The citizens of Paris awoke one morning in 1622 to find that their city had been ornamented with posters which the Brethren of the Rosy Cross (Rosicrucians) had scattered to announce that their secret order was now moving among the Parisians to save them from the error of death. In the seventeenth century, the Rosicrucians were rumored to have accomplished the transmutation of metals, the means of prolonging life, the knowledge to see and to hear what was occurring in distant places, and the ability to detect secret and hidden objects.
Such announcements were met with great excitement. It was a time of reformation and enlightenment, and all of Europe was looking forward to the new world that the alchemists and magicians promised was about to emerge from the ashes of the old. And leading such a movement of a new appreciation of the arts and sciences and humankind's true place in the universe was the Illumined Father and Brother Christian Rosencreutz (1378–1484), a brilliant magus, who at the age of 16 had already gained secret wisdom teachings from the sages of Arabia and the Holy Land.
When Rosencreutz returned to Germany circa 1450, he became a recluse, for he could see that Europe was not yet ready for the complete reformation which he so yearned to present to it. For one thing, he claimed to have acquired the fabled philosopher's stone, which enabled him to produce all the gold and precious gems necessary to allow him to build a house where he could live peacefully and well. To share the power of the legendary stone of transmutation with the unwise, the worldly, and the greedy would be disastrous. Quietly, Rosencreutz accepted only a handful of carefully evaluated students to whom he imparted the knowledge that he had acquired in ancient Egypt and the connection that he had made with the mystery schools and the esoteric teachings of great masters. He was particularly enthusiastic about telling his students about Pharaoh Amenhotep and the monotheistic view of one God. At first there were only three disciples in attendance; then later, eight brothers, including Rosencreutz himself, swore to uphold the following precepts:
- They would not profess any creed but the goal of healing the sick without reward;
- They would affect no particular style of clothing;
- They would meet once each year in the House of the Sainted Spirit;
- Each brother would carefully choose his own successor;
- The letters "R.C." would serve as their only seal and character;
- The Brotherhood would remain secret for 100 years.
When Rosencreutz died in 1484 at the age of 106, the five brethren who had been chosen to travel throughout Europe performing charitable deeds had established a reputation for being selfless benefactors. Although Rosen-creutz had been buried in secret, one of the brothers happened by chance to discover his burial chamber and read the promise inscribed above the entrance that Rosencreutz would return in 126 years. The discovery of the illumined father's prediction inspired the surviving brothers to work in earnest to spread the teachings of Christian Rosencreutz throughout the world.
Between 1604 and 1616, three manifestos were released in Germany by the secret brotherhood of the Rosicrucians (from the Latin, Rosae Crucis, "Rose Cross"). The first two pamphlets called upon the educated and influential to unite to bring about a reformation of the educational, moral, and scientific establishments of Europe. The German monk Martin Luther (1483–1546) had already set in motion a reformation in the spiritual sphere of life, the Rosicrucian Fraternity pointed out, but now it was time to educate the people of Europe to understand the true relationship of humankind to the universe and to perceive truly the distinctions between the material and the divine.
The manifestos condemned all those who contributed to the moral decay of Europe, and the brotherhood promised to help alleviate all suffering and to eradicate all ignorance. The Illumined Father Christian Rosencreutz possessed the wisdom and the wealth through the transmutation of base metals to elevate the common people of Europe.
The manifestos also shared some startling assertions, among them:
- The end of the world was near, but those who had become enlightened by the new reformation would be initiated into a higher consciousness.
- New stars had appeared in the constellations of Cygnus and Serpentarius that predicted the destruction of the Roman Catholic Church.
- The Illumined Father divined the secret code that God placed in the universe in the beginning of time and blessed those who possess such magic.
- The transmutation of base metals into gold and precious gems is a natural miracle that has been revealed to such magi as Christian Rosencreutz. Forget about the efforts of the pseudo-chemists.
- The Rosicrucian Fellowship has wealth to distribute, but it does not wish a single coin from anyone.
The manifestos created great excitement in early seventeenth-century Europe. Royalty, common folk, merchants, mystics, alchemists— all clamored for more information about the mysterious secret brotherhood. Those who were ill wished healing. Those who were poor were eager to accept a portion of the wealth the brotherhood was willing to distribute. Those who were greedy wanted their turn with the philosopher's stone and their opportunity to transmute tons of base metals into tons of gold.
And perhaps most of all, people wanted to join the secret society and become Rosicrucians, but no one knew where any of their lodges were or where they might find the House of the Sainted Spirit. Desperate individuals placed their letters of application for the fraternity in public places where they hoped the Rosicrucians might find them and contact them.
It wasn't long before charlatans began posing as members of the secret fraternity and attempting to charge the gullible for admittance, but when the deceivers could not produce mounds of gold upon demand, the crooks were either imprisoned or pummeled. Nor had too much time passed before word spread among the religious that the Rosicrucians were satanists who sought only to delude Europe into sin.
In spite of entreaties, threats, and demands, no Rosicrucian stepped forward to identify himself, and the society remained secret—the most secret of all secret societies. It is interesting to speculate that the symbol of Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer and founder of the Lutheran Church, was a red rose and a cross, which remains the emblem of Lutheranism. Could Luther also have sought to reform the whole societal structure of Europe, as well as the Roman Catholic Church? Unlikely, for Luther would not have used the language of the alchemist and the magus. Another member, according to some, is the great Francis Bacon (1561–1626), whose unfinished manuscript, The New Atlantis (1627), describes an earthly utopian paradise, a secret brotherhood who wear the Rose Cross on their turbans, who heal people without charge, and who meet yearly in their temple. The philosopher Rene Descartes (1596–1650) was once nearly arrested on the accusation that he was a member of the secret society, but he convinced his accusers that the Rosicrucians were invisible, while, he, it was plain to see, was not.
While the true identity of the Rosicrucians may never be known, nor whether such a man as Christian Rosencreutz ever really existed, the concepts expressed in their three manifestos pertaining to individual freedom, the separation of church and state, and the quest to determine humankind's true place in the universe became ideals that inspired the period of Enlightenment and have been carried over into modern times.
mcfadden, ashley. "the rosicrucians—a brief historical overview." r.c. times, summer 1994 [online] http://www.arcgl.org/rosie.htm.
spence, lewis. an encyclopedia of occultism. new hyde park, n.y.: university books, 1960.
yates, frances a. the rosicrucian enlightenment. boulder, colo.: shambhala, 1978.