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Archive for November, 2011

(the charming smirk of Count Cagliostro–Freemason, con man, alchemist, pimp, and saver of souls)

I’ve begun reading the book entitled The Last Alchemist: Count Cagliostro, Master of Magic in the Age of Reason. It’s a pretty good book. I just got to the part where the Count, who’s really just a regular-ish fellow named Giuseppe Balsamo, got initiated into the secret world of Strict Observance Freemasonry this evening. The author, Ian McCalman described his entry into the society thusly:

After he’d intoned his oath of absolute secrecy and obedience, several officials dressed in caps and aprons, blindfolded his eyes, tied a rope around his waist, and hauled him on creaking pulleys to the ceiling. Suddenly the rope gave way and he crashed to the floor. His complaints of a damaged hand did nothing to mitigate the ceremony’s next phase. Colonel Cagliostro watched uneasily while a pistol was loaded with powder and ball. His eyes were once again covered. He was handed the pistol and brusquely ordered to comply with the oath of obedience by blowing out his brains all over the tavern. He hesitated; he heard yells–coward, get on with it–and pulled the trigger. There was a detonation, he felt a blow on the side of his head and smelled acrid gunsmoke. By some miracle he was still alive; and as his panic gave way to clarity, he realized it had been a ruse: the lodge officials had given him an unloaded pistol and simulated the discharge (pg 40).

This passage reminded me of another book, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, by Manly P. Hall. Hall describes the tests a candidate had to survive in order to learn the Druidic Mysteries, to be “born again.” These folks had to get buried in a coffin and ride out to sea in an open boat. He also mentions the “strange machinery” found under a Greco-Egyptian temple of Serapis:

These machines indicate the severe tests of moral and physical courage undergone by the candidates. After passing through these torturous ways, the neophytes who survived the ordeals were ushered into the presence of Serapis, a noble and awe-inspiring figure illumined by unseen lights (pg. 25 and 27).

So. According to Manly P. Hall and other sources, there were two stories that Mystery School teachers came up with. One was simple, a moral code meant for Joe Everyman, which instructed him on the correct way to conduct himself in the world. The second story was deeper and secret, a story that had been passed down through the ages and only told to a very select few. These select were born into certain families and had passed the sorts of severe tests mentioned above. They starved themselves, broke bones jumping off cliffs, had limbs twisted into strange positions for long periods of time, etc., etc., in order to prove that they had overcome earthly limitations and were worthy of the truth (or perhaps to prove that they were willing to die in order to be included in the elite knowers of truth…)

There’s a lot of energy right now around these types of groupings, the elite v. Joe Everyman. A friend gave me a pin that says “99%” and I’ve been wearing it on my lapel. But, there’s something that’s been bugging me. What does being a part of the 99% mean, exactly? I wasn’t born into a fancy family. I have done a fast or two, but even just this morning in the shower I was vowing to never do one again. I hate being hungry. Am I a slave to my hedonistic nature? To be truthful, most of the work I’ve been doing with my counselor has been to help me feel ok with actually being who I am. Not trying to live up to some “moral code” written by some other dude who wore a wig and probably stole alms from the poor.

What does being a part of the 1% mean? Can the 1% be compared to the initiates of the past? What tests do they have to pass in order to get in? I can go to the library and read loads of words that tell me exactly what the different secrets of the ages were. It’s actually downright overwhelming all the secrets I’m privy to, and I didn’t even have to wander naked into the woods without any food or water. Does that make me a part of the 1%, now that I know the secret handshake? But then I remember that 2500 years ago Plato was splurging “secret” meeting minutes all over town after he was initiated into the elite.  Even then the secrets were available to anyone who was even slightly curious.

Do you think that God would put you on the earth without the tools possible for you to understand the secrets to sublime happiness? Are some people truly here without recourse from a life of misery, bound to the “simple moral code” of behave-now-and-you’ll-be-rewarded-later, forever doomed to 80 hours a week of assembling iPhones? Do the 1% still know some secret handshake that the 99% don’t? Is it possible that reading a book on a secret understanding won’t clue me in to the actual energy behind the words without the experience of pain and suffering that precede initiation? Why am I so lucky to be happy, when other people are suffering?  Is it because of what I’m doing? Or is it just because I’m lucky? To boil it all down, are there really secrets that you have to be born in the exact right time and place to understand? Or are these all figments, illusions, distractions?

More to come on this illustrious topic…Feel free to answer any of the above questions.

(Mystical Seven–a secret society at Wesleyan University of Connecticut)

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