Thursday, 27 February 2014

"He is said to have discovered the elixir of life, the philosopher's stone, and many other equally marvelous things." - The Comte de Saint Germain

27 February 1784, 230 years ago, the Comte de Saint Germain, alchemist, occultist and adventurer extraordinaire, allegedly died in Eckernförde in Schleswig-Holstein.
“Finally, she remembered a friend of hers, Count Saint-Germain. You must have heard of him, as many wonderful stories have been told about him. He is said to have discovered the elixir of life, the philosopher's stone, and many other equally marvelous things. He had money at his disposal, and my grandmother knew it. She sent him a note asking him to come to see her. He obeyed her summons and found her in great distress. She painted the cruelty of her husband in the darkest colors, and ended by telling the Count that she depended upon his friendship and generosity.” (Alexander Pushkin, “The Queen of Spades”)

An engraving made in 1783 after a portrait of the Comte de Saint Germain
owned by Jeanne Marquise d’Urfe, a rich widow dabbling in the occult,
the lady both he and Casanova courted during the late 1750s
and who finally granted he favours to the rather shady Italian poet Giacomo Passano.


Creating a gold-like metal by means of old alchemical procedures in the days of Brandt, Cavendish and Lavoisier – that became tarnished after a few weeks, composing arias and sonatas nobody really liked when Gluck, Haydn and, of course, Mozart celebrated their successes, a diplomat, a traveller, a secret society man, competitor of Casanova, at least once in Paris, a man who never dies and knows every secret, in short: a wonderman, as Voltaire dubbed him, as usually, tongue-in-cheek, or, as Frederick the Great replied, "C'est un comte pour rire" ("He is a count to laugh about"), the Count of St Germain. Modelling his own legend along that of Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, he could hold an audience in his thrall with vivid descriptions of historical events from centuries past, just as he would have been present there and then and he was at least very prolific in obfuscating his own background. He fluently spoke several European languages and a few dead ones on top of it, was obviously highly educated and filthy rich. Neither the source of his wealth nor his heritage could ever been satisfactorily untangled from a web of myths the illustrious Count had begun to weave already during his life and times though. If he was the bastard of the Transylvanian Prince Francis II Rákóczi, and raised by the last Medici in Tuscany, as he once claimed, or that of the last Habsburg Queen of Spain and a Jewish banker from Madrid or the offspring of the tax collector Sig Rotondo from San Germano or an immortal being, will probably remain a mystery forever.

Gustave Doré's imagination of Ahasuerus striding through the ages
Gustave Doré's imagination of Ahasuerus striding through the ages




Mme Blavatsky and Annie Besant both claimed to have met the Count of St Germain during the late 19th and early 20th in various places but he was an archetype in occult circles long since, among Free Masons, Rosicrucians and later, of course, the Theosophical Society and its offshoots, the Theosophist C.W. Leadbeater allegedly saw him in Rome in 1926 and the count told about his Transylvanian castle, performing magic there in a “suit of golden chain-mail which once belonged to a Roman Emperor; over it is thrown a magnificent cloak of Tyrian purple, with on its clasp a seven-pointed star in diamond and amethyst, and sometimes he wears a glorious robe of violet." When he took up office with Charles of Hesse-Kassel though back in 1779, he claimed he was 88 even though he looked like being in his 50s, the pair created new dyes for colouring cloth and melting small diamonds into large ones first in the Prince’s summer residence in Schleswig-Holstein and then in an alchemical laboratory in Eckernförde near Kiel where, all of a sudden, the capricious count died, leaving nothing behind but a few everyday things, no riches, no books and no further miracles.



The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus
Joseph Wright of Derby (1734 - 1797): "The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus"
(1771)




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