The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism: Origins, Magic, and Secret Societies
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A profound understanding of the surrealists’ connections with alchemists and secret societies and the hermetic aspirations revealed in their works
• Explains how surrealist paintings and poems employed mythology, gnostic principles, tarot, voodoo, alchemy, and other hermetic sciences to seek out unexplored regions of the mind and recover lost “psychic” and magical powers
• Provides many examples of esoteric influence in surrealism, such as how Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon was originally titled The Bath of the Philosophers
Not merely an artistic or literary movement as many believe, the surrealists rejected the labels of artist and author bestowed upon them by outsiders, accepting instead the titles of magician, alchemist, or--in the case of Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo--witch. Their paintings, poems, and other works were created to seek out unexplored regions of the mind and recover lost “psychic” and magical powers. They used creative expression as the vehicle to attain what André Breton called the “supreme point,” the point at which all opposites cease to be perceived as contradictions. This supreme point is found at the heart of all esoteric doctrines, including the Great Work of alchemy, and enables communication with higher states of being.
Drawing on an extensive range of writings by the surrealists and those in their circle of influence, Patrick Lepetit shows how the surrealists employed mythology, gnostic principles, tarot, voodoo, and alchemy not simply as reference points but as significant elements of their ongoing investigations into the fundamental nature of consciousness. He provides many specific examples of esoteric influence among the surrealists, such as how Picasso’s famous Demoiselles d’Avignon was originally titled The Bath of the Philosophers, how painter Victor Brauner drew from his father’s spiritualist vocation as well as the Kabbalah and tarot, and how doctor and surrealist author Pierre Mabille was a Freemason focused on finding initiatory paths where “it is possible to feel a new system connecting man with the universe.”
Lepetit casts new light on the connection between key figures of the movement and the circle of adepts gathered around Fulcanelli. He also explores the relationship between surrealists and Freemasonry, Martinists, and the Elect Cohen as well as the Grail mythos and the Arthurian brotherhood.
least partially, of magic and more broadly the occult. As evidence: the magazine La Tour Saint-Jacques devoted a special edition to her in 1955 titled “The Magical Painting of Leonor Fini,” with articles by Serge Hutin, Marcel Brion (the patron of L’Art magique), and Jacques Audiberti. In a short text, Castor Seibel also observes: Refusing any prior transcendence with a prideful gesture, Leonor Fini nonetheless bases her painting on another kind of sacred. This is how she creates, over the
primordial contacts of man and the universe, whose rupture is one cause for the stupor of our existence.”23 For Breton’s friends as well as their predecessors, Monnerot notes, “It involves no less than entering alive a ‘world’ conceived as a counter to daily life, within the magic circle of the challenge that finitude casts at itself.” The Caribbean philosopher adds: Men who nurture such devastating pipe dreams are, when seen from a sufficient distance, the choice site for a drama that cedes
what they were.” For more on Breton and Le Crocodile, see the footnote by Étienne-Alain Hubert on Breton’s text “Langue des pierres” in Perspective Cavalière. 36. Artaud also quoted Saint-Yves d’Alveydre in his lecture on surrealism and revolution. Gérard Legrand also cites him in his Sur Oedipe. 37. Breton, L’Art magique. 38. Lassalle, “André Breton et la franc-maçonnerie.” 39. Widmaier, Picasso: portraits de famille. 40. Brassai, Conversations avec Picasso. Translated into English by Jane
German Romanticism revived like the shades of Hades when they drank blood.”88 Such intellectual impoverishment suffices to stress the essential role played by such conservatories of the marvelous like the House of the Surrealists in Cordes-sur-Ciel! These critical if not dubious epiphenomena notwithstanding, it is quite clear, as noted by Alain Jouffroy, that at least in the field of the plastic arts, “It is common knowledge today that fantastic art is the exoteric term representing the esoteric
Other names that should be added to the list of surrealist adepts of tarot divination include the “benevolent magician” Valentine Penrose and Gala Dali. Also in this list are Seligmann, Ernst, Brauner, and even Leonor Fini, whose book Rogomelec24 features the brother Taro who uses the Marco Polo Tarot for divination. As did Freemason and Martinist Oswald Wirth in his book Tarot des imagiers du Moyen Âge (1923) and many others before him, André Breton interpreted the Star card in his book Arcanum