Éliphas Lévi (8 February 1810 - 21 May 1975) is one of the greatest occultists of the 19th century, credited for reviving interest in magick at the time.
The French sage, poet and author is best known for his depiction of Baphomet, who greatly influenced the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Theosophical Society and Thelema. (And of course, our beloved Baphomet Incense Burner).
Lévi suggested natural magick lay at the intersection of science and religion, rejecting the notion that it was an irrational belief. Hermeticism, he stated, could lead to the truth behind all magickal systems.
On top of this, Lévi was first to declare the inverted pentagram as a mark of the occult, and made his mark on the Tarot, too.
A brief history of Éliphas Lévi
Born Alphonse Louis Constant, Éliphas Lévi followed a priestly path in his youth. At 26, he lost belief in the church and withdrew, causing him to be disowned by his family.
Lévi soon found his way into Parisian counterculture, finding the socialist underground the church has starved him of. His first book went on sale for one hour, before it was confiscated by police and Lévi was arrested.
Once released, he went on to publish more than 20 others, which ventured into themes of women’s rights, classism, alchemy, paganism, and of course, magick.
Baphomet, Inverted Pentagrams and the Tarot
The first book Lévi wrote on occultism was Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual, which appeared in two volumes between 1854 and 1856. Structured into 22 chapters devoted to the 22 major arcana cards, his work has highly influenced the Tarot.
But perhaps the most famous influence from this book was Lévi’s depiction of the Goat of Mendes, aka Baphomet - the symbolic figure who holds deep meaning in magickal circles to this day.
As far back as 1307, Baphomet had been used as a deity to frame the Knights Templar for "devil worship" a few centuries earlier. Lévi’s drawing gave it new life as the Sabbatic Goat, representing the harmony of opposites (half-human and half-animal, male and female, good and evil, light and darkness).
Here’s how Lévi described Baphomet’s symbology in Transcendental Magic:
The Inverted Pentagram
“The goat carries the sign of the pentagram on the forehead, with one point at the top, a symbol of light, his two hands forming the sign of occultism, the one pointing up to the white moon of Chesed, the other pointing down to the black one of Geburah. This sign expresses the perfect harmony of mercy with justice.”
The torch between the horns
“The flame of intelligence shining between his horns is the magic light of the universal balance, the image of the soul elevated above matter, as the flame, whilst being tied to matter, shines above it.”
The rod between the legs
“The rod standing instead of genitals symbolizes eternal life, the body covered with scales the water, the semi-circle above it the atmosphere, the feathers following above the volatile.”
Other body parts
“Humanity is represented by the two breasts and the androgyne arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences.”
Other cultural influences
The Church of Satan adopted Lévi’s image of Baphomet, blurring the meaning of the Sabbatic Goat’s original symbolism. A similar illustration is used in the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck to represent The Devil card, further cementing confusion.
Whatever your belief system, there’s no denying the significant contribution Lévi’s occultism had in the revival of magick.
And, on a completely personal level, the fact he only became a ceremonial magician at 40 years old gives the most disenchanted of us faith in our own future callings, surely.