Books by the 20th-century occultist Pierre de Lasenic remain in print but the man is an enigma
When people think of the occult in Prague, the time of Rudolf II comes to mind. But there were notable practitioners in the 20th century as well. One of the more famous names is Pierre de Lasenic – the nom de plume of Petr Pavel Kohout.
Kohout was born in Brno on May 17, 1900, and died young in the Central Bohemian town of Káraný on June 23, 1944, due to long-term effects of an Egyptian sandstorm on his health. Many of the extended Kohout family had died of lung trouble.
Esoteric writing always seems more authoritative with an exotic name attached. Petr Pavel Kohout translates to Peter Paul Rooster, which lacked a certain “je ne sais quoi”.
Kohout claimed he took the name Pierre de Lasenic from a 15th-century esoteric figure who lived in the Bohemian town of Krchleby but originally came from Lásenice, another Czech village. Very little is known about the original figure. He sometimes styled his name in the Czech style Petr z Lásenice.
The modern Pierre de Lasenic did a lot of his early studies in France, paying particular attention to followers of the Martinist school of thought. He was also fascinated with the rites and mythology of Ancient Egypt.
In Prague he first studied business, but such a mundane field was not a good match for his temperament. And unlike many people interested in hermetic wisdom, he was more than just a passive scholar, but instead a person of action. He joined an aviation unit at the Kbely airbase in Prague, eventually becoming a sergeant. His travels took him to France, Algeria, Egypt, India and Madagascar, and he supposedly helped in the restoration of the Angkor Wat temple in what is now Cambodia.
Pilots in the 1920s were a new sort of adventurer, and pilot-philosophers and pilot-poets were très chic. Others include, for example, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who also was born in 1900 and died in 1944.
In his world travels, Lasenic picked up esoteric knowledge and brought it together in his own vision. Much of his view was based in hermetic Egyptian knowledge, but his love of Egypt was also his downfall, as damage to his lungs from a sandstorm weakened his health and led to his early death.
He was a prolific writer of esoteric books in the Czech language, but none of his works have been translated into English. That makes sense, as he was mostly synthesizing the knowledge for the local market, as other writers had already done in other languages. Aleister Crowley and Sir Richard Francis Burton, for example, had covered similar topics in English.
Lasenic’s best-known book, and the one that is easiest to find, is Sexual Magic (Sexuální magie), about ritual sex magic, one of his great interests. This also caused him difficulty as his research apparently led to the demise of his marriage to Jarmila Skrčená.
Other books include Alchemy, its Theory and Practice (Alchymie, její teorie a prakse); Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Their Philosophy (Egyptské hieroglyfy a jejich filosofie); Hermes Trismegistus and His Consecration (Hermes Trismegistos a jeho zasvěcení ); and Oriental Love: Synthesis of the Kamasutra and Kamashastra with the Meris Papyrus (Orientální láska: syntéza Kámasútry a Kámašástry s Merisovým papyrem).
Aside from his books, he worked as a freelance writer and editor, working on the Masaryk Encyclopedia (Masaryk encyclopedia) as well as a monthly psychic magazine called Medium, but the magazine was forced by wartime occupation authorities to stop publication in 1940.
He also designed his own deck of tarot cards, the Lasenikův tarot, one of only a few made in Czechoslovakia between the wars, and the deck has been reprinted several times. There were unique decks made to order by people such as opera star Ema Destinnová, but these were not printed and circulated.
The Lasenikův tarot deck was published in 1938 by his group Horev klub. Lasenic studied with Swiss occultist Oswald Wirth, who designed a similar deck. Lasenic’s deck was influenced by Wirth’s but has a number of changes.
The cards have woodcut-like illustrations by Vladislav Kužel, based on Lasenic’s interpretation of tarot meanings. The cards are striking for their blend of modern design and traditional symbolism.
Lasenic was associated with several esoteric groups, but is remembered for his membership in Universalia. That group was one of the largest in pre-World War II Czechoslovakia. All such groups were banned under the Nazi occupation during the war and then still banned under communism. Some modern groups now claim to be the inheritors of the Universalia tradition, but they are much smaller than between the wars.
Universalia opposed the Nazi occupation. In 1938, the members approached Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš with a plan to use dreams and meditation to attack Adolf Hitler’s spirit on the astral plane. Beneš declined the offer. The group went through with it in 1938, ’40 and ’41 anyway.
Aside from writing, Lasenic also collected esoteric books, and his bookplate says “Cherchez la vie chez Dieu” (Search for Life with God).
The first hints of his interest in esoteric thought is his membership in the group Volné sdružení pracovníků okultních (Free Association of Occult Workers), which he became a leader of in 1920 and ’21. He was a member of a Martinist lodge called Simeon in 1926 and ’27.
In the 1930s he established a Universalia branch in Paris. He began his own group called the Horev klub in Modřany’s Prague district in 1938.
He had several run-ins with the law. Writing about secret societies and sex rituals managed to put Lasenic on the list of usual suspects at police headquarters. He was called in for questioning several times in the 1933 murder case of Otýlie Vranská, a woman who would meet men for dinner and accept gifts, but was not actually a prostitute. This made her unpopular with both her clients, who felt cheated, and sex workers, who disliked the competition.
Her body was sent by her killer from Prague on trains to Slovakia in two suitcases. One wound up unclaimed in Bratislava and the other in Košice. The original suitcases are in the Police Museum in Prague. The murder was linked to the killings of several prostitutes at the time, though those were quite different, and none of the cases was ever solved.
Lasenic was questioned in at least one of the other murders as well. Aside from his writings on sex and the idea that the murders were ritualistic, there was no solid evidence to link him to any of these crimes. The police, it seems, were desperate to solve the case and started a bit of a witch hunt.
Lasenic changed addresses often, and at times shared flats with other men from the esoteric community. This sort of rootless lifestyle might also have caught the attention of the police.
His other legal problems include being accused of filing a false claim about a robbery when he lived in the town Chrast u Chrudimi, in order to claim insurance money. The items, including a typewriter, were found in a cesspit.
This incident seems to be related to the end of his unhappy marriage, as he seems to have tried to put suspicion on his wife and her family for the alleged theft. He made other accusations about financial matters against his wife’s family around the same time. These remain he-said / she-said incidents, and the truth is far from clear.
He was also accused of stealing valuable objects from one of the esoteric groups he was a member of. There is no evidence of any convictions.
He was buried in Olšany Cemeteries (Olšanské hřbitovy) in Prague on June 27, 1944, in a metal coffin in a family tomb. But that didn’t end his journey. In 1977, a group of his female admirers paid to move him to his own individual grave with a simple yet tasteful tombstone sporting an Egyptian ankh. It was just in time, too, as shortly thereafter the Kohout family heirs sold off the family tomb and the other occupants seem to have gone to a common grave.
Petr Pavel Kohout was born in 1900 in an old house in Brno that no longer exists. His father was Petr Kohout, born in 1867, who was a famous cyclist and the son of a factory owner in Prague’s Smíchov district, yet another Petr Kohout.
The esoteric author‘s mother was Anna Kohoutová, nee Helmichová, who was born in 1870. She was the daughter of a small farm and pub owner in Velká Chuchle, now part of Prague, named František Helmich. The parents were married in 1891 in Zbraslav, also now part of Prague.
The family did not live long in Brno, and by 1910 moved to a villa in Prague’s Prosek area with a garden and pond. The father became an executive in Kolben a spol., an industrial firm.
Little is known of his childhood, though he spent vacations near Zbiroh, a West Bohemian town with a castle where Alfons Mucha rented a studio to paint the Slav Epic from 1910 to 1928. Lasenic’s father died of tuberculosis in 1920 at the age of 53, and his mother died in September 1940.
Lasenic went to the Business Academy on Resslova Street in Prague, and apparently graduated. He then joined the Czechoslovak air service. He married Jarmila Skrčená, the daughter of a well-off merchant from Prague’s Uhelný trh area on Sept. 14, 1924. The couple moved to Chrast u Chrudimi to a villa, and he took over a bentwood furniture factory. The couple divorced in 1929, and Lasenic moved to Hotel Mařík in Smíchov.
After that, he seems to have lived a rather itinerant lifestyle, seldom having one address for very long. In November 1929, he moved to Vocelova Street in Prague‘s Vinohrady district and lived with Josef Adamíra, who had been involved with the esoteric movement since the turn of the century. Adamíra was particularly involved in Martinism.
In 1930, Lasenic went to Paris, where he established a branch of the esoteric group Universalia. He returned to Prague in 1933 and lived with Dr Jan Kefer on Malířská 7 in Bubeneč. Later that year he went to Algeria.
He returned home in 1937 and lived in Káraný u Prahy, though he also sometimes lived in a villa owned by the Horev Club, which he founded in 1938, in Modřany’s Prague district. That same year, he went to France and Algeria again.
While dates aren’t specified, his trips took him across North Africa including Egypt, as well as Madagascar, India and Indochina.
He died in Káraný, a town in Central Bohemia, on June 23, 1944, due to tuberculosis though some say it was due to lung injuries he sustained in a sandstorm in Egypt. Allegedly, he died after a bout of coughing up blood.