Last updated on February 13th, 2021

Charles Nodier and the Occult Revival

By Tracy R. Twyman

Charles Nodier navigated the Priory of Sion from 1801-1844. He was a prolific and hugely famous writer during the nineteenth century whose fiction has been compared to that of Edgar Allan Poe. Nodier was born to an apparently orphaned girl named Suzanne Paris, who married a solicitor in Besançon. His father was also a member of the Jacobite Club, who later, during the French Revolution, became the town’s mayor and president of their revolutionary tribunal. He was also a known and outspoken Freemason.

Nodier was something of a child prodigy, and had achieved celebrity status as a writer by age eighteen. He continued to write on a non-stop basis for the rest of his life. In addition to his fiction, he also wrote nonfiction on a wide variety of subjects, including art, literature, law, travel, etymology, zoology, psychology, archeology, and of course occultism, as well as a body of personal musings. Esoteric subjects, however, appear to have been a distinct preoccupation of Nodier’s.

In Nodier’s prodigious eighteenth year, he was made the chief librarian at the Arsenal Library, which was, according to Holy Blood, Holy Grail, “the major French depository for medieval and specifically occult manuscripts.” These included a large collection of works by Nicolas Flamel, as well as Cardinal Richelieu’s entire library, which was rich in Hermetic and cabalistic texts. There were also a number of manuscripts taken from French monasteries during the Revolution, and a large portion of the Vatican’s archives, which had been plundered by Napoleon. This contained numerous records pertaining to heresies, the Inquisition’s information on the Knights Templar, and books on a variety of occult subjects.

It was to this material that Nodier and his friends – Eliphas Levi and Jean Baptiste Pitois – devoted much of their attention. Levi was then and is still now one of the most highly-regarded authors on the subject of the Western magical tradition, whose contributions include the modern conception of the Devil as the Templar idol, Baphomet. Pitois has a similar reputation, and his History and Practice of Magic is still cherished by occultists today. (It also includes a dedication at the front to Charles Nodier.) It was to these three figures that the “occult revival” of their age can be attributed.

One of Nodier’s published works during this time was a series of books about interesting historical sights in France, in which he includes a considerable amount of material pertaining to the Merovingian era, as well as the Knights Templar, and Gisors, especially the cryptic “Cutting of the Elm” event which took place there and purportedly constituted a ceremonial separation of the Templars from the Priory of Sion.

Nodier gathered around him a flock of young disciples, or “aesthetic potentates” as he called them, to whom he played the role of mentor. This group included Balzac, Delacroix, Dumas, and Victor Hugo, that latter of which was Nodier’s closest friend, who followed him as Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. It also included a man with the curious name of François-René de Chateau-briand, who had visited Nicolas Poussin’s tomb in Rome and there placed a stone reproduction of The Shepherds of Arcadia. The writings of Nodier’s salon set bear specific references to the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau and related subjects, such as a book from 1832 by Auguste de Labouisse-Rochefort called A Journey to Rennes-le-Bains, which, as Holy Blood, Holy Grail states, “speaks at length of a legendary treasure associated with Blanchefort and Rennes-le-Chateau.” This person also wrote a book called The Lovers – To Eléonore which bears the phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego” on the title page.

Like everything else in his life, Charles Nodier became involved in secret societies at a very early age. By the time he was ten, he had joined the Philadelphes, and created his own version of the group at age thirteen. It was to this group that one of its members, a close friend of Nodier’s, addressed an apparently coded essay which exists in the archives of the Besançon Library, titled The Arcadian Shepherd Sounds the First Accents of a Rustic Flute. Later, in 1802, Nodier admitted belonging to a secret order which he in writing described as “Biblical and Pythagorean.” Fourteen years later he wrote an anonymous text called A History of Secret Societies in the Army Under Napoleon, in which he attributed a number of historical events to the covert action of these organizations, including Napoleon’s fall. Nodier wrote in this book that all secret societies are under the control of a single, supreme secret society, which he names as being none other than the Philadelphes. He also wrote, though, about an “oath that binds me to the Philadelphes and which forbids me to make them known under their social name.” In this book he quotes a speech that he claims was made at a meeting of the Philadelphes by one of the leading plotters against the regime of Napoleon – interesting because Nodier’s self-made group of Philadelphes from his childhood supposedly included a young man who would later become one of Napoleon’s biggest enemies. The quoted individual, speaking in regards to his newborn son, purportedly stated:

“He is too young to engage himself to you by the oath of Annibal; but remember I have named him Eliacin, and that I delegate to him the guard of the temple and the altar, if I should die ere I have seen fall from his throne the last of the oppressors of Jerusalem.”

Nodier’s book succeeded in fanning the flames of an already-persistent secret society paranoia that abounded during the post-Napoleonic era. In fact, Nodier seems to have gone out of his way to establish a reputation as a dangerous conspiratorial plotter himself. He had at first, because of his family’s affiliations, had a favorable attitude towards the French Revolution, but later changed his mind, and had the same transformation of attitude about Napoleon. In 1804 he wrote an anti-Napoleonic satire call Le Napoléone, then made great efforts to try and gain attention from the authorities for having written it. They were sluggish to react, and only after much prodding, including a letter to Napoleon himself by the guilty party declaring his deed, did they arrest and imprison him for a month, leaving him to continue his actions against the emperor. Thus he at once became involved in the anti- Napoleonic plots of 1804 and 1812.