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An old Persian proverb says, “The darker the sky, the brighter the stars will shine.” Perhaps the very darkness of the European firmament during the Middle Ages caused that mysterious Fraternity known as the Brothers of the Rosy Cross to shine, by contrast, with such startling brilliance. The fame of the Rosicrucians, which persists up to the present day, was not due to any desire on their part to dazzle the world with the splendor of their knowledge. They built no colleges, reared no temples, never claimed position as leaders of men. Impersonality was their watchword, and their motto had descended to them from one of their Gnostic predecessors: “Learn to know all, but keep thyself unknown.” This does not mean that the Brothers of the Rosy Cross kept themselves aloof from the world. On the contrary, they mingled freely with all classes of men, submitted to all the ordinary obligations of life, obeyed the laws of their respective countries and were considered as excellent citizens, their only secrecy being in regard to their own extraordinary knowledge and powers.
Who were the Rosicrucians? Did they spring, like Minerva, full-fledged from the brain of Jove, without any visible line of descent? Such is not the history of any truly occult organization, and the Rosicrucians were no exception to the rule. The actual origin of the Order, said H. P. Blavatsky, may be ascertained by any earnest, sincere student of Occultism who goes to Asia Minor and contacts some of the Brotherhood, if he is able to decipher a Rosicrucian manuscript which is carefully preserved in the very Lodge founded by the first Kabalist calling himself a Rosicrucian, but which now goes under another name.
The existence of the Fraternity first came into public notice in the year 1614, when a small Latin pamphlet known as the Fama Fraternitatis was published in Germany, describing the foundation and aims of the Order. The first English translation of this pamphlet was made by Thomas Vaughan (Eugenius Philalethes) in 1652. It contained the story of Christian Rosencreuz, a poor but noble Knight who was born in Germany in 1358. As the result of a vow taken in his early youth, the young man started out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While living in Asia Minor he learned Arabic, studied with several Arabian alchemists and translated an important occult document into Latin. On his way home he stopped in Spain, where he tried to interest some of the more intellectual Moors in his occult doctrines. Failing in this, he returned to his native Germany where he assumed the mystical name of Christian Rosencreuz, or Christian Rosy-Cross. He soon attracted a group of disciples and together they built a Lodge which they called the “House of the Holy Spirit.” At the end of five years Rosencrenz selected three of his most promising pupils and bound them by an oath not to reveal the secrets he was to impart. Later four other men joined the group, these eight men forming the original nucleus of the European Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. The number eight had a peculiar mystical significance with the Rosicrucians, as is seen in their symbol of the Pelican tearing open its breast to feed its seven little ones. This purely Eastern symbol represents the idea of a universal matrix, figured by the primordial waters of the deep, from which issues the Logos, containing in itself the other seven procreative rays or powers.
In preparation for their future work, these eight men formulated a secret cipher language and compiled a dictionary in which all forms of wisdom were classified. When the time arrived for them to separate and begin the promulgation of their teachings, they bound themselves to observe six rules:
1. To make no public profession of superior knowledge, and to heal the sick free of charge.
2. To wear no special garment, but to dress according to the custom of the country in which they lived.
3. To return to the House of the Holy Spirit on a certain day each year, for the purpose of mutual help and instruction.
4. To seek for a worthy person to succeed each member.
5. To adopt the letters R.C. as their sign and mark.
6. To keep the existence of the Fraternity a secret for a period of one hundred years.
When the first of these eight men died, it was decided not to reveal the burial place of any member of the Order. Consequently, when Christian Rosencreuz died at the age of 106, no one knew where he was interred. But in 1584 a secret door was discovered in the House of the Holy Spirit, above which was a brazen plate stating that 120 years after Rosencreuz’ death his tomb would be revealed and his doctrines made public. When the door was opened it disclosed a burial vault with seven sides, each five feet broad and eight feet high. In the center of the vault stood an altar, brilliantly illuminated by an “ever-burning lamp.” Beneath the altar lay the perfectly preserved body of Christian Rosencreuz, one hand clasping a parchment scroll bearing the letter “T.”
In this Testament the Fraternity offered its secrets to the world, with the provision that they should not become the property of any Christian sect. It expressed the loyalty of its members to the existing forms of government and invited all men of sincere aspiration to get in touch with members of the Fraternity. At the same time it urged those of selfish motives to leave Occultism alone, warning that misery and sorrow would overtake all who delved into Nature’s secrets without a preliminary purification of the mind and heart.
Although the existence of the Fraternity was not made public until 1614, the influence of the Brothers was felt long before that time. In his Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, Elias Ashmole states that Queen Elizabeth was cured of smallpox by a member of the Order, and that the Earl of Norfolk was healed of leprosy by a Rosicrucian physician who may have been Robert Fludd himself, as Fludd’s father was Treasurer of War to Queen Elizabeth. Between 1603 and 1625 several important books appeared in which the Fraternity was mentioned, the most important being the Apologia of Robert Fludd, which was published in 1616 and is still preserved in the British Museum. In 1623 there were said to be only thirty-six Rosicrucians in Europe, scattered about in six different countries. By the end of the seventeenth century many prominent men (among them the German philosopher Leibniz) were identified with the Rosicrucians, and in the eighteenth century Cagliostro and the Count de St. Germain travelled throughout Europe trying to unite the Masons and the Rosicrucians on the common basis of Eastern Occultism. With the “death” of Cagliostro the last real Rosicrucian disappeared from Europe.
One of the aims of the Rosicrucians was to combine the various branches of Occultism into a synthetic whole. Many of the Brothers were alchemists, seeking for the invisible “spirit” in inorganic as well as organic matter. To these alchemical Rosicrucians is attributed the rediscovery of the secret of the “ever-burning lamps,” known to many ancient nations but which had been lost for 1500 years. Three of these lamps, which had been burning in Roman sepulchres for fifteen centuries, were found in Italy shortly after the death of Christian Rosencrenz, and in 1660 the famous antiquarian Dr. Plot repeated the story of an English farmer who had discovered a subterranean chamber underneath his fields, where a “Rosicrucian” was studying beneath the light of one of these lamps. Fifty years later the London Spectator of May 15, 1712, related that “Rosicrucius, say his disciples, made use of this method to show the world that he had re-invented the ever-burning lamps of the ancients, although he was resolved that no one should reap the benefit of his discovery.”
The Rosicrucians denied the ordinary chemical theory that the nourishment of kindled fire must of necessity be converted into vapor, declaring that the “spiritual essence” of liquid gold (gold being the metal which wastes least when heated or melted) can be made to absorb its oily humidity, thus continuously feeding its own flame. “The Hermetic gold,” said Robert Fludd, “is the outflow of the sunbeam, or of light suffused invisibly into the body of the world. Light is sublimated gold, and gold is thus the deposit of light, which of itself generates.”
Many Rosicrucians — such as Paracelsus, Cagliostro and the Count de St. Germain — claimed to possess the secret of prolonging Life, a possibility which no Theosophist will deny. If nature is able continually to renew her wasted energies by absorption from the source of energy, why should not man do the same? If the surface waters of certain mineral springs can restore physical vigor, is it illogical to say that if we could get the first runnings from the alembic of nature in the bowels of the earth, we might, perhaps, find that the “fountain of youth” is no fable after all.
The Rosicrucians were also known as the “Fire-Philosophers,” and among all the mystics and Kabalists of the Middle Ages they alone gave out the true interpretation of the word Fire. As the esoteric teachings say, “Fire is the most perfect and unadulterated reflection, in Heaven as on Earth, of the ONE FLAME. It is Life and Death, the origin and the end of every material thing. It is divine ‘SUBSTANCE‘.” The Rosicrucians postulated one eternal, boundless and limitless Cause, which they defined as Darkness, the root and basis of light. Robert Fludd described it as “Divinity latent or at rest,” declaring that “Darkness adopted illumination in order to make Itself visible,” and that only after the active period of manifestation began did Light and Darkness appear.
After the active movement from the center began, the radiation or interchange of Light and Darkness produced Spirit and Matter. And in the relative counterbalancing the diversity of things arose. From these rudiments of being the archetypal scheme arranged itself, which, though One in essence, was triple in manifestation. (Robert Fludd.)
Fire is a triple principle. Esoterically, it is also a septenary, containing a visible flame (Body), an invisible, astral fire (Soul) and Spirit. Its four aspects are heat (life), light (mind), electricity (Kamic, or molecular powers) and the synthetic Essence, beyond Spirit, or the radical cause of its existence and manifestation.
Every material form, said Robert Fludd, contains an “eager fire” or “jewel of light,” the development of which brings about its evolution.
Thus all minerals, in this spark of light, have the rudimentary possibility of plants and growing organisms; thus all plants have rudimentary sensitives which might (in the ages) enable them to perfect and transmute into locomotive new creatures; thus all plants pass off into more distinguished highways of independent, completer advance, allowing their original spark of light to expand and thrill with more vivid force.
The third fundamental proposition of The Secret Doctrine also describes all Souls as “sparks” of the Universal Over-Soul. But whereas the “spark of life” in the lower kingdoms evolves unconsciously to itself through natural impulse, the “three-fold Flame” of the human Monad may hasten its evolution through its own self-induced and self-devised efforts. As the Rosicrucians taught,
Although the individual human monad, with spiritual self-consciousness and self-knowledge, may arrive at that state of perfection in the slow course of its evolution, extending perhaps over millions of years, nevertheless there is no necessity to wait until nature may, perhaps slowly and unaided, accomplish her object, but she may be assisted by the individual will and effort of those who know how to proceed.
The method by which this may be accomplished was outlined in the famous Rosicrucian maxim: To know, to will, to dare and to keep silent.
To know is the first step, and this knowledge includes an understanding of the laws governing the visible and invisible universe, and involves the study of the complete constitution of nature and of man. Knowledge brings power, and power — if it is to be of any practical value — must be applied. The application of knowledge requires a conscious and deliberate use of will, which, to be efficacious, must always work in perfect harmony with the Universal Will. The great Will of Nature works for the good of all, and the individual who would blend his own will with the Universal Will must dare to practice good alone. But power, once it has been acquired, may be used for either good or evil purposes. Therefore the Rosicrucians taught that power should be given only to those who have been sufficiently tested to prove that it would not be misapplied. Their fourth requirement, therefore, was to remain silent about their own powers and knowledge with those with whom it was not expedient to speak.
Every candidate admitted into the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross accepted these four Rules as his standard of life, and immediately entered into a period of probationary discipline. He was told that if he fulfilled the required conditions he would find all necessary information in the “Book of Initiation.” He was also promised that, when he was ready, he would find a “guide” who would instruct him in the higher degrees of Occultism.
The Instructions of the Rosicrucians date from the year 1675. They begin with a warning to the candidate never to use his knowledge for selfish purposes. They inform him that the Brothers of the Rosy Cross have already shown the “Way” to many peoples in many languages, and deplore the fact that their efforts have often been misunderstood and their teachings perverted. Then, in the form of an allegory, the candidate is given a description of the “Way” and is told how it may be found.
In the center of the world is a mountain, which is near and yet invisible, and in which lie the greatest treasures known to man. It is surrounded by “many fierce animals and plundering birds” which make it difficult of access and may tempt the candidate to turn back. “But have no fear,” the Instructions counsel, “neither look ye back nor desire to return, for your guide who hath led ye thither will not suffer any harm to come to ye.” In these first stages the candidate is cautioned to follow the guidance of the Self within, and is warned of the battle with the lower self which must be fought before victory can be attained. The lower principles are described as beasts of prey and elemental forces which will attack the soul at the foot of the mountain when all is still and dark. But when the night of temptation has been passed, “toward morning it will become right still and lovely, and soon ye will see the morning star arise and the red dawn break, and ye will perceive the great treasure.”
At this stage the candidate finds himself ready for the help of a Teacher who
… will be your guide, if ye desire it of him, and he will truly tell ye where our assembly is to be found, and will teach ye concerning our Order, and will accompany ye until time shall fully reveal all things.
For one hundred years after these Instructions were written, little is heard of Rosicrucian activities in Europe. Professor Lauteo, in his History of the Rosicrucians, says that they departed for India at the beginning of the eighteenth century. But in the last quarter of that century some of their teachings were revived by Cagliostro and St. Germain who, nevertheless, remained silent concerning the esoteric side of their doctrines. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century Hargrave Jennings published his illuminating book The Rosicrucians, their Rites and Mysteries, but he, too, respected their secrecy and remained silent concerning those things of which he had no right to speak. With the establishment of the Theosophical Society and the appearance of the comprehensive writings of H. P. Blavatsky, all further necessity for a Rosicrucian Fraternity ceased to exist. H.P.B. preserved her own silence concerning the Rosicrucians, and wrote,
No one could ever lay hands on the Rosicrucians, and notwithstanding the alleged discoveries of “secret chambers, vellums called “T,” and of fossil knights with ever-burning lamps, this ancient association and its true aims are to this day a mystery. … the true Society remains today as it has ever been, unknown to all, especially to its cruelest enemy — the Church. (Isis Unveiled II, 380.)
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 26, No. 7, May, 1938