The Key of the Mysteries

(La Clef des Grands Mystères)

Eliphas Levi


"Religion says: — 'Believe and you will understand.' Science comes to say to you: — 'Understand and you will believe.'

"At that moment the whole of science will change front; the spirit, so long dethroned and forgotten, will take its ancient place; it will be demonstrated that the old traditions are all true, that the whole of paganism is only a system of corrupted and misplaced truths, that it is sufficient to cleanse them, so to say, and to put them back again in their place, to see them shine with all their rays. In a word, all ideas will change, and since on all sides a multitude of the elect cry in concert, 'Come, Lord, come!' why should you blame the men who throw themselves forward into that majestic future, and pride themselves on having foreseen it?"
 —  J. De Maistre, Soirées de St. Petersbourg.

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In the biographical and critical essay which Mr. Waite prefixes to his Mysteries of Magic he says: "A word must be added of the method of this digest, which claims to be something more than translation and has been infinitely more laborious. I believe it to be in all respects faithful, and where it has been necessary or possible for it to be literal, there also it is invariably literal."

We agree that it is either more or less than translation, and the following examples selected at hazard in the course of half-an-hour will enable the reader to judge whether Mr. Waite is acquainted with either French or English:

"Gentilhomme" — "Gentleman."

"The nameless vice which was reproached against the Templars."

"Certaines circonstances ridicules et un proces en escroquerie" — "Certain ridiculous processes and a swindling lawsuit."

"Se mêle de dogmatiser" — "Meddles with dogmatism."

"La vie pour lui suffisait à l'expiation des plus grands crimes, puis qu'elle etait la consequence d'un arrêt de mort" — "According to him life was sufficient for the greatest crimes, since these were the result of a death sentence."

"Vos meilleurs amis ont dû concevoir des inquiétudes" — "Your best friends have been reasonably anxious." (The mistranslation here turns the speech into an insult.)

"Sacro-sainte" — "Sacred and saintly."

"Auriculaire" — "Index."

"N'avez vous pas obtenu tout ce que vous demandiez, et plus que vous ne demandiez, car vous ne m'aviez pas parlé d'argent?" — "Have you not had all and more than you wanted, and there has been no question of remuneration?" (This mistranslation makes nonsense of the whole passage.)

"Eliphas n'etait pas a la question" — "Eliphas was not under cross-examination."

"Mauvais plaisant" — "Vicious jester."

"Si vous n'aviez pas … vous deviendriez" — "If you have not … you may become." (This mistranslation turns a compliment into an insult.)

"An awful and ineffaceable tableaux."

"Peripeties" — "Circumstances."

"Il avait fait partie du clerge de Saint Germain l'Auxerrois" — "He was of the Society of St. Germain l'Auxerrois."

"Bruit de tempete" — "Stormy sound."

We are obliged to mention this matter, as Mr. Waite (by persistent self-assertion) has obtained the reputation of being trustworthy as an editor. On the contrary, he not only mutilates and distorts his authors, but, as demonstrated above, he is totally incapable of understanding their simplest phrases and even their commonest words.


This volume represents the high-water mark of the thought of Eliphas Levi. It may be regarded as written by him as his Thesis for the Grade of Exempt Adept, just as his Ritual and Dogma was his Thesis for the grade of a Major Adept. He is, in fact, no longer talking of things as if their sense was fixed and universal. He is beginning to see something of the contradiction inherent in the nature of things, or at any rate, he constantly illustrates the fact that the planes are to be kept separate for practical purposes, although in the final analysis they turn out to be one. This, and the extraordinarily subtle and delicate irony of which Eliphas Levi is one of the greatest masters that has ever lived, have baffled the pedantry and stupidity of such commentators as Waite. English has hardly a word to express the mental condition of such unfortunates. Dummheit, in its strongest German sense, is about the nearest thing to it. It is as if a geographer should criticize Gulliver's Travels from his own particular standpoint.

When Levi says that all that he asserts as an initiate is subordinate to his humble submissiveness as a Christian, and then not only remarks that the Bible and the Qur'an are different translations of the same book, but treats the Incarnation as an allegory, it is evident that a good deal of submission will be required. When he agrees with St. Augustine that a thing is not just because God wills it, but God wills it because it is just, he sees perfectly well that he is reducing God to a poetic image reflected from his own moral ideal of justice, and no amount of alleged orthodoxy can weigh against that statement. His very defence of the Catholic Hierarchy is a masterpiece of that peculiar form of conscious sophistry which justifies itself by reducing its conclusion to zero. One must begin with one, and that one has no particular qualities. Therefore, so long as you have an authority properly centralized it does not really matter what that authority is. In the Pope we have such an authority ready made, and it is the gravest tactical blunder to endeavour to set up an authority opposed to him. Success in doing so means war, and failure anarchy. This, however, did not prevent Levi from ceremonially casting a papal crown to the ground and crying "Death to tyranny and superstition!" in the bosom of a certain secret Areopagus of which he was the most famous member.

When a man becomes a magician he looks about him for a magical weapon; and, being probably endowed with that human frailty called laziness, he hopes to find a weapon ready made. Thus we find the Christian Magus who imposed his power upon the world taking the existing worships and making a single system combining all their merits. There is no single feature in Christianity which has not been taken bodily from the worship of Isis, or of Mithras, or of Bacchus, or of Adonis, or of Osiris. In modern times again we find Frater Iehi Aour trying to handle Buddhism. Others again have attempted to use Freemasonry. There have been even exceptionally foolish magicians who have tried to use a sword long since rusted.

Wagner illustrates this point very clearly in Siegfried. The Great Sword Nothung has been broken, and it is the only weapon that can destroy the gods. The dwarf Mime tries uselessly to mend it. When Siegfried comes he makes no such error. He melts its fragments and forges a new sword. In spite of the intense labour which this costs, it is the best plan to adopt.

Levi completely failed to capture Catholicism; and his hope of using Imperialism, his endeavour to persuade the Emperor that he was the chosen instrument of the Almighty, a belief which would have enabled him to play Maximus to little Napoleon's Julian, was shattered once for all at Sedan.

It is necessary for the reader to gain this clear conception of Levi's inmost mind, if he is to reconcile the "contradictions" which leave Waite petulant and bewildered. It is the sad privilege of the higher order of mind to be able to see both sides of every question, and to appreciate the fact that both are equally tenable. Such contradictions can, of course, only be reconciled on a higher plane, and this method of harmonizing contradictions is, therefore, the best key to the higher planes.

It seems unnecessary to add anything to these few remarks. This is the only difficulty in the whole book, though in one or two passages Levi's extraordinarily keen sense of humour leads him to indulge in a little harmless bombast. We may instance his remarks on the Grimoire of Honorius.

We have said that this is the masterpiece of Levi. He reaches an exaltation of both thought and language which is equal to that of any other writer known to us. Once it is understood that it is purely a thesis for the Grade of Exempt Adept, the reader should have no further difficulty. — A. C.


On the brink of mystery, the spirit of man is seized with giddiness. Mystery is the abyss which ceaselessly attracts our unquiet curiosity by the terror of its depth.

The greatest mystery of the infinite is the existence of Him for whom alone all is without mystery.

Comprehending the infinite which is essentially incomprehensible, He is Himself that infinite and eternally unfathomable mystery; that is to say, that He is, in all seeming, that supreme absurdity in which Tertullian believed.

Necessarily absurd, since reason must renounce for ever the project of attaining to Him; necessarily credible, since science and reason, far from demonstrating that He does not exist, are dragged by the chariot of fatality to believe that He does exist, and to adore Him themselves with closed eyes.

Why? — Because this Absurd is the infinite source of reason. The light springs eternally from the eternal shadows. Science, that Babel Tower of the spirit, may twist and coil its spirals ever ascending as it will; it may make the earth tremble, it will never touch the sky.

God is He whom we shall eternally learn to know better, and, consequently, He whom we shall never know entirely.

The realm of mystery is, then, a field open to the conquests of the intelligence. March there as boldly as you will, never will you diminish its extent; you will only alter its horizons. To know all is an impossible dream; but woe unto him who dares not to learn all, and who does not know that, in order to know anything, one must learn eternally!

They say that in order to learn anything well, one must forget it several times. The world has followed this method. Everything which is to-day debateable had been solved by the ancients. Before our annals began, their solutions, written in hieroglyphs, had already no longer any meaning for us. A man has rediscovered their key; he has opened the cemeteries of ancient science, and he gives to his century a whole world of forgotten theorems, of syntheses as simple and sublime as nature, radiating always from unity, and multiplying themselves like numbers with proportions so exact, that the known demonstrates and reveals the unknown. To understand this science, is to see God. The author of this book, as he finishes his work, will think that he has demonstrated it.

Then, when you have seen God, the hierophant will say to you: — "Turn round!" and, in the shadow which you throw in the presence of this sun of intelligences, there will appear to you the devil, that black phantom which you see when your gaze is not fixed upon God, and when you think that your shadow fills the sky, — for the vapours of the earth, the higher they go, seem to magnify it more and more.

To harmonize in the category of religion science with revelation and reason with faith, to demonstrate in philosophy the absolute principles which reconcile all the antinomies, and finally to reveal the universal equilibrium of natural forces, is the triple object of this work, which will consequently be divided into three parts.

We shall exhibit true religion with such characters, that no one, believer or unbeliever, can fail to recognize it; that will be the absolute in religion. We shall establish in philosophy the immutable characters of that Truth, which is in science, reality; in judgment, reason; and in ethics, justice. Finally, we shall acquaint you with the laws of Nature, whose equilibrium is stability, and we shall show how vain are the phantasies of our imagination before the fertile realities of movement and of life. We shall also invite the great poets of the future to create once more the divine comedy, no longer according to the dreams of man, but according to the mathematics of God.

Mysteries of other worlds, hidden forces, strange revelations, mysterious illnesses, exceptional faculties, spirits, apparitions, magical paradoxes, hermetic arcana, we shall say all, and we shall explain all. Who has given us this power? We do not fear to reveal it to our readers.

There exists an occult and sacred alphabet which the Hebrews attribute to Enoch, the Egyptians to Thoth or to Hermes Trismegistus, the Greeks to Cadmus and to Palamedes. This alphabet was known to the followers of Pythagoras, and is composed of absolute ideas attached to signs and numbers; by its combinations, it realizes the mathematics of thought. Solomon represented this alphabet by seventy-two names, written upon thirty-six talismans. Eastern initiates still call these the "little keys" or clavicles of Solomon. These keys are described, and their use explained, in a book the source of whose traditional dogma is the patriarch Abraham. This book is called the Sepher Yetzirah; with the aid of the Sepher Yetzirah one can penetrate the hidden sense of the Zohar, the great dogmatic treatise of the Qabalah of the Hebrews. The Clavicles of Solomon, forgotten in the course of time, and supposed lost, have been rediscovered by ourselves; without trouble we have opened all the doors of those old sanctuaries where absolute truth seemed to sleep, — always young, and always beautiful, like that princess of the childish legend, who, during a century of slumber, awaits the bridegroom whose mission it is to awaken her.

After our book, there will still be mysteries, but higher and farther in the infinite depths. This publication is a light or a folly, a mystification or a monument. Read, reflect, and judge.

The Key of the Mysteries
(La Clef des Grands Mystères)

Eliphas Levi

Part II

Philosophical Mysteries


Preliminary Considerations

It has been said that beauty is the splendour of truth.
Now moral beauty is goodness. It is beautiful to be good.
To be intelligently good, one must be just.
To be just, one must act reasonably.
To act reasonably, one must have the knowledge of reality.
To have the knowledge of reality, one must have consciousness of truth.
To have consciousness of truth, one must have an exact notion of being.
Being, truth, reason and justice are the common objects of the researches of science, and of the aspirations of faith. The conceptions, whether real or hypothetical, of a supreme power transform justice into Providence; and the notion of divinity, from this point of view, becomes accessible to science herself.
Science studies Being in its partial manifestation; faith supposes it, or rather admits it a priori as a whole.
Science seeks the truth in everything; faith refers everything to an universal and absolute truth.
Science records realities in detail: faith explains them by totalized reality to which science cannot bear witness, but which the very existence of the details seems to force her to recognize and to admit.
Science submits the reasons of persons and things to the universal mathematical reason; faith seeks, or rather supposes, an intelligent and absolute reason for (and above) mathematics themselves.
Science demonstrates justice by justness; faith gives an absolute justness to justice, in subordinating it to Providence.
One sees here all that faith borrows from science, and all that science, in its turn, owes to faith.
Without faith, science is circumscribed by an absolute doubt, and finds itself eternally penned within the risky empiricism of a reasoning scepticism; without science, faith constructs its hypotheses at random, and can only blindly prejudge the causes of the effects of which she is ignorant.
The great chain which reunites science and faith is analogy.
Science is obliged to respect a belief whose hypotheses are analogous to demonstrated truths. Faith, which attributes everything to God, is obliged to admit science as being a natural revelation which, by the partial manifestation of the laws of eternal reason, gives a scale of proportion to all the aspirations and to all the excursions of the soul into the domain of the unknown.
It is, then, faith alone that can give a solution to the mysteries of science; and in return, it is science alone that demonstrates the necessity of the mysteries of faith.
Outside the union and the concourse of these two living forces of the intelligence, there is for science nothing but scepticism and despair, for faith nothing but rashness and fanaticism.
If faith insults science, she blasphemes; if science misunderstand faith, she abdicates.
Now let us hear them speak in harmony!
"Being is everywhere," says science. "it is multiple and variable in its forms, unique in its essence, and immutable in its laws. The relative demonstrates the existence of the absolute. Intelligence exists in being. Intelligence animates and modifies matter."
"Intelligence is everywhere," says faith; "Life is nowhere fatal because it is ruled. This rule is the expression of supreme Wisdom. The absolute in intelligence, the supreme regulator of forms, the living ideal of spirits, is God."
"In its identity with the ideal, being is truth," says science.
"In its identity with the ideal, truth is God," replies faith.
"In its identity with my demonstrations, being is reality," says science.
"In its identity with my legitimate aspirations, reality is my dogma," says faith.
"In its identity with the Word, being is reason," says science.
"In its identity with the spirit of charity, the highest reason is my obedience," says faith.
"In its identity with the motive of reasonable acts, being is justice," says science.
"In its identity with the principle of charity, justice is Providence," replies faith.
Sublime harmony of all certainties with all hopes, of the absolute in intelligence with the absolute in love! The Holy Spirit, the spirit of charity, should then conciliate all, and transform all into His own light. Is it not the spirit of intelligence, the spirit of science, the spirit of counsel, the spirit of force? "He must come," says the Catholic liturgy, "and it will be, as it were, a new creation; and He will change the face of the earth."
"To laugh at philosophy is already to philosophize," said Pascal, referring to that sceptical and incredulous philosophy which does not recognize faith. And if there existed a faith which trampled science underfoot, we should not say that to laugh at such a faith would be a true act of religion, for religion, which is all charity, does not tolerate mockery; but one would be right in blaming this love for ignorance, and in saying to this rash faith, "Since you slight your sister, you are not the daughter of God!"
Truth, reality, reason, justice, Providence, these are the five rays of the flamboyant star in the centre of which science will write the word "being," — to which faith will add the ineffable name of God.

Solution of the Philosophical Problems


QUESTION. What is truth?
ANSWER. Idea identical with being.
Q. What is reality?
A. Knowledge identical with being.
Q. What is reason?
A. The Word identical with being.
Q. What is justice?
A. The motive of acts identical with being.
Q. What is the absolute?
A. Being.
Q. Can one conceive anything superior to being?
A. No; but one conceives in being itself something supereminent and transcendental.
Q. What is that?
A. The supreme reason of being.
Q. Do you know it, and can you define it?
A. Faith alone affirms it, and names it God.
Q. Is there anything above truth?
A. Above known truth, there is unknown truth.
Q. How can one construct reasonable hypotheses with regard to this truth?
A. By analogy and proportion.
Q. How can one define it?
A. By the symbols of faith.
Q. Can one say of reality the same thing as of truth?
A. Exactly the same thing.
Q. Is there anything above reason?
A. Above finite reason, there is infinite reason.
Q. What is infinite reason?
A. It is that supreme reason of being that faith calls God.
Q. Is there anything above justice?
A. Yes; according to faith, there is the Providence of God, and the sacrifice of man.
Q. What is this sacrifice?
A. It is the willing and spontaneous surrender of right.
Q. Is this sacrifice reasonable?
A. No; it is a kind of folly greater than reason, for reason is forced to admire it.
Q. How does one call a man who acts according to truth, reality, reason and justice?
A. A moral man.
Q. And if he sacrifices his interests to justice?
A. A man of honour.
Q. And if in order to imitate the grandeur and goodness of Providence he does more than his duty, and sacrifices his right to the good of others?
A. A hero.
Q. What is the principle of true heroism?
A. Faith.
Q. What is its support?
A. Hope.
Q. And its rule?
A. Charity.
Q. What is the Good?
A. Order.
Q. What is the Evil?
A. Disorder.
Q. What is permissible pleasure?
A. Enjoyment of order.
Q. What is forbidden pleasure?
A. Enjoyment of disorder.
Q. What are the consequences of each?
A. Moral life and moral death.
Q. Has then hell, with all its horrors, its justification in religious dogma?
A. Yes; it is a rigorous consequence of a principle.
Q. What is this principle?
A. Liberty.
Q. What is liberty?
A. The right to do one's duty, with the possibility of not doing it.
Q. What is failing in one's duty?
A. It involves the loss of one's right. Now, right being eternal, to lose it is to suffer an eternal loss.
Q. Can one repair a fault?
A. Yes; by expiation.
Q. What is expiation?
A. Working overtime. Thus, because I was lazy yesterday, I had to do a double task to-day.
Q. What are we to think of those who impose on themselves voluntary sufferings?
A. If they do so in order to overcome the brutal fascination of pleasure, they are wise; if to suffer instead of others, they are generous; but if they do it without discretion and without measure, they are imprudent.
Q. Thus, in the eyes of true philosophy, religion is wise in all that it ordains?
A. You see that it is so.
Q. But if, after all, we were deceived in our eternal hopes?
A. Faith does not admit that doubt. But philosophy herself should reply that all the pleasures of the earth are not worth one day of wisdom, and that all the triumphs of ambition are not worth a single minute of heroism and of charity.


QUESTION. What is man?
ANSWER. Man is an intelligent and corporeal being made in the image of God and of the world, one in essence, triple in substance, mortal and immortal.
Q. You say, "triple in substance." Has man, then, two souls or two bodies?
A. No; there is in him a spiritual soul, a material body, and a plastic medium.
Q. What is the substance of this medium?
A. Light, partially volatile, and partially fixed.
Q. What is the volatile part of this light?
A. Magnetic fluid.
Q. And the fixed part?
A. The fluidic or fragrant body.
Q. Is the existence of this body demonstrated?
A. Yes; by the most curious and the most conclusive experiences. We shall speak of them in the third part of this work.
Q. Are these experiences articles of faith?
A. No, they pertain to science.
Q. But will science preoccupy herself with it?
A. She already preoccupies herself with it. We have written this book and you are reading it.
Q. Give us some notions of this plastic medium.
A. It is formed of astral or terrestrial light, and transmits the double magnetization of it to the human body. The soul, by acting on this light through its volitions, can dissolve it or coagulate it, project it or withdraw it. It is the mirror of the imagination and of dreams. It reacts upon the nervous system, and thus produces the movements of the body. This light can dilate itself indefinitely, and communicate its reflections at considerable distances; it magnetizes the bodies submitted to the action of man, and can, by concentrating itself, again draw them to him. It can take all the forms evoked by thought, and, in the transitory coagulations of its radiant particles, appear to the eyes; it can even offer a sort of resistance to the touch. But these manifestations and uses of the plastic medium being abnormal, the luminous instrument of precision cannot produce them without being strained, and there is danger of either habitual hallucination, or of insanity.
Q. What is animal magnetism?
A. The action of one plastic medium upon another, in order to dissolve or coagulate it. By augmenting the elasticity of the vital light and its force of projection, one sends it forth as far as one will, and withdraws it completely loaded with images; but this operation must be favoured by the slumber of the subject, which one produces by coagulating still further the fixed part of his medium.
Q. Is magnetism contrary to morality and religion?
A. Yes, when one abuses it.
Q. In what does the abuse of it consist?
A. In employing it in a disordered manner, or for a disordered object.
Q. What is a disordered magnetism?
A. An unwholesome fluidic emission, made with a bad intention; for example, to know the secrets of others, or to arrive at unworthy ends.
Q. What is the result of it?
A. It puts out of order the fluidic instrument of precision, both in the case of the magnetizer and of the magnetized. To this cause one must attribute the immoralities and the follies with which a great number of those who occupy themselves with magnetism are reproached.
Q. What conditions are required in order to magnetize properly?
A. Health of spirit and body; right intention, and discreet practice.
Q. What advantageous results can one obtain by discreet magnetism?
A. The cure of nervous diseases, the analysis of presentiments, the re- establishment of fluidic harmonies, and the rediscovery of certain secrets of Nature.
Q. Explain that to us in a more complete manner.
A. We shall do so in the third part of this work, which will treat specially of the mysteries of Nature.


Thanks be unto thee, O my God, that thou hast called me to this admirable light! Thou, the Supreme Intelligence and the Absolute Life of those numbers and those forces which obey thee in order to people the infinite with inexhaustible creation! Mathematics proves thee, the harmonies of Nature proclaim thee, all forms as they pass by salute thee and adore thee!

Abraham knew thee, Hermes divined thee, Pythagoras calculated thee, Plato, in every dream of his genius, aspired to thee; but only one initiate, only one sage has revealed thee to the children of earth, one alone could say of thee: "I and my Father are one." Glory then be his, since all his glory is thine!

Thou knowest, O my Father, that he who writes these lines has struggled much and suffered much; he has endured poverty, calumny, proscription, prison, the forsaking of those whom he loved: — and yet never did he find himself unhappy, since truth and justice remained to him for consolation!

Thou alone art holy, O God of true hearts and upright souls, and thou knowest if ever I thought myself pure in thy sight! Like all men I have been the plaything of human passions. At last I conquered them, or rather thou has conquered them in me; and thou hast given me for a rest the deep peace of those who have no goal and no ambition but Thyself.

I love humanity, because men, as far as they are not insensate, are never wicked but through error or through weakness. Their natural disposition is to love good, and it is through that love that thou hast given them as a support in all their trials that they must sooner or later be led back to the worship of justice by the love of truth.

Now let my books go where thy Providence shall send them! If they contain the words of thy wisdom they will be stronger than oblivion. If, on the contrary, they contain only errors, I know at least that my love of justice and of truth will survive them, and that thus immortality cannot fail to treasure the aspirations and wishes of my soul hat thou didst create immortal!

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