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Cagliostro, Count Alessandro di

Category: Magician


Count Alessandro di Cagliostro (1743 –1795) was the alias of the 'magician' Giuseppe Balsamo, in French usually referred to as Joseph Balsamo, described as 'an Italian adventurer'.  He was indeed an adventurer and something of a rogue, but a somewhat lovable rogue with a penchant for exaggeration.  He is a sort of Aleister Crowley with Gurdjieff additions plus a few added extras of his own.

No one really knows what he really did or how his life actually went, but it is all sufficiently exciting to attract the attention of numerous people determined to find out. 

Some effort was expended to ascertain his true identity when he was arrested because of possible participation in “the Affair of the Diamond Necklace” [exciting eh?].  This case involved Marie Antoinette and Prince Louis de Rohan, and Guiseppe was held in the Bastille for nine months before being acquitted, when no evidence could be found connecting him to the affair.

Cagliostro stated during the trial following the Affair of the Diamond Necklace that he had been born of Christians of noble birth but abandoned as an orphan upon the island of Malta. He claimed to have travelled as a child to Medina, Mecca, and Cairo and upon return to Malta to have been admitted to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, with whom he studied alchemy, the Kabbalah, and magic.


He was, according to his mother however, born in  the old Jewish Quarter of Palermo, Sicily. Wikipedia says he  “ later became a novice in the Catholic Order of St. John of God... from which he  learned chemistry as well as a series of spiritual rites”.  But this seems unlikely as he was an alchemist – spiritual rites yes, chemistry no. To me his claim to have been on the island of Malta, “where he became an auxiliary (donato) for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and a skilled alchemist”  seems closer to the truth.  He carried an alchemistic manuscript The Most Holy Trinosophia amongst others with him on his later ill-fated journey to Rome. 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe relates in his Italian Journey that the identification of Cagliostro with Giuseppe Balsamo was ascertained by a lawyer from Palermo who, upon official request, had sent a dossier with copies of the pertinent documents to France. Goethe met the lawyer in April of 1787 and saw the documents and Balsamo's pedigree:  Giuseppe's mother Felicitá Balsamo was still alive in Palermo at the time of Goethe's travels in Italy, and he visited her.


In a sense it does not really matter for our purposes, as what marks him out as special is that he appears to have had a genuine gift of prophecy and his credentials as a spiritually gifted person are fairly convincing. 

Portuguese author Camilo Castelo Branco , for example, credits to Balsamo the creation of the Egyptian Rite of the Freemasons and intensive work in the diffusion of Freemasonry, by opening lodges all over Europe and by introducing the acceptance of women into the community [this theme of liking women will reappear …].

In early 1768 Balsamo left Sicily for Rome, where he managed to get a job as a secretary to Cardinal Orsini. The job 'proved boring' and he soon started leading a double life, selling magical "Egyptian" amulets and engravings pasted on boards and painted over to look like paintings. Of the many Sicilian expatriates  he met during this period, one introduced him to a fourteen-year-old girl named Lorenza Seraphina Feliciani, whom he married.

The couple moved in with Lorenza's parents and her brother in the vicolo delle Cripte, adjacent to the strada dei Pellegrini. Balsamo's “coarse language and the way he incited Lorenza to display her body contrasted deeply with her parents' deep rooted religious beliefs”. So he was after her body!  A true adventurer.  And a true magician.  After a heated discussion, the young couple left.

At this point Balsamo befriended Agliata, a forger and swindler, who proposed to teach Balsamo how to forge letters, diplomas and myriad other official documents. In return, though, Agliata “sought sexual intercourse with Balsamo's young wife, a request to which Balsamo acquiesced’. [There is no mention of how Lorenza felt about this].  Cagliostro ended up becoming a very gifted forger. Giacomo Casanova, in his autobiography, narrated an encounter in which Cagliostro was able to forge a letter by Casanova, despite being unable to understand it.  Occult historian Lewis Spence comments in his entry on Cagliostro that he put his new found wealth to good use by starting and funding a chain of maternity hospitals and orphanages around the continent. A touch of the Robin Hood n’est ce pas?


The couple then traveled  throughout Europe, especially to  Russia, Poland, Germany, and later France. His fame grew to the point that he was “even recommended as a physician to Benjamin Franklin during a stay in Paris”.  [Big intake of breath needed here]

His time in France was just as eventful as the rest of his life.  Apart from the Affair of the Diamond necklace he took Paris by storm…..

From Inigo Swann – to Kiss the Earth Goodbye

He arrived in Paris during the year 1781.  His fame had preceded him; he was thought by the poor to be their father, and by the best of society to be divine. He erected on the Rue de la Sourdiere a Temple of Isis and, establishing himself as high priest, gave lectures on the imminent return of the golden age and universal happiness. 

To rapt and enthralled audiences, among whom females seemed to pre-dominate, he recounted tales of his voyages among the ruins of Palmyra and Nineveh.  He advised about the mysteries of Thebes and Babylon where, he said, he encountered men who possessed marvellous knowledge as well as the miracle of perpetual youth - this last assuredly acquiring for him hypnotic fascination among his admirers.

He has just the hint of the Troubador about him don’t you think?  Magic.

From Inigo Swann – to Kiss the Earth Goodbye

…he acceded to influence in the royal household itself, although he never came to play as significant a role in Louis XVI’s court as Rasputin did in the court of the Russian tsar,  Nicholas II.

[But he did ] obtain the  patronage of the Princess de Lamballe - an intimate of  Marie Antoinette - as grand mistress of his temple, a position that the queen herself reportedly urged the princess to accept.  Accordingly, on March 20th 1785, the princess was installed at the Temple of Isis on a throne created for the occasion, before a collection of the highest born noblemen. A sumptuous banquet followed

Aaaah how the world loves a lover.

Count Cagliostro was subsequently imprisoned, as we have seen, over the Diamond Necklace Affair but not before he prophesied the fall of the Royal house, the beginning of the revolution and the death of the king himself.

This is described in the observation for him.

Castel Sant'Angelo

Cagliostro  was eventually asked to leave France, and he departed for England. Here he was accused by Theveneau de Morande of being Giuseppe Balsamo, ‘which he denied in his published Open Letter to the English People, forcing a retraction and apology from Morande’.  Confused?  That was the idea I think, he wouldn’t have been a good magician if he hadn’t confused the pants off people.

Cagliostro left England to visit Rome, where he met two people who proved to be spies of the Inquisition.  On 27 December 1789, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Castel Sant'Angelo. Soon afterwards he was sentenced to death on the charge of being a Freemason.

The Pope changed his sentence, however, to life imprisonment in the Castel Sant'Angelo. After attempting to escape he was relocated to the Fortress of San Leo where he died not long after aged only 52`.

And no doubt hundreds of women throughout Europe were beside themselves with grief over his death.  Such is the way with magicians.


It may be helpful after having read this section to also read the section on the Knights Templar.  There is evidence that the Count was a Knight Templar, but it needs to be read in the context of the section on this order.


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