The Elect Cohens, or the Ordre des Chevelier Maçons Élus Cohen de L’Univers (Order of Knight-Masons Elect Priests of the Universe), were a society of Cabbalists, organised on 'Scottish' (Chivalric) Masonic lines, who were influenced by the Spanish Alumbrados (Sufi influenced Christian Mystics, who also allegedly preserved various Gnostic elements including cathartic Sex Magic and Theurgy). They were the first group to be called the Illumines, or Illuminati, though their relatively conservative views were diametrically opposite to the Bavarian Illuminati. They also may have been amongst the first to introduce Gnosticism back into Continental Europe.
Founded in 1765 by the Freemason Jacques de Livron Joachim de la Tour de la Casa Martinez de Pasqually, of Grenoble, France, the Order was initially only open to Master Masons, but later became more open. Its lower degrees remained Masonic but the higher ones were Occult initiations, mainly teaching Cabbalistic Exorcisms and Banishing rites. While the highest the Reaux-Croix degree dealt with Theurgy and Possession states designed to reunite the initiate with the divine.
Pasqually later immigrated to Port-au-Prince, Haiti where he may have made the first connections between French Occultism and Voodoo.
He died there in 1774. After his death, the Elus Cohens continued to operate but eventually fell foul of schisms. The last-known surviving Elu-Cohen from the original incarnation of the Order, Destigny, died in 1868. It was briefly revived in the mid 20th century by Robert Amberlain and maintained close contacts with the Neo-Gnostic Church and the OTO. It also survives within the Martinist Orders in varying degrees.
The central teachings were laid out in the book a Treatise on the Reintegration of Human Beings. This consists of a bizarre hybrid of Cabbalism, Alchemy, Masonic symbolism and a negative, world denying form of Classical Gnosticism. Hardly a recommended ideology but one of great significance in the history of modern Occult philosophy.
Summary of a Treatise on the Reintegration of Human Beings Martinez Pasquales
First Creation (Cabbalistic)
God withdraws his perfect spirit from part of his infinite essence (the cosmos). The then imperfect essence is the Prima Materia or chaos from which the World forms.
Second Creation (Neo-Cabbalistic)
God emanates a Son, the Logos, one of the Elohim, called Adam Cadmon in Kabbalism, who is the first Man. Other Elohim exist from previous universes, some perfected, the Holy Angels, the others wilfully ‘separated’ from God, and so ‘evil’, the Fallen Angels. The sum of these later demons is the Great Serpent, Satan. They ‘fled into the material world’ to be far from God, becoming Elementals (which they probably originally were in another paradigm).
Third Creation (Neo-Gnostic)
Adam was an androgynous being formed from the animation of Prima Materia by an emanation of God. It dwelt in the Garden of Eden and was intended to be a co-creator of a new universe. The Great Architect. But was tempted by the Serpent to imitate God becoming the Demiurge. Adam thus buds off its female essence and projects it into the chaotic Prima Materia creating ordered organic matter and instinctual life. The Female intelligence of this is Eva, the Dark Goddess, or the Black Madonna (alchemically Salt). Adam then projects another part of himself into Matter, as Cain, or human consciousness (alchemically Mercury) which animates and shapes the world. The rest of Adam remains as a universal consciousness connecting everything (alchemicallySulphur).
This mimics the creation of the cosmos but really only modifies it. Mankind, the sparks of Adam, becomes trapped in matter and with them Adam is bound too. The Fallen Angels inhabit this world and by association corrupt mankind and turn Adam into the Gnostic Demiurge. They desire to keep mankind on Earth, as its power creates their domain far away from God. They therefore strengthen his 'lusts'.
The world of matter must be rejected. This is assisted by battling and exorcising the demons from world and self, and performing great banishing rites at the Equinoxes.
The spiritual world is contacted via the ‘Communion of the Saints’ a theurgic exercise for contacting higher humans reunited with Adam (led by Christ, ‘the repairer’, can he fix it, yes he can?). The lower of which act as the ‘Minor Elect’, or ‘Secret Masters’, who form a link between ordinary ‘Men of Lust’ and the Saints, and ultimately with Adam. Enlightened individuals on Earth (the Elect Cohens) are in contact with them, and also with a Great Spirit, a part of God assigned to assist them, much like the Holy Guardian Angel. The world also contains the divine emanations of Wisdom, Strength, Beauty contact with which can help reintegration into the Divine. Those not reintegrated are constantly reincarnated. Eugene Vintras developed an interesting variant on this for his Neo-Gnostic Church.
Later History of Elect Cohens
Louis-Claude De Saint-Martin, a former Elect Cohen, declared himself the greatest of the Enlightened Ones. He rejected magical rites for Gnostic states and adopted the philosophy of Boehme and Swedenborg. This creed became known as Martinism. A movement later formalised by Papus, who reintroduced Occultism to it. Masonic Martinists usually combined this with a reformed Elect Cohen system. This would have a major influence on Continental Occultism. Freemason Jean-Baptiste Willermoz introduced this tradition into the Neo-Templar German Strict Observance Rite, paving the way for Gnostic Masonry in Germany, such as the later Memphis and Mizraim Rite. This later fed back into France. Where Elect Cohens and Martinists would act very much like the 'Jesuits' of the Neo-Gnostic Church.
The Elect Cohen system was primarily individualistic and libertarian, with the demonic forces seen as enslaving and tyrannical. However its ascetic transcendentalism makes it elitist and conservative (in denying change on earth for the majority). It is also inherently hierarchical.