"Religion says: — 'Believe and you will understand.' Science comes to say to you: — 'Understand and you will believe.'
"At that moment the whole of science will change front; the spirit, so long dethroned and forgotten, will take its ancient place; it will be demonstrated that the old traditions are all true, that the whole of paganism is only a system of corrupted and misplaced truths, that it is sufficient to cleanse them, so to say, and to put them back again in their place, to see them shine with all their rays. In a word, all ideas will change, and since on all sides a multitude of the elect cry in concert, 'Come, Lord, come!' why should you blame the men who throw themselves forward into that majestic future, and pride themselves on having foreseen it?"
— J. De Maistre, Soirées de St. Petersbourg.
In the biographical and critical essay which Mr. Waite prefixes to his Mysteries of Magic he says: "A word must be added of the method of this digest, which claims to be something more than translation and has been infinitely more laborious. I believe it to be in all respects faithful, and where it has been necessary or possible for it to be literal, there also it is invariably literal."
We agree that it is either more or less than translation, and the following examples selected at hazard in the course of half-an-hour will enable the reader to judge whether Mr. Waite is acquainted with either French or English:
"Gentilhomme" — "Gentleman."
"The nameless vice which was reproached against the Templars."
"Certaines circonstances ridicules et un proces en escroquerie" — "Certain ridiculous processes and a swindling lawsuit."
"Se mêle de dogmatiser" — "Meddles with dogmatism."
"La vie pour lui suffisait à l'expiation des plus grands crimes, puis qu'elle etait la consequence d'un arrêt de mort" — "According to him life was sufficient for the greatest crimes, since these were the result of a death sentence."
"Vos meilleurs amis ont dû concevoir des inquiétudes" — "Your best friends have been reasonably anxious." (The mistranslation here turns the speech into an insult.)
"Sacro-sainte" — "Sacred and saintly."
"Auriculaire" — "Index."
"N'avez vous pas obtenu tout ce que vous demandiez, et plus que vous ne demandiez, car vous ne m'aviez pas parlé d'argent?" — "Have you not had all and more than you wanted, and there has been no question of remuneration?" (This mistranslation makes nonsense of the whole passage.)
"Eliphas n'etait pas a la question" — "Eliphas was not under cross-examination."
"Mauvais plaisant" — "Vicious jester."
"Si vous n'aviez pas … vous deviendriez" — "If you have not … you may become." (This mistranslation turns a compliment into an insult.)
"An awful and ineffaceable tableaux."
"Peripeties" — "Circumstances."
"Il avait fait partie du clerge de Saint Germain l'Auxerrois" — "He was of the Society of St. Germain l'Auxerrois."
"Bruit de tempete" — "Stormy sound."
We are obliged to mention this matter, as Mr. Waite (by persistent self-assertion) has obtained the reputation of being trustworthy as an editor. On the contrary, he not only mutilates and distorts his authors, but, as demonstrated above, he is totally incapable of understanding their simplest phrases and even their commonest words.
This volume represents the high-water mark of the thought of Eliphas Levi. It may be regarded as written by him as his Thesis for the Grade of Exempt Adept, just as his Ritual and Dogma was his Thesis for the grade of a Major Adept. He is, in fact, no longer talking of things as if their sense was fixed and universal. He is beginning to see something of the contradiction inherent in the nature of things, or at any rate, he constantly illustrates the fact that the planes are to be kept separate for practical purposes, although in the final analysis they turn out to be one. This, and the extraordinarily subtle and delicate irony of which Eliphas Levi is one of the greatest masters that has ever lived, have baffled the pedantry and stupidity of such commentators as Waite. English has hardly a word to express the mental condition of such unfortunates. Dummheit, in its strongest German sense, is about the nearest thing to it. It is as if a geographer should criticize Gulliver's Travels from his own particular standpoint.
When Levi says that all that he asserts as an initiate is subordinate to his humble submissiveness as a Christian, and then not only remarks that the Bible and the Qur'an are different translations of the same book, but treats the Incarnation as an allegory, it is evident that a good deal of submission will be required. When he agrees with St. Augustine that a thing is not just because God wills it, but God wills it because it is just, he sees perfectly well that he is reducing God to a poetic image reflected from his own moral ideal of justice, and no amount of alleged orthodoxy can weigh against that statement. His very defence of the Catholic Hierarchy is a masterpiece of that peculiar form of conscious sophistry which justifies itself by reducing its conclusion to zero. One must begin with one, and that one has no particular qualities. Therefore, so long as you have an authority properly centralized it does not really matter what that authority is. In the Pope we have such an authority ready made, and it is the gravest tactical blunder to endeavour to set up an authority opposed to him. Success in doing so means war, and failure anarchy. This, however, did not prevent Levi from ceremonially casting a papal crown to the ground and crying "Death to tyranny and superstition!" in the bosom of a certain secret Areopagus of which he was the most famous member.
When a man becomes a magician he looks about him for a magical weapon; and, being probably endowed with that human frailty called laziness, he hopes to find a weapon ready made. Thus we find the Christian Magus who imposed his power upon the world taking the existing worships and making a single system combining all their merits. There is no single feature in Christianity which has not been taken bodily from the worship of Isis, or of Mithras, or of Bacchus, or of Adonis, or of Osiris. In modern times again we find Frater Iehi Aour trying to handle Buddhism. Others again have attempted to use Freemasonry. There have been even exceptionally foolish magicians who have tried to use a sword long since rusted.
Wagner illustrates this point very clearly in Siegfried. The Great Sword Nothung has been broken, and it is the only weapon that can destroy the gods. The dwarf Mime tries uselessly to mend it. When Siegfried comes he makes no such error. He melts its fragments and forges a new sword. In spite of the intense labour which this costs, it is the best plan to adopt.
Levi completely failed to capture Catholicism; and his hope of using Imperialism, his endeavour to persuade the Emperor that he was the chosen instrument of the Almighty, a belief which would have enabled him to play Maximus to little Napoleon's Julian, was shattered once for all at Sedan.
It is necessary for the reader to gain this clear conception of Levi's inmost mind, if he is to reconcile the "contradictions" which leave Waite petulant and bewildered. It is the sad privilege of the higher order of mind to be able to see both sides of every question, and to appreciate the fact that both are equally tenable. Such contradictions can, of course, only be reconciled on a higher plane, and this method of harmonizing contradictions is, therefore, the best key to the higher planes.
It seems unnecessary to add anything to these few remarks. This is the only difficulty in the whole book, though in one or two passages Levi's extraordinarily keen sense of humour leads him to indulge in a little harmless bombast. We may instance his remarks on the Grimoire of Honorius.
We have said that this is the masterpiece of Levi. He reaches an exaltation of both thought and language which is equal to that of any other writer known to us. Once it is understood that it is purely a thesis for the Grade of Exempt Adept, the reader should have no further difficulty. — A. C.
On the brink of mystery, the spirit of man is seized with giddiness. Mystery is the abyss which ceaselessly attracts our unquiet curiosity by the terror of its depth.
The greatest mystery of the infinite is the existence of Him for whom alone all is without mystery.
Comprehending the infinite which is essentially incomprehensible, He is Himself that infinite and eternally unfathomable mystery; that is to say, that He is, in all seeming, that supreme absurdity in which Tertullian believed.
Necessarily absurd, since reason must renounce for ever the project of attaining to Him; necessarily credible, since science and reason, far from demonstrating that He does not exist, are dragged by the chariot of fatality to believe that He does exist, and to adore Him themselves with closed eyes.
Why? — Because this Absurd is the infinite source of reason. The light springs eternally from the eternal shadows. Science, that Babel Tower of the spirit, may twist and coil its spirals ever ascending as it will; it may make the earth tremble, it will never touch the sky.
God is He whom we shall eternally learn to know better, and, consequently, He whom we shall never know entirely.
The realm of mystery is, then, a field open to the conquests of the intelligence. March there as boldly as you will, never will you diminish its extent; you will only alter its horizons. To know all is an impossible dream; but woe unto him who dares not to learn all, and who does not know that, in order to know anything, one must learn eternally!
They say that in order to learn anything well, one must forget it several times. The world has followed this method. Everything which is to-day debateable had been solved by the ancients. Before our annals began, their solutions, written in hieroglyphs, had already no longer any meaning for us. A man has rediscovered their key; he has opened the cemeteries of ancient science, and he gives to his century a whole world of forgotten theorems, of syntheses as simple and sublime as nature, radiating always from unity, and multiplying themselves like numbers with proportions so exact, that the known demonstrates and reveals the unknown. To understand this science, is to see God. The author of this book, as he finishes his work, will think that he has demonstrated it.
Then, when you have seen God, the hierophant will say to you: — "Turn round!" and, in the shadow which you throw in the presence of this sun of intelligences, there will appear to you the devil, that black phantom which you see when your gaze is not fixed upon God, and when you think that your shadow fills the sky, — for the vapours of the earth, the higher they go, seem to magnify it more and more.
To harmonize in the category of religion science with revelation and reason with faith, to demonstrate in philosophy the absolute principles which reconcile all the antinomies, and finally to reveal the universal equilibrium of natural forces, is the triple object of this work, which will consequently be divided into three parts.
We shall exhibit true religion with such characters, that no one, believer or unbeliever, can fail to recognize it; that will be the absolute in religion. We shall establish in philosophy the immutable characters of that Truth, which is in science, reality; in judgment, reason; and in ethics, justice. Finally, we shall acquaint you with the laws of Nature, whose equilibrium is stability, and we shall show how vain are the phantasies of our imagination before the fertile realities of movement and of life. We shall also invite the great poets of the future to create once more the divine comedy, no longer according to the dreams of man, but according to the mathematics of God.
Mysteries of other worlds, hidden forces, strange revelations, mysterious illnesses, exceptional faculties, spirits, apparitions, magical paradoxes, hermetic arcana, we shall say all, and we shall explain all. Who has given us this power? We do not fear to reveal it to our readers.
There exists an occult and sacred alphabet which the Hebrews attribute to Enoch, the Egyptians to Thoth or to Hermes Trismegistus, the Greeks to Cadmus and to Palamedes. This alphabet was known to the followers of Pythagoras, and is composed of absolute ideas attached to signs and numbers; by its combinations, it realizes the mathematics of thought. Solomon represented this alphabet by seventy-two names, written upon thirty-six talismans. Eastern initiates still call these the "little keys" or clavicles of Solomon. These keys are described, and their use explained, in a book the source of whose traditional dogma is the patriarch Abraham. This book is called the Sepher Yetzirah; with the aid of the Sepher Yetzirah one can penetrate the hidden sense of the Zohar, the great dogmatic treatise of the Qabalah of the Hebrews. The Clavicles of Solomon, forgotten in the course of time, and supposed lost, have been rediscovered by ourselves; without trouble we have opened all the doors of those old sanctuaries where absolute truth seemed to sleep, — always young, and always beautiful, like that princess of the childish legend, who, during a century of slumber, awaits the bridegroom whose mission it is to awaken her.
After our book, there will still be mysteries, but higher and farther in the infinite depths. This publication is a light or a folly, a mystification or a monument. Read, reflect, and judge.
Thanks be unto thee, O my God, that thou hast called me to this admirable light! Thou, the Supreme Intelligence and the Absolute Life of those numbers and those forces which obey thee in order to people the infinite with inexhaustible creation! Mathematics proves thee, the harmonies of Nature proclaim thee, all forms as they pass by salute thee and adore thee!
Abraham knew thee, Hermes divined thee, Pythagoras calculated thee, Plato, in every dream of his genius, aspired to thee; but only one initiate, only one sage has revealed thee to the children of earth, one alone could say of thee: "I and my Father are one." Glory then be his, since all his glory is thine!
Thou knowest, O my Father, that he who writes these lines has struggled much and suffered much; he has endured poverty, calumny, proscription, prison, the forsaking of those whom he loved: — and yet never did he find himself unhappy, since truth and justice remained to him for consolation!
Thou alone art holy, O God of true hearts and upright souls, and thou knowest if ever I thought myself pure in thy sight! Like all men I have been the plaything of human passions. At last I conquered them, or rather thou has conquered them in me; and thou hast given me for a rest the deep peace of those who have no goal and no ambition but Thyself.
I love humanity, because men, as far as they are not insensate, are never wicked but through error or through weakness. Their natural disposition is to love good, and it is through that love that thou hast given them as a support in all their trials that they must sooner or later be led back to the worship of justice by the love of truth.
Now let my books go where thy Providence shall send them! If they contain the words of thy wisdom they will be stronger than oblivion. If, on the contrary, they contain only errors, I know at least that my love of justice and of truth will survive them, and that thus immortality cannot fail to treasure the aspirations and wishes of my soul hat thou didst create immortal!