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Éliphas Lévi

08/04/2012 at 11:50 AM

Tags the hermetic tradition 19th century cartomancy french kabbalah history 1810

Éliphas Lévi Zahed (1810-1875)
Éliphas Lévi Zahed (1810-1875)
Alphonse Louis Constant (a.k.a. Éliphas Lévi Zahed) was a famous French occultist and kabbalist who revolutionized the field of cartomancy. Had it not been for Lévi, the theories of Court de Gebelin might never have become popular.

Lévi was born in 1810 in Paris, the son of a poor shoemaker. He was considered clever and precocious, even by his neighbors. Although he received no education as a child, his intelligence was so clear that his local priest was able to obtain for him an education at the Seminary of Saint Sulpice in Paris. While training for the priesthood, he learned Latin, Greek, and ancient Hebrew, setting himself on the path of Kabbalism without realizing it. Early on, Lévi had some trouble accepting the dogma of the Church:

Before his last vows were taken he was sent as a punishment to an old out-of-the-way monastery, it having been discovered that he had on several occasions, while preaching in some country villages, given expression to opinions which were not considered consistent with the Catholic faith. He was kept a prisoner in this monastery for some months. His food was very scanty, consisting of little more than bread and water. He had a large room allotted to him on the ground floor; the roof was vaulted, bare cold stones formed the floor, and the furniture consisted of a pallet bed, one chair, and a table.

This part of the monastery was said to be haunted, and he once related a very curious anecdote in connection with it. One night being in the dark (for he was not allowed a light), he heard sounds as if an immense number of people were marching across the end of the room; they seemed to come in at one door and go out at another, though in the day-time he had never found any second mode of ingress or egress.

After passing many agitated and unpleasant hours, he slept, and on awakening towards dawn saw the figure of a monk sitting by his side. He was startled, thinking it was a ghost, when the apparition said to him, 'Do not fear; I am not a denizen of the other world, but a real living man.' This monk proved a good friend to him, for from that day he was better treated, received sufficient food, was given a smaller and more comfortable room, and had even books lent to him, and writing materials placed at his disposal.

Madame Gebhard (É. Lévi: The mysteries of magic: a digest of the writings of Eliphas Lévi [pseud.]. G. Redway, 1886.)

Lévi published several religious works during his time in the priesthood, and continued to publish after two brief imprisonments in 1848. At some point he left the priesthood and eloped with a beautiful sixteen year old girl named Madeline, whose parents objected to the union at first but eventually came around, but "the union was unfortunately not a happy one; they lost their two children at an early age, and one morning Eliphas woke up to find that his wife had left him for ever. He sought consolation in books, and gave himself up altogether to the occult"(É. Lévi: The mysteries of magic: a digest of the writings of Eliphas Lévi [pseud.]. G. Redway, 1886.)