Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

XXI. Cagliostro and Egyptian Masonry

462. Life of Cagliostro.—Joseph Balsamo, the disciple and successor of St. Germain, who pretended at the Court of Louis XV. to have been the contemporary of Charles V., Francis I., and Christ, and to possess the elixir of life and many other secrets, had vaster designs and a loftier ambition than his teacher, and was one of the most active agents of Freemasonry in France and the rest of Europe. He was born at Palermo in 1743, and educated at two convents in that city, where he acquired some chemical knowledge. As a young man, he fell in with an Armenian, or Greek, or Spaniard, called Althotas, a kind of adventurer, who professed to possess the philosopher's stone, with whom he led a roving life for a number of years. What became of Althotas at last is not positively known. Balsamo at last found his way to Home, where he married the beautiful Lorenza Feliciani, whom he treated so badly, that she escaped from him; but he recovered her, and acquired great influence over her by magnetically operating upon her. There is no doubt that he was a powerful magnetiser. Visiting Germany, he was initiated into Freemasonry, in which he soon began to take a prominent part. He also assumed different titles, such as that of Marquis of Pellegrini, but the one he is best known by is that of Count Cagliostro; and by his astuteness, impudence, and some. lucky hits at prophesying, he acquired a European notoriety and made many dupes, including persons of the highest rank, especially in France, where he founded many new masonic lodges. He was the author of a book called "The Rite of Egyptian Masonry," which rite he established first in Courland, and afterwards in Germany, France, and England. After having been banished from France, in consequence of -his implication in the affair of the queen's necklace, and driven from England by his creditors, he was induced by his wife, who was weary of her wandering life, and anxious once more to see her relations, to visit Rome, where he was arrested on the charge of attempting to found a masonic lodge, against which a papal bull had recently been promulgated, and thrown into the Castle of St. Angelo, in 1789. He was condemned to death, but the punishment was commuted to perpetual imprisonment. His wife was shut up in a convent, and died soon after. Having been transferred to the Castle of San Leo, he attempted to strangle the monk sent to confess him, in the hope of escaping in his gown; but the attempt failed, and it is supposed that he died, a prisoner, in 1795.

463. The Egyptian Rite.—The Egyptian rite invented by Cagliostro is a mixture of the sacred and profane, of the serious and laughable. Having discovered a MS. of George Cofton, in which was propounded a singular scheme for the reform of Freemasonry in an alchymistic and fantastic sense, Cagliostro founded thereon the bases of his masonic system, taking advantage of human credulity, enriching himself, and at the same time seconding the action of other secret societies. He gave his dupes to understand that the scope of Egyptian Masonry was to conduct men to perfection by means of physical and moral regeneration; asserting that the former was infallible through the prima materia and the philosopher's stone, which assured to man the strength of youth and immortality, and that the second was to be achieved by the discovery of a pentagon that would restore man to his primitive innocence. This rite indeed is a tissue of fatuities it would not be worth while to allude to, did it not offer matter for study to the philosopher and moralist. Cagliostro pretended that the rite had been first founded by Enoch, remodelled by Elias, and finally restored by the Grand Copt. Both men and women were admitted into the lodges, though the ceremonies for each were slightly different, and the lodges for their reception entirely distinct. In the reception of women, among other formalities there was that of breathing into the face of the neophyte, saying,

"I breathe upon you this breath to cause to germinate in you and grow in your heart the truth we possess; I breathe it into you to strengthen in you good intentions, and to confirm you in the faith of your brothers and sisters. We constitute you a legitimate daughter of true Egyptian adoption and of this worshipful lodge."

One of the lodges was called "Sinai," where the most secret rites were performed; another "Ararat," to symbolise the rest reserved for Masons only. Concerning the pentagon, Cagliostro taught that it would be given to the masters after forty days of intercourse with the seven primitive angels, and that its possessors would enjoy a physical regeneration for 5557 years, after which they would through gentle sleep pass into heaven. The pentagon had as much success with the upper ten thousand of London, Paris, and St. Petersburg, as the philosopher's stone ever enjoyed; and large sums were given for a few grains of the rejuvenating pi*ima materia.

464. Cagliostro's Hydromancy.—But beside masonic delusions, Cagliostro made use of the then little understood wonders of magnetism to attract adherents; and as many persons are seduced by the wine-cup, so he made dupes of many by means of the water-bottle, which device, as might be shown, was very ancient, and consisted in divination by hydromancy. A child, generally a little girl, and called the Dove, was made to look into a bottle of water, and see therein events, past, present, and to come; and as Cagliostro was really a man of observation, he made many shrewd guesses as to the future, and sometimes fortune favoured him as in the case of Schropfer (280, 437), one of the leaders of the Illuminati, who refused to join the Egyptian rite; the little girl declared that in less than a month Schropfer would be punished. Now it so happened that within that period Schropfer committed suicide, which of course gave an immense lift to Cagliostro and his bottle. In this respect indeed Cagliostro was a forerunner of our modern spiritualists; and as he did not keep his occult power a secret from all, but freely communicated it, magical practices were thus introduced into the lodges, which brought discredit on the institution. And all this occurred at the period of the Encyclopedists, and on the eve of mighty events!

465. Lodges founded by Cagliostro.—He founded the first lodge, gorgeously fitted up, at Paris in a private house, and another one in his own house. A third was founded at Lyons, for which a special grand building was erected. It was declared the Mother Lodge, and called "Triumphant Wisdom." Its patent ran thus:

"Honour, Wisdom,
Beneficence, Comfort.

"We Grand Copt, in all eastern and western parts of Europe, Founder and Grand Master of Egyptian Masonry, make known to All, who may read this, that during our stay at Lyons many members of the Lodge of the Orient and Ordinary Rite, which has adopted the distinguishing title of 'Wisdom,' have expressed their ardent wish to place themselves under our rule, to be enlightened in true Masonry. We are pleased to accede to their wish," etc.

Lodges also were founded at Strasburg, a ladies' lodge at The Hague, another at Roveredo, another at Mitau, and a very grand one near Basle, in a sumptuous temple, erected for the purpose. The good citizens of Basle always approached it with feelings of awe, because they imagined Cajjliostro destined it to be his tomb.