Cagliostro – a remarkable man – has been much maligned*.
Born in 1700's, he was very likely the (illegitimate?) son of royal blood, connected to the now vanished monarchy of Trebizond. He was raised in Medina and deeply imbued with the learning and insights of the East. He fell foul of certain elements in the Catholic Church, and this led to attacks on his good name throughout his adult life.
*See note at the end of this post
His own recollection is that he was raised by various dignitaries, including Mufti V Salahaym of Medina. He had as his tutor, Althotas, an Alchemist. Deriving from Trebizond, a Christian enclave in the then mighty Ottoman empire, meant Cagliostro was raised as a Christian, but with access to the learning of the Orient, which in many areas far exceeded that available in Europe and the Americas.
Cagliostro wrote of Althotas:
"It was he who taught me to adore God, love and serve my neighbour, and to respect religion and law in all places."
He travelled with his tutor to Egypt in 1763, where he could immerse himself in learning.
At some point he met an even more enigmatic figure of this age, the Comte de St Germain. The remarkable philosopher and historian, Manly P Hall write about St Germain in these words:
Cagliostro studied Paracelsus (with whom he shared more than a few characteristics). Paracelsus had gone against the medical orthodoxy of his day, attacking many of their practises as bogus. He was deeply learned in naturopathy as well as a profound student of Alchemy. Like Paracelsus, Cagliostro treated the poor, and made no charges.
Stories suggest that his understanding of the more hidden qualities of nature meant he could do what appeared magical to those who saw it. He became the darling of the great aristocratic houses of England, France and beyond, but gradually his reluctance to astound people with tricks and phenomena, meant some turned on him and denounced him as a fraud.
He was moving through Europe rife with intrigue, and the seeds of the French Revolution were being scattered far and wide at this time. He was perceived as a threat to both State and Church, and so it is no wonder he made enemies.
But he made friends too, as the quote below suggests.
Cagliostro—the idol of France, surnamed "the Father of the Poor," who never received anything from anyone and gave everything to everyone ...
Manly P Hall
Mystics, philosophers, and alchemists were all bound together with a secret tie and dedicated to the emancipation of humanity from ignorance and oppression.
Manly P Hall
He has had his detractors but also those who have been more than happy to defend him. His knowledge of medicine appears to have been profound, and his grasp of the occult (hidden forces of nature in this context) was equally deep. More important, his time in Egypt had given him a sensitive understanding of Theurgy: this art and science that is the 'magic of the Divine', the use of Ritual with language and movement for spiritual purposes.
Cagliostro, the Great Master Cagliostro, had nothing to do with the character described by Alejandro Dumas in his work, The Life of Giuseppe Balsamo, nor with the character invented by the Inquisition to discredit the Rosicrucian Grand Master.
Quote taken from a Rosicrucian site here
Recently it has been suggested that St Germain gave him the task of protecting the Mysteries of Isis. He had developed the famous Egyptian Rite, which he had introduced into Masonic Lodges all over Europe. He was able, through his contacts with high society, to introduce aspects of the Knowledge of Isis to aristocratic women. Some of this lore can be seen in the content of the paintings shown below.
The pictures above come from a collection here. They show ladies at their toilette. The hand positions show mudras - or meaningful arrangement of hand and fingers. The open palmed hand (fourth row right) is known as the Bestowing Posture, and can be seen in Buddhist sculptures.
Some of the Eastern meaning of mudras are given here.
In the quotation below from Rudolf Steiner's third lecture in Berlin (1904), entitled THE ESSENCE AND TASK OF FREEMASONRY FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE something of the mysterious nature of Cagliostro and his real purpose is hinted at.
Now I must mention the various branches of Freemasonry and their tendencies, even if I am only to indicate some thing briefly. First of all, it is to be borne in mind that the whole of the masonic higher degrees trace back to a personality often spoken about but equally very much misunderstood. He was particularly misunderstood by nineteenth century historians, who have no idea of the difficult situations an occultist can meet in life. This personality is the ill-famed and little understood Cagliostro. The so-called Count Cagliostro, in whom an individuality concealed itself which was recognised in its true nature only by the highest initiates, attempted originally to bring Freemasonry in London to a higher stage. For during the last third of the eighteenth century, Freemasonry had fairly well reached the state that I have described. He did not succeed in London at that time. He then tried in Russia, and also at The Hague. Everywhere he was unsuccessful, for very definite reasons.
Then, however, he was successful in Lyons, forming an occult masonic lodge of the Philalethes [Searchers after Truth] out of a group of local masons, which was called the Lodge of Triumphing Wisdom. The purpose of this Lodge was specified by Cagliostro. What you can read about it is, however, nothing but the work of ignorant people. What can be said about it is only an indication. Cagliostro was concerned with two things: firstly, with instructions enabling one to produce the so-called Philosopher's Stone; secondly, with creating an understanding of the mystic pentagram. I can only give you a hint of the meaning of these two things. They may be treated with a deal of scorn, but they are not to be taken merely symbolically, they are based on real facts.
We will leave the final words of this short biographical sketch to Cagliostro himself.
"I am not of any time or of any place; beyond time and space my spiritual being lives an eternal existence. I turn my thoughts back over the ages and I project my spirit toward an existence far beyond that which you perceive, I become what I choose to be.
Quote attributed to Cagliostro
Note: In researching this very brief biography it is impossible to miss that many of his biographers hated him. In his lifetime he was called a fraud, and information was put out that he was in fact a trickster from Sicily by the name of the Sicilian,Giuseppe Balsamo.
Sources I trust suggest this story is a calumny. An equivalent would be to look at current US government statements on Edward Snowden. These describe him as a traitor. Indeed some ask for the death penalty for him. But it is clear there are many millions who disagree with that view.
Both Rudolf Steiner and Manly P Hall saw Cagliostro as a man of exceptional gifts, and a recent commentator has posted here (in January 2017) that he had an important part to play in keeping the Mysteries of Isis safe for posterity. For that alone we should be deeply grateful.
Murray Morison is a novelist living in Crete
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When a teenage priestess, living 5,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt, connects with Rhory, an English schoolboy visiting the British Museum, she puts herself and him in grave danger.
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