The Hermetics I


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.