The Great Secret
or Occultism Unveiled
by Eliphas Lévi
This treatise needs neither introduction nor preface. The author's previous works are more than sufficient to serve as both preface and introduction.
Here is the last word on occultism and it is written as clearly as it has been possible for us to write it.
Ought this volume to be published? Can it be published? We have borne these questions in mind while writing it; but we believed that we should and could write it.
If real initiates are still to be found somewhere in the world, it is for them we have written it, and to them alone belongs the right to judge us.
Magnetism is a force analogous to that of the ordinary magnet, and permeates the whole of nature.
Its characteristics are: attraction, repulsion and a balanced polarization.
Science takes account of celestial and mineral magnetism. Animal magnetism is exhibited daily in facts which science is unable to deny; but it regards them with mistrust, and rightly waits to admit them whenever analysis can be supplemented by an incontrovertible synthesis.
These strange but incontestable facts lead us to the necessary conclusion that there is a common life shared by all souls; or at least a common mirror for every imagination and every memory, in which it is possible for us to gaze at one another like a crowd of people standing before a glass.
This reflector is the odic light of Baron Reichenbach, which we call the astral light, and is the great agency of life termed od, ob and aour by the Hebrews.
The magnetism controlled by the will of the operator is Od;that of passive clairvoyance is Ob: the pythonesses of antiquity were clairvoyantes intoxicated with the passive astral light. This light is called the spirit of Python in our holy books, because in Greek mythology the serpent Python is its allegorical representative.
In its double action, it is also represented by the serpent of the caduceus: the right-hand serpent is Od, the one on the left is Ob and, in the middle, at the top of the hermetic staff, shines the golden globe which represents Aour, or light in equilibrium.
Od represents life governed by free choice, Ob represents life ruled by fate. This is why the Hebrew Law-giver said: 'Woe to those who divine by Ob, because they evoke fate, which is an offence against the providence of God and the liberty of man.
These two antagonistic serpents really stand for those contrary forces which may be connected but never confused. Hermes' sceptre, while keeping them apart, also reconciles them, and even unites them in a way; and this is how, under the penetrating eyes of science, harmony arises from the analogy of contraries.
Necessity and Liberty, these are the two great laws of life; and properly speaking these two laws only make one, because they are both indispensable.
Necessity without liberty would be fatal, even as liberty without its necessary curb would go insane. Privilege without obligation is folly, and obligation without privilege is slavery.
The whole secret of magnetism lies here: to rule the fatality of the ob by intelligence and the power of the od so as to create the perfect balance of aour.
When an unbalanced magnetizer, who has been made the slave of fate by the passions that master him, tries to operate on the light of fate, he is like a blindfold man on a blind horse, endeavouring to spur it into a gallop in a forest full of winding tracks and cliff-edges.
The fortune-tellers, the card-readers, the clairvoyants are all of them the subjects of hallucination who make their predictions by ob.
The two magnetic lights may be called one the living light and the other the dead light, one the astral fluid and the other the spectral phosphorus, one the torch of discourse and the other the smoke of dreams.
To magnetize without danger, it is essential to have within oneself the light of life, that is to say it is necessary to be wise and righteous.
The individuals and masses who are not governed by reason are the slaves of fate; fate makes public opinion and opinion is queen of the world.
Men want to be dominated, tranquillized and led away. The major cravings seem more beautiful to them than virtues do, and those whom they call great men are often the big fools.
The fools then are magnetizers or rather fascinators, and this is what makes their folly contagious. Because they have failed to measure true greatness, people get taken up with what is exotic.
A distaste for realities always goes with a love of dreams: Quam sordet tellus dum coelum aspicio! said a famous mystic. This means literally: How sordid the earth becomes when I look at the sky! How so; does your nurse, the earth, get dirty when your gaze loses itself in space? What is the earth then, if she is not a heavenly body? Perhaps she is dirty because she has to carry you around with her? No doubt if you were transported to the sun, the sun would soon appear tarnished to your finicky eye! Would the sky be a better place if it were empty? Isn't it just the point that it is so wonderful to look at because it lights up the earth by day and, in the night, shines with a countless multitude of earths and suns? What, the splended earth, the earth of immense oceans, the earth so full of trees and flowers becomes filth to you because you want to be launched into space? Believe me, you do not need to travel far for that: the void is in your spirit and in your heart!
True love, natural love, is the miracle of magnetism. It is the intertwining of the two serpents of the caduceus. Its generation looks fated, but it is brought into being by the supreme reason which produces it according to natural laws. It is fabled that Tiresias incurred the wrath of Venus for separating two serpents who were copulating, and became a hermaphrodite: which neutralized his sexual potency; then the angry goddess struck him again, blinding him, because he had claimed for the woman that which was mainly the right of the man. Tiresias was a soothsayer who prophesied by means of the dead light. His predictions, too, announced misfortunes, and always seemed to be caused by misfortunes. This allegory sums up the entire philosophy of magnetism which we have just revealed.
Wisdom, morality, virtue: these are respectable words, but also vague ones; and they have been the subjects of dispute for centuries without there being any agreement on them!
I wish to be wise, but shall I remain certain of my wisdom as long as I suspect that fools are happier or even more jolly than I am?
Morality is essential; but we are all a little like children, and moralizing makes us yawn. This is because people 'try to stuff us with stupid morals which are not adapted to our nature. People lecture us on things which have nothing to do with us, and our minds wander.
Virtue is a fine thing: its name really means force, power. The world is upheld by the virtue of God. But in what does virtue consist for us? Is it a virtue to fast so as to weaken the head and emaciate the face? Shall we say that virtue is the simplicity of the worthy man who lets himself be robbed by thieves? Is abstinence for the sake of avoiding abuse a virtue? What would you think of a man who refused to walk for fear of breaking a leg? Whichever way you look at it, virtue is opposed to slackness, lethargy and impotence.
Virtue presupposes action; for the reason why is is usually contrasted with our passions is to make it clear that it is never something passive.
Not only is virtue strength, it is the governing reason behind strength. It is the equilibrant of life.
The great secret of virtue, virtuality and life, whether temporal or eternal, may be formulated thus:
The art of balancing forces so as to keep movement in equilibrium.
The equilibrium we are looking for is not that which produces immobility, but that which regulates movement. For immobility is death, and movement is life.
The will is the practical realizer: we can do everything which we believe is a reasonable project.
In his own sphere of action, man is the image of the all-powerful God; he is able both to create and to transform.
His first task is to exercise this power on himself. When he enters the world, his faculties are a chaos, the darkness of his intellect covers the abyss of his heart, and his spirit is poised in uncertainty as if it were swept here and there by the waves.
He has been endowed with reason, but this reason is still passive and it is up to him to rouse it into activity; to let his face shine in the midst of the waves and cry: let there be light!
He develops a rational mind, he develops a conscience, he develops a heart. The divine law will express just what he has been doing, and the whole of nature will become for him exactly what he would like it to be.
Eternity will enter and remain in his memory. He will say to spirit: be matter, and to matter: be spirit, and spirit and matter will obey him!
All substance is modified by action, all action is controlled by spirit, all spirit is controlled conformably to the will, and all will is decided by some reason.
The reality of things is in their reason for existing, and this reason for things is the principle of that which is.
There is nothing other than force and matter, say the atheists. They might just as well declare that books are nothing more than paper and ink.
Matter is the adjunct of the spirit; without the spirit it would have no reason to exist, and it would not exist.
Matter is changed into spirit by the agency of our senses, and this transformation, perceptible only to our souls, is the thing we call pleasure.
Pleasure is the sensation of a divine action. Letting it thrive creates life and transforms dead compounds into living substances in the most marvellous manner.
Why does nature draw the two sexes together with so much rapture and intoxication? Because she invites them to the great work par excellence, the work of eternal fruitfulness.
What talk is that about the joys of the flesh? The flesh has neither griefs nor joys: it is but a passive instrument. Our nerves are the violin strings with which nature makes us hear and feel the music of sensual delight; and all the joys of life, even those which are most spoilt, are the exclusive share of the soul.
What is beauty, if not the imprint of spirit on matter? Does the body of the Venus de Milo need to be flesh to enchant our eyes and inflame our thoughts?