Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

V. Rosicrucians

268. Merits of the Rosicrucians.—A halo of poetic splendour surrounds the order of the Rosicrucians; the magic lights of fancy play around their graceful day-dreams, while the mystery in which they shrouded themselves lends an additional charm to their history. But their brilliancy was that of a meteor. It just flashed across the realms of imagination and intellect, and vanished forever; not, however, without leaving behind some permanent and lovely traces of its hasty passage, just as the momentary ray of the sun, caught on the artist's lens, leaves a lasting image on the sensitive paper. Poetry and romance are deeply indebted to the Rosicrucians for many a fascinating creation. The literature of every European country contains hundreds of pleasing fictions, whose machinery has been borrowed from their system of philosophy, though that itself has passed away; and it must be admitted that many of their ideas are highly ingenious, and attain to such heights of intellectual speculation as we find to have been reached by the Sophists of India.

Before their time, alchemy had sunk down, as a rule, to a grovelling delusion, seeking but temporal advantages, and occupying itself with earthly dross only: the Rosicrucians spiritualised and refined it by giving the chimerical search after the philosopher's stone a nobler aim than the attainment of wealth, namely, the opening of the spiritual eyes, whereby man should be able to see the supernal world, and be filled with an inward light to illumine his mind with true knowledge. The physical process of the transmutation of metals was by them considered as analogical with man's restoration to his unfallen state, as set forth in Bohme's Signatura Rerum, chapters vii., x.-xii. The true Roscrucians, therefore, may be defined as spiritual alchemists, or Theosophists.

269. Origin of the Society Doubtful.—The society is of very uncertain origin. It is affirmed by some writers that from the fourteenth century there existed a society of physicists and alchemists who laboured in the search after the philosopher's stone; and a certain Nicolo Bamaud undertook journeys through Germany and France for the purpose of establishing a Hermetic society. From the preface of the work, "Echo of the Society of the Rosy Cross," it moreover follows that in 1597 meetings were held to institute a secret society for the promotion of alchyray. Another indication, of the actual existence of such a society is found in a book published in 1605, and entitled, "Restoration of the Decayed Temple of Pallas," which gives a constitution of Rosicrucians.

Again, in 1610, the notary Haselmeyer pretended to have read in a MS. the Fama Fraternitatis, comprising all the laws of the Order. Four years afterwards appeared a small work, entitled "General Reformation of the World," which in fact contains the Fama Fratemitatis, where it is related that a German, Christian Rosenkreuz, founded such a society in the fourteenth century, after having learned the sublime science in the East. Of him it is related, that when, in 1378, he was travelling in Arabia, he was called by name and greeted by some philosophers, who had never before seen him; from them he learned many secrets, among others that of prolonging life. On his return he made many disciples, and died at the age of 150 years, not because his strength failed him, but because he was tired of life. In 1604 one of his disciples had his tomb opened, and there found strange inscriptions, and a MS. in letters of gold. The grotto in which this tomb was found, by the description given of it, strongly reminds us of the Mithraic Cave. Another work published in 1615, the Confessio Fraternitatis Rosce Crucis, contains an account of the object and spirit of the Order.

270. Rosicrucian Literature.—The Thesaurinella Chymica-aurea, already referred to (sect. 244), may have been a Rosicrucian work, as also Raymundii Lullii Theoria. In 1615, Michael Meyer published at Cologne his Themis Aurea, hoc est, de legibus Fratemitatis Rosece Crucis, which purported to contain all the laws and ordinances of the brotherhood. Another work, entitled "The Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosenkreuz," and published in 1616, in the shape of a comic romance, is really a satire on the alchemistical delusions of the author's time. Both works were written, as we learn from his autobiography, by Valentine Andrea, a Lutheran clergyman of Herrenberg near Tubingen. But instead of being taken for what the author intended them—satires on the follies of Paracelsus, Weigel, and the alchemists—the public swallowed his fictions as facts: printed letters and pamphlets appeared everywhere, addressed to the imaginary brotherhood, whilst others denounced and condemned it. One Christopher Nigrinus wrote a book to prove the Rosicrucians were Calvinists, but a passage taken from one of their writings showed them to be zealous Lutherans. Andrea himself, in his "Turris Babel" and "Mythologia Christiana," published circa 1619, condemns Bosicrucianism. Impostors, indeed, pretended to belong to the fraternity, and to possess its secrets, and found plenty of dupes. Numerous works also continued to appear. Here are the titles of a few of them:—

"Epistola ad patres de Rosea Cruce." Frankfurt, 1617.

"Quick Message to the Philosophical Society of the Rosy Cross." By Valentine Ischirnessus. Danzig, 1617.

"The Whole Art and Science of the God-Illuminated Fraternity of Christian Rosenkrenz." By Theophilus Schweighart. 1617.

"Discovery of the Colleges and Axioms of the Illuminated Fraternity of Christian Rosenkreuz." By Theophilus Schweighart. 1618.

"De naturae secretis quibusdam at Vulcaniam artem chymicm ante omnia necessariis, addressed to the Masters of the Philosophic Fraternity of the Rosy Cross." 1618. N. P.

"Sisters of the Rosy Cross; or, Short Discovery of these Ladies, and what Religion, Knowledge of Divine and Natural Things, Trades and Arts, Medicines, etc., may be found therein." Parthenopolis, 1620.

"The Most Secret and Hitherto Unknown Mysteries of All Nature." By the Collegium Rosianum. Leyden, 1630.

Of course the scientific value of all these writings was nil, the literary scarcely more.

271. Real Objects and Results of Andrea's Writings.—The account given in the preceding paragraph of the literary performances of John Valentine Andrea is the popular one. But certain explanations are necessary. Andrea's Rosicrucian writings concealed political objects, the chief of which was the support of the Lutheran religion, which the Rosicrucians themselves followed. Andrea made two journeys to Austria—the first in 1612, when the Emperor Mathias ascended the throne; and the second in 1619, a few months after the Emperor's death. At Linz he had private interviews with several Austrian noblemen, all of them Lutherans. Rosicrucian lodges, to further the objects of the Reformation, were established, but numerous Catholics obtained admission to them, and gradually turned their tendencies in the very opposite direction. Andrea perceiving this withdrew from Rosicrucianism, and endeavoured by the subsequent writings mentioned above, to disavow his former connection with it. With the same object also he, during his second residence in Austria, founded the "Fraternitas Ohristi," to which many members of the Protestant Austrian nobility sought admission.

Three years after the society was prohibited by the Government, and its final suppression hastened by an opposition society, founded by the Catholics, with the sanction of the Pope, first at Olmutz and then at Vienna, the leaders being the Counts Althan, Gonzaga, and Sforza; the order was called that of the "Blue Cross." The Rosicrucians, being no longer under the influence of Andrea, broke up into a number of independent lodges, which quickly degenerated into mere traps to catch credulous dupes and their money; hence the duration of most was short. But on the accession of Joseph II., whose liberal principles were known, the Rosicrucians, as well as other secret societies, sprang into life again. Freemasonry became the fashion of the day. Masonic implements were worn as "charms;" the ladies carried muffs of white silk edged with blue, to represent the Mason's aprons, and so on. The Emperor found it necessary to regulate the conduct of these secret societies. He suppressed all except that of the Freemasons, to whom in 1785 he granted a patent, which began thus: "Since nothing is to exist in a well-regulated state without proper supervision, We deem it necessary thus to declare our will: The so-called Masonic Societies, whose secrets are unknown to us, since we never were curious enough to inquire into their juggleries (gatLckeleieny etc. This edict, which abolished the other societies, but allowed the Freemasons to continue their "juggleries," as the Emperor called their ceremonies, threw many of the suppressed societies, including the Rosicrucians, into the arms of the Masonic Fraternity; the Asiatic Brethren, as we shall see further on (281), transferred their activity from Vienna to Sleswick.

272. Ritual and Ceremonies.—The "juggleries" of the Rosicrucians, whom the Emperor suppressed, were those of the "constitution" of 1763, and as follows:—The apartment where the initiation took place contained the tdbella mysticay presently to be described. The floor was covered with a. green carpet, and on it were placed the following objects:— A glass globe, standing on a pedestal of seven steps, and divided into two parts, representing light and darkness; three candelabra, placed triangularly; nine glasses, symbolising male and female properties; the qaintessence, and various other things; a brazier, a circle, and a napkin.

The candidate for initiation is introduced by a brother, who takes him into a room where a light, pen, ink, and paper, sealing-wax, two red cords, and a bare sword are laid on a table. The candidate is asked whether he firmly intends to become a pupil of true wisdom. Having answered affirmatively, he gives up his hat and sword, and pays the fees. His hands having been bound, and his eyes bandaged and a red cord put round his neck, he is led to the door of the lodge, on which the introducer gently knocks nine times.

The doorkeeper opens it and asks "Who is there?"

The hierophant answers, "An earthly body holding the spiritual man imprisoned in ignorance."

The doorkeeper, "What is to be done to him?"

The introducer, "Kill his body and purify his spirit."

The doorkeeper, "Then bring him into the place of justice."

They enter, place themselves in front of the circle, the candidate kneeling on one knee. The master stands at his right hand, with a white wand, the introducer at his left, holding a sword; both wear their aprons. The master says,

"Child of man, I conjure you through all degrees of profane Freemasonry, and by the endless circle, which comprises all creatures and the highest wisdom, to tell me for what purpose you have come here?"

The candidate, "To acquire wisdom, art, and virtue."

The master, "Then live! But your spirit must again rule over your body; you have found grace, arise and be free."

He is then unbound, steps into the circle, the master and the introducer hold the wand and sword crosswise, the candidate lays three fingers thereon, and as soon as the master says "Now listen," the candidate repeats the oath propounded to him, which is simply a declaration that he will have no secrets from his brethren, and will lead a virtuous life. Then he is invested with the title of the order, the seal, password and sign, hat and sword, and has the mystical table interpreted to him, after which, like the Masons, he and the other brethren go from "labour" to "refreshment."

This mystical table is divided into nine vertical and thirteen horizontal compartments. The first column of nine divisions gives the numbers, the second the names of the different degreea The lowest comprises the Junioi'es, who know next to nothing; the highest the Magi, from whom nothing is hidden, who are masters over all things, like Moses, Hermes, HiramL Their jewel is an equilateral triangle. According to the table, the different degrees have meeting-places all over Enrope and Asia; the Magi meet at Smyrna every ten years; the Magistri, a degree below, at Camra, in Poland, and Paris, in France, every nine years; the Juniores every two years at such a place as may be most convenient. The admission fee to the degree of Magus is ninety-nine gold marks; to that of Junior, three mark. The Minares, who know the "philosophical sun," and "perform marvellous cures," pay what they choose.

273. Rosicrucianism in England in the Past.—The works of Andrea excited mach attention in England, where mysticism and astrology at that time had many adherents, as Wood's "Athenae Oxonienses" fully shows. Robert Fludd in this country was the great champion of the Rosicrucians. His two most important works concerning them are "Apologia et Gompendiaria Fratemitatem de Rosea Gruce snspioionis et infamise maculis aspersam. veritatis quasi Fluctibus abluens et abstergens." Leyden, 1616. "Tractatus Apologeticus integritatem Societatis de Rosea Cruce defendens." Lugdvai Batavorum, 1617. This latter is really a duplicate of the former with a new title.

Fludd was followed by one Heydon, born 1629. Strange to say, an attorney, who, among other works on the Rosicraoians wrote "An Epologue for an Epilogue," wherein occur passages such as this: "I shall tell you what Rosicrucians are, and that Moses was their father. Some say they were of the order of Elias, some of Ezechiel, others define them to be the officers of the generalissimo of the world; that are as the eyes and ears of the great king, seeing and hearing all things, for they are seraphically illuminated as Moses was, according to this order of the elements, earth refined to water, water to air, air to fire." Such gibberish as this was served up for the reading public some centuries ago, and, I suppose, satisfied them. In another of his works Heydon maintained that it was criminal to eat—though he did not abstain from the practice himself—but that there was a fine fatness in the air quite sufficient for nourishment, and that for men of very voracious appetites, it was enough to place a cataplasm of cooked meat on the epigastrium to satisfy their hunger.

In 1646 Elias Ashmole, William Lilly, Dr. Thomas Wharton, George Wharton, Dr. J. Hewitt, Dr. J. Pearson, and others formed a Rosicrucian society in London, practically to carry out the scheme propounded in Bacon's "New Atlantis," that is, the erection of the House of Solomon. It was to remain as unknown as the island of Bensalem, that is to say, the study of nature was to be pursued esoterically,. not exoterically. The carpet in their lodge represented the pillars of Hermes; seven steps, the first four of which symbolised the four elements, and the other three salt, sulphur, and mercury, led to an "exchequer," or higher court, or stage, on which were displayed the symbols of creation, or of the work of the six days. Some of the members of this society were Freemasons, hence they were enabled to hold their meetings in Masons' Hall, Masons' Alley, Basinghall Street. They kept nothing secret except their signs.

274. Origin of Name.—The name is generally derived from the supposed founder of the order, Rosenkreuz, Rose Cross; but according to others, it is taken from the armorial bearings of the Andrea family, which were a St. Andrew's cross and four roses. Others again, modern writers, say it is composed of ros dew, and crux, the cross; crux is supposed mystically to represent LVX, or light, because the figure X exhibits the three letters; and light, in the opinion of the Rosicrucians, produces gold; whilst dew, ros, with the (modern) alchemists, was a powerful solvent. But Mr. Waite, in his "Real History of the Eosicrucians" (London, 1887), argues with much force, that the Rosicrucians bore the rose and cross as their badge because they were ardent Protestants, to whom Martin Luther was an idol, prophet, and master, and the device on the seal of Martin Luther was a cross-crowned heart rising from the centre of a rose. The theory has much in its favour, but we cannot quite set aside the fact that in all mystical systems the rose and the cross have always been emblems of paramount importance. We meet with them in the most ancient Hindu mythology. Lackschemi, the wife of Vishnu, was found in a rose with 108 leaves, whence the Indian rosary has the same number of beads, and to the Hindus the cross was the symbol of creation. We have already seen in the account of the Eleusinian Mysteries what importance was attached to the rose, and that Apuleius makes Lucius to be restored to his primitive form by eating roses; and the "Romance of the Rose" was considered by the Rosicrucians as one of the most perfect specimens of Provencal literature, and as the allegorical chef d'oeuvre of their sect. It is undeniable that this was coeval with chivalry, and had from thenceforth a literature rich in works, in whose titles the word Rosa is incorporated; as the Rosa Philosophorum, of which no less than ten occur in the Artis Auriferae quam Chemiam vocant (Basilea, 1610). The connection of the Rosicrucians with chivalry, the Troubadours, and the Albigenses, cannot be denied. Like these, they swore the same hatred to Rome like these, they called Catholicism the religion of hate. They solemnly declared that the Pope was Antichrist, and rejected pontifical and Mahomedan dogmas, styling them the beasts of the East and West.

275. Statements concerning themselves.—They pretended to feel neither hunger nor thirst, nor to be subject to age or disease; to possess the power of commanding spirits, and attracting pearls and precious stones, and of rendering themselves invisible. They stated the aim of their society to be the restoration of all the sciences, and especially of medicine; and by occult artifices to procure treasures and riches sufficient to supply the rulers and kings with the necessary means for promoting the great reforms of society then needed. They were bound to conform to five fundamental laws:— 1. Gratuitously to heal the sick. 2. To dress in the costume of the country in which they lived. 3. To attend every year the meeting of the Order. 4. When dying to choose a successor. 5. To preserve the secret one hundred years.

276. Poetical Fictions of Rosicrucians.—These are best known from the work of Joseph Francis Borri, a native of Milan, and it is to them the "poetic splendour which surrounds the Order," which, in fact, gave real existence to it, is due. Having preached against the abuses of the Papacy, and promulgated opinions which were deemed heretical, Borri was seized by order of the Inquisition and condemned to perpetual imprisonment. He died in the Castle of St Angelo in 1695. The work referred to is entitled "The Key of the Cabinet of Signer Borri," and is, in substance, nothing but the cabalistic romance entitled "The Count de Gabalis," published in 1670 by the Abbe de Villars. What we gather from this work is, that the Rosicrucians discarded for ever all the old tales of sorcery and witchcraft and communion with the devil. They denied the existence of incubi and succubi, and of all the grotesque imps monkish brains had hatched and superstitious nations believed in. Man, they said, was surrounded by myriads of beautiful and beneficent beings, all anxious to do him service. These beings were the elemental spirits; the air was peopled with sylphs, the water with undines or naiads, the earth with gnomes, and the fire with salamanders. These the Rosicrucian could bind to his service and imprison in a ring, a mirror, or a stone, and compel to appear when called, and render answers to such questions as he chose to put.

All these beings possessed great powers, and were unrestrained by the barriers of space or matter. But man was in one respect their superior: he had an immortal soul, they had not. They could, however, become sharers in man's immortality, if they could inspire one of that race with the passion of love towards them. On this notion is founded the charming story of "Undine;" Shakespeare's Ariel is a sylph; the "Rape of the Lock," the Masque of "Comus," the poem of "Salamandrine," all owe their machinery to the poetic fancies of the Rosicrucians. Among other things they taught concerning the elemental spirits, they asserted that they were composed of the purest particles of the element they inhabited, and that in consequence of having within them no antagonistic qualities, being made of but one element (11), they could live for thousands of years. The Rosicrucians further held the doctrine of the signatura rerum, by which they meant that everything in this visible world has outwardly impressed on it its inward spiritual character. Moreover, they said that by the practice of virtue man could even on earth obtain a glimpse of the spiritual world, and above all things discover the philosopher's stone, which, however, could not be found except by the regenerate, for "it is in close communion with the heavenly essence." According to them the letters INEI, the sacred word of the Order of Rose Croix, signified Igne Natura Regenerando Integral.

277. The Hague Lodge.—In the year 1622, Montanus, or, by his real name, Ludwig Conrad, of Bingen, was expelled from an order of Rosicrucians which then existed at The Hague, where they had a grand palace. They held their meetings by order of the master, called "imperator," in great cities, such as Amsterdam, Danzig, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Mantua, Venice, besides such as were held at The Hague. They publicly wore a black silk cord, but at their meetings they put on a gold band, to which were attached a golden cross and rose. Their card of membership was a large parchment, with many seals affixed with great ceremony. When holding a public procession, they carried a small green flag. This Montanns, who wrote a book entitled "Introduction to the Hermetic Science," says, that he spent his patrimony and his wife's fortune, of eleven thousand dollars, for the benefit of the society, and that when he was totally impoverished he was expelled, being, however, bound over to keep their secrets, which latter, indeed, I kept, as women do not reveal anything where there is nothing to reveal." These pretended secrets are supposed to be contained in a book entitled "Sinceri Renati Theophilosophia Theoretico-practica," but I have not been able to obtain or see a copy of this work. The society is supposed to have become extinct at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

278. A Rosicrucian MS.—According to a statement made by Dr. von Harless in his "Jacob Bohme and the Alchemists" (2nd ed., Leipzic, 1882), a society of Rosicrucians must have existed in Germany in the year 1641. Dr. von Harless says,

"I have recently had an opportunity of inspecting a Rosicrucian MS. hitherto unknown. It was probably written about 1765, and contains the statutes of an order of Rosicrucians, with the title Testamentum. The original must date from the middle of the seventeenth century, as is proved by a special warning given to members to observe secrecy, especially towards Roman Catholic ecclesiastics, two members having, from not attending to this caution, been great sufferers in 1641. The MS., besides the statutes, also contains instructions for alchemistic operations. The Order, according to the MS., had one chief, called imperator; its chief seats were Ancona, Nuremberg, Hamburg, and Amsterdam. The members were to change their residence every ten years, and maintain the greatest secrecy as to their existence. The apprenticeship lasted seven years. Their mode of addressing one another was: ave frater; the answer: roseae et aureae. The first: crucis; then both together: Benedictus Deus qui dedit nobis signum. Then the mutual production of the signum, consisting of an engraved seal, a specimen of which was also shown to Dr. von Harless."

On taking steps to obtain further particulars from Dr. von Harless himself, I learnt to my regret that he had died in 1878; and as he had given no intimation in the above-named works where the MS. is deposited, I am unable to report further thereon. But it would seem that the society referred to in the MS. was the same as the one spoken of in the "Thesaurinella," mentioned towards the end of sect. 244.

279. New Rosicrucian Constitution.—In 1714, or one hundred years after Andrea's writings, there appeared a new Rosicrucian constitution, entitled, "The True and Perfect Preparation of the Philosopher's Stone of the Brotherhood of the Golden and Rosy Cross. Published for the benefit Filiorum Doctrinae by Sincero Renato, Breslau." The preface stated that the treatise was not the writer's work, but intrusted to him by a professor of the art, whom he was not allowed to name. The author divides the work into practica ordinis minoris and practica ordinis majoris, indicating the division of the Order into two distinct fraternities, the superior one being known as the "Brethren of the Golden Cross," their symbol being a red cross, and the inferior one as the "Brethren of the Rosy Cross," their symbol being a green cross, from which it is evident that the real work of the Order was alchemy.

Each brother, on being initiated, dropped his real name, and assumed a fictitious one, as we have seen that Ludwig Conrad was known in the Order as Montanus (277), and as hereafter we find the Illuminati assume all kinds of fancy names. Renato's book further states that the Order possessed large seminaries, as the above named Montanus had asserted. Article 42 of the statutes prohibited the reception of married men into the Order; in Article 17 members who wished to marry were allowed to take wives, but were to live with them philosophice, whatever that may have meant. Article 44 enjoined that if a brother should, by misfortune or want of caution, be discovered by any potentate, he was rather to die than reveal the secrets of the Order.

280. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar and other Rosicrucians.—The first modern writer who openly professed himself a Rosicrucian was Duke Ernest Augustus of Saxe-Weimar, who in 1742 published his "Theosophic Devotions" in a small edition, copies of which are easily recognised by their red morocco binding and the ducal crown and cipher on the cover. In it he refers to the "last great union of brethren," and, according to the vignette at the end of the book, he must mean Rosicrucians.

We hear of a society of Rosicrucians founded by Freemasons, whose "General Constitutions" were settled in 1763; they were based on the "Themis Aurea" of Michael Maier, who had been physician-in-ordinary and alchemist to the Emperor Rudolph (1576-1612). This revived taste was taken advantage of by many adventurers. John George Schroepfer, who kept a coffee-house at Nuremberg in 1777, established at his house a lodge, and made so much pretence to secret and exclusive knowledge, that the Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick and the Duke of Courland—by whose order Schroepfer had once been flogged—invited him to Dresden, where they openly patronised him, while he deluded them with the apparitions of ghosts and magical phantasma—really produced by magic-lanterns and concave mirrors. But his conduct eventually so disgusted his patrons that they refused him further supplies of money, whereupon he shot himself in a wood near Leipzic.

But this vulgar cheat left credulous disciples behind. John Rudolph Bischofswerder (1741-1803), a major, and afterwards Prussian Minister of War, who had almost been a witness of Schroepfer's death, and John Christopher Wollner (1732-1800), a clergyman, and afterwards Prussian Minister of Public Cult, continued what Schroepfer had started. Under the patronage of the Crown Prince, Frederick William of Prussia, the nephew of Frederick the Great, whom he succeeded in 1786 as King Frederick William II., established at Berlin a Rosicrucian lodge, and the enlightened views which had been introduced by, and had prevailed during the reign of old Fritz were quickly suppressed by religious, persecution. At that time Bahrdt had considerable success with his resuscitated order of Illuminati. The two highly-placed rogues saw in this plebeian a man who might some day compete with them for the king's favour; so whilst they, in league with his mistress, the Countess Lichtenau, more than ever amused their silly royal patron with the calling up of ghosts and drunken orgies, they induced him to put forth the notorious Religious Edict of 1788, which was to stem the ungodly advances of the Illuminati, and which also restored the censorship of the Press. The book (in German), entitled "The Rosicrucian in his Nakedness," published by Master "Pianco," an ex-member of the society, in 1782, was a violent attack and expose of the Rosicrucians; but the delusion continued to flourish.