THE GREAT DAY OF SAINT-MARTIN
BY ARTHUR EDWARD WAITE
DURING the second half of the eighteenth century it may be said without exaggeration that the intellectual, historical and political center of all things was in the kingdom of France. The statement obtains not only because of the great upheaval of revolution which was to close the epoch, but because of the activities which prepared thereto. I know not what gulfs disparate us from the scheme and order of things signified by the name of Voltaire, by Diderot and the Encyclopaedists at large, or what are the points of contact between the human understanding at this day and that which was conceived by Condorcet in his memorable treatise. But about the import and consequence of their place and time I suppose that no one can question.
The same land and the same period were the center also of occult activities and occult interests, which I mention at once because they belong to my subject, at least on the external side, since it happens quite often that where occultism is about on the surface there is mysticism somewhere behind. We may remember in this connection that a Christian mystical influence had been carried over in France from the last years of the seventeenth century through certain decades which followed: it was that of Port Royal, Fenelon and Madame Guyon, owing something - almost unawares - to the Spanish school of Quietism, as this in its turn reflected, without being aware of the fact, from pre-Reformation sources.
As regards occult activities, if I say that their seeds were sown prior to 1750, it will be understood that I am speaking of developments which were characteristic in a particular manner of the years that followed thereon. Occultism is always in the world, and among the French people especially there has been always some disposition to be drawn in this direction. In the eighteenth century, however, the sources for the most part are not to be found in France. The persuasive illuminations of Swedenborg the deep searchings of Jacob Bohme into God, man and the universe, the combined theosophy and magic represented by earlier and later kabalism, and a strange new sense of the Mysteries coming out from a sleep of the centuries with the advent of Symbolical Freemasonry these and some others with a root of general likeness were foreign in respect of their origins, but they found their homes in France. So also were certain splendid historical adventurers who were traffickers in the occult sciences, as other merchants traded the wares of the normal commercial world. I refer of course to Saint-Germain and Cagliostro, but they are signal examples or types, for they did not stand alone.
There were men with new gospels and revelations of all kinds; there were alchemists and magi in the byways, as well as on the public roads and in the King's palaces. Perhaps above all there were those who were traffickers in Rites, meaning Masonic Rites, carrying strange charters and making claims which had never been heard of previously in the age-long chronicle of occult things.
When one comes to reflect upon it, the great, many-sided Masonic adventure may be said to stand for the whole, to express it in the world of signs, as actually and historically speaking there came a day, before the French Revolution, when it seemed about to absorb the whole. All the occult sciences, all the ready-made evangels, all philosophies, the ever-transpiring new births in time ceased to be schemes on paper and came to be embodied in Grades.
So also the past, though it may be thought to have buried its dead, began to give them back to the Rites, and not as sheeted ghosts, but as things so truly risen and so much affirming life that they denied their own death and even that they had fallen asleep. Of such was the Rosy Cross. It came about in this manner that our Emblematical Institution, which was born, so to speak, at an AppIe- Tree Tavern and nursed in its early days at the Rummer and Grapes or the Goose and Gridiron, may be said to have passed through a second birth in France. It underwent otherwise a great transformation, was clothed in gorgeous; vestments and decorated with magnificent titles. It contracted in like manner the adornment of innumerable spiritual marriages, which were fruitful in spiritual progeny. I have pronounced its upcoming elsewhere and that of the Rites and Grades, the memorable Orders and Chivalries which came thus into being.
More numerous still were the foster sons and daughters, being things connected with Masonry but not belonging thereto, even in the widest sense of its Emblematic Art. Of illegitimate children by scores, things of rank imposture or gross delusion, I do not need to speak. It is sufficient to say that Holy Houses of Masonry were everywhere in the land of France, and everywhere also were its royal standards unrolled. There is no question, from one point of view, that all the claims belonged to a world of dreams, that from old-world history they drew only its fables, from antique science its myths, that the dignities conferred in proceedings were delivered in a glass of faerie, and that the emblazoned programmer of high intent and purpose were apt to fade strangely and seem written in invisible ink under the cold light of fact. But the reality behind the dreams must be sought in the spirit of the dreamers, for whom something had happened which opened all the doors and unfolded amazing vistas of possibility on every side about them.
The man who held the keys and indeed had forged them was no other than Voltaire, who in this connection stands of course for an intellectual movement at large, which movement meant emancipation from the fetters of thought and action. To summarize the situation in a sentence, apart from the Church and its dogma, all things looked possible for a moment. The peculiar Masonic "system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols," might lead humanity either back to the perfection which it had lost or forward to that which it desired and could in mind descry dimly, however far away.
The new prophets and their vaunted revelations might have God behind their gospels, and the darkness of the occult sciences might veil unknown Masters, rather than emissaries of perdition. Condemned practices, forbidden arts might lead through clouds of mystery into light of knowledge, and in this light history might call to be written out anew. We know at this day that Masonic legends are matters of fond invention, but some of them are old at the root, and we can understand in the eighteenth century how they came to pass as fact, more especially since the root of some was a Secret Tradition in Israel.
When it came about, under circumstances which cannot be related here, that Masonic attention was drawn to the old Order of Knights Templar, which had been brought to the rack and the faggot as possessors of a strange knowledge drawn from the East, a Rite or a budget of Rites which claimed that the Order had never passed out of being was like a fortune to those who devised it.
It is from this point of new that we must survey the amazing growth of Masonry in all its multitude of forms. We shall conclude that it was pursued zealously, with a heart turned towards the truth, and as one who believes that he may not stand alone, I am not unprepared to think that some of the traditional histories, to us as monstrous growths, represented to the makers their views on the probability of things presented in the guise of myth. It was saved in this manner for them from the common charge of fraud. This is my judgment of the time, and there is one thing more on the wonder side of the subject, the expectations and the vistas seen in front.
As the time drew on for Voltaire to be called away and when the chief High Grades of Masonry connoted a reaction from much that is typified by his name, there rose up another personality holding one key only, but it looked like clavis abeconditorum a constitutione mundi. This was Anton Mesmer, prominent in Parisian circles, a Mason like the rest of them, and destined presently to have more than one Grade enshrining his discovery and designed for the spread of its tenets.
Granting the fact of his unseen but vital fluid, there was a root of truth at least in the long past of Magia, in the entrancements of vestal and pythoness, above all in occult medicine. So opened some other doors, and when Puysegur discovered clairvoyance again as it might be for a moment - the mystery of all the hiddenness looked on the point of unveiling. But the doors shut suddenly, the dreams and the epoch closed in the carnage of the French Revolution, and thereafter rose the baleful cresset of Corsica.
I have dwelt upon French Freemasonry because it is impossible to pass over it in presenting a picture of the period, but more especially because the life of the mystic Saint-Martin is bound up therewith for a certain number of years. Among the Rites which mattered at the moment his name connects with two, being the glory of the Strict Observance and the problematical Order of Elect Priesthood.
Behead the first there lies the mystery of its Unknown Superiors, but this, when reduced to its equivalent in simple fact, means the circumstances under which and the people by whom its root-matter was communicated in France to Baron von Hund, who returned with it to his German Fatherland and there formed it into a Rite, whose advent marked an epoch for evermore ill Masonry. But in respect of the second there lies behind it the claim of Pasqually's apostolate in that for which it stood and whence, if from anywhere, he derived on has own part - as, for example, the Rosy Cross.
I cannot trace here the history of the Strict Observance: it claimed to represent a perpetuation in secret of the Knights Templar and to be ruled by a hidden headship appertaining to that source. It may almost be said that it took Masonic Germany by storm, and planted its banners triumphantly all over Europe, save only in those British Isles where the Art and Craft of Emblematic Freemasonry rose up in 1717 among the taverns of London. It fell to pieces ultimately because it was in no better position to prove its claims than was the Craft itself to justify its recurrent appeals to the hoary past.
But the point which concerns, us is that before its karma overtook it the Rite was domiciled in France and had headquarters at Lyons under the government of a Provincial Grand Prior of Auvergne. It was transformed under these auspices from a Holy House of the Temple into a Spiritual House of God, in the keeping of a sacred chivalry pledged to the work of His glory and the promotion of peace on earth among all men of goodwill. It is the Apex of Masonry or the diadem of this Daughter of the Mysteries.
As regards Martines de Pasqually and his Rite des Elus Coens, or Order of the Elect Priesthood, he would seem to have been of Spanish descent or extraction, though he was born in Grenoble, and he is said to have been a coach-builder by trade - a piece of information which comes, however, from a hostile source. It may stand at its value and in any case does not signify, for it must be admitted, I believe, that he was of comparatively humble origin, and has extant letters swarm with orthographical errors, all has intellectual gifts notwithstanding and also has spiritual dedications. Whatever has been said to the contrary, it is quite certain - so far as there is evidence before us that he emerged into the light of his Masonic career for the first time in 1760 and that the place was Toulouse, where he presented himself at a certain Lodge, bearing a hieroglyphic charter and laying claim to occult powers.
A year later he emerged again at Bordeaux where he appears to have been recognized on his own terms by another Lodge, which he had satisfied in respect of has claims. In 1766 he proceeded to Paris and there laid the foundations of a Sovereign Tribunal, which included several prominent Masons. He was again at Bordeaux: in 1767, and three years later there are said to have been Lodges of his Rite not only at that city but at Montpellier, Avignon, La Rochelle and Metz, as well as at Paris and Versailles. The Temple at Lyons was founded a little later.
Such is the external story of the Rite in bare outline, up to the time when for my present purpose - it can be merged in that of Saint-Martin. And now as to that for which it stood. I have intimated that Martines de PasqualIy pretended to occult powers, and that there was at least one Lodge which held that he had proved his claim. I shall show later on the extent of our present knowledge respecting the content of his Rite. It had a certain ceremonial procedure, which - like all Ritual - must have been sacramental in character, or with a certain meaning implied by its modes and forms; but only to the least extent was it otherwise veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. On the contrary, it was concerned with the communication of a secret doctrine by way of direct instruction and with a practice which must be called secret in the ordinary sense which attaches to the idea of occult art or science.
The kind of practice was that which endeavors to establish communication with unseen intelligence by the observances of Ceremonial Magic. There was procedure of this kind in the course of the Grades, or of some at least among them, and Pasqually, the Grand Sovereign, was also Grand Magus or Operator. It will be seen in a word that the Rite of Elect Priesthood had a very different undertaking in hand from anything embraced by the horizon of Craft Masonry or the rank and file of High Grades. The doctrine embodied a particular view concerning the Fall of Man and of all animated things belonging to the material order, it looked for the restoration of all, and on man as the divinely appointed agent of that great work to come.