The Order of the Rosy Cross, called Rosicrucianism, is an esoteric society that traces its lineage back to the Greek and Egyptian mystery schools. Much like Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism espouses Christian principles and ideals, claiming a long Western tradition, but the order also identifies itself with Reincarnation and the mystical Great White Brotherhood of Adepts, ideas more closely associated with Theosophy and Eastern thought. Members also believe in alchemical transmutation of base metals into gold and the transformation of the spirit into higher consciousness.
According to Harvey Spencer Lewis (1883–1939), the first Imperator and founder of the Ancient and Mystical Order of the Rosae Crucis (AMORC) in the United States, Rosicrucianism began in 1489 B.C.E. during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III, a period of imperial expansion after the death of Thutmose’s sister, Pharaoh Hatshepsut. Scholars from all over the kingdom, devout followers of the sun god Amon-Re, banded together to form a secret organization called the Order or the Brotherhood. Their search for occult understanding continued through the reigns of Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, and Amenhotep III, reaching its zenith in the reign of Amenhotep IV.
But Amenhotep IV, also called Ahkenaton, upended Egyptian religion and society. Embracing the cult of Aton favoured by his mother Queen Tiy’s family, Amenhotep IV banished the old gods and instituted worship of Aton, which translates as heat or power, as the sole god of Egypt—thus his new name, Ahkenaton, or “one who serves the spirit of the Aton.” He married his mother’s niece, Nefertiti and by the seventh year of his reign had not only turned Egypt into a monotheistic state but had abandoned the capital of Thebes for a new capital city, Akhetaton, commonly called Amarna. Ahkenaton and his wife blissfully whiled away their days at the new capital, oblivious of the revolution outside.
Not 10 years later, Amarna lay empty. Ahkenaton’s beloved mother, Queen Tiy, and his wife Nefertiti had died, and the pharaoh, slipping deeper into madness, had been forced by the priests of the old religion to name his half-brother Smenkhare as coregent. But that was not enough, and so Ahkenaton and Smenkhare were assassinated, and Tutanhkaton ascended the throne. The new pharaoh quickly changed his name to Tutanhkamun, but he was soon replaced by Nefertiti’s father Aye. He ordered the obliteration of Ahkenaton’s image, and when he was replaced by General Horemheb, all traces of any pharaoh since Amenhotep III were erased. The Brotherhood was forced underground. The surviving 296 brothers assumed the linen surplices and shaved heads of medieval friars.
Existing in secret, the brothers passed their knowledge down to succeeding generations. The legendary Hermes Trismegistus, a compilation of the gods HERMES and THOTH, supposedly led the order for more than 140 years. Imperator Lewis attributed the mystical proportions of King Solomon’s Temple to the precepts of Freemasonry that were garnered from the order’s knowledge. This period ended with the birth and death of the Great White Master Jesus Christ, whose life had been foretold by the Rosicrucian Essenes of Palestine.
For the next 500 years or so, the order disappeared, with instructions to each chapter, or Lodge, to determine its founding year then operate in 108-year cycles of activity and inactivity. In the years preceding “rebirth,” members would advertise through symbolic pamphlets to notify the public that the allegorical “opening of the tomb to find C–R.–C. (Christus of the Rosy Cross)” would soon commence. Lewis explained that the advent of printing in the 17th century threw the 108-year cycle out of proportion, giving rise to the “real” start of Rosicrucianism: the discovery of the long-dead body of Christian Rosenkreutz.
The mysterious pamphlets announcing the legend of Christian Rosenkreutz appeared in Kassel, Germany, in 1614–15. Named the Fama Fraternitatis dess Loblichen Ordens des Rosenkreutzes (The Fame of the Praiseworthy Order of the Rosy Cross) and the Confessio Fraternitatis, the anonymous papers described a young man called Christian Rosenkreutz born in 1378. He was placed in a convent at age five to study the humanities and at age 16 accompanied one of his teachers to Damcar (perhaps Damascus) to continue his education. Three years later he traveled to Fez, Morocco, via Egypt, where he learned more secrets. Graduating in 1401, Rosenkreutz went to Spain to share his wisdom with the Moors, but they rebuffed him. Rosenkreutz returned to Germany and founded the Rosicrucian Fraternity.
The fraternity built its headquarters, called the Spiritus Sanctum, in 1409, and it taught an ever-larger circle of adepts and healers. Rosenkreutz died in 1484 at age 106 and was secretly entombed in the Spiritus Sanctum. In 1604, while making repairs to the building, the brothers encountered Rosenkreutz’s vault. Across the door, in Latin, an inscription read, “After 120 years I shall open.” Inside, the seven-sided vault was covered in magical symbols, the ceiling was lit by an artificial sun, and there were many ritual objects and books. But the most amazing item was Rosenkreutz’s completely preserved body inside the coffin. The pamphlets told this story and offered invitations to membership, albeit that the names of current members and their whereabouts were secret. In 1616 a companion pamphlet supposedly written by Rosenkreutz himself in 1459 entitled Chymische Hochzeit, or The Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosenkreutz, describes a mystical wedding ceremony and the creation of a HOMUNCULUS.
These revelations created enormous interest within the burgeoning European occult community, but while hundreds applied for membership, the brothers remained in hiding. Current scholarship attributes the pamphlets to Johann Valentin Andreae (1586–1654), a young Lutheran pastor and reformer who used the propaganda to promote Protestantism and vilify the papacy. Most of the books and tracts promoting the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross that appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries were actually treatises championing such causes as the free dissemination of knowledge, universal brotherhood, support of the hermetic arts, and the unification of Europe. The millennialist followers of Johannes Kelpus (1673–1708), who settled in Pennsylvania in 1694, practiced occult and healing arts; according to Lewis, they brought Rosicrucianism to America.
In his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, author Charles Mackay related a slightly different story of the brotherhood’s founding. He acknowledged the legend of Christian Rosenkreutz but attributed the publication of the order’s tenets and principles in 1615 to Michael Mayer, a renowned physician. Mayer asserted that:
the meditations of the founding brothers surpassed any wisdom imagined since the Creation, not even excepting the thoughts of the Deity, and that they knew all that was ever known or ever would be known; that the brothers were destined to accomplish the peace and regeneration of man before the end of the world; that they possessed all the graces of nature and could distribute them to others, and that they were not subject to hunger, thirst, disease, old age or any other infirmity; that they controlled spirits and demons; that through their songs they attracted pearls and precious stones; that God gave them a thick cloud to hide behind, unseen by others, to protect their identities; that the first eight members had the ability to cure all ills; that the Pope would be eliminated and that only two sacraments would be permitted in the reorganized Church; that they knew at first glance who was worthy of membership into the Order; and that they recognized the Fourth Monarchy and Emperor of the Romans as the leader of the Christians, and that with their enormous wealth they would shower him with more gold and treasures than the King of Spain had ever taken.
Mayer went on to outline the rules of conduct for a brother:
that wherever a brother traveled he must cure the sick; that wherever they were they should dress in the clothes of the people of that area; that they should meet at least once year in an appointed place or send a good excuse; that before death a brother should appoint his successor; that the words “Rose-Cross” would identify each one to the other; and that the Fraternity must be kept secret for six times twenty (120) years.
Mackay wrote that the fraternity made great inroads in Germany and other parts of Europe but that it was when the brothers arrived in Paris in 1623 that interest skyrocketed. Soon thereafter two books appeared claiming that the so-far invisible brothers were not protected by God but had instead made a pact with the devil to speak all languages, travel to the ends of the Earth as rapidly as thought, to have full purses, to infiltrate secret places by means of their invisibility, and to tell the past and future. Supposedly only 36 brothers existed, six of them in Paris. Rumours flew that mysterious, wealthy travellers enjoyed food and wine at inns and then did not pay; that chaste maidens often awoke to find men who resembled Apollo in their beds only to disappear when confronted; and that some people had found heaps of gold in their houses. No one was safe, and the police searched in vain for the Rosicrucian perpetrators. Many had opinions as to their identity; one man named Garasse, said Mackay, confidently called them drunken imposters who were really named for the garland of roses in the shape of crosses that were draped over tables in taverns all across Germany as emblems of secrecy—hence the saying that any secrets divulged there were said “sub-rosa.”
Practitioners and Practices
All Rosicrucian orders incorporate the rose and cross into their logos, although colors, shapes of the cross, the numbers of roses, and the use of other occult symbols vary by organization. The Rosicrucian Fellowship places a gold CROSS with looped ends over a five-pointed star on a blue background; draped around the cross are seven roses. AMORC, the United States arm of Rosicrucianism, displays one red rose centered on a gold cross with looped ends or, alternatively, an equilateral triangle, point down, inscribed with a cross. Crosses represent death and suffering but ultimate resurrection, while roses—just as in medieval German taverns—stand for secrecy as well as love. Additionally, the family crest of Johann Andreae featured a cross of Saint Andrew with four roses between the arms, while the crest of Martin Luther was a rose with a cross in the center.
Rosicrucian ideals have changed little from the early manifestos, although by 1794 the pledge of initiation taken by Dr. Sigismund Bacstrom included a paragraph barring discrimination due to gender. Many 19th-century Rosicrucian lodges restricted membership to Freemasons, however, and Freemasonry remains open to men only. New initiates in 1794 also promised not to reward governments—or those wishing to overthrow them—with any monetary relief save paying taxes. No Rosicrucian was to donate funds to the establishment of churches, chapels, hospitals, or private charities, as there were plenty of those, “if they were only properly applied and regulated.” And no member was to encourage laziness, public begging or debauchery, nor treatment of those infected with venereal diseases.
Alchemy has long been associated with the order, and Bacstrom’s initiation pledge made reference to what members called the Great Work. Initiates promised never to use their knowledge of this work to support governments, to disseminate any new discoveries about the work to the membership, to never give the “fermented metallic medicine for transmutation” to any but a brother (perhaps a solution with antimony; see Albertus Magnus), and if mastery of the Great Work should ever be accomplished, to give praise and thanks to God. The German JAKOB BÖHME tried for years to prove the existence of the Philosopher’s Stone in the Bible; some of his followers were tortured or killed for heresy.
To master the Great Work also required years of study and striving for spiritual improvement. Those who attained ultimate knowledge—true oneness with the divine— joined Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna, and the other invisible Masters in the Great White Lodge. While Lewis maintained that belief in Reincarnation was not required, the progression of the spirit through each enlightened stage points to doctrinal acceptance. Men who appeared to be mere mortals could be Masters in disguise, such as the legendary Comte de Saint-Germain, an adept in 18thcentury France. Other famous proponents of Rosicrucianism included the Elizabethan doctor Robert Fludd and Joseph Balsamo, the flamboyant Count Cagliostro.
The United States organization AMORC, founded by H. S. Lewis in 1915, had its beginnings as the Rosicrucian Research Society of the New York Institute for Psychical Research (1904). In 1908 Lewis met Mrs. May BanksStacey, an avid Rosicrucian, who put him in touch with members in Europe. By 1917 AMORC held its first convention, during which Lewis organized the National Rosicrucian Lodge as a means for students to learn elementary teachings by correspondence with the eventual hope of joining a Lodge. By 1926 Lewis petitioned a Rosicrucian Congress in Belgium to allow those students who still had not found a Lodge to continue their correspondence courses and become part of the “Lodge at Home.” These arrangements allowed materials to be distributed worldwide; there are currently approximately 250,000 members in more than 100 countries.
In 1927 Lewis moved AMORC’s headquarters to San Jose, California. The Grand Lodge at Rosicrucian Park has become a tourist attraction, with a planetarium, research facilities, and the Egyptian Museum. Reputedly the only Egyptian museum in the world housed in authentic ancient Egyptian architecture, it contains the largest collections of Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian art and artifacts on the West Coast.
Other major Rosicrucian orders include the Rosicrucian Fellowship, founded by Max Heindel (1865–1919) in 1909. Born Carl Louis Van Grasshoff in Denmark, his spiritual search first led him to the Theosophical Society and then to Germany in 1907, where Heindel claimed that the Elder Brothers of the Rosicrucian Order appeared to him and initiated him into their mysteries. Heindel studied under a Rosicrucian adept, believed to be Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical Society. Heindel returned to the United States and began to organize centers on the West Coast. He opened the Fellowship’s headquarters on Mount Ecclesia in Oceanside, California, in 1910, where it remains; the compound features a 12-sided Temple of Healing that corresponds to the zodiac.
The Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, England, and the Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis in Scotland restrict membership to Freemasons of the 32nd degree, but the Societas Rosicruciana in America welcomes nonMasons. The Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, founded in 1858 by Pascal Beverly Randolph (1825–75), claims to be the oldest Rosicrucian organization in the United States and traces its lineage to the occultist Eliphas Levi. To combine the teachings of Heindel and Steiner, S. R. Parchment founded the Rosicrucian Anthroposophic League in the 1930s. In the 1970s R. A. Straughn founded the Ausar Auset Society, a Rosicrucian organization dedicated to meditation and healthy living within the African-American community.
Rosicrucian mysteries still entertain the popular imagination, such as in Umberto Eco’s novels The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum. In the former a monk unravels a murder mystery involving the forbidden works of Aristotle, one of the Ascended Masters; in the latter computer hackers and historians stumble upon a Rosicrucian riddle that leads them to the lost treasure of the Knights Templar and the location of the Holy Grail. More recently, Dan Brown’s book The DaVinci Code weaves a tale involving Rosicrucianism, Mary Magdalene, the Holy Grail, and the Priory of Sion as heir to the Knights Templar.
Charles Mackay, in his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, said that the early Rosicrucians claimed that the earth, air, and water were full of demons and sprites, gnomes and undines, sylphs and salamanders, all bound to the will of the Rosicrucian adepts. Mackay observed that while those claims might be absurd, that the descriptions of such beings had so successfully entered the popular imagination that art and literature would be bereft without them.
- Bridges, Vincent. “Ahkenaton and the Myth of Monotheism.” Aethyrea Books. Available online at www.vincentbridges. com/highweirdness/Akhenaten.htm. Downloaded July 8, 2004.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
- Heindel, Max. The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception. Oceanside, Calif.: The Rosicrucian Fellowship, 1993.
- Mackay, Charles, LL.D. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1932.
- McLean, Adam. “Bacstrom’s Rosicrucian Society.” Available online. URL: www.levity.com/alchemy/bacstrm1.html. Downloaded July 8, 2004.
- Waite, Arthur Edward. The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1993.