Paradoxes of the Highest Science

by Éliphas Lévi


The Imagination Realizes What It Invents

p. 74

BEHOLD! the greatest magician in the universe! It is she who makes the memory yield its fruit, who realises beforehand the Possible, and invents even the Impossible. To her miracles cost nothing. She transports houses and mountains through the air, places whales in the sky, and stars in the sea, gives paradise to the hashish or opium eaters,, offers kingdoms to inebriates, and makes Perette dance with joy under the milk pail. Such is Imagination.

It is to the Imagination that we owe poetry and dreams; it is she who embroiders fables and symbols on the veils of the Great Mysteries. She makes up the stories for the children, and the legends for the peasants. She makes the thundering Gods and exterminating angels appear on the hills, and the White Ladies and Virgins near the founts. She makes predictions which are accommodated to facts, or reinterpreted when they are not realised. She is the nurse of Hope and the accomplice of Despair. She gilds the aureole of the Saints, and bronzes the horns of the Devil. She heals and kills, saves some and damns others, is chaste as the Virgin or impure as Messalina. She creates enthusiasm and thus enlarges, almost beyond the limits of the possible, the empire of the Will. She creates a belief in happiness and gives it, for so long as the dream lasts.

The imagination is the crystalline lens of our mind. She refracts the luminous rays of our thoughts and magnifies the images of all our perceptions. The scope of our vision is so small that to see rightly in this narrow world we must see things larger than in nature.

People, devoid of imagination, never accomplish anything great, for everything appears to them in mean proportions. The astronomer contemplates the universe and imagines the Infinite; the believer contemplates Nature and imagines God. In truth, the Imagination is greater than Thought. Science is overflowed by faith, and without faith science would remain uncertain.

What is Algebra but the Imagination of pure Mathematics, and what is the Kabala but the Algebra of Ideas? The imagination of Kabalists has converted Philosophy into an exact Science by connecting ideas with numbers; the Science of Analogies is wholly a Science of Imagination, and great nations are but congeries of cold enthusiasts, who powerfully imagine glory.

Collective imaginations achieve the results of the solar microscope. Heroes, especially, grow greater after their deaths, and the fictions of opinion raise upon superb pedestals the high majesties of history. Who will ever know the exact measure of Alexander the Great, or Napoleon I? Marat and Napoleon were two little men, energetic and ambitious of renown; the one desired to free the world which the other proposed to enslave; the first desired a rivulet of blood, the other made rivers of it flow, and then bequeathed to us two invasions, the reign of his nephew, and overwhelming catastrophies; the one is execrated, the other adored; for one the gallows,76:1 for the other the triumphal arch and column, and both are exaggerations--the one of infamy, the other of glory.

It is because Marat, more disinterested and more sincere at heart than Napoleon the First, was only a raging screaming Tribune, while Napoleon was a man of genius, that is to say a despot of the human imagination. It is because the poetry of nations loves better splendid crimes than mean virtues, because the mask of Marat is a grimace that would raise laughter if it did not evoke horror, whilst the medal of Napoleon is a majesty which imposes itself on the worship of the future. These are conclusive reasons.

If imagination finds one real point of support, it is the lever of Archimedes; without a real basis, it is only a stick on which fools ride.

Relying upon scientific and reasonable hypotheses, Christopher Columbus imagined America, dared to set off to discover it, and found it. When one knows and when one wills, one ought to have the courage to dare.

Imagination is the Creative Power. God is the Imagination of Nature. She has her dreams and her nightmares, but these do not prevent her Epos from being glorious. The architects of the Middle Ages have sketched its outline in their magnificent Cathedrals where the carved spouts, corbels and florid ornamentation serve to bring out the pure lines of the Ogives and the placidity of the Saints. These great artists had guessed the enigma of good and evil; they understood light and its shadows.

It is the Imagination which works miracles; by an act of their imagination a few peasant children cause churches to rise from the earth, and shake entire populations; witness the pilgrimages of Lourdes and La Salette. By imagination Joshua arrested the sun, and caused the walls of Jericho to fall at the sound of his trumpets; by the imagination bread becomes God, and the wine of the chalice is changed into immortal blood, and we do not profess to say, as may be well imagined, that this is not so; but this is, as we imagine it, according to the word and on the faith of Jesus Christ.78:1

Imagination heals the sick and makes the fortune of celebrated physicians; it creates homœopathy from which so many believers derive good: it makes tables speak, and dictates to mediums, pell mell, pages of learned matter and the grossest ignorance, prayers and curses. It gives horns to Moses, and to the cuckolded husbands, making the first resemble the Devil, and the latter either furious bulls or patient and mild mannered oxen. It amplifies wisdom, exaggerates folly, demands too much of truth, makes falsehood look truthful; at the same time it is not falsehood for the imagination; all that it affirms is true as poetry, and can poetry ever tell us falsehoods?

That which she invents she creates, and that which is created exists. To imagine the truth is to divine, to divine is to exercise the Divine power. In Latin they call the man who divines, divinus, that is to say the Divine man, and the poet is styled vates, that is to say, prophet.

Faith has for its object only the divinations of those who imagine the Eternal Truths. Moses, imagined Jehovah, and the cloud hung over the tabernacle. Solomon imagined the universal temple, and that temple, destroyed successively by the Assyrians and the Romans, is still standing under the name of St. Peter's of Rome. Alexander imagined the unity of nations, almost realised under Augustus, and imagined again later by Peter the Great and Napoleon the First, whose antagonisms still maintain the balance of the world.

The Imagination is the eternal go-between in light amours. It is by the imagination as a rule that impressible and nervous women are taken. It is often sufficient for a man to be strange or even horrible in order to be loved. The Marquess of Sade, Mirabeau, Marat, were all beloved; Cartouche and Mandrin had been so before them. Women of the world had fallen in love with Lacenaire, and we are assured that in his prison Troppmann used to receive love letters. The Don Juans and Lovelaces owe most of their successes to their evil reputations; the lordly Bluebeards never lack victims, and it is especially when the daggers of the Lanciottos are raised above them to strike that the Francesca da Riminis love to taste the forbidden fruit.

That which most powerfully excites the imagination, and consequently desire, is the consciousness of danger: hence the God of the Bible, wishing the woman to become a mother, forbade her under pain of the most terrible penalties to touch the fruit which would make her yield to love.80:1

It was only in fact when they knew that they were doomed to die that the man and woman bethought themselves of providing successors. Death ploughs the ground of Love, and Love sows there the seed from which is destined to develop the Harvest of Death. It is forbidden on pain of Death to enter into Life, since all who are born are condemned to die. This is what is meant by original sin, and the birth sin, of which we can only be guilty in the persons of our parents, stretching backwards from one to another until we reach the first. The sin of birth is the consequence of the sin of Love, that nature always makes a show of forbidding to mankind in order to stimulate their longing for it.

Imagination is the Pegasus of the poets, the Hippogriff of the Paladins, the eagle of Ganymede, and the dove of Anacreon; it is the car of fire of Elias and the angel which bears away the prophets, holding them by the hairs of the head. It is the cherub with burning pincers cauterising the stammer on the trembling lips of Hai, the mysterious Proteus that must be tightly squeezed in the realms of reason to compel it to assume a human shape and to tell the truth.

Just as there is a latent heat which determines the molecular polarisation of bodies, so there is a latent light that manifests itself in us by a sort of internal phosphorescence. It is this which illumines and colours the phantoms of our visions and our dreams, and exhibits to us in the absence of all external light such astounding photographic pictures. It is by means of this light that we read in the memory of nature, or in the general reservoir of impressions and forms, the rudimentary germs of the Future in the archives of the Past. Somnambulism is a state of immersion of the thought in this light invisible to waking eyes, and in this universal bath, wherein are reflected all presentiments and all memories, minds meet and intelligences interpenetrate each other.

Thus it is that one can guess, translate, and explain the ideas of another. It is thus that the brain of one becomes for another an open book, which it can read off readily. The wonders of lucid somnambulism have no other cause, and are explained by a series of mirages and reflections. The interior light bears the same relation to the external light that negative electricity bears to positive electricity, and it is on this account that phantoms appear specially at night,81:1 and that sorcerers require darkness to perform their pretended miracles; it is for this reason that the spirits and the mediums cannot produce their peculiar phenomena before all kinds of persons; they require a small sympathetic circle, predisposed to the contagious influence of that interior phosphorescence which makes the one set see and feel what would be neither visible nor sensible to the others.

Then one is slowly and progressively pervaded by the life of the dream;82:1 the furniture moves, pens write without being touched, men rise from the earth and remain suspended in the air. Then realities run mad, and mad ideas seem real; the seers and seeresses are insensible to pain. The convulsionaries of St. Medard begged to be beaten with logs of wood or bars of iron; somnambulists find in pure water all the flavours that the magnetizer chooses to imagine. The dead appear, hands without bodies come and touch you: but let a healthy man, or one out of sympathy with the circle enter, the oracles are silent, the hands disappear, the furniture ceases to dance, everything returns to its natural order,82:2 and the members of the circle are as sulky and displeased as sleepers who have been suddenly startled out of sleep.

This light of dreams, which we might call the dark or black light, exists independently of the sun and stars, as does the light of fireflies or glowworms; it never mingles with the. visible external light, but it may leave its imprints on the brain--imprints transitory in the hallucinated, durable in the insane. Nervous organisms congested with black light become ill-regulated magnets, and produce at times on inert objects attractions or pressures, the results of which seem marvellous, especially when amplified and multiplied, as they almost always are, by the obliging imagination of the spectators; for credulity ever lends itself willingly to miracles. Weak minds are naturally inclined towards the marvellous, and it is not easy to undeceive them when they insist on being deceived.

Never has a miracle been performed for the triumph of science and reason; never has one occurred in the presence of wise and educated persons. Strange phenomena reduced to their simplest expression may excite the curiosity and stimulate the investigation of men of science, but can demonstrate in no way the intervention of supernatural beings.84:1

As a fact, God only is supernatural in the sense that He is the Master of Nature. All that is not God falls necessarily into the order of Nature.84:2

We must simultaneously ignore all the Laws of Nature and all the rules of exegesis, if we are to accept literally and in a natural signification the Dogmatic and Sacramental expressions of the Scriptures and the Councils. Thus the Faith teaches us that in the Sacrament of the Eucharist there is a transubstantiation. Is this transubstantiation natural? Clearly it is not; it is mysterious and sacramental. You may substitute one substance for another, but one substance does not become another; it is always the same substance, amalgamated or modified. Chemistry decomposes and recombines bodies, but it does not turn one thing into another, for in that case the two things would, at the same time, be and not be.

To change literally and totally water into wine, it would be necessary to annihilate water and create wine--two absurdities. For nothing can be annihilated, and wine cannot be created without grapes.85:1 To evaporate the water and substitute for it wine would be a mere conjuror's trick and not a change of substances. Bread may become flesh and wine become blood, but only by the processes of assimilation and not by transubstantiation.

These dogmatical expressions must, therefore, remain restricted to the domain of Dogma and Symbols. Taken scientifically and in their natural sense they are absurdities. Dogma is the formula of imaginary realities. Note well that we say realities and not fictions. The affirmations of Dogma are realities for Faith,85:2 but they are imaginary, because we can only conceive them through the imagination since they elude the analysis alike of Science and Reason.

It is the Imagination solely that performs all miracles. What in fact is a miracle? It is an exceptional phenomenon of which the cause is unknown. Science then holds her peace and leaves Imagination to speak, who at once proceeds to invent and assert a cause out of all measure and proportion to the effect. The crowd accept this assertion as gospel and the miracle is incontestable.

All educated people know that the miracles of the Bible are Oriental exaggerations.86:1 Moses took advantage of the rise and fall of the sea; Joshua found a ford in the Jordan; be used to breach the walls of Jericho one of those explosive compounds of which the Priests possessed the secret; and the national Poets tell us that the sea opened, the Jordan flowed backwards, and that the walls fell of their own accord. It is the same thing with the sun arrested in its course to mark a great day of Victory.

Do we not read in the Psalms of David that the mountains have leapt like rams and the hills like lambs? Must we take this literally? 86:2 The same Poet adds that stones have been changed into pools and rocks into fountains. Have we here a transubstantiation? The theologians contend that we must take literally the words of Jesus Christ when he says of the bread, "This is My Body," and of the wine, "This is My Blood," but then we must also take his words in a literal sense when he says "I am the true vine ye are the branches." Now was Jesus Christ truly and literally a vine? 87:1

Must we believe that the knowledge of good and evil were really and truly a tree, and that the bitter fruits of this double-stemmed tree that yields life and death were peaches or apples? The Serpent of Eden and the Ass of Balaam, did they really speak? People will cease to ask such questions when the men who profess to teach others cease to be as stupid as savages.

Imperturbable good sense, united to a powerful Imagination, constitute what is called Genius. The man who possesses both these forces can become entirely independent, and exercise at will a real influence on the common herd. He will create for himself, if he so will, servers and friends, unless he makes his genius subservient to some secret weakness. It is possible to have dogmatic good sense, without having practical good sense. Great men are often their own dupes; they love glory as Orpheus loved his companion; they go to seek it everywhere, even into Hell, and turn round at the wrong time to see if Eurydice is following them.

True glory is what none can take from us; it consists in merit, and not in the applause of the multitude;87:2 it fears not the caprices of Destiny, because it owes nothing to chance; it loves neither tumult nor noise; it is in the silence of Earth that we enjoy the peace of Heaven.88:1

Footnotes (page number:note number)

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76:1 In the original "les gémonies," that is the Roman place of execution--The Tyburn of Rome.--Trans.

78:1 One of our author's characteristic "grimaces," which he must have thought witty, as they could impose on no one, but which exasperate the ordinary readers as in equally bad faith and bad taste.--Trans.

80:1 This is not the occult meaning of the Legend referred to, and this E. L. of course knew. He seems constantly to fear that he may have somewhere spoken too plainly and to feel it a duty to set his readers off on a wrong scent.--Trans.

81:1 Only partially on this account. There are many other reasons. The terrestrial magnetic conditions differ widely during the day and the night. The physical energy is at its lowest ebb during the night, and the more vigorous the physical powers the less scope for the psychical perceptions, and there are many other factors--Trans.

82:1 E. L. apparently knew very little of this branch of the subject. He apparently fancied that all phenomena were subjective--Trans.

82:2 All this of course is a hasty generalisation, founded on insufficient data. All this may happen, or it may not; it will depend on the relative magnetic (I use the word for lack of a better) powers of the circle and the intruder, including in the circle the influences that have been attracted to it. Plenty of such intruders, utterly sceptical and thoroughly hostile to the supposed dupers and dupes, have found their presence, and even wills, wholly inadequate to check the progress of the phenomena.--Trans.

84:1 All this, though literally true, is grossly dishonest. As a Kabalist Éliphas Lévi knew all about elementals and elementaries. Of course these are not supernatural, as they belong to nature, so that what he says is true in the letter, but it is false in spirit, because he knew that all his readers considered such beings supernatural, and would hence understand that he denied their existence. So with miracles; of course these are but the results of unknown natural laws, so that here too what he says is true to the letter but false to the spirit, as leading the reader to infer that he denied the occurrence of what people call miracles.--Trans.

84:2 Fallacy and assumption, and he knew it.--E. O.

85:1 London wine merchants could tell him a different story.--Trans.

85:2 That is Blind Faith.--E. O.

86:1 They know nothing of the kind; some may be so; some are probably very fairly accurate traditions of occult phenomena, but E. L. knew apparently very little of the physics of occultism.--Trans.

86:2 All this is pure sophistry. Of course the two things are utterly distinct; in the one case there is clearly the use of metaphor, in the others, previously referred to, there is equally clearly an assertion of fact; the latter may be a fiction, but it can neither be rejected nor discredited on the score that elsewhere tropes and metaphors are employed.--Trans.

87:1 This of course is a fair argument against the Roman Catholic Dogma of Transubstantiation.--Trans.


"... worth is the Ocean,
Fame is but the bruit that roars along the shallows."

88:1 The conviction of the especial fitness of each to know best his own peculiar nature and powers. Power has its illusion. Let every one accomplish his mission.--E. O.

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