When Winston Churchill called Russia “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” he could as well have been describing a daughter of Russia named Maria de Naglowska. She was a poet, a journalist, a translator, an author, an occultist, and a mystic (the latter perhaps most of all), but few know anything about her. Those who have ever heard of her probably know her as the translator of P.B. Randolph’s Magia Sexualis1 (which she did far more than translate).2 Others, who have shown more curiosity about her, will say that she was a Satanist (not true, though it is an impression that she fostered).3 It has taken many years to get any reliable facts about her life, partly because she told different stories about herself.4 Her most important writings were published in very small editions (now almost impossible to get) and never translated into English. Consequently, this woman whose works should occupy a significant place in the history of Western religion, is now practically unknown, especially in English.
Maria de Naglowska was born in St. Petersburg in 1883, the daughter of a prominent Czarist family.6 She went to the best schools, and got the best education that a young woman of the time could get. She fell in love with a young Jewish musician, Moise Hopenko, and married him against the wishes of her family. The rift with Maria’s family caused the young couple to leave Russia, going to Germany and then to Switzerland. After Maria had given birth to three children, her young husband, a Zionist, decided to leave his family and go to Palestine. This made things very difficult for Naglowska, who was forced to take various jobs as a journalist to make ends meet. While she was living in Geneva she also wrote a French grammar for Russian immigrants to Switzerland. Unfortunately, Naglowska’s libertarian ideas tended to get her into trouble with governments wherever she went. She spent most of the 1920s in Rome, and at the end of that decade she moved on to Paris.
While in Rome Maria de Naglowska met Julius Evola, a pagan traditionalist who wanted to reinstate the pantheon of ancient Rome. Evola was also an occultist, being a member of the Group of Ur and counting among his associates some of the followers of Giuliano Kremmerz. It is said that Naglowska and Evola were lovers. It is known, at least, that they were associates for a long time. She translated one of his poems into French (the only form in which it has survived), and he translated some of her work into Italian.
While occultists give a great deal of weight to Naglowska’s relationship with Evola, it is clear that there must have been other influences. Some believe that she was influenced by the Russian sect of the Khlysti, and some believe that she knew Rasputin (whose biography she translated). Maria, though, gave the credit for some of her unusual ideas to an old Catholic monk whom she met in Rome. Although Maria said that he was quite well known there, he has never been identified.8
Maria said that the old monk gave her a piece of cardboard, on which was drawn a triangle, to represent the Trinity. The first two apexes of the triangle were clearly labelled to indicate the Father and the Son. The third, left more indistinct, was intended to represent the Holy Spirit. To Maria, the Holy Spirit was feminine. We don’t know how much was the monk’s teaching and how much was hers, but Maria taught that the Father represented Judaism and reason, while the Son represented Christianity, the heart, and an era whose end was approaching. To Maria, the feminine Spirit represented a new era, sex, and the reconciliation of the light and dark forces in nature.
It is mostly this idea of the reconciliation of the light and dark forces that has gotten Maria into trouble, and caused her to be thought of as a Satanist. Maria herself is partly responsible for this, having referred to herself as a “satanic woman” and used the name also in other ways in her writings. Evola, in his book The Metaphysics of Sex, mentioned her “deliberate intention to scandalise the reader.”9 Here is what Naglowska herself had to say about it:
Nous défendons à nos disciples de s’imaginer Satan (= l’esprit du mal ou l’esprit de la destruction) comme vivant en dehors de nous, car une telle imagination est le propre des idolâtres; mais nous reconnaissons que ce nom est vrai.
We forbid our disciples to imagine Satan (= the spirit of evil or the spirit of destruction) as living outside of us, for such imagining is proper to idolaters; but we recognise that this name is true.
In 1929 Naglowska moved to Paris, where she got the unwelcome news that she would not be given a work permit. Deprived of the ability to be employed in a regular job, she would have to depend on her own very considerable survival skills. She began work on the book for which she is best known today, her “translation” of Magia Sexualis,10 by Paschal Beverly Randolph. This work by the American hermetic and sex theorist is known only in Naglowska’s “translation.” I have put the word “translation” in quotation marks because it is really a compilation. Only about two-thirds of the work can be identified as being from Randolph. The rest is from sources only beginning to be identified, or from Naglowska herself, and the organisation of the material is clearly her contribution as well.
While Naglowska was working on Magia Sexualis, she began giving lectures or “conferences” on an original teaching of her own. She called it the Doctrine of the Third Term of the Trinity. Her “conferences” were at first often held in cafés. The proprietors of these venues were pleased with the influx of patrons and often gave Maria free food and coffee. In a short time her following grew to the point where she could afford to rent a large, bare room, which held thirty to forty people11 for her private meetings.12 It was thus that Maria survived.
Maria’s income was supplemented by her publishing endeavours. After the 1931 publication of Magia Sexualis, Naglowska turned to writing original works. One of these, Le Rite sacré de l’amour magique, a metaphysical novelette apparently containing elements of her own life, was published as a supplement to her street newspaper in early 1932, having earlier been serialised there.13 The little newspaper, to which she and other occultists contributed, was called La Flèche, Organe d’Action Magique. It was the public voice of her magical group, La Confrérie de la Flèche d’Or.
Later in 1932 Naglowska published La Lumière du Sexe, recently published in English as The Light of Sex.14 In 1934 she published Le Mystère de la Pendaison, or The Hanging Mystery.15 These two books were required reading for even First Degree initiation into Naglowska’s magical group,16 and contained all of the doctrine of her new religion, the Third Term of the Trinity, and much of its ritual. They are thus of paramount importance for understanding Maria de Naglowska and her teaching. They are also, unfortunately, quite rare, having been originally published in small editions of about five hundred copies. To my knowledge, the recently published translations are the first that have been made of any of Naglowska’s original works into English.
Naglowska is said to have been very psychic. She predicted the catastrophe of World War II,17 and in 1935 she foresaw her own death.18 Knowing that she was going to die, she refused to reprint The Light of Sex and The Hanging Mystery, which had both sold out. She told her followers that nothing would be able to be done to spread her teachings for two or three generations. She went to live with her daughter in Zurich, and it was there that she died, at the age of 52, on 17 April 1936.
Maria was influential among the Surrealists, and they seem to have influenced her own writing. Naglowska’s sessions are said to have been attended by the avant-garde and the notorious of the time, including Man Ray, William Seabrook, Michel Leiris, Georges Bataille, and André Breton. Jean Paulhan, for whom L’Histoire d’O was written, is also said to have attended. I have not yet been able to trace these often-made claims to reliable, original sources, so for the present they should be regarded as hearsay. We know, however, that surrealist poet and painter Camille Bryen was a member of Naglowska’s group,19 as the writer Ernest Gengenbach appears to have been, and it seems significant that one of the best studies of Naglowska was done by another surrealist, Sarane Alexandrian.20 Maria’s French was impeccable and her style clean and powerful, but she used words in a symbolic, highly idiosyncratic way. Shortly before she left Paris, she told her disciples that her teachings “would need to be translated into clear and accessible language for awakened women and men who would not necessarily be symbolists.”21 Taking this as my directive, I have added extensive explanatory notes to the English translations of her books.
Due to the small editions and her refusal to reprint them, plus her early death and the unfortunate arrival of World War II, Maria’s influence seems hardly to have extended beyond Montparnasse. This is now changing. With the perspective granted by time we can see that Naglowska was an important mystic of the twentieth century. At the very least she deserves a place in the history of religion for having achieved within the Western tradition the full, non-dualistic realisation typified by the major Upanishads. In so doing, she has bequeathed to us a vision that, while idiosyncratic, is also powerful and uplifting.
A Naglowska Reader
The Doctrine of the Third Term of the Trinity
The Divinity is triple: the Father, the Son, and the Mother.
The Father is the setting out, or the fall, from the Origin toward the level of division and multiplicity.
The Son is nostalgia and the will to universal redemption, combated by the Adversary inherent to His nature: Satan.
The Mother is the return toward the Origin, after the definitive combat and the reconciliation in the Son of His two opposing natures: the Christic nature and the satanic nature.
The Son detaches himself from the Father and divides himself in two: He is double.
The Mother proceeds from the Father and the Son, and contains both of them: She is triple.
Only the Father is homogeneous.
The three aspects of the Trinity – the Father, the Son, the Mother – are successive in time, but simultaneous in their Eternal Presence in the regions that are not involved on the level of division and multiplicity.
The succession – Father, Son, Mother – is justified thus:
The Father is the Male principle, which accomplishes the act of negation of the Unique Spirit; it is love oriented toward the flesh.
The Son is the principle of the second negation, that which in the flesh rejects the flesh; it is love oriented toward the unreal, the love of the infertile heart. The Son is neither Male nor Female: he is on this side of the two divine sexes. He is, because of that, beyond sexed beings.
The Mother is the reestablishment of the Male principle in the inverse sense: She affirms the Unique Spirit, and her love, taking rise in the flesh, is oriented toward spiritual realisation. She consoles and glorifies the Son, for She makes concrete the dream of sublime purity in multiple life. The Mother pacifies the combat between Christ and Satan, in leading these two contrary wills onto the same path of unique ascension. The Mother proceeds from the Father and from the Son, and is successive to them in temporal subordination, because negation is not converted to affirmation except by means of the second negation.
When the work of the Mother is accomplished, that of the Father recommences, for the three aspects of the Divine Trinity are repeated endlessly.
In human history, the three divine phases are reflected in the form of three types of religions, which succeed each other constantly, determining three types of civilisations, which we find in the cycle – or triangle – to which we belong in these three religion-civilisations: Judaism, Christianity, and the religion of the Third Term, being announced now.
The symbol of Judaism – a religion of the Father – is the rod hidden in the ark. Its ethic protects reproduction of the species.
The symbol of Christianity – a religion of the Son – is, on the one hand, the cross, and on the other, the sword: renunciation of the sex act and scorn for life. But in the shadow of the Christ, the worshipers of Satan make divine the womb of the woman in secret orgies, which maintain the dynamism of the march forward. The white mass of the transubstantiation is thus attenuated by the black mass of the re-dynamisation of the flesh, which, without that, would become anaemic.
The symbol of the third religion – the Religion of the Mother – is the arrow launched toward heaven. The golden mass, which it will establish, will glorify the real love of the flesh, in order to release from the latter the renovating and ascendant spirit, which will make all things new upon the earth.
Blessed are those who shall assist at this mass.
* * *
A Selection of Favourite Naglowska Quotations
The doctrine of the Third Term of the Trinity recognises and honours the Only Living God: Life.
Each particle of the visible world is not a part of God (= Life), but a complete symbol of the latter.
Don’t exaggerate anything. Be calm and well disposed. Develop within yourself the great virtue of the heart: balance.
Having given each animal, each plant, each element its name, Adam would have destroyed the world if, in the night that followed that day of words, God (=Life) had not pulled out a rib to oppose him with the woman: Eve!
O Disciple! Today woman has found the way. The key of the great secret has been unveiled to her who has been able to repulse the maleficent gift of reason and only let shine in herself the pure light of intelligence.
Disciple, you who wish to listen to us, learn this: “temptations” come from God and not from Satan.
New wine needs to be poured into new glasses.
No man can carry within himself the root of his life. Like the foliage of a tree, we all depend on a single root, which is common to us all and from which no one can make themselves independent, without dying definitively and without causing a more or less considerable hurt to the entire human plant.
God cannot die, because in His Essence He is Life, Life that manifests, grows, and changes. The visible world exists because of that.
The skeptic is limited. He does not grasp the deep sense of things, because he only wants to fix his attention on the exterior surfaces. The deeper reality escapes him because of this.
The new sun has barely risen in the shadows that surround us, and the Divine Mother, Humanity, is starting to give birth.
Now, my friend, an answer can be sufficient, but it can never be perfect, for no one can form an adequate idea of the Truth, because it is never what it will be tomorrow.
One cannot give anything to mankind if the time for the gift has not come.
But at the last minute, and when the pain is at its peak, a woman will openly proclaim where the plagues and calamities are coming from. She will place her foot on the head of the Serpent and will remove from its unclean mouth the tail that it has been biting for so long. Then the Light of Sex will flash forth and peace will reenter the spirit of mankind.
Woe to the perverse and perfidious men who, with their vile smile and their lips bathed in abject drivel, still hinder the holy sacrifice of the Golden Mass.
What is dead belongs to death and what is living belongs to life, and if you confuse the future with the past, you create confusion on the paths where building is to be done.
To penetrate into the heart of the mysteries, everything must be considered in its symbolic sense, and Man, whose three sacred points (the Three Angles) are found respectively in the head, in the heart, and in the organ that one does not name because one is ignorant of its light, symbolises, in himself, the totality of Life (= God).
Being caprice and dance and gaiety, He is what He is…
We are not going toward Unity, we are Unity, since the origin which never was.
You can’t return to your mother’s womb to come out again with a new name, but you can plunge yourself back into the woman who receives you with love, to draw from her the light that you are lacking.
But the very thing that was a fault can become, must become, redemption.
Blessed are those who watch in the dark hours of the night of the ages.
There will then be no more, in the mystic music, of the sombre allusions that bend the crowds to the ground, and the golden petals, trembling above the tapers, will be a sign of love, joyous for all.
We shall deliver ourselves then to the new Mass not, as before, veiled like penitents, but as beautiful flowers of a splendid garland, each leaf of which breathes the sun.
The beautiful time, the new era, the rebirth of the light upon earth, must be our creation.
- P. B. Randolph, Magia Sexualis, trans. Maria de Naglowska (Paris: Robert Télin, 1931). English translation forthcoming in 2012 from Inner Traditions International.
- Magia Sexualis has survived only in Naglowska’s French translation. It is composed of several works written by Randolph (notably The Mysteries of Eulis, and Seership) plus material from other sources, probably including Naglowska’s own ideas. Naglowska greatly improved the style and organisation of Randolph’s material.
- This question has been well covered in Appendix B of The Light of Sex.
- The “alternate” versions can be found, for example, in René Thimmy, La Magie à Paris (Paris: Les Éditions de France, 1934), 69-71. Also in Sarane Alexandrian, Les Libérateurs de l’amour (Paris: Éditions du Seuil), 186-7, which is more reliable. The most reliable version, though, is that in Marc Pluquet’s La Sophiale: Maria de Naglowska, sa vie – son oeuvre. (Montpeyroux: Éditions Gouttelettes de Rosée, n.d.), 3-6.
- Maria de Naglowska, The Light of Sex (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2011).
- I have drawn most of the details about Naglowska’s life from the short biography titled La Sophiale, written by her favourite student, Marc Pluquet. It is, by far, the most reliable source.
- Pluquet, La Sophiale, 3-6.
- Maria de Naglowska, “Mon chef spirituel,” La Flèche, Organe d’Action Magique 10 (February 15, 1932), 2-3.
- Julius Evola, The Metaphysics of Sex (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1983), 261.
- Randolph, Magia Sexualis.
- According to Pluquet in La Sophiale, there were only 30-40 people in the hall when it was full, and the overflow stood in a baie vitrée, or glassed-in bay, which separated the hall from the entrance. The hall in question was the old Studio Raspail at 46 Rue Vavin (not to be confused with the present cinema on Bd. Raspail). The building now houses an Italian restaurant that has a capacity of 120 seats. The space may have been enlarged, or it may not. The low divider that formed the baie vitrée is still there, but it no longer seems to have glass over it. It would take a sizable crowd to fill the space and still have overflow standing in the entryway. On page 14 Pluquet states that all of these “conferences” were taken down in shorthand by a certain Mr. Dufour. Unfortunately, these shorthand notes have not yet surfaced.
- Pluquet, La Sophiale 8,14.
- Maria de Naglowska, Le Rite Sacré de l’Amour Magique (Supplément de La Flèche Organe d’Action Magique, Paris: 1932). An English translation of this work, The Sacred Rite of Magical Love, was published by Inner Traditions International in February 2012.
- Maria de Naglowska, The Light of Sex.
- An English translation, Advanced Sex Magic: The Hanging Mystery Initiation, was published in 2011, by Inner Traditions, International.
- Pluquet, La Sophiale, 12.
- Maria de Naglowska, “Avant la Guerre de 1936,” La Flèche Organe d’Action Magique 20 (January 15, 1935): 3.
- Pluquet, La Sophiale, 14.
- Ibid., 7.
- Alexandrian, Les Libérateurs de l’amour, 185–206.
- Pluquet, La Sophiale 14.
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