Feature Articles –   The Master: Philippe de Lyon
Philippe de Lyon was one of the most famous thaumaturges of all times; he was also one of the most impressive clairvoyants of the 19th century. Aide to the Russian Tsar before the controversial Rasputin – who seemed to take up the space Philippe left behind – he was both revered and controversial, and according to some, on par with Jesus himself.
by Philip Coppens

Philippe Anthelme Nizier was born in 1849. From a very young age, he was known for his “strange powers” and some even pondered whether he might not be the returned Jesus. After his death in 1905, he would be seen as a master – “Maître Philippe”. Mastering his powers came naturally, and from a young age; there is no evidence that he ever studied with or under anyone to refine or control them: “I was not even six years old and already the village priest was worried about certain manifestations, about which I was not yet aware. At the age of thirteen, I acquired the powers to heal, even though I was still incapable of taking account of the strange things that went on inside of me.” But despite no total understanding of what he was, it meant that “Master Philippe” had begun his life as a healer.

Though “blessed” with this gift, no-one in his vicinity pushed him into becoming a healer. In fact, fourteen years old, he became an apprentice butcher with his uncle in Lyon. It was there that he would, for the first time, publicly show his healing abilities. When he cut the tendons of his thumb and index of the left hand while gutting an animal, he repositioned the thumb that was partially severed, bleeding profusely, and began to pray. He asked God to reconnect the thumb back to the hand; a few moments later, the blood coagulated, and the miracle occurred. When a doctor inspected the wound in hospital shortly afterwards, he merely applied a protective bandage, noting the wound was not likely to infect. But despite such miraculous healing, when he enlisted for war in 1870, it is known that he did not remain an active soldier for long, because of this injury. The miraculous healing of this injury soon spread throughout the quarter, and the young butcher was solicited for the smallest of accidents. It meant that he had to choose in which direction to take his life forward, and after a series of “séances”, in which he healed the sick, in 1872, he decided to open a cabinet, in his adopted town of Lyon, where people could come to consult him on an individual basis. The career from butcher to healer had a further advantage: he had wanted to study, but had not been allowed; now, he wanted to recommence his studies, and train in medicine.

Medicine, then as now, was modern medicine, focusing on diagnosis and the prescription of a cocktail of pharmaceuticals to help the patient. Nizier was closer to the “primitive shamans”, who conformed to an “old vision” of healing, in which the task of the doctor was to literally restore health, rather than diagnose and prescribe. As such, Nizier was able to heal better than most doctors, but through unconventional methods. Unsurprisingly, this caused jealousy with fellow students and assistants, if only because their “science” – their methodology – was clearly not present in such miraculous healings.

Still, his formal education added a new dimension to his healing skill: Nizier would become an even better analyst. When a young woman complained that she was short of breath, suffered violent pains on her side and could hardly stand, everyone in his class was unable to diagnose her. But Nizier stated she suffered from a double pulmonary embolism – a very scientific proclamation – followed by the almost biblical “Stand up, now you are healed”. The patient stood up, and immediately no longer felt any pain.

The sceptical mind will argue that her illness itself was imaginary and Nizier was solely able to convince her she was now healed – but Nizier was able to perform this feat time and again. One day, he saw a sick man crying in his bed, because his leg was to be amputated the following day. He assured him that would not be the case. Indeed, the following day, the surgeon saw that the leg was healing, no longer requiring the amputation, and asked how this could be, whereupon the sick man replied “it was this small monsieur there who attended to me.” If all imaginary or a stroke of luck, at best, his colleagues should have asked him how they too could acquire such a convincing tone that their patients too would think they were healed purely by the words uttered by the doctor. Alas, rather than praise Nizier for his diagnostic and healing capabilities, which in this case were performed in the presence of his superiors and fellow students, all focused on the fact that he had treated someone without having the proper degree; his licence to work at the hospital was soon revoked, noting as reason that “he performs occult medicine and is a veritable charlatan”. It would be part of a series of problems Master Philippe had with the French medical hierarchy.

As these things go, his harsh treatment by the corridors of power strengthened public belief on the streets; to some extent, it was confirmation that Nizier worked outside the bounds of normal science – with the specific distinction that he was able to perform more than normal science had so far accomplished. And as his reputation grew, so did the stories; some even claimed he had been able to resurrect a person from the dead, thus definitely putting him on par with at least one biblical character!

Even though he had his licence revoked for treating someone without having the proper degree, it was about all the authorities could do. “Master Philippe” seldom touched his patients, so they could not go for more outlandish claims of malpractice, if not worse. In his rapport with the patient, he merely asked that person to morally engage himself, to reform himself, and call upon the help of God in the healing process. It was very “clean”, and hence difficult to sanction further than they already had. Meanwhile, in his personal life, he had married Jeanne Landar, in 1877. They had met in 1875, when his future mother-in-law brought her daughter, who was sick, to see him. He healed her and she began to attend his séances. Once married, they had two children. The eldest, Jeanne Victoire, was born in 1878 and herself married a doctor in 1897. In 1881, a son, Albert, was born, but he died three months old.

By that year, his fame had spread far outside the Lyon region; he treated the Bey of Tunis in 1881 and though at home he was not even given the title of doctor, in 1884, he was granted a doctorate in Medicine by the University of Cincinnati; in 1885, the city of Acri in Italy made him an Honorary Citizen, for his “scientific and humanitarian merits” and in 1886, the Royal Academy of Rome gave him the honorary title of Doctor of Medicine. However, back at home, on November 3, 1887, he was condemned for illegally practicing medicine; a second condemnation followed in 1890.

The latter year was the start of a decade in which he would make powerful friends. One of these was Gérard Encausse, better known as Papus, best known as an occultist, but first and foremost a qualified doctor. Many scholars of occult history have written about Papus, noting how he lead several influential secret societies in France, but few have underlined how Papus and Master Philippe were very close friends, having met under exceptional circumstances.

There is more than one version about how the two met. The standard account is that Papus was practicing in his home for an occult ritual, and was about to enter the magical circle, armed with a ceremonial sword, not knowing that the ritual would lead to his imminent death. Master Philippe was casually passing through the street and was inspired to open Papus’ front door, enter without permission, to find its resident about to perform the ritual. Master Philippe told him to stop, thus saving his life, to become his guide and close friend. Another version says that Papus had previously seen Master Philippe in a dream and instantly recognised him as his “saviour”.

The extent of their friendship is best illustrated by noting that Philippe became godfather to Encausse’s son, who was named Philippe, and who later wrote a book called “Le Maître Philippe, de Lyon”. Despite becoming best friends, they did not share all values together. Papus was very much an adept of secret societies, whereas Nizier argued that “secret societies have no value. They have never done any good except to themselves. They all practice despotism, and it should not be like that. We are all brothers, we need to help each other and not have any secrets, everything needs to be in the light. There should not be preferences.”

Their friendship did direct Papus away from magic, towards “true magic”. Rather than a series of robotic actions that were designed to bring about an end result (very much like a doctor prescribing his pharmaceutical cocktail), Papus wanted to know real magic and for this, he became a student of a “real shaman”, Master Philippe.

Thus, Encausse himself went on to assist in several of Nizier’s healings and wanted to comprehend “true healing”, rather than “qualified doctorship”. He also provided testimony to what Nizier performed, stating it was genuine, and not some magic trick. Encausse wrote how with one healing, he and two other doctors were present when a young mother brought in her five year old child; the doctors diagnosed the boy suffering from a far advanced form of tuberculose meningitis. Encausse noted that Nizier, when trying to heal people, often worked in the presence of 80 to 100 people, and that he usually tried to get the group in a positive mindset. He did so in the case of this child, telling the group that for a period of two hours, they should not speak anything bad about those not present. Two hours later, the small child was healed, as testified by the doctors present. The presence of a positive group mind-set thus seems to have played a role in Philippe’s healings, though was obviously not a requirement, as he was able to heal in one-on-one situations too.

In 1893, Hector Durville founded a School of Magnetism in Paris, with the help of Papus, who wanted Master Philippe to open a similar school in Lyon, which he did in October 1895. However, all are in agreement that this “school” had little to do with magnetism and that it was largely Philippe doing what he did before: his own specific way of healing. Indeed, it is unclear why Papus would have insisted that Philippe practiced something that might help some with no native abilities, but which would obviously have limited Nizier in using his own abilities. Alternatively, perhaps Papus was hoping that with Master Philippe’s help, magnetism might become a more powerful method of healing than it was, thus bringing about “medicine that would heal”. A lot has been written about Papus’ connection to the Russian court, but what is less-known, is the prominent role of Master Philippe in this. In September 1900, grand-duke Vladimir was one of several Russian nobles that visited Philippe in Lyon. When he had returned to Russia, he called upon the Master, who left on December 29, 1900 and would stay in Russia for two months. Another Russian noble’s notes reveal how he met Nizier during mass in Fourvière, the “high town” of Lyon. The priest’s sermon had tackled the notion that the miracles reported in the bible should not be taken literally. After the end of mass, Philippe wanted to speak to the priest and told him he was wrong. “May thunder strike this church if I can believe these things”, he said. Nizier apparently looked the priest in the eyes, made a gesture and immediately, lightning appeared inside the cathedral, with it striking at their feet, followed by a loud thunder. The display left the Russian noble visibly impressed. In further documentation about his Russian exploits, it was even reported that in Russia, Nizier was seen as a magus, and had even been able to calm a storm! “And I was told many other marvels.”

From then on, when members of the Russian royal household came to France, some would visit him in Lyon. It is how Nizier got to see the emperor and his wife in 1901. They too would invite him back to Russia, an invitation he accepted; his daughter and her husband accompanied him on this trip. Papus While at the Russian court, the Tsar became very attached to Philippe and is known to have sought out his opinion in all types of matters. On September 21, 1901, Nizier was at the Imperial Court, and announced the birth of a son in 1904, which would later be followed by a military defeat… and a Revolution.

Hence, not only was there the famous Grigori Rasputin, there was also the relatively unremembered Master Philippe. Indeed, as Rasputin arrived much later than Master Philippe, one could argue that the Tsar missed having a man like Master Philippe around, and Rasputin could be seen as his successor.

Apparently, the Tsar was so impressed with Nizier that he asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs whether the French government could after all give him the official degree of doctor, so that he could invite him to the Imperial court without causing too much internal problems. Of course, the French government refused. The Tsar wanted to give him the title of doctor of medicine himself, but his ministers told him that for this, Philippe would have to pass exams.

The exam was, to say the least, somewhat out of the ordinary. A jury was assembled and he asked members of the jury for a list of hospital bed numbers. He then began a séance, in which, without even going over to the hospital, he diagnosed each of the sick, and said that they were now healed. The professors went over to the hospital to confirm what he said and on November 8, 1901, Nizier received the title of Doctor of Medicine. After the birth of the prophesised child, at a time when Master Philippe was back in Lyon, he wrote to the Tsar, stating the letter was his testament, as his “disincarnation” was approaching. He said he would leave this existence on August 2, 1905, and also announced the demise of the Russian Empire for the next decade, which would involve the massacre of many Christians and the entire Imperial family. He said he could see a century full of horrors ahead for Russia. His Russian Lament ended: “Russia will recover its legitimate sovereignty, the reincarnation and inheritance of the Imperial dynasty, which will bring it great prosperity and peace. I will return myself in the guise of a child, and those who need to recognise me, will do so.”

This letter was not the first time he had stated as much. During a séance in 1901, some present said he should never leave them, to which he replied: “on the contrary, I hope to depart soon; but I won’t remain there for long; I’ll return.”

His own death, however, was preceded by great personal loss. In August 1904, his daughter fell ill and everyone in his immediate family obviously asked for him to heal her. He replied: “The will of the Heavens is that she leaves; nevertheless, to prove to you that Heaven can do anything, she will get better for two days, but on the third, she will return to the state she is in now.” Indeed, this happened; she died on August 29, 1904. During her burial, he said how he had to sacrifice his daughter, that he was denied the right to heal her and that she had gone over to “smooth the path”. “This death has crucified me alive.”

From February 1905 onwards, Philippe’s personal health deteriorated; he could no longer leave his home and when his predicted time of death came, he apparently stood up from his chair (those in the room not noticing as they were distracted by a noise outside), and collapsed on the floor, dead, apparently without a sound. Two years before, in February 1903, he had begun to make preparations for his departure, saying farewell to his inner circle, telling them that Jean Chapas would continue once he had departed. And, indeed, Chapas held séances until his own death in 1932.

Chapas was but one of a series of disciples, which also included Jean Leloup (Paul Sedir), Cyril Scott, as well as Jean de Rignies – even though the latter was only born in 1917 (he died in 2001). De Rignies, who was related to Papus, said that one day, the voice of “Master Philippe” manifested himself in his spirit. De Rignies said that the manifestation was an awakening, the beginning of a quest, in which he had to find a lost valley with a spring, the traces of an old castle, an abbey, somewhere in the Aude region, and not far from Rennes-le-Château. In the end, he would find this location, in what is now known as the Domaine de la Salz, high in the hills above Rennes-les-Bains, near that magical mountain Bugarach. Why he should come here, has never been communicated; perhaps Philippe had a plan? Some have chosen to leave Master Philippe as an enigma, portraying him as a man with abilities he himself did not understand. But from his own words, which some took great care to record faithfully, a consistent framework can be constructed as to what he believed, and how he believed his healing worked.

First of all, he felt that illnesses were not punishment; “if our souls were not ill, our bodies wouldn’t be either.” He said God never punished and that all that befell us, was purely happening because of “previous deeds”. He was a believer in reincarnation and said that certain illnesses could last several lifetimes; “The illness needs to be changed into something good.” He also argued that our physical appearance was a reflection of our soul, and that we could change our physical appearance if we “changed” the make-up of our soul, i.e. weed out the problems we carried with us from previous incarnations. He argued that “Everything is marked in our physiognomy. We bear the mark of who we are.” And: “A man who battles with courage against his passions can, in three or four years, change his appearance even if he is old.”

To explain his method of healing, he said that he needed to know that person for several centuries, and that he had to let the individual annul his sins. Once, he told a young man the causes of his specific illness, saying: “In 1638, you were with a lord, near Saint-Marcellin” and then went on to explain that the reason for his illness was what he had done in that lifetime. Such diagnoses imply that he was able to see people’s previous incarnations, as if, by simply looking at some, “the soul’s memory” was somehow downloaded into Philippe’s mind, for it to be analysed. He said he could definitely see his own previous lifetimes, stating: “I don’t know whether you believe in reincarnation. You are free to believe in it. What I know, is that I remember having existed, having left and returned and that I know when I will leave again.” And: “The soul is much older than the body, and as such we return in this world to pay our debts, as everything needs to be paid for. I would like it very much if someone here would prove to me that we don’t return.”

Nizier therefore seemed to link his healing abilities with resolving someone’s “karma”: “You come in front of me and tell me what you have. When you do that, something supernatural happens in you and, if my soul hears your words, you are healed.” And “to heal the sick, you need to ask God that he forgives your faults and at the same time, the soul is strengthened and the body is healed.”

Though he therefore argued there was a form of “self-healing” involved, it was also clear that he acted as a gateway, a medium. So why was he able to accomplish this, and not every other man or woman? The key, it seems, was that he was always positive, and never surrendered to malicious thoughts: “If you could only remain half a day without bad thoughts, words, speaking ill of those not present, not judging people, the prayer you do then, will be heard by Heaven. I’ve often said that it is better not to pray than to pray badly, for if you pray after you have done bad to someone and then say I love those around me, you lie and lies are strictly forbidden by the laws of Heaven.” Karma and reincarnation thus featured heavily in Nizier’s framework. He also said that God did not judge us, but we judged ourselves: “We have a guardian which registers all our thoughts and our actions. Everything is written down and, at the moment of death, we read that which we have done.” “We are always responsible for we need to always think before we act.” As to why “all of this” was occurring, he answered: “When the Father sent us here, he placed in us the desire to acquire; it is from there than the seven deadly sins come.” He added: ““Each sin corresponds specifically to one of our organs.” Materialism was therefore seen as the “apple” in the Garden of Eden, trying to seduce us, and we fell for it all too easily. Instead, Nizier proposed to think: “in the heart is the thought; in the brain is the reflection of that thought. Thought is distinct from reasoning; a thought is a direct penetration into the light.”

Some might argue that Nizier’s philosophy was therefore Eastern, but he did not endorse cremation: “Man has not the right to let himself be cremated when his body dies. One has to return to the earth that what the earth has lent to us; it is for the earth to transform the cadaver. Two metres of soil are sufficient to purify the emanations from the cadaver. If it is burnt by accident, this is different […] those who are cremated will have to wait a very long time before they can return.” He also disagreed with Christianity and how the mere act of baptism reserved a seat in heaven: “When a child dies after baptism, it is said it goes to Heaven. But no. It is better to live until the age of 80, as he will have the time to suffer, to have problems, tribulations and that he therefore has been able to pay his debts somewhat.” As to suicides, he felt that “those who commit suicide to end their misery are wrong, for they will need to return to expiate their error and to replace the time they took.” In the end, Master Philippe seems to have been an urban magician, not stuck in the middle of a distant rainforest or the Siberian steppe, but available on the streets of France’s second city or the corridors of the Imperial Palace. Like the magi of old, he was able to see our soul, and his healing occurred at that level. He said how “the body is the mantle of the spirit, it serves to hide it.” It was this very ability – which was foremost a state of mind – that set him truly apart from the other “healers” of his time: the academically ratified doctors. None of them ever asked someone how their mind or soul were, or whether they could live with themselves. For Master Philippe, a healthy mind would maintain a healthy body; focusing on the latter would never lead to any real or lasting healing, no matter how many doctorates he himself or anyone else had hanging on their walls. After all, the old saying was that actions speak louder than words… and that physicians could and should heal themselves. At his first accidental public display at the age of fourteen, that was precisely what he had done. If it had occurred in a swampy rainforest or a bitter cold steppe, the physician magically healing himself would have been the “academic qualification” that his community would bestow upon him, and which would allow him to be called “Master” – magus – shaman. Indeed, it was precisely what the inhabitants of Lyon saw and did too: he was a “therapeuta”, and hence much more than a doctor.