Thesis: History of Rosicrucian Order

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History Of the Rosicrucian Order

Despite being one of the oldest esoteric societies, the Rosicrucian Order remains one of the most mysterious and least well-known of the various groups that arose in Europe over the course of the second millennium. Although Rosicrucianism was one of the key influences on the development of Freemasonry, and, as will be discussed in the findings chapter of this study, has played an important role in the development of Western culture and society, its history, symbols, and legacy have frequently been overshadowed by more popular alchemical and metaphysical movements. For example, while most Americans know that many of the founding fathers were Freemasons, fewer likely know that the first governor of Connecticut was deeply interested in Rosicrucianism from an early age, and was even a member of the British Royal Society, which itself grew out of the Rosicrucian-inspired Invisible College (Woodward 30, 262; Elliot & Daniels 207). In a sense, one could even suggest that the Rosicrucian Order may have had an even greater impact than its more well-known peers, precisely because its influence has gone unremarked.

Part of the reason for the Rosicrucian Order's relative mystery in the eyes of most of the public (if they even know of Rosicrucianism at all) is the fact that the society's founding texts were themselves published anonymously, supposedly by members of the order who wanted to make themselves known over one hundred and fifty years after the society's original founding (Williamson 9-10). The founding texts of the Rosicrucian Order are Fama Fraternitatis (full title: Fama fraternitatis Roseae Crucis oder Die Bruderschaft der Rosenkreuzer), Confessio Fraternitatis (Confessio oder Bekenntnis der Societat und Bruderschaft Rosenkreuz), and the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz (Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreutz anno 1459), which were published in 1614, 1615, and 1616, respectively. As a result of clues in the first two books and the title of the third (which some scholars believe was written by a different author), the founder of the Rosicrucian Order is said to be one Christian Rosenkreuz, a European doctor who learned at from notable mystical masters throughout the Middle East, and despite the fact that the texts themselves suggest that Rosenkreuz should be interpreted as a kind of allegorical figure, there have been attempts to identify Rosenkreutz with figures throughout history; as a consequence of his alchemical learning, he was supposedly capable of living extra long.

The mythology and practice inspired by the tales of Rosenkreuz's travels placed a sharp focus on the betterment of society as a whole through reform and, perhaps most notably, the administration of free medical services. These ideals resonated with more explicit and mainstream movements within Christianity at the time, while at the same time introducing a fairly progressive vision into a conflicted Europe. The books were an immediate hit throughout Europe, and whether or not a secret society of Rosicrucians actually existed did not matter because the idea alone was enough to ensure that interested individuals, and particularly doctors, philosophers, and aspiring alchemists, would spread the word of the Rosicrucian Order (Woodward 29-30).

Because Rosicrucianism was deeply connected to the study of alchemy and the natural sciences, leading thinkers were attracted to the movement. In turn, a number of scientists and scholars produced works over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that drew from the ideas of Rosicrucianism. Furthermore, as the lodges of masons gradually organized themselves into the larger organization that would become the Freemasons, many of the movements leading lights were familiar with and fond of Rosicrucianism, to the point that Freemasonry adopted many of the symbols and concepts first introduced by the Rosicrucian texts. Over time, the public discussion of Rosicrucianism subsided as other organizations became more prominent, and the natural sciences were increasingly divorced from alchemical and metaphysical concerns. Nevertheless, the legacy of Rosicrucianism lived on in literature and art, as well as the lasting influence of the other cults and societies it inspired.

By examining the history of Rosicrucianism, its central mythologies and tenets, and its lasting legacy, one is able to see how the (likely fictional) tale of Christian Rosenkreuz's exploits across the Middle East and Europe came to inspire a serious form of philosophical, social, and spiritual inquiry that ultimately helped give rise to the European Enlightenment and modern science. Furthermore, by considering the Rosicrucian Order from the perspective of metaphysics, one can see how the Order helped pioneer the idea of a kind of spiritual or figurative journey, wherein enlightenment is not conceived of a finite goal or end point, but rather is achieved through the performative act of the journey itself, a journey that specifically concerns itself with helping the sick and weak. Ultimately, while the visible influence of the Rosicrucian Order has waned in the centuries since its inception, its legacy continues to impact contemporary art, literature, and metaphysical philosophy.

Chapter 2: Review of Literature

There are two major categories of literature one must consult when investigating the history and legacy of the Rosicrucian Order. First, one should start with the founding texts of Rosicrucianism, if only to provide the reader with a more comprehensive understanding of what the society and system says about itself. However, because the central Rosicrucian texts are by their very nature steeped in mystery, allegory, and metaphor, they can only offer so much verifiable historical content. As a result, one must augment these primary source readings with secondary scholarship on the subject, of which there are three major texts: The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, the Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited, and Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance. These secondary sources provide a fairly comprehensive examination of Rosicrucianism from a historical perspective, and the points where they disagree on the proper interpretation of certain evidence will present for this study interesting moments of discussion.

In addition, before discussing these texts in greater detail, one must be careful to make a distinction between the history of the Rosicrucian Order as given by the historical evidence available and the history of the Rosicrucian Order as presented within Rosicrucian literature. This distinction is important because one important element of Rosicrucian belief is that the knowledge they purport to give humanity is itself ancient, having been passed down from earlier generations or else acquired directly from God via study and dedication (Williamson 65, Lewis 33). Furthermore, because membership in the Rosicrucian Order was not actually maintained or managed by anyone, and because anyone interested could publish their own accounts of Rosicrucian history and knowledge, the mythical history of Rosicrucianism has over time been blended into the metaphysical systems of other thinkers (Lewis 33). While the Rosicrucian account of the Order's own history cannot be independently verified except inasmuch as it references places and people that really did exist, it does nevertheless offer the reader a useful means of understanding Rosicrucian beliefs and ideals because the mythological and allegorical history provided within the initial Rosicrucian texts are meant to serve as narrative representations of the Rosicrucian path to knowledge. As such, it will be useful to highlight this mythical history in later chapters.

At the time of their writing and afterward, the first two Rosicrucian books, Fama Fraternitatis and Confessio Fraternitatis, were considered companion pieces, because although they were published roughly a year apart, they share a continuity of purpose and style, indicating that they were authored by the same person or people (Williamson 10-11). On the other hand, there are also slight divergences between the two texts that help demonstrate that the authors of the Fama and Confessio were multiple, suggesting that even if the history of Rosicrucianism presented in the books is not true, there was at least some kind of society or order in existence at the time of the books' writing (Williamson 14). However, the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz is so different from the other two, both in content, tone, and style, that some scholars believe it was authored either by different individuals or a different group altogether, who were inspired by but not necessarily connected to those responsible for the first two books (Williamson 136). Furthermore, as opposed to the first two books, whose authorship has remained anonymous, the theologian Johann Andreae claimed responsibility for the Chymical Wedding in his autobiography (Andreae 1). While this claim has been impossible to verify, over time the veracity of his claim has been assumed, if not completely accepted.

Specifically, while the first two books can be read as a combination of allegorical history and manifesto, the third book is much more like an autobiography, albeit an autobiography that is itself an allegory. In particular, while the first two books only make mention of a "C.R.," the third book actually names this character Christian Rosenkreuz, and this name has been retroactively applied to the character of C.R. It is important to mention that the third book does not actually contradict the previous two, but rather expands upon their work, and in particular has the effect of making Rosicrucian beliefs more explicitly Christian by having Rosenkreuz's story… [END OF PREVIEW]

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