awaited new religion; and this position appeared justified by the successes of European expansion in the world.




 Helena Blavatsky, Medium, Spiritualist,
Co-Founder of the Theosophical Society
 Blavatsky and Col. Owen Olcott, convert to Buddhism, American Co-Founder and First President of the Theosophical Society.

Madame BLAVATSKY (1831-1891), founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875 in New York, recruited members for an “esoteric Buddhism” transmitted by mysterious Tibetan masters [whom she claimed to have met on numerous journeys to "The East". Whether these journeys and encounters ever took place is doubtful. She travelled to India and encouraged Don David Hewavitarane (1864-1933, later Shrimath Anagarika Dharmapala), the wealthy son of Ceylonese merchants, to adapt Theravada Buddhism (including Vipassana “Inner circle” meditation-practices) for the laity and popularize it internationally.]  The movement experienced striking success in the United States, France, England, and the Netherlands until it encountered the problems inherent in all institutionalization. It was in addition suspected of serving British interests in India and anticlerical politics in France.




 Don David Hewavitarane (1864-1933): Shrimath Anagarika Dharmapala  Traditional Theosophical Labyrinth at Theosopy International Headquarters, Wheaton, IL.

It also collided with the religious mentality of certain of its adherents, like Lady Caithness (1832-1895) of Paris, who directed a Christian “Inner circle” within the [Theosophical] society and in 1886 founded a prophetic journal, L’Aurore du jour nouveau, inspired by J. Boehme and Swedenborg, which proclaimed the reign of woman (Lady Caithness announced herself in communication with Queen Mary Stuart). She surrounded herself with occultists, marginal priests, and liberal Protestants, and spent a fortune in her private hotel. Her ideas had been drawn in good part from Anna Kingsford (1846-1888), the author of The Perfect Way (1882), who developed a feminine theology of the Holy Spirit and resigned from the Theosophical Society in 1882 to organize the Hermetic Society in London, which had a considerable influence in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Blessant and Krishnamurti

 Annie Besant, Feminist, Communist, and
2nd President of the Theosophical Society
 Jiddu Krisnamurti. Indian youth adopted by Bessant and raised to be the new Messiah/World Teacher. Lived in Ojai from 1922. Renounced The Order of the Star in 1929.

Difficulties of the same order had set the Theosophical Society against one of its German members, Dr. Franz Hartmann (1838-1912), who called himself heir to an ancient Rosicrucian fraternity. As for the departure of Rudolf Steiner (1816-1925) in 1913, this was provoked by the syncretist attempt by Annie Bessant, Blavatsky's succssor, and her associate Leadbeater (founder of the Liberal Catholic Church) to associate Theosophy with the Old Catholic movement and create a new messiah in the person of Krishnamurti (1895-1986), the son of an Indian from Madras and a member of the Theosophical Society, who under the name “Alcyon” was to be the instructor of the world for the new cycle. Raised by Bessant and Leadbeater and taught theosophical doctrine from childhood, Krishnamurti was to have been the leader of the Order of the Star which would propel his international acceptance as the new world religious leader.  Unfortunately for Theosophy, Krishnamurti renounced the Order of the Star in 1922 and left Theosophy, becoming an independent interfaith religious teacher and lecturer in Ojai, California, until his death in 1986.

Steiner then founded the anthroposophical movement.

Steiner, Rudolf (1861–1925), founder of anthroposophy. The son of a station-master and apparently given a Catholic upbringing, he studied natural science at Vienna University and from 1890 to 1897 he was engaged on the Weimar edn. of the works of J. W. Goethe. In the next years he sought to elaborate a scientific method of studying the world of spirit and lectured widely on his conclusions. He was co-editor for a time of a literary magazine, and in 1902 he became the leader of a German section of the Theosophical Society, but rejected the pre-dominantly eastern associations of the main body. In 1913 Steiner founded the Anthroposophical Society as an independent association, building the Goetheanum at Dornach near Basle as its headquarters. His aim was to develop the faculty of spirit cognition inherent in ordinary people and to put them into touch with the spiritual world from which materialism had long estranged them. He taught the original nobility of the human spirit and a doctrine of immortality, supporting his teaching by a claimed clairvoyance. His extensive writings, which were mostly founded on his lectures, include Die Philosophie der Freiheit (1894; Eng. tr., 1916), Theosophie: Einführung in übersinnliche Welterkenntnis und Menschenbestimmung (1904; Eng. tr., 1910), and Die Geheimwissenschaft im Umriss (1910; Eng. tr., 1914).

The principal authority for his life is Steiner’s autobiog., written when he was about 60; it was pub. Dornach, Switzerland, 1925; Eng. tr., London, 1928. Details of his lectures by A. Arenson, Ein Führer durch die Vortragszyklen Rudolf Steiners (1–50) (3 vols., 1930). A. P. Shepherd, A Scientist of the Invisible: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Rudolf Steiner (1954). A. W. Harwood (ed.), The Faithful Thinker: Centenary Essays on the Work and Thought of Rudolf Steiner (1961). F. Hiebel, Rudolf Steiner im Geistesgang des Abendlandes (Bern and Munich [1965]). C. Wilson, Rudolf Steiner: The Man and his Vision (Wellingborough, Northants, 1985). P. M. Allen, The Writings and Lectures of Rudolf Steiner: A Chronological Bibliography of his Books, Lectures, Addresses, Courses, Cycles, Essays and Reports as published in English translation (New York, 1956); Rudolf Steiner: Das literarische und künstlerische Werk. Eine bibliographische Übersicht, herausgegeben von der Rudolf Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung (Dornach, Switzerland, 1961).

Gurdjieff and Enneagram

 George Ivanovich Gurdjieff  Early Representation of the Eneagram, as taught by Gurdjieff

A PARALLEL  branch of esotericism is represented by George Ivanovich GURDJIEFF (1866? 1877?-1948), an Armenian-Greek esotericist, hypnotist, and carpet merchant, and his disciple, P. D. OUSPENSKY.  Gurdjieff claimed, like many esotericists, to have travelled extensively in “The East” and to have studied in his youth (before 1912) with mysterious teachers in Egypt, Central Asia, Tibet, and Rome, including an otherwise-unknown  sect of Essenes ostensibly living in Eastern Europe, as well as the mysterious (and otherwise-unknown) Sarmoun, alleged Sufi masters of the Enneagram.  He attracted disciples in Russia, later in Paris, claiming to be able to awaken heightened consciousness through music, dance, private instruction, and drinking parties, a technique he called The Method.

Gurdjieff  and Ouspensky also claimed to have discovered (but most probably invented) the now-popular Enneagram.  The Enneagram was later elaborated and popularized by by the Bolivian esotericist Oscar Ichazo (b.1931), founder of the Arica School of “cosmic-consciousness-raising”, who employed psychedelic drugs in his research into shamanism and claimed to have received interpretative knowledge from the Archangel Metatron (a powerful “angel of the throne” in Kabbalistic lore). He and his followers consider themselves to be guided by the “Green Qutb” an apparently-composite deity or entity apparently derived from both Sufi and Hindu mysticism.  Ichazo's attempts to legally copyright the Enneagram in the U.S. in 1992 were unsuccessful.



In fact the occultist organizations that flourished from the 1880s on frequently reacted against the Theosophical Society even while they remained mingled with its history. Their origins are complex. First of all, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor publicly manifested its existence in the United States around 1870 through the medium of Paschal B. Randolph ( 1825-1875) whose sexual magic later inspired a number of esoteric groups. The Brotherhood proclaimed itself the heir of ancient initiations, and its organ in Glasgow, The Occult Magazine, fought the Theosophical Society in 1885. Two of its members, Peter Davidson ( 1837-1915), founder of an initiatic agricultural colony in Loudsville, Georgia, and the enigmatic Max Théon (1848?-1926), had a profound impact on occultist movements, particularly by way of Barlet. The “cosmic philosophy” of Théon, which issued successively from London, Paris, and Tlemcen, Algeria, transmitted a very strange initiatic teaching which captivated Myra Alfassa, the “mother” of Sri Aurobindo’s ashram at Pondichery.


   Order of the Golden Dawn

In England a group of masons, including William Wynn Westcott (1848-1925) and Samuel Liddle MacGregor Mathers ( 1854-1918), members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (founded in 1866), claimed to find in an encoded manuscript communicated by a German initiate ( Anna Sprengel, whose supposed correspondence with Westcott constitutes the only proof of its existence) the key to the enigmas of the work of the Abbot Trithemius ( 14621516). They thereupon created a hermetic order, The Golden Dawn in the Outer ( 1888-1896), which practiced ceremonial magic.


   Papus and the Martinists

Papus (Gerard Encausse, 1865-1916) himself had also broken with the Theosophical Society, to create in 1888 a journal, L’Inittation, and a hermetic school designed to defend a Christian esotericism far removed both from the strict dogmatism of the church and from an orientalism too foreign to the Western tradition. The journal combined with the study of the usual occult sciences an experimental spiritualism which sought to retain the occultists’ work on the unconscious and hypnotism (relying in particular on the experiments of William Crookes), as well as articles on the legends and popular or prophetic magical practices in which the beginning of the century had taken such delight. L’Initiation was placed on the Index in 1891, the date of Papus’ founding of the Supreme Council of the Martinist Order. This order claimed inclusion in an initiatic filiation connected with Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin ( 1743-1803). Occultists like Barlet associated with writers like Paul Adam, Maurice Barr’es, and Peladan, the latter gaining recognition with Le vice suprême ( 1884). Their engagement in the great debates over ideas and the society of the time multiplied occasions for conflicts and schisms.


   Catholic Rose-Cross.

The enterprise that made the greatest impact was that of “Sar” Joséphin Péladan, who broke in 1891 with the kabbalistic Order of the Rose-Cross (organized on the fringe of the Martinist Order by the occultist writer Stanislas de Guïta) to proclaim himself Grand Master of a Catholic Rose-Cross. Péladan united in his person the powers of priest and scientist, taking as precedent the Chaldean magi whose role he defined in L’occulte catholique ( 1899). From 1892 on he gained particular renown through the salons of the Rose-Cross, which were put to the service of an idealistic and mystical art that sought to revive a sacred art, an “ Art-Dieu “ as Péladan called it, which drew greatly upon the conception of the symbol at the beginning of the century. The painters Armand Point, Alexandre Seon, and Georges Rouault had expositions there, and Erik Satie composed the RoseCross’s carillon music.





A separation of occultism from esotericism followed the separation of church from state in France in 1905. Rome was soon to condemn the modernism behind which Christian occultists were taking cover in search of unity with other confessions and oriental traditions. Ideological confrontation of one bloc against another accompanied the rise of nationalism. The socialist mystique, postponed to a distant utopia, had ceded its place to Marx’s theories on violence; and harmony among peoples looked ridiculous in the face of the Realpolitik which prevailed after the 1870s. Occultist literature was transformed from universalism into patriotic discourse: Papus predicted the victory of the Russians over the Japanese, and Theodor Reuss (1855-1923), the Grand Master of the Ordo Templi Orientis (which Aleister Crowley [ 1875-1947] was to inherit), spied for the imperial police on the German socialists who were refugees in London.

Moreover, doubts had arisen over the very object of occultism, in the quarters which had been most favorable to it. What remained of the astral body and spiritualist doctrines in the face of scientific work on the unconscious? Finally, the gulf between science and faith had grown wider, and occultism now appeared a further obstacle to settling the problem. The magicians of the Golden Dawn and their Parisian colleagues seemed trivial indeed.

Thus esoteric thought progressively abandoned the trappings of the occult, effecting a return to the texts and casting a critical eye on initiatic affiliations. When Paul Vulliaud ( 1875-1950) founded a new journal in Paris, Les Entrettens idealistes ( 1906-1914), to defend sacred art against Manet and Huysmans against Zola’s realism, he took issue with Péladan’s interpretations, which depicted Leonardo da Vinci as an individual genius who had gained initiation, and displayed instead the continuity of symbolic traditions in the work of the master ( La Dernière leçon de Léonard de Vinci, 1904). His efforts to ground the legitimacy of Christian esotericism on authentic post-Renaissance texts rested on a serious critique, which he then extended to his kabbalistic studies.

The history of the movement ends with René Guénon ( 1886-1951), who, in the years before the war, carried out a comparison of most of the occultist initiations, in order to denounce the artificial character and “transposed materialism” which undergirded their theories. Over against them he set a “metaphysical tradition,” in radical opposition to the “modern world.”

The final survivors of romanticism disappeared with the onslaught of the general war.


Eliade, Mircea. Occultism, Witcbcraft and Cultural Fasbions. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

Faivre, Antoine. Accès de l’ésotérisme occidental Paris: Gallimard, 1986.

Guénon, René. L’Erreur spirite. Paris: Rivière, 1921.

Howe, Ellic. The Magicians of the Golden Daun. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.

James, Marie- France. Esotérisme, occultisme, franc-maçonnerie et christianisme, aux XIXe & XXe siècles. Paris: N.E.L., 1981.

Laurant, Jean- Pierre. L’Esotérisme chrétien en France au XIXe siècle. Paris: L’Age d’Homme, 1992.

Moeller, Helmut, and E. Howe. Merlin Peregrinus, vom Untergrund des Abendlandes. Würburg: J. Königshausen, 1986.

Viatte, Auguste. Les Sources occultes du romantisme. 2 vols. Paris: Champion, 1928.

Webb, James. The Occult Underground. La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, 1974.

For further discussion:

Leadbeater and his role in establishing the Liberal Catholic Church

Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism Hanegraaff, W.J. Brill Academic Publishers 00/2006

Golden Dawn; ??Crowley

Modern Occult Rhetoric: Mass Media and the Drama of Secrecy in the Twentieth Century Joshua Gunn  Excellent Quote in Appendix 1 about people wanting religious experience without religion - reason for no coherent doctrine or flexing doctrine depending on teaching


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