Cagliostro himself seems to be as mysterious as his seal. The self-styled Count Alessandro di Cagliostro was actually born as the much less grand-sounding Guiseppe Balsamo, and lived in Italy in the eighteenth century. The rumors surrounding his life and adventures come thick and fast and there is very little that is known for certain, due in no small part to the dense forest of fantastical stories that Cagliostro seems to have hidden himself within. He said that he had been born into the nobility but for some reason was abandoned on Malta, whereupon he wandered, as a child, throughout Morocco and Egypt where he learned many arcane mysteries, including those of the Kabbalah and alchemical magic. Whatever the truth, he certainly had skills as a pharmacist. It seems that the secure advantages of regular employment held no attraction for the Count, his attention being much more drawn to magical and mystical matters. He became a maker and vendor of magical amulets and talismans, and later, forgeries, including letters, certificates, and a myriad of official documents. He also offered the sexual favors of his beautiful young wife as trade for instruction in forgery.
Cagliostro’s seal has been the result of much analysis and conjecture, its appearance so convincing that it was even incorporated into an early Masonic-style organization called The Brotherhood of Luxor.
The tobacco used in the pipe is also a powerful magical substance originally intended for ritual use only. The smoke rising from the pipe signifies a prayer traveling toward the Gods and symbolizes the sacred breath, source of all life. The fire that lights the pipe symbolizes the Sun and the male element. The pipe itself is equivalent to the prayer that is offered up from it.
The calumet is considered so important that in Native American tradition it is described as though it were a person, and each of its components has the name of a body part. In addition, the bowl is described as an altar, and the stem, the passage of the breath extending from the human body.
The Astrum Argentum was started by Crowley in 1907 as an alternative to MacGregor Mathers’ Golden Dawn. Although he had initially been enamored of the Golden Dawn and its charismatic leader, it is fair to say that Crowley liked to do things his own way, resulting in his expulsion from the Golden Dawn. Crowley believed that his own personal angel, Aiwaz, approved of his decision to supplant Mathers’ brotherhood. The unusual structure of the Astrum Argentum was typical of Crowley’s desire to be different. Each member was supposed to know only his immediate superior and anyone he introduced into the Order. For Crowley, the sole purpose of the Astrum Argentum was to disseminate his own teachings and mystical beliefs. It was assumed that anyone introduced into the Astrum Argentum would already have had a great degree of magical training, in contrast to the Golden Dawn, which was dedicated to teaching.