Review: The Green Book of the Élus Coëns

A few months ago, Lewis Masonic released The Green Book of the Élus Coëns, the translation of eighteenth-century French manuscripts describing the rituals of the Christian masonic-mystical order Ordre des Chevaliers Maçons Élus Coëns de l’Univers. My understanding is that this is a revised and corrected version of a book originally published by Hell Fire Publishing; given my policy on purchasing Hell Fire books, I can’t tell you how the two versions compare.

I am neither a Mason nor a Masonic historian, so what follows will be overly simplistic. Symbolic Masonry, from the time of its origin or fluorescence in the early eighteenth century, created an organizational structure based upon three degrees of initiation utilizing the symbolism of Solomon’s temple and at least lip service to ideas of universal brotherhood. Different Masonic organizations have utilized this structure in a variety of different ways, including networking, political action, and occult exploration. The latter often occurred within a structure of higher degrees of initiation, within lodges with illustrious and questionable pedigrees that were often officially condemned or simply ignored.

One such lodge was the Élus Coëns, which everyone can agree was founded at some point between the creation of the world and 1766. Martinez de Pasqually, the Mason who either founded or revealed the order, saw its purpose as the reintegration of fallen humans into divine grace via purification, as well as connection with greater and lower spirits through theurgic invocation.

This English edition of the Green Book consists of key manuscripts of the order found at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and Bibliothèque municipale de Grenoble. The first, the so-called “Algiers manuscript” which passed through the archives of that city, contains a mixture of different materials: reflections on the nature of reality, quarterly ceremonies of the Coëns, and a lengthy set of purifications, circles, and invocations dedicated to the summoning of spirits and other purposes. This is followed by a lengthy chart of 2,400 spiritual names and characters, followed with a series of illustrations of magical circles and mystical diagrams. The book ends with the catechisms of mystical teachings of the grades of the Coëns.

The presentation of the material differs between the sections. The “Algiers Manuscript” is only presented here in translation from the French. (I have not examined the original French for this review, and I am not proficient with that language anyway.) The occasional Latin passages are (mostly) translated in footnotes as well, although the transcription includes a few errors. On the other hand, the spiritual names and diagrams are reproduced in black and white facsimiles, with the names further being transcribed in the section following.

What intrigues me the most about the work is the invocations of spirits presented within. The overall structure is quite similar to that which most readers will be familiar with from the works of ritual magic; indeed, one of the dismissals could practically be taken word for word from many incantations I’ve published.

Yet there are certainly differences, including the more frequent appearance of verbs to break up the incantations, and the substitution of mystical numerology for lists of names of God and Biblical events. The purpose of some of the rituals seems to be invocation of demons – but, instead of calling them up for knowledge or material success, the Coën summons them as experienced temptations to be brought under control and vanished. I can imagine my readers reacting in vastly different ways to that statement.

One clear obsession of the work is “la Chose,” or spiritual signs that might manifest themselves during the work with displays of light or sound. Whereas some of today’s magicians set visual appearance of spirits as the proof of their abilities, the Coëns preferred these less impressive signs of their path of reintegration.

One partial ritual deserves note: an initiation intended for women working in a degree system within the order. Lest someone interpret this as a sign of enlightenment, most of the fragments involve denigrating the candidate as the embodiment of Eve’s temptation and seduction. It’s so over the top that, if it were written today, I’d suspect it was some expression of the author’s kinks. It should be noted that the order did include women in later years, so let’s hope they didn’t have to go through this.

Both the ritual magic of the medieval and early modern periods from the lodge-based magic of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries recognized the importance of a spiritually elevated person. Whereas the older ritual magic required the magician to possess these qualities, if only for a sort period, the later version saw this remolding of the person as its central mission. The Green Book provides an example of older material being refashioned into an Enlightenment-era project for remaking its initiates and the world.

The manuscript texts are preceded with a translator’s note, preface, and introduction. All of this is welcome, but it does little to contextualize the material that follows or to help define how it might be structured, which I find is often useful when dealing with unsystematic manuscripts. It does have a good number of footnotes, but the book’s lack of an index is a serious problem.

It’s that historical focus which I think will appeal to most of its readers, especially those interested in Freemasonry and lodge magic. The Élus Coëns rituals seem to have had little impact on the occult world, or at least with the Anglo-American occult world with which I am most familiar, and the ceremonies and the goals thereof are somewhat out of step with much of both grimoire and contemporary occult magic. I’m glad I purchased it, as it illuminates the practices of a group on which little English language material exists.

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Published in: on October 30, 2021 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

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