[Notes on Symbolism in Selections by Eliphas Levi]
Theosophist, November, 1882
Selections from Eliphas Levi’s “Dogme de la Haute Magie” | Notes by H.P.B.
Gleanings from Eliphas Levi1
Extracts from the Introduction to Dogme de la Haute Magie.
1. Brilliant and epigrammatic a writer, and profound an Occultist, as was the Abbé Constant (better known by his nom-de-plume of Éliphas Lévi), the great bulk of his writings would, we fear, do little either to interest or instruct our readers. Still there are passages in his writings so pregnant with a higher meaning that it seems to us that it might be well to reproduce, from time to time, in The Theosophist, translations of some of these. To Indian readers at any rate, they will open an entirely new vista.
. . . at the base of magic there is science, as at the base of Christianity there is love; and in the symbols of the Evangel, we see the incarnate Word, adored in infancy by the three Magi, led by a star (the ternary and the sign of the microcosm) and receiving from them Gold, Incense and Myrrh;2 another mysterious ternary under whose emblems are allegorically represented some of the profoundest secrets of the Kabala. . . .
2. According to the Kabalists, the three Kings or Magi were white, black and brown. The white presents gold, the symbol of Life and Light. The Black presented myrrh, the symbol of Death and Night; and the Brown presented the frankincense, the symbol of Divinity and of the dogma which reconciles the antagonistic duads of the Universe.—Rituel, p. 98.
Yes, there exists a formidable secret, the revelation of which has already overthrown one world as is attested by the religious traditions of Egypt,3 epitomized symbolically by Moses at the beginning of Genesis. This secret constitutes the fatal knowledge (science) of good and evil, and its result, when divulged, is death. . . .
3. See Plato’s History of the Atlantis as given by the priests of Saïs to his great ancestor Solon, the Athenian law-giver.
Atlantis, the submerged continent, and the land of the “Knowledge of Good and Evil” (especially the latter) par excellence, and inhabited by the fourth race of men (we are the fifth) who are credited in the Popol-Vuh (the book of the Guatemalans) with sight unlimited and “who knew all things at once.” Éliphas Lévi refers to the secret tradition, among Occultists, about the great struggle that took place, in those far away prehistoric days of Atlantis, between the “Sons of God”—the initiated Adepts of Sham-bha-la (once a fair island in the inland Sea of the Tibetan plateau, now as fair a land, an oasis surrounded by barren deserts and salt lakes)—and the Atlanteans, the wicked magicians of Thevetat. (See Isis, Vol. I, pp. 589-94). It is a well-established belief among the Eastern and especially the Mongolian and Tibetan Occultists that toward the end of every race, when mankind reaches its apex of knowledge in that cycle, dividing into two distinct classes, it branches off—one as the “Sons of Light” and the other as the “Sons of Darkness,” or initiated Adepts and natural-born magicians or—mediums. Toward the very close of the race, as their mixed progeny furnishes the first pioneers of a new and a higher race, there comes the last and supreme struggle during which the “Sons of Darkness” are usually exterminated by some great cataclysm of nature—by either fire or water. Atlantis was submerged, hence the inference that that portion of the mankind of the fifth race which will be composed of “natural-born magicians” will be exterminated at the future great cataclysm by—fire.
There exists in nature a force far more powerful than steam, by the help of which a single man, capable of grasping it and knowing how to direct it, might change the entire face of the world. This force was known to the ancients; it exists in an universal agent, of which equilibrium is the fundamental law, and the direction of which pertains to the great secret of transcedental magic. . . . This agent of which glimpses are afforded in the manipulations of the disciples of Mesmer is precisely what the Adepts of the Middle Ages designated the primary substance of the Great Work. With the Gnostics this was the fiery body of the Holy Ghost, and it was this which was worshipped in the secret rites of the Sabbath, or the Templars under the hieroglyphic form of Baphomet, or the Hermaphrodite goat of Mendes.4 . . .
4. What was in reality that much maligned and still more dreaded goat, that Baphomet regarded even now by the Roman Catholics as Satan, the Grand Master of the “Witches Sabbath,” the central figure of their nocturnal orgies? Why, simply Pan or Nature.
The key to all magical allegories is to be found in the leaves or cards, to which we have referred and which we believe to have been the work of Hermes. . . . Œdipus . . . fights against his father and kills him without knowing him; dread prophecy of the blind emancipation of reason, without science; then he comes to the sphynx, the sphynx, the symbol of symbols, eternal enigma to the common herd, pedestal of granite to the science of sages, the devouring and silent monster which in its unchanging form expresses the unique dogma of the great universal mystery. How does the tetrad change into the duad and explain itself in the triad? In other words, more emblematic and more popular, what animal has four feet in the morning, two at noon and three in the evening? Philosophically speaking, how does the dogma of the elementary forces produce the dualism of Zoroaster, and sum itself up in the Triad of Pythagoras and Plato?5 . . .
5. By “the dogma of elementary forces” Éliphas Lévi means “spirit” and “matter,” allegorized by Zoroaster, for the common herd, into Ormazd and Ahriman, the prototype of the Christian “God” and “Devil”; and epitomized and summed up by the philosophy of Occult Science in the “Human Triad” (Body, Soul, Spirit—the two poles and the “middle nature” of man), the perfect microcosm of the One Universal Macrocosm or Universe. In the Khordah-Avesta the Zoroastrian dualism is contradicted: “Who art thou, O fair being?” inquires the disembodied soul of one who stands at the gates of its Paradise. “I am, O Soul, thy good and pure actions . . . thy law, thy angel, and thy God.”
When in this work we make use of those sacred words, God, Heaven, Hell, let is be understood once for all that the meaning we attach to them is as distinct from that accepted by the outside world, as is the initiation from common thought. For us God is the Azot of the sages, the efficient and final principle of the Great Work.6
6. The Seventh State of matter—Life. The Fire and Light of the “Astral Virgin” may be studied by the Hindus in the Fire and Light of Akasa.
Let us return to the fable of Œdipus. . . . Œdipus has seen what man is, and he tears out his eyes so as to avoid seeing what God is.7 . . .
7. . . . “to avoid seeing what God is”—i.e., seeing that God is but man and vice versa—when he is not the “lining” of God—the Devil. We know of many who prefer voluntary and life-long blindness to plain, sober truth and fact.
After the colossal fable of Œdipus we meet with the graceful poem of Psyche, or which Apuleus is certainly not the inventor. The great magical secret here reappears under the guise of the mysterious marriage between a God and a feeble girl abandoned, alone and naked, on a rock. Psyche must remain ignorant of the secret of her ideal Royalty, and if she looks at her husband she loses him.8 . . .
8. Cupid, the god, is the seventh principle or the Brahm of the Vedantin, and Psyche is its vehicle, the sixth or spiritual soul. As soon as she feels herself distinct from her “consort”—and sees him—she loses him. Study the “Heresy of Individuality”—and you will understand.
The great magical secret is therefore the lamp and dagger of Psyche, the apple of Eve, the sacred fire stolen by Prometheus, and the burning scepter of Lucifer, but it is also the holy cross of the Redeemer. To know enough of it to divulge or misuse it, is to deserve all punishments; to know it as it should be known, to use and hide it is to be Master of the Absolute.9 . . .
9. In the Christian legend, the “Redeemer” is the “Initiator” who offers his life in sacrifice for the privilege of teaching his disciples some great truths. He, who unriddles the Christian sphinx, “becomes the Master of the Absolute” for the simple reason that the greatest mystery of all the ancient initiations—past, present, and future—is made plain and divulged to him. Those who accept the allegory literally, will remain blind all their life and those, who divulge it to the ignorant masses, deserve punishment for their want of discretion in seeking to “feed pigs with pearls.” The Theosophist—read but by the intelligent who, when they understand it, prove that they deserve as much of the secret knowledge as can be given them—is permitted to throw out a hint. Let him, who would fathom the mystery of the allegory of both Sphinx and Cross, study the modes of initiation of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, ancient Jews, Hindus, etc. And then he will find what the word “Atonement”—far older than Christianity—meant, as also “the Baptism of Blood.” At the last moment of the Supreme Initiation, when the Initiator had divulged the last mysterious word, either the Hierophant or the “newly born,” the worthier of the two, had to die, since two Adepts of equal power must not live, and he, who is perfect, has no room on earth. Éliphas Lévi hints at the mystery in his volumes without explaining it. Yet he speaks of Moses who dies mysteriously, disappears from the top of Mount Pisgah after he had “laid his hands” upon the initiated Aaron, of Jesus who dies for the disciple “whom he loved,” John the author of the Apocalypse, and of John the Baptist—the last of the real Nazars of the Old Testament (see Isis, Vol. II, p. 132), who, in the incomplete, contradictory, and tortured Gospel accounts, is made to die later through Herodias’ whim, and, in the secret Kabalistic documents of the Nabathaeans, to offer himself as an expiatory victim after “baptizing” (i.e., initiating) his chosen successor in the mystic Jordan. In these documents, after the initiation Aba, the Father, becomes the Son, and the Son succeeds the Father and becomes Father and Son at the same time, inspired by Sophia Achamoth (secret wisdom) transformed later on into the Holy Ghost. But this successor of John the Baptist was not Jesus, the Nazarenes say. But of this anon. To this day, the initiation beyond the Himalayas is followed by temporary death (from three to six months) of the disciple, often that of the Initiator; but the Buddhists do not spill blood, for they have a horror of it, knowing that blood attracts “evil powers.” At the initiation of the Chhinnamasta Tantrikas (from chhinna “severed” and masta “head”—the Goddess Chhinnamasta being represented with a decapitated head), the Tantrik Shastras say that, as soon as the Adept has reached the highest degree of perfection, he has to initiate his successor and—die, offering his blood as an atonement for the sins of his brothers. He must “cut off his own head with the right hand, holding it in the left.” Three streams of blood gush out from the headless trunk. One of these is directed into the mouth of the decapitated head (“. . . my blood is drink indeed”—the injunction in John that so shocked the disciples); the other is directed toward the earth as an offering of the pure, sinless blood to mother Earth; and the third gushes toward heaven as a witness for the sacrifice of “self-immolation.” Now, this has a profound Occult significance which is known only to the initiated; nothing like the truth is explained by the Christian dogma, and imperfectly as they have defined it, the quasi-inspired “Authors of The Perfect Way” reveal the truth far nearer than any of the Christian commentators.