The Rosicrucians- a Brief historical Overview

by Ashley McFadden

The word Rosicrucian is derived from the Latin, Rosae Crucis, meaning Rose Cross. The Rosicrucian Fraternity has not only intrigued people for centuries but has also been a scholarly challenge for historians. Many claims regarding the origin of the Rosicrucians have been made, some even going back more than 3,000 years to Ancient Egypt or later to the Essenes. The claims to Egypt are often based on an association to the mystery schools, and many esoteric movements identify with this period of time as well. However, it is Pharaoh Amenhotep and his monotheistic view of God that is seen as an important root of Rosicrucianism.

However, the true origin, purpose and method of the Rosicrucian movement is found in the symbol itself: the Rose upon the Cross. It is the red upon the gold, the purification by trial and the rose unfolding from and towards.

Historically, the most agreed upon origin, or significant revival, of the Rosicrucian Fraternity is 17th Century Germany when three manifestos were released and then published by a secret Brotherhood between 1604-1616. The heritage of the Rose Cross may not have begun with the Manifestos, but its notoriety certainly did.

The first two manifestos, written anonymously, were an appeal to the educated and influential to unite for the establishment of an educational, moral and scientific renewal and reformation of Europe. A reformation had already taken place in the religious sphere, and now the same effort must be made, appealed the Rosicrucian Fraternity, in the area of science and knowledge. This new enlightenment would uplift humanity from the moral decay of Europe and cause humanity, in the light of knowledge, to understand their relationship to the universe and the difference between the material and the divine. A new dawn was about to break, they said, and Europe was pregnant, about to bear a powerful child who would need a sublime inheritance.

By the content, it is safe to assume the authors were Protestant. However, their objections were not necessarily aimed towards a particular religion, but rather they were objecting to the misuse of spiritual position and authority for political and economic purposes. If the Manifestos were written today, they would be different and address other issues. However, when these works were published, the criticisms were made within the framework of a particular era.

The Manifestos created a tremendous stir and excitement among the intellectuals, alchemists and Royalty of Europe. To appreciate the impact of the Manifestos, we must remember the environment of the time: the gloomy middle ages with its black death had recently ended, tales of the new land across the ocean opened vistas of imagination, a new Aurora seems to dawn upon the horizon. Humanism speaks of the integrity of the individual. The Renaissance is an explosion of creativity and aspiration. The hidden speculative philosophies of the middle ages, kept secret by the Kabbalist, magician and alchemist, were finding a tentative freedom in a new atmosphere of inquiry.

The Holy Roman Empire which was heretofore the unifying factor of Europe, was losing its grip. It had suffered the great schism and was splintered by the Reformation. Political and religious issues now forged a different unifying force, and consequently the power of church and state as one became threatened. As calls for religious reform bellowed across the continent, religious issues themselves became political tools in the redistribution of wealth.

The success of Martin Luther—whose symbol by the way was a red rose and cross—is attributed greatly to the printing press. The printing press allowed him to translate the Bible into German, thus creating an immense national pride, and also allowed him to post his 95 Thesis. Not only was Germany the birthplace of the Reformation, but it was also a major center of the new intellectual excitement where past molds were challenged with new ideas.

Overall, the printing press brought a new enlightenment to the lay person as well. Media was born. Communication was experienced on a new scale, even the illiterate could be read to and people began learning in an unprecedented way. The Bible was read independently for the first time. Intellectual and spiritual autonomy became a new hope.

The environment was explosive. The principalities of Germany were a central point of reform. Yet, word of events spread across all national boundaries as great minds sprang up in every country. A new thread begins to show its development. Thinkers and visionaries communicate through their work, and educational and philosophical thoughts have the opportunity to build upon themselves.

The alchemists, Rosicrucians, mathematicians and magicians were among the free thinkers of the day. The Manifestos unified these thinkers in a common quest: freedom through knowledge.

It was in this environment the Manifestos were released. The first Manifesto was the Fama Fraternitatus or Fama. It was an allegory describing the travels of the Brotherhood's Illustrious Father, Christian Rosencruetz or CRC. Christian Rosencruetz translates into Christian of the Rose Cross. It further described a Fraternity and how the brotherhood of this fraternity may be known.

(1). They heal the sick gratis.
(2). They were not constrained to wear one habit of dress, but rather would adopt the custom of the country in which they dwelt.
(3). They should meet once a year at the Spiritus Sancti or Temple.
(4). Each brother (there were 8 at this time) must find a worthy replacement.
(5). The word R.C. would be their seal.
(6). The Fraternity would be secret for 100 years.

This is followed by a manifesto called the Confessio Fraternitatis. The Confessio offers 37 reasons for the purpose of the Rosicrucian Fraternity and offers their "prayers, secrets and great treasures of gold." The word "gold" is most likely an alchemical reference.
It cannot be said with certainty who was responsible for these two manifestos. Some speculate Francis Bacon, others Johann Andrea.

It is interesting to note that in 1627, Francis Bacon's unfinished manuscript, The New Atlantis, was published after his death. It describes a Utopia, a secret brotherhood, signified by the Rose Cross on their turban, the fact they healed gratis, and met yearly in their Temple, or Salomon's House. The similarities between The New Atlantis and the Fama led many to speculate Bacon.

Following the Confessio, another piece was published called the Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosencreutz, by Johann Valentin Andrea. The Alchemical Wedding concerns Christian Rosencruetz, the Illustrious Father of the Fama, an initiatic process taking seven days and a wedding.

Coincidentally, at this time in history, there really was a very important wedding taking place in Germany between Frederick of Palatine and Elizabeth, the daughter of James I of England. This important wedding represented a marriage of the Rhine and the Thames and could be quite a political move, especially considering the struggle between the Protestants and Catholics taking place in Bohemia at the time. Frederick was to take the throne and lead the Protestant Protest. They had a huge wedding, anyone who was anyone showed up. Supposedly, the guest list was a veritable "Who's Who" of Europe. Francis Bacon and Descartes are alleged to have been there at the time.

This marriage was to solidify the new unification of Europe. However, the success of Frederick and Elizabeth was very short lived. The 30 Years War began, the political support from England was not there as anticipated, and they fled for their lives from Bohemia after only a few months' reign.

The Rosicrucian Fraternity remained secret. Many of the learned to whom the manifestos were addressed wrote papers of criticism and support in an effort to find this Secret Brotherhood and became known as Rosicrucian Apologists such as Robert Fludd. However, in the reactionary climate that followed the Reformation and political unrest, it was wise for the unorthodox thinker to remain silent. The witch hunts were in progress, and the alchemists, mystics, magicians and even mathematicians were considered the devil's disciples and sent to an unpleasant conclusion.

Rene Descartes upon his return to France from his visit to Germany found it necessary to defend himself and disclaim that he was a Rosicrucian. He said that the Rosicrucians were invisible, he was clearly visible; and therefore, he could not be a Rosicrucian. This logic may have saved his life.

Secrecy on one hand and the need to preserve a Tradition on the other raised an interesting problem. How do you keep a system from being lost? First, by giving the truth in story form, the foundations of the system are preserved. Finally, there must be an explanation of the process to be followed. The Fama and Confessio hold the foundation. The process, or path, was given in the Hermetic Marriage of C.R.C. The marriage is a guide to the process of regeneration, or the perfecting of man. These three works represent Ancient Landmarks of Rosicrucianism, and any serious student of the subject should find these works which are available in a book entitled A Rosicrucian Primer.

From Germany, it is believed the Rosicrucianism spread to England, the Netherlands, France and then America.

The Rosicrucians, according to J. F. Sachse's work, The German Pietists of Pennsylvania, came to America in 1694 under the leadership of Johanne Kelpius and landed in Philadelphia. Their many accomplishments over the years that followed were in the spirit of contributing to a new nation, a "New Atlantis" perhaps, in a new land that offered the great hope: freedom.

Wherever they went and under whatever name, in their small way, the Rosicrucians have consistently contributed to the goal of personal freedom of the individual. From an historical view, the Founders of the Rosicrucian Movement in the 1600's may be viewed as being in the center of controversy, but when analyzed, we see they helped to plant many seeds necessary for the ideals of the modern world today: the separation of science from the church and state, the freeing of medical practices from superstition, the notion that one could pursue knowledge and the quest for truth without persecution—all with the patient goal in mind that this would lead to the Movement's ultimate goal: a world where any individual would have adequate leisure, education and freedom to pursue the spiritual life.

(from R+C Times® Summer 1994)

Back to main page