©1999 Jay Weidner and Vincent Bridges
Republished with permission of Jay Weidner.
The Fulcanelli affair would be of interest only to specialists of occult history and abnormal psychology, except for the singular mystery of the extra chapter. The second edition of Le Mystere, published in 1957, had a new chapter entitled “The Cyclic Cross of Hendaye” and a few changes in its illustrations. No mention of these changes appeared in Canseliet’s preface to the edition.
A few detractors, as early as the publication of Dwellings, had been suspicious that the whole affair was the work of a group of occult pranksters centered on the bookstore of Pierre Dujols in the Luxemborg District of Paris. The critics have archly suggested it was an obscure literary hoax, perhaps designed to give the Brotherhood of Heliopolis, as the group liked to call itself, the cachet of a real tradition. It must be admitted, that if that were indeed the case, they failed miserably.
Any motivation for a hoax seems to be lacking. None of the Brotherhood, such as it was, benefited from or capitalized on the supposed Fulcanelli’s teaching, except Eugene Canseliet and possibly Jean-Julien Champagne, the artist who illustrated both volumes. The group, The Brotherhood of Heliopolis, seems to have remained small and closed, limited to Champagne and his friends, and faded away after his death in 1932.
However, the publisher, Jean Schemit, assumed that “Fulcanelli” and Champagne were the same, and since he was the only objective observer on the scene, his opinion carries some weight. Certainly, if Champagne were not Fulcanelli, he was in fact his agent. Canseliet’s role seemed, to M. Schemit, more of an amanuensis or secretary. Fulcanelli Devoile, by Genevieve Dubois, a recent French examination of the Fulcanelli legend, even concludes that the work was a product of a committee with Pierre Dujols (who died in 1926, the year Le Mystere was published) supplying the scholarship, Champagne the operational skills and Canseliet in charge of assembling the notes.
But even if we agree, for the sake of argument, that Champagne and his friends are our best candidate for Fulcanelli’s secret identity, the question remains: who wrote the extra chapter in the second edition of Le Mystere? Champagne was a quarter of a century dead when the second edition appeared. It is unlikely that he was the author, even though internal evidence suggests that it was written at least a decade before his death.
With Canseliet’s use of everything else by Fulcanelli or Champagne and Dujols, the “Fulcanelli” group – how are we to account for the complete absence of reference to Hendaye in Canseliet’s works prior to the mid 1950s? If the chapter is the work of Champagne, then Canseliet must have known about it. This is not a trivial question. The Hendaye chapter is perhaps the single most astounding esoteric work in western history. It offers proof that alchemy is somehow connected to eschatology, that is the timing of the end of the world. And it offers the conclusion that a “double catastrophe” is imminent. If Canseliet had known of this, he would surely have used it, or at least mentioned it. Yet, the silence is complete and compelling.
So where did it come from? We do have one intriguing clue that serves to compound the mystery. In 1936, Jules Boucher, by Canseliet’s recollection a peripheral member of the group but by his own account an integral part, published a two page spread in the obscure occult revue Consolation on “The Cross of Hendaye.” Apparently an artist, the painter Lemoine, took some photos of the Cross while vacationing near Hendaye and showed them to his friend, the editor of Consolation, Maryse Choisy. From there, Jules Boucher, a young occult writer, was commissioned to write an “esoteric” article on the Cross.
Boucher’s article is significant more for the differences between his version and that attributed to Fulcanelli, than it is for any similarities. Boucher clearly understood enough of the symbology on the monument to unravel its secret, but he gave no hint of any deeper understanding of the Cross. Fulcanelli, however is direct and clear. He knows specifics and gives clues that can only have come from direct knowledge. There is nothing to suggest that Canseliet copied Boucher’s article and fabricated the new Hendaye chapter from it. But there is evidence that Boucher had been exposed, somehow, to the information in that chapter.
The clue lies in Boucher’s use of Fulcanelli’s translation of the oddly spaced inscription on the front of the Cross. Normally arranged, it is the simple “O Cross, Our Only Hope” of thousands of cemetery monuments. But, the s of the Latin Spes or hope is displaced, cut off on the first line so that the inscription reads O Crux Aves Pes Unica. Boucher uses what he perceives to be an extra oddity in spacing to suggest that it should be read phonetically in French as O Croix Have Espace Unique, or “O cross, the single pale space.”
This is how Fulcanelli phrased it in the new chapter: “It is written that Life takes refuge in a single space.” From this, we can see that Boucher has heard or read Fulcanelli’s version and then gone looking for its origin in the Latin phrase. But his derivation is flawed, and yields only a close approximation of the phrase. As we will find later, Fulcanelli meant just what he said about how to read this symbolic inscription. It becomes clear that Boucher was consulting a source that seems to be at least partially the text of the new Hendaye chapter.
There is no evidence that Canseliet knew anything about Boucher’s article. It was only rediscovered by researchers long after the second edition of Le Mystere was published, and remains the only contemporary publication on Hendaye’s Cross. Therefore, Boucher’s independent approach to the Cross suggests that Fulcanelli was still in contact with some of his students, just not with Canseliet. So, if Canseliet didn’t copy Boucher, and the rest of the group “Fulcanelli” was dead when it was written, where did Canseliet get the new chapter?
The only solution is that Canseliet met the real Fulcanelli again, and got it straight from the source. Canseliet claims that just such a meeting actually took place, in the Pyrenees in the early 1950s. While Hendaye is never mentioned in Canseliet’s account, the story itself is quite spectacular in its strangeness.
To place the tale of Canseliet’s last encounter with Fulcanelli in any sort of context, we must cut through the tangled accounts of Canseliet’s relationship with “The Master” and establish a reasonable, common denominator chronology. Born in late 1899, Eugene Canseliet claimed to have met Fulcanelli shortly after the start of the Great War, while still an adolescent. The next year, he claimed to have met Champagne as another of Fulcanelli’s students. Later in life, Canseliet declared that he had spent 15 years with Fulcanelli, implying, since they seem to have met in 1915, that he last saw the Master in 1930.
However, from the mid 1920s until Champagne’s death in 1932, Canseliet lived across the hall from Champagne in a cold-water walk-up of the Butte-Montmartre district. Therefore Canseliet was the one person most likely to know if Champagne really was Fulcanelli. And to the end, Canseliet denied that Champagne was anything more than the illustrator.
Even though Canseliet had the most to gain by perpetuating the myth of Fulcanelli, it is obvious that there is something more than just self-serving egoism at work in his descriptions of Fulcanelli. If Fulcanelli had really been either Dujols or Champagne, then why would Canseliet continue the hoax long after they were dead? Why change Le Mystere at all? Why not admit the whole thing and claim the credit? And yet, Canseliet went to his grave declaring that Fulcanelli was a real person, and was certainly not Champagne or Dujols. When our main witness insists on the truth of such a central fact, then it behooves us to listen. As we have seen, there is at least some independent evidence of Fulcanelli’s existence.
Therefore, let us take Eugene Canseliet at his word and see if we can find the truth of his relationship with Fulcanelli.
Canseliet claimed to have met the group around Fulcanelli just before the war, and seems to have worked directly with them through the war years. Sometime after 1919, Fulcanelli seems to have faded from the scene as a direct presence. At least that is the assumption based on the admittedly conflicting evidence of Canseliet’s changing versions of the story. But the contact with Fulcanelli, who ever he was, left the Brotherhood of Heliopolis – Canseliet, Champagne, and the rest – in possession of several secrets.
Including the secret of physical transmutation according to some of Canseliet’s later accounts. In the mid 1970s, just a few years before his death, he told the American occultist Walter Lang that he and Champagne and another Brother, Gaston Sauvage, performed a transmutation in 1922, in the municipal gasworks laboratory of Sarcelles, with a minute amount of the powder of projection given to him by Fulcanelli. In a conversation with Albert Riedel (Frater Albertus of the Paracelsus Research Society), Canseliet claimed that he performed the transmutation under Fulcanelli’s direction. To some, this suggests that Fulcanelli was literally there in the room, demonstrating the correct transmutative technique. Actually, Canseliet is saying no more than that he was following Fulcanelli’s directions, which could have been written down years before.
Frater Albertus however, had information from independent sources that Fulcanelli himself had performed a transmutation in Bourges in 1937 in the presence of Ferdinand Lesseps II and Pierre Curie. This would suggest that Boucher was right, and Fulcanelli was still on the scene in the late 1930s. Unfortunately, Albertus does not supply us with the source of his information. Canseliet claimed to know nothing of the incident. It might be easy to dismiss it as one more occult fabrication, except for the mention of Lesseps and Curie. Canseliet confirmed that they were among Fulcanelli’s large circle of friends.
It is perhaps this early connection with scientists such as Curie that led the OSS and other Allied intelligence agencies to search for Fulcanelli immediately after the war. Canseliet confirms this in his conversation with Frater Albertus, and implies that they are still seeking him. So apparently, Fulcanelli, on some level or other, seems have a been a real presence right through the end of the war in 1945.
For a man who died or disappeared before 1926, if we are to take Canseliet’s first preface to Le Mystere at face value, that’s a pretty active record. However, by sifting through Canseliet’s statements, we can determine a sort of minimalist time line. From 1915 to around 1919, Canseliet was in direct contact with Fulcanelli. He visited Canseliet, perhaps to deliver the powder of projection and a stack of manuscripts, at Sarcelles in 1922. Then, Canseliet tells us in his various accounts he saw him again in 1930, and once more, miraculously, in 1952.
In many ways, this simplified chronology makes the most sense. Fulcanelli was never seen visiting Champagne or Canseliet, because he wasn’t in contact with them during the period that they lived next door to each other. He visited Canseliet at Sarcelles and we are never told where the 1930 meeting took place. This literal absence of Fulcanelli explains many of the minor mysteries, such as the liberties Canseliet and Champagne took with the project. Perhaps Canseliet truly meant what he said in the preface to the first edition of Le Mystere and never expected to see Fulcanelli again?
What a shock then when he returned in 1930, after both books had been published. Perhaps Fulcanelli wasn’t pleased by what Canseliet and Champagne had done with his work. This might explain Champagne’s sudden decline into apathy and alcoholism, which led to his death two years later. Certainly, Fulcanelli broke off contact with Canseliet, leaving him to his own devices. However, some sort of signal was arranged, in case Fulcanelli ever wanted to get back in touch with Canseliet. We know this because something of the sort actually happened.
In 1952, after a wait of almost 22 years, Canseliet met his Master one last time. Before his death, Canseliet told the story, in several versions, to a number of friends and researchers. When he received the signal, Canseliet went to a specific city, perhaps Seville in Spain, where he was met by a car which drove him deep into the Pyrenees. Arriving at a large chateau, Canseliet was greeted by his old Master, Fulcanelli, now looking the same age as Canseliet himself – then in his early fifties – even though he had been around eighty in 1930.
From here on, Canseliet’s story becomes vague and dream-like as shock piled upon shock. Like Parzival’s first visit to the Grail castle, wonders pass in front of Canseliet without his ever asking the question: why?. And, like Parzival, Canseliet ends up on the outside, the castle having vanished, wondering just what it was all about.
He was given a room in an upper turret and a “petit laboratoire” in which to conduct his experiments. He was so impressed by the small laboratory, that he began to wonder what the Grand Laboratory might be like in comparison. Gradually, as he met the other visitors, it began to dawn on Canseliet that his Master’s Chateau was a refuge for advanced alchemical adepts. That evening, he saw a group of small children, dressed in 16th century clothes, playing in the courtyard below his window. Canseliet, like Parzival, didn’t think to ask any questions. He went to bed and forgot about it.
Days passed, with Canseliet happily puttering around in his laboratory. Fulcanelli stopped by occasionally to see how he was doing, but Canseliet is vague on their discussions. Then one morning, Canseliet awakened early and went downstairs into the courtyard for a breath of air without doing more than throwing on his clothes. As he stood there with his shirt unbuttoned and his braces hanging loose from trousers, three women entered the courtyard, chattering in happy feminine voices.
Embarrassed, Canseliet froze, hoping that they wouldn’t notice him standing in the doorway. As they passed, one of the three turned and looked directly at Canseliet and smiled. Shocked to his core, Canseliet recognized the face of the young woman as that of his Master, Fulcanelli.
Canseliet would talk and write about his visit to the castle of the adepts many times before his death, but he saved this gem of pure strangeness for his closest friends. It only appeared in print after his death, in K. R. Johnson’s Fulcanelli Phenomenon, a book about which we will have much to say later on. The end of the story is very confused, but Canseliet eventually left the castle. Fulcanelli however gave him a word of warning before he left, reported by Canseliet in the 1964 edition of his Alchimie: “The time will come, my son, when you will no longer be able to work in alchemy, when it will become necessary for you to search for the rare and blessed land along the frontiers to the south.”
And this is as close as we get to the possible origin of the Hendaye chapter, the oblique mention of a disaster and a place of refuge. But for the reality of that additional chapter it might be possible to dismiss this story as an old man’s fabrication. Whatever really happened, the evidence forces us to accept that Canseliet met someone who delivered that apocalyptic chapter and ordered its publication in the new edition of Le Mystere. Applying Occam’s razor suggests that Fulcanelli is the most likely source. After that encounter, however, Fulcanelli seems to have truly vanished. Canseliet never saw him again, and neither has anyone else with any degree of certainty.