Birth of Martinism
Martinism is a spiritual movement created by the French philosopher and mystic Louis Claude de Saint-Martin. Contrary to what has often been written, he never founded an organized group or an initiatic order; rather, his work was essentially spiritual and philosophical.
Born in Amboise on January 18, 1743, the Marquis Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin became a lawyer before joining the army. With an officer's license, he joined the regiment of Foix, which was garrisoned in Bordeaux, thus joining the rich initiatic world of South-West France. Here he met M. de Grainville and was initiated into the Masonic Order of Elus-Coë nfounded by Martines de Pasqually. A Freemason since 1765, Saint-Martin was dazzled by Martines, and subsequently became his secretary. A few years later, as high dignitary Cohen, promoted to the supreme rank of “Reau-Croix,” Saint-Martin left his Masonic activities, without denying his initiation “Cohen.” He devoted himself to his metaphysical studies, becoming the greatest of the French theosophists of his time (a term to be taken in the religious sense of the 18th century and not related to the movement created by Helena Blavatsky).
When Saint-Martin discovered and translated the work of Jacob Böhme, he immediately realized the connection with the initiatic and theurgic Gnosticism of his former master Martines de Pasqually. He said that Martines had the “active key of all that our dear Böhme exposes in his theories. It is an excellent marriage to our first School and our friend Böhme.” Saint Martin wished to place theurgy under the control of mysticism. The latter, according to him, goes straight to the upper region, while the first is exercised in a region where Good and Evil are confused and mingled.
Saint Martin chose for a pen name the “Unknown Philosopher.” Under this pseudonym, he published an important and easily accessible work. Most of his works were written between 1775 and 1803, until his death at Châtenay, near Paris.
By the magnitude of his work and the depth of his inner vision, the unknown philosopher could rightly be called the "French Swedenborg."
The richness of his work, combined with his studies with Martines de Pasqually, led many disciples among the occult M of his time and helped to make known the system of Jacob Böhme.
Birth of the Martinist Order
In 1891, the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose-Cross (created in 1888) asked Papus to develop the initiation of the Unknown Superior in the form of an external Order whose essential role would be spirituality and Christian chivalry. Papus chose to structure it according to the Masonic scale in three grades. The only real initiation was obviously the last, that of U.S. (Unknown Superior). Papus’ mission was unambiguous: it was to allow a greater number of people to discover the thought of Saint-Martin and to undertake the moral process represented in the purest form of Christian chivalry.
Cette structure donna une perennité certaine à l’Ordre Martiniste qui continua à se développer après la mort de Papus et à se ramifier suviant les aléas de son histoire.
De son côté, l’Ordre kabbalistique de la Rose-Croix, fidèle à sa démarche, continua à accepter en son sein des candidats ayant déjà reçu l’initiation de Supérieur Inconnu ou la leur transmettait selon la forme originelle comme préalable à la démarche entreprise en son sein.
The Martinesist doctrine
It is necessary to begin with a summary of Martinès de Pasqually's doctrine. If you want to go further in your learning of this Masonic movement, we recommend reading French historians, such as Robert Amadou, Serge Caillet, and Antoine Faivre.
G. Van Rijnberk presents the teaching of Martinès as follows: “To form an idea of his teaching we have three kinds of documents: 1. His Treatise on the Reintegration of Beings in their first properties, virtues and spiritual powers and divine. 2. The rituals and catechisms of his Order of the Elect Coens. 3. The letters on the magical operations addressed by the Master to Willermoz.
The Treaty contains the secret doctrine (which was reserved only for the “Reaux-Croix” of the Order): It deals with the fall of the spirit, the fall of Man in matter, the occult History of Cosmos and of the Earth, the esoteric role of Evil and the demonic powers, and finally the possibility of a return of humanity to its first state of glory.
The rituals and catechisms of the Order expose this same doctrine but veil it under the embroidery and ornamentation of mythical details according to the Masonic process. They also teach how man can purify himself and try to make himself worthy to enjoy, after death, all of his primitive privileges.
Finally, Willermoz's letters teach the theurgic means to relate to the spirits of the higher and supreme spheres.
The doctrine of Martinès is a doctrine of the reintegration of beings. Reintegration involves prior expulsion, tragedy and denouement. Through worship and operative practices (evocations), man must obtain his reconciliation with God, then his reintegration into his primitive state.
Interestingly, this doctrine could in certain points come closer to the hermetic conceptions of the Neoplatonic tradition. However, the speech is often confused, heavy and overloaded with convoluted turnings. We find nothing of the style which was characteristic of the Greek or Roman authors.
For Martinès, God emanated spiritual beings, some of whom would follow their pride and seek to become equal to God, becoming creators themselves. To punish them, the Creator banished them from the spiritual world which they inhabited. God then created an androgynous being, Adam, to dominate these spirits; unfortunately, he in turn became the victim by wanting to create. He was then exiled to the land without contact with God and would from that moment have to use intermediary spirits to find this communication with his Creator and eventually be reconciled with him. This is the object of all magical rituals taught by Martinès. Following this path, humans could be reintegrated into their original form; only then could they teach other creatures who are still separated from God.
Of course, many details and episodes embellish this myth and give a structure to the theurgic practices.
Saint Martin rejected this ritual path as dangerous, without denying its value. Although he would always recognize the effectiveness of the studies and teachings of his master, his sensitivity would guide him to other horizons. His doctrine, however, remained the same on the merits, that is to say, on the conceptions of the fall of man in mind and matter, and the possibility that humanity could return to its first state of glory. This is the path better known as “reintegration” or in the words of “Reau+Croix,” that of “reconciliation.”
The Martinist doctrine
Let's consider now the message of Saint Martin. R. Amadou writes: “Saint Martin was Freemason, Saint Martin was Elu-Cohen, Saint Martin agreed with Mesmerism. He participated himself to the rites and customs of these societies. He behaved like an irreproachable member of initiatic fraternities. But this attitude represents only one epoch of his life.” This is a crucial point that must be noted. The secretary of Martinès, practitioner of the theurgy, turned away. “Master,” he said to Martines one day, “are so many things needed to pray God?” This growing tendency in him prevailed; indeed, his quest was that of God: he had always been moved by the quest of Good, Beauty, and Truth which only God can fulfill. Consequently, his inner evolution moved him away from the material world to emphasize the inner path which would later be called the “mystic path” or “path of the heart.” After practicing the rites of Martinès, he read the authors of the time, including Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu. He considered these philosophers as “not very mystical.” Consequently, Saint-Martin began to write and build his own philosophy.
Then came the revelation that changed his life when he discovered the writings of Jacob Böhme, which resulted in a true inner illumination, influencing his thoughts until his death. The message of Jacob Böhme reflected on the unknown philosopher, bringing Saint-Martin a truth and purification that none of the practices of the Elus-Cohens had been able to supply. He brought to France this revelation of n hidden and inner spiritual path coming from Böhme’s writings. To analyze in detail the thought of the Unknown Philosopher would take us too far here, so we will give only the most concise vision possible of what was for him the inner path, the search for the divine Sophia. Let's quote first his foreword of his translation of the first book of Jacob Böhme:
“Jacob Böhme, known in Germany as the Teutonic Philosopher, and author of Aurora Nascent, as well as several other theosophical works, was born in 1575, in a small town in Haute Luzace, named the old Seidenburg, about half a mile from Gorlitz. His parents were of the low class of the people, poor, but honest. During his early years, he was occupied with keeping the cattle. When he was a little older, he was sent to school, where he learned to read and write; and from there he was apprenticed to a master cobbler at Gorlitz. He married at the age of 19, and had four boys, one of whom he taught as a shoemaker. He died in Gorlitz in 1624 from an acute illness.
While he was apprentice, his master and mistress being absent for the moment, a stranger dressed very simply, but having a beautiful face and a venerable appearance, entered the shop, and, taking a pair of shoes, asked to buy it. The young man, not thinking himself in a position to sell these shoes, refused. The man insisted and Jacob asked for an excessive price, hoping to avoid any reproach from his master, or to discourage the buyer. The latter gave the asking price, took the shoes, and went out. He had gone only a few steps when he said in a loud, firm voice, “Jacob, Jacob, come here.” The young man was surprised and frightened to hear this stranger call him by his baptismal name, but having recovered, he went to him. The stranger with a serious, but friendly air, looked at Jacob with a glittering gaze of fire, took him by the right hand, and stated: “Jacob, you are small; but you will be great, and you will become another man, so much that you will be someone astonishing to the world. Be pious, fear God, and revere his word; especially carefully read the scriptures, in which you will find consolation and instruction, for you will have much to suffer. You will find poverty, misery, and persecution, but be courageous and persevering, for God loves you and is propitious to you.”
The stranger shook Jacob’s hand, stared at him again with bright eyes, and went away, without any indication that they would ever see each other again.
After that time, Jacob Böhme naturally received, in several circumstances, various insights which opened to him an understanding of the various subjects which he treated in his writings.
We are here in a totally different world than the one taught by Martinès. This is not a world of the occult in which magical knowledge is essential, but of a simple shoemaker, a man without great intellectual knowledge. We have to keep in mind that in the 18th century, such a man was very different from the initiates who were leading occult groups. We find no ceremonial, nor initiations. The only thing is a simple encounter between two men, a shoemaker and a stranger who revealed to him the unique door to the kingdom of the Spirit.
The message of the shoemaker from Gorlitz would guide and support him in his search, opening the doors of the “spirit.” The figure of Sophia would be at the center of this doctrine.
To situate this idea, let us quote a fragment of the book of Proverbs VIII-22.23 and 30.31: " The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old. I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. [...] Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” In this perspective, Koyre writes: "Divine wisdom is, so to speak, the plan, the pre-existing model of creation. It does not create itself, it does not breed. She is only the ideal world or her image. An ideal and not a fiction, and that is why it has a certain reality. It represents the harmony of the creative powers of God.” Böhme writes: “This virgin is a similitude of God, his image, his Wisdom in which the spirit sees itself and in which the Lord reveals his wonders. Divine Wisdom, still called Sophia, Eternal Word, Glory and Splendor of God, is therefore a mirror, a fourth term that God opposes in order to be able to reflect, realize, and become fully aware of same.” In the introduction to the Ministry of the Man-Spirit (Paris 1802), Saint Martin summarizes with remarkable clarity the foundations of this Western tradition. This text is of great importance: “The present physical and elementary nature is only a residue and an alteration of an earlier nature, that J. Böhme calls eternal nature; (...) This current nature formerly formed in all its constituency, the empire and the throne of one of the angelic princes, named Lucifer; (...) This prince wishing to reign only by the power of fire and anger, and putting aside the reign of love and the divine light, which should have been his only torch, enflamed the entire constituency of his empire; (...) The divine wisdom opposed to this fire a temperate and cold power that contains this fire without extinguishing it, which is the mixture of good and bad that we see today in nature.” Man, explains St. Martin, “is placed in nature to contain Lucifer in the pure element. He is formed of fire, of the principle of light, and of the quintessential principle of physical or elemental nature. Yet he lets himself be attracted more by the temporal principle of nature than by the other two principles and falls into sleep and matter. (...) The two other dyes, one igneous and the other aquatic, which were to be united in man, and to identify with Wisdom or Sophie - but which are now divided - seek each other with ardor, hoping to find this missing Sophie in each other.“
Thus, the divine wisdom is placed in a key place since man must identify with it to find the principle of the Light.
“The man discovering the science of his own greatness, learns that by leaning on a universal basis, his intellectual being becomes the true Temple, that the torches which must illuminate him are the lights of the thought that surround him and follow him everywhere; that the priest is his confidence in the necessary existence of the principle of order and life. It is this burning and fruitful persuasion before which death and darkness disappear; that perfumes and offerings, it is his prayer, it is his desire and his zeal for the reign of the exclusive Unity; that the altar is that eternal convention founded on its own emanation, and to which God and Man come to surrender, to find one his glory and the other his happiness; in a word, that the fire destined for the consumption of burnt offerings, that fire which was never to be extinguished, is that of that divine spark which animates man and which, if he had been faithful to his primitive law, would have made it forever as a shining lamp placed in the path of the throne of the Lord, to light the footsteps of those who had departed from it; because, finally, man must no longer doubt that he had received existence only to be the living testimony of the Light and Divinity.”
This quote from the book Tableau Naturel shows us clearly the approach of Saint-Martin. All visible and external aspects, candles, perfumes, offerings, and the altar, are interiorized. The point is not to progress on this path with visible rites, but to begin with the inner journey to the throne of glory where the Son of God sits and then to ascend by the right path to the Eternal present in us. This will be the approach of the Unknown Philosopher, allowing other pure philosophical speculations on the side. It will become an inner elevation through prayer, zeal, and the desire for unity in God.
Whoever feels this inner call, this will to follow the ascending path, becomes a man of desire, animated by the desire of God. This path leading to spiritual initiation became with Saint Martin a way of prayer and asceticism, quite independent of the outer ways known at that time. It rejects nothing and even if in a rite a candle is lit, this ritual act does not become a magical act, but instead the materialization of an inner state of consciousness. This did not prevent Saint Martin from studying the universe in a way that seems very modern today; we will quote only a few sentences to illustrate this point: “It is indisputable that the subject exists only by the movement, because we see that when the bodies are deprived of the one which is granted to them for a time, they dissolve and disappear imperceptibly. It is obvious that the extension exists only by the movement.”
Following a famous symbol, he compares the universe to a book: “The first cause, God, is the writer; nature, the written book and the man the reader. But this reader does not understand very often the exact meaning of the pages of the book. It is necessary to have the patient meditations.”
It is obvious today that Saint-Martin created a new spiritual practice coming from his readings of Jacob Böhme. However, this is not a practice of immobility or passivity. The men of desire described by Saint Martin are men of action, fiery and not fatalistic. They do not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the impressions or influences of the invisible. They have in them the desire for God, the desire for knowledge and wisdom. They do not let themselves be fooled by this ocean of illusions.
The man of desire is a man of action, but according to Saint Martin, not a magician. However, Saint Martin does advocate the inner way, not the passive way! It has been too much believed that if the way was interior it became passive, distinct from the external action. However, this is not so. The foundation of this inner way is prayer and through it, the believer will find peace in the inner temple of his soul.
The path of the heart of the Unknown Philosopher is paradoxically a path that is as much in the visible as in the invisible. It is a path of desire understood as a pure dynamism, a will.
He will walk toward God dressed only in white, with humility, speaking the language of love. No trace of passivity exists in this man of desire who can rise, meditating to himself the scriptures and the way of the elders, and seeking union with God. His external action will be only the materialization of an inner state. As the scriptures say: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33).
Thus, Martinism can be seen as a real spiritual path still relevant today. This message and this inner experience can change the way we see the world and enlighten the flame that is hidden in our soul. According to Papus, Saint-Martin gave us “two letters and some points.” However, he also gave us access to a spiritual revelation still present in the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose-Cross.
 R. Amadou, Louis Claude De Saint-Martin, Ed. Adyar, 1946.