Eliphas Levi: Precursor

(1810-1875)

Brief biography (c) 2008 Fra. Petros Xristos Magister (8=3)

"Eliphas Levi" was the evocative magical name of French occultist Alphonse Constant (1810-1875), an important figure in the occult movement of the 19th century and a major influence upon Aleister Crowley, who was born in the same year that Constant died and claimed to receive some of the occult force from his predecessor's life-wave (in addition to his initials.)

He was born the son of a Paris shoemaker and was early on intrigued by the occult and religious studies; so much so, in fact, that he did in fact become a Catholic priest for a time, only to be excommunicated for his radical political views and his equally radical ideas about the priestly vow of chastity. He was also influenced by Francis Barrett, whose work The Magus (1800) is still reprinted today.

At one point he became a student of a seer by the name of Ganneau, who also claimed to be a reincarnation of the deposed king Louis XVII. Soon enough, Constant was doing his own writing and teaching, as is the pattern in the occult world; at this point he found it necessary to take on a new name and christened himself with the Hebraic name Eliphas Levi.

Constant visited London in 1854 and undertook his first experiment in practical necromancy, conjuring up the shade of the reknowned Appollonius of Tyana for the benefit of an English female adept. Constant, like Crowley after him, spared little expense and exerted great effort in preparation for this ritual, modifying his diet and engaging in prolongued meditation for several weeks. The actual invocation was performed in a mirror-walled chamber (a common acoutrement for certain modern-day magickians) occupied by central altar-table covered in white lambskin, perhaps symbolizing purity, with Constant bearing a consecrated ritual sword. He performed his invocation for upwards of twelve hours or more in this glittering chamber lit only by the fires of two brass bowls placed on the tables. Ultimately, he was successful in conjuring some sort of spirit, but details are vague at best.

Levi visited England again, and in the 1860s became associated with the occult fantasy writer Edward Bulwer-Litton, with whom he became involved in an esoteric order which was to influence the Golden Dawn.

Levi's works include The Dogma and Ritual of High Magic (1861), A History of Magic, Transcendental Magic, and other volumes, most of which are still available today in reprints. His work, like Crowley's, was ever innovative and original. Levi is believed to be the first occultist to associate the 22 trump cards of the Tarot with the 22 Hebrew letters. While more accessible works are available to magicians these days, one cannot ingore the influence that Eliphas Levi had upon occult students of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is safe to say that Aleister Crowley would not have been the magician he came to be without Eliphas Levi's inspiration to guide him.

 

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