Comment on Distortions of the Lozowick case
09.06.09 at 2:49 pm
If a reader wants to deepen his or her understanding of types like Lozowick, EJ Gold, Gurdjieff, Castaneda and milder more benign cons such as Paul Brunton (see Jeffrey Masson’s My Father’s Guru), etc, etc, it highly educational to read a biography of someone who ran the same con 100 to 200 years earlier and look for comparisons.
Just finished reading a biography of Cagliostro entitled The Last Alchemist, by Iaian McCalman.
Cagliostro, born in the 18th Century, did not yet have access to the teachings from Indian, Japanese or Chinese sources–these were not yet available in Europe—not even in distorted form.
So Cagliostro claimed the roots of his spiritual pedigree lay in esoteric teachings derived from Freemasonry and, ultimately claimed he had access to ancient Egyptian teachings that would purify Masonry itself and lead to the moral and spiritual regeneration of humanity.
Note how later on, Gurdjieff exploited the Sufis, and much later, as source texts were published, India and then Tibet became the legitimating source for the next generations of New Age mountebanks. But… underneath the names, you see the same marketing and PR methods–and the care taken to recruit socially influential persons who are psychologically vulnerable and able to pay a guru’s bills.
Cagliostro was born into a desperately poor neighborhood in Palermo in 1743. He became quick witted, got an education in healing herbs and chemistry as a lay brother in a monastery–and was an excellent health care provider and a very astute street psychologist. And, he did have remarkable talents as a healer and a genuine capacity to connect with persons who were poor. Though he behaved much as a cult leader and exploited his intimates, Cagliostro also set up drop in healing clinics for poor patients in Strasbourg, St Petersberg, and Warsaw–persons unable to afford local physicians’ fees. In that regard, unlike Gurdjieff and the other rogues Ive listed, Cagliostro did real service to persons who were down and out. To this day, he is a folk hero in the streets of Palermo, considered a sort of Robin Hood, man of the people.
But….Cagliostro remarkably fits the profile of someone who self invents and mystifies with claims of access to ancient powers–and untraceable sources.
His biographer noted that one person who acknowledged Cagliostro was Mme Blatvatsky. And, James Webb has amply demonstrated the extent to which Gurdjieff plundered Thesophy and incorporated elements of it into his own system. One could consider Cagliostro to be a proto-Theosopher
He learned to run cons, forge anyone’s handwriting, created many cover stories, and appears to have had a talent for trance induction.
He joined the Masons, created innovations of his own and used the existing pan-European Masonic network to access idealistic and yearning persons who were preferably, high status and wealthy.
And significantly, Cagliostro met and married a ravishingly lovely 14 year old girl and turned her into his accomplice–and used her as sexual bait to lure and blackmail wealthy men.
Just as significantly, Cagliostro knew how to alternatie between charm and terrifying rages, calculated to throw disciples and his wife off balance. He would make endless promises, con people into feeling inferior if they had doubts, etc, etc.
Eventually, the 18th century equivalent of the Internet ended Cagliostro’s career: too many people began writing and publishing exposes of him and he had angered too many governments and well placed persons.
Eventually his lonely and exhausted wife received a smuggled letter from her family, who were still worried about her, 20 years later, telling her they wanted her home with them. And Seraphina had become exhausted by the choatic life she had to live with her husband, his rages, whims, and the exhausting oscillations between good living and being hounded out of town after town.
It all reads in an amazingly contemporary manner. Cagliostro functioned in the 18th century equivalent of what sociologist Philip Jenkins has termed ‘the cultic milieu’–and the vulnerable and wealthy persons willing to patronize that milieu in exchange for its promises and a choice rank in its inner heirarchy.
Read about Cagliostro and it will demystify persons like Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff was, like Cagliostro, a fringe member of a larger community, who had to live by his wits, mastered the art of intuiting what people’s longings were.
The author of The Last Alchemist noted that many clever con artists gamed their way through the cities and courts of the 18th century, full of bored and powerful people, often idealistic. What one had to do was figure out the right ‘hook’ by which to exploit local conditions so as to get invitations to the right social circles.
And one needed a network of like minded persons from whom one could get recommendations and who would pass you along from one sympathetic household to another. In Cagliostro’s day, that network was Freemasonry.
Today the networks are different, but the function remains the same.