views updated May 17 2018


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 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.

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 German-speaking 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 Fellowship. 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.


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 R:C: 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.


views updated May 29 2018


ROSICRUCIANS . Although the secrecy pledged by members necessarily limits knowledge of Rosicrucian fraternities and their legendary founder, Christian Rosencreutz (whose surname means "rose cross"), documents published in the early seventeenth century and specific historical allusions to the Rosicrucians from that time on both provide basic information on these fraternities and adumbrate their significance within the esoteric traditions that arose in early modern Europe. The story of Christian Rosencreutz was promulgated through the publications Fama Fraternitatis (1614) and Confessio Fraternitatis (1615), which recounted his life and teachings and described the fraternity he founded. A third document, the Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreutz (Chemical Wedding; 1616), portrayed an alchemistic initiatory process, the representation of which was based in part on the actual wedding of Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England.


According to the story recounted in these documents, Christian Rosencreutz was a German scholar born in 1378. He lived to be 106. One hundred and twenty years after his death, his followers, obeying his instructions, opened his tomb; they heralded this event as the "opening" of a new era in Europe. The tomb purportedly contained Rosencreutz's uncorrupted body, various artifacts, and texts summarizing his teachings. In his quest for wisdom, Rosencreutz had traveled to the Holy Land, Egypt, Morocco, and Spain; his teachings reflected the influences of alchemy, Alexandrian Hermetism, Christian gnosticism, Jewish mysticism (Qabbalah), and the Paracelsian medical tradition. Following his own preparation and study, Rosencreutz, with three companions, established the Society of the Rose Cross. This fraternity was to have no other profession than (in the manner of Paracelsus) to attend to the sick for free. Members were also required to travel in order to gain and to disseminate knowledge, to report yearly by letter or in person to the center Rosencreutz had founded (called the Home of the Holy Spirit), to wear no distinctive garb, to seek worldly successors, and to employ the rose cross as their seal and symbol.

Significantly, both the publication of the aforementioned Rosicrucian documents and the purported opening of Rosencreutz's tomb occured in the early seventeenth century, thus placing Rosicrucianism directly in the context of Reformation and Counter-Reformation currents. Further, the documents originally appeared in Bohemia, which at the time was a haven for alchemists, freethinkers, millenarians, and adherents of diverse religious traditions. The authorship of the three key texts has been attributed to Johann Valentin Andreae (15861654), a Lutheran theologian and mystic. Andreae later described the history of the Rosicrucians up to his time as pure fabrication; at their publication, however, his texts met with a receptive and enthusiastic audience. With the collapse in 1620 of the brief reign in Bohemia of Frederick and Elizabeth and the onset of the Thirty Years War, Rosicrucianism became associated with Protestantism and "heretical teachings." As part of their campaign against Rosicrucianism, the Jesuits even penned their own Rosicrucian-style document, the Rosa Jesuitica (c. 1620).

During the seventeenth century, Rosicrucian figures such as the "Great Hermeticist" Michael Maier (15681622) and the physician Robert Fludd (15741637) were instrumental in the spread of Rosicrucian thought and influence on the European continent and in England, respectively. The antiquarian Elias Ashmole (16171692) is believed to have brought the Rosicrucian current into speculative Freemasonry. What linked these writers, as well as numerous minor figures, was less an identifiable Rosicrucian brotherhood than an adherence to Rosicrucian beliefs. The claims of Descartes and Leibnizthat, the secrecy of the Rosicrucian order notwithstanding, their efforts to meet a live Rosicrucian were in vainsupport the contention that Rosicrucianism existed mainly as a religious and intellectual approach to life rather than as an actual association. In this connection, the question of whether Francis Bacon was a Rosicrucian is unimportant, for he certainly was influenced by, and a participant in, the Rosicrucian trends affecting European intellectual life.

Following a period of relative quiescence in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Rosicrucianism was revived. The Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, founded in the latter part of the nineteenth century by Robert Wentworth Little (d. 1878), played an important role in the renewal and spread of Rosicrucianism. This was not, however, the only strain. Here, polemic concerns of divers Rosicrucian groups obscure the already uncertain history of interactions among European currents and the introduction of Rosicrucianism into America. In the mid-1980s, two major Rosicrucian societies exist in the United States: the Society of Rosicrucians, or Societas Rosicruciana in America, founded in New York City and presently located in Kingston, New York, and the Ancient and Mystical Order of Rosae Crucis, based in San Jose, California. The Societas Rosicruciana publishes the Mercury quarterly; the first issue appeared in 1916. The Ancient and Mystical Order issues the Rosicrucian Digest, which began publication as the Triangle in 1921.

In addition to the establishment of Rosicrucian organizations, the late nineteenth century witnessed Rosicrucianism's strong influence upon Western esotericism. Rosicrucian traditions took form in the Order of the Golden Dawn, a Hermetic society whose initiates practiced a spiritual discipline that they claimed was based upon principles of occult science and the magic of Hermes Trismegistos. At various times, the order numbered William Butler Yeats and Aleister Crowley among its members. Rosicrucianism's influence was also felt in the artworks of an idealist renaissance fostered by the occult aestheticism of Joséphin Peladan's Salons de la Rose + Croix in Paris and in the work of Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophical Society.


From its beginnings, Rosicrucianism spread a message of general reformation, preached a new enlightenment, promised a new Paradise, and taught a combination of religious illumination, evangelical piety, and magic. Rosicrucian "science" comprised a system of mathematics and mechanics for the lower world, celestial mathematics for the higher world, and angelic conjuration for the supercelestial world. In principle, the angelic sphere could be penetrated by the use of Rosicrucian technique, and, thus, the essence of all reality was graspable. The initiates were offered insight into the nature of all life. The Hermetic axiom "As above, so below," typical of Rosicrucian teaching, had a profound effect on early modern scientific thought, and Rosicrucianismlike other occult pathshas been credited with having helped to prepare the way for the rise of modern science.

The Chymische Hochzeit depicts the initiatory aspects of Rosicrucianism. Echoing themes of the Fama and the Confessio, its story recounts Christian Rosencreutz's participation in the celebration of a royal wedding. Called on the eve of Easter from his preparation for Communion, Rosencreutz journeys to a magical castle full of treasures. There he joins the wedding party, and over the course of the Christian Holy Week he views many marvels and becomes initiated into chivalric orders. This romance stands as a spiritual allegory both of Rosencreutz's inner transformation and of the transformation of the Rosicrucian elect.

The esoteric dimension of the transformation is rendered in alchemical symbols. Union of bride and bridegroom represents a mystical marriage of the soul, and this spiritual image is bound to an alchemic metaphor of elemental fusion. Likewise, the theme of spiritual death and rebirth is tied to the alchemy of elemental transmutation. The symbolic components of the rose cross may further evidence the importance of the alchemical tradition to Rosicrucian spiritual discipline: Within the alchemical lexicon, ros, or dew, is the solvent of gold, and crux, the cross, is the equivalent of light.

The emblem, however, clearly draws on other symbolic traditions as well. Rosicrucianism's roots in chivalric traditions are revealed in certain aspects of the rose cross. The "chemical wedding" leads to Christian Rosencreutz's initiation as a Red Cross knight, and the initiation he experiences in the allegorical tale is similar to that actually undergone by Frederick V (at the time of his marriage) into the English Order of the Garter, whose heraldric symbol is the Red Cross of Saint George.

The symbol of the rose and the cross also evokes mystical images of the rose of the Virgin and the death of Christ. (Coincidentally, the rose cross was one of Luther's emblems.) For contemporary Rosicrucians, the interpretation of the rose cross centers in the maxim "No cross, no crown," that is, the belief that one comes to the rose (signifying the divine) through mortal suffering.

See Also

Anthroposophy; Freemasons; Paracelsus; Steiner, Rudolf.


Arthur E. Waite's Real History of the Rosicrucians (London, 1887) is the standard account of Rosicrucianism. The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians (Chicago, 1918), by Magus Incognito (pseudonym for Clifford Edward Brooksmith), is a partisan study of teachings and symbols. The best recent account, particularly of the cultural, intellectual, and political milieu in which Rosicrucianism emerged, is Frances A. Yates's The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London, 1972). This book draws upon the full range of recent scholarship. A Christian Rosenkreutz Anthology, edited by Paul M. Allen and Carlo Pietzner (Blauvelt, N.Y., 1968), offers a useful compilation of traditional texts as well as essays by Rudolf Steiner and others associated with Anthroposophy. Francis King's Magic (London, 1975) explores Rosicrucian influences on Western magic.

New Sources

Åkerman, Susanna. Rose Cross over the Baltic: The Spread of Rosicrucianism in Northern Europe. Boston, Mass, 1998.

Melton, J. Gordon, ed. Rosicrucianism in America. New York, 1990.

Mulvey Roberts, Marie. Gothic Immortals: The Fiction of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. New York, 1990.

McKintosh, Christopher. The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason: Eighteenth-Century Rosicrucianism in Central Europe and Its Relationship to the Enlightenment. New York, 1992.

McKintosh, Christopher. The Rosicrucians: The History, Mythology, and Rituals of an Esoteric Order. York Beach, Me., 1997.

Harry Wells Fogarty (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 14 2018


An occult sect of obscure origin that, according to one account, was organized in 1413 by Christian Rosencreuz, a German scholar. He is supposed to have visited (c. 1410) Cyprus, Damascus, Egypt, Fez, and Spain and to have garnered from the Muslim physicians and teachers of the different centers of learning a knowledge of medicine, philosophy, science, and religion beyond the understanding of the medieval West. On arriving in Austria (1413), he is alleged to have formed the Society of the Rose and Cross with three companions, who devoted themselves to study and acts of benevolence. These first Rosicrucians lived in common at a hospice called Domus Sancti Spiritus and went about curing the sick, free of charge. The Rosicrucian account goes on to relate that Rosencreuz composed a book, Chymische Hochzeit (1457), containing hermetic and occult secrets. He died, according to this version, in 1484, leaving instructions that his tomb was to be sealed for 120 years and then opened. Successive brethren of Rosicrucian fraternity kept the secret, and in 1604 the tomb was opened and a number of books important to the Rosicrucian movement were found within.

Seventeenth-century Developments. The more generally accepted version of the Rosicrucian genesis begins the story in 1610, when Johann Valentine Andrea (15861654) composed a work entitled Fama fraternitatis. This document, published at Cassel in 1614 and, in a slightly revised version, at Frankfurt am Main in 1615, was apparently an elaborate hoax, in which Andrea gave a lengthy history of the brotherhood formed by Christian Rosencreuz. The work ascribed to Rosencreuz himself, Chymische Hochzeit, first appeared at Strasbourg in 1616 and was acknowledged by Andrea as his own composition. If the entire concept of a brotherhood of Rosicrucians existing from 1413 to his own day, as Andrea claimed, was a pure fabrication, the intellectual climate of the early 17th century was nevertheless friendly to such an organization. In 1615 Julius Sperber issued a tract on the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross at Danzig; and Michael Maier, a German physician, carried the idea to England. The fraternity of educated men interested in medicine, science, and occult lore that emerged was loosely organized; and in many cases, a knowledge of the promise of a universal reformation of the world through the Orden des Rosenkreuzes, promised in Andrea's book, may be presumed to have been their only link.

Robert Fludd (15741637) began to issue works similar to the original manifesto with his Apologia compendaria (Leyden 1616). His second work on Rosicrucianism appeared as Tractatus apologeticus integritatem societatis de Rosea Cruce defendens (Leyden 1617). A third apologetic work, addressed to King James I in behalf of the Rosicrucian brotherhood, Declaratio brevis, remained in manuscript. A copy in the British Museum includes a number of letters from Continental Rosicrucians; one composed by a Julius Helt insists that the brotherhood is not tainted by either Catholic or Lutheran doctrine, but asserts that "the theology of the Calvinists is the theosophy of the Fraternity." Some inkling of the purpose and intellectual outlook of the early Rosicrucians may be found in Fludd's writings, in which it is apparent that he regarded all true natural science as rooted in revelation. He opposed both Aristotelian science and Copernican astronomy, denying the diurnal revolution of the earth. His thought was Neoplatonic, viewing "all things as complicitly and ideally in God," with a marked pantheistic tendency. Other early adherents of the Rosicrucian idea shared Fludd's approach, using the language of alchemy, medicine, and the occult to transmit their philosophic speculations.

Sir Kenelm Digby (160365) may have taken part in the early Rosicrucian movement, but the evidence for Francis Bacon as a member, or even as the founder, of the brotherhood rests on a very dubious basis. The appearance of a Rosicrucian lodge, under the leadership of Elias Ashmole (161792), at London in 1646 is equally difficult to substantiate, but an English translation of the Fama fraternitatis was issued at London in 1652 and an English version of The Chemical Wedding at Cambridge in 1690. The subsequent history of this early Rosicrucian fraternity is equally vague, and it is improbable that it survived in any recognizable form after the late 17th century.

Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Rosicrucianism, as it now exists, was organized by Robert Wentworth Little in 1866. The General Statutes of the Order of Knights of the Red Cross of Rome and Constantine was published at London in 1868. A somewhat revised version of The General Statutes now identifies the order as a branch of freemasonry. Control of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia passed from Little to William Wynn Westcott, who published a history of the order in 1885. Rosicrucian colleges, as local units are designated, were formed in the United States and various parts of the British empire between 1875 and 1885. The system was extended to Continental Europe in 1890. The Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC) has U. S. headquarters at San Jose, Calif.; the Rosicrucian Brotherhood (Fraternitas Rosae Crucis), at Quakertown, Pa.; and the Society of Rosicrucians (Societas Rosicruciana in America), at New York City.

Bibliography: a. e. waite, The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross (London 1924; repr. New Hyde Park, N.Y. 1961); Emblematic Freemasonry (London 1925); Real History of the Rosicrucians (London 1887); The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry, 2 v. (London 1937). w. w. westcott, The Rosicrucians (London 1885). c. mcintosh, The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason: Eighteenthcentury Rosicrucianism in Central Europe and its Relationship to the Enlightenment (Leiden-New York 1992). s. Åkerman, Rose Cross over the Baltic: The Spread of Rosicrucianism in Northern Europe (Leiden/Boston 1998).

[r. k. macmaster/eds.]


views updated Jun 08 2018


The term Rosicrucian refers to a set of related esoteric groups that originated from a story of the arrival of ancient wisdom teachings into the West now believed to have originated with the German Lutheran minister John Valentin Andrae (1586–1654). Andrae reportedly authored and anonymously published three documents, "The Fama Fraternitas of the Meritorious Order of the Rosy Cross" (1614), "The Confession of the Rosicrucian Fraternity" (1615), and "The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosencreuz" (1616), that announced the existence of the Rosicrucian Order, revealed its basic teachings, and invited seekers to contact it. According to these documents, the order began with Christian Rosencreuz (1378–1484), who as a young man left his native Germany to study occultism with masters in Muslim lands. He returned in 1407 and began the order, which existed quietly until the public announcement in 1614.

When they were unable to contact the order, occultists across Europe began to create Rosicrucian groups using the three documents and other occult materials, and by the end of the seventeenth century, such orders could be found in England, France, and other European urban centers. Rosicrucian symbology was integrated into speculative Freemasonry, and French Rosicrucianism contributed to the antimonarchical ethos that led to the French Revolution. In the decades after the revolution, the movement suffered from the general attack upon supernaturalism from Enlightenment thinking and all but disappeared. Before its disappearance, however, one small German Rosicrucian group, the Chapter of Perfection, migrated to America in 1684 and settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The teachings of this short-lived group contributed greatly to the magical folklore of the region.

Occultism began its modern revival in the nineteenth century. The French magician Eliphas Levi and other thinkers constructed new occult systems that were quite compatible with the new science. Rosicrucianism emerged as one of those scientific occult systems in the 1850s when Pascal Beverly Randolph (1825–1875), an African-American spiritualist, developed a new set of occult teachings and practices (including sex magic) for the Rosicrucian Fraternity. Randolph was the first of several American practitioners to began a Rosicrucian group claiming authority from older Rosicrucian groups in Europe, groups not otherwise known to exist. By far the most successful of these was H. Spencer Lewis, who in 1915 launched the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, now headquartered in San Jose, California. Through its broad advertising program and its use of a correspondence course, AMORC has become the largest Rosicrucian group in the world, with lodges and study groups on every continent.

Rosicrucian ideas were revived in England in 1866, when Robert Wentworth Little (1840–1878) and several Masonic colleagues formed the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglica. Out of it would come the Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis, formed by Charles E. Mayer and fellow Freemasons who received their authority from England. Like the parent body, the SRCF membership was limited to Masons. However, one of the SRCF members, Sylvester C. Gould, would form an open membership version of SRCF as the Societas Rosicruciana in America in 1907. This later order would thrive for a generation under the leadership of Gould's talented successor, George Winslow Plummer.

A second strain of Rosicrucian thought began in 1907 with Carl Louis Von Grasshoff, best known by his pen name, Max Heindel (1865–1919). In Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century, he was taught by an unnamed teacher, believed to be the German theosophist Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was articulating a more Christ-centered form of theosophy that would in 1914 cause him to leave the Theosophical Society. Heindel absorbed this Christocentric occultism and moved to America to found the Rosicrucian Fellowship, now headquartered in Oceanside, California. The fellowship would in turn lead to the founding of several additional Rosicrucian orders, the most successful being the Lectorium Rosicrucianum. From its base in Holland, the Lectorium Rosicrucianum has spread across Europe and North America, in spite of its having almost been destroyed by the Nazis.

Despite the lack of support for the account of Christian Rosencreuz, the idea of a Christian occult mystical order has continued to draw people, and Rosicrucianism has thrived as an established element in the twentieth-century occult revival. These new Rosicrucian groups share a name, story, and symbol, the rose cross being derived from the crest of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther. But while Rosicrucians share a few basic occult beliefs, each group teaches quite a distinct form of occult thought and emphasizes its own distinctive practices.

See alsoFreemasonry; Occult, The; Spiritualism; Theosophical Society.


Allen, Paul M., ed. AChristianRosenkreutzAnthology. 1968.

MacIntosh, Christopher. TheRosyCross Unveiled. 1980.

J. Gordon Melton


views updated May 23 2018

Rosicrucians. Members of a world-wide fraternity who claim to continue the old Rosicrucian tradition. Its origins are obscure. The order was reputedly founded by a Christian Rosenkreuz (who had acquired the Arabs' secret wisdom) in 1418 but first mentioned only c.1614. There is still debate whether this esoteric brotherhood of magician-scientists ever existed. Wide interest was aroused, and new societies with alchemical interests came under the umbrella of its name, since elements of occultism were reflected in claims of ability to prolong life and transmute metals. The London physician Robert Fludd (1574–1637) spread Rosicrucian ideas in several medico-theosophical books. A Rosicrucian society arose in mid-19th-cent. England, as an offshoot of masonry (the twin emblems of a rose and a cross were venerated by freemasons as symbolic of Christ's resurrection and redemption), but there is no historical continuity with any earlier group.

A. S. Hargreaves


views updated May 29 2018

Rosicrucian a member of a secretive 17th- and 18th-century society devoted to the study of metaphysical, mystical, and alchemical lore, especially that concerning the transmutation of metals, prolongation of life, and power over the elements. An anonymous pamphlet of 1614 about a mythical 15th-century knight called Christian Rosenkreuz is said to have launched the movement, the emblem of which was an equal-armed cross with a rose at its centre.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Rosicrucians Esoteric, secret, worldwide society using supposedly magical knowledge, drawn from alchemy. The name comes from pamphlets published (c.1615) by Christian Rosenkreutz, of whom there is no other record. The modern movement splintered into several factions.


views updated May 18 2018

Rosicrucian member of a society reputed to have been founded in 1484 by Christian Rosenkranz, the modL. tr. of which, viz. rosa crucis or crux i.e. ‘rose (of the) cross’, is the basis of the name. XVII. See -IAN.