Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Éliphas Lévi

(1810-1875)

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Éliphas Lévi in 1872
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Paradox 5Reason Is God

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This should be placed first. It is before everything: it is self-existent, it exists even for those who do not know it, as the Sun for the Blind, but to see it, feel it, understand it, this is the triumph of the understanding in man; it is the definite result of all the travail of thought and all the aspirations of Faith.

In the principle is Reason, and Reason is in God, and God is Reason. [57:2] All is made by it, and without it is nothing made. It is the true light that enlightens us from our birth: it shines even in the darkness, but the darkness does not close it in.

These words are the oracle of Reason itself, and they occur, as all know, at the commencement of the Gospel of St. John.

Without this Reason nothing exists; everything has its reason for existing, even unreason,  [58:1] which serves as a background to reason as the shadow does to the light.

The reasonable believer is he who believes in a reason greater than knowledge; for the reason, or to speak more correctly the reasoning of each one, is not absolute wisdom.

When I reason ill, I become unreasonable; [59:1] it is not then reason that I should distrust, but my own judgment.

I should turn then willingly to those who know more than I do, but even then I must have reason to believe in their superiority.

To conjecture, at random, what one does not know, and then believe blindly in one's own conjectures, or in those of others, who know no more than ourselves, is to behave like madmen. When we are told that God demands the sacrifice of our reason, this is to make God, the ideal or despotic idol, of folly.

Reason gives conviction, but rash belief produces only infatuation.

It is quite reasonable to believe in things that one neither sees, touches, nor measures, because manifestly the infinite exists, and one can say not only I believe, but I know that an infinity of things exist which are beyond my reach.

Knowledge being indefinitely progressive, I can believe that I shall one day know that of which I am now ignorant. I have no doubts in regard to what I know thoroughly; I may doubt my knowledge if I know imperfectly, but I cannot have doubts as to a thing of which I know nothing, since it is impossible for me to formulate them.

He who says there is no God, without having defined God in a complete and absolute manner, simply talks nonsense. I wait for his definition, and when he has set this forth after his own fashion, I am certain, beforehand, of being able to say to him, "I agree with you, there is no such God"; but that God is certainly not my God. If he says to me: "Define your God," I should reply, "I will take good care to do nothing of the kind, for a God defined is a God dethroned." [60:1]

Every positive definition is deniable, the Infinite is the undefined. "I believe only in matter," another will tell me, but what is matter? In surgery they give that name to excretions, and one might say in philosophy, somewhat paradoxically, that matter is the excretion of thought. The materialists fully deserve to be paid off with this somewhat coarse and Carnivallic definition, they who declare thought the excretion of the material brain, without realising that this admirable and passive instrument of the workings of the human soul is the masterpiece of a thought, which is not ours.

If I could define God, in a certain and positive manner, I should cease to believe in God, I should know what he is, but not being able to know this, I simply believe that he exists, because it is impossible for me not to conceive a directive thought, in this eternally living substance that peoples infinite space[61:1]

If believers in exclusive Religions tell me that God has revealed himself and that he has spoken, I reply I do not believe it, I know it. I know that God reveals himself to the human heart in the beauties of Nature; I know that he has spoken by the voices of all the wise and in the hearts of all the just. I read his words, in the hymns of Cleanthus and Orpheus, as in the Psalms of David; I admire the grand pages of the Vedas and of the Koran, and find the legend of Krishna as touching as a gospel, but I wax wroth against Jupiter torturing Prometheus and serving as a pretext for the death of Socrates. I shudder when I hear the Christ reproaching, in his last dying sobs, Jehovah for having abandoned him, and I veil my face when Alexander VI professes to represent Jesus Christ. The executioners and tormentors of the human conscience are as odious to me under the priestly reign of Pius VI as under that of Nero. The true Christian Religion is humanity, superhuman in the strength of forgiveness, and the sacrifice of self for others.

The Gods to whom are sacrificed men are Demons. Reason should for ever thrust away the worship of these Demons, and the idol of the Devil, which has become ridiculous by it, is monstrosity. Those who believe in the Devil, worship the Devil, for they worship his Creator and . . . accomplice. We have already said, The God of the Devil, who reproves the Devil and yet still allows hint to work on for our destruction is a horrible fiction of human wickedness and cowardice; a God of the Devil turned round would become a Devil of a God. Thus speaks reason, but superstition would still impose silence, and that is why many people, excusably enough, leave, while pitying them, to the superstitious their God and their Devil, and themselves believe thenceforth in nothing.

But even superstition has its raison d'être in the infinities of the human intellect. The Priesthood has succeeded in converting it into a force, by subjecting it to blind obedience. Take away superstition from souls, narrow but ardent, and you convert them into fanatics of impiety. One must e'en restrain fools through their folly, [64:1] since they are not willing to be wise.

We teach morality to children by telling them stories, and the nurses take good care not to disabuse their minds when they are frightened at Bogy. It is true that certain realistic mothers threaten their children with the wolf or the policeman, but neither wolf nor policeman can be everywhere, and the child, convinced of their absence, will laugh at the threat, whereas Bogy, who is never seen anywhere, is believed, like the Devil, to be present everywhere, and. the child is all the more impelled to believe in it because it is a fiction, a poetic delusion, a story-in one word something that takes hold on the imagination, and the imagination, powerful in men, is supreme in children.

Bogy is the children's Devil, just as the Devil of the Middle Ages was the Bogy of men.

Moreover there is no fiction which does not serve as a veil or mask for some reality. Bogy exists, and the poor child will soon know him in the guise of a frowning pedant with harsh voice and more or less justly applied cane.

Then they will tell him about God and the Devil in such terms that he might easily mistake one for the other. Will he then continue satisfied with the conclusion of the drama of Punch? Punch made him laugh, the Devil wanted to make him cry; would he not wish that in the end, Punch, so often carried off by the Devil, should in his turn carry off the Devil? This would be a question of temperament and audacity.

Ancient Hierophants have always held that it would be the greatest crime to admit the multitude to the initiations because it would be to let loose the wolves, open the paddock of the fallow deer, and plunge all men in war one with the other under the pretext of equality.

Jesus Christ enjoined upon his disciples not to cast their pearls before swine. The Freemasons to this day swear to preserve to the death the secrets which they no longer possess. Equality amongst men can only exist by Hierarchical grades; it can never be absolute, because Nature disallows it. There must be great and little, so that men may mutually assist, and have need of, each other.

Nothing is more difficult for the common run of men than to live according to reason, and do good for the sake of good. Their motive is almost always desire or fear, and they are to be led by hope or dread. They require, moreover, restraint to prevent their falling into inertia or disorder. They march better when in regiments and loaded; the monk and the soldier rejoice under an iron discipline; it is by austerities and silence that the inconstancy of woman disappears. One man lives courageously the life of a Trappist who would be a robber, did he not long for Heaven and fear Hell. Is he the better for this? Perhaps not, but certainly it is less dangerous for Society.

It is all very fine to tell the truth to men, but they will not understand it unless they have already themselves sought for and almost found it. The world of Tiberius wanted expiations and austerities. The age of the Platonists and Stoics, of Seneca and Epictetus, was bound to embrace the Christian Morality. Virgil seems to sing near to the manger of the Man-God, and the Sibylline books promised the Christ to earth!

Luther was not carried by his own impulse against Rome; he was lifted and pushed forward by a current that swept over all Europe. Voltaire did not make the eighteenth century, it was the eighteenth century which made Voltaire. The reign of Madame de Maintenon and the scandals of Jansenism had disgusted and wearied France to the last degree; the funereal orisons of Bossuet seemed to have interred the Christian Monarchy, and there followed Cardinals like Bernel and like Dubois. Voltaire scoffed at everything and made people laugh. Rousseau, however, professed that there was something in it, and people admired while persecuting him, because in their hearts the world was somewhat of his way of thinking. The revolutionists out-Rousseau'd Rousseau, and the good sense of the country sided with Chateaubriand, though all the while applauding the Voltairian rogueries of Béranger: it is progress that brings great men to the front, and the world wrongly credits them with the movement which has made them conspicuous.

The French Revolution presented a strange and ridiculous spectacle to the world, when it inaugurated the worship of Reason, personified by an opera dancer. One might have fancied that the nation was making fun of itself, and desired to avow to other nations that the reason of the French is almost always folly.

Then it was that Robespierre, to dethrone this indecent Reason, invented his Supreme Being, but public opinion would not ratify the change; it remembered God and realised that the Revolution was shifting its ground. Bonaparte, who followed, understood that Religion was not dead, but Religion for him could only be Catholic, in other words, authoritative; he re-opened the Churches, and tried to lay his hand on the Pope, but the Pope slipped from him with the world.

It is that the reason of Religion is superior to the reason of Politics, because it is only in Religion that right takes the lead of might. For a right to be inviolable it must be proclaimed as Divine. Right and Duty are above man, God preserves the one, in imposing the other on him; God is the Supreme Reason.

A body cannot live without a head, and the head of the social body is God. A body changes but does not die, if its head be immortal. God is the Truth and justice that never change; it is for this cause that the state should give way to religious reasons. The Church is the prototype of the Fatherland; it is the Universal Fatherland, and the unity of the Christian world [68:1] is something greater than the unity of Germany or Italy.

[68:1. But when or where has such Unity ever existed? Trans.]

Moral force is superior to physical force, and spiritual power gets the upper hand of temporal power. If St. Peter had never drawn his sword, Jesus would never have said to him, "When thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." [A] The King of Italy has taken Rome from the Holy Father, because St. Peter took by force the ear of Malchus. Malchus or Male signifies, in Hebrew, the king.

[A. John 21:18.]

Be it as it may, the capital of the Christian world ought not to belong exclusively to Italy. The supreme representative of Divine Humanity ought to be a priest to bless and a king to pardon. That is what reason tells us, and if the Pope believes that a father of a family ought to be infallible for his children, that the head of religion ought to have no dealings with irreligion; that liberty of conscience ought not to be permitted; if he believes himself obliged to turn society upside down; if he protests, in a word, against each and everything that appears to him contrary to dogma, why, setting aside the justice of the question, the Pope is a thousand times right! [68:2]

Next to the passions, the greatest enemies of human reason are the prejudices. We do not examine how things are; we simply will that they should be in such and such a way. We refuse to change our opinion, because this humiliates our pride, as if man was born infallible, and should not day by day instruct and perfect himself. "When I was a child," said St. Paul, "I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." The apostle here proclaims the law of progress and even applies it to the Church, but this is what the theologians obstinately refuse to understand.

We must distrust devout prejudices as much as impious prejudices. True piety is essentially independent, but she submits herself reasonably to customs and laws, when she cannot hope, and even often when she does hope, to change them.

Jesus would not that they should pluck up the tares which were mixed with the wheat, for fear lest at the same time they should uproot the good grain; but that they should wait for the harvest, and then separate the wheat from the evil weeds. There are epochs of summing up and synthesis, in which criticism ought to distinguish the true from the false. We are at one of such epochs in which prejudices ought no longer to be tenderly handled. Nevertheless, we must not be harsh with the people who hold them. Let us show, softly and patiently, the truth, and the falsehoods will fall of their own accord. [70:1]

Prejudices are the bad habits of the mind; they spring from education, from ignorance or intellectual sloth, from interests of position, reputation or fortune. We readily believe in the truth of what pleases us and still more readily in what flatters us; the best feelings, even when exaggerated, become sources of prejudice; the love of family produces pride and the intolerance of caste; the love of country gives place to national arrogance; people think that they should be French, or English, rather than that they should be men; religious enthusiasm leads on to many other excesses. Succeeding ages despise, condemn and execrate each other; the Christians are dogs for the followers of Muhammad, the Jews are obscene beings for the Christian, the Protestants are Heretics, the Catholics are Papists ... where are the reasonable men?

Reason is like Truth; she shocks when seen naked.

To be too much in the right is to be in the wrong. Reason should persuade and not impose herself. She has little power over children, and almost always displeases women.

She is a power, but it is an occult power; she should govern without showing her hand.  [71:1]

It requires a very powerful and firm mind to devote oneself without danger to the occult sciences, and above all to the experiences which confirm their theories; magnetism, divination and spiritualism still people the madhouses, and the Hermetic Philosophy may add further victims. The most celebrated proficients in these sciences have had their moments of aberration. Pythagoras remembered to have been Euphorbius. Apollonius of Tyana caused an old beggar to be stoned to stay the Plague. Paracelsus believed that he had a familiar spirit hidden in the pommel of his long sword. [71:2] Cardan allowed himself to die of hunger to justify astrology.

Duchenteau, [B] who reconstructed and completed the magic calendar of Tycho-Brahe, also died miserably in attempting an extravagant experiment. Cagliostro compromised himself with a set of rogues, in the matter of the Queen's necklace, and went away to die in the dungeons of Rome. The interior of the ark is not to be looked at with impunity, and those who will touch it run the risk of being struck like Moza by lightning. I do not speak of the fear, the envy, the hate of the vulgar which everywhere pursue the Initiate, who does not know how to conceal his knowledge. True sages escape from this danger[72:1]

[B. See Lévi's The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic.]

The Abbé Trithemus [C] lived and died peacefully while Agrippa, [D] his imprudent disciple, closed prematurely in a hospital a life of disquietude and torment. Agrippa, before his death, blasphemed against the Science, as Brutus at Philippi had blasphemed against Virtue, but despite the despair of Brutus, Virtue is more than an empty name, and despite the discouragement of Agrippa, Science [72:2] is a Truth.

[C. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Trithemius ]

[D. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Cornelius_Agrippa ]

[72:2. He means here of course Occult Science. Trans.]

At the present day, occult sciences are scarcely studied except by presumptuous ignoramuses or eccentric savants; women furnish their necessary ground, in hysterical crisps and doubtful somnambulism. People want above all things prodigies; to cog the dice of Fortune, to shuffle the cards of Fate, to have philtres and amulets, to bewitch their enemies, to put jealous husbands to sleep, to discover the universal panacea of all the vices, not to reform them, but to preserve them from the two great diseases that kill them—deception and lassitude—countenance such schemes, and one is sure to travel quickly on the high road of folly.

If the hasty Achilles of Homer had been wholly invulnerable, he would only have been a cowardly assassin, and the man who was sure of always gaining at play would soon ruin every one, and ought to be branded as a swindler. He who by a single act of his Will could entail on others sickness or death, would be a public Pest, of whom Society ought to rid itself; to win love, save by natural means, is to commit a sort of violation; to evoke shades is to call down upon oneself the Eternal Shadows[73:1]

[73:1. Very right. —E.O.]

To deal with demons one must be a demon. The Devil is the spirit of Evil, the fatal current of misdirected and evil wills. To enter this current is to plunge into the abyss. Moreover the Spirit of Evil only replies to rash and unhealthy curiosity. Visions are the phenomena of drunkenness or delirium. To see spirits? What a chimera! It is as though one professed to touch music and bottle thought. If the spirits of the dead have gone out from amongst us, it is because they could no longer live here. How do you suppose they are to come back? [73:2]

[73:2. All this is true, in one sense, but, as E.L. well knew, it is not the whole truth.— Trans. ]

But then it will be said, what can be the use of magic? It enables men to understand better the Truth, and desire Good in a healthier and more effective manner. It helps to heal souls and comfort bodies. It does not confer the means of doing evil with impunity, but it raises man above animal lusts. It renders man inaccessible to the agonies of desire and fear. It constitutes a divinely radiating centre, chasing away before it phantoms and darkness, for it knows, it wills, it CAN, and it holds its peace. This is the true magic, not that of the Necromancers and Enchanters, but that of the initiated and the Magi.

True magic is a scientific force placed at the service of Reason. False magic is a blind force added to the blunders and disorders of Folly[74:1]

( End of chapter Paradox Five )

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