Thursday, February 9, 2012

Following the Count

There is probably no Freemason in history who elicits more interest and simultaneously more controversy than Alessandro di Cagliostro (2 June 1743 – 26 August 1795). The earlier accounts of his life paint him most frequently as at best a person who was less than discreet in his choices of friends, and at worst, himself a scoundrel. It would remain until the end of the 19th Century for biographers to give the accounts, and the documented records a second look. As we give the briefest account of his life, I thought it might be interesting to trace it with images of various buildings in which he was known to live.

Photos included
in this Blog Entry

We see, in order from top to bottom:
a bust of the count;
the street where he was born in Palermo where Casa Cagliostro has been converted into holiday apartments available for rent over the internet;
an ironic use of floor tiling in one of the Casa Cagliostro apartment bathrooms;
a home in which he dwelt in Strasbourg;
another in Paris;
Il Castel di San Leo
Much of the earlier accounts of his life have the feel of legend about them. They are weak on facts, and long on mystical reveries and charges of infamy. In his early life, he was said to have traveled to Egypt where he was initiated in the pyramids themselves. He returned to Italy, lived in France, and England, where he variously was feted by the elite for his wonderful knowledge of Freemasonry and his magical cures. He was implicated (apparently falsely) in the theft of royal jewels, which occasioned his removal to England, and ultimately upon the instigation of his wife, returns to Rome. He fell back on Freemasonry to earn a living, and was arrested by the Inquisition, he and his wife are imprisoned, tortured, and he eventually dies in Castel San Leo, in the Marche region of Italy. His burial site remains undetermined, but the armies of Giuseppe Garibaldi came in a belated attempt to rescue the Count.
When writers in the late 19th century did look anew at his history, a different picture begins to emerge. The Count at the least appears a less dubious character than before. This occurs because apparently many of the respectable elite who knew him spoke only in positive terms and his humanitarian acts toward the destitute and poor are well documented. He is remembered by the Italian peasantry near where he was held captive by the pope and ultimately died, as practically a saint.

It is perhaps no accident, Masonically speaking, that troops loyal to Garibaldi came in search of the Count. Cagliostro was famous for his Rite of Egyptian Freemasonry, and it undoubtedly greatly influenced the development of both the Rite of Memphis and that of Mizraim, which were later to be joined as the Memphis Mizraim. Garabaldi was an initiate of this form of Freemasonry, and modern Italy is the home of the only regular Grand Lodge which includes it among its active inventory of rites.

Modern Esotericism might indeed look different today had the movement chosen to take more inspiration from the documented works and rituals of Cagliostro, than those of the self promoting Crowley. Some actually believe that the Comte de Saint-Germain and Count Cagliostro were one and the same.

If you wish to learn more, there has probably never been another Freemasonry about whom more books have been written. There have even been a few movies, although they are unlikely to leave you very entertained, and most certainly no better informed. The Hedge Mason recommends you investigate the following titles to avoid some of the dross:
Cagliostro and His Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry. Evans, Henry R. NY: MacCoy, 1930.

Cagliostro: The Splendour and Misery of a Master of Magic. Trowbridge, W. R. H. London: Chapman & Hall,1910.

The Last Alchemist: Count Cagliostro, Master of Magic in the Age of Reason. McCalman, Iain. NY: Harper Collins, 2003.

The Masonic Magician: The Life and Death of Count Cagliostro and His Egyptian Rite. Faulks, Philippa, Cooper, Robert L D. London: Watkins, 2008.

1 comment:

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Fascinating! I am particularly intrigued by the connection between Cagliostro and Garibaldi. And I am definitely going to give the items in your suggested reading list a look.