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La Commissione 31.10.2020


The Hermetics I

Diego Antolini


Count Cagliostro was born as Giuseppe Balsamo perhaps on June 2, 1743 in Palermo, Italy, but his origins remain for the most part a mystery. Goethe, in his Italian Journey wrote that Cagliostro and Giuseppe Balsamo being one and the same was confirmed by a lawyer of Palermo who was requested to make an official research. He compiled a dossier and sent it to France. Goethe met the lawyer in 1787 and saw the content of the dossier. In it, is stated that Balsamo grand grand father had two daughters, Maria who married Giuseppe Bracconieri, and Vincenza who married Giuseppe Cagliostro. Maria and Giuseppe had three children: Matteo, Antonio and Felicita’. The latter married with Pietro Balsamo (the son of a Bookseller, Antonino Balsamo, who had declared bankruptcy before his death.) The child of Felicita’ and Pietro Balsamo was Giuseppe, named so in honor of his uncle, whose last name he later took as well. Felicita’ Balsamo was still alive when Goethe visited Italy, and he met both her and her daughter personally.

Cagliostro himself, during the process for the “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” said that he was born from Christians of noble origins but was abandoned as an orphan on the island of Malta (according to other sources, though, he was born in Alberghiera, the old Jewish ghetto of Palermo). He claimed to have traveled a lot when he was a child, to Medina, Mecca and Cairo, and to have been admitted, once he was back, to he Military Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta under which he studied Alchemy, Qabbalah and Magick. In spite of the precarious financial conditions of the family, the grandfather and his uncles imposed a solid education to Giuseppe, first through a guardian and then as a novice in the Catholic Order of St. John of God, from which he will later be expelled.
He lost his father at an early age and his mother, unable to take care of him alone, sent him to live with his uncle. But Cagliostro fled almost immediately; he was taken back and sent to a
monastery, from where he managed to escape again. He was eventually locked up in a Benedictine monastery where he discovered his talent for medicine and chemistry. Cagliostro was a good student, always trying to look beyond the basic information he received.

After several years spent in the monastery Cagliostro escaped to join a gang of vagrants who committed all sorts of crimes, from theft to murder. He was always captured from the police because of his involvement in the gang but thanks to his uncle, he was never arrested. When he was seventeen, along with the actions of the brigands, Cagliostro had developed a great interest for Alchemy. In 1794 goldsmith Vincenzo Marano arrived to Palermo and came into contact with Cagliostro, then on his twenties. Having known many alchemists who claimed of being capable of turning metals into gold, Marano declared that the young Cagliostro was indeed the only one able to do so.

Taking advantage of the trust that Marano gave him, Cagliostro asked seventy ounces of gold (an amount equals to more than 20.000 Euros today) to conduct magical ceremonies, with the promise of leading the goldsmith to a place outside the city, presumably on Mount Pellegrino, where a great treasure had been hidden several centuries earlier. The treasure was guarded by magical creatures and for that, the knowledge Cagliostro had of the occult was essential to protect both of them from evil spells.
Marano hesitated, but eventually gave the gold to Cagliostro and the same night at midnight he was taken to the fields outside Palermo.

Instead of the treasure Marano found some of the brigands (paid by Cagliostro) who attacked him and left him on the ground beaten and bleeding. He was however convinced of having suffered the attack of the Djiin that guarded the treasure. When, the next day, the goldsmith went to Balsamo’s house in Perciata street, he discovered that the young man had left Palermo. In fact Cagliostro had fled together with two accomplices and took refuge in Messina. From there, he began a series of journeys that took him to Malta (1765-66), where he became an auxiliary of the SMOM (Sovereign Military Order of Malta) and a skilled pharmacist.



At the beginning of 1768 Cagliostro was in Rome where he was appointed secretary of Cardinal Orsini, but he found that work boring, and soon he began to lead a double life: secretary and seller of magic amulets, painted reliefs and other sundries. In that period Cagliostro met with many Sicilian expatriates and ex-convicts, and one of them introduced him to Lorenza Seraphina Feliciani (1751-1794), a seventeen years old girl also known as Serafina, with whom he married that same year.

After the wedding the new couple moved, together with Serafina’s family, in the Vicolo delle Cripte adjacent to the Strada dei Pellegrini, but Cagliostro’s vulgar language and his insistence on encouraging Serafina to expose her body in public clashed with the Feliciani’s deep religious traditions. This eventually degenerated in a big quarrel, so that Cagliostro and Serafina decided to move out (however some sources suggest that the real reason was to flee from the Roman Inquisition that had begun to suspect Cagliostro of heresy.) After few years in Spain, the couple went back to Palermo, where Marano, recognizing Cagliostro, had him arrested. Cagliostro was saved by a noble man and then, after tricking an alchemist and robbed him of 100,000 crowns (equal today of about $1.5 million,) he and Serafina moved to another city.

In 1768 Count Cagliostro returned to Naples where he resumed contacts with one of the brigands who had attacked Marano in the fields outside Palermo. The two men decided to open a casino to rob wealthy customers, but the local authorities discovered their plan and ordered them to leave the city. In the meantime Cagliostro met Agliata, a forger and a cheater, who proposed him to teach him how to falsify letters, diplomas and many other documents; in return, however, Cagliostro had to allow him to have sexual encounters with Serafina. Cagliostro agreed.
He later took his wife to London where the famous meeting with the Count of Saint Germain allegedly took place. It seems that Saint Germain initiated Cagliostro to the rites of Egyptian Freemasonry, and revealed him the recipe for the Elixir of Youth and Immortality.
After their stay in London, Cagliostro and his wife traveled to Courland (Russia), Poland, Germany and France. Cagliostro’s fame grew so much that he was recommended to Benjamin Franklin as a trusted doctor during his stay in Paris.

On April 12, 1776 Cagliostro became a Freemason in the Esperance lodge No. 289, Gerrard Street, Soho District, London.
On December 1777 he and Serafina left London, and in 1779 they were in Mitau, Russia. Later they traveled to Strasbourg (September 1780) and Lyon (October 1784.)
On December 24, 1784 Cagliostro founded in Lyon
La Sagesse Triomphante Grand Lodge, based upon the rites of the Egyptian Freemasonry, and then opened other lodges of the same nature in Germany, Russia and France. On January, 1785 Cagliostro went to Paris in response to the invitation of Cardinal Rohan. King Louis XVI had been curious about Cagliostro since 1772 when he sold medicines and elixirs and held seances. The king invited him to Versailles to organize dinners of magic and entertain the court. During his traveling to Egypt, Greece, Persia, Rhodes, India and Ethiopia, Cagliostro had studied Occult Magick and Alchemy based on local sources.


For many years Cagliostro was favored at the French court, but in 1785 his fate changed completely following his involvement in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, one of the most important events that sparked the French Revolution in 1789. Because of that scandal, Cagliostro was imprisoned inside the Bastille for six months, and then released for lack of evidence. However he was expelled from France forever.

The Diamond Necklace Affair happened between Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, and Prince Louis de Rohan. In 1772 Louis XV of France decided to donate to Madame du Barry, of whom he had a strong infatuation, a diamond necklace worth two million liveries (about 15 million of Euros today.) The work was commissioned to the Parisian jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge. The craftsmen took several years and a large amount of money to collect all the necessary elements, especially the diamonds suitable for the scope. During this time, however, Louis XV died of Smallpox and Madame du Barry was expelled from court by the king’s nephew and successor of the crown.

The necklace consisted of a series of diamonds arranged in an elaborate pattern of decorations, pendants and ribbons.
After the king’s demise the jewelers had hoped that the necklace could be purchased by the new Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. In fact in 1778 King Louis XVI offered it to his wife as a gift, but she refused it saying- according to Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan- that the money ought to be better spent to equip an army. Others argue that Marie Antoinette was perfectly aware of whom the jewel had been made for, and would have never worn something designed for another woman, especially for a courtesan she despised. A third version suggests that it was the King who changed his mind at the last moment.

After failing to sell the necklace outside France, the jewelers attempted to offer it again to Marie Antoinette after the birth of Louis Joseph, the Dolphin of France (1781), but the necklace was rejected.
It was never clear why Cagliostro had been arrested in connection with the Diamond Necklace Affair, but it seems that the episode was used to get rid of a controversial character, accused of being a Freemason, an occultist, and a heretic (two of those titles were against a Papal edict of the time.) Above all, the arrest of Cagliostro was to reinforce the propaganda that the Freemasons were responsible to causing the French Revolution, although this was only a scheme of an even larger conspiracy to bring down all the monarchy in Europe.

On December 27, 1789 Cagliostro was back in Rome where he was arrested and imprisoned in Castel Sant’Angelo under the charge of being a Freemason.
The initial death sentence was converted to life imprisonment by the Pope. Cagliostro tried to escape but was taken and transferred to the San Leo Stronghold where he died shortly after, on August 26, 1795.

Cagliostro is one of the most controversial figures in the history of Alchemy. He was considered by many a charlatan, and yet he indisputably possessed such charisma and knowledge to influence many notable and erudite personalities of his time. This alone proves that Cagliostro was not a common man. Suffice it to say that his death was not immediately believed, and only an official report from the panel established by Napoleon for that purpose made people accept the fact that Cagliostro had actually passed away.

25/05/2020 14:23:02

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