I have always loved the city of Florence. There is something special about it; art and culture are omnipresent, but not conspicuous. This is a discrete presence that surrounds you while walking in the streets. From porches and churches to palaces, there is a rich history that influenced Europe—and the entire world. The Renaissance transformed art, but also the mind and spirituality. Building on fascinating medieval traditions, the rebirth of the classical philosophy and art has given birth to a new spirit. Even the light of the sky in Florence seems different, as if the blue was sometimes opening to another world.
This time, I was there with my wife for a few days, to share with her places I love, places related to the Hermetic Tradition. We were also there to organize a trip for the companions of the Aurum Solis eager to know one of the most important birth place of our Tradition. But this short visit took a twist I didn't expect.
This particular winter, the weather was colder than usual. The hotel we chose was in the center of the city and was an ancient building, dating back from the Renaissance. As our time in Florence was limited, we decided to spend the afternoon to walk in the streets and see the famous buildings from the outside. (This is always a good way to have a first impression of a city.)
A few weeks before our trip, I contacted a Florentine guide, born and raised in the city. She was a specialist of the Renaissance, with an extensive knowledge of history, philosophy, and architecture. Our intention was to ask her to guide our group to places linked to the history of the Medicis and Ficino. The appointment was scheduled for the second day of the trip. We were excited to talk with her and finalize our project.
After few hours in the freezing streets, we decided to come back to the hotel to take some rest. It was a good idea to warm up a little before we had a good Florentine dinner. After a moment, the phone rang. After checking my name, the receptionist told me that a gentleman, a guide, was there at the hotel to see me. I was very surprised—first, since the appointment was supposed to be the following day, and second, because my email correspondence had been with a woman, not a man. Something was strange, and it was difficult to know what. The only option was to go to the lobby and straighten it out. I told the receptionist that I will be there in few minutes. My wife and I went down to the lobby. A man was sitting on a sofa, browsing a magazine. He immediately looked at us, stood up, and walked to us to shake our hands. He had a smile on his face as if he already knew us. I knew that I never met him, but despite that, his face was familiar. He welcomed us with our names and invited us to sit around a coffee table, in a quite small room beside the lobby. I have to say that, a few hours after this encounter, I took notes about our conversation. As I am writing these words, these notes are precious in re-telling this story.
After sitting together, he said, "I know that my visit was not expected today, and I apologize for that."
"No need to apologize, " I said.
He looked at us with a smile, and after few seconds said, "As planned, you will see your guide tomorrow. I have been informed of your coming in Florence and I have been chosen to meet you today. It was easier for me to use this subterfuge, but I am also a kind of 'guide…'" He let few seconds of silence sit before he continued. "I know that you are both in charge of the Aurum Solis, and we have followed your publications. Carl Llewellyn has always understood the spirit of this tradition."
I said, "If I may, I am curious about the 'we' you are using. Are you publisher?"
"Not exactly; I am a friend and I represent today a very small group of friends that follow very closely what you are doing and what you are publishing. This is why I am here."
"I knew that I had readers in various countries, but what do you mean by following my work? I could be flattered, but I am more intrigued."
"You visited this city several times, and even spent one week to improve your Italian in a school. It was several years ago, but we remember."
I was astonished, and a bit worried, that he knew about my visits years ago.
He continued: "We were happy to learn that you were coming with your wife and this time as the head of the Aurum Solis. This is important. This is the first time for hundreds of years that a Grand Master of the Aurum Solis has a part of his family native from this land."
"Yes, I am very proud of this heritage, which comes from my father who was born Italian. I do my best to learn more about the Italian art, culture, and history."
"You know that Florence has been the place where the theurgic, hermetic tradition was reawakened and reorganized. What you don't know is that the watchmen of the tradition never disappeared. As Italian and Florentine, we are very proud of our culture. We know how to keep a flame burning throughout centuries. This is true for public cultural traditions and of course this is also true for inner circles. We could be called 'flame bearers.'"
My wife, who had been silent until now, intervened and said: "I don't want to interrupt, but the Aurum Solis was been created well after the Renaissance. So, even if a part of our heritage is coming from this beautiful city and our goal is to be truthful regarding the tradition, what can we do? Strangely, we have very few members in Italy!"
He smiled again and said, "I am not surprised. What can you expect from people who have been born and raised in a Catholic way? Esoteric Orders of this country are using the same ideology often without knowing it. I am not talking on behalf of such groups. They even don't know that our family still exists. You both and us belong to the same family."
Now, it was clear to us that he was related to the inner circle of the Platonic Academy founded by Cosimo de Medicis and organized by Marsilio Ficino during the Renaissance. Our Order Aurum Solis was the distant heir of this Neoplatonic academy. We were doing our best for years to research the real roots of our ritual curriculum. However, to imagine that this inner circle continued to exist in Florence throughout centuries was an amazing surprise. What was even more fantastic was to realize that they continued to follow the evolution of our school of Mysteries. I didn't know what to say or how to react. I was worried that too many questions could be inappropriate, but many things were coming to my mind. It was obvious that my wife was in the same state of mind, hesitating to push him too much.
I broke the silence by saying, "I wrote about Florence and the baptistery in several of my books, speaking about the rituals I know and the results of my meditations. It has been the case in my latest writing about prayer beads, and I hope that I was correct."
"Some things can be said and shared only on sacred ground."
Then he continued: "I invite you to come with me to the Duomo. It is about to close, and we must arrive before."
He turned his head in direction to my wife and said, "Do you mind if today, I go with your husband? It should not be very long before he comes back to you."
"Of course not," she answered.
Our hotel was close to the Duomo, just few minutes' walk away.
I would have preferred my wife beside me, but anyone can understand that in such situation, there is no place for hesitation. We went out. As it was winter, the night was already there and the wind still cold. But it was not the most important thing in this moment. We didn't speak during our walk in the streets. After years in the US, I had almost forgotten the narrow sidewalks. That could be stupid in this moment, but I was focused on two things: one, to follow him, and two, to not stumble. We arrived on the Piazza del Duomo and walked directly to the Saint John's Baptistery. Even if its bronze doors are famous and interesting, I always found the interior more fascinating. My guide whispered few words to the control guard and we were inside. I heard a lock closing the door behind me and the silence was immediate. The only soft sounds were coming from people walking outside. I like this kind of atmosphere, being alone in an ancient building. The temperature, humidity, sounds, everything contributes to disconnect this moment from the physical world. We sat down on the wooden benches. My guide broke the silence, speaking quietly but with a very clear voice.
"Do you remember that this building was created upon an old Roman temple?"
"Yes, and it amazed me that the construction of the famous cathedral beside began almost 700 years after. I did a lot of research about the octagonal buildings in the Western world. Years ago, I visited one very close to our tradition, in Turkey. But this place is different. Strangely, I always saw it as a solar temple. The Emperor Julian should have loved it."
"Even if the octagonal shape of this building is very ancient, its pavement was placed during the middle age. Our famous Dante was born almost 60 years after. You wrote about the zodiac and its central Sun surrounded by the palindrome. Your predecessors in the Order wrote about this place, but it was important to give some practical keys that can be used in conjunction to this building. You published it and even with few errors, it was correct. This is a real and powerful invocation that should be still used. Don't hesitate to continue."
"I am intrigued by the Fideli d'Amore. The oral tradition of the Aurum Solis presents them as an important part of our history. I can see the connection between them, this place, and Ficino's Academy, but what about the Knights Templar?"
"What about them?"
"You know that I received this lineage when I was young. There is a lot of fantasy around their esotericism. However, beside their religious affiliation and dedication to the Virgin Mary, I continue to see them mainly as warriors and bankers."
"It is true that their presence in Florence was almost insignificant. Their links to the Fideli don't make any sense and even less if we consider the baptistery and this city."
"But what about Dante's writings and his guide in the Divine Comedia, Saint Bernard? Many see this as a proof of his link to the Fideli and the Knights Templar!"
"I know, but many are speaking without knowing. It is easy to build connections and forget the obvious contradictions. It is written in the Templar's rule: 'In multiloquio non effugies peccatum,' which means 'Speaking too much lead to sin.' Several rules are opposite to the main principles of the Fideli d'Amore and we could spend the night to list them. Remember that Saint Bernard leaded the crusade against the Cathars who were very close to the tradition we are talking about."
"I understand, but what about this building? The octagonal churches built by the knights templars are countless!"
"This is true, but again they began to build these kinds of buildings after seeing the Dome of the Rock and few other churches in Palestine. Before that were Constantine and the Roman Empire. There are links you should follow. They will bring more for the Aurum Solis."
He looked at me in the eyes and said: "The Emperor Julian was a Byzantine Emperor, wasn't he?"
Everyone who followed my work, know that I used his first name in some of my writings. I stayed silent for few minutes, and asked:
"Why am I here? What do you want from me?"
He answered slowly, with a very clear voice: "To continue your work for the benefice of the companions of the Order and the public who read your books. There are facts that should be corrected and original ritual processes that should be provided. You began this demanding work and you must continue. From time to time, one of us will meet you, only when it will be needed. For now, check carefully what has been claimed in the oral history of the Order during the 19th century. Find the real link between the Fideli d'Amore and Marsilio."
"In one of my books, I wrote several things about the oral tradition of the Aurum Solis just preceding its modern manifestation."
His eyes were watchful, and he replied immediately: "And you never really verified! Do it and you will be very surprised. The truth is not always pleasant."
A few voices outside the baptistery reverberated and diminished.
He continued saying: "Come with me."
I stood up and followed him. We stopped around the pavement depicting the Sun surrounded by the palindrome. This pavement is not really beautiful; it is old and simple. However, it fascinates me. Pointing out the surrounding walls, my guide said, "There is a lot to learn here and everything is not on the floor. When you will be back with companions of the Order, closed doors will be opened. Then, they will understand more. But for now, let us accomplish the ancient custom of our family."
I cannot tell more in this account. Everything was simple, true, and emotional. The building was breathing with us, the mist and the light were moving around us. I don't know why, but I was not really surprised by the fact that the key was on the door. We left the baptistery and he closed the door in silence. The freezing wind was still blowing. He shook my hand and I asked:
"How I can contact you?"
"You cannot. We will," and he disappeared in the night.