The pseudonym for Alphonse Louis Constant, a French occultist who is credited for reviving interest in magic in the 19th century. Although Levi studied magic, he was considered to be more of a commentator on the subject than an adept even though he professed to have practiced necromancy several times.
Being born in Paris, Constant was the son of a shoemaker. He showed intelligence and was educated at the church of St. Sulpice.As a young boy he quickly became intrigued with magic and the occult. Also encouraging this curiosity was his head master’s concept of animal magnetism, in which the man claimed that the vital energy of the body was controlled by the Devil. Nonetheless, Constant pursued the ecclesiastical studies and became a priest.
His career in the priesthood was short lived because of his left-winged political writings and he found it impossible to keep his vow of chastity. For his writings he served three short jail sentences.
He was quickly attracted to an eccentric, old man named Ganneau, who said he was a prophet and the reincarnation of Louis XVII. Ganneau’s was claimed she was the reincarnation of Marie Anntoinette. Constant became a follower of Ganneau and was drawn deeper into the worlds of magic and the occult.
He married Noemie Cadot, no older that 18, in 1846. The one daughter from the married died very young. The marriage broke up in 1853 and was annulled in 1865.
For a time Constant lived from his writings and giving lessons in the occult. It was during this time he took the name of Magus Eliphas Levi, the Hebrew equivalents of his first and middle names.
His first attempt at practicing necromancy came during a trip to London in 1854. A mysterious woman, claiming to be an adept, asked him to conjure the spirit of Apollonius of Tyana, a great, ancient magician. Agreeing to try the conjuration Levi went about his preparations which included two weeks on a vegetarian diet, a week of fasting, which included meditation about Apollonius and imagining having conversations with him.
When feeling himself ready for the ritual, he dawn white robes and entered his magic chamber that had mirrors on the walls. He placed a table covered with white lambskin in the center of this room. On the table he placed two metal bowls in which he lit fires. Then he began his incantations which lasted for twelve hours.
Levi gave a description of the ritual. He progressively grew colder as he proceeded deeper into the ritual. After some twelve hours the floor beneath him began to shake. He saw an apparition in one of the mirrors. He asked the ghost to appear. On his third request a grayish spirit appeared in front of him, thin and sad and wrapped from head to foot in a gray shroud. Levi was frightened and felt extremely cold. The apparition touched Levi’s ritual sword causing his arm to suddenly go numb. Levi dropped the sword and lost consciousness.
As Levi related his arm was sore for days after the event. He never vocally asked his questions. They were fixed in his mind and the apparition answered them telepathically. The answers, he revealed were “death” and “dead,” but Levi never disclosed the questions. Levi remained unconvinced that he conjured Apollonius in that particular ritual, but in other rituals claimed he conjured Apollonius several times.
Levi’s writings have been appraised as being highly imaginative but not very accurate. His first and probably most important work was The Dogma and Ritual of High Magic. It was followed by A History of Magic, Transcendental Magic, The Key of Great Mysteries, and other occult books.
The imaginative criticism arose from the fact that Levi “believed in the existence of a universal `secret doctrine’ of magic throughout history, everywhere in the world.”
In The Dogma, Levi devoted 22 chapters to the 22 trump cards, or Major Arcana, of the tarot
. He linked each to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and to aspects of God. Some experts called this a significant endeavor while others claimed it to be ignorant.
Levi also proclaimed a theory of astral light based on his belief in animal magnetism. In his theory, astral light was similar to either, a fluidic life force that fills all space and living beings. This concept was not original but held by others in the 19th century. Levi stated, “To control the astral light was to control all things; a skilled magician’s will was limitless in power.”
Levi stated he was influenced by an earlier writer and occultist Francis Barrettt. In turn he influenced another writer and occultist Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, with whom he visited in London in 1861. Bulwer-Lytton wrote The Last Days of Pompeii and other occult books helping to make magic fashionable to the last of the 19th century. They both became members of an occult group, which perhaps Bulwer-Lyttom may have organized, that studied scrying, magic, astrology, and mesmerism.
Until his death Levi made his living from his occult writings and lessons that he taught. In his popularity he drew a cult following, influencing others to write their own books.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded in London in1888, adopted much of Levi’s magic. Aliester Crowley, a former member, was born the year that Levi died and claimed to be the reincarnation of Levi. A.G.H.