A hollow stick – take heed, sirs, and beware!

In the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales, the alchemist’s man tells the story of their road to ruin. False alchemists would conceal silver or gold in the tip of a hollow wand and seal it with wax. They would then use the wand to stir a crucible of hot material to be transmuted. The wax would melt and the gold or silver shavings would fall into the crucible and melt into a lump to be found at the end of the process.

A hollow stick – take heed, sirs, and beware! –
In end of which an ounce was, and no more,
Of silver filings put, all as before
Within the coal, and stopped with wax, a bit,
To keep the filings in the hole of it.
And while the priest was busy, as I say,
This canon, drawing close, got in his way,
And unobserved he threw the powder in
Just as before the devil from his skin
Strip him, I pray to God, for lies he wrought;
For he was ever false in deed and thought;
And with his stick, above the crucible,
Arranged for knavish trickery so well,
He stirred the coals until to melt began
The thin wax in the fire, as every man,
Except a fool, knows well it must, sans doubt,
And all that was within the stick slipped out,
And quickly in the crucible it fell.

The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale. From The Canterbury Tales (by Geoffrey Chaucer, c. 1343 – 25 October 1400).

Letter from Laurent Blessig to Madame Eliza Von der Recke

Cagliostro was a popular eighteenth century sorcerer/spiritualist/occultist/healer/freemason who, in Goethe’s time, captured the attention of many of the higher classes, including for a while, Eliza Von der Recke. Goethe’s interest in Cagliostro led to his investigating Cagliostro’s origins by visiting his supposed family in the slums of Palermo, Sicily.

Letter from Laurent Blessig to Madame Eliza Von der Recke:

“Diseases lie particularly in the blood and its distribution; the physician must also follow that. Since all nature is interblended, the physician must know it in its whole scope, and chemistry must stand at his command for solution and combination; in this, too, he must possess great knowledge. Moreover, since everything affects everything else, and this includes not only our earth, but also our whole solar system, the knowledge of the influence of the stars is indispensable to the physician. Thus Cagliostro pays much attention to the equinox, and at this season prepares most of his medicines. This mutual influence of all things is not limited to the material world; these are effects; the spirit is the cause. The spiritual world is a connected chain from which effects continually stream forth. Thus the true knower of nature is he who knows how to look up as well as down, or who stands in the same relationship to spirit as to matter. One can be initiated into this secret knowledge also in Arabia….”

Letter from Laurent Blessig to Madame Eliza Von der Recke — Dated, Strasbourg, June 7 1781 in Theosophical Path Magazine, January to December 1933. By G. De Purucker.

Carlyle considers Cagliostro’s curative cosmetic cream career

[The great Cagliostro was an 18th century European adventurer, sorcerer, freemason, doctor, conman, forger, mystic, revolutionary, and thief (etc.) who also sold his own miracle rejuvenators to ageing rich women. Caglisotro was a curiosity to Goethe, who on his travels through Italy sought out and interviewed Cagliostro’s worried mother back in the slums of Palermo, Sicily. Cagliostro was a curiosity to just about everybody. He claimed to be nobility, others said he was a clown. It is possible that Goethe had Cagliostro in mind when writing Faust.

The author of this article excerpted from Fraser’s Magazine of 1833 (38 years after Cagliostro’s death in an Italian prison) is Thomas Carlyle who calls him the “Quack of Quacks.” Carlyle was a historian, essayist and satirist. In writing, he was as grandiose as Cagliostro was reputed to have been in speech. Carlyle’s prose style justifies the two-installment’s subtitle “in two flights,” as he writes like a swallow flies: with acrobatic swoops and turns.]

Count Cagliostro

Fraser’s magazine, Volume 8:

“For it is to be observed, that the Count, on his own side, even in his days of highest splendour, is not idle. Faded dames of quality have many wants: the Count has not studied in the Convent Laboratory, or pilgrimed to the Count Saint-Germain, in Westphalia, to no purpose. With loftiest condescension he stoops to impart somewhat of his supernatural secrets,— for a consideration. Rowland’s Kalydor is valuable; but what lo the Beautifying-water of Count Alessandro! He that will undertake to smooth wrinkles, and make withered green parchment into a fair carnation skin, is he not one whom faded dames of quality will delight to honour ? Or again, let the Beautifying-water succeed or not, have not sucli dames (if calumny may be in aught believed) another want ? This want too the indefatigable Cagliostro will supply,— for a consideration. For faded gentlemen of quality the Count likewise has help. Not a charming Countess alone; but a ” Wine of Egypt” (cantharides not being unknown to him), sold in drops, more precious than nectar; which what faded gentleman of quality would not purchase with any thing short of life ? Consider now what may be done with potions, washes, charms, love-philtres, among a class of mortals, idle from the mother’s womb; rejoicing to be taught the Ionic dances, and meditating of love from their tender nails! Thus waxing, waning, broad-shining or extinct, an inconstant but unwearied Moon, rides on its course the Cagliostric star. Thus are Count and Countess busy in their vocation; thus do they spend the golden season of their youth, —” for the Greatest Happiness of the greatest number?” Happy enough, had there been no sumptuary or adultery or swindlery Law-acts; no Heaven above, no Hell beneath ; no flight of Time, and gloomy land of Eld and Destitution and Desperation, towards which, by law of Fate, they see themselves, at all moments, with frightful regularity, unaidably drifting.”

Pasted from <http://books.google.com/books?id=T8ERAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA137&lpg=PA137>

[What good is reading an article by Carlyle if you can’t explain it to someone?—Rowland’s Kalydor was an English skin lotion that had been sold since the late 1820s. “Eld” is elderly – gloomy land of old age; and a cantharide is Spanish Fly – an infamous sexual stimulant. Sumptuary laws attempted to limit extravagant consumption.

Incidentally, skin rejuvenating compounds were often corrosive face peels and bleaches. Not incidentally, the real Faust was said to have traded a hair removal compound to a prison chaplain in exchange for wine, but the salve contained arsenic which burned his flesh. As it turns out, later on—in the mid-nineteenth century—arsenic became a popular beauty treatment, both applied externally, and eaten to lighten the complexion. It is a testament to Faust’s intimacy with the Devil that he was 300 years ahead of the rest of the cosmetics industry.]