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Éliphas Lévi was a leading French occultist and socialist of the 19th century who was renowned for his esoteric knowledge. One of his fields of expertise was necromancy – the summoning of the dead. However, Lévi was not known for publicly demonstrating the alleged power during magical ceremonies, preferring instead to retain them for the various secret societies he belonged to. In his own words, “To practice magic is to be a quack; to know magic is to be a sage.”
In his book Transcendental Magic, Lévi recounted his trip to England, where many had asked to see his rituals.
“They asked me forthwith to work wonders, as if I were a charlatan, and I was somewhat discouraged, for, to speak frankly, far from being inclined to initiate others into the mysteries of ceremonial magic, I had myself shrunk all along from its illusions and weariness ; moreover, such ceremonies necessitated an equipment which would be expensive and hard to collect.”
Despite his reluctance to share his secret knowledge with others, there was one request which he was unable to decline. According to the account in Lévi’s book, an elderly woman, who belonged to a secret society, asked him to prepare a ritual of complete summoning of a powerful dead sorcerer. The lady believed that by summoning the sorcerer from beyond the veil, she would find the answer to a question she desperately needed resolving. In exchange for Lévi’s service, she promised to provide all the necessary materials and give him many rare books and magical apparati.
After twenty one days of study and preparation, Lévi, accompanied by the elderly woman, began the ceremony in the turret of an opulent manor house. A detailed description of the arrangement of the room can be found in his book.
“[…] it contained four concave mirrors and a species of altar having a white marble top, encircled by a chain of magnetised iron. The sign of the Pentagram [..] was graven and gilded on the white marble surface; it was inscribed also in various colours upon a new white lambskin stretched beneath the altar. In the middle of the marble table there was a small copper chafing-dish, containing charcoal of alder and laurel wood; another chafing-dish was set before me on a tripod. I was clothed in a white garment […] and I wore upon my head a crown of vervain leaves, intertwined with a golden chain. I held a new sword in one hand, and in the other the “Ritual”. I kindled two fires with the requisite prepared substances, and began reading the evocations of the ‘Ritual’ in a voice at first low, but rising by degrees.”
As the ritual progressed, smoke supposedly spread across the room and the earth began to quake.
“I heaped more twigs and perfumes on the chafing-dishes, and as the flame again burst up, I beheld distinctly, before the altar, the figure of a man of more than normal size, which dissolved and vanished away. I commenced the evocations, and placed myself within a circle which I had drawn previously between the tripod and the altar […] When I again looked forth there was a man in front of me, wrapped from head to foot in a species of shroud, which seemed more grey than white ; he was lean, melancholy and beardless”
The sorcerer had been summoned into the room. Lévi then writes that he asked the figure two questions, one for the elderly woman, and one for himself. The answer was supposedly the same for both: “Death.”
Lévi did not go into the specifics of his query, but he did express that they concerned other people.
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According to his writings, Lévi repeated the ritual two more times, recording that the same events occurred. Even after years of occult practices, he stated that the ceremonial magic had sincerely affected him.
“I was no longer the same man ; something of another world had passed into me.”
Not only that, in his book he offered a warning to others, stating that necromantic rituals are “destructive and dangerous”. If practised regularly, Lévi wrote that “neither moral nor physical health would be able to withstand it.”
As for the elderly lady, who Lévi kept anonymous in his writing, due to her coming from a prestigious family, she supposedly found nothing other than madness in the ceremony. Lévi claimed that she had become addicted to the dark ritual practices of necromancy, and as such was slipping into insanity.1
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