Saint-Yves d’Alveydre and the Agartthian Connection

Joscelyn Godwin

Introduction to The Kingdom of Agarttha: A Journey into the Hollow Earth

In 1884 the French occultist Saint-Yves d’Alveydre (1842–1909)1 decided to take lessons in Sanskrit. Having just published his definitive work on the secret history of the world, called Mission des Juifs (“Mission of the Jews”),2 he was anxious to deepen his understanding of the sacred languages, which, he felt sure, concealed the ultimate Mysteries. Hebrew had already revealed much to him; now it was time to tackle the even more ancient language of Sanskrit, parent of all the Indo-European tongues.

Saint-Yves’ Sanskrit teacher came to him through a mutual friend, General Dumont.3 Calling himself Hardjji Scharipf, he was a character of hazy origins and the subject of various rumors. Born on December 25, 1838, he supposedly left India after the Revolt of the Sepoys (also called the Indian Mutiny) of 1857 and set up in the French port of Le Havre as a bird-seller and professor of Oriental languages.4 His name may have been a pseudonym; he may have been Afghan; some called him Prince.5 In short, much rumor and speculation have surrounded him, and most writers on Saint-Yves have not taken him very seriously. One reason may be the only published photograph,6 which, as one of them says, makes him look like someone got up as a Turk for a fancy-dress ball.7 But this is an underestimation. The manuscripts for which Hardjji was responsible, now in the Library of the Sorbonne in Paris, show that he was a learned and punctilious teacher, and the source of two still unsolved enigmas: the holy land of Agarttha, and its sacred language of Vattanian.

In 1882 Hardjji had written out an elaborate Sanskrit grammar, presumably from some earlier student, which he gave to Saint-Yves.8 He wrote it in beautiful script and in French, with notes that show some command of English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Sometimes he added explanations that he signed with his initials “H.S.” Hone of these, for instance, was on the mortuary customs of the hindus. Here and there he inserted criticisms of foreign Sanskritists, particularly British ones, who thought that they understood the language perfectly. At one point he quote a passage on how foolish it is to take the Hindu and Hebrew Flood legends literally.

Hardjji lived in a northern suburb of Paris, Levallois-Perret; Saint-Yves, in a much more fashionable quarter, in a private house on Rue Vernet near the Place de l’Étoile, to which he had moved after his fortunate marriage in 1877. Their Sanskrit lessons began on Jun 8, 1885, and continued three times a week for at least a year and a half.9 Saint-Yves’ wife, Marie-Victoire, a very independent and cultured lady, joined in a least the earlier lessons.10 Each day, Hardjji would carefully write out a lesson of grammar and reading from some Sanskrit classic such as the Laws of Many, or, toward the end of the course, the Bhagavad Gita. In the corner of every page, as in his grammar of 1882, he signed his monogram. Though I do not know Sanskrit, I am impressed by the methodical work and the progress that Saint-Yves made under Hardjji’s tutelage.

Mystery enters the picture in the heading of the very first lesson:

First Lesson in the Sanskrit Language
to Monsieur the Marquis Saint-Yves d’Alveydre
Paris, this 8th of June 1885 [Hindu date follow]
by Teacher and Professor H. S. Bagwandass
of the Great Agartthian School

Saint-Yves must have asked him what this “Great Agartthian School” was, and received an answer, though perhaps not as full an answer as he would have liked. He might already have read in the books of the popular travel writer and historian Louis Jacolliot12 of an “Asgartha,” supposedly a great city of the ancient Indian priest-kings, the “Brahmatras.” Does such a place still exist, then? Apparently Saint-Yves was given to believe so, and, what is more, that it preserves a language and a script, known as “Vattan” or “Vattanian,” that are the primordial ones of mankind. For someone in quest of the secret and sacred roots of language, the mention of such things must have been unbearably exciting.

Curiosity overcame him on Christmas Day, 1885. The day’s lesson was the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita, on which Hardjji had noted the date of its content: “51,900 (the confusion of languages, etc.).” Conversation on the confusion of tongues must have led to the subject of humanity’s previous language. Might Saint-Yves learn it now? If not, perhaps Hardjii would at least be good enough to spell his pupil’s name in Vattanian characters? The guru obliges, writing it on the back of the lesson sheet and adding wryly: “Here, according to your arden desire; but really you are not yet sufficiently prepared for Vattan. Slowly and surely!”13 Later he must have taught Saint-Yves the Vattanian alphabet and the principles behind its letterforms, which Saint-Yves would correlate with the Hebrew alphabet and with the zodiacal and planetary symbols. On the back of the lesson for January 13, 1886, there is a caption: “Model of Vattanian elements for the Agartthian rite alone for the use of initiates.”14 Perhaps the elements were delivered at the same time on a separate sheet.

Saint-Yves’ admirer Papus would write, with characteristic overstatement though well within his master’s lifetime, that the latter “was initiated into the tradition of the Orient by two of the greatest dignitaries of the Brahmanic Church, of whom one was the Brahatma of the holy centers of INdia. Like all the pupils of the true Oriental initiation, he possessed all the teaching notebooks, of which every page is countersigned by the Brahmin responsible for the transmission of the holy word.”15 One of these notebooks survives.16 It is rich in entries in Hardjji’s handwriting and in Agartthian references. There are several informal conversations written out in Sanskrit with word-by-word French translations, including the following significant phrases: “Out guru Hajji Shariph Bagwandas by name, of the town of Bombay of cardinal Agarttha in India,” and “… how was he able to leave Agarttha?”17

On another page is written “The first divine Agartthian journal,” and on the last page, Hardjji has penciled a prayer with some Vattanian symbols: “Master of the Universe and Protector of the holy land Agarttha, in the name of the … grant me, who am thine and whose thoughts are upon three and in three, the … of thy sublime goodness, as a Yogi twice-born in soul and body; from which vow I will never depart. Om Sat tat, Brahma Visnu Civa isan tê Ha-hi_Ho-Hva avoh!”18

By the time this notebook was being compiled, Agarttha and Vattanian had evidently become subjects for study and conversation. But this sketchy and disorganized notebook, mostly written in pencil, marking the transition of Saint-Yves’ interests from pure Sanskrit to a kind of comparative Hermeticism. The core and the key to this synthesis appear in a much grander manuscript written in red and gold ink, and using all four of Saint-Yves’ distinct handwritings. It contains invocations, sigils, many alphabets, designs, and arabesques made from Sanskrit and Vattanian letters; a list of Vedic and Biblical names encoded in so-called Hermetic or Raphaelic Alphabet;19 eighty “Vedic” symbols representing the development of the cosmos;20 a passage on the “Hermetic Significance of the Zodiac” encoded in planet and zodiac signs; correlations of these signs with the names of angels and with Vattanian, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Hermetic characters; breathing exercises for the hearing of the inner sound “M” and for soul-travel;21 notes on the properties of herbs; and alchemical recipes.

It is interesting that Hadjji signs all these pages with his monogram, even the ones purely derived from Western esotericism. But he seems to have progressively lost interest, his signature becoming sketchier until it is no more than a little cross. Then, in the middle section on “Botanical Magic,” it disappears for good. Was it from this point that Saint-Yves was left to his own devices?22

With or without Hardjji’s cooperation, Saint-Yves seems to have been searching for a way to relate Western Hermeticism of the Renaissance type, with its emphasis on alchemy, Christian Kabbalah, and magical correspondences, to Hindu cosmogony and metaphysics as expressed in the primordial symbols of Vattanian. But his methods were practical as well as theoretical. At one point, early in his marriage, it is fairly certain that he experimented with laboratory alchemy.23

He also practiced clairvoyance (or perhaps, on this occasion, employed a medium), for he encodes in Vattanian characters the following psychic warning: “Beware in eighteen months or two years of an assassination of my wife by a blond Russian in autumn. Stay occupied this autumn close to Marie. On Friday, Jun 17, 1887. Clairvoyance of Degio [?].”24 In fact, Marie-Victoire (who was Russian) lived till Jun 7, 1895, when she died at the age of 67. She then continued ti manifest as Saint-Yves’ “Angel” and to inspire his later work. In 1896 he returned to the Hermetic Notebook, which he had laid aside ten years earlier, and, blessed by her continuing presence, filled it with further schemes and developments. These now bore the name of the “Archeometer,” the universal system of knowledge on which he would work for another dozen years, leaving behind enough material for his disciples to compile imposing posthumous volumes.

But we must return to 1886, the year of Sanskrit lessons and Agartthian conversations. Did Hardjji know that Saint-Yves was writing another book—the present one—under the influence of his Oriental studies? The book was finished, typeset, and printed by the same publisher (Calmann Lévy) as had issued Saint-Yves’ Mission des Souverains, Mission de Ouvriers, and Mission des Juifs. To this series of “Missions” of sovereigns, workers, and Jews he now added the Mission de l’Inde en Europe; Mission de l’Europe en Asie: “Mission of India in Europe; Mission of Europe in Asia”—the original French title of the present volume.

To put it bluntly, this book takes the lid off Agarttha. The reader will learn that it is a hidden land somewhere in the East, beneath the surface of the earth, where a population of millions is ruled by Sovereign Pontiff, the “Brâhatmah,” and his two colleagues the “Mahatma” and the “Mahanga.” This realm, Saint-Yves explains, was transferred underground and concealed from the surface-dwellers at the start of the Kali Yuga (the present dark age in the Hindu system of chronology), which he dates to about 3200 BCE. Agarttha has long enjoyed the benefits of a technology advanced far beyond out own, including one of “Synarchy,” which the surface races have lost ever since the schism that broke the Universal Empire in the fourth millennium BCE, and which Moses, Jesus, and Saint_Yves strove to restore. (This was the theme of Mission des Juifs.) Now and then Agarttha sends emissaries to the upper world, of which it has perfect knowledge. Not only the latest discoveries of modern man, but also the whole wisdom of the ages is enshrined in its libraries, engraved on stone in Vattanian characters. Among its secrets are those of the true relationship of body to soul, and the means to keep departed souls in communication with the living. When out world adopts Synarchic government, the time will be ripe for Agarttha to reveal itself, to our great spiritual and practical advantage. In order to speed this process, Saint-Yves includes in the book open letters to Queen Victoria, Emperor Alexander III of Russia, and Pope Leo III, inviting them to join in the great project. This was not quite as arrogant as it sounds, for he had a line to Queen Victoria through his friend the Earl of Lytton, and actually obtained her permission to dedicate a later work to her;25 while through his wife, he was connected with the Russian aristocracy.

Perhaps the oddest thing about this book is Saint-Yves’ own stance. Far from presenting himself as an authorized spokesman for Agarttha, he admits that he is a spy. Dedicating the book to the Sovereign Pontiff and signing it with his own name in Vattanian characters (just as Hardjji had written it out for him), he expatiates on how astounded this august dignitary will be to read the work, wondering how human eyes could have penetrated the innermost sanctuaries of his realm. Saint-Yves explains that he is a “spontaneous initiate,” bound by no oath of secrecy, and that once the Brâhatmah gets over the shock, he will admit the wisdom of what Saint-Yves had dared to reveal.

How did Saint-Yves obtain this information? Already in his first book, Clefs de l’Orient (1877), he was writing with the confidence of an eyewitness of the psychic phenomena accompanying birth, death, and the relation between the sexes.26 In the present work he seems to have extended his psychic vision, to say the least, and one can glean from here and there an idea of his methods.

There is, for instance, a passage here describing in detail how the Agartthian initiates travel in their souls while their bodies sleep (see page 77). Then there is the passage in the notebook already mentioned, on yogic exercises for separating the soul from the body. Thirdly, there is a snippet of occult gossip in a conversation with Saint-Yves recorded on August 16, 1896, by a psychical researcher, Alfred Erny:27

He has talked to Papus and [Stanislas de] Guaïta, but did not tell them what they wanted to know: the method of disengaging and reengaging oneself in the astral body. It is dangerous: “I don’t want (he said) to put a loaded revolver into your hands which you don’t know how to use.”

“A magnetizer,” he said, “runs less danger tan others in duplicating himself, because he is more trained.”

“When one goes out of one’s body into the Astral, another evil spirit may replace you.”

Saint-Yves presumably possessed the secret of this “somnambulistic” faculty, and used it to gather the information he presents in this book. But did he gather it, as he claims, from spying on a physical Agarttha beneath the surface of the earth? Or was it the result of his own projected fantasies or hallucinations? Or, again, did it come from some non-physical location or state which can be accessed under certain conditions, but which then merely supports the psych’s own subjective expectation and prejudices? We will return to these questions at the end.

I doubt that Hardjji Scharipf read the book, or had anything to do with its creation. From the manuscripts one can see that he did talk with Saint-Yves about an “Agarttha” and that he boasted a title from a “school” of that name that had “initiates” and “rites.” But that is a far cry from the interpretations his pupil put on it. After all, theres are people today who call themselves Rosicrucians, without necessarily believing that Christian Rosenkreutz lived from 1378–1448 and that his tomb still exists somewhere in Germany. Nor does a Buddhist of the Pure Land School situate the Western Paradise of Ambitabha on the map of the world. Saint-Yves, on the contrary, was a literalist. Mission de l’Inde was not intended as an allegorical or symbolic work, on the lines of esoteric fantasies like the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. He had no gift for fiction: all his other writing is deadly serious, and this one, however bizarre, is presented as a factual report.

No sooner was the book printed and ready fro the book shops than Saint-Yves withdrew it, destroying every copy but one. The work narrowly escaped oblivion, but this one copy passed after Saint-Yves’ death to Papus, who published it in 1910, with some omissions, under the auspices of a group of disciples, the “Friends of Saint-Yves.” Decades later, it turned out that the printer, Lahure, had secreted another copy.28 The late Jean Saunier, biographer and chief authority on Saint-Yves, used this as the basis for the complete redaction of 1981, of which the present work is a translation.

Various reasons have been put forward for Saint-Yves’ withdrawal of the book. Jules Bois, the occult gossipmonger, wrote unkindly that Saint-Yves’ Brahmin teacher repudiated his pupil’s “infantile mysticism,” being disgusted by the “fantastic interpretations that this gracious but cracked brain gave to his lessons.” Bois attributes to Saint-Yves the excuse that the Brahmin had menaced him with the “dagger of the initiates” if he revealed these secrets, but says that in point of fact he merely threatened a lawsuit.29 But Saunier discounts this on the grounds of Hardjji’s cordial letter of December 24, 1887, which shows the two men still on excellent terms.30

I think that Saint-Yves, as he himself says in the book, had decided quite independently to publish his “researches” for the benefit of humanity, but that outside pressures forced a change of heart. For one thing, in July 1885, Victor Meunier had written a review showing that Saint-Yves’ masterwork, Mission des Juifs, had plagiarized lavishly from the works of Fabre d’Olivet (1767–1825)31. That was embarrassing enough, and Saint-Yves’ excuses never really exonerated him. But there was worse to come. In 1886, Claire Vautier, a former opera singer, published a novel called Monsieur le Marquis, histroire d’un prophète (Monsieur the Marquis, History of a Prophet), in which Saint-Yves, transparently presented as “Saint-Emme,” was given the most humiliating exposure as the lover who had seduced and abandoned her.32 The book was all the more painful for being extremely close to the truth. Saunier, a most careful biographer, considers many of the character Saint-Emme’s speeches as representing Saint-Yves’ own experiences and philosophy. And one had only to glance through Vautier’s other novels with their eloquent titles33 to see that she could not possibly have invented his words herself.

In 1886, besides his Sanskrit studies and Agarttian visions, Saint-Vyes’ external and political activities on behalf of Synarchy were coming to a head with the formation of a Press Union (Syndicate de la Presse économique et prefessionelle), deputations to the President, etc.34 After the embarrassments just mentioned, he cannot have wanted to risk the further mockery and ridicule that would have followed publication of a book that made such extravagant claims, and the harm it would have done to the more worldly wing of his campaign. And perhaps even he had been hurt too much.

The full public revelation of Agarttha was therefore withheld for the duration of Saint-Yves’ lifetime, nor did he publish significant doctrinal works after this point. But there is no doubt that he remained true to his vision. For instance, he mentions Agarttha and names its three rulers in his epic poem of 1890, Jeanne d’Arc victorieuse.35 In his conversations with Erny in 1896, he stated outright that there exists a secret “Superior University” with a “High Priest” who is currently an Ethiopian, and other details just as they appear in this book. Finally, he mentions Agarttha in veiled terms in L/Archéomètre, the major work of his last years.

After the death of Marie-Victoire, Saint-Yves moved from Paris to an apartment near the Château of Versailles, where he installed a Catholic shrine to his wife. He continued until the end of his life to enjoy the status of éminence grise of French esotericism, sublimely aloof from the innumerable sects, cults, and quarrels of the time. Although he never belonged to any secret society, fraternity, or order (as far as we know), he was much revered by Papus, Stanislas de Guaïta, Charles Barlet, and other eminences of the occultist fin de siècle. Those whom he consented to receive left with impressive memories of his presence and conversations.

He was still there in 1908, when the young René Guénon (1886–1951) embarked on his esoteric career. Early in that year, certain members of Papus’ Martinist Order )though certainly not Papus himself) had held a séance in which they were informed, through automatic writing, that they should form a new “Order of the Temple,” and that twenty-one-year old Guénon should be its head. They continued with over forty table-rapping and automatic writing sessions. Saint-Yves’ inspiration is evident from the start, when the subjects included “The Lost Word, the Origins of Language, the Vattanian Alphabet and its derivatives … Archeometry and the origins of the Red Race,” etc.36 What is unclear is whether these were subjects suggested by the participants for clarification by the “spirits,” or whether they arose spontaneously from the latter. In any case, Guénon emerged from these sessions with most of the themes of his future books already in hand: books such as Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta (published 1925), The Symbolism of the Cross (1931), and The Multiple States of Being (1932), which would give new meaning to metaphysics in the West.

Not long after, Guénon is said to have received Oriental doctrines by word of mouth, though his instructors have never been satisfactorily identified. The proof is there in his works: no young man since Pico della Mirandola has been in such confident possession of the highest metaphysical doctrines, which would provide the foundation for the Traditionalist or “Perennialist” school of spiritual philosophers.37

We may appear to have wandered far from the “Great Agartthian School: of Hardjji Scharipf. After the trauma of the First World War, the very name of Agarttha might have been forgotten, and Saint-Yves’ book might have sunk out of sight like many an occultist’s fantasy. But in 1922, a Polish self-styled scientist named Ferdinand Ossendowski published a sensational travel and adventure book.38 It told of his flight through central Asia in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. While in Mongolia, he heard tell of a subterranean realm of 800,000,000 inhabitants called “Agharti”; of its triple spiritual authority “Brahytma, the King of the World,” “Mahytma,” and “Mahynga”; of its sacred language, “Vattanan”; and many other things that corroborate Saint-Yves. The book ended on a dramatic note of prophesy from one of Ossendowski’s informants: that in the year 2029, the people of “Aghardi” will issue forth from their caverns and appear on the surface of the earth. The prophesy was attributed to the King of the World then he appeared before the lamas in 1890. The King had then predicted that there would be fifty years of strife and misery, seventy-one years of happiness under three great kingdoms, then an eighteen-year war, before the appearance of the Agartthians.39

An unprejudiced reader, finding in three chapters of Ossendowski’s book a virtual outline of Saint-Yves’ Agarttha, not omitting the most improbable details, would conclude that the author had capped an already good story with a convenient piece of plagiarism, altering the spellings so as to make his version, if challenged, seem informed from an independent source. But Ossendowski denied this indignantly. When he was introduced to René Guénon, he said that if it were not for the evidence of the daily journal he had kept, and of certain objects he had brought back, he would have thought that he dreamed parts of this story, adding: “I’d much prefer that!”40

Guénon’s interest was rekindled, and in 1925 he wrote about the striking parallels between Ossendowski’s Agharti and Saint-Yves’ Afarttha:

One can evidently debate the significance that should by attributed to all these similarities, but we do not think that they are sufficient to permit a conclusion unfavorable to M. Ossendowski. In any case, he has affirmed to us that he had never read Saint-Yves, whose name was even unknown to him before the French translation of his book; and for our part, we have no reason to doubt his sincerity.41

Two years later, Guénon published his most controversial book, Le Roi du Monde (The King [or Lord] of the World), in which he announced: “Independently of the evidence offered by Ossendowski, we know from other sources that stories of this kind are widely current in Mongolia and throughout Central Asia, and we can add that there is something similar in the traditions of most peoples.”42 Unfortunately Guénon does not support his claim to privileged access by telling us what these sources are, nor what degree of similitude is meant by “stories of this kind.”

Near the end of Le Roi du Monde, Guénon faces the ontological question of whether Agarttha really exists:

Should its setting in a definite location now imply that this is literally so, or is it only a symbol, or is it both at the same time? The simple answer is that both geographical and historical facts possess a symbolic validity that in no way detracts from their being facts, but that actually, beyond the obvious reality, gives them a higher significance.43

So Guénon at the very least did not deny a geographical Agarttha. To his way of thinking, if one were found to exist beneath the surface of the earth, ti would only corroborate the superior reality of the symbolic one. The Guénon expert Jean-Pierre Laurant comments on this that “the two interpretations have in fact nothing contradictory about them; they can even join with an appetite for the marvelous that Guénon never repudiated, his life long.”44

Reading the present book and the last chapters of Beast, Men and Gods side by side, one repeatedly finds passages that, occurring in vivid detail in Saint-Yves, recur in miniature in Ossendowski. These are often the most bizarre and absurd things, such as one might recall (unconsciously? we must give him the benefit of the doubt) from a book read years before. For example, there is a race of Agartthians with two tongues, with which they can speak different language simultaneously. (Saint-Yves was fond of that one: he repeated it to Alfred Erny in 1896.) One cannot help wondering how Guénon and other defenders of Ossendowski would have reacted to such stories if they had been told by some Theosophist or Spiritualist. The matter is settled, to my mind, by Ossendowski’s words on Sakhya-Muni (i.e., Guatama the Buddha), in a speech attributed to a Mongolian lama:

The blissful Sakkia Mounti found on the mountain top tablets of stone carrying words which he only understood in his old age and afterwards penetrated into the Kingdom of Agharti, from which he brought back crumbs of the sacred learning preserved in his memory.45

No Buddhist lama would have told such a tale, but a Hindu Brahmin might have, and Saint-Yves definitely does (see page 81), with the implications that where Buddha failed to garner the wisdom of the hidden kingdom, he had succeeded.

Ossendowski’s account was later investigated by Marco Pallis, the traveler, writer on Buddhism, and translator of Guénon, with the advantage of his own contacts with highly-placed Indians, Tibetans, and Mongolians.46 One of the latter, now very old, had been the head lama of a monastery at the time of Ossendowski’s visit there. He testified that the latter’s stories fo the King of the World and of Agarttha bore no relation to any authentic legend or doctrine whatsoever, and that Ossendowski’s command of the Mongolian language had not been nearly sufficient to understand what he claimed to have heard. Pallis’s Hindu friends, similarly, disclaimed any Sanskrit source for Agarttha. The inevitable conclusion was that the credulous Guénon had been misled by Saint-Yves’ fantasy, and that promoting belief in Agarttha in Le Roi du Monde had been a foolish mistake.

Certain believers in Guénon’s infallibility, for whom Guénon himself had taken on the aspect of an emissary from the King of the World, were outraged by this.47 In a more moderate vein, a “close collaborator of Guénon” who insisted on anonymity (Reyor again?) answered Pallis’s conclusions in a letter to Jean Saunier by explaining that in 1927, as the result of the publication of Le Roi du Monde, there had resulted a rupture between Guénon and “certain of his Hindu informants.” The writer points out that opinions differed in 1927 on the advisability of divulging information on the “secret realm,” and asks why it should be any different today. “It would be normal—without this showing any disrespect whatever towards Mr. Pallis—that the Orientals interviewed by the latter did not feel obliged to confirm a divulgation which had not been unanimously approved.”48 In other words, the underground kingdom of Agarttha does exist as Guénon and Saint-Yves maintained, but it is no business of inquisitive Westerners.

Once Ossendowski’s best seller had brought the Agarttha myth out of the esoteric closet, it began to enjoy a new lease on life. Others were quick to exploit it, such as a pair of adventurers who flitted through the Parisian scene in the late 1920s. Their version went as follows.49 In the summer of 1908 (the same year as the refoundation of the Order of the Temple by Guénon and his friends), a young Franco-Italian, Mario Fille, met a hermit who lived in the hills near Rome. Going by the name of Father Julian, this hermit confided to Fille a sheaf of old parchments, telling him that they contained an Oracle. It worked through word and number manipulation, but the processes called for were painstaking and lengthy, and Fille did not bother with them until about twelve years later (i.e., about 1920), at a time of personal crisis. Thereupon he followed the instructions, which were to phrase one’s question in Italian, adding one’s name and the maiden name of one’s mother, turn them into numbers, and perform certain mathematical operations with them. At the end of several hours’ work, a final series of numbers emerges, which, when retranslated into letters, gives a cogent and grammatically correct answer to one’s question. Fille was amazed. Apparently the Oracle never failed to behave with perfect reliability, though its answers were sometimes in English or German.

One of the first question to ask such an oracle is of course “Who are you?” Fille, working with his friend Cesare Accomani, learned that this was called the “Oracle of Astral Energy”; that it was not a method of divination like some Kabbalistic oracles or the I Ching, but an actual channel of communication with the “Three Supreme Sages” or the “Little lIghts of the Orient,” who live in—Agarttha.

The Oracle’s answers are elaborate, but not always conclusive, e.g.:

Q. “Do the Three Supreme Sages and Agarttha exist?”

A. “The Three Sages exist and are the Guardians of the Mysteries of Life and Death. After forty winters passed in penitence for sinful humanity and in sacrifices for suffering humanity, one may have special missions, which permit one to enter into the Garden, in preparation for the final selection, which opens the Gate of Agarttha.”50

Fille and Accomani settled in Paris, where they demonstrated the Oracle to a group of Orientalists, journalists, and writers, four of whom were impressed enough to write prefaces to Accomani’s book about it. One of these was René Guénon, fresh from publishing Le Roi du Monde, but he withdrew his commendations before publication, having failed to receive “certain confirmations” of the Oracle’s pronouncements.

One of the preface writers, the Tantric expert Jean Marquès-Rivière, quotes the opening of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes,51 and writes that, in conformity with the Hermetic principle of correspondences:

The center of transhuman power has a reflection on the earth; it is a constant tradition in Asia, and this Center (a terrestrial one? I do not know to what degree) is called in central Asia Agarttha. It has not many other different names, which there is no point in recalling here. This Center has as its mission, or rather as its reason for existence, the direction of the spiritual activities of the Earth.52

The following year, 1930, Marquès-Rivière published his own fantastic travelogue, A l’ombre des monastères thibétains (“In the shadow of Tibetan monasteries”), which culminates in an encounter with an unknown Adept who says that he is an envoy fro the Kingdom of Life. “Our monastery is the immense Universe with the seven gates of gold; out Nation is above and beneath the earth; our Kingdom is in the three worlds of this cycle.” The Adept adds that:

In former times the center of the Master of the Three Worlds was not where it is now. There were times in this cycle when the Tradition of life was known and adored almost openly; the spiritual Center of the world was in the valley of a great river; then It moved, before the rising tides of the barbarians, toward the Orient, where It now resides, mysterious and hidden from the eyes of men.53

Marquès-Rivière’s Adept does not name this Center. In the foreword to the book Maurice Magré refers to it not as Agarttha but by the well-known Tibetan name of Shambhala. There is no doubt that this group, now calling themselves the “Polaires,” identified the one with the other.54

From now on, the true believers in Agarttha became indistinguishable from the popularizing writers who continue to exploit the myth for its sensational value.55 However, even if one dismisses Guénon’s Agarttha, Ossendowski’s Agharti, and Saint-Yves’ Agarttha as a mere literary transmission, it still leaves two independent sources: the books of Jacolliot and the manuscripts of Hardjji Scharipf. Louis Lacolliot (1837–1890) was for many years a magistrate in Chandernagor, South India, and collected numerous sacred texts and tales. His particular obsession was to prove that everything in European civilization has been borrowed from India, especially the legal system and the pagan and Christian religions. While he embellished what he was given and was irresponsible about citing his sources, it seems improbably that he altogether invented the account in Le Fils de Dieu (1873) of “Asgartha,” the “City of the Sun,” the seat of successive “Brahmatras” (spiritual and temporal sovereigns) for over 3000 years before its conquest by the Aryans about 10,000 years ago. (He gives as his source the Vedamaga.) As far as I can tell, this was the first appearance of out term in Europe.56

Hardjji Schariph’s manuscripts corroborate the Indian sources of Jacolliot. They show an Oriental from Bombay bringing to the West, in apparent sincerity, the notion of a “Holy Land of Agarttha” and its protector the “Master of the universe” (who resembles the “King of the World”). These manuscripts in the Library of the Sorbonne are in fact the sole piece of concrete evidence of an Eastern origin for the term Agarttha. Everything else known up to now has been mediated by a Western writer.

New light on Saint-Yves’ Indian connections appeared in 1935. This came from Jean Reyor (pseudonym of Marcel Clavelle), who was an influential figure in the French esoteric world, an editor of the review Études traditionnelles, and a close associate of René Guénon. Reyor wrote that some Hindus, concerned to give to the West certain forgotten traditional doctrines, had fastened on Saint-Yves as one who, in his “Missions,” had shown suitable tendencies. But since this project did not succeed as planned, he received only incomplete doctrines, and was finally judged unsuitable for the role and left to himself. Saint-Yves strove for the rest of his life, says Reyor, to make something of these incomplete doctrines, and his Archeometer was the result.57

Reyor gave some further details a few years later, in his preface to the 1948 edition of Saint-Yves’ Mission des Souvrains, par l’un d’eux (Mission of the Sovereigns, by One of Them, first published 1882):

It seems that Saint-Yves entered into relations from 1885 onwards not with a Hindu but with an Afghan, “prince” Hardjij [sic] Scharipf, who doubtless has a large part in the composition of [the present book]. Later, at a date, which we cannot specify precisely, Saint-Yves was in contact with a Hindu, far more “serious” than Hardjij Scharipf, we believe, and who originated from North India. It was probably the information, albeit fragmentary, received from this source, that was at the origin of Saint-Yves’ work on L’Archéomètre, a work, which, left in an embryonic state, was published in the volume carrying this title after the death of the author.58

Writers on Saint-Yves often refer to this second Indian, but without naming him. The only primary evidence I have found for him is in Saint-Yves’ own analytic index to his notebooks. Here he lists one notebook as “Secret teaching fo the Brahmins, communicated to me by the Rishi Bagwandas-Raji-Shrin.”59 Although the name seems to consist entirely of honorifics, it may be that of the “more serious” guru. Yet in the course of these notes, Saint-Yves also writes “Hardjji says …” The Teachings in question connect some of the Vattanian symbols with theogonic, cosmogonic, and psychogonic events, amplified with Hebrew and Sanskrit root words.60 They consist of only a few pages, without any monogram of Brahmanic approval such as Hardjji was wont to add. Saint-Yves would develop them at length in an essay, which exists in several careful manuscript drafts, eventually included in L’Archéomètre as “The Archeometer and Oriental Tradition.”

Reyor’s implication that these Oriental contacts were part of a deliberate action to introduce certain ideas to the West invites one to look for exactly what it was that might have attracted “them” to Saint-Yves in 1885. The general consensus is that it was Mission des Juifs in particular. Now, in the long preamble of that work, devoted to such topics as the Ages of the World and the advanced sciences of Antiquity, Saint-Yves suddenly breaks in to announce a new discovery he has made on January 3, 1884. It is a letter from what Saint-Yves calls “one of the affiliates of the great Fraternity of the Himalayas.”61 He gives a French translation of it, calling it a “pure Orient pearl” set in his chapter, and exclaiming that “Several thousand years ago, an initiate of the Ionian Mysteries could not have spoken better or more clearly if he had been present in thought at the actual spectacle of this world’s events.”

The letter in question deals with science, India, cycles, miracles, thought power, and a variety of other subjects. It is, in fact, one of the famous Mahatma Letters, written by the Mahatma Koot Hoomi, one of the Masters of the early Theosophical Society, to A. O. Hume, and published by Alfred Percy Sinnett in his first book, The Occult World (1881).62

Nine years before Saint-Yves’ discovery of the latter, in 1875, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steele Olcott had founded the Theosophical Society in New York. In 1879 Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott moved to India, where the Society came under the auspices of Mahatmas Koot Hoomi and Morya, residents of Shigatse in Tibet. This is not the place to discuss who or what the Mahatmas really were,63 but they explained their patronage of the Theosophical Society as part of a seven-year experiment to see if the West was receptive to the wisdom the East had to offer.64 They chose Hume and Sinnett for the experiment not as initiates but as ordinary Westerners. Hume soon fell out with them, but Sinnett, as a prominent Anglo-Indian newspaper editor, was excellently placed to publicize the Mahatmas’ philosophy, which he did through The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism (1883). However, the Mahatmas apparently became disillusioned, and their correspondence with Sinnett ceased.

To one way of seeing things, it was not by chance that in 1885, certain Hindus made contact with Saint-Yves, who had shown himself sympathetic to Oriental doctrines and whose career as a social prophet and publicist was on the rise. once contacted, he was encouraged to learn Sanskrit, to read the Bhagavad Gita, and was given certain metaphysical teachings in a appropriately symbolic form (the signs of Vattanian). But we know the sequel: he was carried away on the one hand by magical correspondences, alphabets, codes, and all the apparatus of the Hermetic tradition; and on the other, by astral travel to fantastic realms.

Just as Sinnett never lost his modernist prejudices, thus disqualifying himself as a spokesman of the superiority of the Judeo-Christian religion. Although full of respect for the East, he would write in L’Archéomètre that it would eventually be necessary for India to be converted to a “Christian and Catholic Order,” with Sanskrit as its liturgical language.65 In Jean Reyor’s words, “It seems that Westerners, even when they manifest traditional tendencies, cannot resign themselves to not being superior to the rest of the world. One can believe that such an attitude contributed not a little to the preventing Saint-Yves from profiting fully from the Oriental teachings, which he had occasion to receive.”66

In other words, the Eastern sages tried using him, as they had used Sinnett, to lift a corner of the veil concealing their secrets, and then dropped him. The admirers of René Guénon may have cause to believe that with a third attempt, they succeeded.

It is time to summarize, and to draw whatever conclusions are possible in this enigmatic business. First, we have two independent witnesses to an Indian Agarttha tradition. Louis Jacolliot was led to place it in the past, as the ancient Brahmanic capital. For Hardjji Scharipf it was a living initiatic school with its own secret script. Until a reputable scholar comes forward with data on the myth of Agarttha, and especially on the Vattanian alphabet,67 my working hypothesis is that they were parti of a mythology belonging to a restricted and obscure Indian school, which has only surfaced to Western notice on these two occasions.

However, Saint-Yves wanted more than the tantalizing taste that his Sanskrit teacher allowed him. He therefore decided to use his gift for astral travel to explore Agarttha further, and was rewarded by visions of an underground utopia and its Sovereign Pontiff, the spiritual Lord of the World. What is the sources, and the ontological status, of such visions?

There are, one gathers, definitely places or complexes in the Astral World (also known as the “Inner Planes” of magic), which present to the clairvoyant visitor certain invariable features. I have heard reliable reports, for instance, that libraries are to be found there, in which the initiate is able to further his philosophical study while his body rests. But the incidental circumstances of such a place vary, according to the visitor’s own cultural conditioning and expectations. Some find themselves, for example, in what they believe to be the Alexandrian Library, or in Atlantis, i.e., a place of the past. To others, it seems current and contemporary, though preferably in an inaccessible location like the Himalayas. The décor is a trivial matter, of course, in comparison to the philosophical truths to be discovered there, but the glamour of it sometimes overwhelms the traveler. Then his attention fixates on irrelevant details, and an inflated sense of self-importance may result. Thus Saint-Yves, convinced that he has penetrated to the realm of the world’s spiritual ruler, writes about four-eyed tortoises, two-tongued men, levitating yogis, and ends up addressing pompous letters to the Queen, Emperor, and Pope.

I can accept that in some state of altered consciousness he saw what he claims to have seen. But like many who habitually indulge in altered states, he was not able to situate either his visions, or himself as witness to them, with the requisite philosophical detachment. The result is a classic case of misplaced concretism.

Yet there is a grandeur to this book. Its vivid and elegant prose lifts it far above the logorrheic authors of visionary and channeled literature (e.g., Emanuel Swedenborg, Anne Catherine Emmerich, Andrew Jackson Davis, Oahspe, or the Urantia Book). In sheer weirdness of imagination it rivals the fantasy fiction of Lovecraft or Borges, while in deadpan seriousness and titanic self-confidence it compares to prophetic works like the Book of Ezekiel or the various Apocalypses. And it reminds us that the earth is a very strange place, with many unexplored corners, many enigmas, and many surprises in store for us surface-dwellers.


Joscelyn Godwin, musicologist and historian of ideas, teaches at Colgate University. He has written widely on the Western esoteric tradition, concentrating on France and the 19th century. He is the translator of the 1499 architectural-erotic novel Hypnoerotomachia Poliphili. Godwin’s books include Harmonies of Heaven and Earth, Music and the Occult, Arktos: The Polar Myth, The Theosophical Enlightenment, The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance, The Real Rule of Four, and Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World.


1. See my article, “Saint-Yves d’Alveydre and the Agarthian Connection,” The Hermetic Journal 32 (1986): 24–34; 33 (1987): 31–38, on which this introduction is partly based. Further on Agarttha and the related by very different myth of Shambhala, see my Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival (Grand Rapids: Phanes Press/London: Thames & Hudson, 1993; reissued Kempton, Ill.: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1996), 79–104. Further on Saint-Yves, see my Music and the Occult: French Musical Philosophies, 1750–1950 (Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 1995), 181–96.

2. Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Mission des juifs (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1884; reprinted Paris: Editions Traditionnelles, 1971, 2 vols.).

3. See the transcription of General Dumont’s letter to Hardjji on the bottom if page 161.

4. For Hardjji’s birth date and address, see the facsimile of his letter to Saint-Yves reproduced here, on pages 162–63. The other details appear in Jules Bois, Le Monde invisible (Paris: Flammarion, 1902), 37–38.

5. See the statement of the “Amis de Saint-Yves” on top of page 161.

6. See the portrait of Hardjji Scharipf on page 158.

7. Marco Pallis, “Les sources d’Ossendowsky,” Sophia Perennis (Tehran) 2, no. 2 (1976): 72–89; reprinted in symposium René Guénon (Paris: L’Age d’Homme, 1984), 145–54, and as “Ossendowski’s Sources,” Studies in Comparative Religion 15, no. 1/2 (1983): 30-41.

8. This, together with Saint-Yves’ Sanskrit lessons, is in the Bibliothèque de la Sorbonne, Nouveau fonds de manuscrits, Ms. Carton no. 42. Saint-Yves, who had no children of his own, left his manuscripts and books to his step-children, Count and Countess Keller, who passed them on the famous French occultist Papus (Dr. Gérard Encausse). Papus’s son, Dr Philippe Encausse, gave them to the Sorbonne in 1938.

9. There are forty-one numbered lessons, mostly undated but with names of the days in French and English, beginning Jun 8, 1885, then regularly dated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from Dec. 9, 1885, to Feb. 10, 1996, and from Jun 14 to Nov. 12, 1886.

10. For reasons of space, I give the original French only of quotations from manuscripts. Heading of lesson no. 3: “Troisième leçon sanscrite á Monsieur e [sic] Madame la Marquise. H. S.”