Rosicrucianism is a form of occultism modelled on or deriving from the legendary Rosicrucian Fraternity, the first modern occult secret society. The true origins of the Rosicrucian movement are shrouded in mystery, but a mythical history has been circulated by the 'founders' of the Fraternity and many speculative histories have been proposed by students of the occult.
In legend the founder of Rosicrucianism was one Christian Rosenkreuz (Frater C.R.C.), who discovered the secrets of Arabian occultism while on a pilgrimage to the East in the early 15th century. He returned and founded the "Fraternity of the Rose Cross" with himself as Head of the Order. He then set about constructing a Temple, called Sanctus Spiritus, or "The House of the Holy Spirit". It is said that his body was later discovered by a Brother of the Order, in a perfect state of preservation, 120 years after his death in a chamber erected by Rosenkreuz as a storehouse of knowledge deep in the bowels of the earth. On the Sarcophagus in the centre of the Crypt was written, among other inscriptions, the words "JESUS MIHI OMNIA, NEQUAQUAM VACUUM, LEGIS JUGUM, LIBERTAS EVANGELII, DEI INTACTA GLORIA", or "Jesus is everything to me, by no means a vacuum, but the yoke of the Law and the freedom of the Evangelists, the inviolate Glory of God". There was also the following epitaph: " C. Ros. C, descended from a noble and illustrious R.C. family of Germany, a man admitted by the unwearied labors of his lifetime to the heavenly and human mysteries or secrets by divine revelations in subtlest mental images, after he had preserved his (which he had collected on the Arabian and African journeys) more than royal and imperial Treasure, not yet appropriate to his time, to be saved for the future and moreover had trained heirs most united to the beliefs of his Arts as also his name, had built a small world corresponding to that large one in all movements and this extracted in the end from a compendium of things past, present and future, older by a centenary, not by banishing any disease (which he never himself had experienced in body, he was never allowing [it] to infest others) but by summoning the spirit of God, a most esteemed Father, most pleasant Brother, most faithful Teacher, most pure friend, he returned to God the most faithful Creator an illuminated soul (amidst the embraces and last kisses of the Brothers), he has been concealed by his own friends for one hundred twenty years." On the discovery of his tomb the modern Rosicrucian Order manifested in the public eye and began its work.
There are many interpretations of this myth, the central symbols of the Rose and the Cross are often taken to refer to a combination of Paganism and Judaeo-Christianity, or to be more specific of the Divine Feminine and Christianity, or more abstractly of the Mysteries of Life and Death, the Solar and Chthonic Mysteries, corresponding to the mystical interpretation of the Greek letters Rho and Tau. Connections between the Rose and Aphrodite, the Virgin Mary, the Rose symbol in Sufism and the Ros, or dew of the Alchemists, have also been suggested. The connection with a medieval pilgrimage brings to mind the Crusades, where Islamic and pre-Islamic occultism was first encountered by the West, and the description of the Temple has been associated with the Knights Templar, but the early 15th century is too late for this, being closer to the Rennaissance. There is also a possible connection with Spencer's 'Red Cross Knight' from the Faerie Queen written in 1590, an examplar of the virtuous hero. The 120 year period and the interior of the earth are motifs from alchemy. There is much speculation that the dates quoted mask some form of Pythagorean numerolgy.
Frater CRC was born in 1378, he founded his Fraternity in 1407 and lived 106 years until 1484. His tomb was discovered in 1604 and the society was to remain secret till 1704.
Rosicrucianism appeared in Germany at the start of the 17th Century with the anonymous publication of the Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis which appeared in 1614 in Kassel (Germany), followed in 1615 by the Confessio Fraternitatis (issued with Fama). In 1616 the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz appeared in Strasbourg (annexed by France in 1681). These documents revealed the mythic history of the Fraternity and its manifesto. The first of these outlines the six principles of the Fraternity:
1. That none of them should profess any other thing than to cure the sick, and that gratis. 2. None of the posterity should be constrained to wear one kind of habit, but to follow the custom of the country. 3. Every year, upon the day C., they would meet together at the house Santi Spiritus, or write the cause of their absence. 4. Every Brother should seek a worthy person to succeed him after his death. 5. The word CR should be their seal, mark, and character. 6. The Fraternity should remain secret one hundred years.
The second work continues this theme in greater detail and further implies the work of the Rosicrucians is nothing less than the reformation of the world.
The Chemical Wedding is an allegoric romance divided into Seven stages, like Genesis, and tells the story of how Christian Rosenkreuz was invited to go to a wonderful castle full of miracles, in order to assist the Chymical Wedding of the king and the queen, that is, the husband and the bride. It is clearly an alchemical allegory.
It was rumoured that the Fraternity consisted of 6 adepts in 6 cities of 6 countries across Europe. These were widely believed to be Tubingen, Bavaria; Frankfurt/Kassel; Prague, Bohemia; Paris, France; Barcelona, Spain and Oxford, England.
Some have suggested that the Rosicrucian affair was all a practical joke. Certainly this is what Johann Valentin Andreae (Fra. I.A. in the Fama), the teacher, Hermetic mystic and supposed author of the Chymical Wedding would later claim (though perhaps one based on something more concrete). Others various claim the Fraternity disintegrated and was written off by Andreae, or that the affair was really a fiction designed to become what we would call today a meme, or that the 'joke' was simply a cover story for a continueing secret society.
People associated with the early Hermetic Circle in Tubingen University around Andreae included Christoph Besold (Fra B?), a former child prodigy, Christian Mystic, Scientist, Pythagorean and Hermetic Qabbalist, aged 22; Tobias Hess, a Paracelsian Alchemist, Pansophist and secret society organiser; Abraham Hozel, a Christian Hermeticist and Campanellan Mystic; Tobias Adami and Wilhelm Wense, Rennaissance Hermeticists and Campanellans. A Paracelsian and early 'Mesmerist' known as Gruterus was perhaps also involved. These people were mostly German Protestants seeking a mysticism to rival that of Catholicism, that was also compatable with science, thus they were typically Alchemists. They also tended to be followers of Campanella, an Italian who combined Plato's Philosopher Elite run 'Utopia' with Christian Hermeticism, and most significantly disciples of Simon Studion the founder of the Pansophist movement. This group is said to have eventually rejected their project and fragmented into a looser network of Hermetic scientists (whose exiles in England would help form the Invisible College and Royal Society under the inspiration of the likes of Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton) and a smaller secret society of practical Alchemists and magicians who remained in Germany, having links with early German Nationalism. Andreae went on to create the 'Christian Unions', associations which helped German esotericists escape abroad during the Counter Reformation. Christoph Besold the alleged mastermind of the project converted back to Catholicism.
Outside of Germany many people have been suggested as Rosicrucians abroad, such as Sendivogius and Michael Maier, leading Alchemists at the Hermetic court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, as well as other alchemical havens. Most intrigueing however is the connection with England. Here John Dee has been claimed as an important precursor of the Rosicrucians following his visit to Prague, with the Tudor Rose as his emblem. This seems unlikely (though indirect influence is possible via Heinrich Khunrath, according to Frances Yates), however it is also interesting that the Fama was first translated into English by Thomas Vaughan, an alchemist supported by the Earl of Pembroke, whose extended family had backed John Dee and more significantly the Hermetic genius, proto Freemason and artist-scientist, Francis Bacon, who has been linked by some to the Fra. F.B. M.P.A. Pictor et Architectus [painter and architect] mentioned in the Fama. Bacon's Hermetic associate in Oxford, the alchemist Robert Fludd, also declared himself a Rosicrucian and claimed to be in contact with the Continentals, but appears to have been an independent Hermeticist.
In France the first appearance of Rosicrucianism was in the year 1623, when the following mysterious placard was affixed to the walls of Paris:--"We, the deputies of our chief college of the Brethren of the Rosy Cross, now sojourning, visible and invisible, in this town, do teach, in the name of the Most High, towards whom the hearts of the Sages turn, every science, without either books, symbols, or signs, and we speak the language of the country in which we tarry, that we may extricate our fellow-men from error and destruction." In the 1630s the influencial Descartes became facinated with Rosicrucianism and attempted to contact the Fraternity, apparently to no avail. He continued to associate with similar circles however developing his pineal gland theory (the mind-body link) as well as well as his more famous philosophy of Cartesian dualism.
The earliest history of Rosicrucianism seems to be in Germany, with their precursor the earlier Pansophist movement, a kind of Gnostic Hermetic network, founded by Simon Studion, expecting a New Age of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the 17th Century. This group's antecedents lay in turn in the German/Swiss Hermetic school culminating in Abbot Johannes Trithemius and his pupils Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) and Paracelsus (1493-1541) which imported Rennaissance Hermeticism from Italy. As well as traditional German occultic mysticism, centred on the esoteric Christianity of the likes of Albertus Magnus, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme and the New Aeon disciples of the Calabrian Joachim of Fiore; with the libertine Gnosticism of the Brethren of the Free Spirit its more radical wing; plus the more conservative Grail Lore of Parcifal, developed by Wolfram von Eschenbach, a probable Teutonic Knight with Templar connections (who believed the Templars were the Grail guardians). This Grail Lore was allegedly propogated by occult members of the Teutonic Order. The current also influenced the later German Nationalist groups through their political secret societies (such as those Wagner came into contact with) which evolved from earlier occult orders.
From the time of Albertus Magnus onwards German esotericism was particularly orientated towards science, seeking its union with religion. However in the modern period a counter trend towards mystical Idealism also emerged (influenced by a gnosticism deeply rooted in Germany) emerged. Some exponents attempted to unite these trends, the most well known modern example being the philosopher Hegel, who was greatly influenced by Boehme and Hermeticism. In the esoteric field of the arts, music was to be the primary German expression, a trend dating back to the Harmony of the Spheres of Albertus Magnus.
Rosicrucianism was most likely a combination of a variety of historical and subcultural elements.
Later History and Evolution
The German Alchemist faction of the Rosicrucians is said to have survived within a secret inner circle of the Order of Inseperables (a secret association of Nationalistic mine owners and Industrialists, interested in advances in Technology, which then included Alchemy). This launched the idea of secret societies within secret societies! This inner circle is alleged to have later seeded the formation of the Society of the Golden and Rosy Cross, a loose network of Rosicrucians which reemerged in 1710. This Society was to become the primary source of Rosicrucian legitimacy on the Continent. Its chapters became deeply secretive, and are claimed to still exist according to some Romantics. Less romantically their Nationalistic links would provide a slippery slope for some in this tradition within Germany and Austria.
Another important development was the adoption of Alchemy and other 'Rosicrucian' ideas by esoteric Freemasonry. Seeded by the English 'Invisible College', who took a more scientific stance, this trend was taken even further by German high degree Masonry, principly in the Rite of Strict Observance, which was favoured by the German aristocracy, and was steeped in their traditional Mysticism.
In 1757 a section of the Society of the Golden and Rosy Cross was colonised by members of the Strict Observance Rite and a hybrid produced. This became the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross, a semi-masonic, elitist and anti-rational Rosicrucian society. It was from this association that the majority of organised Rosicrucian Orders would later claim their pedigree, including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, Memphis and Misraim/Ordo Templi Orientis and AMORC. This development was also responsible for an increasing element of Ritual Magick in Rosicrucianism, which was previously a minor part of their practise.
It was this development that the pro Enlightement 'Bavarian Illuminati', under former neo-pagan occultists such as Adam Weishaupt and reformed, radical members of the Strict Observance Rite, such as Von Knigge and Bode, condemed as reactionary and conservative, declaring the Rosicrucians as their greatest enemies, alongside the Jesuits. Though in many ways the Illuminati were old school Rosicrucians, turned radical in the age of revolutions.
This did little to stem the spread of the Rosicrucian meme however, which spawned a diverse range of independent Rosicrucian Orders in shifting alliance and confederation with each other and most of the above. Some of whom were ironically colonized by the Illuminati (if you can't beat them, join them?)
The Occult Revival of the 19th Century saw the emergence of several influential Neo-Rosicrucian societies more focused on Ritual Magick, such as the Golden Dawn and the French Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross with its breakaway Catholic Order of the Rose Cross, whose relationship was naturally strained from their schism. Remnants of the latter are sometimes linked with the Priory of Sion hoax.
American Rosicrucianism was first founded by Pascal Beverly Randolph, an associate of the Spiritist and Masonic circles around Abraham Lincoln, whose eclectic occultism was the basis of the Grand Lodge of Eulis (one of the first groups to openly practise Sex Magick. Randolph appears to have called himself a Rosicrucian after travelling to Europe and being initiated into the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light (itself rooted in the tradition of the Order of the Gold and Rosy Cross). The synthesis of Eulis and Rosicrucianism is said by some to have birthed the tradition inherited by the OTO. Randolph's ideas were inherited by R Swinburne Clymer's Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis in a more moderate form. A remnant of which still exists.
In 1909 Max Heindel, a member of a schismatic Theosophical sect, the Universal Brotherhood, visited Europe and claimed initiation by a member of the Society of the Rose Cross. He subsequently founded the Rosicrucian Fellowship, a hybrid of religious Rosicrucianism and the esoteric ideas of Rudolf Steiner.
Finally the Ancient and Mystic Order of the Rose Cross (AMORC) emerged in California in the 1920s. Founded on a colonial Hermetic society of Protestant Pietists, AMORC claims to be the oldest of these American groups. Its modern founder H Spencer Lewis is said to have traveled to England and Toulouse in 1909 where he was initiated into what sounds like a tradition of the Order of the Gold and Rosy Cross, however his official charter for his Order came from Reuss' OTO in 1921. These three groups entered into legalistic rivalry over who represented American Rosicrucianism, with AMORC winning on a technical arguement and becoming an international association. Today it is a multi-million dollar corporation (while its discontents have seeded various spinoffs).