Eduard (Édouard) Schuré (January 21, 1841 in Strasbourg – April 7, 1929 in Paris) was a French philosopher, poet, playwright, novelist, music critic, and publicist of esoteric literature. In order to describe him and his life I have used an extract from the 1961 Introduction to his book The Great Initiates, written by Paul Allen.
Introduction to The Great Initiates – Paul Allen June 1961
Edouard Schure was born in the old cathedral city of Strasbourg on January 21st, 1841. As a young boy he experienced certain events that, as he described them many years later, “Ieft traces upon my thoughts, to which my memory returns ever and again." The result of these events he called "inner vision, evoked by impressions of the external world.”
The first of these experiences occurred shortly after the death of his mother, when he and his father visited a resort in Alsace. On the walls of one of the buildings the ten-year-old boy saw a remarkable series of frescoes, depicting the world of undines, sylphs, gnomes and fire-spirits. Before these representations of what people of the Middle Ages called the Elemental Beings, here shown in vivid, wonderful artistic form, the boy was transported, as it were into another world, the world of creative fantasy. Like a talisman, the pictures awakened the magic forces of wonder in the child soul. The artist’s creative fantasy called to the fantasy slumbering within the boy, and the result was a new perception.
For, as Carlyle wrote, "Fantasy, being the organ of the Godlike, man thereby-though based, to all seeming, on the small Visible,- does nevertheless extend down into the infinite deeps of the Invisible, of which Invisible, indeed, his Life is properly the bodying."
Not long after the death of his father, which occurred when Schure was fourteen, he visited Paris, and saw for the first time the classical sculptures in the Louvre. The beauty of the Venus di Milo, of Dionysus, of the wounded Amazon, penetrated deeply into the boy, awakening in him a love and appreciation for the world of ancient Greece, which was to play so significant a role in his later work. In these sculptures Schure became aware of the fact that a divine beauty can be made manifest in physical substance through the magic of art.
At about this same time Schure read a description of the Eleusinian Mysteries of Ancient Greece, and the inner pictures this evoked were so vivid, so compelling, that he dedicated himself to the task of recreating the sacred drama of Eleusis for modern humanity. For Schure was convinced that through the experiencing of such a drama, people of modern times can acquire a totally new conception of the relationship between the spiritual striving of the ancient world and the religious conceptions of today.
Parallel with these experiences of soul and spirit, Schure’s early years were devoted to formal education. Eventually he received his degree in law at the University of Strasbourg, but he never entered into practice. He visited Germany, remaining there for a few years, during which time he wrote Histoire du lied published in 1868. In this book he expressed his love for music and poetry which had been enhanced by his personal acquaintance with Richard Wagner, then living in Munich. ……….
Shortly after his return from his travels in Germany, Schure married the sister of his friend, the composer Nessler. He and his wife moved to Paris, where Schure continued his writing and studies, making friends with some of the most important men and women in the cultural life of France of his time.
With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Schure and his wife went to Italy. In Florence …… Schure made the second great friendship of his life. One day Malvida von Meysenbergs, the devoted admirer and helper of the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, introduced Edouard Schure to a Greek lady, Margherita Albana Mignaty.
The meeting made a profound impression upon Schure, an impression he was to recall clearly in the last year of his life:
"When I saw those great sunny radiant eyes directed questioningly upon me, I felt my consciousness almost desert me, for my whole being seemed called upon to reveal itself."
In the presence of this beautiful woman, so reminiscent of the women of the classical Greece he so deeply loved, Schure once again found access to the spiritual world opening within him. In Margherita Albana Mignaty he discovered a soul to whom the unseen world was as immanent as the physical. This direct relationship with the spiritual world was the result of the death of her child, which had taken place some years before.
Through their many conversations, Schure's own spiritual perception broadened and deepened beyond anything he had previously imagined. He referred to her as his Muse, and saw in her a “spirit that moves mountains, a love which awakens and creates souls, and whose sublime inspiration burns like a radiant light." on one occasion he asked her how she acquired such precise knowledge of the spiritual history of humankind, such intimate details concerning long-forgotten antiquity. Her reply was profoundly simple: "When I wish to penetrate to the very depths of a subject, I shut myself in my room and reveal myself to myself."
Through the inspiration of Margherita Albana Mignaty 'as a testimony of a faith acquired and shared,’ The Great Initiates came into being.
Margherita Albana Mignaty died in the autumn of 1887 and just before she died, she sent Edouard her Lamp, her Lyre and her Torch.
Edouard did not understand the symbolism of these, but interpreted them to mean she would always be there for him in his creative work.
Despite Edouard's undoubted spiritual abilities, I think the mystic behind Edouard was Margherita. As a consequence Edouard's book is of great interest, as its authenticity becomes much more likely and its visions of the process of Initiation much more likely to be accurate. Women in those days found it very difficult to get their voice heard, they still do, and in Edouard, Magherita found the perfect and willing vehicle for what she knew.
Edouard continued productively after her death buoyed up by her memory, his undiminished love for her and a sense that she had not ever left him, that behind the veil she was there helping him and inspiring him. He often spoke with deep reverence, appreciation and gratitude of all that she meant to him and of all she had brought to him.
Two years after her death, The Great Initiates was published, he dedicated the book to her memory.
Edouard Schure - The Great Initiates
Without you, this book would never have appeared ... you hovered over it ... you nurtured it, and you blessed it with a hope divine ... "
The Great Initiates - In 1889, when it first appeared, the book was greeted by the press with icy silence. Nevertheless, after a short time, subsequent editions multiplied and kept increasing from year to year.
At first the ideas appeared startling to the majority of readers. They evoked the distrust of both University and Church, but neither this nor the coldness of most of his critics hindered the books success.
Slowly and surely The Great Initiates continued on its way through the gloom, winning its success by its own strength. Letters of interest and appreciation poured in from all parts of the world, coming to him from five continents. During the (First) World War innumerable letters accumulated at his home, the most sincere of them from the battlefront. After that there was an enormous acceleration in the sales of the book and it has continued to sell ever since.
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