Robert Ambelain – History and Origins of Martinism

History and Origins of Martinism






Robert Ambelain


“Among the various Rites which, from time immemorial, have interested those Masons who are the best educated and the most imbued with the intimate conviction that their adherence to our Works must increase the sum of their knowledge, and bring them to the High-Sciences, the Rite of the “Elus-Cohen” is the one which has won over the most pupils, yet carefully preserved the secret of its mysterious works….”

Such is the definition given by the Order of Illuminist Masonry, which we found in the Transactions of the Grand Orient for 1804, Book I, Installment 4, page 369. This statement of appreciation, coming from a masonic obedience which never exactly passed for mystical, which later came to expunge the invocations to the Great Architect of the Universe from its Rituals, and slid insensibly from eclectic philosophy into simple politics, has a particular value.

Also, one of the most erudite and impartial historians who concerned himself with mystical masonic Obediences, Gérard Van Rijnberk, tells us that: “one cannot deny that the Order of Elus-Cohen constituted a group of men animated by the highest spirituality…”

Another historian, M. Le Forestier, a very valuable specialist concerning matters of occult high masonry, says broadly the same thing, strongly emphasizing the purely altruistic and disinterested character of this Fraternity, more occult and mystical besides, than masonry in the general sense of the word.

This is why, of all the many “Orders” of illuminated masonry born in France and Europe during the restless current of the XVIIIth Century, none have had an influence comparable to that which entered into History under the common name – and incorrect besides – of Martinism.

Its appearance coincided with that of a strange person called Martinez de Pasqually. Even now the most romantic hypotheses are circulating about his name and his origins. Some say he is from an oriental race (Syrian), and others pretend he is a Jew (from Poland). Martinez de Pasqually was neither one nor the other, and his concerned detractors – unless they prefer to use false historic information, which is a serious moral issue – can no longer ignore or hide from the definitive documents that we possess. These are:

1) The Master’s Act of Marriage to demoiselle Marguerite-Angélique de Colas;

2) The Certificate of Catholicism, dated 29th April, 1772, registered before his departure for Saint-Dominique on the “Duc de Duras”.

From these two documents, published by Madame René de Brimont, which were discovered by someone in the archives of the Department of Gironde, we can see that this man was named very precisely: Jacques de Livron de la Tour de la Case Martines de Pascally.
He was the son of “Messire de la Tour de la Case”, born in Alicante (Spain) in 1671, and of demoiselle Suzanne Dumas de Rainau.
He was born in Grenoble in 1727, and he died in St. Domingo, Tuesday, the 20th September, 1774.

None of the preceding patronyms gives us any indication to suppose that he was Jewish. No more that the fact that he also lived for a specific period of his life in Bordeaux in “Jewish Road”! For if living by a ghetto could be proof of religion (and how, logically?), then how can one accept that in Paris, he lived with the Augustinians by the River Seine, without claiming that influence?

Some have put forward the theory that perhaps he came from a Jewish background, and was a converted Jew. We would again argue that history was written in these documents and not by supposition, and that this obstinacy by particular “historians”, concerned with the idea that he might be both Jewish and a Freemason, raises strong concerns in us as to their ultimate intentions. The truth is, although ignorant of Hebrew (and he showed that in his works…), he was familiar with the Kabbalah and, like all practitioners of ceremonial magic, drawn to the use of Judaic traditions and material components. But his disciple, the Marquis Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, who all his life was never apart from a Hebrew bible, was not so disadvantaged and, like him, used Hebrew elements, the basis of the whole Christian religious tradition.

We do not intend to ignore the importance of respecting the fact that all Western magical and Kabbalistic traditions are, for the most part, Jewish, which makes the fanatical adversaries of all transcendental wisdom jump for joy! We simply ask them, in all fairness, to heap the same “discredit” on a religion, with masters and a divine hypostasis, which the majority imprudently claim to know: Christianity…

Let us leave these modern Pharisees, and quickly define once more the history of the Order of the Elus-Cohen (Cohen, in Hebrew, signifies priest).

Martinez de Pasqually spent his life teaching French masons of regular obediences (which had strayed from the correct philosophical systems), and under the exterior guise of a normal Masonic Ritual, a true initiatic teaching, capable of assuming aspects of theodicy, cosmogony, gnosis and philosophy.

In order to have certain concepts already half-formed in a specific intellectual and material discipline, he only accepted regular Masons into his Order, at the grade of “Master” (Third Degree).

But in addition, since it was a fact that important components could also learned through the channel of “profane” life, he established at the base of his system a ‘potted’ prior transmission of the three ordinary masonic degrees (known as blue, or St. John Masonry).

In fact, one may understand this by the following: the secret reason for this earlier affiliation to masonic mastership resided in the fact that his school was based upon the same legend, or myth, as Freemasonry. Of the Hiram legend, presented without commentary or allusion to its esotericism, Martinez de Pasqually gave a transcendental explanation, a framework for his theogonic system. But he gave the esoteric allusion in the higher Classes of the Order, leaving the legendary presentation – common to all masonic obediences – to the first three degrees.

Martinez de Pasqually traveled mysteriously in one part of France, principally the South-East and the South. Leaving one town without saying where he was going, he would arrive in the same manner, without a glimpse of where he had come from. Most probably he began his mission in 1758, since in his letter dated 2nd September, 1768, he declares that the Brethren of Aubenton, commissioned officers of the Royal Marine, have been his followers for ten years. Propagating his doctrine, he welcomed adherents in the Lodges of Marseilles, Avignon, Montpellier, Narbonne, Foix and Toulouse.

Yet before commencing his mystical apostolate, he had definitely been masonically active previously. His father, Don Martinez de Pascally, was holder of a masonic patent in English, delivered to him on 30th May, 1738, by the Grand Master of the Stuart Lodge, with power to transmit it to his eldest son, allowing him “as Grand Master, to constitute and run Lodges and Temples to the Glory of the G∴A∴O∴T∴U∴”.

So it was that Martinez was also the founder in Montpellier, in 1754, of the Chapter “Les Juges Ecossaise”. In 1755 until 1760, he traveled throughout France, recruiting followers. In this last year he failed in Toulouse, in the blue Lodges called “Reunited St. John”. At Foix, the Lodge “Joshua” gave him a sympathetic hearing. There he initiated a number of masons, and founded a Chapter: the “Temple Cohen”.

In 1761, presented by the Compte de Maillial d’Alzac, the Marquis de Lescourt, the two Brothers from Aubenton (and thanks to his familial patent), he was affiliated with the Lodge “La Française” of Bordeaux. There he built what he called his “Particular Temple” (from the Latin particular: part, cell, reduction). Among its members, in addition to the four mentioned above, were Messieurs de Casen, de Bobié, Jules Tafar (ex-major of the “Royal Grenadiers”), Morrie and Lescombard. This Lodge bore the name of “La Perfection Elue Ecossaise”. In 1784, this Cohen “Mother Lodge” became “La Française Elue Ecossaise”. In March, 1766, the aforementioned Lodge was dissolved. Note that, until this date, Martinez had Father Bullet as his secretary, almoner for the Regiment at Foix, who has the title (employed by the Master for the first time) of “S.I.”. We suggest – with some chance of being correct – that it was the sacerdotal character of Father Bullet which afforded him this interior title, of Supérieur Inconnu of the Order, or possibly – if we read the ‘I’ as a ‘J’ – of :Sovereign Judge”. Martinez de Pasqually must have given him this title as the theologian of the Order! But later on, before his departure for St. Domingo, he gave this title to five of his senior dignitaries. And this would be the doctrinal and interior discipline that these “Sovereign Judges” or “Supérieurs Inconnus” would be led to superintend…We will come across these titles later, under another branch.

We have seen earlier that in 1764 the “Française Elue Ecossaise” was founded. But it wasn’t until 1st February, 1765, that the Grand Lodge of France, after numerous letters, issued a patent authorizing the founding of this Lodge, and inscribed the “Temple” in its record books.

This same year, Martinez de Pasqually left for Paris. He stayed there at the house of the Augustinians by the side of the River Seine. There, he put himself in touch with numerous eminent masons: Brothers Bacon de La Chevalerie, de Lusignan, de Loos, de Grainville, J.B. Willermoz, and many others, to whom he sent his first instructions. With their meeting, on 21st March, 1787, (the Spring Equinox…), he put together the basis of his “Sovereign Tribunal”, and named Bacon de la Chevalerie his substitute.

In 1770, the Order of Knight-Elus Cohen of the Universe had Temples spread far and wide: Bordeaux, Montpellier, Avignon, Foix, Libourne, La Rochelle, Versailles, Paris, Metz. Another was opened in Lyon, thanks to the activities of Brother J.B. Willermoz, and this city would remain the symbolic “capital” of the Order for a long time afterwards.

In the “nominative” history of the Order, it is worth noting two names.
Their holders effectively succeeded the Master, in different realms, but continuing his overall work. We will come back to them shortly. For now, let us remember the names of Jean-Baptiste Willermoz and Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin.

Martinez de Pasqually varied his practical teachings several times. If the general Doctrine remained ne varietur, this was not the case with the constitution of the Order; the grades; the rituals – both initiations and operations. Thus we have traces of two internal constitutions for this mystical Obedience, depending on whether one refers to one set of archives or another. One of these two series contains the following classification:



Regular Masonry called ‘St. John’  ApprenticeCompanion


‘Porch’ Class Apprentice CohenCompanion Cohen

Master Cohen

Select Master

Temple Degrees  Grand Master Elu-CohenKnight of the East

Commander of the East

Secret Class  Réau-Croix 

Here is the second series, more common in the documents:

Blue Masonry called ‘St. John’  Apprentice MasonCompanion Master


‘Porch’ Class  Apprentice-CohenCompanion-Cohen


Temple Degrees  Grand-ArchitectGrand-Elect of Zerubbabel
Secret Class Réau-Croix


Note – and this is an important point – that in Masonry, titles with pompous and splendid appearances are in reality phonetic veils, draped over the titles, which are infinitely more esoteric, but because of their integral evocative power, put in place due to the need to keep them secret from the eyes of the profane. According to this approach, one must take the nomenclature of the Order of Elus-Cohen (“Grand-Architect”, “Grand-Elect of Zerubbabel”) as regulated by this hermetic practice. We will simply point out that the name Zerubbabel is that of the architect who, like Hiram, rebuilt the Temple of Jerusalem after the captivity. The snares and threats of the neighboring, idolatrous nations put Zerubbabel (so the biblical legend tells us) under the need to perform his works with “a trowel in one hand. A sword in the other”.

One sees there the esoteric parallel established by Martinez de Pasqually, between the Companions of the Second Temple and the mystical masons of his Order, building the Celestial City, reconstituting the initial Archetype and, theurgic sword in hand, doing battle against the Entities of the Shadows. In a similar manner, Zerubbabel signifies in Hebrew: “Adversary of Confusion”. This word, which has become the general name of dignitaries of this Degree, teaches them to resist the confusion arising from the check suffered by Man in former times, at Babel, in trying to induce man once more to speak, a single language… (According to the Bible, Babel signifies: “confusion”).

The regular symbolic grades (Apprentice, Companion, Master) belong to traditional Masonry. They were destined to give the necessary quality of Master to the Profane entrant into the Order, required by the Rule to be able to attain the grade and functions of Réau-Croix. In the rituals and Catechisms, very few allusions were made to the secret Doctrine which had been promised, and which did not form part of the usual framework of contemporary Freemasonry. This allowed “visiting Brethren” from other obediences to be received, who at this time, didn’t go above the grade of Master, the only grade recognized by the Grand Lodge of France (the Higher Grades came later). Thus, such visitors couldn’t later report any specific teachings learned in the Cohen Temples to the Grand Lodge, which had recognized and adopted them on the 1st of February, 1765!

The Porch Degrees (Apprentice-Cohen, Companion-Cohen, Master- Cohen), continued to maintain the external masonic character. Nevertheless, they were shot through with allusions, expressions, teachings, enigmas and ambiguities, destined to give a glimpse of the secret Doctrine – early and by flashes – reserved for the superior Degrees.

From the Temple Degrees, we can say that they constitute what is proper to call the “High Grades”. The rituals of “Grand-Architect” and “Grand-Elect of Zerubbabel” still retain the emblems of masonic symbolism (aprons, collars, jewels, the ritual format itself, etc…). But their Catechisms transport the Candidate into overt esoteric mysticism, and more particularly into that of the general Doctrine.

At the grade of “Grand-Architect”, the Brother was required to purify himself through a specific ascetic regimen of the Order (abstinence from certain meats, from certain sanctioned animal parts, fats, etc…in the spirit of the Old Testament – the regimen of the Levites – ). It was their mission to expel the Powers of Darkness which had invaded the terrestrial aura, by means of magical ceremonies performed in groups as well as alone; and to cooperate “sympathetically” – in a specific manner – in those special Operations performed by the “Sovereign Master” himself. This Grade was equivalent to Apprentice Réau-Croix (this was the role devolved to the “Knights of the East” defined in the archives gathered by Papus).

The following Grade, “Grand-Elect of Zerubbabel” (or “Commander of the East”), was equivalent to “Companion Réau-Croix”. Like all Companion grades in the various masonic “regimes”, it was both neutral and ambiguous, poorly defined yet full of mystery and enigma in the ritual. It was a Grade which in Cohen series was based upon the legend of Zerubbabel, explained at a higher level. It concerned itself with a mysterious and emblematic bridge, analogous to that erected over the River Cephisus, and which the initiates on their return from Eleusis had to cross.
In this Degree the affiliate had a respite from the ceremonial “Operations”. He meditated for a period of time, returned to the fundamental theories, and prepared himself, through a form of introspection (a thorough accumulation, or psychic retrenchment) to his future ordination of Réau-Croix.

The “Secret Class” was that of the Réaux-Croix. According to all the historiographers of the Order, it only comprised a single Degree. Yet some abridged comments we have come across in the letters of Claude de Saint- Martin, during the time that he was secretary to the Master (in place of P. Bullet, who had disappeared), we are led to believe that that this Class comprised two Degrees. There is, in fact, a Degree abridged to two letters: G. R., which Saint-Martin refers to in some letters. And this makes us wonder if behind the secret grade of Réau-Croix there perhaps existed an even more secret one called “Grand Réau-Croix” or “Grand-Réau” (G.R.).

The purpose of this class, through its esoteric teachings, was to place the dignitaries in communion with the worlds of the Beyond, those of the Celestial Powers, and this by means of the Evocations of High Magic. Whereas the grade of “Grand-Architect” taught how to chase Demoniacal Powers from the Earth’s aura by means of magical exorcisms, the grade of” Réau-Croix taught the means of evoking Celestial Powers and attracting them “sympathetically” to this same terrestrial aura. Moreover, by their apparent manifestations (auditory or visual), they allowed the Réau-Croix to judge the degree of progress which the evoker had achieved, and to see if he had been ”reintegrated into his original powers”, according to the Master’s phrase.

So it is wrong to put out a general opinion that the Theurgy of the Elus Cohen was simply about magical ceremonial Exorcism. It also embraced the realm of Evocation, but for a purely disinterested end, and with respect for the Beings of living light at the breast of the “spiritual regions” of the Beyond.

This leaves the probable grade of “Grand Réau-Croix”. We will now put forward a hypothesis which shouldn’t be rejected out of hand. From historical documents published by G. Van Rijnberk in his work, we read an account that the supreme proof of the Order, the ultimate Operation, which it appears had never been successful, but which had been defined, must have been the evocation of “Christ in Glory”, that whom the Master called the Repairer and who was (according to the Doctrine of the Order), Adam Kadmon reintegrated.

This would bring the number of Degrees in the second series of Cohen grades to eleven, and in the first series to twelve.

However, eleven is a number which the Kabbalists consider to be malefic. Eleven is the number corresponding to the letter Caph (initial letter of the word kala [death]). If we omit this Grade of “Grand Réau-Croix”, the first series (now with eleven grades) is now incomplete: if we add one to the second series, there are too many!… The enigma is complete.

We will make a final comment on the grade of “Select Master” or “Grand- Elect”, placed in the both series between the Porch Class and the ordinary grades.

It was most probably a “Vengeance” Degree. Actually all masonic regimes have believe it a good idea to interpose a grade called “vengeance” in their hierarchy. There the Candidate learns of the fate reserved to bad Brethren, Companions, traitors and perjurers. Even better, he is made to live out – in a kind of symbolic play, or ”Mystery”, in the medieval sense of the word – the symbolic putting to death of the aforementioned traitors. This apparently motiveless ritual had the express role of magnetically and psychically “recharging” the Egregore of the Obedience, that occult and invisible soul which truly animates and vivifies, even reacting automatically, and without which it would be necessary to perform the ceremony against false Companions once more.

This explains why traitors, bad Brothers, perjurers of Obligations, occasionally the adversaries of Freemasonry, have all ended tragically, even without direct human intervention! Bound in advance to this fate, by a very clear Obligation, having freely consented to the fate which attends them if they betray it, they are, for this reason, exposed to the vengeful forces of the Egregore. And if by their behavior they expose themselves to that inexorable law, they automatically trigger the return blow of vengeance and chastisement.

There remains another Degree, poorly defined, but no less proven historically. It is that of “Unknown Superior” or “Sovereign Judge”. This was the title of five dignitaries of the Order, all of them “Réaux-Croix”. According to Prince Christian of Hesse, (cited by G. Van Rijnberk in his work on Martinez de Pasqually), in his letter to the “Grand-Profès” of the Templar Rite of Strict Observance, Metzler, Senator of Frankfurt-on-the-Main, these five were: Bacon de la Chevalerie, J.-B. Willermoz, de Serre (or Deserre), du Roy d’Hauterive, and de Lusignan.

People have objected that relations between Bacon de la Chevalerie and Martinez were more than strained at this time, and suggest it would be unlikely that he would have been designated by the Master to be seated among the senior occultists to whom he entrusted his work. However, this forgets that Martinez de Pasqually was very fastidious in all things to do with ritual, regularity, and the material forms of transmission. He was definitely not a simplifier, like Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, but a person who guarded ritual “legitimacy”, as did Willermoz. The different ways in which they applied the same doctrine demonstrates this fact. And it is plausible to entertain the idea that Bacon de la Chevalerie, who was the first Elu-Cohen to fulfill the charge of “Substitute” to the Grand Master would not, by virtue of this fact, have been excluded fro the “Sovereign Tribunal: constituted by the five “S.J.” or “S.I.” (the ‘i’ and ‘j’ were substitutable letters at that time). Also, Bacon de al Chevalerie had been a part of the first “Sovereign Tribunal” (as Substitute) founded in 1765 in Paris, during the stay of Martinez de Pasqually in the capital.

This last task completed, in the month of May, 1772, the Master embarked for Saint-Dominique, on the ship “The Duke of Duras”. It is during this time that he had to have his famous Certificate of Catholicism issued. The ship left from Bordeaux, his place of residence, and this Certificate of Catholicism was in support of the baptism of his son, (baptized in the church of Sainte-Croix, on the 24th of June, 1768, St. John’s Day) to show that Martinez de Pasqually certainly wasn’t Jewish! Still, he certainly wasn’t a very orthodox Catholic either! Like all occultists, like all those initiated in the esoteric traditions, in the eyes of the Roman Church Martinez was officially a heretic. But he is incontestably a Christian, for he places the Christ (the “Repairer”), at the heart of his whole doctrine. He is also a Kabbalist, as he envisages the Messiah in the manner of the esotericists of this mystical school. A good Catholic? No…externally! Christian? Certainly. His first secretary was Father Bullet, almoner of the Regiment at Foix; and one of his first disciples was the Abbé Fournier. But above all, he was a prodigious man, with both faults and virtues, like all men. And there again, if the task surpassed the artisan, one might say that the artisan acquitted himself honorably… Departed to take over a behest (of what nature?…) Martinez de Pasqually died at Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, September 20th, 1774. He left a son, who did his studies at the college of Lascar, near Pau (this child was to disappear, twenty years later, during the course of the revolutionary torment). The day of his death he appeared to his wife, seeming to cross the room diagonally, and she immediately cried out: “My God! My husband is dead”. Later the news reached France, and (the time) was exact.

Before dying, Martinez de Pasqually had designated his cousin as his successor, Armand Caignet de Lestère, superintendent-general of the Admiralty at Port-au-Prince. But at the Master’s death, the “T∴P∴M∴” (Thrice Potent Master) was unable to become actively involved in the Order, not only with the Cohen “Temples” of Port-au-Prince and Léogane, but least of all with those in Europe. Schisms followed, inevitable in all human endeavors. When he dies in his turn in 1778 (four years after Martinez), he had transmitted his powers to “T∴P∴M∴” Sébastian de las Cases.

De las Cases did not judge it appropriate to reestablish the broken relations with the various Cohen “Orients”, and to recreate union and unite the Rite. Little by little the Temples “went to sleep”. But the Elus Cohen continued to propagate the Doctrine of the Order, albeit individually and by “mouth to ear” as the famous saying goes, and also collectively in secret groups, immutably comprised of nine members, and which carried the name of Aréopages Cabalistiques. And in 1806 the famous collective “Operations” once more took place at the Equinoxes.

The occult teachings of Martinez de Pasqually were thus transmitted down to the XIXth Century, on the one hand by the Elus Cohen, of which one of the last direct representatives was the “T∴P∴M∴” Destigny, who died in 1868; and on the other hand through certain affiliates of the “Scottish Rectified Rite”, also called the “Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la Cité Sainte”, a mystical masonic rite which had initially come out of the “Templar Rite of Strict Observance” (German masonry), in its original form, but later became completely independent. These affiliates were holders of the secret instructions reserved to the Réaux-Croix, and which had been transmitted to them by J.-B Willermoz.

There ends the direct lineage, uninterrupted in sacramental “form”, of the “Knights Elect-Cohens of the Universe”. From this point forward, the “Martinist Movement” will be born, personified by the disciples initiated by Claude de Saint-Martin, and those of by J.-B. Willermoz. We are now going to look at these two branches.

But it appears that small groups of Elus Cohen still exist, coming from individual initiations given by the last direct and regular descendents of the Master, and who, in some towns in France, have survived the official death of the Order. This singular detail shows well the solid and deep roots sprouted out of the bosom of the invisible, Mystic Knighthood set up by the enigmatic traveler and mysterious master who was Martinez de Pasqually…