December 9th, 2004
The Great Secret
by Eliphas Levi
The Royal Mystery
or the Art of Subduing the Powers
Evil, in so far as it exists, is the affirmation of disorder. Now, in the presence of the eternal order, disorder is essentially transitory. In the presence of the absolute order, which is the will of God, disorder is only relative. Hence the absolute affirmation of disorder and evil is fundamentally a lie.
The absolute affirmation of evil is the denial of God, since God is the supreme and absolute source of good.
Evil is the denial of reason in the philosophical world. It is the denial of responsibility in the social world. It is opposition to the inviolable laws of nature in the physical world.
Suffering is not an evil, it is the consequence and nearly always the remedy of evil.
Nothing which is naturally inevitable can possibly be an evil. Winter, night and death are not evils. They are the natural transitions from one day to another day, from autumn to spring, from one life to another life.
Proudhon has said `God is what is evil'; which is as much as to say: God is the devil, because the devil is usually taken as the spirit of evil. If we reverse the proposition, we get this paradoxical formula: The devil is God, or in other words: evil is God. But of course, in talking like this, the king of logicians whom we have quoted was not trying to designate the hypothetical personification of good under the name of God. He was dreaming of some impossible divinity imagined by men and we will agree that he was right in explaining his thought in this way, for the devil is the caricature of God, and that which we call evil is good, badly defined and poorly understood.
We should not know how to love evil for evil's sake, and disorder for the sake of disorder. The infringement of the laws pleases us because it seems to place us above the law. Men were not made for the law, but the law has been made for men, to paraphrase the saying of Jesus which the priests of his time found so subversive and impious, a saying which human pride could abuse so monstrously. If someone says to us that God has rights but not responsibilities because He is stronger than we are, we say that this is what we mean by an impious saying. He may even dare to add that God is everything to us, but we are nothing to Him, whereas the contrary is true. God, who is infinitely greater than us, contracted an infinite debt in putting us into the world. He has dug the pit of human weakness which only He can fill in.
The absurd baseness of tyranny in the ancient world has bequeathed us the phantom of a god who is absurd and mean, who would make an eternal miracle to force a finite being to exist through infinite sufferings.
Let us suppose for a moment that one of us has been able to create an ephemeral being and has said to it, without its being able to hear it: `My creature, worship me!' The poor little creature scuttles about without a thought in its head. When its day is over and it dies, a necromancer says to the man that by pouring a drop of his blood on it he is able to resurrect the ephemeral creature.
The man takes offence - I would do the same if I were in his place - here is the resuscitated creature. What is the man going to do? I will tell you what he will do, exclaims a fanatic believer. Seeing that the creature in its former life did not have the wit to adore him, he will light a terrible brazier and hurl the creature into it, only regretting that he has not got the power to preserve its life miraculously in the midst of the flames so that it will burn eternally! - We know that everybody will say that nowhere could such a mad fool be found as base or as wicked as that! - Please forgive me, some of you Christians, the man in question certainly does not exist, I am convinced of that; but there does exist, in your imagination only I hasten to add, someone most cruel and base. It is your idea of God, as you explain Him, and it is of this idea that Proudhon had a thousand-fold reason for saying: (a) God (like this) is evil.
In this sense evil would be the deceitful affirmation of an evil god, and it is such a god who would be the devil or someone like him. A religion which offered such a balm for the sores of humanity would poison it instead of curing it. Spirits would be brutalized and consciences would become depraved, and the propaganda made in the name of such a god could be termed the evil magnetism. The result of falsehood is injustice, and from injustice there flows the iniquity which raises anarchy in states and in individuals; disintegration and death.
A lie cannot exist without evoking in the dead light a sort of spectral verity, and all the liars in life deceive themselves first of all in taking night for day. The anarchist thinks he is free, the thief thinks he is clever, the womanizer thinks he is enjoying himself, the dictator thinks that oppression is governing. What is required to destroy evil on the earth? Something which looks very simple: the enlightenment of the dolts and the vicious. But here all goodwill fails and all efforts founder; the vicious and the dolts have no wish to be enlightened. We have come up against that secret perversity which seems to be the root of the trouble, the relish for disorder and the attachment to error. It is our opinion that this perversity is not really something which is freely accepted and desired, but is nothing else than the poisoning of the will by the deleterious force of error.
The air we breath consists, as you know, of oxygen and nitrogen. The oxygen corresponds to the light of life and the nitrogen to the light of death. A man who was plunged into nitrogen would be unable to breathe or live; in the same way, a man who has been asphyxiated by the spectral light is no longer able to act of his own free will. It is not in the atmosphere that the great phenomenon of light takes place, it is in eyes which have been formed to see. One day, a philosopher of the positivist school, Mr Littré if I remember correctly, declared that infinity is nothing more than an endless night punctuated here and there by one or two stars. This is true, someone will say, for our eyes, which have not been made to perceive any other radiance than the light of the sun. But does not the very idea of this light appear to us when dreaming, while the earth is shrouded in night and our eyes are shut? What is the day belonging to souls? How does one see by means of thought? Would the night of our eyes exist for eyes which were constructed in some other way? And if our eyes were non-existent, would we have any awareness of the night? There are neither stars nor sun to the blind; and if we blindfold our eyes we become blind voluntarily. The perversity of the senses just like that of the faculties of the soul results from an accident or from some first offence against the laws of nature; it then becomes necessary and has the appearance of being fated. What is to be done with the blind? - They must be taken by the hand and led. - But what if they do not want to be led? - Guard-rails will have to be erected. - But suppose they knock them down? - In that case they are not simply blind, but dangerous lunatics and the best thing to do is to let them perish if they cannot be locked up.
Edgar Allan Poe tells the amusing story of an asylum where the inmates had managed to lay hands on the attendants and keepers and had locked them in their own padded cells after making them look like wild beasts. There they are, celebrating their victory in their doctor's rooms, drinking the infirmary's wine and congratulating each other on having made such splendid recoveries. While they are carousing, their prisoners break their chains and rush them with flailing batons. They have been infuriated by the poor madmen and avenge themselves after a fashion by senseless ill-usage.
Here we have the story of modern revolutions. The feeble-minded, triumphing by sheer weight of numbers, in other words the so-called masses, imprison the wise men and make out that the latter are no better than wild beasts. Soon the prisons fall into disrepair and break down, and the wise of today, by their sufferings, escape howling and spreading terror all round. An attempt was made to impose a false god on people, and they bawl that there is no God at all. Then the apathetic, who have grown bold from fear, form a coalition to quell these frantic half-wits and inaugurate the rule of the imbeciles. We have already seen this happen.
Up to what point men are responsible for the swings and agonies which produce so many crimes, would puzzle a thinker to say. Marat is execrated and Pius V is canonized.
It is true that the awful Ghislieri did not guillotine his opponents - he burnt them to death. Pius V was a severe man and a convinced Catholic. Marat took impartiality to the point of misery.
Both of them believed in what they were doing, but they were homicidal fools even if they were not homicidal maniacs.
Now, when some criminal folly obtains the complicity of the people it almost becomes a terrible right, and when the mob, who have not been undeceived but led astray in some other fashion, disown and abandon their hero, the loser becomes at one and the same time both scapegoat and martyr. The death of Robespierre is as fine as that of Louis XVI.
I genuinely admire that frightful inquisitor who, when assassinated by the Albigenses, wrote on the ground with his blood before he died: Credo in unum Deum! (I believe in One God).
Is war an evil? Yes, of course it is, because it is horrible. But is it an absolute evil? - War is the travail at the birth of nations and civilizations. Who is responsible for war? Are men? No, for they are its victims. Who then? - No one would be rash enough to say Providence; unless perhaps Count Joseph de Maistre, with his theories of why the priests have always consecrated the sword and how there has always been a mystical air associated with the bloody office of the executioner. Evil is the shadow, the foil of good. Pushing this argument too far would imply that it is negative good. Evil then, is the resistance which confirms the effort of good, and so that is why Jesus Christ was not afraid to say: `It must needs be that scandals should come!'
There are monsters in nature, just as there are typographical faults in a fine book. What does this show? It shows that both nature and the press are blind instruments directed by intelligence; but, you will say to me, a good case overseer will correct his proofs. Yes indeed, and in nature this is the purpose of progress.
God, if I may be allowed the comparison, is like the head of the printing works and man is His overseer in the composing room.
The priests have always preached that scourages are caused by human sins, and they are right, because science has been given to man to foresee and prevent scourges. If, as is claimed, cholera arises from the corpses piled up at the mouths of the Ganges, if famine comes of cornering food, if plague is caused by dirtiness, if war is so often caused by the stupid pride of kings and the unruliness of peoples, is it not really the wickedness - or rather the silliness - of men which is the cause of scourges?
There is an expression that `ideas are in the air', and one may truthfully add that vices are there too. All corruption produces putrefaction and every putrefaction has its own identifiable stench. The atmosphere which envelopes the sick is unhealthy, and the moral plague has its own atmosphere which is far more contagious. An honest heart feels at ease in the company of good men, but it is oppressed, it suffers, it is stifled when surrounded by the vicious.