Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

VI. Asiatic Brethren

281. Origin of the Order.—This Order originated probably about the year 1780, though its chiefs were not known in 1788; it was, however, suspected that Baron Ecker and Eckhofen was one of them. He resided at first at Vienna, but afterwards settled at Sleswick; he distinguished himself by his writings, but the superstitious proclaimed him a terrible Cacomagus. The order spread from Italy to Russia. Its basis was Rosicrucian, its meetings were called Melchisedeck lodges, and Jews, Turks, Persians, and Armenians might be received as members. The masters were called the Worshipful Chiefs of the Seven Churches of Asia. The full title of the Order was, "Order of the Knights and Brethren of St. John the Evangelist from Asia in Europe." The teaching of the Order was partly moral, that is to say, it instructed how to rule spirits, by breaking the seven seals; and partly physical, by showing how to prepare miraculous medicines and to make gold. It inculcated cabalistic nonsense, and was greatly detested by Rosicrucians and Freemasons—two of a trade cannot agree. The names of the degrees were taken from the Hebrew, and were symbolical of their characteristics. The Order did not profess Rosicrucianism, yet in the Third Chief Degree the members were styled "True Rosicrucians." The results of the scientific researches of the masters were not communicated to aspirants; these had to discover them as they could. The fact seemed to be that the masters had nothing to communicate, but this admission would have been fatal to the Order; its secrets appearing to exist in the credulity of outsiders only.

282. Division of this Order.—The Order was divided into five degrees, viz., two probationary and three chief degrees. The first probationary degree, that of the " eekers," never consisted of more than ten members. The period of probation was fourteen months. They had lectures delivered to them every fortnight, and the costume they wore at their meetings consisted of a round black hat with black feathers, a black cloak, a black sash with three buttons in the shape of roses, white gloves, and sword with a black tassel, a black ribbon, from which was suspended a double triangle, which symbol was also embroidered on the left side of the cloak.

The second probationary degree, consisting of ten members, was called that of the "Sufferers." Its duration was seven months. Whilst the "Seekers" were theorists only, the "Sufferers" were supposed to make practical researches in physical science. They wore round black hats with black and white feathers, black cloaks with white linings and collars, on which double triangles were embroidered in gold, black sashes with white edging and three rosettes, white gloves, and swords with black and white tassels.

The First Chief Degree styled its members "Knights and Brother-Initiates from Asia in Europe." They wore round black hats with white, black, yellow, and red feathers, black cloaks with white linings and collars and gold lace; on the left breast of the cloak there was a red cross with four green roses, having in their centre a green shield with the monogram M and A. The same cross, of gold, and enamelled, was worn on a red ribbon; the member further wore a pink sash round the body edged with green and with three red roses, white gloves with a red cross and four green roses; the tassels of the swords displayed the four colours of the feathers.

283. Initiation into this Degree.—On the reception of a "Sufferer" into this degree he was led into a room hung with black; the floor and furniture were covered with black cloth. The room was lit up with seven golden candlesticks, six of which had five branches each, whilst the seventh, standing in the centre, represented a human figure in a white dress and golden girdle. The chair of the master stood in the centre of the room on a dais of three steps, under a square black canopy; the back wall was partly open, but held back with seven tassels, and behind it was the Holiest of Holies, consisting of a balustrade of ten columns, on the basement of which was a picture of the sun in a triangle, surrounded by the divine fire. Under the centre candlestick was the carpet of the three masonic degrees, surrounded by nine lights, a tenth light standing a little further off at the foot of the throne. There stood, on the right, a small table, on which were placed a flaming sword, with the number 56 engraved thereon, and a green rod, with two red ends; to the left lay the Book of the Law.

The "Sufferer," being then in an adjoining room, was asked three times if he desired to be initiated. His answer being in the affirmative, the Grand Master ordered him to be introduced, after having read the inscription on a red shield in letters of gold over the door: "Here is the Door of the Eternal; the just enter here." The introducer then rang a bell twice, the Grand Master rang once, and the door was opened. The candidate stepped up to the table, and thrice made the Master's sign. He was then told that he was accepted, and had to sign an obligation never to reveal the secrets of the Chapter. After a few other childish ceremonies he was led to the Table of Purification, on which stood three lights on as many columns. The one represented a man with the triangle, the other a woman with the triangle reversed; the central one a man with a double triangle. In the centre of the table stood a crystal cup, filled with water, in which salt had been dissolved, another cup with salt, a spoon, a bundle of cedar-wood bound with hyssop and pink and green silk.

The candidate had his coat and waistcoat taken off, the collar of his shirt opened, and his right arm bared. Having knelt down, the Grand Master sprinkled his neck thrice with the water, saying, "May the Merciful One give thee the knowledge of thy weapons, of thy lance, and of the number Four [which with Rosicrucians is the root and beginning of all numbers]. Then touching his right arm he said, "May the Almighty give thee strength in battle;" and touching his breast, "May the Just One give thee as a conqueror rest in the centre." The "Sufferer" was then dressed again, the Grand Master opened the Holiest of Holies, and the candidate having taken the oath, the Grand Master dubbed him a Knight. Touching his right shoulder he said, "May the Infinite give thee strength, beauty, and wisdom for the fight;" and touching the left shoulder, "We receive thee, in the name of the most worshipful and wisest seven Pathers and Rulers of the seven Unknown Churches in Asia, as a Knight and initiated Brother." Touching him on the head, he said, "May the Eternal One give thee the light of the number Pour, and thou shalt be delivered from the Eternal Death." Then there ensued mutual embracing, a little more speechifying by the Grand Master, and then the servants brought in salt, bread, wine, lamb and pork, the latter being symbolical of the Old and the New Covenant!

284. Second Chief Degree, Wise Masters.—This degree could only be obtained from the Sanhedrim, which constituted the highest authority, for in this degree began the revelation of secrets. What they were has never become known to outsiders. We may assume them to have been wonderful, considering the wonderful costume the knights were entitled towear in this degree, viz., a red hat with stripes of the four different colours mentioned, in a red cloak, with a green cross and roses, having in their centre the monogram J and embroidered in gold on a red field; the same cross in gold, and enamelled in the same four colours, attached to a green ribbon, edged with red, and three green roses; white gloves, decorated with red crosses and green roses inside and out; sword, with green and red tassel.

285. Third Chief Degree, or Royal Priests, or True Rosicrucians, or the Degree of Melchisedeck.—This degree also could be obtained from the Sanhedrim only. The number of its members was restricted to seventy-two. Solomon in all his glory was nothing compared with the True Rosicrucians in their official costume. Here it is: a hat, gold, pink, and green, the brim turned up in front, and the name Jehovah embroidered thereon in gold, and surmounted with white, red, yellow, black, and green feathers; a long pink undergarment, fitting closely to the body, the cuffs of the sleeves being made of materials similar to those composing tho hat, as also the sash, worn round the waist, whereon were embroidered three roses, one white, one red, and the centre one the colours of the sash; the stockings or hose and shoes were of pink silk. The cloak consisted of materials similar to those of the hat, and was lined with green; on the left breast was seen a point with many rays issuing from it. Round the neck the knight wore a gold chain, having alternately between the ordinary links shields with the monograms M and A and J and C, and the representation of a tree, having on the right hand a man, and on the left a woman, who with one hand cover the pudenda, and touch the tree with the other; to the end of the chain the Urim and Thummim were attached. White gloves, decorated with green and red roses within and without, completed this gorgeous apparel.

286. Organisation of the Order.—The Sanhedrim exercised the highest authority, which it could delegate to committees appointed from among its members. The authority next under the Sanhedrim was the General Chapter, after which came the Provincial Chapters. All these various departments had every one their own officials, with high-sounding titles, which need not be given here—the reader will find enough of them among the Freemasons; but on reading a list of them, one cannot help exclaiming—

"And every one is Knighted,

And every one is Grand;

Who would not be delighted

To join in such a band?"

But to join in this band was somewhat expensive; the Order was a fee-trap of no mean order, something like a few of the spurious degrees in Masonry. On his initiation into the order of the Asiatic Brethren the candidate paid a fee of two ducats; when he took it into his head to found a Master Lodge, he had to pay seven ducats for the privilege, and two ducats for the carpet; for every folio of the Rules of the Lodge, ten kreuzer, or about twopence-halfpenny. The foundation of a Superior Master Lodge cost twelve ducats; of a Provincial Chapter, twenty-five ducats; of a General Chapter, fifty ducats. Every Brother paid to the Superior Master a monthly contribution of eightpence, and for extraordinary expenses and correspondence a fee proportionate to his means on the days of John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. These fees and subscriptions must annually have amounted to a goodly sum. What became of it? Rolling, a member, in 1787, published the laughable secrets of the Order.

287. Rosicrucian Adventurers.—In 1781 there appeared at Vienna "An Address to the Rosicrucians of the Ancient System." The Order seems to have been revived about that time by Fraxinus—evidently a fictitious name—who was Provincial Grand Master of the four united Masonic Lodges at Hamburg. The Masons did not know that Fraxinus was a Rosicrucian, but he evidently knew how to fleece his dupes. We learn from one Cedrinus, who was a member of one of the Hamburg lodges, that for the initiation into the Rosicrucian degrees he was by instalments mulcted in the sum of nearly 150 dollars. When Cedrinus began to express dissatisfaction at these continual extortions, Fraxinus, to quiet him, made Cedrinus keeper of the Great Seal of the Hamburg lodges. This gave the latter an opportunity of gaining an insight into the way in which degrees were manufactured, and how Masonry was corrupted by them. He fell out with Fraxinus, and everywhere proclaimed the machinations of the Rosicrucians. Fraxinus expelled him as a perjured brother.

Another Rosicrucian who obtained notoriety at about the same time was Brother Gordianus, who resided at Tubingen. He was supposed to be a Rosicrucian and an alchemist, since he lived well without having any visible means of subsistence. A schoolmaster, known by the initial L. only, had long desired to become a Rosicrucian; he consequently paid Gordianus a visit, who informed him, amongst other matters, that the object of the Order was to carry out the intentions of Valentine Andrea; that certain conditions were imposed on every member, viz., eternal silence on all concerning the Order, the introduction within six weeks of another member, to show that he was capable of winning the confidence of his fellowmen, and the payment of an initiation fee of fifty dollars. The poor schoolmaster after a time raised the money, and received the subjoined receipt, on a small blue card:—

Sub RATIFICATIONE Venerand. Superior

TETTAra Receptionis in minum Gradum
Ordinis Philosophorum incogritorum, Fratr.
A. LL et R.C. Systematis antiquioris.

A 4077.s.8 I. Gordianus
M.L.3—+—C. Fr. Inspector
-l-g.—+—b Circuli II.

On the back of the card was the following:—

Praevia sancta promissione religiosae.
Ad impletionis Articuli fundamentalis.
I. et II. et rite ad impleto
Articulo III.

Gordianus then proposed to L. that he should translate hermetical and magical writings from Latin into German, which L. did. Gordianus published these translations in a periodical he was then the editor of, without, however, remunerating L., but keeping his faith alive by repeated promises shortly to introduce him to the heads of the Order, who would communicate to him great and valuable secrets. But it seems L. became impatient. He and friends of his made inquiries, and ascertained that Gordianus had boasted that he intended to form a society of cheats and dupes. One of L.'s friends charged Gordianus with it. The latter, in 1785, in writing to L. tried to justify himself, but eventually disappeared from Tubingen, when L. made known the above facts as a warning to others.

288. Theoretical Brethren.—According to the book, "The Theoretical Brethren, or Second Degree of Rosicrucians," published in 1785, the Rosicrucian ritual was as follows:—

The candidate must have been initiated into the Scotch rite; he is led into a large room lighted with candelabra; at the upper end is a square with a black cloth, on which lie an open Bible, the Laws of the Order, and a black embroidered apron. On the carpet there is a globe, surrounded by two rings; from the outer one rays proceed into a circle of cloud, in which are seen the seven planets. A cubical stone is placed above Mars, and the Blazing Star above the globe. An unhewn stone stands opposite to Saturn. The planets promote the growth of the seven metals; the Blazing Star represents Nature; the two circles typify the agens and patiens, the male and female principles. The unhewn stone is the materia prima philosophorum; the cubical stone, the patiens philosophorum. The globe signifies the lodge. The oath is confined to promising fidelity to the Order, secrecy and devotion to the study of nature. The apron is white lined with black, and embroidered. The jewel is of gilt brass, and consists of two triangles with rays issuing therefrom, the name of Jehovah in Hebrew letters, and on the reverse the signs [isis, tanit]. It is attached to a black ribbon.

Sign: raising the right hand, with the thumb and two forefingers extended, which is answered by placing the thumb and two fore-fingers on the heart. The grip is given by taking the brother with the right hand round the waist. The word is Chaos. In Hamburg the initiation fee was forty gold marks, about £23 monthly contributions amounted to about eighteen shillings. There are nine degrees. We need not go through the whole of them; a few may suflSce.

The third degree is called Bracheus, in which the word is Majim, the answer to which is Brocha. The next degree is that of Philosophus; the word, Ruachhiber; initiation fee, about twenty dollars. There is a ninth degree, the initiation fee to which is ninety-nine gold marks, for which the member becomes a true Magus, knowing all the secrets of nature, with power overall angels, devils, and men; the philosopher's stone is the least of his possessions.

289. Spread of Rosicrucianism.—These Rosicrucians assert that they had lodges in various countries. Vienna, according to their statements, was the seat of the Grand Master of the eighth degree; Konigsberg, Stettin, Berlin, and Danzig, meeting places of the Brethren of the fifth degree; at Breslau and Leipzic the Brethren of the fourth degree assembled; at Hamburg the Brethren of the sixth degree had a lodge, which cost nine thousand marks. The Order, moreover, had lodges at Nuremberg, Augsburg, Innsbruck, Prague, Paris, Venice, Naples, Malta, Lisbon, Bergen-op-Zoom, Cracow, Warsaw, Basle, Zurich in Europe, and at Smyrna and Ispahan in Asia. The sect was also known in Sweden and Scotland, where it had its own traditions, claiming to be descended from the Alexandrian priesthood of Ormuzd, who embraced Christianity in consequence of the preaching of St. Mark, founding the society of Ormuzd, or of the "Sages of Light." This tradition is founded on the Manichaeism preserved among the Coptic priests, and explains the seal impressed on the ancient parchments of the Order, representing a lion placing his paw on a paper, on which is written the famous sentence, "Pax tibi, Marce Evangelista meus," from which we might infer that Venice had some connection with the spreading of that tradition. In fact, Nicolai tells us that at Venice and Mantua there were Rosicrucians, connected with those of Erfurt, Leipzic, and Amsterdam. And we also know that at Venice congresses of Alchemists were held; and the connection between these latter and the Rosicrucians has already been pointed out. Nevertheless the Scotch and Swedish Rosicrucians called themselves the most ancient, and asserted Edward, the son of Henry III., to have been initiated into the Order in 1191, by Raymond LuUy, the alchemist. The Fraternity of the Rosy Cross is still flourishing in England (see 293).

[Note: A somewhat curious fact may be mentioned here: The Rosicrucians generally adopted sidereal or alchemistic pseudonyms. In the seventeenth century, under the Emperor Ferdinand III., one John Konrad Richthausen came to Vienna. He was a Rosicrucian, and as such bore the name of Chaos, and eventually was ennobled as Herr von Chaos. In 1663 he erected an institution for the sons of poor or deceased parents. When, three years after, the Plague raged in Vienna and attacked some of the youths in the institution, the executors of Richthausen's will—the testator having died—quickly erected in the district of Mariahilf, almost in the centre of Vienna, another building, to separate the youths attacked by the disease from the others. Gradually the building was enlarged, so that in 1773 it could receive 145 pupils. It was known as the Chaos Foundation. In 1752 the Empress Maria Theresa purchased the house for a military academy, which purpose it still serves; but it continues to be called the Stift and the street facing it is still called the Stiftyasee.]

290. Transition to Freemasons.—From the Templars and Rosicrucians the transition to the Freemasons is easy. With these latter alchemy receives a wholly symbolical explanation; the philosopher's stone is a figure of human perfectibility. In the Masonic degree called the "Key of Masonry," or "Knight of the Sun," and the work "The Blazing Star," by Tschudi, we discover the parallel aims of the two societies. From the "Blazing Star" I extract the following portion of the ritual:

"When the hermetic philosophers speak of gold and silver, do they mean common gold and silver?" — "No, because common gold and silver are dead, whilst the gold and silver of the philosophers are full of life."

"What is the object of Masonic inquiries?" — "The art of knowing how to render perfect what Nature has left imperfect in man."

"What is the object of philosophic inquiry?"— "The art of knowing how to render perfect what Nature has left imperfect in minerals, and to increase the power of the philosopher's stone."

"Is it the same stone whose symbol distinguishes our first degrees?"— "Yes, it is the same stone which the Freemasons seek to polish."

So also the Phoenix is common to Hermetic and Masonic initiation, and the emblem of the new birth of the neophyte. Now, we have already seen the meaning of this figure, and its connection with the sun. We might multiply comparisons to strengthen the parallelism between hidden arts and secret societies, and trace back the hermetic art to the mysteries of Mithras, where man is said to ascend to heaven through seven steps or gates of lead, brass, copper, iron, bronze, silver, and gold.

291. Progress and Extiction of Rosicrucians.—After having excited much attention throughout Germany, the Rosicrucians endeavoured to spread their doctrines in France, but with little success. In order to attract attention, they in 1623 secretly posted certain notices in the streets of Paris, to this effect: "We, the deputies of the College of the Rosy Cross, visibly and invisibly dwell in the city. We teach without books or signs every language that can draw men from mortal error," etc. etc. A work by Gabriel Naud gave them the final blow. Peter Mormio, not having succeeded in reviving the society in Holland, where it existed in 1622, published at Leyden in 1630, a work entitled "Arcana Naturae Secretissima," wherein he reduced the secrets of the brethren to three—viz., perpetual motion, the transmutation of metals, and the universal medicine.

292. Rosicrucians in the Mauritius.—I am indebted to Mr. Waiters "Real History of the Rosicrucians" (published by George Redway, 1888) for the following particulars:—

It appears that a society of Rosicrucians existed in 1794 in the island of Mauritius.

"My authority," says Mr. Waite, "gives at length a copy of 'the admission of Dr. Bacstrom' into that society by Le Comte de Chazal. In that document Dr. Bacstrom promises, among other things, 'never to reveal the secret knowledge he receives,' 'to initiate such persons as he may deem worthy,' including women, seeing that 'Leona Constantia, Abbess of Clermont, was actually received as a practical member and master into the society in 1736 as a Soror Crucis; that he will 'commence the great work as soon as circumstances permit,' that he 'will give nothing to the Church,' that he will 'never give the fermented metallic medicine for transmutation to any person living, unless he be a member of the Rosy Cross.'"

To this document is appended the philosophic seal of the society, representing a man standing in a triangle, enclosed in a square, and surrounded by a circle. At the head and feet of the man are various cabalistic signs. The whole resembles some of the diagrams which may be found in the "Magical Works of Cornelius Agrippa," in the chapter treating of the proportions, measures, and harmony of the human body.

293. Modern English Rosicrucians.—Mr. Waite further states that a pseudo-society existed in England before the year 1836, because Godfrey Higgins says that "He had joined neither the Templars nor the Rosicrucians." The present Rosicrucian Society was remodelled about thirty years ago. A previous initiation into Masonry is an indispensable qualification of candidates: "the officers of the society shall consist of three Magi, a Master-General, a Treasurer-General, a Secretary-General, and seven Ancients. There is also an Organist, a Torch-bearer, a Herald, a Guardian of the Temple, and a Medallist. The members are to meet four times a year, and dine together once a year. Every novice on admission shall adopt a Latin motto, to be appended to his signature in all communications with the Order. The jewel of the Supreme Magus is an ebony cross, with golden roses at its extremities, and the jewel of the Rosie Cross in the centre. It is surmounted by a crown of gold for the Supreme Magus alone, and is worn round the neck, suspended by a crimson velvet ribbon. The jewel of the general officers is a lozenge-shaped plate of gold, enamelled white, with the Rosie Cross in the centre, surmounted by a golden mitre, on the rim of which is enamelled in rose-coloured characters LUX, and in its centre a small cross of the same colour. The jewel is worn suspended from a button-hole by a green ribbon an inch wide, and with a cross also embroidered on it in rose-coloured silk. The jewel of the fraternity is the lozenge-shaped jewel of the Rosie Cross, without the mitre, suspended by a green ribbon an inch it. width, and without the embroidered cross.

Mr. Waite derived this information from a secret record of the association entitled The Rosicrucian, a very small quarterly of twelve pages, first published in 1868, which ceased in 1879. In 1871 the society informed its members that their objects were purely literary and antiquarian; that it consisted of 134 fratres, ruled over by three Supreme Magi. Seventy-two members composed the London colleges, the others formed the Bristol and Manchester colleges. A Yorkshire college was consecrated in 1877; a college in Edinburgh had been established some time previously. The prime mover in the association was Robert Wentworth Little; the late Lord Lytton was Grand Patron. But as to Rosicrucian knowledge the Brethren were altogether destitute of it, as they themselves admitted.