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Rosicrucians(rōzĭkro͞o`shənz), members of an esoteric society or group of societies, who claim that their order has been in existence since the days of ancient Egypt and has over the course of time included many of the world's sages. Their secret learning deals with occult symbols—notably the rose and the cross, the swastika, and the pyramid—and with mystical writings containing kabbalistic, Hermetic, and other doctrines. The first mention of a Rosicrucian group appeared in Fama fraternitatis (1614), possibly written by Johan Valentin Andreä (1586–1654), and the Confessio rosae crucis (1615), probably authored by the same person. These works described the travels of Christian Rosenkreuz and the development of the Rosicrucian society, mainly from Eastern and Arab origins. Some scholars believe that the name was used by Andreä in the hope that his writings would create a movement dedicated to social reform and esotericism, and that the description of the society was a work of imagination having symbolic or satiric intent. The society was variously called Brothers of the Rosy Cross, Rosy-Cross Knights, and Rosy-Cross Philosophers; its adepts are called Illuminati. There was much diffusion of ideas between the Rosy Cross and Freemasonry in England during the 18th cent. Rosicrucian symbolism figures in the writings of William Butler Yeats, particularly in the collection of poems entitled The Rose. American Rosicrucians, who date from Germantown, Penn. (1694), have splintered into a number of factions, including the the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis; the Rosicrucian Brotherhood (Fraternitas Rosae Crucis); the Society of Rosicrucians (Societas Rosicruciana in America); and the theosophical Rosicrucian Fellowship.
See F. A. Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972); C. McIntosh, The Rosy Cross Unveiled (1980); M. E. Roberts, Gothic Immortals (1989); J. G. Melton, ed., Rosicrucianism in America (1990).
The most secret of secret societies, the Rosicrucians gained ancient wisdom that enabled them to create a science greatly in advance of their contemporaries in the fifteenth century.
Since the seventeenth century, rumors have credited the Rosicrucians with accomplishing the transmutation of metals, possessing the means of prolonging life, having the knowledge to see and to hear what is occurring in distant places, and enjoying the ability to detect secret and hidden objects. It has been alleged that the scientific apparatus discovered in the tomb of Christian Rosenkreuz (1378–1484), founder of the Brethren of the Rosy Cross, or Rosicrucians, would be considered common laboratory equipment for the 1960s but impossible for the fifteenth century. The secret society has intrigued people for centuries and presented a challenge for historians and conspiracy theorists.
The Rosicrucians (from the Latin Rosae Crucis, “Rose Cross”) state that the Illumined Father and Brother Christian Rosenkreuz was a brilliant magus who at the age of sixteen gained secret wisdom teachings from the sages of Arabia and the Holy Land. When he returned to Germany around 1450, Rosenkreuz became a recluse, for he could see that Europe was not yet ready for the complete reformation he so yearned to present to it. For one thing, he had 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, Rosenkreuz accepted only a handful of students to whom he imparted the knowledge that he had acquired and the connections that he had made with the mystery schools and the esoteric teachings of great masters. Eventually there came to be eight brothers, counting Rosenkreuz himself. They 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 a hundred years.
Although Rosenkreuz was buried in secret when he died in 1484 at the age of 106, one of the brothers happened by chance to discover his burial chamber some years later and read, inscribed above the entrance, the promise that Rosenkreuz would return in 126 years. The discovery of the Illumined Father’s prediction inspired the surviving brothers to work in earnest to spread his teachings throughout the world.
Between 1604 and 1616, the secret brotherhood released three manifestos in Germany. The pamphlets called upon the educated and influential to unite to bring about a reformation of the educational, moral, and scientific establishments 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 that had appeared in the constellations of Cygnus and Serpentarius predicted the destruction of the Roman Catholic Church.
- The Illumined Father Christian Rosenkreuz had divined the secret code that God placed in the universe in the beginning of time.
- The transmutation of base metals into gold and precious gems is a natural miracle that has been revealed to such magi as Christian Rosenkreuz.
- The Rosicrucian Fellowship has wealth to distribute, but it does not wish a single coin from anyone.
The manifestos created great excitement in the Europe of the early 1600s. Royalty, common folk, merchants, mystics, alchemists—all clamored for more information about the mysterious secret brotherhood. Thousands of people wanted to become Rosicrucians, but no one knew where any of their lodges were. Desperate individuals placed letters of application to the fraternity in public places where they hoped the Rosicrucians might find them.
It wasn’t long before unscrupulous opportunists began posing as members of the secret fraternity, but when the charlatans could not produce mounds of gold upon demand, they were either imprisoned or pummeled. Nor had too much time passed before word spread among the church hierarchies 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.
Some suspected that many of the alleged writings attributed to “Christian Rosenkreuz” were actually works of the great Francis Bacon. Bacon’s unfinished manuscript The New Atlantis (1627) describes an earthly utopian paradise and 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 René Descartes was once nearly arrested on the accusation that he was a member of the secret society, but he successfully argued to his accusers that whereas the Rosicrucians were said to be invisible, he, it was plain to see, was not.
Valentine Andreae or Andreas (1586–1654) was a Lutheran pastor who held as his ideals Martin Luther, the powerful guiding force behind the Protestant Reformation, and Christian Rosenkreuz. Andreae was a brilliant scholar who as a youth had traveled widely throughout Europe and had risen in the clerical ranks to become a chaplain at the Court of Württemberg, Germany. Embittered by the misery that had followed the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), he became an apologist for the Rosicrucians and wrote The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz (1616), an allegorical “autobiography” of Rosenkreuz. Upon the book’s initial publication, many scholars, aware that Rosenkreuz had been dead for 130 years, speculated that his spirit had dictated the work. Later academic debates swirled around the questions of whether Andreae and Rosenkreuz were the same person and whether the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross was actually founded in the seventeenth century, rather than the fifteenth. Since the seal of the Rosicrucians, the seal of Martin Luther, and the crest of the Andreae family all bear the image of the cross and the rose, understandable confusion has arisen from time to time regarding the “autobiography.”
Andreae stated that the work was his own and described it as an allegorical novel written in tribute to Rosenkreuz, as well as a symbolic depiction of the science of alchemy and hermetic magic. The royal wedding to which the hero Rosenkreuz is invited is in reality the alchemical process itself, in which the female and male principles are joined together. As the novel continues, the vast arcana of alchemical truths is represented by various animals, mythological beings, and human personalities.
According to some scholars, the Rosicrucians came to America in 1694 as the German Pietists and settled in Philadelphia.
While the true identity of the original Rosicrucians may never be known and scholars may never be certain that such a man as Christian Rosenkreuz ever really existed, the society’s three printed manifestos contained concepts pertaining to individual freedom, the separation of church and state, and the quest to determine humankind’s true place in the universe that became ideals of the Enlightenment and have carried over into modern times.
(in German, Rosenkreuzer), members of secret, primarily religious or mystical societies in Germany, Russia, the Netherlands, and certain other countries in the 17th—18th centuries. The Rosicrucians were apparently named either after their legendary founder, Christian Rosenkreuz (earlier Rosencreutz), who is said to have lived in the 14th–15th centuries, or after their emblem, the rose and the cross.
The Rosicrucian movement became organizationally well defined and most widespread in the second half of the 18th century, when it was revived and developed through certain currents of the Masonic movement, particularly the higher degrees. The doctrine and activity of the Rosicrucians emphasize the ideas of moral self-improvement, as well as the occult—black magic, cabalism, alchemy, and the search for the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life. As a rule, they were hostile to the ideas of the Enlightenment.
The Berlin Rosicrucians, who were close to the heir to the throne (later Frederick William II), became particularly well known. Their representatives, J. C. von Wöllner and J. R. von Bischoffwerder, held state positions. The Martinists, Masonic Rosicrucians in Moscow and other Russian cities, were associated with the Berlin Rosicrucians at the end of the 18th century.