Skip to main content

Cagliostro, Alessandro

Conte di (Giuseppe Balsamo) (1743-1795). A well-known occultist of the 18th century. His life is shrouded in myth and conflicting reports; he is regarded by some as a charlatan and by others as an Initiate of a high degree. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1970 Ed.) brands Cagliostro a charlatan and adventurer. Helena P. BLAVATSKY (CW XII:79-88) disagrees most strongly with such a verdict, claiming him to have been a wonderful and highly accomplished person. She lays much of the blame for the evil reputation he suffers on Carlyle.

Alessandro Cagliostro
            Alessandro Cagliostro

It is difficult to arrive at a balanced and factual account of Cagliostro’s life, which is burdened with myth, calumny and romanticism. It is reasonably certain that he was born in Palermo. He claimed to have spent some time in Alexandria learning alchemy. He married Lorenza Feliciani, called Serafina, in Rome and they appeared in public as the Count and Countess Cagliostro. There is reason to believe that Cagliostro was initiated into Freemasonry in London in 1776. Later, in France, he was involved, albeit innocently, in the “Affair of the Diamond Necklace,” a scandal that rocked the throne of Louis XVI and possibly accelerated the French Revolution. As a result of his peripheral involvement in this affair, Cagliostro was, in 1786, banished from France. He and his wife took refuge in Rome and there she denounced him to the Holy Inquisition as a magician, heretic and Freemason. Cagliostro was found guilty and it is stated by Blavatsky (op. cit.) that he was condemned to death, but that a stranger never before seen at the Vatican, appeared and demanded a private audience of the Pope, sending to the Pope via the Cardinal Secretary a word instead of a name. He was, it is said, immediately received, but only stopped with the Pope for a few minutes. No sooner was he gone than his Holiness gave orders to commute the death sentence of the Count to that of imprisonment for life in an impregnable fortress called Castle of San Leo. If this account by Blavatsky is true then the question arises: what was the point of the altered sentence unless there was a possibility of arranging an escape? Rumors proliferated long after his imprisonment and reported death that he did escape, but no supporting evidence has emerged.

Gottfried de PURUCKER in Studies in Occult Philosophy (p. 29-30), raises an interesting point arising out of a suggestion that Cagliostro was an Initiate or Master of the Wisdom. He maintains that the Teachers of the Wisdom do not send out their messengers to meddle in the political affairs of any nation. Cagliostro was said to have warned the French Royal family of the impending revolution which was certainly interference at the highest level of government.