Rosicrucians
The idea of a Rosicrucian brotherhood arose in the early
seventeenth century and through the succeeding decades
aroused considerable interest among those with occult leanings.
In the absence of an organization to coincide with the
early documents that presented the basic Rosicrucian myth, numerous
occultists filled the vacuum and invented a new mystical
life. Over the next centuries, books appeared to present the
true Rosicrucian teachings; Rosicrucian degrees appeared in
speculative masonry; and different Rosicrucian orders
emerged. During the nineteenth century, fiction writers found
the idea of Rosicrucianism a suitable topic for romantic novels,
such as Bulwar Lytton’s Zanoi, Percy Shelley’s St. Irvyne the Rosicrucian,
and Harrison Ainworth’s Auriol.
The name Rosicrucian is derived from rosa (a rose) and crux
(a cross); the general symbol of the supposed order was a rose
placed on the center of a cross. In a Rosicrucian book of the
nineteenth century, there is a symbol of a red cross-marked
heart in the center of an open rose, which the writer Arthur E.
Waite believed to be a development of the monogram of Martin
Luther, which was a cross-crowned heart rising from the
center of an open rose.
History of the Brotherhood
Little was known concerning the Rosicrucians before the
publication of Waite’s work The Real History of the Rosicrucians
in 1887 (later revised and enlarged as The Brotherhood of the Rosy
Cross, 1924). Waite’s writing on the Rosicrucians laid the
groundwork for serious study of the subject. Prior to that, a
great deal had been written concerning Rosicrucianism by people
claiming to be Rosicrucians or representatives of the brotherhood,
including the most questionable volume by Hargrave
Jennings, The Rosicrucians Their Rites and Mysteries (1870). It
was typical of many writings regarding the fraternity of the
Rosy Cross, and as the Westminster Review wittily commented in
its notice of the volume, it dealt with practically everything
under the sun except the Rosicrucians. In contrast, working as
a critical historian, Waite gathered all that could be known regarding
Rosicrucians at that time. Assembling all the relevant
manuscripts, some of which he discovered, he was the first to
put together a believable account of the origins of this branch
of the occult world.
The name Rosicrucian appears to have been unknown before
the year 1598. The movement originated in Germany,
where, in the town of Cassel in the year 1614, the public was
surprised by the publication of a pamphlet bearing the title The
Fama of the Fraternity of the Meritorious Order of the Rosy Cross Addressed
to the Learned in General and the Governors of Europe.
It purported to be a message from certain anonymous
adepts who were deeply concerned for the condition of humankind
and who greatly desired its moral renewal and perfection.
It proposed that all men of learning throughout the world
should join forces for the establishment of a synthesis of science,
through which would be discovered the perfect method
for all the arts. The squabblings and quarrelings of the literati
of the period were to be ignored, and the antiquated authorities
of the old world to be discredited. It pointed out that a reformation
had taken place in religion, that the church had been
cleansed, and that a similar new career was now open to science.
All this was to be brought about by the assistance of the
illuminated Brotherhood, the children of light who had been
initiated in the mysteries of the Grand Orient and would lead
the age of perfection.
The fraternity supplied what purported to be an account of
its history. The head and front of the movement was one C. R.
C., a magic hierophant of the highest rank, who at age five had
been placed in a convent where he studied the humanities. At
age 15, he had accompanied one Frater (brother) P. A. L. on
his travels to the Holy Land. To the great grief of C. R. C., Frater
P. A. L. died at Cyprus, but C. R. C. resolved to continue
the arduous journey himself.
Arriving at Damascus, he obtained knowledge of a secret circle
of mystics, experts in all magic arts, who lived in an unknown
city of Arabia called Damcar. Turning aside from his
quest for the Holy Sepulcher, the lad made up his mind to trace
these illuminati and sought out certain Arabians, who took him
to the city of Damcar. He arrived there at age 16 and was graciously
welcomed by the magi, who told him they had long been
expecting him, and related to him several occurrences from his
past.
They proceeded to initiate him into the mysteries of occult
science, and he quickly became acquainted with Arabic, from
which he translated the divine book M into Latin. After three
years of mystic instruction, he departed from the mysterious
city for Egypt, then sailed to Fez, as the wise men of Damcar
had instructed him to do. There he fell in with other masters
who taught him how to evoke the elemental spirits.
After a further two years’ sojourn at Fez, his period of initiation
was over, and he proceeded to Spain to confer with the wisdom
of that country and convince its professors of the errors
of their ways. The scholars of Spain, however, turned their
backs upon him with loud laughter and intimated to him that
they had learned the principles and practice of magic from a
much higher authority, namely, Satan himself, who had unveiled
to them the secrets of necromancy within the walls of the
University of Salamanca.
With noble indignation, the young man shook the dust of
Spain from his feet and turned his face to other countries, only
to find the same treatment within their boundaries. At last he
sought his native land of Germany, where he pored over the
great truths he had learned in solitude and seclusion and reduced
his universal philosophy to writing. Five years of a hermit’s
life, however, only served to strengthen him in his opinions
and he continued to feel that one who had mastered the
arts of alchemy, had achieved the transmutation of metals, and
had manufactured the elixir of life was designed for a nobler
purpose than rumination in solitude.
Slowly and carefully he began to gather assistants, who became
the nucleus of the Rosicrucian fraternity. When he had
gathered four of these into the brotherhood, they invented
among them a magic language, a cipher writing of equal magic
potency, and a large dictionary replete with occult wisdom.
They erected a House of the Holy Ghost, healed the sick, and
initiated further members, then, calling themselves missionaries,
went to the various countries of Europe to disseminate
their wisdom.
In course of time, C. R. C. died, and for 120 years the secret
of his burial place was concealed. The original members also
died one by one, and it was not until the third generation of
adepts had arisen that the tomb of their illustrious founder was
unearthed during the rebuilding of one of their secret dwellings.
The vault in which this tomb was found was illuminated
by the sun of the magi, and inscribed with magic characters.
The body of the illustrious founder was discovered in perfect
preservation, and a number of marvels were discovered buried
beside him, which convinced the existing members of the fraternity
that it was their duty to make these known to the world.
It was this discovery that immediately inspired the brotherhood
to make its existence public in the aforementioned circular,
and they invited all worthy persons to apply to them for initiation
into their order. They refused, however, to supply their
names and addresses, and asked those who wished for initiation
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1325
to signify their intention by the publication of printed letters,
which they would be certain to notice. In conclusion they assured
the public that they were believers in the reformed
Church of Christ (i.e., Lutheranism) and denounced in the
most solemn manner all pseudo-occultists and alchemists.
The Fama created tremendous excitement among the occultists
of Europe, and a large number of pamphlets were published
criticizing or defending the society and its manifesto, in
which it was pointed out there were a number of discrepancies.
To begin with, no such city as Damcar existed in Arabia. Where,
it was asked, was the House of the Holy Ghost, which the Rosicrucians
stated had been seen by 100,000 persons but was concealed
from the world C. R. C., the founder, as a boy of 15
must have achieved great occult skill to have astonished the
magi of Damcar, skeptics said.
Despite these objections, however, considerable credit was
given to the Rosicrucian publication. The Confession of the Rosicrucian
Fraternity, addressed to the learned in Europe, appeared
one year later. This offered initiation by gradual stages
to selected applicants, and revealed its ultra-Protestant character
by what an old Scottish minister used to call ‘‘a dig at the
Pope,’’ whom it publicly execrated, expressing the hope that
his ‘‘asinine braying’’ would finally be put a stop to by tearing
him to pieces with nails! This impious comment did little to enhance
the reputation of Rosicrucians among Roman Catholics.
A year later, in 1616, The Chemical Nuptials of Christian
Rosencreutz was published, purporting to recount incidents in
the life of the mysterious founder of the Brotherhood of the
Rosy Cross. But the ‘‘chemical marriage’’ makes Christian
Rosencreutz an old man when he achieves initiation, and this
hardly squared with the original account of his life as given in
the Fama. By that time a number of persons had applied for initiation
but had received no answer to their applications. Since
many believed themselves to be alchemical and magical adepts,
great irritation arose with the brotherhood, and it was generally
considered that the whole business was a hoax. By 1620 the
Rosicrucians and their publication had lapsed into obscurity.
Numerous theories were advanced as to the probable authorship
of these manifestos, and it is now known that these
documents were written by Johann Valentin Andrae
(1586–1654), a Lutheran pastor who had absorbed both occult
and magical teachings as well as a desire for social change in
Germany. His aim in producing the books seems to have derived
from a plan to attempt the formation of a secret society
that could encourage the reformation of values among the public,
but it is not impossible that the documents were simply a
hoax. It is most unlikely that they describe an actual organization
existing in Germany in the early seventeenth century or
that C. R. C. ever existed.
Rosicrucian Groups
So far as can be gleaned from their publications, the Rosicrucians
(or the person in whose imagination they existed) were
believers in the doctrines of Paracelsus. They believed in alchemy,
astrology, and occult forces in nature, and their belief
in these is identical to the doctrines of that great master of occult
philosophy and medicine. They were thus essentially modern
in their occult beliefs, just as they were modern in their religious
ideas.
Waite thought it possible that in Nuremburg, in the year
1598, a Rosicrucian society was founded by a mystic and alchemist
named Simon Studion, under the name Militia Crucifera
Evangelica, which held periodical meetings in that city. Its proceedings
were reported in an unprinted work of Studion’s, and
in opinions and objects it was identical with the supposed Rosicrucian
Society. ‘‘Evidently,’’ stated Waite, ‘‘the Rosicrucian Society
of 1614 was a transfiguration or development of the sect
established by Simon Studion.’’ But Waite’s idea remains unsupported
speculation.
In 1618 Henrichus Neuhuseus published a Latin pamphlet
that stated that the Rosicrucian adepts had migrated to India.
This pamphlet received little response until the nineteenth
century, when some Theosophists proposed the notion that
Rosicrucians still existed in the tablelands of Tibet. It was even
alleged that the Rosicrucians developed into a Tibetan brotherhood,
and exchanged their Protestant Christianity for esoteric
Buddhism.
On a more serious level, in England the Rosicrucian idea
was taken up by Robert Fludd (1574–1637), who wrote a spirited
defense of the brotherhood; by the alchemist Thomas
Vaughan (1622–1666), who wrote as Eugenius Philalethes and
translated the Fama and the Confession; and by John Heydon
(ca. 1629–1668), who furnished a peculiarly quaint and interesting
account of the Rosicrucians in The Wise Man’s Crown; or,
The Glory of the Rosie-Cross (1664). Heydon also wrote a variety
of other treatises regarding alchemical skill and medical ability
in El Havareuna; or, The English Physician’s Tutor (1665), and A
New Method of Rosie Crucian Physick (1658). In France, Rosicrucianism
was also widely discussed. It has been stated that there
was a strong connection between Rosicrucians and Freemasons.
In Germany, Rosicrucianism became identified with various
Pietist movements, movements that attempted to revive spiritual
life above and beyond that to be found in the many parish
churches. One Pietist leader was Johann Jacob Zimmerman, a
theologian and occultist who emerged in the 1680s. Zimmerman
also believed that Christ would return at some point in the
1690s. He found an apt pupil in Johannes Kelpius, whom he
brought into the Pietist movement and with whom he organized
a small disciplined brotherhood ready to accept William
Penn’s offer of a home in the American colonies. Zimmerman
died before this small group of Rosicrucians could migrate,
which they finally did in 1694. They arrived in Philadelphia on
June 23, just in time to celebrate St. John’s Eve.
The group settled on Wissahickon Creek in what is today the
Germantown section of Philadelphia and there erected a cubic
house with 40 foot sides and America’s first astrological observatory
on its roof. They believed that by observation of the
heavens, they would be able to discern the first signs of Christ’s
anticipated arrival. Kelpius died in 1708, and soon thereafter,
Christ having not returned, the group disintegrated. It became
the basis of the continuing magic (or powwow) tradition in
southeastern Pennsylvania.
Early in the eighteenth century another Rosicrucian impulse
appeared in Germany. In 1710 a certain Sincerus Racatus,
or Sigmund Richter, published A Perfect and True Preparation
of the Philosophical Stone according to the Secret Methods of the
Brotherhood of the Golden and Rosy Cross, and annexed to this
treatise were the rules of the Rosicrucian Society for the initiation
of new members.
Waite considered these rules additional indication of the society’s
existence at the period, and he believed that Richter’s
group continued the Nuremburg group originally established
by Studion. In 1785 the publication of The Secret Symbols of the
Rosicrucians of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries took place
at Altona, showing, in Waite’s opinion, that the mysterious
brotherhood still existed, but this was their last manifesto.
These bits of evidence are so scanty that any reasonable and
workable hypothesis that such a society ever existed can scarcely
be founded upon them.
Waite humorously stated that he was not able to trace the
eastern progress of the brotherhood further than the Isle of
Mauritius, where it is related in an odd manuscript that a certain
Comte De Chazal initiated Sigismond Bacstrom into the
mysteries of the Rose Cross Order in 1794, but nothing is
known about the Comte De Chazal or his character, and it is
possible that Bacstrom might have been one of those persons
who, in all times and countries, have been willing to purchase
problematical honors. Bacstrom’s manuscripts attained a new
importance later, when they passed into the hands of Frederick
Hockley, an important figure in the revival of magic in the
nineteenth century in England and who was later concerned
with a revival of the Rosicrucian society.
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Rosicrucian Theories
Rosicrucianism fit into the stream of Gnosticism that
emerged in the Mediterranean basin in the second century and
coexisted with Christianity through the centuries. At times, as
Manicheanism or as the Cathari, it attained a significant popular
following, and in the late middle ages undergirded alchemy.
From the Fama and Confession, it is possible to glean some
definite ideas of the occult concept of the Rosicrucians. In these
documents is included the doctrine of the microcosm, which
teaches that man contains the potential of the universe. This is
a distinctly Paracelsian belief. There is also the belief of the
doctrine of elementary spirits, which many people wrongly
think originated with the Rosicrucians, but which was probably
reintroduced by Paracelsus.
The manifestos contain the doctrine of the Signatura Rerum,
which is also of Paracelsian origin. This is the magic writing referred
to in the Fama and the mystical characters of a book of
nature, which, according to the Confession, stands open for all
eyes but can be read or understood by only a very few. These
characters, it is written, are the seal of God imprinted on the
wonderful work of creation, on the heavens and Earth, and on
all beasts.
It would appear, too, that some form of practical magic was
known to the brotherhood. They were also, they said, alchemists,
and claimed to have achieved the transmutation of metals
and the manufacture of the elixir of life.
Modern Rosicrucianism
The flurry of interest in Rosicrucianism in the century following
the initial announcement of the existence of a Rosicrucian
Brotherhood was followed in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries by the development of speculative masonry,
especially in Scotland, and the inclusion of Rosicrucian degrees
amid the mass of others. Such Rosicrucian degrees survive to
the present in the eighteenth degree, ‘‘the Rose-Croix,’’ of the
Ancient and Accepted Rite and the RSYCS degree of the Royal
Order of Scotland. However, the first of the modern Rosicrucian
organizations was founded around 1861 by Paschal Beverly
Randolph (1825–1875). Randolph claimed that in the
1850s he traveled to France, made contact with the Rosicrucian
Fraternity, and was named grand master for the Americas
of the organization. Unfortunately, no independent record of
the Rosicrucians with whom he met was available, and some
doubt exists as to from whom he received his commission. What
is less in doubt is his founding the First Supreme Grand Lodge
of the Rosicrucian Fraternity in San Francisco on November 5,
1861, just as the Civil War was beginning. Shortly thereafter,
however, he left on a trip around the world, and then settled
in Boston.
Randolph’s travel required at least two reorganizations of
the fraternity during his lifetime, the second in 1874 in Toledo,
Ohio. Following Randolph’s death in 1875, he was succeeded
by Freeman B. Dowd (1875–1907) and Edward H. Brown
(1907–1922). In 1922 Reuben Swinburne Clymer, under whose
leadership the order found a stabilized existence, established
the present headquarters in rural Pennsylvania near Quakertown.
Clymer was eventually succeeded by his son Emerson
Clymer. The Rosicrucian Fraternity differs from other Rosicrucian
groups in its refusal to advertise or engage in selfpromotional
activities.
In England the idea of Rosicrucianism was passed through
the masonic orders and thereby came to Frederick Hockley. In
1865 a small group of masons founded the Societas Rosicruciana
in Anglia (RSIA; the Rosicrucian Society of England).
(There is some hint of a ‘‘Rosicrucian’’ society having been
founded in the 1830s, but its existence is somewhat shadowy.)
The RSIA published a small quarterly magazine, beginning in
1868 and continuing through the end of the 1870s, which in
an early number stated that the society was ‘‘calculated to meet
the requirements of those worthy masons who wished to study
the science and antiquities of the craft, and trace it through its
successive developments to the present time; also to cull information
from all the records extant from those mysterious societies
which had their existence in the dark ages of the world,
when might meant right.’’
To join, it was necessary to be a mason. The officers of the
society consisted of three magi, a master-general for the first
and second orders, a deputy master-general, a treasurer, a secretary,
and seven ancients. The assisting officers numbered a
precentor, organists, torchbearer, herald, and so forth. The society
was composed of nine grades or classes. These objects
were, however, fulfilled in a very perfunctory manner, if the
magazine of the association is any criterion of its work, for this
publication was filled with occult serial stories, reports of masonic
meetings, and verse. Waite observed (though he seemed
to be speaking in heightened hyperbole) that the most notable
circumstance connected with this society was the complete ignorance
that seemed to have prevailed among its members
concerning everything connected with Rosicrucianism.
The prime movers of the association were Robert Wentworth
Little, (1840–1878); its first supreme magus, Frederick
Hockley; Kenneth Mackenzie, author of The Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia
(1877); and Hargrave Jennings, author of the infamous
text, The Rosicrucians Their Rites and Mysteries (1870). A
Metropolitan College was founded in London in 1866, and the
Soc. Ros. in Scotia about the same time. Other colleges were
later formed in the provinces. W. R. Woodman succeeded Little
as grand magus in 1878. Mackenzie was named honorary
magus and gave many lectures to the society.
In 1891 William Wynn Westcott succeeded Woodman as
supreme magus. Three years earlier, Westcott had become one
of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn occult
society, whose grade system and rituals drew heavily on Rosicrucian
concepts. S. L. MacGregor Mathers, another of the
Golden Dawn chiefs, formed a second order known as R.R. et
A.C. (Rose of Ruby and Cross of Gold), supposed to be a British
branch of a German occult order known as Ordo Roseae Rubeae
et Aureae Crucis. The Golden Dawn was regarded as the
probationary order of the R.R. et A.C. and the initiation rite
dramatized the Rosicrucian legend of Christian Rosenkreutz in
his tomb. When executive dissension arose in the Golden Dawn
in 1901, member W. B. Yeats privately published a pamphlet
titled Is the Order of R.R. & A.C. to Remain a Magical Order
Meanwhile, in the United States, a set of Rosicrucian orders
began to emerge. The first was the Societas Rosicruciana Republicae
Americae (now known as the Societas Rosicruciana in
Civitatibus Foederatis), established by a set of masons who received
their authorization in 1878 from the Societas Rosicruciana
in Anglica, through the college in York. Like its British
counterpart, one had to be a mason to join. Out of it grew the
Societas Rosicruciana in America, founded in 1907, which
opened its doors to non-masons. Founder Sylvester Gould was
succeeded by George Winslow Plummer (1876–1944), under
whose leadership the society flourished up to World War II.
Plummer was succeeded by Stanislaus Witowski (or de Witow).
He was succeeded by Gladys Plummer de Witow and more recently,
Lucia L. Grosch.
Also based in the Western occult tradition is the Ancient
and Mystic Order of the Rosicrucians, popularly known by its
acronym, AMORC. AMORC was founded in 1915 by H. Spencer
Lewis, and after locating the headquarters in San Jose, California,
in the mid-1920s, Lewis built the order into the largest
Rosicrucian organization in the world with an aggressive program
of advertising and recruitment and a popular correspondence
course for members.
Several Rosicrucian groups grew out of the Theosophical
Society and the teachings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and
Rudolf Steiner, an early theosophical leader in Germanspeaking
Europe. Steiner was the leading champion of a
Christ-centered approach to Theosophy and promoted Rosicrucian
ideals. In 1907 Louis van Grashof, known under his
public name, Max Heindel, founded the Rosicrucian FellowEncyclopedia
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1327
ship. Heindel had attended Steiner’s lectures, and he incorporated
Steiner’s ideas in his many books. The Rosicrucian Fellowship
became an important force in reestablishing astrology
in the West in this century. The Rosicrucian Fellowship became
the source of several other Rosicrucian groups, including the
Lectorium Rosicrucianum, the Rosicrucian Anthroposophical
League, and the Ausar Auset Society, unique for its adaptation
of Rosicrucian teachings to the needs of the African
American community.
Sources
Allen, Paul M. Christian Rosenkreutz Anthology. Blauvelt, N.Y.
Steiner Books, 1974.
Arnold, Paul. Histoire des Rose-Crois. Paris, 1934.
Dickson, Donald R. The Tesserea of Antilia Utopian Brotherhoods
and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century. Leiden
Brill, 1998.
Gardener, F. Leigh. A Catalogue Raisonne of Works on the Occult
Sciences. Vol. 1 of the Rosicrucian Books. Privately printed,
1923.
Howe, Ellic. The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. London
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.
McIntosh, Christopher. The Rosy Cross Unveiled The History,
Mythology, and Rituals of an Occult Order. Wellingborough, England
Aquarian Press, 1980.
Pryse, F. N., ed. The Fame and Confession of the Fraternity of
RC Commonly of the Rosie Cross . . . by Eugenius Philalethes . . .
now reprinted in facsimile together with an Introduction, Notes and
a Translation of the letter of Adam Haselmeyer. Societas Rosicruciana
in Anglia, 1923.
Silberer, Herbert. The Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult
Arts. New York Dover, 1971.
Waite, A. E. The Real History of the Rosicrucians. London
George Redway, 1887. Reprint, Blauvelt, N.Y. Steiner Books,
1977. Revised as The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. London William
Rider & Son, 1924. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y. University
Books, 1961.
Yates, Frances. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.