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 unconsciously altered, from the standpoint 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, this man 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 a 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 also speech; 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 abundantly proved the philosophical imperfection of this method. I am, therefore something exists—would appear to us a more primitive and simple foundation for experimental philosophy. I AM, THEREFORE BEING EXISTS. Ego sum cui 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. חיחא דשא חיחא. Being is being. Hence this philosophy, having that which is for its principle, is in no sense hypothesis or guesswork.
Mercurius Trismegistus begins his admirable symbol, known under the name of the Emerald Table, by this three-fold 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 the truth has made free, according to the specific promise given by the most mighty of the initiators.
The man who is enslaved by his passions or worldly prejudices can in no wise be initiated; he must alter or he will never attain; hence he cannot be an adept, for the word signifies a person who has attained 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 its meaning, it 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 held back by those who understand them. Shew light to the birds of the night-time, and you hide their light; it is the light which blinds them, and for them is more dark than the darkness. I shall therefore 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 magic and an infernal magic—in other words, one which is delusive and darksome; 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 abuse a force 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 bears the same relation to the magician that a superstitious and fanatical person bears to a truly religious man.
Before advancing further let us tersely define magic. 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 becomes 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 celebrated 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 adventurers, 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 indispensable conditions—
- an intelligence illuminated by study,
- an intrepidity which nothing can check,
- a will which nothing can break,
- and a discretion 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 four words can be combined after four manners, and explained four times by one another.1
On the first page of the Book of Hermes2 the adept is depicted with a large hat, which, if turned down, would conceal his entire head. One hand is extended towards heaven, which he seems to command with his rod, 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,3 the first of the alphabet which the Jews borrowed from the Egyptians; to this symbol we shall have occasion to recur later on.
The magus is truly what the Hebrew Kabbalists call the Microprosopus, that is, 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 contains the others, and is the principle of the great work.
The term, however, requires explanation. Supreme reason being the sole invariable and consequently imperishable principle—what we term death being change—hence 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 movement produce the alternatives of life and death.
To know how to suffer, to forbear, and to 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 the air, water, earth, and fire; but to reign over these four animals 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 equal to both if you will.
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 you should? No, is it not so? Not invariably at least, but it may become so 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, vaunting 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 universal presentience of immortality and appreciation of the means which can lead to it. The last trophy which 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 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 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 now only in doubt and despair; for the path of light was lost. To succeed in performing something we must know what it is proposed to do, or at least must have faith in some one who does know it. But shall I stake my life on a venture, or follow someone at chance who himself knows not where he is going?
We must not set out rashly along the path of the transcendent sciences, but, once started, we must reach the end or perish. To doubt is to become a fool; to pause is to fall; to recoil is to cast one’s self into an abyss.
You, therefore, who are undertaking the study of this book, if you persevere with it to the close and understand it, it will make you either a monarch or a 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; this book will be 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 that which is below, and that which is below is like that which is above.”
In other words, the form is proportional to the idea; the shadow is the measure of the body calculated with 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 space which may not be regarded as the centre of a circle having an extending circumference indefinitely receding 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 infinite 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 Kabbalists term the Diaphane, or the 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, drive death away from the living, and raise the dead to life, because it is the imagination which exalts the will and gives it a hold upon 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 weapons 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 very 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 imaginary unity and solidarity of all parts of the body, he anticipated and outstripped all the theories, or rather all the experiences, of our most celebrated magnetisers. 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!
Imagination is the instrument of the adaptation of the word.
Imagination applied to reason is genius. Reason is one, as genius is one, in the multiplicity of its works. There is one principle, there is one truth, there is one reason, there is one absolute and universal philosophy. Whatsoever is subsists in unity considered as beginning, and returns into unity considered as end. One is in one; that is to say, all is in all.
Unity is the principle of numbers; it is also the principle of motion, and, consequently, of life. The entire human body is summed up in the unity of a single organ, which is the brain. All religions are summed up in the unity of a single dogma, which is the affirmation of being and its equality with itself, which constitutes its mathematical value.
There is only one dogma in magic, and it is this:—The visible is the manifestation of the invisible, or, in other terms, the perfect word, in things appreciable and visible, bears an exact proportion to the things which are inappreciable by our senses and unseen by our eyes. The magus uplifts one hand towards heaven and points down the other to earth, and he says:—”Above, immensity: Below, immensity still! Immensity equals immensity.”—This is true in things seen as in things unseen.
The first letter in the alphabet of the sacred language, Aleph, א, represents a man extending one hand towards heaven and the other to earth.
It is an expression of the active principle in everything; it is creation in heaven corresponding to the omnipotence of the word below. This letter is a pantacle in itself, that is, a character expressing the universal science. It is supplementary to the sacred signs of the Macrocosm and the Microcosm; it explains the masonic double-triangle and the five-pointed blazing star; for the word is one and revelation is one.
By endowing man with reason, God gave him speech; and revelation, manifold in its forms but one in its principle, consists entirely in the universal word, the interpreter of the absolute reason. This is the significance of that term so much misconstrued, catholicity, which, in modern hieratic language, means infallibility. The universal in reason is the absolute, and the absolute is the infallible. If absolute reason impelled universal society to believe irresistibly the utterance of a child, that child would be infallible by the ordination of God and of all humanity.
Faith is nothing else but reasonable confidence in this unity of reason and in this universality of the word. To believe is to place confidence in that which we as yet do not know when reason assures us beforehand of ultimately knowing or at least recognising it. Absurd are the so-called philosophers who cry, “I will never believe in a thing which I do not know!” Shallow reasoners! If you knew, would you need to believe?
But must I believe on chance, and apart from reason?
Certainly not. Blind and haphazard belief is superstition and folly. We may believe in causes which reason compels us to admit on the evidence of effects known and appreciated by science. Science! Great word and great problem! What is science? We shall answer in the second chapter of this book.