Illuminism, The Grand Orient and Egyptian Masonry
By Christine Payne-Towler
In the history of Tarot, there exist fuzzy periods, when it is unclear exactly how the pack was being employed or by whom. One such period is the time between the awakening of the Rosicrucian movement (in the early 1600's) and the popularization of Tarot via Le Monde Primitif by de Gebelin and the new "divinatory" pack by Etteilla (in the late 1700's). This essay will outline the main lines of Secret Society associations that were cultivating Tarot esotericism during this time.
The question is asked, whether it was Etteilla or some older source that for the first time explicitly linked the Tarot trumps to the Hebrew Alphabet. People who have been exposed to the history of the Masonic, Martinist and Rosicrucian Orders in Europe can go one step further back in history and establish that the first definitive link was made by Martinez de Pasqually and his Masonic Order, the Knights Masons Elect-Cohens of the Universe or Elus Cohens. My contention is that Pasqually was passing on a usage and a tradition that was already established in Masonic, Spanish Cabbalist, and Rosicrucian sources grounded in the Renaissance upwelling of Christian Cabbalism.
Preamble to the Elect-Cohens
In the Introduction to my copy of Martinism History and Doctrine; Occult and Mystical Freemasonry by Robert Ambelain, a roster of illustrious Illuminists, Elus Cohens and Martinists appears. The individuals named include Henry Kunrath, Sethou the prestigious Cosmopolitan, Cornelius Agrippa, Rodolphe de Salzmann, Gitchel [sic], Jacob Boehme, the Abbe de Lanoue, Robert Fludd, Frances Bacon, Shakespeare, Martinez de Pasqually, Claude de Saint-Martin and Willermoz. These named individuals represent high-water marks in the literary and mystical stream called Illuminism, the mysticism of Light, a movement that left a huge footprint upon both Masonry and the independent Orders. (In that context I would also include Paracelsus, Trithemius, and Cardin as other Lights within the movement.)
A thumbnail sketch of Illuminism demonstrates its evolutionary ethos, that of taking personal responsibility for improving the world through improving one's own consciousness. This focus is combined with a service ethic that embraces the whole of the creation in the harmony of Great Nature.
I really enjoyed this site: http://apostlethomas.wordpress.com/ I appreciate it because it points to the scriptural and historical roots of the Illuminist philosophy instead of tying the title to shadowy Illuminati and esoteric- political developments in Europe. The fact that some branches of the Illuminist tradition have expressed themselves through interfering in politics and the fate of nations, or promulgating questionable teachings, is not a commentary on the founders, but upon the zeitgeist and the individual response thereunto. Illuminism encourages every soul to find its interior light, so it can express itself authentically towards the progress of the human estate. The motive of "service" can take a variety of forms across the centuries and generations. For this reason I prefer to point to roots rather than branches.
Ambelain's book makes a creditable survey of the Illuminist stream, and since it is not a commonly found book, I will quote from it liberally. Also, here's a link to more information about the whole nest of lineages and Orders that collectively feed into and emanate from the Elus Cohen/Martinist heritage: http://rosecroixdorient.tripod.com/rco.html . Make sure to follow the Theurgy link on that page as well.
Let me also clarify that some of these names given as lineage elders of the Martinists are people who lived and died before 1643. How could Cornelius Agrippa or Henry Kunrath have been involved in a society that had its earliest legalized inception in 1643? The answer is, those seminal individuals provided the worldview, the vocabulary, the ethos and the core literature for the lodge formally named and legally founded in 1643. Agrippa and Kunrath particularly were viewed as Past Masters, founding fathers and shapers of the doctrine. It is well-known that Agrippa, Paracelsus, Kunrath and others inspired circles of like-minded individuals to come together and pool their individual strivings for the survival of the teachings and the cultivation of the collective well-being. We shall see that it is this shared and inherited unfolding of Renaissance-era occultism that links these individuals through the centuries, culminating in the Occult High Masonry of the 18th century.
Martinez de Pasqually's Personal Sources
It is said that de Pasqually had family access to a trove of heterodox documents saved by a family member of the Tribunal of the Inquisition (Ambelain, p. 38). These documents had been seized from Arab or Jewish heretics in Spain, and were comprised of Latin copies of Arabic originals, themselves derived from Hebrew sources. Since de Pasqually's family came originally from Portugal, and later from Spain, this would not be a far-fetched thing to imagine. Add to it the fact that Martinez' Masonic Charter was issued by the Grand Master of the Stuart Lodge of Masonry, which Lodge was integrally identified with the Hebrew Mysteries. From this alone, it is evident that Martinez came by his Cabbalism through authentic, if "underground," sources.
The Rosicrucian impulse
There is also another source through which magical and alchemical teachings reached de Pasqually. Ambelain quotes Jean Bricaud's 1927 magazine article tracing the history of the Rosicrucian eruption. According to Bricaud, the movement sprang from certain chapters of the international secret society that formed around Cornelius Agrippa. These groups, called "chapters", had organized protocols to protect their members, including special signs of recognition and passwords. The alchemist Michael Maier writes of a chapter of this group in Germany, the 'Community of Mages' dedicated like all the others to the study of 'forbidden' sciences. This chapter became the Brothers of the Rose + Cross of Gold around 1570. Within 20 years, Simon Studion of Nuremberg started up another chapter, called the Militia Crucifera Evangelica. By 1605 this group had reorganized itself under the name Fraternity of the Rose+Cross and taken the Rose and Cross as its emblem.
It was later in the years that the world was appraised of the existence of this Fraternity of Rosae-Crucis (or Rosicrucian) through the appearance of the anonymous Fama Fraternitatis and the Confessio Fratrum Rosae-Crucis (issued under the name of Thomas Vaughn). These two tractates were first published in Latin and German, but reproductions of them and news of their appearance spread very quickly all over Europe. A tremendous near-instant wave of conversations, articles, manuscripts, and letters of petition was unleashed in the wake of these two presentations. The final anonymous work, the Chymical Wedding, completes what is seen as a triplicity of foundational Alchemical documents. The emblematic aspect of these texts, full of rich clusters of associations spreading out into multiple strains of esotericism, has never ceased to fascinate people of a certain temperament even to this day.
The Society of Unknown Philosophers
The date 1643 in the title of Ambelain's book refers specifically to the formation of an international guild of printers, binders, papermakers, librarians, engravers, stationers and card makers. This is the Society of Unknown Philosophers, the very same order to which Saint-Martin would be admitted a century and a half later, after leaving the Elus Cohens. "...[This] great society of thought, which we have named the Agla...was an esoteric society in the Renaissance period, grouping together apprentices, companions and masters of Guilds associated with Books" (Ambelain p. 45).
On page 46 we are shown some typical seals from members of the Alga group. These symbols are instantly recognizable as the watermarks of the papermaker's guilds active in Europe from the 1300's through the 1700's -- recognizable, that is, to people who have been exposed the assemblage of seals and symbols collected by Bayley in his massive Lost Language of Symbolism. Bayley tells us that these papermakers belonged to "pre-Reformation protestant sects" such as the Albigeois and Vaudois, Cathari or Patarini, Hugenots, Free Spirits, Gnostics, Templars, Rosicrucians, Masons, Essenes, Therapeutai, Manichee, Lollards, Fratricelli, and others. These types of seals and an intimation of their importance to esoteric transmission are also referenced in the writings of Margaret Starbird, who has linked the older Tarots to the inspirational legend of Mary Magdalene's years in the Marseilles area.
Regarding this group, and its proximity to the "underground stream" of medieval esoterica, we should remember that the world of the old-style bookmaking was upended by the invention of the printing-press. This caused great suffering and disruption to a whole class of people, but on the other hand it liberated those who owned the presses to create low-cost works in chapbook or pocketbook form. Through the agency of Agla members, a great number of works were produced "below the radar" of the Catholic Church. These booklets circulated around Europe among the occultists of each region, continuing a conversation that had begun in Antiquity, and which has been resurrected time and time again for each new era. Of all the people in Europe, these dedicated professionals had the greatest exposure and therefore the greatest likelihood of understanding the recondite allusions, gnomic symbolism and clandestine messages embedded in these underground productions.
Ambelain describes the Unknown Philosophers thus (p. 80):
"Now, coming out of the "Brothers of the East", an initiatic order constituted in Constantinople in 1090 under the patronage of Emperor Alexis Comnenus, a secret mystic fraternity grouped together the adepts of a Rosicrucian school of the evangelical and protestant type. This order was that of the "Unknown Philosophers". Without doubt Gnosis, adapted to the Reformist environment, had lost a lot of its richness. But if one ignores certain purely localized variants in the area of metaphysics, the hermetic side had remained intact, and alongside spiritual and operative Alchemy came a number of other affiliations, the precious comfort of the teachings and proofs in anima vili of Henry Kunrath (author of The Amphitheater of Eternal Science); Henry Seton [Sethou], the Cosmopolitan, killed on the rack by the Elector of Saxony, Sendivogius http://www.levity.com/alchemy/sendivog.html, his disciple the Duke Saxonius Comnenus, Jacob Boehme, having preceded Rodolphe de Salzmann on the genealogical tree of the Order.... "
To take stock of what we have reviewed so far, it's clear that the materials available to Martinez de Pasqually from which to construct his Order of Knights Masons were of very highly realized quality. The Illuminist stream of magi who were cultivating themselves through the practice of Christian Cabbalist theurgy was already rich with literary sources as well as inspirational prototypes by the time Martinez de Pasqually was moved to create his Masonic inner order.
Saint-Martin actually becomes an Unknown Philosopher
Once Saint-Martin ceased being the secretary to Martinez de Pasqually (in 1790), and began his own Order for non-Masons (for the sake of putting the focus upon contemplation rather than theurgy), new affiliations came into the stream from his further explorations. On p. 141 of Ambelain's book can be found an article written by Mr. Jean Chaboseau, son of the Grand Master of the Martinist Order, Augustin Chaboseau. This supplies a further confirmation of Saint-Martin’s association with the latter-day Unknown Philosophers of his time (p. 141):
"...the Society of Unknown Philosophers whose Statutes were supplied by Baron Tchoudy in his 'Flaming Star' (1784). It is this Order or mystic brotherhood, which included Khunrath, Gitchel [sic], Salzmann and Boehme among its members, which attracted Saint-Martin when he demitted from the Cohens, the Masons, etc. in his letter dated 1790.... It is from this Order, which united with the "Brothers of the Orient" which counted Emperor Alexis Comnenus among its Patrons, and which is still older, that the fundamental and unique symbols of Martinism come, and the letters which accompany the "Chrismon" of the mysterious points of the Order also originate from this group. It is from this Fraternity that Saint-Martin received the keys of his Inner Path."
At this point we can be reasonably sure that the philosophy and practice of the two main branches of the Martinist impulse, both its older Masonic parent and the younger nonaffiliated spiritual society, were staying faithful to their common rootstock. There might have been a difference in the way the shared teaching was practiced between de Pasqually's theurgical Elus Cohens and Saint-Martin's mystical Martinists, however there was no difference in the bedrock worldview and spiritual ethos that informed them both and set their goals.
Techniques of the Elus Cohens
But let us not get ahead of ourselves -- the question of whether the Tarot had an esoteric life before Etteilla requires that we look behind Saint-Martin the Unknown Philosopher, back to his initiator and the founder of the Elus Cohens, Martinez de Pasqually. Here are a few salient bits of history illustrating the unique content of the Elus Cohen teachings, drawn from the Historical Review of Martinism by Jean Bricaud (I have an excerpt, so I can't give pagination from the original). It's from Volume Four of The Martinist Tradition, published by the International College of Martinist Studies in Barbados (1989). This recapitulates a bit of what I have said above, just to help us keep the main order of events straight in our heads:
"[Martinez de Pasqually] held a Masonic Patent from Charles Stuart, King of England and as early as 1754, as a first step, he founded a Masonic Lodge. His aim, however, was to create a more spiritual Order than regular Freemasonry, so he went on to organize a movement that eventually turned out to be not strictly Masonic, but nevertheless composed only of persons who were Masons, and which he called: Ordre des Chevaliers Macons Elus-Cohen de l'Univers (Order of Knights Mason, Elect Priests of the Universe).
"This Order of Elus-Cohen developed and grew rapidly until 1772 when
Martinez sailed for Haiti in the West Indies to see after some personal business. There, two years later, he succumbed to a fever and died. His untimely death also meant the end of the Elus-Cohen because, sorrowfully, there was no one else who could follow in his footsteps and provide the leadership and the teachings required.... (for those who may be interested, Brother J. B. Willermoz, Elus-Cohen and Freemason, kept alive and transferred the basic teachings of the E-C to the Templar Rite of Strict Observance, which is a German Masonic Order. Later a chapter was established in Paris called the Knights Beneficent of the Holy City. Willermoz accomplished this by adding two secret degrees at the culmination of his Masonic Order: Professed Knight and Grand Professed Knight. Those orders preserved the E-C lectures until the secret degrees eventually disappeared...)" (p. 1-2}
(p 7-8) "...[Martinez] wanted the adepts -- at all events those called upon to penetrate the most profound mysteries of initiatory doctrine -- to devote themselves to a study of the secrets of nature, the occult sciences, the higher branches of chemistry, magic, the Kabalah and Gnosticism, in order to arrive by slow degrees at illuminism and perfection."
As a part of Martinez’ curriculum, Initiates were to conduct monthly, quarterly and yearly rituals in a distinct magical manner. One goal of these rituals (among many) was to contact the spirits of departed spiritual heroes and saints from the Catholic pantheon, in hopes of receiving return communications from them to confirm and direct the participant's spiritual growth. Those communications were looked for in the form of "passes", luminous astral traces appearing in the ritual space, forming sigils, letters, symbols, characters or other intelligible signs which would demonstrate to the Initiate what spirit had been contacted and how it was responding. Here we see the purpose for which Martinez retained the ancient sigils of magic -- he expected them to be employed *by the spirits* in their return-communication to the Elus Cohens rituals.
Tarot Trumps used to interpret the "Passes"
The method of interpreting these "passes" would be to compare the revealed image with the pantacles, sigils, "keys", angelic signatures and/or glyphs found in the spirit-lists of the major world traditions. Martinez, following in the footsteps of those who came before him, collected as many historical and magical alphabets as he could find. These lists became the proof-texts of his follower's attainments. Including the seals of planets, signs, "intelligences", demons, elements, all the sigils and talismanic "keys" found in the grimoires, plus the symbols for the processes taught in the traditional books of magic, masonry, necromancy, and alchemy, one begins to appreciate the pantheon with which the Elus Cohens were working.
"If it manifests with paradigms and glyphs in harmony with the sidereal pantheon, the nature of the Entity signified by the 'seal' should sufficiently clarify the response. If on the other hand it manifest through any alphabetic character, drawn from a magical or normal alphabet, one must translate it back to the equivalent Hebrew character: this necessarily being in analogical correspondence with one of the twenty-two major Arcana of the Tarot. This Arcana would give a definitive response open to an strongly esoteric interpretation, such as those given by Christian in his Homme Rouge des Tuileries and in his History of Magic." (Ambelain, p. 64)
Here we have a frank admission of the way the Tarot was used in these Elus Cohens lodges. Martinez did not make up this way of working, but it was apparently Martinez who catalogued the translation keys to these astral communications for future generations. If the "passes" demonstrate the symbols of astrology (the "sidereal pantheon" mentioned above), the nature of the presenting entity will be revealed directly. If on the other hand the spirit produces a letter of any known alphabet, that letter is reduced back to its Hebrew form, such that a reading from the Trumps of Tarot could be made. This means that in Martinez' time, those number/letter/Trump correspondences that he is using were already assembled and available to Initiates (a fact that we have seen from other investigations as well). Paul Christian's History of Magic was not published until 1870, but in another article we have learned that the source for Christian's Tarot writings existed before the French Revolution.
And as for wondering whether the body of correspondences passed on by Martinez has a grounding in earlier practice, here's a remark to that point: "The fact of substituting entities from the Christian 'heaven' for those o[f] pagan or gnostic pantheons is no[t] so audacious. The Cabbalists of the XVth century had (already) established the analogical correspondences between the two modes of occult classification." (Ambelain p. 58)
A final quote from Ambelain gives us another fascinating observation:
"One must believe that the legitimacy of this occult 'communication', through luminous seals, was already traditional knowledge, since Rembrandt, more than a century before Martinez de Pasqually and his disciples, shows us 'Dr. Faustus' the philosopher in one of his admirable etchings, wearing a Phrygian bonnet, (symbol of spiritual liberation) and contemplating -- at once fascinated and terrified -- the pantacle which suddenly appears before him in his laboratory, and which is shown to him by a mysterious hand, shining in a 'glory'..." (p. 65)
A particular case in point relative to the symbolism of the "passes” is that from the Etteilla packs forward, a set of sigils marks some or all of the pip cards of the decks tinged with the Illuminist/Rosicrucian/Martinist/Masonic philosophy. These sigils (seen very clearly on the Papus tarot and Tavaglione's Stairs of Gold pack) are astrologically keyed to individual 5-degree slices of sky around the zodiac, ruled by the names and powers of the Shem-hameforesh angels (the 72 zodiac angels anciently defined by the Persians in Antiquity). Shem-angel seals are among the glyphs that the Renaissance magus Reuchelin publicized as the "signacula memorativa " or silent evocations, used for calling out to the astral Powers from the faces of talismans and ritual artworks of the day. These sigils of the Shem angels are part of the collection of spirit signatures catalogued by Martinez de Pasqually, as they are found in the various editions of the Clavicles of Solomon that were circulating along with the other grimoires and magical instruction books of the late Middle Ages.
By the late 1700's there was over a century of momentum built up towards collecting these esoteric catalogues of ancient symbolism, even if we only start our count from Athanasius Kircher. Kircher was quite caught up in the over-romanticizing of ancient Egypt due to the failure of linguists of his era to translate the ancient hieroglyphics. This causes moderns to dismiss his efforts all out of hand. In fact, Kircher's obsession with all things magical, his openness to pan-cultural mysticism as well as his amazing grasp of linguistics (which allowed him to cross-compare many magical alphabets both ancient and contemporary) continue to imprint the outworking of magical doctrine and practice to this day. It is in Kircher's image that the modern world most often encounters the Cabbala Tree. It is also following Kircher's impulse that the Illuminists of the 1700's and 1800's perpetuated the mythical "Egyptian Origin" story for the teachings attached to the Tarot.
Paul Christian gives the fullest version of that Egyptian Origins story in the book History of Magic. There a set of Egyptian Trumps (called Arcana) is discussed and correspondences are drawn to various arts and sciences of the magical repertoire. This is the source that R. Ambelain refers to when he suggests places to look for a "strongly esoteric interpretation" for any manifested "passes" that an Elus Cohen Initiate might perceive (or receive) during a ritual working. At the time of Martinez, this was not yet in print, however the predecessor document (an initiation ritual practiced by a group called the Fratres Lucis, an early Illuminist group) was known in Europe by that time.
In his book Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians, Manly P. Hall describes the heyday of Egyptian Freemasonry thusly:
"Between the years 1750 and 1800, several personalities appeared to lend glamour and distinction to French secret societies. The most famous of these, the Compt de St. Germaine, practiced strange rites in France, Alsace, and Germany. The Comte Cagliostro restored Egyptian Freemasonry in Paris and included in the membership of his cult many persons of position and distinction. .... Court de Gebelin was the principal Egyptologist of the French Academy. It was this unusual man with his deep knowledge of ancient lore who rescued the subject of the Tarot cards from oblivion.... Dupuis was writing upon the histories of ancient cults and beliefs: Lenoir was tracing Freemasonic origins to the Rites of Ancient Memphis; and Ragon was explaining the symbolism of the Masonic crafts in terms of Greek, Egyptian, and Hindu metaphysics. In all, the last half of the eighteenth century was the Golden age of scholarship in continental Freemasonry "(p. 73-74)
Note the locution: Cagliostro "restored" Egyptian Freemasonry. Court de Gebelin "rescued the subject of Tarot." Both took on the project of reviving older traditions, not making things up wholesale. Nor were they lone voices crying in the wilderness. Let's have a look at the esoteric and literary climate shared among the Lodges in the late 1700's:
"Dr Sigismund Bacstrom, who was initiated into the Society of The Rosicrucians on the isle of Mauritius on the 12th of September 1794, by the mysterious Compt de Chazal, has left extensive manuscripts setting forth his findings and opinions on matters of interest to Rosicrucians and Freemasons.... The learned Doctor made special point of the activity of the Hermetic adepts in eighteenth century Europe. His conclusions fit very well into the general picture. The considerable body of evidence points to the fact that one definite group of inspired men was behind the numerous philosophical productions ornamenting Masonic literature of the Grand Orient of France.
"Crata Repoa belongs to the class of documents which may be said to have the activities of a secret society for their origin. A comparison of the Crata Repoa Rite with St. Germain's ritual, the Cagliostro initiation described by de Luchet, the mystical rituals of Martinism, and the Rosicrucian rituals described by Magista Pianco leaves no doubt that all these works are from a common source and are sustained by a common inspiration." (Ambelain p. 73-5)
My readers now know that the common source of inspiration is Egyptian Freemasonry, with which both de Gebelain and Etteilla were saturated, as they each belonged to lodges that contributed to the movement. The cream of this synthesis was being taught by Martinez in the lifetime and location of Etteilla. The foundations of Martinez' Sovereign Court were established in Paris in 1767. On Ambelain's p. 14 we read, "...in 1770 the rite of the Elus Cohens had temples in Bordeaux, Montpellier, Avignon, Foix, Libourne, La Rochelle, Versailles, Metz and Paris." Also, Dr. Lewis Keizer reminds us in his article The Esoteric Origins of Tarot, "In the year 1798 there were six to seven hundred Masonic lodges in France containing perhaps 30,000 of the most educated citizens."
The Crata Repoa, by the way, was a seven-stage initiation ritual pieced together by esoteric scholars entirely from numerous classical sources, to provide a "traditional" cycle of advancements "in Egyptian Style". (The earliest known version of it appeared in Italy, published in Venice by Humberto Malhandrini in 1657. Later it appeared in Germany, around 1770.) Blavatsky pronounced favorably as to its authenticity, and it certainly influenced Lenoir's Masonic art (as seen in his La Franche-Maconnerie, published in 1814.)
To wrap this dragon's tail back into its mouth, let's note that 'Paul Christian' (real name, Jean Baptiste Pitios) used several of Lenoir's illustrations in the section called "Book Two: the Mysteries of the Pyramids", from his book The History and Practice of Magic (1870), to which Ambelain was referring above. Hall says Lenoir's illustrations were "certainly influenced" by the Crata Repoa.
Coincidentally, The History and Practice of Magic represents the first time a set of 22 "Egyptian" Tarot trumps are drawn and described in detail for the general public. Christian's presentation forms the basis of all future Egyptian-style Tarots, inspiring the Falconnier/Wegener Tarot of 1896, the St. Germaine Tarot that Blavatsky taught from and used herself, as well as the Tarots of both the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor AND the Brotherhood of Light in America. Papus' Tarot is also derived from Pitois' Arcana, and Wirth was attempting to rectify the Marseille Tarot in respect of the "New" Egyptian Arcana with his Tarot. Both the Continental and American wings of the HBoL appropriated Pitois' Tarot text literally, word-for-word, developing a whole deck where previously the public had seen only the 22 Trumps of this style.
Pitois, by the way, was one of the people hired by Charles Nodier, Curator to the Paris Arsenal Library (along with Eliphas Levi, whom Pitois did not much care for), to assist in the great labor of cataloguing all the "loose" books in France, which had been recalled for redistribution through the Ministry of Public Education in Paris. Pitois started this job in 1839, and during all that time till 1870 when his History and Practice of Magic came out, they had the chance to look over every load of books that moved through the Armory, including the amazing trove of books Napoleon had plundered from the Vatican in 1810 and brought home to France! (Those who are troubled by the account of their work in the Armory library given in Holy Blood, Holy Grail can read Pitois' bio at the beginning of the modern editions of his History and Practice...)
The Christianized Theurgy of Martinez
Blending Kabalistic cosmology with Gnostic mythos, and grounding his theurgy in the writings of Cornelius Agrippa, de Pasqually made a deeply-considered choice in how he would promote tradition as he received it. De Pasqually determined that what was best was to align his Initiates with "The Great Communion of Saints", that great collective egregore named by Stanislas de Guaita in his The Serpent of Genesis. This was not done arbitrarily, but in consciousness of the immutable correspondences by which Planets, Signs, Angels, Demons and Spirits "from above" are reflected "here below" in the lives of those elite human beings who have served humanity as patron saints, heroes and exemplars of higher laws through the generations.
De Pasqually was following in his forbearer’s footsteps when he set this stricture on the Elus Cohens. In his Occult Philosophy, Agrippa wrote a chapter about the "Animastic Order", those incarnations that were known as the Fortunate and Glorified Souls. His advice was to make spiritual links to those enlightened human beings whose deeds were recorded in the Lives of the Saints, rather than over focusing on "the strange other beings which people the Invisible Cosmos" (Ambelain p. 56). This consideration is vital in the area of theurgical magic, where so much of the action takes place in the imagination of the Operator. By tying the Elus Cohens into the historical, evolutionary stream of human striving, Martinez was teaching them to bypass a wide range of earlier magical practices which had always been in controversy, -- practices which regularly require contact with potentially a-moral or truly immoral, devolutionary entities.
This was actually a very pragmatic and canny move to make. While using Christianity as his "fig leaf", de Pasqually explicitly grounded his Christian praxis in its historical substrate of Hebrew, Persian and Hermetic mysteries accumulated anterior to the Christian revelation. In so doing, Martinez anchored the Gnostic, Cabbalists and Pythagoreans as the root paradigm for his followers. Martinez' stance towards Christianity was pragmatic -- there is no need to abandon a vessel that is big enough to contain all the Western world's wisdom traditions. The grade work of the EC ensured that his Initiates had the necessary keys to the system in its historic fullness. Meanwhile the Church provided a time-tested pantheon of human exemplars towards which to orient members' devotions and petitions. The proof of the pudding is in the eating -- history has shown that the inspirational value of his system was vital enough to persist via several lineages, even after de Pasqually's untimely demise.
Martinez de Pasqually was fully justified in clothing his Order in the colors that best suited its time/space context. Pressing need and willful intent coincided to place the Order outside the reach of the Holy Inquisition, both the formal Catholic office and the disgusted, frustrated Protestant backlash. Because de Pasqually also took the step of integrating Martinism into Freemasonry, further protection was provided for his Initiates. Masonry was a very popular movement at the time, being totally ignored by the indifferent French Authorities despite the Bull of Clement XII. So many people from the ruling classes were participants that no controversy or negative consequences attached to membership. If any, the only questions raised would have come from individuals feeling discomfort from being exposed to deceased Spirits called forth during de Pasqually's theurgic operations. Quoting Ambelain:
"From that time, in imitation of the Catholic Church which substituted the pagan gods by Saints with parallel legends and benefic attributions, Martinez de Pasqually replaced the magical 'Names' of the Angels and Geniuses by Names of Patriarchs, Apostles, Prophets, Disciples, and also the great Angel and Archangels accepted by the Roman liturgy. The planetary and zodiacal 'seals', emblematic of the invisible intelligences and sidereal daimon are still used -- as we shall see later -- for interpreting the luminescent 'passes' by which the passed Entities, thus evoked by the Reau-Croix, manifest their sympathy with the equinoctial 'Work' of the Operator.
As a matter of fact, this Magic, particularly that of Martinez de Pasqually, is vaguely necromantic, since it calls to the deceased in place of cosmic Intelligences. Yet the church also honors the dead on its altars, so one should find it no more reprehensible to call upon a Saint or Apostle at midnight on the spring or autumnal equinox, than at any other hour in a chapel, private oratory or a parish church." (p. 57)
This strategy served a second purpose as well. By binding the leadership of the Order to revered "Past Masters" and "Unknown Superiors", Martinez wisely furnished his brainchild with a guidance system that would hold it on track even at times when living members might temporarily lose their way. Enough enlightened Western mysticism clings to the Canon of Saints that the Elus Cohens and all who followed in their footsteps were given objective ballast against the influx of Eastern Mysticism, which was quite aggressively invading the Orders at the entry to the 20th century. When we recall the challenging dynamics embroiling the Spiritualists, the Mesmerizers, the Theosophists, and the Mystical Christians of the era, we can see the wisdom in anchoring one's devotions to known, well-documented Western Adepts. If nothing else, the unique character of the Elus Cohen/Martinist stream has not expired, even after receiving a severe buffeting both from within and from without.
Here's s snippet from the Historical Review of Martinism by Jean Bricaud again, bringing the history forward up to the time of Papus:
(p. 8-9) " Saint-Martin...was initiated into the degrees of the Cohens by Balzac's brother. For three years he acted as secretary to Martinez and as a result he came into contact with the principal adepts...[S-M] found himself disturbed and even alarmed by the operations involving magic, associated with his master's teachings.... he withdrew from the active practices being carried out by the Reaux-Croix.... It was during his trips to Strasbourg and Germany that he discovered Jacob Boehme whose theories he added to those of Martinez. Moreover, they could also be superimposed, as Boehme was in addition an Illuminato....
"Confusion has often arisen, under the description of "Martinists", between the disciples of Martinez and those of Saint-Martin. Although the theories were the same, there was a sharp difference between the two schools of thought. The Martinez school remained within the framework of higher Freemasonry whereas that of Saint-Martin addressed itself to the uninitiated. The latter school therefore rejected the practices and ceremonies to which the former attached great importance...."
(p. 11) "...when the French Revolution broke out [,] it interrupted Freemasonry and as a result destroyed the influence of Willermoz and of the Martinists with regard to the Strict Observance in foreign countries.... The occult teachings of Martinez were therefore transmitted during the nineteenth century on the one hand by the Elus-Cohens, of whom one of the last direct representatives was the powerful Master Destigny who died in 1868, and on the other hand by some brothers of the rectified Scottish Rite who were the keepers of the secret instructions of Willermoz. Finally, the disciples of Saint-Martin spread the doctrine of the Unknown Philosopher in France, Germany, Denmark and above all in Russia. It was through one of these, Henri Delaage, that in 1880 a young Parisian occultist, Dr. Encausse (Papus), became acquainted with the doctrines of Saint-Martin and decided to become their champion. For this purpose, in 1884, together with some of his associates, he established a mystical Order that he called the Martinist Order. Several freemasons who had an interest in matters mystical and occult joined this Order."
(p. 13) "In 1911 Papus signed a treaty under which he recognized the UNIVERSAL GNOSTIC CHURCH as the official Church of Martinism. By so doing, he linked the Order revived by him to the secular Western doctrine from which Martinez had drawn his inspiration at the beginning."
Much of this material has been very slow to arrive in the public domain. As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for the Internet, much of the history of these early Orders would simply remain mutely dormant in the dusty cupboards of private archives. For lack of exposure to these lines of transmission, many modern Tarot researchers are in the habit of assuming that Tarot esotericism started with Levi, or possibly Etteilla.
However, with the incredible amount of new research being done in academic setting on Western Esotericism, along with older sources being translated into English for a new generation, it should no longer be so hard to trace these lineages and determine what the content of these initiations are.
In the process it should become clear that the Tarot has been a co-factor in the workings of Renaissance-style magi since at least the 1600's, when the early printing presses were discreetly commandeered by Agla members to run off their "underground" esoteric chapbooks in the dead of night.
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