The Dark Side of Enlightenment, Part 3

"Knight" of the Pope and "occult master"

Giovanni Casanova (1725–1798)

(Published in GralsWelt 68/2012)

 The Venetian Giovanni Casanova, who has become proverbial as a womanizer, was descended from a family of actors. Since his mother traveled a lot, his grandmother raised him, who made it possible for him to study theology and law. At the age of 17 he was able to obtain a doctorate in law from the University of Padua. He spoke several languages.

After completing his studies, he embarked on a career in the church. As a prospective priest he fell drunk from the pulpit during a sermon in 1741, after receiving the four minor orders. Three years later, Casanova gave up the church career for good. In 1742 he was able to travel to Constantinople via Corfu as a secretary. On his return to Venice he was arrested for the first time because of inheritance disputes. He then traveled to Ancona and Rome. There he was able to win over Pope Benedict XIV with amusing chats to such an extent that he was named "Knight of the Golden Spur". That gave Casanova the chance to ennoble himself as "Chevalier (knight) de Seingalt". Because of a love affair, however, he soon had to leave Rome again.

Across Europe "around the world"

Back in Venice, Casanova tries his hand at ensign and earns a living as an orchestral violinist. In 1755 he was arrested for "invective against the holy religion" and ended up in the notorious lead chambers, a prison in the attic of the lead-covered Doge's Palace, where it gets unbearably hot in summer. In 1756 he managed a spectacular escape. His exciting description of this adventure is one of the most read escape stories and made him famous.

Casanova travels from one European capital to another as an impostor, gambler, mystery master, miracle healer. As an alleged high-grade Freemason[i] he can make contacts through the lodges and get to know influential personalities. Even Frederick the Great welcomed him and offered him a position as a teacher at a school for Pomeranian squires. However, this position does not correspond to Casanova's requirements.

He then traveled to Saint Petersburg, where he was allowed to audition for Tsarina Catherine the Great, who did not offer him a post. Now it's on to Poland, which he has to leave seriously wounded after a gun duel. Casanova arrives in Paris via Vienna. Here he gets access to the farm, receives approval to set up a lottery, and feels free of all worries.

But as always, if he stays too long in a city, complications arise and threaten lawsuits that force him to leave: With a nice fortune of "a hundred thousand francs in good bills of exchange and with jewels of the same value"[ii] (1, p. 297) Casanova fled to Spain, which he soon had to leave again. Finally he returns to Venice, where he becomes theater director and spies as a secret agent for the Venetian State Inquisition. He must have been forgiven for the spectacular escape from the lead chambers. In the Baroque period, the legal certainty that we take for granted was lacking, but some venial sins, such as the escape from the lead chambers, could be generously overlooked.

Historians have calculated that in the course of his life, Casanova covered a distance on his many journeys that corresponded to the circumference of the earth - with the means of transport of the time, which were on average hardly faster than six kilometers per hour!

After a varied and dangerous life, Casanova found shelter in 1785 as Count Waldstein's librarian. Around 1790 he began to write his extensive memoirs, which go back to 1774. Finally, he dies lonely and sad, with a degrading body, presumably from the long-term effects of sexually transmitted diseases, at the Bohemian castle of Dux.

A charming charlatan

With his skillful demeanor and his many tricks, Casanova was able to win over and over again, as a brilliant impostor, gullible people, especially women, and steal considerable sums of money, which he then just as freely wasted. In his memoirs, he is honest enough to openly describe his scams. He doesn't have a guilty conscience, because from his point of view those excluded from him want to be betrayed.

First occult experiences-
When Casanova, around eight years old, often had severe nosebleeds, his grandmother took him to a dive bar, “Where we found an old woman who was sitting on a dirty bed with a black cat in her arms and five or six cats around her. It was a witch. The two old women had a long conversation that probably concerned me. At the end of this dialogue ... the old witch received a silver ducat from my grandmother. She opened a box, picked me up, put me inside, and closed the lid, telling me not to be afraid. That remark would have been just enough to frighten me, if I had had any thinking power at all; but I was stunned. I was huddled quietly in a corner with the handkerchief under my nose because I was still bleeding and, by the way, didn't care in the least about the noise I heard outside. I heard alternately laughing, crying, singing, screaming and knocking on the box; all of this was indifferent to me. Finally they took me out of the box, my blood has stopped. The strange woman makes me a hundred caresses, undresses me, lays me on the bed, burns herbs, catches the smoke from it with a cloth, wraps me in it, makes incantations on it, and gives me five very pleasant-tasting sugar cookies . Immediately afterwards she rubs my temples and neck with a lovely scented ointment, and then she dresses me again. She tells me my bleeding is gradually going to stop; only I shouldn't tell anyone what she did ... " (1, p. 11 f.)
The nosebleed actually stopped afterwards and later Casanova was in excellent physical condition, with which he was able to survive several attacks of syphilis externally cured.

For example in Paris the woman d'Urfé, one of the richest women in France. It was obsessed with occult ideas and owned one of the largest alchemical libraries. Casanova was able to shine with his alchemical and occult knowledge and produce himself as a great "master" in front of her, while he made ample use of her fortune. Casanova justifies his shameful conduct in a way that expresses that he himself was immune to belief in all of the occult nonsense:
“If I had believed that I could get the Marquise out of her error and guide her back to a sensible use of her knowledge and intellect, I would probably have tried, and this would have been a meritorious work; but I was convinced that her infatuation was incurable, and so I believed I could do nothing better than to respond to her crazy thoughts and get my benefit from them.
If, as a decent person, I had told her that all her ideas were silly, she would not have believed me; she would have assumed I was jealous of her knowledge; and even if she hadn't considered me less learned for that reason, I would have forfeited in her eyes. Convinced of this, I knew nothing better to do than let things go their way. Incidentally, I could feel flattered in my self-esteem that a famous woman with a reputation for significant knowledge, who was related to the first families of France and, moreover, had an income even higher from her securities than the eighty thousand livres pension that a splendid estate and a number of beautiful houses in Paris earned her that such a woman, I say, considered me the most profound Rosicrucian and the most powerful of all mortals. I also knew perfectly well that she could not have denied me anything in an emergency; and although I had no definite plan to take advantage of all or part of their riches, I still took some pleasure in thinking that it was in my power to do so ” (1, p. 294).

Casanova, tall, broad-shouldered and arrogant (3, p. 42), was an unscrupulous cardsharp, impostor and shameless cheat. He was well educated and his scientific knowledge - from alchemy to mathematics - should not be underestimated. Casanova was a typical baroque person - full of charm, energy, "juice and strength". In addition, a highly entertaining, intelligent conversation partner, excellent dancer and probably also a successful secret agent. He was highly educated, spoke French, Greek, and Latin in addition to Italian and was able to move around in the cheats' taverns with the same ease as in a royal court.

His writings, translated into more than 20 languages, are among the most important sources of cultural history of the 18th century. Casanova's memoirs are considered the most accurate and personal portrayal of a time that fell apart in splendor and misery. It is the description of a frivolous society in easy-going times that we can hardly imagine. In old age he becomes aware of the decadence of this society, which hastened towards its downfall in the French Revolution ...

Continued "The Dark Side of Enlightenment" Part 4.

(1) Casanova Giovanni Giacomo, Memoirs, Goldmann, Munich, 1960.(2) Hagl Siegfried, Chaff and Wheat, Gralsverlag, Hart-Purgstall, 2003. (3) McCalman Iain, The Last Alchemist, Insel, Frankfurt, 2004.
www ...
Casanova's travels:
The life of Casanova:

[i] There is the normal or “blue” (according to the color of the apron) masonry with three degrees (apprentice, journeyman, master) and the mystical, “red” or higher degree masonry with 33 or more degrees. (See ref. 2).
[ii] The purchasing power of 1 franc or livre is around 10 euros.