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TRACY R. TWYMAN | Jean Cocteau: Man of the 20th Century

By Tracy R. Twyman
Originally written for Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, Copyright 1998
(Does not necessarily represent author’s current viewpoint.)

Photo of Jean Cocteau by Man Ray, 1922

I belong to the blood donors, the only artists I really respect. The long red trail they leave behind them fascinates me.
— Jean Cocteau

The Frivolous Poet

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) was an influential poet, playwright, novelist, artist and filmmaker from the early half of the twentieth century, and a contemporary of people like Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, and Marcel Proust. He is also purported to have been Grand Master of the Priory of Sion during one of their most tumultuous periods. However, many authors, including the writers of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, have stated that Jean Cocteau seems an unusual choice for the leader of such an organization, having been an opium addict, homosexual, and eccentric “libertine” with no known connection to any particular royal house. For this reason, the legitimacy of the claim that Cocteau did hold this post has been questioned. However, my investigation has revealed overwhelming evidence that Cocteau was not only a Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, but also one of the most important figures of the twentieth century, and the complex meaning behind his art and writing has been severely underestimated.

He was born on July 5, 1889 (1) in Maisons-Laffitte, a Parisian suburb, to a cultured, aristocratic family. As Holy Blood, Holy Grail states: “Cocteau was raised in a milieu close to the corridors of power — his family was politically prominent and his uncle was an important diplomat.” His father, a painter, shot himself when Cocteau was only nine years old, and so he clung to his mother, maintaining an unusually close relationship with her for the rest of her life. As is the case with many geniuses, Cocteau did poorly in school, and dropped out in the equivalent of high school. He ran away from home at age fourteen, and spent his time in Venice, as well as the “red light district” of Marseille. He was soon ingratiating himself with the salon crowd of Paris, impressing some of the world’s most well-known artists and intellectuals with the brilliance of his work.

Laureled Orpheus

The first poem he presented to his salon friends — at age fifteen — was called “The Frivolous Poet,” which stuck with him as a nickname for years, as it seemed to encompass the light-heartedness of much of his work at the time. However, as Cocteau matured, and his work matured, this “frivolous” appellation gave way to the title “King of Poets” — a title he inherited from his friend and mentor, Apollinaire. He was patronized by some of Europe’s most wealthy and respected nobility. His fame and reputation grew, and by the latter part of his life, he had been elected to the prestigious Academie Francaise, inducted with a ceremonial sword that had been designed by Picasso. He had also been named “Poet of the Year,” made a “Chevalier of the Legion of Honor,” and was invited to Oxford to become an honorary Doctor of Letters. Once, he was even invited by Charles de Gaulle’s brother to give a national address on the general state of France. There is no doubt in my mind that Jean Cocteau had every attribute required to be the Priory of Sion’s Grand Master, and has accomplished everything necessary to be listed among the greatest poets and artists of all time.

Portrait of Apollonaire

The Return to the Rose

It is ironic that the first use of the term “surreal” was made by the poet Apollinaire in relation to Cocteau’s work on the Ballet Russe — ironic because the movement that later became known as surrealism was diametrically opposed to everything that Cocteau stood for, and aesthetically unrelated. The prefix “sur” in Latin carries the same meaning as “subra,” so the term sur-real would mean “less than real,” or “beneath reality.” In contrast, Cocteau always spoke of his aesthetic as being supra-real, beyond real, or in other words, a higher form of reality than that which is readily perceived. It was the secrets of the ages, gleaned, presumably, from the Priory of Sion, that Cocteau was trying to communicate, albeit in cryptic form.

Orpheus of the Leaves

Most of the avant-garde art movements that were prevalent during Cocteau’s time were rejected by him: Dadaism, Surrealism, even Cubism (although he did, for a time, explore Cubist techniques, mostly because of his interest in geometry, and his love for Pablo Picasso). As he saw it, these modernists embraced weak, atheistic creeds such as Existentialism, creating works of “art” that excelled in their meaninglessness — rubbish which continues to clutter up modern art museums to this day. These people also, in general, espoused left-wing political views that were anti-royalist, anti-elitist, and opposed to any form of hierarchical order whatsoever: aesthetically, politically, philosophically, or otherwise. In contrast, Cocteau wrote that, “If [the Dadaists] stand at the extreme left, I am at the extreme right. The extreme right used not to exist. Every right is timid. I invented the extreme right.” Cocteau declared himself the President of an “Anti-Modern League,” and rejected their empty creeds. He instead took classical themes and revitalized them, giving them new meaning. As biographer William A. Emboden described it, “Cocteau’s emerging aesthetic was becoming an extension of Neoclassicism simplified. In Cocteau’s words, “it was a return to the rose,” a reference to Ronsard’s Roman de la Rose, which he so admired.” It was also, I might add, a return to the rose-croix.

Orpheus with Lyre

Cocteau’s anti-modern, pro-classical, right-leaning aesthetic and attitude provoked extreme hatred and vindictiveness from the modernists, culminating in vicious attacks both verbal and in print. But they could rarely attack his work, since it so clearly surpassed their own. Instead, the attacks took the form of personal insults, which were then transformed onto his art and writing as though they were mere manifestations of his perceived personality flaws. He was portrayed as a hanger-on, who used people for money, connections, or notoriety, an idea thief whose main goal was to weasel his way in to the fashionable set. But Cocteau’s sense of style was beyond the comprehension of this set, who made fun of his aristocratic appearance and mannerisms with that shallow form of derision that so obviously stems from jealousy. Worst of all were the insinuations that Cocteau’s relationships were not genuine. His friendships with aristocrats and noble families were all just a ploy on Cocteau’s part, they said, to get the money he needed to finance his projects, his expensive tastes, and eventually, his opium habit. His relationships with the great artists of his time, most of whom he knew personally, were equally false, they said. He merely wanted to be seen with them, say the biographers, while these artists, in contrast, wished nothing to do with him, and only feigned affection for him out of politeness.

Picasso and Cocteau

Even Picasso, one of his closest friends and creative partners, is painted with this brush, and passing comments of slight irritation he might have made about Cocteau throughout their lifelong friendship have been blown out of proportion against the more numerous laudations and approbations they both heaped upon one another. The depth and sincerity of their mutual respect was undeniable. Cocteau described their first meeting as one of almost instantaneous telepathic communication. “There were long silences. Varese couldn’t understand why we looked at each other without saying anything. When Picasso spoke, his syntax was visual. One immediately saw what he was saying.” Together, these two artists — one an anti-modern Modernist, one a modern anti-Modernist — formed the twin pillars of an artistic temple that housed a Hermetic brotherhood of contemporary intellectuals.

Pocasso's portrait of Cocteau

Portrait of Cocteau by Picasso

Secret Agent Jean Cocteau

Cocteau consorted with a number of people who, if they were not actually members of the Priory of Sion, made superb candidates. Picasso, for instance, to quote John Richardson, “was of noble lineage; what is more, his uncle Salvador had married into the Malague aristocracy. ‘I’ll dine with the duke’ is how he ends one of his notes.” In 1917, he even had an audience with the King of Spain. His art, too, shows his interest in Hermetic subjects: his obsession with the bull symbol, his use, on more than one occasion, of the alchemical symbol of the Black Sun, and his undeniable use of pentagonal geometry in many, if not most of his cubist paintings.

Another candidate for Priory membership was Cocteau’s friend Salvador Dali, whose “surreal” and “cubist” works often centered around strangely Hermetic religious themes. Also, the two films that Dali worked on, The Andalusian Dog and The Golden Age, both used the classical Grail-themed works of Richard Wagner as a soundtrack. They were even financed by the same noble family — the Noailles — that financed Cocteau’s first film, Blood of a Poet. Furthermore, Dali’s bust was once sculpted by the same artist — Arno Breker — who also sculpted a bust of Jean Cocteau, as well as a statue of Cocteau making the hand sign of John the Baptist. The choice of the title The Golden Age for one of the films Dali worked on is interesting too, as it refers to a fabled era in classical mythology in which the gods lived on Earth, ruling it directly. Interesting, also, is that Dali consorted with a group of cubist contemporaries called “Section d’Or” –”the Golden Section.”

Bust of Cocteau by Arno Breker

Version 1 of Jean Cocteau as The Prophet by Arno Breker

Version 2 of Jean Cocteau as The Prophet by Arno Breker

But besides these two, Cocteau had connections to people who were almost undeniably members of the Priory. He was good friends with Jean Hugo, grandson of one of the Priory’s Grand Masters, Victor Hugo. Cocteau was also on close terms with Jean’s wife Valentine Gross Hugo, whom he called “my swan.” Together they collaborated on countless projects. Cocteau was quite enamored with the late Victor Hugo himself, and is known to have commented once that, “Victor Hugo was a madman who thought he was Victor Hugo.” Cocteau even made a film adaptation of Hugo’s Ruy Blas. Unfortunately, as author William Emboden put it, “Cocteau had taken the liberty of adapting Ruy Blas without asking permission of the Hugo family. Worse, he transformed it in a way that greatly displeased Jean, who nevertheless refrained from taking action against the production out of consideration for his friend.”

Valentine Hugo, Raymond Radiguet ad Jean Hugo, 1921

Cocteau had a direct, public relationship with the man who purportedly preceded him as Grand Master of the Priory of Sion: composer Claude Debussy. In 1962, one year before his death, Cocteau was commissioned to design the set and costumes for a production of Pelle et Melisande. As William Emboden writes, “The audience at the opening saw a curtain with a giant face bending over the sea …”

In addition, Cocteau maintained a life-long respect for Leonardo da Vinci, another Priory Grand Master, and quoted him often. It was from da Vinci that Cocteau obtained his theory of the use of line in his artwork, which was one of Cocteau’s main methods for communicating the secrets he had learned from the Priory of Sion, using sacred geometry and symbolism. Cocteau’s lines were often subtle, implied — which, he believed, made the statements encoded in them all the more powerful. William Emboden sums it up best:

[Cocteau] felt that line must make itself felt in a way that transcends the model from which it is taken. He employed an analogy similar to the one employed by Leonardo: line, Cocteau wrote, “sounds an imperishable note, not able to be perceived by the ear or the eye. It is, as it were, the style of the soul …” These thoughts from The Difficulty of Being are comparable to Leonardo’s analogy of the scent of a flower diminished in space like the sound of music, and yet Leonardo accepted the continuum of sound and scent in space as an extension of line.

Cocteau’s art, especially his murals, were often laid out on a grid pattern, unseen on the finished product, which allowed him to place the objects in the picture into specific geometric configurations. However, Cocteau also left indicators in these pictures that allow the viewer to retrace his grid patterns and find the hidden geometry. Grid patterns are indicated by the strange symbols on the archways in the Chapel of Saint Peter, and by the strategically-placed dots in this chapel, as well as in the Chapel of Saint Blaise. Lines of force and geometry are indicated by glances, pointing fingers, spears, flagpoles, and other understated means throughout much of his artwork, allowing the perceptive viewer to “read” the secret messages encoded into each piece. As William Emboden wrote, “Cocteau saw an unbreakable link between the arts of writing and drawing.” To him, the lines in a picture were like “lines in a script.” Cocteau is quoted as saying that, “When I draw, I am writing, and perhaps, when I am writing I also draw.” He explicitly stated that his picture-writing contained a mathematical, almost cabalistic encoding system when he said: “My work is the result of serious considerations which consist of turning ciphers into numbers. And so, I belong to the blood donors, the only artists I really respect. The long red trail they leave behind them fascinates me.” Another quote, regarding his poetry, is equally suggestive. “Every poem is a coat of arms,” said Cocteau. “It must be deciphered.” He elaborated on this further in Testament of Orpheus, saying: “The poet, by composing poems, uses a language that is neither dead nor living, that few people speak, and few people understand … We are the servants of an unknown force that lives within us, manipulates us, and dictates this language to us.”

Some of Cocteau’s more “secret-laden” works may have been, in fact, made at the request of the Priory of Sion. Cocteau repeatedly insinuated that his poetry and artwork came to him from somewhere else: either a divine entity, or a secret organization posing as a divine entity. He once said that he was, “only a medium, a hand that carries out instructions”, and that his murals for the Chapel of Saint Peter were “the work of a medium.” His poem L’Angel Heurtebise was written, according to Emboden, “under a mysterious spell… He believed that it came to him by a kind of divine revelation.” Of his play, Les Enfants Terribles, Cocteau said, “My subconscious wanted me as its writer. It dictated the book to me.” And in the film Orpheus, the character “Death”, who is believed by the public to be a “Princess”, is broadcasting poems over a magic radio signal so that poets will think they have been inspired, and will publish the poems as if they were their own. The meaning of this is never explained in the film. I believe this was Jean Cocteau’s way of confessing that he was, in a way, a propagandist for a mystical secret order, the Priory of Sion, and that the messages he was incorporating into his work were actually messages given to him by the order. Characters in his films and plays are repeatedly subjected to bizarre moral allegory plays and told not to ask questions — that it is wrong to try to understand. This is exactly what would occur during an initiation into a secret society, and what must have occurred with Cocteau’s initiation into the Priory.

The poetry machine from Testament of Orpheus

Cocteau and “The Universal Church”

“It is excruciating to be an unbeliever with a spirit that is deeply religious.”
— Jean Cocteau

As if his classical style, conservative politics, superb talent and relationships with the world’s most influential artists weren’t enough to annoy his contemporary detractors, Cocteau’s re-conversion to Catholicism in 1925 drove them over the edge, while driving numerous other associates and followers back to Mother Church. With a seemingly libertine lifestyle saturated by opium and young boys, Cocteau might have seemed an unlikely convert, but, in a way, that might have been part of what drove him back in the first place. Then again, it could have been something far more complicated.

Like many people, Cocteau had never really broken with the church of his childhood — he just fell out of practice. But he had apparently always maintained a deep and profound belief in God. While he was in his mid-twenties he was known to have had an argument with Count Mathieu de Noailles which ended with the Count chasing him down the stairs shouting: “Besides, it’s simple. If God exists, I would be notified before anyone else!” Obviously, Cocteau had been arguing the pro-God position. Since his childhood, Cocteau had been obsessed with crystals, and he collected crystal paperweights, which he would press up against his eyeballs in order to examine their facets. “Like those who press their ears against seashells to hear the roar of the sea”, he wrote, “I brought my eye near this cube and believed that I had discovered God.” He had also been obsessed with angels ever since 1914, when he took a plane ride over France with the famed pilot Roland Garros. An interesting quote from Cocteau bears witness to this: “Nothing fascinates me more than the angel which a slow-motion camera forces out of everything like a chestnut from its shell. Since in relation to God, our centuries elapse in a twinkling, we are being shot in slow motion.”

Cocteau’s 1925 re-conversion came he when met the poet Jacques Maritain, a Catholic who “sought a reconciliation between Christianity and the twentieth century.” Maritain had first become acquainted with Cocteau’s work when a disciple named Charles Herion gave him a copy of Cocteau’s pamphlet Le Coq et l’Arlequin. Herion soon became ordained as a priest, and it was from him that Cocteau took the sacraments for the first time since his childhood, during the Feast of the Sacred Heart. This “Sacred Heart” symbol played a large part in Cocteau’s passionate conversion. According to William Emboden, when Cocteau was introduced to Father Herion, he:

“…looked at the swarthy priest wearing a cloak with a red cross above a red heart — the symbol of his order — and all but swooned as he dropped into the arms of the church. When he wrote afterwards of Father Herion as an angel in costume, we cannot help but look back to the opium drawings of only months earlier with the theme of the angel with the heart on his chest… Cocteau was now in the same ‘club’ as Picasso and Stravinsky; he had converted back to Catholicism.”

Indeed, it would appear that Cocteau was already a member of a club that included those two — specifically, the Priory of Sion. The Sacred Heart symbol which so attracted him, and which had been a theme of his art even prior to his conversion, was a symbol used by the Hieron du Val d’Or, and would appear to be a metaphor for the rose cross. In fact, one of Cocteau’s drawings from that period, The Mystery of Jean the Birdman, No. 15 shows a rose protruding out of his chest, and a human heart protruding out of his back, reinforcing the connections between the two symbols. These symbols have always been considered equivalent by Hermeticists, both being signs of the cabalistic Sephiroth known as “Tiphereth”, and thus, the Sun.

Sacred Heart of the Heiron du Val dOr

The Mystery of Jean the Birdman


At this point, Cocteau allowed Maritain to “cure” him of his opium addiction. Maritain suggested that he take communion wafers for his withdrawal symptoms, “like a tab of aspirin.” Cocteau stayed at a Catholic convalescent home in Villefranche-sur-Mer, where he was cared for “according to ancient prescriptions of the faith” by Father Herion, who belonged to an order of monks that practiced herbal medicine. The following October, while still at Villefranche-sur-Mer, he composed a pamphlet called Letter to Jacques Maritain which “amounts to a proof of God by Cocteau, resulting in a proof of Cocteau by God”, according to one of his biographers. Cocteau wrote: “If He counts us, if He counts our hairs, He counts the syllables of verse. Everything is His, everything derives from Him. He is the model of audacity. He has borne the worst insults. He requires neither religious art nor Catholic art. We are His poets, His painters, His photographers, His musicians.” At Villefranche, he was often seen by fisher boys “in an ecstatic trance before a statue of the Virgin.”

After his conversion, many of Cocteau’s followers decided to take the plunge into Catholicism as well. “God was in”, as biographer Frederick Brown described it. “Le Boeuf suddenly abounded with penitents while seminaries abounded with clerics reading Cocteau’s verse.” Many authors have claimed that Cocteau only converted to impress Maritain, and presume sexual lust as the motivation, even though Maritain was married, and his wife was a good friend of Cocteau’s as well. Further, they imply that his new-found faith was just a phase, based on the evidence that he soon returned to the comfort of the opium pipe, which he never truly gave up. “He exploited the Church for his own ends”, wrote Frederick Brown, “like a spouse who provides a spouse he no longer loves a consolatory substitute, the solution to a bad marriage being a divine triangle.” According to others, this was part of a pattern for Cocteau, who would continue to flirt with Catholicism for many years. As it states in Holy Blood, Holy Grail:

“For a good part of his life Cocteau was associated — sometimes intimately, sometimes peripherally — with royalist Catholic circles… At the same time, however, Cocteau’s Catholicism was highly suspect, highly unorthodox, and seems to have been more an aesthetic than a religious commitment.”

While I do not wish to question Cocteau’s religious commitment, which would be rude and presumptuous, I am willing to agree that Cocteau’s beliefs were, and always had been, highly unorthodox — much like those beliefs held by the members of the Priory of Sion. For instance, the Priory reserves a special reverence for the biblical figure of Mary Magdalene (or “Madeleine”), who seems to have significance for them, both as the mother of Christ’s children, and as an embodiment of the Venus goddess archetype. Cocteau, too, seemed to bear a similar reverence for this figure. As William Emboden has written, “[Cocteau] spoke of a mystical effluvium of the Madeleine Church [in Paris], like the emanations from some antique temple, that kept him in the region of that edifice.” The Priory of Sion has, in the past, purposely used the letters “MM”, or sometimes just “M” to symbolize Magdalene, and Cocteau used them as well. In the Church of Notre Dame de France (“Our Lady of France”) in London, which Cocteau decorated with fantastic murals, this letter “M” is mysteriously placed on the altar, directly beneath the scene of the crucifixion. (2) To the left are depicted the dice thrown by the Roman soldiers, who according to the Gospels, cast lots to determine who should get Christ’s clothing after he died. The number of dots that are shown on the dice is fifty-eight, a significant number. The skull of Baphomet, which the Templars and later the Priory of Sion are said to have possessed, was referred to cryptically as “Caput 58M.” 5+8 = 13, and “M” is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet. Therefore, “58M” could be a code for “Mary Magdalene”, who is traditionally shown praying before a skull.

The same statement is being made in Cocteau’s mural at Notre Dame. This statement is further reinforced by the fact that the “M” on the altar is directly below a rose that Cocteau has placed on the cross, precisely beneath Christ’s feet. Not only does that make it a “rose cross”, but the rose is above the initial “M” for “Mary.” The term “Rosemary” is used in occult parlance to refer to the female consort of a god or demon. (Thus the title for the film Rosemary’s Baby.) This is exactly what Magdalene’s symbolism entailed. The fact that the rose, as well as the blood drops beneath it, are colored both red and blue may indicate the “blue blood” of Christ’s royal line. Given all of this, the Church’s title “Notre Dame De France” is interesting. Most would assume this to be a reference to the Virgin Mary, who is called by Catholics “Our Lady.” But the true “Lady of France” is the goddess Marianne, their national symbol. Perhaps “Marianne” and “Magdalene” are representations of the same archetype.

Notre Dame de France is located in London’s red light district. Cocteau had always held a special place in his heart for prostitutes, as prostitutes had taken him in when he ran away to Marseille at age fourteen. William Emboden writes of Notre Dame that: “This church was dear to Cocteau because it was French and because it was in an area frequented by prostitutes and the poor of London. After his mural was completed, the local prostitutes took up a collection and bought a blue rug in honor of the Virgin and as a tribute to Cocteau’s work.” The irony of a group of pious Catholic prostitutes paying homage to a virgin cannot be ignored, and perhaps someone was making a veiled reference instead to the “whore” Mary Magdalene (the real “Notre Dame” honored in Cocteau’s mural) under the guise of the Virgin Mary.

The Black Sun at Notre Dame De France

The Blue Rose at Notre Dame de France

The M on the altar at Notre Dame de France

A second Jesus watches the crucifixion at Notre Dame de France

St. Peter Outraged by Pilate's Soldiers, from the Chapel of St. Peter

The dice at Notre Dame de France

Self-portrait of Cocteau at Notre Dame de France

Another heretical belief posited by the Priory of Sion seems to be present in Cocteau’s work: the idea that not Christ, but a substitute died on the cross, while the real Jesus lived on. This concept is illustrated in the Notre Dame mural, where only the feet of the crucified man can be seen, leaving his identity undetermined. Looking on, with a scowl on his face, and tears of blood dripping from his eye (which has been made to resemble a fish) is a man who is unmistakably Christ — the real one. On the opposite side of the cross, Cocteau has depicted himself, with his back turned to the crucifixion, as if to show that he rejects the orthodox version of the story. The theme is picked up at the Chapel of Saint Blaise, which Cocteau decorated and was buried in. Here we see two Christs depicted. We see only the head of the central one, wounded with his head slumped over as though he has just died on the cross. Above him, however, is another Christ, wounded in the hand, but perfectly alive. On either side of the two figures are two identical crowns of thorns, repeating the “dual Christ” theme. Finally, in the Chapel of Saint Peter, Cocteau has made another unorthodox statement on the nature of Christ. In his own words: “I concealed the image of Christ in a curve of the Roman vaulting. You can’t see it as you enter the chapel. You have to get close to the altar to spot it. The construction of the vaulting reveals it only to the Priest, unless you go up and look.” In other words, the true nature of Christ is concealed to all but the initiated, and is not to be found in the man who died on the cross.

Twin crowns of thorns and John making the Baptist hand signal, from the Chapel of St. Blaise

Jean 23

The belief that John the Baptist was the true messiah, and not Christ, is one that, it has been posited, is also held by the Priory of Sion. Because of the special reverence that they seem to hold for him, all of their Grand Masters since 1188 (the Cutting of the Elm) have taken the title “Jean (or, if female, “Jeanne”) upon assumption of the office. It has been noted by authors Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince that a hand signal associated with John the Baptist (a raised forefinger) can be found at the mural at Saint Blaise being made by Christ.

The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail have also made the point that Jean Cocteau, as the twenty-third Grand Master of the Priory of Sion since 1188, would have been “Jean 23.” In 1958, during Cocteau’s grand mastership, a new Pope came to power — Angelo Roncalli — who also called himself John XXIII. It was this Pope who finally revoked the ban on the practice of Freemasonry for Catholics, making members of the Priory of Sion, which is described as a “Hermetic Freemasonry”, legitimate Catholics again. What is more, the 1976 book The Prophecies of Pope John XXIII, allegedly written by the Pontiff himself, stated that he was secretly a member of the Order of the Rose Cross, with whom, to quote Holy Blood, Holy Grail, “he had become acquainted while acting as papal nuncio to Turkey in 1935.” Stranger still, in The Prophecies of Malachi, written by a twelfth-century Irish monk, the assumption of the papacy by a “John XXIII” was predicted, and the descriptive motto he gave to this Pope was “Shepherd and Navigator.” Well, “Navigator”, of course, is the official title given to the Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion. Furthermore, Jean Cocteau identified himself with the Greek mythological figure of Orpheus, who was the subject of many Cocteau paintings, drawings, poems, plays and films. Orpheus was, traditionally, both a shepherd and a seaman. This tends to indicate that Pope John XXIII was a member of the Priory of Sion, and had a very close relationship with Jean Cocteau. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail suggest that, “Cardinal Roncalli, on becoming Pope, chose the name of his own secret grand master — so that — for some symbolic reason, there would be a John XXIII presiding over Sion and the papacy simultaneously.” What could this symbolic reason possibly have been?

The Priory of Sion, as we know, has always been presumed to be at odds with the Catholic Church for a number of reasons. First, there is the fact that the Church had stolen the mythos of Christ for its own use, and the way that the Church purged the Bible of any reference to Christ’s marriage, children, or real patrilineal ancestors. Then there is the fact that the Church has censored any interpretation of Christ other than its own faulty version, and “cleansed” the Bible of all texts that presented evidence to the contrary. Then, of course, there is the pact that the Church made with the Merovingian descendants of Christ, making them the perpetual heirs to the title “New Constantine” in exchange for their silence about their lineage. This pact was broken when the Church conspired to assassinate Merovingian King Dagobert II, and drove the Merovingians virtually out of existence.

But the Priory has often been composed of members who were nominally Catholic, and many of them have even been clerics. Furthermore, the Priory had, by Cocteau’s time, begun calling itself “an order of Catholic chivalry”, and Cocteau had taken care to make a public show of his re-conversion to Catholicism. The Priory had also recently announced its intention to create, through covert manipulation, a United States of Europe, much like what the European Union is becoming, and what the Holy Roman Empire, which the Merovingian bloodline presided over, used to be. Such a feat would be as impossible today as it was back then without an alliance with the Catholic Church, which still holds the allegiance of much of Europe’s citizens.

Yes, it would take an alliance, or a coup. Evidence indicates that such a coup was attempted with the placement of John XXIII on the papal throne — a coup for which that other John 23, Jean Cocteau, was at the helm. Chillingly, John XXIII died in the same year as Jean 23 — 1963 — a mere five years into his papal reign, indicating that the attempted coup was snuffed out by the Vatican before it accomplished its ultimate goal: a reform from the inside of the corrupt Church of Christ, by those who possessed his true teachings, and his blood. But they certainly tried. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail state that:

“…more than any other man, Pope John XXIII was responsible for reorienting the Roman Catholic Church — and bringing it, as commentators have frequently said, into the twentieth century… And in June 1960, he issued a profoundly apostolic letter. This missive addressed itself specifically to the subject of “the Precious Blood of Jesus.” It ascribed a hitherto unprecedented significance to that blood.”

This would be the blood whose bearers, in the form of the Grail family, the Priory of Sion was sworn to protect.

It is interesting that both John 23s were thought of as prophets. Pope John XXIII’s papacy had been predicted by the prophecies of Malachi, and there were a set of prophecies supposedly written by John XXIII himself as well. Cocteau had also been named “the Prophet” by the sculptor Arno Breker, for reasons that remain unexplained. But there is a clue in the first syllable of Cocteau’s name, a symbolism which Cocteau himself emphasized in his work. He called himself “le Coq” (“the Cock”), and published a folded broadside of the same name with Raymond Radiguet in 1920. According to William Emboden, “Cocteau liked the concept of a bird alter ego. … It is a symbol of the soul’s flight.” Cocteau referred to changes in his artistic style as “moltings”, and his young disciples were referred to by others as “geese.” The poet Apollinaire characterized Cocteau in writing as, “The bird that sings with its fingers”, a line that was later used in Cocteau’s film Orpheus. But it was the cock specifically, Emboden writes, in which Cocteau saw himself, “as a bird that calls the morning hour, and calls his name in part.” A cock is an announcer of things, just like a prophet,(3) and thus he used the crowing of the cocks in his films Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus. He also used the cock in the Chapel of Saint Peter, where it watches the denial of Saint Peter from atop of a ladder.

Frontispiece from Jean the Birdman

Jean the Birdman No. 4

Jean the Birdman No. 5

Jean the Birdman No. 6

Jean the Birdman No. 7

Jean the Birdman No. 33

Recall that it was Peter who was said to have denied Christ thrice, by the third crow of the cock, on the morning of the crucifixion. There is a further symbolic significance here. Saint Peter is regarded by the Catholic Church as the first Pope, and yet he denied the true Christ, as the Church still does today. They consider Peter, who was consumed with jealousy for Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus, and who mischaracterized them both in his teachings, as their rock of foundation. Indeed, Peter’s name means “rock”, and it is also very close to “Pater” — “Father”, the title assumed by all Catholic priests upon ordination. In another mural at the Chapel of Saint Peter, entitled Saint Peter Walking on Water, Christ is shown standing with his right foot upon a white rock, presumably the “Rock of Sion” upon which he said his messiahship was founded, i.e., the bloodline of King David. And yet Christ also called Peter “my rock.” On the left side of the picture is Saint Peter supposedly “walking on water”, with the help of heavenly angels. But examination shows that he is not walking on the water so much as being held aloft by the angels while his feet are dipped into the water. The rites of baptism as practiced by the likes of John the Baptist involved the immersion of the feet in water — not the entire body, as is practiced today. This mural, completed in 1957, one year before John XXIII’s assumption to the throne of Saint Peter, may have been Cocteau’s way of prophetically announcing a reconciliation between the Rock of Sion (the Priory of Sion) and the Rock of Saint Peter (the Catholic Church), pronouncing that the Church, symbolized by Saint Peter, was about to be re-baptized.

The Divine Light of Lucifer

There is yet another possible layer of meaning behind the emphasis on the words “John 23.” The Revelation of Saint John the Divine has only twenty-two chapters, and ends with the dire warning that, “…if any man shall add or remove an iota of the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” A similar line occurs in the poem Le Serpent Rouge, which was one of the original “Priory of Sion documents” and which may have been written secretly by Jean Cocteau. The line reads, “Take heed, dear Friend. Do not add or remove one iota; think and think again. The base lead of my writing contains the purest gold.” Andre Douzet, in his recent book Berenger Sauniere and the Secret Model of Rennes-le-Chateau, speculates that the former priest of Rennes-le-Chateau, Berenger Sauniere, may have been in possession of a twenty-third chapter of Revelation, which he received through his contacts with the Priory of Sion. This same book alleges that Sauniere’s last words were “Jean 23.” He could have been referencing this supposed hidden Bible verse, or he could have been prophesizing the coming of the future Pope John XXIII. Then again, seeing that his death occurred in 1917, and Cocteau’s assumption of the Priory’s grand mastership took place in 1918, it is possible that he was referring to the future leader of the secret order that he belonged to. It is quite possible that he and Cocteau knew each other through the Priory, since Cocteau was undoubtedly an influential member of the order for some time prior to taking over its helm. Is it possible that Sauniere could have passed along to Cocteau the knowledge of this hidden Bible verse, and that this explains the significance placed on the words “Jean 23″ during Cocteau’s reign?

It is true that the “red serpent” in the Le Serpent Rouge poem could be seen to parallel in certain ways the red dragon of Revelation, among many other things. And Cocteau painted something called “the Candlesticks of the Apocalypse” inside the front door of the Chapel of Saint Peter. Also, the word “Rosemary” encoded in the Notre Dame mural could just as easily apply to the mother of the Antichrist as it could to Mary Magdalene. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Priory of Sion have been accused by certain conspiracy theorists of playing a leading role in what they see as an impending Apocalypse, and they believe that the Merovingians are not the spawn of Christ, but of Lucifer. But the Merovingians may in fact consider themselves to be the descendants of both Christ and Lucifer.

Candlesticks of the Apocalypse

This is an idea that is perhaps illustrated in Cocteau’s painting, The Temptation on the Mountain, portraying Christ’s temptation by Lucifer. Here, Lucifer appears to be blessing Christ, as a halo of light issues from the place where his hand touches Christ’s head. The veins in his arms are emphasized, and appear to be filled with blue blood that is flowing towards Christ. Unlike the biblical description, they are shown seated at a table, taking wine together, like a couple of old friends — or relatives — and Christ appears to have been served some type of (perhaps forbidden?) fruit.

Temptation on the Mountain

Given this, it would be valuable to quote a letter from one of Cocteau’s friends, Jean Bourgoint (a monk also know as “Brother Pascal”) to another of Cocteau’s friends, Madame Jeannette Kandaouroff, apparently in response to a letter she had written him after Cocteau’s death in 1963. He wrote:

“… I want to correct your mistake concerning Cocteau’s death, which — quite the opposite of what you think, touched me profoundly… One thing I should like to clear up at once is the word Satan, which you think you remember and which I do not remember having used concerning him. Isn’t there confusion here? Didn’t I speak of Lucifer, bright name of the “˜most beautiful of the Angels’ before his fall? (In fact. don’t you have a magnificent photograph of him, part of my “˜estate’ signed by him with that name?)”

Perhaps this identification with Lucifer is the source of what William Emboden calls, “Cocteau’s preoccupation with angels, and the belief that all persons are angels in borrowed costume.” An angel in the form of a human would be, necessarily, a fallen angel. Cocteau also repeatedly drew a figure called the “angel of flaming cheek”, which could easily be identified with Lucifer. And of course, we should consider Cocteau’s signature, with which he always included that perpetual symbol of Lucifer, the pentagram, complete with a little dot in the middle. Cocteau’s explanation of his use of this star was that it represented a head wound that Apollinaire had received during the World War II. This may be a lie, but it represents an interesting metaphor: that of the divine ray of Lucifer entering into the brain of one who has just become enlightened.

Henry Lincoln has pointed out that there is a geometrically implied pentagram in the mural at Notre Dame de France which radiates from the center of Cocteau’s forehead. If we were to draw in the dot that Cocteau always placed in the middle of his signature pentagram, it would land right in the location of Cocteau’s third eye, or pineal body, the place where divine revelation first enters the mind. A similar geometric pentagram radiates from the forehead of the shepherdess in Nicolas Poussin’s The Shepherds of Arcadia. In Cocteau’s Frontpiece for Dessins, there is an arrow pointing towards the same spot on the forehead of a figure that looks somewhat like Cocteau himself. And in his Head of Orpheus, there are lines pointing to the same spot on the forehead of one of the busts.

Frontpiece for Dessins

Head of Orpheus

Blood leaks from a pentagram-shaped wound in Blood of a Poet

A Young and Radiant David

Another figure from the Bible with which Cocteau identified himself was King David. In 1911, Cocteau began work on a ballet called David, which he enlisted Stravinsky to work on with him, but which was never produced. The costume designs he drew for David show the Judaic king wearing a Templar cross. Cocteau’s letters to Stravinsky from the year 1914 are very telling, revealing a very Hermetic perspective on the king’s life. In one, postmarked February 21, he wrote:

I”A woman theosophist has described to me one of David’s dances according to the Magi — it is terrific. He danced around the Sacred Ark: The Dance of the Planets!!!! Can you imagine the music!!!!! — what a noble thing we can make of it — strong and rugged like those times when Jehovah was the ogre, when the church sacrificed two thousand sheep in order to please the good shepherd.”

Costume design for David

Then later, on February 28, Cocteau wrote: “I am seeing a lot of the theosophical Magi and old Fabre, who know everything about David.” These Theosophical Magi may very well have been from the Priory of Sion.

But it was not only Cocteau who saw himself as David. Others did too. In 1918, Andre Germain published a “heroic farce” in his magazine Ecrits Nouveaux, which was entitled Cocteau Bourgeticide on Apollinaire Sauve. In it Cocteau personifies the young David who, on the orders of his “beloved leader”, Apollinaire, beheads the “Goliath” of Cubism in the form of the artist Paul Bourget. The quote below shows how this was also equated with the story of Saint George beheading the Dragon:

“GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE: One more symbolic gesture is required! Who will place his foot on the head of the prostrate dragon?

UNANIMOUS VOICES: You, you beloved leader!

APOLLINAIRE: No — it shall be the youngest and the most innocent, the babe still at the breast, the suckling of the future, Jean Cocteau!”

Then, after Cocteau beheads Bourget, Apollinaire declares: “Astride the modern Goliath, dear child, you look like a young and radiant DAVID!”

Cocteau the Magus

There is little doubt that Jean Cocteau was heavily steeped in the occult. Author Frederick Brown described him as being “part of a smart set which called itself necromantic. It made an issue of sentiment and occultism.” The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail specifically attribute his interest in these subjects to his friendship with Jean and Valentine Hugo, “with whom he embarked on assorted excursions into spiritualism and the occult. He quickly became versed in esoterica, and Hermetic thinking shaped not only much of his work, but also his entire aesthetic.” Some of these “excursions” took the form of seances, in which Cocteau’s friends Georges Auric and Raymond Radiguet also participated. One of these seances predicted Radiguet’s early death at the age of 20, thereafter making Cocteau an absolute believer in the power of divination, and in the existence of life after death.

Cocteau publicly showed an appreciation for the occult science of astrology, which would have been necessary for him to have been the author of the astrological prose poem Le Serpent Rouge. This interest of his is evidenced by his painting The Age of Aquarius, as well as his five-part series of paintings entitled The Astrologer. The first in this series shows Cocteau himself making strange, occult-looking hand signals with two right hands: one white and one black. In the fourth painting, the Astrologer is shown taking a white, astral-looking cord out of the fiery chakra of his heart and holding it against his forehead. In the third painting, the Astrologer is shown reaching up to touch a planet hanging in the sky, and in the fifth, subtitled Anti-gravity, rocket ships shoot up towards the heavens. This reminds me of Cocteau’s emphasis on the concept of the unity of Poetry and Science, which he associated with the myth of Pegasus.

From the Astrologer

Mobius strip from The Astrologer

Another from The Astrologer

Fire in the heart, from The Astrologer

Poetry and Science

The Birth of Pegasus

Much of the occult symbolism employed by Cocteau in his work specifically resembles that employed by the Priory of Sion. The “Horse of God” and “Divine Horsemen” mentioned in their literature (in the Rennes-le-Chateau parchments and in Le Serpent Rouge) show up as the “man-horses” in Cocteau’s film Testament of Orpheus, and as the magical white horse named “Magnificent” in his film Beauty and the Beast. Like Parzival’s horse in the Grail legend, Magnificent will take you directly to the elusive Grail castle (represented in the film as the Beast’s mansion) if you ride it with slack reigns. The Black Sun, which was an important symbol to the alchemists, the Nazis, and, I suspect, the Priory of Sion, shows up in one of Cocteau’s drawings of Orpheus and Eurydice, and in the mural at Notre Dame. The Black Sun is further indicated in this mural by the halo around one of the angels, which contains thirteen red lightening bolts, and resembles the glyph that the Nazis used to signify the Black Sun.

The castle of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast

Another Orpheus and Eurydice, featuring the Black Sun of the Underworld

Cocteau emphasized the alchemical symbolism of the Sun in general as being a representation of the Philosopher’s Stone and thus, the Grail. He repeatedly depicted people gazing up at it in a sort of religious ecstasy: for instance, in Classical Figures in a Landscape, Faun, Homage to the Women of Villefranche, and the Notre Dame mural. Another, more specifically Masonic solar symbol, the All-Seeing Eye, is used by Cocteau numerous times: in Box of Three Faces, Stele, The Moon, 50 Years of French Film, the amphitheater at Cap d’Ail (where it is coupled with the symbol of the serpent), the curtain for the play Oedipus Rex, and in the Chapel of Saint Peter, where it looks directly at the altar. Cocteau even called this latter depiction “the All-Seeing Eye” himself. Most strikingly, however, it is depicted in a glass sculpture called Hand-Eye, in which a hand is holding up an eye while making a signal which means “love” in international sign language, but also resembles the Satanic hand signal for the Goat of Mendes. (As in The Temptation on the Mountain, the veins in the arm are clearly visible.)

Poster for 50 Years of French Film

Classical Figures in a Landscape

Curtain for Oedipus Rex

Stele

Hand-Eye

Goats, fauns, bulls, and other horned figures are also common Cocteau motifs. These horned figures can be found in such Cocteau works as Goat-necked, Faun, Small Faun, Jean Marais as a Faun, Flutist, and The Great God Pan. In the drawing for The Lady and the Unicorn, the unicorn is depicted as a goat, not a horse, in accord with the most ancient traditions of the unicorn. This is an important metaphor. For one thing, we know that the goat is a symbol of Satan, or Lucifer, and the bull would seem to be a variation of that. The bull was also a particular obsession of Cocteau’s friend, Picasso.

The Lady and the Unicorn

Jean Marais as a Faun

The Great God Pan

Faun

Flutist

Goat-Necked

The Quinotaur and the Rape of Europa

One of the strangest legends of the Phoenicians involves the disappearance of Europa, the daughter of Canaan (4), whose own father was Poseidon. She was said to have been kidnapped and raped by a creature called a “sea bull” that magically appeared out of the ocean. The sea bull was actually the Greek god Zeus in disguise, who, after capturing Europa, transformed back into his regular form and then proceeded to impregnate the girl. Herodotus wrote that Europa was a historical person, and the namesake of Europe. The story connects with that of the Quinotaur, who sired the Merovingian King Meroveus, and spawned the Merovingian bloodline

The Quinotaur seems to be represented quite explicitly in Cocteau’s frequent depiction of the lyre of Orpheus, which he always showed as having five strings, and very distinct bull horns. Of course, “quin” means “five” in Latin, and thus, the lyre is the Quinotaur, or the sea bull. In Blood of a Poet, this lyre is shown standing next to a globe of the Earth, perhaps showing the Quinotaur, as a representation of the Grail bloodline, holding dominion over the Earth. Another scene in the film seems to depict the myth of Europa. It features a bull with four pieces of cow dung stuck to its side (said in the script by Cocteau to be Europe split into four pieces) being led by a woman named “Europe.” Perhaps one of the statements being made here is that a divided Europe, as opposed to the “United States of Europe” that the Priory of Sion wishes to create, is nothing but dung.

Europa and the Bull in Blood of a Poet

Bull-horned lyre in Blood of a Poet

The Language of Waves

Other depictions of sea creatures in Cocteau’s work also echo this Quinotaur theme of being half-human and half-fish. Mermaids and mermen show up in Ulysses and the Sirens, Saint Peter Walking on Water, and a glass sculpture called Siren, in which a mermaid is shown next to a bunch of grapes, a symbol of the Grail bloodline. In his drawing The Fisherman, a man with a pitchfork is shown riding the sea-monster Leviathan. Also, the figure that Cocteau probably used most in his work, and with whom he identified himself the most, was Orpheus, a seaman, whose name is quite similar to the Latin “Orphus”, meaning “sea-fish.”

Fish, fishermen, water, and sea symbolism form some of the most pervasive emblems used in Cocteau’s work. These themes can be found in Madame Favini and Her Daughter, The Ancient Baths, Ulysses and the Sirens, Pheadra and Oenone, The Fishermen, Lovers, Siren, and of course, all over the Chapel of Saint Peter, which is dedicated to the fishermen of Villefranche. It even includes a mural called Homage to the Two Saint-Maries of the Sea, these two being Martha and Mary Magdalene, who are said by the French to have come to France by boat after the crucifixion of Christ. The themes are also emphasized in his films The Eternal Return (based on Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan and Isolde), and Testament of Orpheus, in which Cegestius, Cocteau’s fictional character from his previous film, Orpheus, comes to life from out of the sea. In this scene, Cocteau, who appears in the film himself, states: “I have enough sea in my veins to understand the language of waves.”

Madame Favini and Her Daughter

Ulysses and the Sirens

Siren

The Fisherman

Phaedra and Oenone

The Ancient Baths

St Peter Walking on Water from the Chapel of St. Peter

Homage to the Women of Villefranche-sur-Mer, from the Chapel of St. Peter

Besides the Chapel of Saint Peter, Cocteau decorated a number of properties to make them look like ancient pagan temples to the gods of the sea. In 1959, he remodeled a natural amphitheater at Cap D’Ail near Villefranche, on the grounds of an art school called Centre Mediterranee, located on a cliff overlooking the sea. In a letter he wrote to a friend he boasted, “The site is more beautiful than any in Greece.” He used actual stones from the Mediterranean to create there a huge mosaic of a horned ram. At the villa of Santo Sospir, which he decorated at the request of his friend Francine Weisweiller, he, according to William Emboden, “proposed painting images with characters from ancient myths represented as their friends. Francine would become Diana, Edouard would be Narcissus, and so forth … The villa was thus transformed into a mythological palace on the sea. Cocteau believed that it rivaled Knossos.” Emboden says that Cocteau felt similarly about his mural in the Marriage Hall in the Hotel de Ville in Menton:

For the decorations he envisioned the ‘superb decadence of Knossos …’ It was a Cretan palace in the modern sense … On the left wall … the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is represented … Cocteau viewed this Orpheus as the brother of the young prince of Knossos …

Amphitheater at Cape dAil

Serpent on the steps outside Cap dAil

Indoor murals at Cape dAil

Decorated door at Cape dAil

Jean Cocteau also liked to combine the symbol of the fish with the symbol of the All-Seeing Eye. We see this in the murals at Saint-Sospir, Notre Dame de France, the Chapel of Saint Peter, the Chapel of Saint Blaise, and the Marriage Hall at the Hotel de Ville, as well as his drawing of The Fisherman, and a piece of jewelry he made called The Eye. Cocteau often used in his art shapes that look like Runic or Egyptian letters, especially the letter “M” in these alphabets, which also resembles the alchemical sign for water. In the Runic alphabet, this is, amazingly, the twenty-third letter — quite apt for use by John 23. But even more amazingly, the name of this rune is “Dagaz”, which not only contains the first syllable of “Dagobert”, but also means, in many ancient languages, “fish.”

The Dag Rune

Mural at Santo Sospir

The Eye

But in many other ancient languages, the syllable “Dag” means “day”, which is what “Dagaz” means as well — or, more precisely, the equilibrium between night and day. As Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic by Edred Thorsson explains, Dagaz is “the synthesis of the powers of day and night through the concepts of dawn and twilight. This is expressed by the heavenly phenomenon of the morning and evening stars — as symbols of the divine twins.” This, then, is the perfect symbol for Cocteau, who called himself “le Coq” — “the opener of the day.” The Dagaz rune shows up in his tapestry of Judith and Holophernes, his drawing of Her Majesty Queen Cleopatra, his Portrait of Raymond Radiguet, all over the Chapel of Saint Peter, and probably in many other places. In one of the murals at Santo Sospir, he depicts himself as the Sun with blue horns, stalks of wheat for eyebrows, and the water/”M” symbol inscribed on his chin, coming up out of the ocean. Also, another symbol that means “Dag”, a Sumerian hieroglyph, can be seen on Box of Three Faces, an obscure ancient emblem for a man with no formal education like himself. Cocteau has been quoted as saying, “I express myself with hieroglyphics”, and this statement was literally true.

Tapestry for Judith and Holophernes

Her Majesty Queen Cleopatra

Portrait of Raymond Radiguet

Box of the Three Faces

But Cocteau did not merely overemphasize the symbolism of water without also employing the symbol of its alchemical opposite: fire. The union of fire and water in alchemy produces the Elixir of Life. Thus, the fiery emblem of the Sun in always central in Cocteau’s sea-themed works. The sea reflects the solar disc just as the Earth reflects Heaven, and man’s intellect reflects the spirit of God. As discussed earlier, in Testament of Orpheus, Cegestius — a character who was killed in Cocteau’s earlier film, Orpheus — is resurrected and made into a real living being by taking, “that road which passed through fire and water.” A photograph of him rises Phoenix-like from the ashes of a fire, and then is torn to pieces and tossed by Cocteau into the Mediterranean. “At once, a monstrous flower of foam is churned up”, the script reads, “from which Cegestius issues like a stamen, flies up and lands gently on the shore…” Cocteau also displayed his interest in alchemy with his 1960 drawing of Apollo/Mercury, the God who is purported to have first taught the art of alchemy to man.

Apollo-Mercury

This fire and water union is also represented in the symbol of the Hermaphrodite, a creature both male and female, usually depicted with two faces. Hermaphroditic, and/or two-faced beings are depicted in Cocteau’s The Split/Each Time; The Twins, or Castor and Pollux; Three Eyes; Study for Lunar Tapestry; The Moon; Trinity; Bifronte; The Ancient Baths; Cocteau’s Final Slateboard; and Box of Three Faces. Furthermore, in Blood of a Poet, there is an entire scene which depicts “the desperate meeting of the Hermaphrodite”, which “took place in Room 19.” A bisexual figure undresses layer by layer to reveal a sign that says “Danger of Death” — the death that leads to eternal life through alchemy. This hermaphroditic concept is illustrated in Testament of Orpheus as well, in which Cegestius is tortured by two opposing natures trapped within his single body. The goal of his character in this film is to make these two opposing natures one again. Then there is Cocteau’s Self-Portrait as Nefertiti in Plaster, where he depicts himself as the sister/wife of the Pharaoh Ankenaten, a purported alchemist, whom some contemporaries suspected of having achieved hermaphroditism through the practice of alchemy. This brother-sister incest idea is a further symbol of hermaphroditic union, and Cocteau used it in his film, Les Enfants Terribles, about an incestuous brother and sister.

Scene from Les Enfants Terribles

Danger de Mort from Blood of a Poet

Castor and Pollux

Study for Lunar Tapestry

The Moon

Three Eyes

Trinity

The Split-Each Time

Cocteau's Final Slateboard

The Scion of Sion

Cocteau’s films repeatedly play on the theme of a lead male character being either killed or led to his death by a destructive goddess. This appears in Blood of a Poet, with the statue-goddess who is responsible twice in the film for a man’s suicide; in Orpheus, where the title character falls in love with a “Princess” named “Death”, who kills Cegestius; and in Beauty and the Beast, where a statue of the goddess Diana comes to life in her sacred grove and slays two men with arrows. But nowhere is this theme used so autobiographically by Cocteau as in Testament of Orpheus, where his mission as the main character is to deliver a hibiscus flower — which he raised from the dead and which he specifically states is a representation of his blood — to the goddess Minerva, or Pallas Athena, played by Brigitte Bardot.(5) She hurls a spear through his heart and kills him, but he is almost immediately resurrected. In the film, Cocteau was brought to the goddess by Cegestius, who is referred to in this film as Cocteau’s “true and adoptive son.”

Brigitte Bardot as Athena in Testament ofOrpheus

My interpretation of this scene is very specific: Cocteau is showing us how he attempted to resurrect himself prior to his death by uniting with a goddess (i.e., a “Princess”) sexually, and breeding an heir. The flower he presents her with represents his seed and his bloodline, which must have been very significant given his determination to pass it on. At the end of Testament of Orpheus, Cocteau states that, “My star is the hibiscus flower.” Since I have established that the hibiscus flower represents his blood, and his star is the pentagram, the sign of Lucifer, this must mean that his blood is associated with Lucifer, and that he is of the royal line of the Holy Grail — a line which he wished to pass on to future generations

The hibiscus flower from Testament of Orpheus

A lot of people probably cannot imagine Jean Cocteau getting married and having children. After all, he was a strict homosexual who preferred his gentlemen young, according to most biographers — not at all the type to want to raise a family. Well, there are a couple of complications with that hypothesis. The first is that it specifically stated in the Articles of the Priory of Sion, which Cocteau himself wrote and signed, that:

“Members are admitted to their office for life… Their titles revert by right to one of their children chosen by themselves without consideration of sex … By virtue of the hereditary rights confirmed by the preceding articles, the duties and titles of the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion shall be transmitted to his successor according to the same prerogatives. In case of a vacancy in the office of Grand Master, and in the absence of a direct successor, the convent must precede to an election within 81 days.”

So in order to maintain any amount of control over who would succeed him as Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, Cocteau would have had to have sired children. But there is an emotional factor as well. Many people do not realize that Cocteau had in fact always wanted a son, which is why he repeatedly “adopted” young men, like Raymond Radiguet, as his spiritual sons, and acted as their mentors. However, in the decade of the 1930s, Cocteau actually made an attempt to breed not only a son, but a royal heir. The scene is described in Francis Steegmuller’s biography, Cocteau:

“To a private showing of Blood of a Poet Serge Lifer brought a beautiful young woman with whom Cocteau seems almost instantly, amid clouds of opium, to have decided to “˜fall in love’ and beget a son… The beauty was a Princess by birth, worldly and elegant, married to a gifted husband much in view; she was a cafe society favorite, cinema-struck, later to have a brief film career of her own.”

Cocteau and “the Princess” (whom Steegmuller strangely refuses to name) seem to have had a brief affair which included at least an attempt at sexual intercourse. However, as the Princess herself describes it, “He wanted a son, but he was only as potent with me as one can be who is completely homosexual and full of opium.” Before the relationship could progress any further, the Princess’ husband found out about her infidelity and divorced her. She reportedly broke off the Cocteau affair shortly afterward.

But Cocteau’s account of the matter is quite different. He claims that he actually did impregnate her, and that he wanted to marry her and raise the child. Instead, she ran off to Switzerland to have an abortion. Cocteau’s later reflections about this unfortunate incident reveal just how regal the Princess’ family was. Frustratingly, Steegmuller prefers to misquote Cocteau rather than reveal what the young lady’s family name actually was: “‘I almost made a little Hapsburg,’ he was in the habit of lamenting — using, instead of ‘Hapsburg,’ the name of the lady’s equally illustrious family.”

Cocteau with favorite actor Jean Marais on nude beach, 1939

The question arises, however: What European royal family at that time was equally as illustrious as the Hapsburgs? It could only have been an offshoot of the Habsburgs, like the Lorraine family, for instance. There were no other candidates. And the Hapsburgs were, as many readers know, direct descendants of the Merovingians. Furthermore, Cocteau seems to have shown an interest in the Hapsburg family in particular. He decorated stained-glass windows for the Chapel of Notre Dame de Jerusalem in Frejus, France, with a double-headed eagle, the symbol of the Hapsburgs, wearing the Cross of Jerusalem. The Hapsburgs are, of course, the hereditary kings of Jerusalem.(6) Cocteau even produced a play, and later a film, entitled The Eagle with Two Heads, about a Hapsburg Princess who is seduced by an anarchist. Playing a bit role in the film version was the young man who would later become Cocteau’s “true and adopted son”, as well as his legal heir: Edouard Dermit. As William Emboden describes it:

“This young man had been working in coal mines in Lorraine, but, having a desire to paint, he had moved to Paris. Through a bookstore clerk in Saint Germain-des Pres he was introduced to Cocteau shortly before shooting began. Cocteau was enchanted. Engaged as a chauffeur, Dermit joined the Marais-Cocteau household at Milly-la-Forat near Fontainebleu, where Cocteau had recently bought a lovely country estate. He became and remained Cocteau’s closest friend…”

Templar knight at Frejus

The Double-Headed Eagle at Frejus

Dermit remained loyal to Cocteau throughout his life, and afterwards. He went on to marry and have two children himself, whom he raised at the apartment at Milly-la-Forat that Cocteau bequeathed to him. Until his own death in 1995, most of Dermit’s life was taken up, according to Steegmuller, “by consultation with advisors concerning the legal and literary complexities of his inheritance” — an inheritance that included the copyrights to all of Cocteau’s work, and, most probably, his seat in the Priory of Sion. Indeed, we do not know for certain who presided over the Priory from Cocteau’s death in 1963 to the ascendancy of Pierre Plantard to that post in 1981, although there have been a couple of suggestions. But it seems likely to me that Dermit would have been Cocteau’s first choice for a hereditary successor to that office, and was probably named as such, even if, for some reason, the succession did not in fact occur.

Cocteau with Edouard Dermit

Phoenixology

To Cocteau, having a son was a way of living on after his physical death, a feat he seems to have been determined to accomplish. Another way that Cocteau intended to live forever was in the form of his works, which is why he continually used the metaphor of fictional characters becoming real, or statues coming to life, as in Blood of a Poet and Beauty and the Beast. (7) These statues represented, on a certain level, his creations, into which Cocteau had put enough energy to give them a life of their own. His work, he believed, would withstand the test of time, and be seen by historians of the future as among the greatest accomplishments of all time. A quote from William Emboden proves this. He wrote: “Cocteau’s [first heart attack] took him to Francine Weisweiller’s Villa Santo Sospir, where he ruminated on his murals as being as fine as any created in antiquity. With age, he predicted, they would be thus judged. He felt his works were equal in importance to those in Knossos…” Another quote, from Cocteau himself, reflects this same mindset. He said, “I have always dreamed of becoming an archeologist, and as I have never followed through with this dream, I invented pottery that I would love to have found in the earth.”

Cocteau believed that he had already become a living legend, like the great men of the ancient world, who were immortalized as gods. Emboden wrote that, “Increasingly, Cocteau would see all life, including himself, as mythology…” Cocteau used ancient myth as the basis for most of his greatest works. He even used the Grail myth in his play, The Knights of the Round Table. A wonderful quote from him in the documentary Biography of an Unknown explains the importance he placed on myth:

“The Pharaohs incorporated into the foundations of their temples pieces from earlier temples, used the wrong way round. They sewed these seeds so that the temples might grow like plants. When a young Egyptologist explained this mysterious process of recycling to me, I realized, although somewhat belatedly, what I had done in La Machine Infernale. Essentially, I had followed the rhythm of the Egyptian temple builders without knowing it. The reinterpretation of myths is essential if they are to survive. They are handed down from one writer, one generation to another, like certain stories which are translated orally. In the process, they are constantly embellished, or they lose their meaning. In any case, they are altered by every narrator. The great myths are not very many in number. Racine, Goethe, and Shakespeare knew very well why their use is so effective. Myth is like a key that opens even the most unsympathetic soul to writing.. I have always preferred myth to history, because history consists of truths which in the end turn into lies, while myth consists of lies which finally turn into truths. If I am fortunate enough to live on in memory, then it will be in the form of mythology.”

A zombie Cocteau and a sphinx from Testament of Orpheus

Greek Mythology

However, Cocteau also appeared to believe that death could be transcended quite literally. He called himself an expert in “Phoenixology” (a term borrowed from Salvador Dali), which he defined as, “the science that allows one to die many times, only to be reborn.” Death and resurrection were constant themes in his work, including Blood of a Poet, Beauty and the Beast, Orpheus, and Testament of Orpheus. Cocteau implied many times that he himself had died before, and that he was in fact the living dead. He said of the making of his murals in the Chapel of Saint Peter that, “For two years, I locked myself inside like a Pharaoh painting his own sarcophagus. I was already dead.” This thought was expressed in Testament of Orpheus, in which he spends most of the film as a walking corpse in the afterlife, reviewing the events of his previous existence, and the works of his own creation — in other words, the forms of his own unconscious. Cocteau believed that the afterlife and the unconscious were one and the same, and were located in an “underworld” that could be accessed through mirrors. This is how Beauty got to the Beast’s magic castle in Beauty and the Beast, how Orpheus got to the underworld in Orpheus, and how the Poet got to the Hotel de Folies-Dramatiques in Blood of a Poet. Cocteau stressed the mirror concept in his artwork too, by using mirror images, or backwards “mirror-writing”, as in The Mystery of Jean the Birdman No. 33, and even reversed speech, as used by the character Cegestius in Testament of Orpheus. The implication is that the afterlife of the underworld is in another dimension that is a mirror reflection of our own, located in the watery depths of our own unconscious. But Cocteau also warned of the dangers of swimming too much in these waters. In Blood of a Poet, the living statue says, “Mirrors should reflect a bit more before sending back images.” And in Testament of Orpheus, Cegestius opines that, “Mirrors reflect too much. They reverse images pretentiously and think they are profound.”

Numerous times Cocteau implied that it was possible to travel through such portals (represented by mirrors) to transcend time and space — to exist eternally in a state that is neither life nor death. In the tribunal scene in Testament of Orpheus, he tells the panel of judges who are judging his life that: “I have often wanted to jump over the fourth mysterious wall that men write their loves and dreams upon”, referring to time, the fourth dimension. In this film, Cocteau dies and enters the underworld after he has opened up a “glory hole” in space-time, and gotten lost in the various centuries of history. This was accomplished by firing a gun filled with bullets made of “chronons” — particles of time. Cocteau visits the science professor who invented the bullets at the end of his life, snatches the bullets away from him, and then travels back in time to deliver them to the professor as a younger man — before he had invented them, giving him the breakthrough he needed in order to be able to invent them in the future.

Mirror travel in Blood of a Poet

Mirror travel scene from Orpheus


Orpheus and Eurydice shown doing mirror travel

Cocteau clearly looked forward to the afterlife, and embraced the idea of flitting about freely in time and space, meddling in the affairs of men as an eternal — and timeless — ghost. Given his interest in talking to the dead while he was alive, in the form of the well-documented seances, I can easily imagine him, as a departed spirit, whispering valuable pearls of wisdom into the ears of the future chosen few. After all, Cocteau’s self-chosen epitaph in the Chapel of Saint Blaise reads: “I remain with you.” And in one of the final scenes of Testament of Orpheus, he tells us: “Pretend to weep, my friends, as poets only pretend to die.”

Death scene from Testament of Orpheus

Endnotes:

(1) Cocteau’s full name was Clement-Eugene-Jean-Maurice Cocteau, but he enjoyed using “Jean Cocteau” because it could be initialized as “J.C.”, the same initials as “Jesus Christ.”

(2) Another, similar-looking and oddly-placed “M.” can be found on Cocteau’s glass sculpture entitled Stele, and numerous “Ms” have been found in his mural at the Chapel of Saint Peter.

(3) In this sense, then, “Jean the Birdman” could be code for “John the Prophet.” In other words, Cocteau was again identifying himself with Saint John the Baptist, and all that he represents.

(4) Canaan was the historical figure after whom the Phoenician city-state was named.

(5) Bardot, whose middle name is “Anne-Marie,” was once personified as the national goddess of France, Marianne, in a series of sculpted busts of the goddess that were made in her likeness, and which were put on display in public buildings throughout France for a number of years. Jean Cocteau was also known to have made a few pen-drawn representations of the goddess, one of which was made into a national postage stamp.

(6) On the opposite side, also wearing the same cross, are two Templar knights.

(7) This is based upon the story of Galatea, a Greek mythological figure (after whom the Gaulish race may have been named) who began as a statue brought to life by Venus. She did this because she felt sorry for the sculptor, who was in love with his own creation. This exact same scenario takes place in Blood of a Poet.

Blood of a Poet

Orpheus

Beauty and the Beast

(Click on the video to watch the rest on YouTube)

La Villa Santo Sospir

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8 X 8: A Chess Sonata

(Hans Richter film featuring Jean Cocteau.)

Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown

(Click on the video to watch the rest on YouTube.)