An influential German Rosicrucian order, the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross (Orden des Gold- und Rosenkreutz) was founded in the late 1750s by German Freemason and alchemist Hermann Fichtuld and a circle of fellow occultists. Like most of the occult secret societies of the time, candidates for membership had to be Master Masons in good standing. Unlike most of the Masonic rites of its time, though, the Golden and Rosy Cross was allied with the conservative movement in European politics and culture, and seems to have taken shape in opposition to the Rite of Strict Observance, a neo-Templar Masonic rite with close ties to France and links to liberal circles in Germany. See Freemasonry; Rosicrucians; Rite of Strict Observance.
The conservatism of the eighteenth century, unlike modern conservatism, saw nothing wrong with occult practices. The Golden and Rosy Cross was among the most active occult orders of its time, requiring students to study alchemical and mystical literature, and members of its higher degrees carried out extensive experiments in the alchemy of metals. It was among the first occult secret societies to establish a formal curriculum of study for each of its degrees. See Alchemy.
The origin story circulated by the order was colourful even by the standards of the time. It claimed to have been founded by Ormus, an Egyptian magician who converted to Christianity in 96 CE. He founded a secret society, the Society of Ormus, to pass on a Christianized version of ancient Egyptian wisdom, and assigned its members a red cross as their symbol. A little later, the Society of Ormus united with another secret society organized by the Essenes to form the Order of the Rose Cross. In 1188, members of the order initiated the Knights Templar in Palestine, who then traveled to Europe; three masters went to Scotland, where they founded the Order of the Masons of the East, the original version of Freemasonry. Another member, Raymond Lully (Ramon Lull), came to England and initiated Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward I) in 1196. The awkward facts that Edward I was not born until 1239, and that he was never Prince of Wales – he created that title for his son, the future Edward II, in 1301 – do little to lend credibility to this account. See Essenes; Knights Templar; Ormus.
Other claims insisted that the order had actually arrived in Britain long before the twelfth century, and was established there in the time of King Arthur; some also mentioned that each Grand Master from the beginning took the name “John” followed by a number. These claims were cited in a nineteenth-century collection of French Masonic materials, and Pierre Plantard borrowed liberally from them for his Priory of Sion hoax. See Arthurian legends; Priory of Sion.
During the late eighteenth century the Order was among the most successful secret societies of its time. Its membership included many German aristocrats, and in 1786 one of its members ascended to the throne of Prussia as King Friedrich Wilhelm II and appointed several other members to high political positions. It outlived its original rival, the Rite of Strict Observance, and carried on lively feuds with the Bavarian Illuminati and a splinter group from its own ranks, the Asiatic Brethren. After Friedrich Wilhelm’s death in 1797, however, the sweeping social changes that followed the French Revolution sent the order into a steep decline, and it does not seem to have survived the Napoleonic Wars. See Bavarian Illuminati.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006