The Martinist Tradition emerged in 18th century France during a period of significant expansion of esoteric and philosophic enquiry. It began as a system of philosophic thought. Some histories trace its roots further back to 17th century Rosicrucianism and 11th century Constantinople. The term Martinism was not used until the late 19th century and is a collective term for the movement as a whole.
The fundamentals of the tradition were formed by Martinez Pasquales (1724 – 1774). Said to have been of Spanish descent he was born in Grenoble and travelled widely in France. He was a Master Mason, a practising Catholic and student of the Kabbalah and the Jewish tradition. He founded an occult school in Bordeaux and an order known as the Elus Cohen. Numerology, cosmology and the essential divine nature of man figure strongly in his thinking. His philosophy included theurgical rites (ritual magic) and a focus on occult abilities in order to promote spiritual development. His only known published work is “The Reintegration of Beings”. He died in the West Indies.
After his death Elus Cohen temples became dormant although teaching and doctrine continued mainly through the work of his pupils Jean Baptiste Willermoz (1730 – 1824) and Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (1743 – 1803).
Jean Baptiste Willermoz's main focus was masonic and he implemented the teachings of the Elus Cohen within the masonic Rite of Strict Observance.
Martinism as practised today is based on the work of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin. Born in Touraine he originally trained for the legal profession but later bought a commission into the army. Whilst based in Bordeaux he met Pasquales and in 1768 was initiated into the Elus Cohen. He became Pasquales’ personal secretary and left the army in 1771. Saint-Martin became increasingly uncomfortable with the theurgical rituals of the Elus Cohen and tried to steer the Order towards his own philosophy of Christian mysticism. He failed to do so and left the Elus Cohen.
Saint-Martin’s first book “Of Errors and of Truth” was published in 1775 under the pseudonym 'The Unknown Philosopher', under which all his works were published. He was strongly influenced by the works of Jacob Boehme and translated many of his works from German into French.
It is not certain that he founded an order of any kind. There is evidence in his private letters of groups meeting in small circles across Europe and Russia. They were sometimes known as the Society of Saint-Martin and appear to have been based on personal initiation conferring the quality of Unknown Superior.
After the death of Saint-Martin his disciples carried on the transmission of initiation; spreading the doctrine of the Unknown Philosopher and establishing initiates across Europe and Russia. The pupils of Saint-Martin and Willermoz had very different views on what Pasquales had hoped to achieve and how to accomplish this. This led to the development of three main interpretations of the tradition and the path of reintegration:
In the late 1880’s two medical students met and discovered they had both received the Martinist initiation of Saint-Martin through two different lines of transmission. They were Dr Gerard Encausse, otherwise known as Papus (1865 – 1916), and Pierre-Augustin Chaboseau (1868 – 1946). Working together and sharing initiations they consolidated these two lines. The Reformed Martinist Order was founded in Paris in 1891 (?) with Papus as Grand Master. Chaboseau had himself been initiated by his aunt and the Order was open to both men and women. Papus was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and other orders and had links both to the gnostic and Rosicrucian movements. He was a student of Kabbalah, Tarot, alchemy, number and the writings of Eliphas Levi. Gradually his work focused on the importance of simplicity and the purification of body, soul and mind. He died whilst serving as a doctor in the trenches of WW1.
Charles Detre succeeded as Grand master in 1916 in France. Disputes and disagreements about authorisation, the role of women and masonic requirements for membership followed. Although the movement had spread across Europe and into the United States of America once again fragmentation occurred. British Martinists broke with France at the beginning of the 20th century. In America Martinism developed within the Rosicrucian movement of AMORC (Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis) as a closed Order restricted to its high degree members.
The current Martinist movement has no overarching governing body. It is formed of a number of separate and independent Orders, Societies and groups. All are based on the work and philosophy of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin and to varying degrees on the philosophy of Pasquales. All focus on the concept of man’s divine origin and the importance of regaining this state through spiritual guidance, illumination and personal work and study. Each has its own interpretation and focus on the means to achieve this.
The British Martinist Order was founded by a group of Martinists in 1991 under Grand Master Brother John Fox (Penmedio) and Sovereign Grand Master Gary Stewart (Takla). Penmedio was succeeded after his transition in 2001 by Fraigeria (2001 - 2013). She was followed in Cephas (2013 - 2019) and by the current Grand Master, Cymria (2019 -)
The Order's Initiatic affiliation continues the tradition established by Louis Claude de Saint-Martin and developed by Papus. It includes a line through the Rosicrucian tradition and links to the Russian lineage.