Italian version

Alphonse Louis Constant (1810-1875), a French poet and esotericist, devoted himself to the practice of magic as a spiritual path and the Tarot study in an esoteric key.

He was born in Paris to a family whose father practised the profession of a shoemaker. In 1832 he entered the seminary of Saint Sulpice, where he was ordained a deacon and later, in 1835, a cleric.

In 1836 he declined clerical ordination and left the seminary. The decision was motivated by doubts and doctrinal scholarships and the growth of a Platonic sentiment towards one of his pupils in the catechism course, Adèle Allenbach, as he wrote about it in his book [1].

Shortly after this decision, his widowed mother committed suicide.

As a result of these events, Constant found himself in economic difficulties; he worked for a short time as an actor and then, in 1839, he decided to undertake the monastic path at the Benedictine abbey of Solesmes, but he could not keep its discipline. Abandoned monastic life, he met a mystic and sculptor of socialist sympathies, Simon Ganneau [2]; his influence led him to write, in 1841, a politically radical pamphlet, La Bible de la Liberté (The Bible of Liberty), judged so subversive that he deserved an eight-month sentence in prison.

After serving his sentence, Constant worked as an artist and later as an assistant to the diocese of Evreux. When his disputed literary authorship became known, he was forced to leave the diocese. The beginning of his tormented love life dates back to this period.

In 1842 he met two young women, Eugénie C (her surname remains unknown) and Noémie Cadiot. Despite his preferences for Eugénie, with whom he had an affair, in 1846 he married (or was forced to marry by the girl’s father) the sixteen-year-old Noémie; they had several children, but none of them reached adulthood; their marriage ended after seven years. It is also said that he had an illegitimate son by Eugénie, never recognised.

In the meantime, he continued to practice as a writer. His relentless polemic against the government brought him a further six months in prison. After serving his sentence, he published another critical text entitled Le Testament de la Liberté (The Testament of Liberty). In 1850 he went through a tremendous financial and spiritual crisis, which probably provided him with the opportunity to approach esoteric and occult themes. The political events of the time, the July revolution of 1848, which ended the monarchy of Louis Philippe and the advent of Napoleon III’s Second Empire in 1851, convinced him that the people were not capable of self-determination. It seemed to him that the only solution was to form a spiritual élite under the aegis of a universal religion.

In 1851 Constant met the famous Polish mathematician and occultist Hoene-Wroński [3], who fed the flame of occultism in him. He began to study magic and be passionate about it; the use of Éliphas Lévi as nom de plume, described as the Hebrew form of his name, dates back to this time. His seminal work on esoteric subjects, Dogme and Rituel de Haute Magie (Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual), published in two volumes between 1854 and 1855, became so popular that it warranted many reprints. He considered magic not in its goetic form [4] but as an absolute combination of science and religion capable of uniting all faiths to reconstruct a circle of initiates.

In 1854, the year following his separation from his wife, Lévi went to London to meet the local esotericists. Here, according to his account, the invocation in the physical form of Apollonius of Tyana [5] took place. After much preparation and putting on the magical robes, he entered a room adorned like a temple, and after the invocation, Apollonius in his physical form manifested, giving credit to his words. He successfully repeated the invocation two more times; no one attended the ceremony.

A further contribution to esoteric thought’s diffusion came from his synthesis on the Tarot, considered a universal key of the magical work and a real philosophical machine; he integrated the Tarot with the Kabbalah and the Four Elements.

After the Transcendental Magic publication, he lived a reasonably comfortable life, writing other books on aspects of occultism, among which Histoire de la Magie (History of Magic), published in 1860, should be mentioned.

In recent years, his health deteriorated, and he was again reduced to poverty, but one of his pupils saved him from complete ruin. In May 1875, his conditions suddenly declined, and he accepted, before dying, the Catholic Church’s sacraments.

Éliphas Lévi’s participation in the study of occultism and the Tarot was significant; in particular, he changed the approach to magic, making it an instrument for channelling the will and the realisation of the integral human being. Of course, some of his statements can lead to discussion, and his sometimes sensational tone can cause disaffection. But we cannot deny the contribution he made to the rehabilitation of magic and the Tarot study in integration with the Kabbalah among Western esotericists.