Skip to Main Content

Occult Paris

The Lost Magic of the Belle Époque

How fin-de-siècle Paris became the locus for the most intense revival of magical practices and doctrines since the Renaissance

• Examines the remarkable lives of occult practitioners Joséphin Peladan, Papus, Stanislas de Guaïta, Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Jules Doinel, and others

• Reveals how occult activity deeply influenced many well-known cultural movements, such as Symbolism, the Decadents, modern music, and the “psychedelic 60s”

During Paris’s Belle Époque (1871-1914), many cultural movements and artistic styles flourished--Symbolism, Impressionism, Art Nouveau, the Decadents--all of which profoundly shaped modern culture. Inseparable from this cultural advancement was the explosion of occult activity taking place in the City of Light at the same time.

Exploring the magical, artistic, and intellectual world of the Belle Époque, Tobias Churton shows how a wide variety of Theosophists, Rosicrucians, Martinists, Freemasons, Gnostics, and neo-Cathars called fin-de-siècle Paris home. He examines the precise interplay of occultists Joséphin Peladan, Papus, Stanislas de Guaïta, and founder of the modern Gnostic Church Jules Doinel, along with lesser known figures such as Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Paul Sédir, Charles Barlet, Edmond Bailly, Albert Jounet, Abbé Lacuria, and Lady Caithness. He reveals how the work of many masters of modern culture such as composers Claude Debussy and Erik Satie, writers Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, and painters Georges Seurat and Alphonse Osbert bear signs of immersion in the esoteric circles that were thriving in Paris at the time. The author demonstrates how the creative hermetic ferment that animated the City of Light in the decades leading up to World War I remains an enduring presence and powerful influence today. Where, he asks, would Aleister Crowley and all the magicians of today be without the Parisian source of so much creativity in this field?

Conveying the living energy of Paris in this richly artistic period of history, Churton brings into full perspective the characters, personalities, and forces that made Paris a global magnet and which allowed later cultural movements, such as the “psychedelic 60s,” to rise from the ashes of post-war Europe.

Tobias Churton is Britain’s leading scholar of Western Esotericism, a world authority on Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Rosicrucianism. He is a filmmaker and the founding editor of the magazine Freemasonry Today. An Honorary Fellow of Exeter University, where he is faculty lecturer in Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, he holds a master’s degree in Theology from Brasenose College, Oxford, and created the award-winning documentary series and accompanying book The Gnostics, as well as several other films on Christian doctrine, mysticism, and magical folklore. The author of many books, including Gnostic Philosophy, The Invisible History of the Rosicrucians, and Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin, he lives in England.

". . . a massive, focused exploration of the relationship between the mystical and the creative. . .This entertaining volume will please fans of esoterica and the City of Light."

– Publishers Weekly

“With Tobias Churton as the cicerone--or dare I say psychopomp?--the reader is expertly guided in the labyrinthine world of the Occult Paris of the Belle Époque (1871-1914). This is the best introduction to the French occult revival ever written in English.”

– Henrik Bogdan, professor of religious studies at the University of Gothenburg

“Music, art, literature, mysticism--fin-de-siècle Paris had it all in great abundance, and in Tobias Churton’s latest tome he uncovers the hidden and not-so-hidden connections between Satie, Debussy, Redon, Rops, Khnopff, Gauguin, Crowley, Lévi, Papus, Mathers, Péladan, Michelet, Blavatsky, Reuss, Huysmans, Breton, and countless others. . . . Eminently readable and filled with meticulous historical details, this is a fabulous depiction of one of the most exciting and fervent periods of creativity in modern times.”

– John Zorn, composer-performer

“A tour de force. A stunning account of fin-de-siècle Occult Paris and its lasting influence on the counterculture. . . . Churton gives comprehensive portrayals of such occult luminaries as Péladan, Papus, and de Guaita as well as a portrayal of their movements and a seminal analysis of esoteric art--in particular the ‘Rosicrucian’ art of the salons--locating its place in the intellectual, cultural, and political milieu of the Belle Époque. Tobias is as erudite as he is excited and exciting. His scholarship is alive with passion, imagination, humor, and, most of all, humanity. A must-read for students of European history, Art Nouveau, Symbolism, Idealism, Surrealism, and the Decadents as well as for neo-Rosicrucian, Templar and Gnostic esotericists, and modern-day alchemists and magicians.”

– Stephen J. King (Shiva X°), Grand Master, Ordo Templi Orientis

“No one can evoke the feel of a place and an era like Tobias Churton! This is Paris in the Belle Époque, but behind the city of the can-can, Toulouse-Lautrec, and the Moulin Rouge, Churton shows us a Paris of seekers in mysterious worlds--magic, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, alchemy--and of artists, writers, and composers who were also drawn to those realms. The spirit of their compelling quest is stamped on every page of this book.”

– Christopher McIntosh, Ph.D., author of Eliphas Lévi

“Tobias Churton brings this amazing era to life. Gnostics, Free Masons, Rosicrucians, Hermetics…The echos of Paris’ Belle Epoque is still heard in cultural and spiritual movements today.”

– The Echo

More books from this author: Tobias Churton