MANY paths lead to the mountain-top, and many and diverse are the rifts in the Veil, through which glimpses may be obtained of the secret things of the Universe.
The Abbé Louis Constant, better known by his nom de plume of ÉLIPHAS LÉVI, was doubtless a seer; but, though his studies were by no means confined to this, he saw only through the medium of the kabala, the perfect sense of which is, now-a-days, hidden from all mere kabalists, and his visions were consequently always imperfect and often much distorted and confused.
Moreover, he was for a considerable portion of his career a Roman Catholic priest, and as such had to keep terms, to a certain extent, with his church, and even later, when he was unfrocked, he hesitated to shock the prejudices of the public, and never succeeded in even wholly freeing himself from the bias of his early clerical training. Consequently he not only erred at times in good faith, not only constantly wrote ambiguously to avoid a direct collision with his ecclesiastical chiefs or current creeds, but he not unfrequently put forward Dogmas, which, taken in their obvious straightforward meanings, he certainly did not believe--nay, I may say, certainly knew to be false. It is quite true that, in many of these latter cases, an undercurrent of irony may be discerned by those who know the truth, and that in all the enlightened can sufficiently read between the lines to avoid misconceptions. But these defects, the ineradicable bias of his early training, the very narrow standpoint from which he regarded occultism, and the limitations to free expression imposed on him by his position and temperament, seriously detract
from the value of all Éliphas Lévi's writings.
Still, he was an eloquent and learned man, and sufficiently advanced in occultism to render all he wrote on this subject interesting and more or less valuable to earnest students of the Mysteries; and I have, therefore, thought that fellow-searchers for the Hidden Truth would be well pleased to obtain access to some important and hitherto unpublished writings of this great kabalist.
Hence this translation, which, although absolutely without pretensions to literary merit, yet does, I hope and believe, everywhere fully and faithfully reproduce the obvious meanings of the author, leaving, in all cases, where this is so in the original, an inner meaning discernible by those who KNOW. If in many places the language appears constrained and awkward, this has arisen from the necessity of preserving intact the exoteric and esoteric meanings, which our author so loved to combine in his epigrammatic sentences.
An eminent occultist, E. O., had added a few notes to the MSS. before it reached my hands, and these, which I have reproduced (though some of them will seem scarcely relevant to the uninitiated), merit the most careful attention. I too have here and there ventured a few remarks, which must be taken for what they are worth. I do not always agree with E. O., and, though perfectly aware that my opinion is as nothing when opposed to his, I did not think it honest to reproduce remarks, which I could not concur in, without recording my dissent.
For the rest, any reader who, interested in these Paradoxes, yet feels uncertain at their conclusion that he has fully grasped the author's meaning and desires to know more of this, may with advantage study Éliphas Lévi's other works, viz.--
DOGME ET RITUEL DE LA HAUTE MAGIE.
HISTOIRE DE LA MAGIE.
LA CLEF DES GRANDS MYSTÈRES.
LA SCIENCE DES ÉSPRITS.
LE SORCIER DE MEUDON.
FABLES ET SYMBOLES.
Each one of these amongst, it must be admitted, a mass of irrelevant and I had almost said trashy matter, redeemed only by a grace of style necessarily lost in any translation, throws some light upon each one of the others; and no one with any natural capacity for occultism can study these carefully, along with what is now published, without clearly apprehending our author's views. These, however limited and imperfect, were yet, to a great extent and so far as they went, correct, and were moreover, if nothing else, far in advance of most existing and accepted exoteric cosmogonies, theogonies and religions.
One word more: Occultism has its Physics and Metaphysics, its practical and theoretical sides. Éliphas Lévi was a theorist and, if we may judge from the nonsense given in great detail in his RITUEL DE LA HAUTE MAGIE, profoundly ignorant of its practice. Of the Physics of Occultism nothing of any great value can be gathered by the uninitiated from his pages, though reproducing, apparently without by any means fully comprehending them, phrases and ideas from the older Hermetic works; secrets, even pertaining to this branch, lie buried, like mutilated torsos, in his writings. But where the Metaphysics of Occultism are concerned his works are often encrusted with real jewels that would shine out far more clearly into the soul of the uninitiated but for his persistent habit of laying on everywhere coats of Roman
[paragraph continues] Catholic and orthodox whitewash, partly in his earlier days to avert the antagonism of the church, partly to avoid shocking the religious prejudices of his readers, and partly I suspect, because to the last some flavour of those prejudices clung even to his own mind.
To those then who desire to acquire proficiency in Practical Occultism, who crave long life, gifts and powers, and a knowledge of the hidden things and laws of the universe, a study of Éliphas Lévi's books would be almost time wasted. Let them seek elsewhere for what they want, and if they seek in earnest they will surely find it.
But by those who, careless of such things, desire only to grapple with and assimilate the highest and ultimate TRUTHS of Occultism more may perhaps be gleaned from his pages by thoughtful study, than from those of any writer, past or present, whose works are readily accessible to the world.
To such seekers I say, study Éliphas Lévi's works as a whole and ponder over them. Doubtless they are encumbered by a mass of what, but for the elegance of the diction, would deserve to be set down as twaddle. Doubtless our Abbé was a true Frenchman, often aiming more at felicity of expression and neatness of antithesis than at the simple truth, and ever ready to jump from the sublimest spiritual truth to some cynical mundane jest by no means always in the best possible taste. Doubtless too he perpetually wastes time (for most modern readers) in slaying over again the already defunct bugbears, bogies and monsters of the Roman Catholic Church.
But none the less had he much real occult learning, and this, though in a purposely bewildering, inconsecutive and incoherent form, he put piecemeal on record in his various works.
Truly, though wrapped by his eloquence in cloth of gold, not an inviting heap! Yet, despite the mass of shells and sand and ancient fishy odours, the pearls are there for those who truly seek. A hint in one work, a bantering falsehood in one passage, will explain veiled truths in others; to those who strive hard to grasp them his real meanings will become clear; and though the labour be considerable and the results, even when obtained, imperfect and requiring to be supplemented elsewhere, the trouble will not have been wasted; and those who have advanced thus far will assuredly find unexpected help in completing their task.