on Tour December 15-21 with
The Lost Magic of the Belle Époque
(nonfiction – history – occult)
Release date: October 30, 2016
at Inner Traditions • Bear & Company
ISBN: 978-1620555453 – 528 pages
What is truly fascinating about developments in Paris in the 1880s and ’90s is that at the very time when many scientists had reached an apogee of materialist certainty verging on hubris–feeling themselves and their experimental methods utterly alien to the figure of the Mage who “dreamed but did not get real results”–yet at that very moment we find the Magus’s position as the desirable ideal and archetype being assumed not as the ideation of the scientist, but as the apotheosis of the ARTIST. The aim? That Art trump Science. New men will embrace the new religion, universal, already hidden in spiritual symbols, which, while the traditions and cultures around them might differ superficially, exist as one in essence.
Esotericism insists there is correspondence between all things. One thing opens a door to another: all rooms are connected. The new religion was at home in the Temple, whether of ancient Egypt, the Panthéon in modern Paris, or the contemplative mind in its study, or with like-minded friends. [. . .] In this religion, the Magus and prophet is not the scientist who limits the universe to measure it, but the Artist who seeks the infinite, the one who accepts the “open secret” of the universe as mystery. The Artist becomes one who reveals the hidden truth, not of matter itself, but of Man and the determinative occult world behind nature. Hail the Artist as custodian of spiritual being, of idealization, of beauty, of essential truth!
The dizzy heights of this realization were given verbal form in sweeping style by Bailly bookshop habitué Joséphin Péladan: “There is no reality other than God. There is no Truth other than God. There is no Beauty other than God.”3 Péladan deduced that the greatest art had necessarily been generated for the Catholic Church and the time had come for the Church to realize that the true hierophant of the mysteries was the Artist, the Magus come to the cradle of the Lord with gifts. [. . .] He was sacrificer and bridge-builder between the invisible and the visible, between this world and the world to come: the master of the ikon and of memory. The Artist’s business was with the ideal and the spiritual, not with reproducing the visual plane of nature like an ape. Paraphrasing Hermes Trismegistus, Péladan concluded: “Artist, you are Magus: Art is the great miracle.” The materialist scientist will only take you further into the endless darkness of matter, progressively enslaving the spirit to rational categories and destroying the divine humanity. The Magus, of whom Leonardo was a shining exemplar, combined search into the quantitative visible world with a no less penetrating search into the invisible and symbolic world, the infinite worlds, the boundless worlds of imagination, not to be confused with merely external fantasies as in the vulgar notion of “surrealism” or visual whimsicality. He was a man of imagination and his genius transcended his time, perhaps time itself.
So we see the figure of the Hermetic Magus return, and his gift was to justify the position of the artist, to secure him at the heights. [. . .] Hermetism made exalted sense of the Artist and his peculiar life and vocation. It thus became desirable for the new artist, who, like Redon, found the “ceiling” of the Impressionists too low for comfort to explore occult traditions, to partake more fully in the insights of the condemned gnosis. For this purpose, the L’Art Indépendant shop in the Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin and the Librairie du Merveilleux in the Rue de Trévise became essential calling points. In those oases of the ideal freedom, the movement could take its store of inspiration while sharing thoughts and carrying them out into the artists’ apartments, studios, informal salons, and café meetings. Now joined, Symbolism and Occultism shared mutual waves that would rise into an aesthetic flood, rolling through the streets of Paris in an attempt to sweep away the barricades of materialism, to oppose the Barbarians at home and abroad with unearthly Beauty and the power of the Spirit. After all the historic, failed revolutions that promoted what was perceived to be Paris’s decline into decadence, a spiritual revolution was afoot. Its weapon: ART, perceived as the exercise of the “High Science,” that is to say, Hermetic magic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is Britain’s leading scholar
of Western Esotericism,
a world authority on Gnosticism,
Hermeticism, and Rosicrucianism.
An Honorary Fellow of Exeter University,
where he is a faculty lecturer,
he holds a master’s degree in Theology
from Brasenose College, Oxford,
and is the author of many books,
including Gnostic Philosophy and
Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin.
He lives in England.
Visit his website.
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