One of the most familiar ways to start discussions among Martinists is to
ask the question "What is a Martinist?". The answer to that can be as
elegantly simple or as convoluted and complex as the participants wish. The
notion of "Initiation" is common if not central to this question and to
those regarding "Martinist Legitimacy". Let's start with a broad definition
for the present, then gradually color in some details.
"Martinism" is the Christian Mystical philosophy based upon the books and
letters of Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. The definition of "Christian
Mystical" is itself worthy of a lengthy book such as Mysticism by Evelyn
Underhill, a classic in the literature of religious studies. Evelyn
Underhill was at one time a member of an authentic Golden Dawn Temple under
the author A. E. Waite, in England and supposedly not unfamiliar with the
practical application of her subject. The Golden Dawn was, and still is, an
organization dedicated to the study of Magic and other Occult practice. In
general, a Christian mystic is someone who is deliberately performing the
virtues expressed by the life of Jesus Christ to the best of his or her
ability. This is a pretty expansive definition. There are many pious
Christians who are mystics and don't know it. Generally however, the
Christian mystic, indeed the mystic of whatever religion, engages in a
spiritual discipline over and above the everyday religious observances.
These spiritual disciplines are similar to what monks and nuns would
perform, that is, deep prayerful communion with God, in other words,
meditation. This gives rise to another suitable definition of a mystic: A
mystic is one who seeks to raise his or her consciousness for the purposes
of greater attunement with God. Doing this within a Christian environment
makes one a Christian mystic. Definitions more specific than these are
beyond that suggested by Saint-Martin in his published writings.
During his lifetime (1743 to 1803), Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin founded no
group or fraternity for the study of the higher mysteries of religious
experience. Remember that during this era, the French Revolution had
transpired and the so called Holy Inquisition was passing its last days.
Public indulgence in too controversial activities could have put him in
prision to await the guillotine or the stake, depending upon which
authorities, Church or State, to which he ran afoul. As it was, as a
nobleman, he was imprisioned for a short period during the Revolution, but
released upon the intercession of local officials who sought to employ him
as a public school teacher. Saint-Martin engaged in personal correspondence
and meetings with like minded, spiritually inclined people. In addition to
letter writing and visiting friends in France and other countries, he set
out his inspirational thoughts in several books. He was probably influenced
by the pious religious life books of his era, especially that of Saint
Frances de Sales, Bishop of Lyons, France and Doctor of the Church
(1567-1622). Saint Francis de Sales' book Introduction to the Devout Life ,
published in 1619, is a model for a Christian mystical way of life.
Uncorrupted for the first 10 years after his death, the body of Saint
Frances de Sales rests at the Mother House of the Visitation Order in
Annecy, France, near Paris. The greatest self-admitted influence upon
Saint-Martin were the books of the German mystical philosopher Jacob Boehme.
Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin was the first to translate Boehme's works from
German into French. There is evidence in his published letters, that he was
aquainted with occult subjects of his time like spiritualism, magnetic
treatments, magical evocation and the works of Emanuel Swedenborg
(1688-1772). Although contemporaries, no written correspondence exists
between Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin and Emanuel Swedenborg, nor even a
reference to same. Saint-Martin did not marry and did not have any children.
Both before and after his death, circles of admirers of Saint-Martin's works
spontaneously formed for the purpose of discussing and perhaps practising
his philosophy. These were generically called "Friends of Saint-Martin". Let
us now abruptly enter the main issue of this essay, that of Initiation. The
most detailed chain of succession or apostolic succession, as it were, is
given by the Ordre Martiniste of Paris, France:
1. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin (1743-1803)
2. Abbe de la Noue (died 1820)
3. Antoine-Marie Hennequin (died 1851)
4. Henri de la Touche (died 1851)
5. Adolphe Desbarolles (died 1880)
6. Marquise Amélie de Boissmortemart (born Amélie de Nouel de la Touche)
7. Augustin Chaboseau (died in 1946)
There is a parallel succession:
1. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin
2. Jean-Antoine Chaptal (died 1832)
3. Henri Delaage (died 1882)
4. Gérard Encausse (ie. Papus, died 1916)
In 1888, Augustin Chaboseau and Gérard Encausse exchanged personal
Initiations to consolidate the succession. Other than the names of
Saint-Martin, Chaboseau and Encausse, the other persons are mostly only
names to us. How does one proceed from informal circles of Saint-Martin
afficianados, of which these names must belong, given the vacuum of
additional information, to the notion of an Initiatic Chain of succession?
By Papus' own admmission, "All that I received were some letters and some
points." This is a cryptic reference to the symbol, invented by Papus,
called the Martinist "Labarum" comprised of the letters "S" and "I" and
opposing equlateral triangles represented by three dots each, all within the
four quadrants of an equilateral cross: (The limitations of the type font
poorly represent the graphic.)
S | . ' .
' . ' | I
It is believed by many Martinists, but never admitted by Saint-Martin in any
of his books or letters, that he was a member of a Rosicrucian fraternity
called the "Rose-Croix de L'Orient". The English translation of "Rosy-Cross
of the East" is unsatifactory, however. I believe the reference is to the
Rosucrucian Order known in English as the "Asiatic Brethren", which has been
described with some approval, by A. E. Waite in his book The Brotherhood of
the Rosy Cross, an important reference text in Rosicrucian study. This
Rosicrucian Order was contemporaneous with Saint-Martin. It is known that
Jacobe Boehme himself had acquaintance with students of Alchemy during his
writing career and additionally was visited by members of the Rosy Cross
late in his life.
Further it is known that Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin was an Initiate of the
highest degree of a Christian Magical or Theurgic Order called the
Élus-Cohens Chévalerie des Maçons de l'Univers (Elect Priests Knight Masons
of the Universe). As a former Mason and theurgic Initiate, it is believed
that Saint-Martin performed a simple personal Initiation upon his students,
something like the laying on of hands, nothing elaborate. No public proof is
available that anything of this kind transpired, neither from the pen of
Saint-Martin nor from any of his admirers, who numbered in the thousands
throughout Europe. It cannot be overstressed that Louis-Claude de
Saint-Martin never claimed the possession of any Secret Wisdom or
supernatural abilities. Notwithstanding his silence upon the level of his
own spirituality, the inspired tenor of his works and indeed of his very
life, and that he freely admitted to success in his theurgic operations, it
is not unreasonable to conclude that a certain magisterium or sacramental
grace emanated from his being. The names listed in the Martinist succession,
then are presumably documented individuals who have received this personal
and informal "touch" or "transmission" as it is called in Martinism, from
person to person.
In 1891, the Martinist Order was founded in Paris, France, by a Supreme
1. Papus (Grand Master)
3. Paul Adam
5. Maurice Barres
8. Stanislas de Guaita
11. Joseph Peladan
Maurice Barres and Joseph Peladan were later replaced by Marc Haven and
For completeness sake, I will complete the succession, at least until 1971:
1. Papus (died 1916)
2. Charles Detre (ie. Teder, died in 1918)
3. Jean Bricaud (died in 1934)
4. Constant Chevillon (assassinated by the Vichy Milita in 1944)
5. Charles-Henry Dupont (died 1960)
6. Philippe Encausse (retired in 1960)
7. Irénée Seguret (1971-?)
Other Martinist Orders deriving from Papus:
2. Victor Blanchard (died in 1953. Grand Master Ordre Martiniste et
Synarchique (OMS), founded in 1918)
3. Agustin Chaboseau (died in 1946. Grand Master Ordre Martiniste
Traditionnel (OMT), founded in 1931)
4. Joules Boucher (died 1955. Grand Master Ordre Martiniste Rectifié founded
5. Ordre Martinist Initiatique, founded in 1968, Christianne Buisset Grand
Master circa 1980-?)
The Martinist Order of Paris (OM) eventually became the largest body of
regularly initiated Martinists until the Second World War.
The OMS continued only in Switizerland during World War II. Eventually it
ceased its works there, but an OMS jurisdiction in England continues to the
present day (1994). About the year 1960, the Canadian Jurisdiction of the
OMS unilaterally became autonomous, and operates on its own in several
Provinces of Canada. The Mother jurisdiction of the OMS does not recognize
the Canadian Order as an OMS body, considering it clandestine, although
properly in possession of Initiatic authority. Further discussion of the
Canadian OMS awaits more badly needed historical material to be furnished by
the Sovereign Grand Master (or other authorities) of the OMS in Canada. The
OMSis regularly active in the United States of America under a Charter from
the OMS in England. More information about this U.S. body is urgently
required from authoritative sources.
In 1946, the OMT, or TMO as it is more commonly known in English, was
deposited into the conservatorship of the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae
Crucis (AMORC). The largest number of Martinists in the world are of this
obedience, due to the correspondence school methods employed by this
Rosicrucian Order. Initiation by mail is not practiced nor recognized by any
Martinist Order or group. Instruction by correspondence has not been
approved by almost all authentic Martinist Orders, however, A. E. Waite in
his book The Unknown Philosopher notes that instructions were sent by mail
under the Grand Mastership of Papus.
Several additional Martinist Orders presently exist, working on a small
scale and ultimately descending from the previously mentioned organizations,
not all of whom are recognized by the main Martinist bodies nor each other.
The perceptive reader will note that from a tenuous anecdotal claim of an
Initiatic Transmission (of what exactly?) a tendency, even from the earliest
history of the Martinist Order of Paris, of groups splitting from the main
line of Parisian Martinism, has been the rule, not the exception, that being
a consolidation of the Martinist Order of Lyons under Henry Dupont with the
Martinist Order of Paris under Philippe Encausse. Since then, the "of Paris"
is no longer used nor required.
The Martinist Order in general is organized on the Lodge System, something
like Freemasonry, although no effort is made to encroach upon its symbols
and teachings. After having been found sincere and desirous of study of the
principles of the Order, a candidate successively progresses through three
Degrees or Grades: Associate, then Initiate, then Unknown Superior. The
education is given in person during meetings called Conventicles. A simple
ritual of opening and closing the group called a Heptad (7 members minimum)
or a Lodge (21 members minimum) is employed. Smaller groups called Circles
with a very simplified opening and closing ceremony, permit less than the
minimum to study the Martinist principles.
The Degrees of Martinism, and I will roughly equate Martinism with the
Martinist Orders, for the present, as this is the commonly held conception
among Martinists, really are an unfolding of, or preparation for, the Third
Degree. According to Papus, "There is only one Degree, that of S. I.". S. I.
stands for Supérieur Inconnu, in French. The Initiations are a kind of
baptism designed to stimulate the member's ascent upon the mountain of
Wisdom, so to speak. The Conventicle lessons are a framework of sympathetic
study designed to allow that spark to fan into a flame. At this point,
gentle reader, we are at the point of an inference (a baptism-like
consecration) that has been placed atop a hersay anecdote (the transmission
of a personal touch or blessing). The nature and efficacy of the Martinist
Transmission in and of itself, is largely an issue of faith. The noticable
effect of Martinism, however, exists in the participation in group study and
personal practice of a mystical way of life. The Lodge system provides a
psychological environment to encourage the perception and appreciation of
higher spiritual principles. It is presumed that after the Third Degree,
upon which official study terminates, the Martinist is fully capable of
continued self-study and practice and indeed is prepared to lend a helping
hand in charity and philanthropic service to the rest of humanity.
I have explained, with some diversions, how the Martinist Orders came to be,
and the generally accepted basic description of a Martinist Order's
organization with respect to its Initiations. It can be discovered by
comparing the current Martinist lessons' material to the actual writings of
Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, that a substantial amount of Occult concepts
and principles are being taught as "Martinism", the nature of which may or
may not have met with the approval of Saint-Martin. This has lead to a
diminution of the mystical element, the primary one, in Martinism, and an
amplification of related Occult or secondary principles. We can observe what
Martinism is now, as exemplified by the various Martinist Orders. This
fosters the question "What is Martinism supposed to be, ideally?". Can it
meet its own ideals? How will it evolve in the future? How should it evolve?
Comments and questions to the author are invited.
Bibliography of Materials Consulted for this Essay:
1. Mysticism Evelyn Underhill, E. P. Dutton Inc., New York
2. The Sword of Wisdom, Ithell Colquhoun, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York
This is an excellent reference text for serious students of the Hermetic
Order of the Golden Dawn.
3. Introduction to the Devout Life Saint Francis de Sales, Image Books,
Garden City, New York
4. The Incorruptables Joan Carroll Cruz, Tan Books and Publishers, Inc.,
5. The Unknown Philosopher, Arthur Edward Waite, Rudolph Steiner
Publications, Blauvelt, New York
6. The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, A. E. Waite, University Books, New
Hyde Park, New York.
7. Sacramentaire du Rose+Croix by Robert Ambelain, La Diffusion Scientific,
This book of christian prayers based upon the Roman Catholic Liturgy,
contains an introduction which formulates the "Rose+Croix de L'Orient"
theory by Robert Ambelain, founder and Grand Master of L'Ordre Martiniste
des Élus-Cohens about the year 1946.
9. Three Famous Mystics Saint-Martin, Jacob Boehme, Swedenborg, Rider & Co.
This contains the article Saint Martin the French Mystic by A. E. Waite
10. "L'Initation", official journal of L'Ordre Martiniste
Mailing Address: 6, rue Jean Bouveri, 92100, Boulogne Billancourt, France.
Subscriptions are available to anyone but are in French only.
11. The FUDOSI, a special publication by AMORC in 1946. Only one edition was
12. Personal documents from decades of study and practice as a Martinist.
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