Transcendental Magic

Transcendental Magic

by Eliphas Levi

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2011 Reprint of 1958 London Edition. Full facsimile of the original edition, not reproduced with Optical Recognition Software. This is Levi's first treatise on magic and was translated into English by Arthur Edward Waite as "Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual". Its famous opening lines present the single essential theme of Occultism and gives some of the


2011 Reprint of 1958 London Edition. Full facsimile of the original edition, not reproduced with Optical Recognition Software. This is Levi's first treatise on magic and was translated into English by Arthur Edward Waite as "Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual". Its famous opening lines present the single essential theme of Occultism and gives some of the flavor of its atmosphere: "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 marvelous 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. ( From the Introduction)". Lévi's version of magic became a great success, especially after his death. That Spiritualism was popular on both sides of the Atlantic from the 1850s contributed to this success. His magical teachings were free from obvious fanaticisms; he had nothing to sell, and did not pretend to be the initiate of some ancient or fictitious secret society. He incorporated the Tarot cards into his magical system, and as a result the Tarot has been an important part of the paraphernalia of Western magicians. He had a deep impact on the magic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and later on the ex-Golden Dawn member Aleister Crowley. He was also the first to declare that a pentagram or five-pointed star with one point down and two points up represents evil, while a pentagram with one point up and two points down represents good. It was largely through the occultists inspired by him that Lévi is remembered as one of the key founders of the twentieth century revival of magic.

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Its Doctrine and Ritual

By Eliphas Levi

Samuel Weiser, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Eliphas Levi
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-391-2




When a philosopher adopted as the basis for a new apocalypse of human wisdom the axiom: "I think, therefore I am", in a measure he altered unconsciously, from the stand point of Christian Revelation, the old conception of the Supreme Being. I am that I am, said the Being of beings of Moses. I am he who thinks, says the man of Descartes, and to think being to speak inwardly, such a one may affirm, like the God of St John the Evangelist: I am he in whom and by whom the word manifests—In principio erat verbum. Now, what is this principle? It is a groundwork of speech, it is a reason for the existence of the word. The essence of the word is in the principle; the principle is that which is; intelligence is a principle which speaks. What further is intellectual light? It is speech. What is revelation? It is speech also, being is the principle, speech is the means, and the plenitude or development and perfection of being is the end. To speak is to create. But to say: "I think, therefore I exist", is to argue from consequence to principle, and certain contradictions which have been adduced by a great writer, Lamennais, have proved abundantly the philosophical unsoundness of this method. I am, therefore something exists—might seem to be a more primitive and simple foundation for experimental philo sophy. I am, therefore Being exists. Ego Sum qui sum—such is the first revelation of God in man and of man in the world, while it is also the first axiom of occult philosophy. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Being is being. Hence this philosophy, having that which is for its principle, can be in no sense hypothesis or guesswork.


Mercurius Trismegistus begins his admirable symbol known under the name of the "Emerald Table," by this threefold affirmation: "It is true, it is certain without error, it is of all truth." Thus, in physics, the true confirmed by experience; in philosophy, certitude purged from any alloy of error; in the domain of religion or the infinite, absolute truth indicated by analogy: such are the first necessities of true science, and Magic only can impart these to its adepts.

But you, before all things, who are you, thus taking this work in your hands and proposing to read it? On the pediment of a temple consecrated by antiquity to the God of Light was an inscription of two words: "Know thyself." I impress the same counsel on every man when he seeks to approach science. Magic, which the men of old denominated the Sanctum Regnum, the Holy Kingdom, or Kingdom of God, Regnum Dei, exists only for kings and for priests. Are you priests? Are you kings? The priesthood of Magic is not a vulgar priesthood, and its royalty enters not into competition with the princes of this world. The monarchs of science are the priests of truth, and their sovereignty is hidden from the multitude, like their prayers and sacrifices. The kings of science are men who know the truth and them the truth has made free, according to the specific promise given by the most mighty of all initiators.

The man who is enslaved by his passions or worldly prejudices can be initiated in no wise; he must reform or he will never attain; meanwhile he cannot be an adept, for this word signifies a person who has achieved by will and by work. The man who loves his own opinions and fears to part with them, who suspects new truths, who is unprepared to doubt everything rather than admit anything on chance, should close this book: for him it is useless and dangerous. He will fail to understand it, and it will trouble him, while if he should divine the meaning, there will be a still greater source of disquietude. If you hold by anything in the world more than by reason, truth and justice; if your will be uncertain and vacillating, either in good or evil; if logic alarm you, or the naked truth make you blush; if you are hurt when accepted errors are assailed; condemn this work straight away. Do not read it; let it cease to exist for you; but at the same time do not cry it down as dangerous. The secrets which it records will be understood by an elect few and will be reserved by those who understand them. Show light to the birds of the night-time, and you hide their light; it is the light which blinds them and for them is darker than darkness. It follows that I shall speak clearly and make known everything, with the firm conviction that initiates alone, or those who deserve initiation, will read all and understand in part.

There is a true and a false science, a Divine and an Infernal Magic—in other words, one which is delusive and tenebrous. It is our task to reveal the one and to unveil the other, to distinguish the magician from the sorcerer and the adept from the charlatan. The magician avails himself of a force which he knows, the sorcerer seeks to misuse that which he does not understand. If it be possible in a scientific work to employ a term so vulgar and so discredited, then the devil gives himself to the magician and the sorcerer gives himself to the devil. The magician is the sovereign pontiff of Nature, the sorcerer is her profaner only. The sorcerer is in the same relation to the magician that a superstitious and fanatical person bears to a truly religious man.

Before proceeding further, let us define Magic in a sentence. Magic is the traditional science of the secrets of Nature which has been transmitted to us from the Magi. By means of this science the adept is invested with a species of relative omnipotence and can operate superhumanly— that is, after a manner which transcends the normal possibility of men. Thereby many illustrious hierophants, such as Mercurius Trismegistus, Osiris, Orpheus, Apollonius of Tyana, and others whom it might be dangerous or unwise to name, came after their death to be adored and invoked as gods. Thereby others also—according to that ebb-and flow of opinion which is responsible for the caprices of success—became emissaries of infernus or suspected adven turers, like the Emperor Julian, Apuleius, the enchanter Merlin and that arch-sorcerer, as he was termed in his day, the illustrious and unfortunate Cornelius Agrippa.

To attain the Sanctum Regnum, in other words, the knowledge and power of the Magi, there are four indis pensable conditions—an intelligence illuminated by study, an intrepidity which nothing can check, a will which cannot be broken, and a prudence which nothing can corrupt and nothing intoxicate. To know, to dare, to will, to keep silence —such are the four words of the Magus, inscribed upon the four symbolical forms of the sphinx. These maxims can be combined after four manners and explained four times by one another.

On the first page of the Book of Hermes the adept is depicted with a large hat, which, if turned down, would conceal his entire head. One hand is raised towards heaven, which he seems to command with his wand, while the other is placed upon his breast; before him are the chief symbols or instruments of science, and he has others hidden in a juggler's wallet. His body and arms form the letter Aleph, the first of that alphabet which the Jews borrowed from the Egyptians: to this symbol we shall have occasion to recur later on.

The Magus is truly that which the Hebrew Kabalists term Microprosopus — otherwise, the creator of the little world. The first of all magical sciences being the knowledge of one's self, so is one's own creation first of all works of science; it comprehends the others and is the beginning of the Great Work. The expression, however, requires explanation. Supreme Reason being the sole invariable and conse quently imperishable principle—and death, as we call it, being change—it follows that the intelligence which cleaves closely to this principle and in a manner identifies itself therewith, does hereby make itself unchangeable and as a result immortal. To cleave invariably to reason it will be understood that it is necessary to attain independence of all those forces which by their fatal and inevitable operation produce the alternatives of life and death. To know how to suffer, to forbear and co die—such are the first secrets which place us beyond reach of affliction, the desires of the flesh and the fear of annihilation. The man who seeks and finds a glorious death has faith in immortality and universal humanity believes in it with him and for him, raising altars and statues to his memory in token of eternal life.

Man becomes king of the brutes only by subduing or taming them: otherwise he will be their victim or slave. Brutes are the type of our passions; they are the instinctive forces of Nature. The world is a field of battle, where liberty struggles with inertia by the opposition of active force. Physical laws are millstones; if you cannot be the miller you must be the grain. You are called to be king of air, water, earth and fire; but to reign over these four living creatures of symbolism, it is necessary to conquer and enchain them. He who aspires to be a sage and to know the Great Enigma of Nature must be the heir and despoiler of the sphinx: his the human head, in order to possess speech; his the eagle's wings, in order to scale the heights; his the bull's flanks, in order to furrow the depths; his the lion's talons, to make a way on the right and the left, before and behind.

You therefore who seek initiation, are you learned as Faust? Are you insensible as Job? No, is it not so? But you may become like unto both if you choose. Have you overcome the vortices of vague thoughts? Are you without indecision or capriciousness? Do you consent to pleasure only when you will, and do you wish for it only when vou should? No, is it not so? Not at least invariably, but this may come to pass if you choose. The sphinx has not only a man's head, it has woman's breasts; do you know how to resist feminine charms? No, is it not so? And you laugh outright in replying, parading your moral weakness for the glorification of your physical and vital force. Be it so: I allow you to render this homage to the ass of Sterne or Apuleius. The ass has its merit, I agree; it was consecrated to Priapus as was the goat to the god of Mendes. But take it for what it is worth, and decide whether ass or man shall be master. He alone can possess truly the pleasure of love who has conquered the love of pleasure. To be able and to forbear is to be twice able. Woman enchains you by your desires; master your desires and you will enchain her. The greatest injury that can be inflicted on a man is to call him a coward. Now, what is a cowardly person? One who neglects his moral dignity in order to obey blindly the instincts of Nature. As a fact, in the presence of danger it is natural to be afraid and seek flight: why, then, is it shameful? Because honour has erected it into a law that we must prefer our duty to our inclinations or fears. What is honour from this point of view? It is a universal presentience of immortality and appreciation of the means which can lead to it. The last trophy which a man can win from death is to triumph over the appetite for life, not by despair but by a more exalted hope, which is contained in faith, for all that is noble and honest, by the undivided consent of the world. To learn self-conquest is therefore to learn life, and the austerities of stoicism were no vain parade of freedom! To yield to the forces of Nature is to follow the stream of collective life and to be the slave of secondary causes. To resist and subdue Nature is to make for one's self a personal and imperishable life: it is to break free from the vicissitudes of life and death. Every man who is prepared to die rather than renounce truth and justice is most truly living, for immortality abides in his soul. To find or to form such men was the end of all ancient initiations. Pythagoras disciplined his pupils by silence and all kinds of self-denial; candidates in Egypt were tried by the four elements; and we know the self-inflicted austerities of fakirs and brahmans in India for attaining the kingdom of free will and divine independence. All macerations of asceticism are borrowed from the initiations of the Ancient Mysteries; they have ceased because those qualified for initiation, no longer finding initiators, and the leaders of conscience becoming in the lapse of time as uninstructed as the vulgar, the blind have grown weary of following the blind, and no one has cared to pass through ordeals the end of which was only in doubt and despair: the path of light was lost. To succeed in performing something we must know that which it is proposed to do, or at least must have faith in someone who does know it. But shall I stake my life on a venture, or follow someone at chance who himself cannot see where he is going?

We must not set out rashly along the path of the transcendental sciences, but, once started, we must reach the end or perish. To doubt is to lose one's reason; to pause is to fall; to recoil is to plunge into an abyss. You, therefore, who are undertaking the study of this book, if you persevere to the end and understand it, you will be either a monarch or madman. Do what you will with the volume, you will be unable to despise or to forget it. If you are pure, it will be your light; if strong, your arm; if holy, your religion; if wise, the rule of your wisdom. But if you are wicked, for you it will be an infernal torch; it will lacerate your breast like a poniard; it will rankle in your memory like a remorse; it will people your imagination with chimeras, and will drive you through folly to despair. You will endeavour to laugh at it, and will only gnash your teeth; it will be like the file in the fable which the serpent tried to bite, but it destroyed all his teeth.

Let us now enter on the series of initiations. I have said that revelation is the word. As a fact, the word, or speech, is the veil of being and the characteristic sign of life. Every form is the veil of a word, because the idea which is the mother of the word is the sole reason for the existence of forms. Every figure is a character, every character derives from and returns into a word. For this reason the ancient sages, of whom Trismegistus is the organ, formulated their sole dogma in these terms: "That which is above is like unto that which is below, and that which is below unto that which is above." In other words, the form is proportional to the idea; the shadow is the measure of the body calculated in its relation to the luminous ray; the scabbard is as deep as the sword is long; the negation is in proportion to the contrary affirmation; production is equal to destruction in the movement which preserves life; and there is no point in infinite extension which may not be regarded as the centre of a circle having an expanding circumference receding indefinitely into space. Every individuality is therefore indefinitely perfectible, since the moral order is analogous to the physical, and since we cannot conceive any point as unable to dilate, increase and radiate in a philosophically unlimited circle. What can be affirmed of the soul in its totality may be affirmed of each faculty of the soul. The intelligence and will of man are instruments of incalculable power and capacity. But intelligence and will possess as their help-mate and instrument a faculty which is too imperfectly known, the omnipotence of which belongs exclusively to the domain of Magic. I speak of the imagination, which the Kabalists term the Diaphane or Translucid. Imagination, in effect, is like the soul's eye; therein forms are outlined and preserved; thereby we behold the reflections of the invisible world; it is the glass of visions and the apparatus of magical life. By its intervention we heal diseases, modify the seasons, warn off death from the living and raise the dead to life, because it is the imagination which exalts will and gives it power over the Universal Agent. Imagination determines the shape of the child in its mother's womb and decides the destiny of men; it lends wings to contagion and directs the arms of warfare. Are you exposed in battle? Believe yourself to be invulnerable like Achilles, and you will be so, says Paracelsus. Fear attracts bullets, but they are repelled by courage. It is well known that persons with amputated limbs feel pain in the vicinity of members which they possess no longer. Paracelsus operated upon living blood by medicating the product of a bleeding; he cured headache at a distance by treating hair cut from the patient. By the science of the theoretical unity and solidarity between all parts of the body, he anticipated and outstripped the theories, or rather experiences, of our most celebrated magnetists. Hence his cures were miraculous, and to his name of Philip Theophrastus Bombast, he deserved the addition of Aureolus Paracelsus, with the further epithet of divine!

Excerpted from TRANSCENDENTAL MAGIC by Eliphas Levi. Copyright © 2013 Eliphas Levi. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Alphonse Louis Constant, better know by his pen name Eliphas Levi, was a master of the traditional Rosicrucian interpretation of the Kabbalah. He was born in France in 1810, and through the offices of the parish priest, was educated for the church at Saint-Sulpice. He was later expelled from seminary for teaching doctrines contrary to those of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1824 Levi began studying the occult sciences, and wrote about magic and the Kabbalah for the next three decades. His other books include Transcendental Magic, Mysteries of the Qabalah, and The Book of Splendours.

A.E. Waite (1857-1942) is one of the best-known authors and translators of magic and the occult. He is the creator of the Rider-Waite tarot and is the author of several books including Book of Black Magic and Pictorial Keys to the Tarot.

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