There are cult figures, and then there are cult figures, enigmatic personalities infused with inexplicable stories and surrounded by incredible experiences. In Italy, that would be Gustavo Adolfo Rol, a 20th century virtuoso of mysticism and illusion. And it’s no wonder Rol lived in the supernatural City of Savoy, Torino.
Torino is Europe’s city of magic. Known as a hub for the preternatural, with its esoteric symbolism, occult secrets and surreptitious vibes, Torino is uncannily and geographically positioned as a key vertice on both the white magic triangle (with Prague and Lyon) and and the black magic triangle ( London and San Francisco) – imagine Hogwarts, on top of Salem, on top of Stonehenge- a lot of magic, a lot of mystery. Considered a city of due anime (two souls) caught in an eternal struggle between the forces of good and evil, Torino is no stranger to stranger things. And it’s here in that overlap that the esoteric Rol reigned.
Gustavo Rol was a gentlemen’s gentleman, born in Torino at the turn of the century to an affluent family. Haute bourgeois Rol grew up hobnobbing with all the well-heeled Torinese families as well as diplomats, dignitaries and artists. He himself studied painting and music before graduating in law. Restless, Rol pursued degrees in medical biology in Paris and economics in London and followed in his father’s footsteps, traveling Europe as a banker for one of Italy’s most prominent banks.
Throughout all his studies, Rol was curious about magic, mentalism and illusionism and early on was obsessed with predicting cards. However, while in Paris in 1927, the young banker had an existential crisis that brought him when he uncovered a correlation between the colour green, the musical note Sol and kinetic energy. The discovery was so intense that Rol locked himself up in a nunnery for three months where he explored states of sublime consciousness (a state of union with the absolute). Rol’s s life was altered evermore.
Rol returned to Torino and dedicated his life to studying and developing his mystical skills in the privacy of his own home, while discreetly working as an antique buyer and collector, often interacting with artists like Picasso and D’Annunzio and people of power including Pio XII. On September 8, 1943, as a captain in Italy’s Alpine troops, Rol was able to save partisan fighters who were to be executed by the Nazi-Fascist armed forces. Some say that it was Rol’s telekinetic powers and magical experiments that charmed the Germans into releasing the prisoners.
Post-war, Rol’s fame grew as he continued to test out his magical talents. Whether it was his ability to read cards from a distance, moving objects or making things appear or disappear using his telekinetic powers, predicting events via telepathy, reading someone’s aura, or transporting himself in time, his followers were captivated. His talents first became public journalist Dino Buzzati recounted how Rol saved a man’s life.
According to Buzzati, Rol was on holiday at Hotel du Cap in the Antibes and advised a man that his friend Count Giorgi Cini’s death was imminent. The concerned friend accompanied Cini to the airport and watched as his plane exploded in midair killing the illustrious count.
And there are so many other stories… like the time Rol spoke with a deceased Picasso and recreated a painting at a distance with strokes from multiple hands. Or the time, Rol magically disappeared and reappeared through the walls of his own home. And supposedly the afternoon lunch with Federico Fellini in which Rol magically shrunk himself, only to return to his normal 6 foot height.
Ever the illuminato, Rol always managed to cause a stir even though he rarely appeared in public. Rol was the subject of many interviews and documentaries with incredible and unfounded claims that placed him in the ranks of cult-like figures like English occultist Aleister Crowley and advisor to the likes of Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler andCharles De Gaulle, and met with Albert Einstein. Meanwhile, his life-long friends such as Fellini, Franco Zeffirelli and Cesare Romiti all vouched for Rol’s incredible paranormal gifts.
By the end of the 20th century, Rols’s followers likened him to a spellbinding David Copperfield all’Italiano, faithfully describing his supernatural talents as limitless. In fact, the Gustavo Rol website archives his power of possibilities into 49 distinct categories including clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, retro-cognition, telekinesis, materialization and dematerialization of objects, doubling, levitation, healing powers, xenoglossy, lightning strikes, diagnosis of illnesses (endoscopy and ability to see an aura) and time travel. Yes, time travel.
Others cast him off as hocus pocus, an overzealous wanna-be magician who was secretly the face of a satanic cult or simply did not believe in his illusionist talents. Rol fomented the naysayers (who included magician Silvan and scientific journalist Piero Angela) by never allowing anyone to take part in his demonstrations unless they had been preselected by him beforehand and he vehemently opposed any type of scientific control.
Fact or fiction, psychic or charlatan, Role was dedicated to his exploration of mysticism and the paranormal, and left a cult-like following which prospers to this day. His home, Casa Rol in Via Silvio Pellico 31, was a Wonderland and spiritual workshop, which today, a museum for anyone interested in diving into the incredible possibilities of Gustavo Rol.