Count Cagliostro’s Libation of Acacia and the Herb Rue of the Irwins’ Fratres Lucis

Portrait of Giuseppe Balsamo Jean-Antoine Houdon WikiMedia BY CCO

Since publishing our paper The Use of DMT in Early Masonic Ritual we have met with a number of detractors who argue that the concoction of acacia offered by Cagliostro to his initiates in the former’s Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry could not have been a form of ayahuasca insofar as the psychedelic compound DMT must be combined with an MAOI in order for the brew to be rendered orally active. This is completely correct. And indeed, there is no mention of an MAOI-containing plant anywhere in Cagliostro’s rituals. The act must have therefore been, our detractors argue, purely symbolic. But why, we ask, would a purely symbolic act be described in the precise terms which one would expect had the same act been carried out literally? Cagliostro writes that his candidates for initiation “shall drink” a brew prepared from acacia, the “primal matter,” thereby “raising his spirit in order to understand.” This is exactly the type of language that one would expect if Cagliostro was actually initiating his candidates with a form of ayahuasca. For, the brew certainly satisfies the requirements of raising one’s spirit and imparting a certain understanding that comes only from the type of inebriation induced by drinking the beverage. As we have noted elsewhere, if not for its DMT content, we cannot conceive of any practical reason why Cagliostro would have his initiates literally drink an ayahuasca-like concoction of acacia.1

So, what’s the deal? We have been asked this – and asked ourselves this – on a great number of occasions, and not always to our satisfaction. It is only now, thanks to the detective work of my colleague Michael S. Downs, that a potential solution has finally come to light; one which may help illuminate this troublesome yet engaging little problem of ours.2 It is acknowledged that the solution to be proposed falls short of the desired academic standard. The reader is therefore asked to maintain an open – if skeptical – mind. Truly, for the present solution has been found in a fascinating and indeed the most curious of places: on the luminous surface of a crystal ball.

Amidst the second half of the nineteenth century, during a time that has come to be known as the occult revival, the curious practice of spirit communication was spreading like protoplasm. From séances and psychic channellings to magic mirrors and table tippings, Spiritualism and communications with the dead became all the rage on both sides of the pond, greatly influencing the thought and occupying the minds of those who would contribute largely to the esoteric literature of the era. One of the primary modes of spirit communication that was widely practiced at the time was crystal or mirror gazing, known as catoptromancy or skrying. It is believed by practitioners of the art that the spirits of all manner of deceased and disincarnate figures may be called into the crystal or mirror, and thereafter petitioned for the knowledge, favors, etc. that the querent requires or desires. Precisely how this conjuration is accomplished is beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice it to say that the various methods employed include the use of prayers, invocations and evocations, meditation and trance, the burning of incense (oftentimes of a psychoactive nature), music, sexual stimulation, and the ingestion of a number of narcotic, hypnagogic, and entheogenic plants and substances. Some of the key players during this creative period include visionary Rosicrucian Paschal Beverly Randolph, psychic Spiritualist Emma Hardinge Britten, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky of the Theosophical Society, and especially Freemasons Frederick Hockley and his students F.G. and Herbert Irwin.

Directly involved in the formation of Societas Rosicruciana In Anglia, Hockley and the Irwins are known to have preoccupied themselves with all things Rosicrucian, central to which, they believed, was the use of the magic mirror and crystal ball. Furthermore, of particular interest to them was the elusive Fratres Lucis, an alleged splinter group of the notorious Ordens des Gold und Rosenkreuzer, the first Rosicrucian order to surface following the initial publication of the so-called Rosicrucian Manifestos. Keen to acquire information on the mysterious Fratres Lucis, the same of which was wanting on the physical plane, the Irwins put to use their master Hockley’s teachings and turned to the crystal ball in order to petition the great mystic Count Cagliostro for assistance. For, it was believed by them that Cagliostro was bona fide member of the Fraternity. As F.G. Irwin’s magical diaries of the time clearly reflect, the operations were a great success, and the extended results can be found in Herbert Irwin’s Book of Magic, the purported astral grimoire of the Fratres Lucis, soon to be published by Caduceus Books.

Among the Cagliostro transmissions is one of particular interest to us for our present purposes; one which potentially provides a solution to the problem of the oral activity of the concoction of acacia given to candidates by Cagliostro in the latter’s Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry. As we explained in the opening paragraph, acacia alone would not normally be orally active. In order for it to become so, the acacia would necessitate being paired with an MAOI-containing plant such as Peganum harmala, aka Syrian rue. Remarkably, “Herb Rue” is precisely what Herbert Irwin has recorded in his Book of Magic as being an important tool in the Fratres Lucis’ pharmacopeia according to the Cagliostro transmissions. As Benny Shanon, the professor of psychology at Hebrew University in Israel, speculated in his paper Biblical Entheogens, Syrian rue could very well have been combined with the local species of acacia to produce a Middle Eastern brew chemically identical to the Amazonian ayahuasca. In fact, according to their founder Wahid Azal, Syrian rue and acacia are precisely the two plants presently combined and employed sacramentally and in an initiatory context by the Fatimiya Sufi order.3 And of course, Cagliostro was known to have journeyed through the Middle East in his many extensive travels, where Syrian rue is employed to this day in the form of Aspand by orthodox and heterodox Muslims alike.4 The Irwins’ master Hockley himself was even fascinated by the “Herb Rue,” as can be ascertained from the following excerpt from a letter from Hockley to the Irwins wherein the former pressed the latter for information pertaining to the preparation of the mysterious “Herb Rue.”

“As I mentioned in my note I read your MSS with very great interest. Being on the eve of leaving London…I could not compare them with Salmon, Culpeper, and other authors on [Rosicrucian] Medicines…When you are in town bring the [Book of Magic] MSS up and we will compare notes…by the bye I asked you for a copy of the recipe on the herb Rue. It is only a few lines.”5 [emphasis added]

But, was Syrian rue truly the plant intended by the Cagliostro transmissions? Traditional rue would certainly have been well known to the Irwins, and the same has extensive and well-documented medicinal uses. However, provided that the other botanicals itemized by Herbert Irwin in the Fratres Lucis pharmacopeia are either psychoactive or are commonly used as substitutes for psychoactive plants, e.g. saffron, poppy, vervain, etc., all of which are listed in Christian Ratsch’s Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants, traditional rue would appear completely out of place. Syrian rue, on the other hand, would seem to this author to be a perfectly natural, comfortable addition. Furthermore, the effects of “Herb Rue” provided in Herbert’s Book of Magic are consistent with those of Syrian rue, which include sweating, mental clarity, and mood enhancement. According to the Book of Magic,

“[Herb Rue] is most strengthening and health giving, it imparts life and strength to the body – it opens the pores of the skin and inclines the body to sweat – it is well for diseases of the brain for it imparts strength of all desirable parts.”6 [emphasis added]

The emphasized portion of the above excerpt regarding “diseases of the brain” is especially interesting as MAOIs are commonly used in psychiatry to treat mental health disorders including clinical depression and bipolar disorder. The same cannot be said of traditional rue, however. Somewhat discouraging, it might be noted, is the sad fact that no mention is made in Herbert’s Book of Magic of Cagliostro’s acacia libation. As Freemasons, however, the acacia would have already been well known to the Irwins. And, as avid students of the Count Cagliostro, perhaps too was Cagliostro’s ritual wherein a concoction of acacia was ceremonially drank also well known to them. If so, they made no indication of it in their magical records. But, being incredibly active Fringe Masons of the era, it is perfectly conceivable and possible that they would have indeed been familiar with the ritual.

And so, at the closing, we come back full circle to Cagliostro’s Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry and his problematic libation of acacia. Regardless of one’s attitude concerning crystal balls, magic mirrors, and the obtaining of knowledge from deceased or disincarnate sources, the remarkable consistencies presented here cannot be easily disregarded or ignored. To recap, an eighteenth century adept created a Masonic ritual wherein a libation of acacia was ingested by the candidate for the purpose of “raising his spirit in order to understand.” However, said adept made no mention in his ritual of the sister ingredient which would have been necessitated to make the libation orally active. A century later, the same adept, long deceased, allegedly appeared in the crystal ball of a young, Masonic seer, thereby potentially providing him with the very information needed to make orally active the aforementioned libation of acacia. Yes, the consistencies here presented are remarkable, indeed – almost as remarkable as the very Count himself.


1. Newman ( )
2. Thank you to Michael S. Downs, VII of the GA College of SRICF for making available unpublished magical records of F.G. Irwin’s Cagliostro transmissions.
3. Rooks
4. Yronwode
5. Hamill, pp. 63-66
6. We are grateful to Ben Fernee of Caduceus Books for generously providing us with this excerpt from the forthcoming Book of Magic.


Deveney, John P. Paschal Beverly Randolph
Irwin, Herbert Book of Magic
Faulks, Philippa The Masonic Magician
Godwin, Jocelyn The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor
Hamill, John The Rosicrucian Seer
Howe, Ellic Fringe Masonry in England
Newman, Phillip D. Magic Mirror Gazing Among the Rosicrucians
Newman, Phillip D. The Use of DMT in Early Masonic Ritual
Ratsch, Christian Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants
Rooks, Benton Ayahuasca and the Godhead
Shanon, Benny Biblical Entheogens
Yronwode, Catherine Aspand – Espand – Esphand – Against the Evil Eye

Phillip Newman

Phillip Newman

P.D. Newman is a member of Tupelo Lodge No. 318, Free and Accepted Masons. He has had papers published by the MS Lodge of Research, Guthrie Scottish Rite Journal, Knight Templar Magazine, Ad Lucem Journal, The Invisible College, Dragibus, Disinformation, Reality Sandwich, Neuro Soup, Living Stones Magazine, The Working Tools Magazine, etc.
Phillip Newman