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Erik Satie, Occult Musician

To: alt.occult.methods,alt.magick
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Erik Satie, Occult Musician (was: Re: Music and the Occult
Date: Tue, 26 Mar 2002 05:37:38 GMT

Reassembled for archival purposes; spelling errors fixed; my comments

> Mark Ryan wrote:
> > I read somewhere that the composer Erik Satie was an occultist.
> > Anybody know the details?

Robert Scott Martin  wrote:

I've been told that the following post could benefit from a few
footnotes. Part of the problem is that this field of occult 
history has barely been scratched by English-language scholars, 
and my eagerness to see something on the topic pushed me to 
new depths of gnomic inscrutability.

I apologize for my exuberance.

> He's a funny character. It's relatively common knowledge [A] 
> that he was in a blue-ribbon Rosicrucian lodge [B] 
> in the 1890s that included such luminaries as Stanislas de Guaita [C]; 
> however, he left the group after a few years to become something 
> of a freelancer -- as founder, leader and sole member of the 
> Eglise Metropolitaine d'Art de Jesus Conducteur [D], 
> he amused himself with absurdist games that the surrealists 
> would later look back at and laugh [E].

[A] Capsule biographies of Satie usually mention the Rosicrucian
connection largely as a curiosity, without elaboration. Likewise, he is
often cited as a "famous Rosicrucian" in the marketing materials of
groups like AMORC -- but again without much consideration for the
details of his association with that sometimes nebulous movement.

[B] The Catholic (and Aesthetic) Order of the Rose-Croix (CRC).  
Descendants of the group reportedly survive in various 
configurations. See

[C] This is somewhat misleading, since evidence that Satie and 
de Guaita belonged to the same Rosicrucian order is lacking. In 
the absence of such evidence, it would be more accurate to call 
the two men fraternal "cousins" because the CRC was (and is) a 
splinter from the Cabalistic Order of the Rose Croix (OKRC), 
which de Guaita founded.

Who is Stanislas de Guaita (1861-1897), you ask? A bona fide 
marquis from Lombardy, a poet and child prodigy of the esoteric 
who founded the OKRC before he was out of his 20s. See

[D] After quitting the CRC, Satie anticipated Monty Python 
by forming "the Metropolitan Aesthetic Church of Jesus the 
Maestro" as a one-man esoteric splinter group. In this group, 
he literally wore all the hats, filling a large number of 
lodge offices singlehandedly. Musicologists tend to consider 
this "organization" a joke, but was it a "serious joke?" Only 
the  historians of the future can say.

[E] Satie's influence on the early surrealist movement is 
well-discussed -- I seem to recall him being represented in 
a few of the surrealist "family portraits" by Max Ernst (one 
of the few composers so pictured, the surrealists weren't big 
music fans), and Andre Breton appears especially  impressed. 
Nonetheless, Satie was really a man of an earlier generation,  
and reportedly had little time for his youthful admirers.

> Unless musicology has pulled a fast one on me since I stopped 
> running with the chordspotters (quite possible given my advanced 
> age and the resourcefulness of youth), the literature fails to 
> reconcile the split between the early "liturgical" phase of 
> his career [F] 
> and the dada [G]
> experimentation that followed [H]. 
> Instead, the boilerplate bio tends to focus either on the 
> "serious Rosicrucian" (making "Esot"erik [I] 
> into something of a proto-Messiaen [J]) 
> or the "original surrealist" who wore all those funny hats [K].


[G] Many class the "naughty" Satie (see note H below) with 
the dadas, but this is more a convenience of lumping him 
in with other "unclassifiable" figures of the time than a 
sign of actual influence. The self-proclaimed dada figures 
do not appear to have run in the same crowd as Satie 
(understandable, since most had come from Germany or 
Switzerland, and only really made it to Paris after 
Satie's heyday), and reportedly does not appear often 
in their memoirs.


[I] When in "Rosicrucian" mode, Satie would call himself 
"Esoterik Satie", an obvious pun on his name and occult 
interests. The fact that here he identifies himself with 
an esoteric persona -- but in a whimsical or even satiric 
fashion -- may be the key to bridging the gap between the 
"sacred" and the "profane" sides of Satie.

[J] Those concentrating on the "liturgical" works tend to 
remind me of Messiaen scholars. I haven't yet put my finger 
on why exactly.

[K] We joked around as boys that Satie's private cult must 
have involved a stack of hats that, as part of his lodge 
regalia, he would put on or take off according to which 
role in lodge proceedings he was playing at the time. Sadly, 
this may be a fantasy of slightly demented schoolboys with
too much time on their hands.

He was quite a dapper gent, however, given to wearing grey 
velvet suits.

> One white magician, one Rabelaisian joker. One comes to  
> heal, the other to tear down. And the man himself slips 
> back into the shadows...

[This paragraph is entirely rhetorical with the exception of the 
"rabelaisian" comment -- see below under "pantagruelian".]

> It's a shame, because there's a very interesting synthesis 
> lurking in that seemingly unbridgeable life. He was an 
> associate of Debussy [L], 
> for example, and hung around at the notorious Black Cat Club [M] 
> in Montmartre of which Fulcanelli speaks so fondly [N] 
> as a hub of "occult" bohemia. He was active in the 
> earliest phases of the French film industry [O], 
> and so likely knew Irene Hillel-Erlanger [P] 
> and her alchemicodada associates.

[L] Claude Debussy needs no introduction. The two men were 
longtime friends, cohorts in the CRC, and habitues of the 
Black Cat Club [see below]. Debussy is also notorious in 
contemporary occult circles as a potential "grand master 
of the priory" [see below under "Saint Sulpice"].

is the best overview of this wrinkle in Satie's life 
(and the occult history of Paris) I have found so far.

[N] Fulcanelli is of course the infamous "master alchemist" 
who wrote a couple of books and, they say, lives forever. 
He is also the subject of at least one Frank Zappa solo, 
but is unrelated to the spicy sauce of the same name.

A citation of Fulcanelli's discussion of the Black Cat Club or Le 
Chat Noir is as follows:

    SPEAKING OF CATS, many among us remember the famous Chat-Noir 
    [Black Cat], which was so popular under Rodolphe Salis' 
    management; but how many knew what sort of esoteric and 
    political center was concealed there, what international 
    masonry [sic] was hidden behind the ensign of the artistic 
    cabaret? On the one hand the talent of a fervent, idealistic 
    youth made up of aesthetes seeking glory, carefree, blind, 
    and incapable of suspicion; on the other, the confidence of 
    a mysterious science mixed up with obscure diplomacy, a 
    two-faced tableau deliberately exhibited in a medieval 
    framework. The enigmatic "tournee des grand ducs" [night on 
    the town] signified by a cat with scrutinizing eyes under 
    its black coat, with its rigid, disproportionate x-shaped 
    whiskers, and whose heraldric posture gave to the wings of
    the Montmartre mill [moulin] a symbolic value equal to its 
    own, was not a pleasure outing for princes!

    (Dwellings of the Philosophers, 1929. Archive Press edition, 
    pp. 199-200)

[O] Satie composed music for Rene Clair's early fusion of 
cinema with ballet, "Entr'acte" (1924) 
     [ ], 
a truly unique production in which Francis Picabia and Pablo 
Picasso were also involved.

[P] Irene Hillel-Erlanger: one of the first female 
screenwriters (usually in collaboration with equally 
pioneering Germaine Dulac, see ) 
and something of an alchemical devotee. She is traditionally 
considered to be the patron of the strange little book 
"Voyages en Kaleidoscope" (now back in print -- check for details) and is nowadays credited as the 
author of that text. Very little is known about her, 
apparently even in French. I'll transcribe the editorial 
material in my copy of "Kaleidoscope" if there is interest.

She ran with the dadas, reported. Fulcanelli was also a fan.

> Through Debussy and Cocteau [Q], 
> he may have been acquainted with those sinister Saint 
> Sulpice people [R], 
> which would go with his later burlesque("pantagruelian" [S]) 
> tone.

[Q] Cocteau was the literary saint of the Black Cat crowd 
and Satie set at least one Cocteau text to music. In this 
context, it is relevant to note that both Debussy and Cocteau 
are often cited as grand masters of the Priory of Sion 
[see next note] by contemporary conspiracists.

[R] This is a somewhat flippant reference to that strange 
Abbe Sauniere and his cul-de-sac of French occult history. 
If one is not familiar with "the grail bloodline," "the 
Priory of Sion", "Rennes le Chateau" and so forth, 
should contain more than enough information.

Whether we buy into the Rennes le Chateau mythology or not, 
it is definitely one of the most robust currents to emerge 
out of the esoteric underground at the end of the last 
century, and should be monitored phenomenologically, if not 
for its own value and/or import.

[S] This is actually a reference to Alfred Jarry's UBU ROI, 
for which I have a vague boyhood recollection of reading that 
Satie did the music. While documentation is pending, Jarry and 
Satie definitely knew one another's work and shared a common 
interest in Rabelaisian heroes -- big talking dicks and other 
lunatic marionettes.

> And that's just the biographical side of things -- who knows 
> what an illuminated researcher could turn up in his work. 

[Again, this paragraph is largely rhetorical]

---end of Robert Scott Martin post---

My comments follow:

Thanks, Robert, for putting this all together. I am curious about Ms.
Hillel-Erlanger. There are two distinct Erlanger family lines i know
about, one German and the other Jewish. (The name refers to inhabitants
of the town of Erlangen, Germany; Hillel-Erlanger indicates that she was
a emmber of a Jewish Erlanger family line, as am i. My mother's maiden
name is Liselotte Franziska Erlanger. Because Erlanger is not a very
common Jewish name, this certainly caught my attention. 

A google-translated page advertising a reprint of her book supplies some
biographical data and a review. It reads as follows: 

     Hillel-Erlanger, Irene, 1878-1920 

     Voyages in kaleidoscope /Irene Hillel-Erlanger; 
     with a title and a thermometer drawn by Van Dongen; 
     préf. of A. Coia-Gatié; with additional poems of 
     Claude Lorrey and a report of L Aragon. 
     -- Paris: The Emerald Table, 1984. 
     -- lviii, 180 p.: ill.; 19 cm. 
     -- ISBN 2-903965-03-X. -- SDM: 8608549 [ A 4 ] 

     [ the couv. carries moreover: Grace, Vera, Gilly. 
     FAC-sim. original éd.: Paris: G Crès, 1919. ] 

     Between surrealism and occultism, a curious account 
     full with imagination (written in 1919) whose hero 
     is the inventor of a quite special apparatus, a 
     kaleidoscope in which each one discovers - according 
     to its tendencies - "SENS HIDES of all things" (p. 14). 
     The heart of the hero is divided between two women, 
     one representing Reality and the other the Truth. 
     A ludic hermetism and good child. [ Patrick Coppens ] 

Well, the funky mechanical translation aside, the review gives a glimpse
of something that sounds fairly interesting.... 

And, as for Fulcanelli, was not this the pseudonym of Eugene Cansiliet? 

Thanks in advance for any more informatiion you wish to share about
Musicians and the Occult. 

cat yronwode

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