Jean-Baptiste Pitois

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Engraving of Jean-Baptist Pitois

Jean-Baptiste Pitois, also known as Jean-Baptiste or Paul Christian (1811–1877), was a French author, known for The History and Practice of Magic, first published in France in 1870.

Early life

Jean-Baptiste Pitois was born May 15, 1811, in Remiremont, France. His family wanted him to become a priest and allowed him to be raised in a monastic community. However, he eventually decided against the priesthood. As a young man, he moved to Paris, where he became the associate of Charles Nodier, one of the leading literary thinkers of the Romantic movement, which was then emerging on the continent. Nodier's interest in the occult transferred to Pitois.

Career as a writer

Pitois became a journalist and wrote largely under the pen name "Paul Christian." He co-wrote Historic Paris: Walks in the Streets of Paris (1837-1840), which was his first book, with Charles Nodier. It was followed by his Studies of the Paris Revolution (1839). That same year he was appointed librarian of the Ministry of Public Education.

Working with Nodier through the mass of uncatalogued material opened up a new level of interest in the occult, although it did not manifest for years. Meanwhile, he served in the French army in Algiers from 1843–44 and wrote several historical texts. His most important were History of the Terrors (1853) and the multi-volume Heroes of Christianity (1853–1857). A hint of his future work in esoteric studies appeared in 1844 with his Stories of the Marvelous from All Times and Lands.

History of Magic

Pitois had read about occultism and developed a strong anticlerical stance. During his life, many Eastern texts had been translated into French, as had the works of Emanuel Swedenborg. In 1859 Pitois turned his attention to writing Historie de la Magie, du monde Surnaturel et de la fatalité à travers les Temps et les Peuples (1870) (History of Magic, the Supernatural World and Fate, through Times and Peoples).

Carefully written so as not to offend his largely Catholic audience, it immediately became popular public reading. It surveyed the whole of the occult, explaining each element, and provided a history of occult practice in the West from ancient times. The book is especially notable for being the source of the terms Major Arcana and Minor Arcana to describe the sections of the Tarot.

The first American Edition published by Citadel Press in 1963 altered the title to The History and Practice of Magic. This edition was released as two volumes with revisions from the original text.


Pitois wrote one additional book, The History of the War with Prussia and of the Two Sieges of Paris, 1870-71 (1872–73). His health declined through the 1870s, and he died at Lyon on July 12, 1877. He left behind a still-unpublished work on astrology that reportedly contains numerous allusions to contemporary events as proof of the value of horoscopes.