Alphonse Louis Constant / Eliphas Levi

ALPHONSE Louis Constant, French occultist and devotee of Kabbalah, Tarot Cards, and magic, was born in Paris on February 10, 1810.  His father was a craftsman (shoemaker) who sent Alphonse to the seminary at Saint Nichole du Chardonnet and later to the seminary of Saint Sulpice, where his interest in the occult apparently grew during his theological studies.  Ordained a deacon, his priestly ordination was delayed in 1836 when he fell in love with a catachumen. Despite this he was provided employment within the Church, first as a supervisor at the College de Juilly, then by the Bishop of Beauvais, and finally as a preacher in the parishes around the Benedictine abbey of Solesmes.  On a retreat in 1839 he  was introduced to the writings of Madame Guyon and became attracted to feminine mysticism.

After several romantic affairs he married  Noemie Cadiot. He drifted towards Paris and away from ecclesiastical employment becoming a spiritual writer and revolutionary journalist who fused revolutionary theory with Marian piety.  His Le rosier de mai ou la guirlande de Marie (The rose-bush of May or Mary’s garland), is a commentary on the Litanies of the Virgin, interpreted as an allegory of the sufferings of woman in soul and body.  Other works include Des Moeurs et des Doctrines du Rationalisme en France (Of the Moral Customs and Doctrines of Rationalism in France, 1839), L'Evangile du Peuple (The Gospel of the People, 1840), La Mère de Dieu (The Mother of God,1844) and La Bible de la Liberté (The Bible of Liberty published in 1841).  The latter resulted in brief prison terms, which he shared with Félicité de Lamennais.  In 1851 he collaborate with the Abbé Migne (1800-1875) on the Dictionnaire de littérature chrétienne (Dictionary of Christian literature).  His failed marriage, the departure of his wife, the failure of the 1848 revolution, and the rise of Napoleon III appear to have depressed him and catalyzed his deepening fascination with the occult. During this period he met the mathematician and astronomer Hoëne Wronski, who claimed to have discovered a universal key for the understanding of all physical and metaphysical mysteries.

Constant came to believe that occultism provided an interpretive key to the Sacred Scriptures and the history of both humanity, the cosmos, and the human soul.  He also saw it as an antidote to the post-Enlightenment materialism  He now styled himself “Eliphas Levi” which he considered the Hebrew equivalent of his name, and began studying the occult in earnest.  In the hermetic literature, Kabbalah, ancient and medieval magic and and in the Tarot he sought a perennial, hidden wisdom.


Christianized Depiction of Kabbalah Sephiroth-Tree Kabbalah Sephiroth-Tree correlated
with Triumph Cards of the Tarot

Unfortunately, he never formally studied Hebrew, and thus made frequent simple grammatical and exegetical errors in his interpretation of Kabbalah.  The remainder of his life was spent studying and teaching esoteric literature and experimenting with the occult.  He undertook two journeys to England where he met with similarly-enthusiastic students and practitioners of esotericism, who regarded him as a sage and accomplished “magus”.  His principal works were The History of Magic and  Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie in 1855, later translated into English by Arthur Edward Waite of the Golden Dawn as Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual.


“The Absolute Pentagram”
Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie
“Cabbalistic Tarot Card Pentacle”
Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie

 The introduction to this book summarizes Constant/Levi's convictions:

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”.

Necromancer Conjuring a Spirit

HIS beliefs and practice are well-illustrated by his autobiographical description of his magical attempt during his first visit to England in to summon and question the spirit of the ancient philosopher, Appolonius of Tyana.  He was encouraged to do this and provided with the necessary apparatus by a wealthy devotee who wished to complete her initiation into one of the then-burgeoning esoteric orders:

She showed me a collection of magical vestments and instruments, lent me some rare books which I needed; in short, she determined me to attempt at her house the experiment of a complete evocation, for which I prepared during a period of twenty one days, scrupulously observing the rules laid down in the thirteenth chapter of the “Ritual” [i.e. of his book, Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual.]

The preliminaries terminated on 2nd July; it was proposed to evoke the phantom of the divine Apollonius and interrogate it upon two secrets, one which concerned myself and one which interested the lady. She had counted on taking part in the evocation with a trustworthy person, who, however, proved nervous at the last moment, and, as the triad or unity is indispensable for Magical Rites, I was left to my own resources. The cabinet prepared for the evocation was situated in a turret; it contained four concave mirrors and a species of altar having a white marble top, encircled by a chain of magnetized iron. The Sign of the Pentagram, as given in the fifth chapter of this work, was graven and gilded on the white marble surface; it was inscribed also in various colours upon a new white lambskin stretched beneath the altar. In the middle of the marble table there was a small 1 copper chafing-dish, containing charcoal of alder and laurel wood; another chafing-dish was set before me on a tripod. Ι was clothed in a white garment, very similar to the alb of our catholic priests, but longer and wider, and Ι wore upon my head a crown of vervain leaves, intertwined with a golden chain. Ι held a new sword in one hand, and in the other the “Ritual”. Ι kindled two fires with the requisite prepared substances, and began reading the evocations of the “Ritual” in a voice at first low, but rising by degrees.

The smoke spread, the flame caused the objects upon which it fell to waver, then it went out, the smoke still floating white and slow about the marble altar; Ι seemed to feel a quaking of the earth, my ears tingled, my heart beat quickly. Ι heaped more twigs and perfumes on the chafing-dishes, and as the flame again burst up, Ι beheld distinctly, before the altar, the figure of a man of more than normal size, which dissolved and vanished away. Ι recommenced the evocations and placed myself within a circle which Ι had drawn previously between the tripod and the altar. Thereupon the mirror which was behind the altar seemed to brighten in its depth, a wan form was outlined therein, which increased and seemed to approach by degrees. Three times, and with closed eyes, Ι invoked Apollonius. When Ι again looked forth there was a man in front of me, wrapped from head to foot in a species of shroud, which seemed more grey than white. He was lean, melancholy and beardless, and did not altogether correspond to my preconceived notion of Apollonius. Ι experienced an abnormally cold sensation, and when Ι endeavoured to question the phantom Ι could not articulate a syllable. Ι therefore placed my hand upon the Sign of the Pentagram, and pointed the sword at the figure, commanding it mentally to obey and not alarm me, in virtue of the said sign. The form thereupon became vague, and suddenly disappeared. Ι directed it to return, and presently felt, as it were, a breath close by me; something touched my hand which was holding the sword, and the arm became immediately benumbed as far as the elbow. Ι divined that the sword displeased the spirit, and Ι therefore placed it point downwards, close by me, within the circle. The human figure reappeared immediately, but Ι experienced such an intense weakness in all my limbs, and a swooning sensation came so quickly over me, that Ι made two steps to sit down, whereupon Ι fell into a profound lethargy, accompanied by dreams, of which Ι had only a confused recollection when Ι came again to myself. For several subsequent days my arm remained benumbed and painful. The apparition did not speak to me, but it seemed that the questions Ι had designed to ask answered themselves in my mind. To that of the lady an interior voice replied – Death! – it was concerning a man about whom she desired information. As for myself, Ι sought to know whether reconciliation and forgiveness were possible between two persons who occupied my thoughts, and the same inexorable echo within me answered – Dead!

Ι am stating facts as they occurred, but Ι would impose faith on no one. The consequence of this experience on myself must be called inexplicable. Ι was no longer the same man; something of another world had passed into me; Ι was no longer either sad or cheerful, but I felt a singular attraction towards death, unaccompanied, however, by any suicidal tendency. I analysed my experience carefully, and, notwithstanding a lively nervous repugnance, I repeated the same experiment on two further occasions, allowing some days to elapse between each. There was not, however, sufficient difference between the phenomena to warrant me in protracting a narrative which is perhaps already too long. But the net result of these two additional evocations was for me the revelation of two kabalistic secrets which might change, in a short space of time, the foundations and laws of society at large, if they came to be known generally.

Am I to conclude from all this that I really evoked, saw and touched the great Apollonius of Tyana? I am not so hallucinated as to affirm or so unserious as to believe it. The effect of the preparations, the perfumes, the mirrors, the pantacles, is an actual drunkenness of the imagination, which must act powerfully upon a person otherwise nervous and impressionable. I do not explain the physical laws by which I saw and touched; I affirm solely that I did see and that I did touch, that I saw clearly and distinctly, apart from dreaming, and this is sufficient to establish the real efficacy of magical ceremonies. For the rest, I regard the practice as destructive and dangerous; if it became habitual, neither moral nor physical health would be able to withstand it.

Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual, Part I, ch 12, "Necromancy"

Despite his alleged aversion to necromantic “summonings” described above, he evidently attempted such occult experiments several times on later occasions.  His writings powerfully influenced the popular, expanding esoteric and magical orders of the 19th century, especially groups such as the S.R.I.A. (Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia), the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society.  Aleister Crowley, initiate of the Golden Dawn and infamous practitioner of “Sex-magick” later claimed to be his reincarnation.  According to one biographer, Alphonse Louis was reconciled to the Catholic Church and received the sacraments before his death.

Eliphas Levi /
Alphonse Louis Constant


Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie
General Plan of Cabbalistic Doctrine
Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie



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