Eliphas Levi’s Biography

Eliphas Levi's Biography

Eliphas Lévi is the pseudonym of Alphonse Louis Constant who was born in Paris on February 8 1810.

His parents, he wrote later, were good and poor people who were proud of their son’s natural gifts and were invited to let him be brought up in a seminary and so educated at no cost. Thus at the age of 15 he started at the Petit Séminaire de Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet to complete his classical studies. This marked the end of family life. Subsequently he entered the Grand Séminaire de Saint Sulpice where he studied theology.

It looked as if his future was laid out before him, but his profound nature said otherwise. As a sub-deacon in 1833 he was responsible for catechism. One could say that his awakening to love began with the young Adèle Allenbach. He became a deacon in 1835 and in 1836, one week before entering the priesthood, Abbot Constant decided to leave the priestly path which, given his abilities, could have led him to high rank, as one of his friends was to say at his funeral. Nonetheless, all his life he would display the spirit of charity taught by the church, just as he would continue to search for truth through the marriage of faith with science.

In leaving the seminary he was to feel the wrath of his superiors, while at the same time crossing over to a civil life for which he was not prepared and which would prove hard and painful. His fatherly attitude with regard to Adèle led him to write later “The young girl simply called me little father, and I called her my little girl”.

At the age of 32 he met two young girls who were friends, Eugénie C and Noémie Cadiot. Despite his preference for Eugenie he also fell under the spell of Noémie whom he was obliged to marry in 1846 in order to avoid a confrontation with the girl’s father. Seven years later Noémie ran away from the marital home to join the marquis of Montferriet and in 1865 the marriage was annulled. Several children issued from this marriage, in particular twins who died shortly after birth. None of these children reached adult age, little Marie for example, who died when she was seven. Lévi had an illegitimate son with Eugénie C, born 29 September 1846, but the child never bore Lévi’s name. However he did know his father, who saw that he was educated. We know from reliable sources that the descendants of this son are living among us in France today.

Eliphas Lévi died at 2 o’clock on the afternoon of 31 March 1875. He was buried in the cemetery at Ivry after a religious service at the church of Saint François Xavier, on the Boulevard des Invalides.

Eliphas Lévi studied and wrote all his life. At the age of 20 he was already a poet. He published some 40 works in his lifetime, excluding the articles and songs that he circulated through various journals and reviews. His talents included not only those of journalist and literary critic (he set up his own newspaper in 1848) but also illustrator and painter.

His start in life outside the monastery was very difficult and marked by deprivation. He fought against extreme poverty by working as a tutor in a Paris boarding school where he exploited his gifts as an artist. His meeting with Flora Tristan in 1838 was to have a significant influence on his social, political and artistic life. In 1839 he was afflicted by a new crisis of conscience and he hesitated between his past and his future. In the end he chose the Abbey of Solesmes and returned to the hold of monastic life. But he was unable to settle to the discipline and soon left to return to Paris where he wrote The Bible of Liberty (la Bible de la Liberté) which resulted in his being thrown in prison in August 1841. He was not released until April 1842. He returned to prison again from February to August 1847 following the publication of his book The Voice of Famine (la Voix de la famine).

In 1844 he laid the cassock aside for good and embarked on the study of esotericism. Then he started to learn about the Kabbalah and gave up politics in order to devote himself to the occult sciences. In 1854 he changed his name and his works were no longer signed Abbot Constant, but Eliphas Lévi. It is at this time that he wrote The Dogma and Ritual of High Magic (Dogme et rituel de haute magie) in 1855, The History of Magic (Histoire de la magie) in 1860, The Mysteries of the Kabbalah and The Key to the Great Mysteries (Les Mystères de la kabbale and La Clef des grands mystères) in 1861, Fables and Symbols (Fables et symbols) in 1862 and The Science of Spirits (la Science des esprits) in 1862. In 1868 he completed the first two parts of The Great Arcana (Grand arcane) as well as The Major Key and the Clavicle of Solomon (Clef Majeure et Clavicules de Salomon). In 1870 Doorways to the Future (les Portes de l’avenir) appeared, in 1873 The Religion of Science (La Religion de la science), The Wisdom of the Ancients and The Book of Abraham the Jew (La Sagesse des anciens, Le Livre d’Abraham le juif) in 1874. In 1875 he completed The Catechism of Peace (Le Catéchisme de la paix).

Lévi often wrote in the cold and by the light of a tallow candle, recalling the conditions of the time. But his activities were not limited to writing. He also taught many students, either face to face or by correspondence, notably the Baron de Spedalieri.

Today he is recognized as a great occultist. He shook up nineteenth century thinking and remains an authority except, it must be said, in the minds of some unenlightened people. His intelligence and knowledge associated with the force of his character got the better of his detractors. Thanks to his well-meaning nature he was able to fight against the errors perpetuated at the time, lighting the world with a measured rationality fed by science and faith. It is true he was unable to avoid a multiplicity of hardships, but isn’t this often the case with the Great Men who have marked the evolution of humanity? For Eliphas Lévi, poet, artist and mage, is indeed one of our Great Men!

Taken from Buisset Christiane, Eliphas Lévi : His Life, His Work, His Thought, published by de la Maisnie, out of print (Eliphas Lévi: sa vie, son œuvre, ses pensées).

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