11 June 2019

Spirit of Paris


Paris est une ville magique…  The occult sciences unite all that cannot be explained. They seek to make visible the invisible, in the broad sense, whether poetic or scientific.... We cannot understand 20th century Europe without knowledge of the occult sciences."

Bertrand Matot, French journalist and author, “Paris Occulte”

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Paris’ fascination for the occult spans centuries. Magic and sorcellerie were an accepted part of life in the Middle Ages. Nicolas Flamel, a formidable character in the Harry Potter series whose 15th century house is still standing in the Marais district, was not only a philosopher but notably, an alchemist.

In the mid-nineteenth century mysticism went on an unprecedented rampage. Every night in the salons of high society and even the Palace of the Tuileries - where Napoleon III would try to get in touch with his famous uncle - séances (a French term meaning "sessions") were held to communicate with spirits of the departed. These “salons of the occult" were frequented, and helmed, by some of the most glamorous and biggest names of the day in literature, arts, and sciences, all hungry to touch and be touched by the supernatural.

Victor Hugo was a frequent guest at beautiful Madame Delphine de Girardin’s spiritisme salons, while “le spiritisme, la magie et la science du fantastique” exerted a “grande fascination” over Honoré de Balzac.

Driven by a desire for the mystical, the chic and intellectual set of the day flocked to gatherings in search of the au-delà. Years later, Gabriel Garcia Marquez' magical realism, Umberto Eco's esotericism and, in fine arts, surrealism and fantastic realism, were to become undeniable offshoots.

In recently released “Paris Occulte” Matot delves into this fascinating part of French culture and history in the form of an engaging, well-researched and wonderfully illustrated read. BPJ

Paris Occulte
Author: Bertrand Matot
Publisher: Parigramme
(in French)

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