Lévi, Éliphas (1810-1875)
Lévi, Éliphas (1810-1875)
Pseudonym of Alphonse-Louis Constant, a French occultist of the nineteenth century, whose work stands as the fountain-head of the contemporary magical revival. He was born 1875 in Paris, the son of a shoemaker, and through the good offices of the parish priest was educated for the church at St. Sulpice. In due course he became a deacon and took the required vow of celibacy, but shortly thereafter he was expelled from St. Sulpice for teaching doctrines contrary to those of the church.
Obscure for a time, he emerged about 1839 under the influence of a political and socialistic prophet named Ganneau. Lévi's pamphlet entitled The Gospel of Liberty earned him six-months' imprisonment. In Paris he married a 16-year-old woman who later had the marriage annulled. It was probably not until after she left him that he launched his study of the occult sciences; his writings previous to this time show little trace of occult influence.
In 1850 he contributed a Dictionary of Christian Literature to a series of theological encyclopedias published by Abbé Migne. Within a year, however, Lévi was known to be giving lessons on occultism to pupils. According to a paragraph by M. Chauliac: "The Abbé Constant, for a second time repudiating his name, assumed the title of the Magus Éliphas Lévi, giving consultations in great number to credulous clients, who paid as much as twenty-five francs a time for a prediction from Lucifer." There is no evidence that Lévi was actually ordained as a priest, but the title "Abbé" was normally given to those wearing a clerical style of costume, and Lévi wore a quasi-clerical garb in his capacity of a Magus or master of magic.
In 1853 he traveled to London and met Lord Bulwer Lytton, whom he assisted in various magical evocations and theories. These were later fictionalized in Lytton's occult stories Zanoni: A Strange Story (1842) and The Haunted and the Haunters (1857). Lévi's own works on occultism, which had their shortcomings, nevertheless played a prominent part in the occult revival. (The word occult is reported to have been coined by Lévi.) However, Lévi may best be remembered for his discovery of the connection between the 22 cards of the tarot's major arcana and the Kabbalah's Tree of Life, a connection that is still accepted today.
Lévi died in April 1875. There is an interesting firsthand account of Lévi during his lifetime by Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie, who visited the magus in Paris in 1861. (See Occult Review, December 1921.)
——. Dogme de la haute magie. N.p., 1854.
——. Histoire de la magie. Translated as The History of Magic. 1860. Trans. Arthur Edward Waite. London: W. Rider, 1913. Reprint, New York: Samuel Weiser, 1971.
——. The Magical Ritual of the Regnum Sanctum. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1970.
——. The Mysteries of Magic: A Digest of the Writings of Éliphas Lévi. Trans. Arthur Edward Waite. 1886. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1974.
——. The Paradox of the Highest Science. Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House. Reprint, Mokelumne Hill, Calif.: Health Research, 1969.
——. Rituel de la haute magie. N.p., 1856.
——. Transcendental Magic. Translation of Dogme de la haute magie and Rituel de la haute magie. Translated by Arthur Edward Waite. London: George Redway, 1896. Reprint, New York: Samuel Weiser, 1970.
Shaw, Eva. Divining the Future: Prognostication from Astrology to Zoomancy. New York: Facts on File, 1995.
Williams, Thomas A. Eliphas Levi: Master of Occultism. University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1975.