Constant, Alphonse Louis
As the great synthesizer of the Western Magical traditions, Lévi was a pivotal figure in the development of the occult Tarot. Lévi insisted that Tarot was “the universal key of magical works” and posited specific connections between Tarot, Qabalah, and the Alchemical elements that persist to this day: He was the first person to link the numbered cards to the 10 Sephiroth, to connect the four suits to the four worlds and four elements, and to identify the Bataleur with the Hebrew letter Aleph. His system of correspondences had enormous impact on the theories of the Golden Dawn.
(from A Wicked Pack of Cards by Ronald Decker, Thierry Depaulis, Michael Dummett)
- "Lévi is the true founder of most contemporary schools of Tarot reading" ...Occultism was "in a moribund condition when Lévi started to revivify it by his books about it. The astonishing fact is that his work formed the narrow channel through which the whole Western tradition of magic flowed to the modern era... Lévi completed the task, begun in the Renaissance, of synthesizing the various ingredients of the Western tradition of magic; it was he who finally made it a single tradition." And he tied it all, "the Qabala, alchemy, Hermetism, astrology, magnetism and even a little black magic from the grimoires", to Tarot. This was the real founding of modern occult Tarot. "The students of occult science in the Renaissance would have been astonished to see that pack of cards elevated to the rank of a fundamental source of magical imagery and doctrine."
Eliphas Lévi, born Alphonse Louis Constant, (February 8, 1810 - May 31, 1875) was a French author and magician.
"Eliphas Lévi," the name under which he published his books, was his attempt to translate or transliterate his given names "Alphonse Louis" into Hebrew.
Lévi was the son of a shoemaker in Paris and spent most of his life in modest financial straights; In 1825, when he was 15, he entered the Seminary of St. Sulpice and began to study to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood. In 1835 he was ordained a deacon, but fell in love with a young woman in his parish. Though the relationship was unconsummated, he left seminary before becoming a priest. In 1824, Charles Nodier had been named Chief Archivist of the Arsenal Library in Paris (then famous for its esoteric holdings), becoming a promoter the budding French Romanticists (of which Lévi wanted to become a part) and the French Occult Revival which Lévi would eventually spearhead.
After leaving seminary, Lévi wrote a number of minor religious works: Des Moeurs et des Doctrines du Rationalisme en France ("Of the Moral Customs and Doctrines of Rationalism in France", 1839) was a tract within the cultural stream of the Counter-Enlightenment. La Mère de Dieu ("The Mother of God", 1844) followed and, after leaving the seminary, two radical tracts, L'Evangile du Peuple ("The Gospel of the People," 1840, and Le Testament de la Liberté ("The Testament of Liberty", published in the year of revolutions, 1848, led to two brief prison sentences.
After his release, Lévi met and was magically initiated by Polish expatriate, mathematician, and Qabalist Josef-Marie Hoene-Wronski whose work and zeal would have enormous impact on the development of Lévi's ideas.. In 1854, Lévi visited England, where he met the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who was interested in Rosicrucianism as a literary theme and was the president of a minor Rosicrucian order. With Bulwer-Lytton, Lévi conceived the notion of writing a treatise on magic. This appeared in 1855 under the title Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, and was translated into English by Arthur Edward Waite as Transcendental Magic, it Doctrine and Ritual. It 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 marvellous 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. (Introduction)
In 1861, he published a sequel, La Clef des Grandes Mystères (The Key to the Great Mysteries). Further magical works by Lévi include Fables et Symboles (Stories and Images), 1862, and La Science des Esprits (The Science of Spirits), 1865. In 1868, he wrote Le Grand Arcane, ou l'Occultisme Dévoilé (The Great Secret, or Occultism Unveiled); this, however, was only published posthumously in 1898.
Lévi's version of magic became a great success, especially after his death. The Spiritualism fad was popular on both sides of the Atlantic from the 1850s and contributed to his success. His magical teachings were free from obvious fanaticisms, even if they remained rather murky; he had nothing to sell, and did not pretend to be the inititate of some ancient or fictitious secret society. In fact his insistence on theory over practial Magic prevented him from reaping the finnancial rewards that charlatans raked in all around him. He died nearly penniless in 1871.
Lévi's incorporation of Tarot cards into his magical system guaranteed Tarot a place of central importance in the paraphernalia of Western magicians. He had a deep impact on the magic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and it was largely through this impact that Lévi is remembered as one of the key founders of the twentieth century revival of magic.
Only partial deck designed, VII Chariot, X Wheel of Fortune and XV Devil published in books listed below
- Histoire de la magie avec une exposition claire et précise de ses procédés, de ses rites et de ses mystères 1856 Paris : G. Baillière ; Londres et New-York : H. Baillière ; Madrid : Ch. Bailly-Ballière,
- Key to the Great Mysteries, 18??, (19?? [ISBN ]
- Le Grand Arcane, ou L'occultisme dévoiléaka L'occultisme dévoilé,1898 Paris : Chamuel
- Transcendental Magic, 1855 [check date - note orig. two books] (English translation by Waite 19?? [ISBN ])
Title, publication, place, year [ISBN 999999]