Zdenek Bohuslav – History of Spiritual Societies in the Czech Republic in Relation to Hermeticism

Hermeticism – an applied philosophy of personal development through spiritual exploration and practice of alchemy, astrology and magic with roots in ancient Greece, Egypt and Babylonia.  Today’s form of Hermeticism was encouraged and is connected with the French occultists Eliphas Levi, Papus, and Stanislas de Guaita. Through them, traditional Hermeticism was enriched by Martinism, a doctrine attributed to the 18th century “unknown philosopher” Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, which is a synthesis of traditional Hermeticism and esoteric Christianity.

This view does not include other parts of spirituality – such as faith and religious movements, mysticism, oriental and other non-European philosophies, Freemasonry, psychology, parapsychology or research belonging to the fields of extra sensory perception, …

This is not a comprehensive study, but only a brief outline in the main directions.

A strong impetus came from the 19th century – in the Martinist movement there is a strong influence of the idea of reintegration, i.e. the idea of a path to the rediscovery of the lost human spiritual essence.

Significantly acted the S.E.S. Order (Egyptian Secret Society – Société égyptene secréte) founded in 1840 by Muhammed ben Neftherim in Cairo, always having a maximum of 12 x 7 members – Pierre de Lasenic – a member of the S.E.S.

– 1891 Baron Adolf Leonhardi establishes a theosophical lodge in Prague; occultist and writer Gustav Meyrink is also a member

– 1891 Baron Adolf Leonhardi founds a Martinist circle (named as “cercle” – a precursor of a lodge) in the south of Bohemia (České Budějovice)

– At the end of 1895 Baron Adolf Leonhardi founds the Martinist lodge U modré hvězdy (České Budějovice); later the headquarters is moved to Prague

Early 20th century

Significant stage:

– 1905 – Otokar Griese (a colleague and friend of the French Martinist Papus) founds the Free School of Hermetic Sciences in Přerov in Moravia, works in Prague, Brno, Přerov. On its soil he cultivates astrology, magic, hermetic medicine, spagyria, publishes the journal Isis and materials for study – translations and his own works.

Other, though not so active, Martinist lodges are also emerging – e.g. in Olomouc in Moravia,

World War I interrupted the institutional lodge life.

– 1920 The Universalia Study Circle is founded

On June 24, 1927, this circle grows into a free association, on February 17, 1930, the chairman of Universalia, Jan Kefer, asks the Ministry of the Interior to legalize Universalia. It brings together outstanding Czech hermeticists Peter Kohout (Pierre de Lasenic), Jan Kefer, František Kabelák, Oldřich Eliáš and others. In 1938 it had 700 members throughout the country.

– On November 27, 1929 Karel Weinfurter (among others a member of the first Prague Theosophical Lodge, member of Universalia) founds the society and magazine Psyche devoted to mysticism, which functioned until June 9, 1941 when it was dissolved like Universalia. He died on 14 March 1942 as a result of German imprisonment.

– On September 23, 1937, Petr Kohout (Pierre de Lasenic) resigned from Universalia and founded the Horev Club based in Prague, which deals with Martinism and esotericism of Egyptian culture, with an emphasis on a personal active approach. In Paris the same year he founds the French Martinist lodge Paragava. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Germany, he devotes himself to theoretical education and practice only to a small circle of close friends.

– On March 14, 1939, Czechoslovakia was occupied by Germany; the activities of Universalia and other associations were restricted and held only under the supervision and with the approval of the police. Only František Kabelák survived World War II, Petr Kohout died of natural causes, Jan Kefer and Oldřich Eliáš died in Nazi concentration camps. After the end of the war, Universalia’s activities were not renewed.

Occupation of Czechoslovakia and World War II

So we see that the esoteric societies and societies were abolished as “dangerous to the German Reich”. All esoteric literature was deliberately destroyed by the Nazis. In addition to the confiscation of private libraries, books on this subject were also removed from public libraries, and the remaining circulation was liquidated.

After World War II, years 1945 -1989

After the Second World War (in Europe it ended on 8 May 1945) on the basis of a decree of the Czechoslovak President E. Beneš, the organizations that had been closed down by the German Gestapo secret police were restored, as well as the esoteric Psyche association.

However, after the communist takeover on 25 February 1948, among other things, the publication of the Psyche magazine was officially banned and leaders of all spiritual associations had to submit reports on their activities and membership. Everything is under the control of state security. Esoteric groups and societies gradually abolish the vast majority of their public activities.

Finally, in 1956, a law is finally implemented, under which all existing association are dissolved, except for organizations with more than 10,000 members.

The gradual death of the associations can be illustrated by the example of the post-war fate of the Circle of Spiritual Brotherhood:

– Bohuslava Heranová (originally a member of Psyche before the war) was the founder of the post-war Circle of the Spiritual Brotherhood, which became a platform for the involvement of several hundred esotericists during its ten-year existence.  They published the periodical Bulletin of the Circle of the Spiritual Brotherhood, and the Circle had an international outreach, welcoming P. Brunton to Prague in 1948. Between 1949 and 1950, political pressure from the state, controlled by the Communist Party, intensified to such an extent that Heranová was forced to close the Circle. She remained in correspondence with its members, however, through teaching texts, the so-called Written Course in Mental Hygiene. Like the members of other dissolved societies, the Circle’s attendees then meet only on visits to the secluded apartments of their friends. The final demise of the Circle of the Spiritual Brotherhood came in 1956. At that time, all the members of its main leaders are held for a year without trial in Pankrác Prison. Bohuslava Heranová orders the burning of all documentation reminiscent of the group’s activities. She then testifies in court that she herself incited everyone to religious fanaticism. She is declared mentally ill and the detainees are freed, but they lose their jobs and often become, for example, cowherds.

The public activity connected with occultism and therefore also Hermeticism is silent, but the living members of the former organizations are privately active and educating younger followers in almost all the former fields. Gradually, tolerated yoga and psychotronics, the exploration of regression psychotherapy, mysticism, spagyria, alchemy, astrology and magic continue in secret (pupils of students of Petr Kohout (Lasenic), František Bardon, …), translations, copies and new works appear in samizdat. For the adepts on the road, however, the phantom of the secret police and the repressive organs of the communist regime are always present, but for many materialized into personal oppression. As a result of the communist regime’s deliberate suppression of spirituality, spiritual development continues only on the basis of private and, given the prevailing regime, clandestine personal encounters. At the same time, it was necessary to look at the possible provocations of the secret police, its agents and the resulting consequences.

Thanks to the passage of time, from the beginning of 1968 until August 1968, it seemed that a certain relaxation was taking place and that the re-establishment of associations or societies engaged in public spiritual research would be institutionalized again. After the invasion of the Russian and subordinate Warsaw Pact troops on 21 August 1968, a subsequent clamping of social life took place and had to wait in secret until the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, when the domination of the Communist Party was finally broken.

Since 1990

A month later, after the Velvet Revolution, in December 1989, the first steps were taken towards the establishment of the Astrological Society and the re-establishment of the Universalia Society of Czech Hermeticists.  Both societies are still functioning today. Their activities are followed by informal groups and circles, which prefer closer personal contact and thus often do not move from the personal to the institutional level. They are active both in larger cities such as Brno, Ostrava, Pilsen, České Budějovice and around active personalities living and practicing in places outside the city.

The influence of the personalities of teachers is not negligible either, for example in astrology the classical school, based on Hellenistic roots and on the hermetic conception of the world, but also the school of Rudhyar’s transpersonal and humanistic orientation or the Jungian-oriented astropsychological school (influenced by R. Tarnas and S. Grof) can be found as the most strongly represented.

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