Introduction to the French Gnostic Tradition
As has already been indicated, the French Gnostic Tradition - especially as it has manifested itself via Europe, and in particular France, was influenced by the Philosophical, Illuminist, Rosicrucian, Theosophical, Masonic and Gnostic renaissance of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is, without a doubt, an intriguing phenomenon in its breadth - particularly being considered "occult," "esoteric" and "heretical" at various times throughout history, all the while being Christian in nature.
So what is this tradition? The French Gnostic Tradition is hierophantic in nature and transmission. It is entirely necessary that only those who have access to such light as they can transmit through the mysteries, and only in the measure that can be received by the recipient, effect initiations - and only such initiations for which a candidate may be prepared. A mere word, token or gesture is not enough. The essential components of this Tradition form a Triad, and consist of: the Gnostic Church, a theosophical spiritual and chivalric order (traditionally Martinism and its related bodies), and some Masonic body (traditionally Memphis-Misraïm). In addition to these three "pillars" of the tradition, there has also been: some practical working order (theurgical in nature, sometimes alchemical), and some group or order more focused on general esoteric studies. Those classically referenced in our history are:
The Gnostic Church
The Gnostic Church offers the traditional sacramental system as developed throughout history, while allowing freedom of individual thought. One should bear in mind that the officially recognized church in France was the Roman Catholic Church. At that time, and to a lesser extent even today, anyone involved in Freemasonry or other such organizations was potentially subject to excommunication from the Church. It was partly in response to this threat that the Gnostic Church was reestablished publicly, even though the underground stream had never ceased flowing from the earliest days of the Apostles. It became a safe haven in which those who participated in these initiatic orders could congregate, study various theologies and theosophies, and receive the sacraments - without fear of repercussions. It has, as a result, been referred to as "the Church of the Initiates". One of the main purposes of the Gnostic Church was to reunite the 'esotericism' of the churches in the east (Orthodox) with the 'rationalism' of the churches in the west. While having moved slightly toward a more Catholic style as a condition of receiving the apostolic succession, there is still a Cathar movement and element within the Church.
The Initiatory traditions
These offer recognition of progress made, as well as the knowledge, confidence and techniques to make the spiritual journey of life fulfilling and successful. The era in history around the re-founding of the Gnostic Church was a hotbed of activity with initiatic orders cropping up all over. However, there are a few of these Orders which are particularly important to the French Gnostic Tradition. These are:
Martinism: The Way of the Heart, the Doctrine of Reintegration, Illuminism and the method of theosophy as espoused by Louis Claude de Saint-Martin and Jacob Boehme. His teachings were synthesized and arranged into an Order by Gérard Encausse (Papus) around 1890. Christian by nature and orientation, Martinism is universal in understanding and implication.
Elus Coën: Originally developed as a high degree Masonic Rite, this Order was founded by a mysterious man named Jacques Livron Joachim de la Tour de la Casa Martinez de Pasqually. It used a combination of Kabbalistic and Christian theurgical operations to reorient the members into their "original state" - the Adam Kadmon - or Adam before "the Fall", as the divine emanation he was meant to be. Louis Claude de Saint-Martin and Jean-Baptiste Willermoz were it's two most prominent members.
Memphis-Misraïm: A system of high degree masonry which is typically more esoteric than what is commonly practiced - particularly in North America and England. As the name implies, it is influenced not only by the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also by the Egyptian. The use of god-forms relative to specific energies and roles within the lodge are often quite effective in "The Work".
Rectified Scottish Rite: Taking the floundering Strict Templar Observance of Baron von Hund, Jean-Baptiste Willermoz developed this six degree system as a Masonic and Templar Rite. After the departure and subsequent death of Pasqually, the RER became the structured vehicle for the doctrines as taught by Pasqually - comprised within two secret degrees.
Kabbalistic Order of the Rose+Cross: More of an instructional body, it was meant to confer degrees and to be a repository of the lectures and knowledge of those deemed worthy to participate within its fold. At present, only the 4th and final degree is still conferred - to a small number, although there is discussion of a revival.
At one time, with the exception of the Rectified Scottish Rite, the Patriarch of our Church was the head of each of these orders. However, after the martyrdom of Constant Chevillon, each of these entities became its own authority, has its own leadership, rules and regulations (although bishops in our Tradition do still maintain a closed group containing the entirety of the tradition in our particular lineage, particularly since the Lyon school of Bricaud and Chevillon, and as maintained by Chambellant and us, still requires concurrent membership for clergy in major orders in at least the three major pillars of our tradition). Membership in one DOES NOT necessarily require or even indicate membership in another. Any individual may participate in none, one, two or all of them - subject to the normal functioning of that organization. What we refer to as the 'French Gnostic Tradition' is a grouping of the various parts of a much larger whole. There are similarities, of course, and even an understandable methodology as to how all these separate entities can be laid out - but again, that is more for comparative purposes.