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Eliphas Levi


Eliphas Levi

The French occultist, Eliphas Levi, was born Alphonse-Louis Constant in Paris in 1810, adopting the name by which he is better known (a Judaized version of his forenames) in 1845. A career in the priesthood was short-lived, and Levi left his seminary in 1836 after falling for a girl, Noémie Cadiot, whom he later married (though the marriage did not last). In 1841, Levi was sentenced to eight months in prison for publishing a socialist tract called La Bible de la Liberté, and as time went on his interest in the occult deepened.

Levi claimed that in 1854, on visit to London, he summoned the spirit of Apollonius of Tyana, and in 1856 he published perhaps his greatest work, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Dogma and Ritual of High Magic). In this he expounded the idea that all sacred writings and beliefs share at heart "a doctrine which is everywhere the same and everywhere carefully concealed". Rather than see this as an expression of the fundamental truth underlying all serious spiritual quests, Levi unfortunately tended to imagine that there was a secret doctrine of magic at work universally throughout history, known only to adepts. His 1856 work also discussed the affinity between the 22 Major cards of the Tarot, the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the Kabbalah. Levi is credited with being a large part of the inspiration behind the magical revival at the end of the nineteenth century, and his exposition of the Tarot-Kabbalah model, though he was not the first to suggest it, became the dominant model for the development of the Tarot, and an important pillar of western Kabbalah. The Kabbalah was one of Levi's abiding interests, and he considered it more profound than all other philosophies put together, as exact as mathematics, and having the power to control unseen forces that acted through the 'astral light' surrounding all things.

Levi's other major work, a History of Magic, was published next. His later books, written after an equivocal reconciliation with the Church, actually warn against the practice of magic. Levi died in 1875, the year Aleister Crowley was born. This lead Crowley to claim to be a reincarnation of the reformed necromancer, though Levi was by no means unique in this respect. Levi's work would later be translated by Arthur Edward Waite.

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