Rosicrucianism is a term that refers to particular types of secret societies related to Christian Rosenkreuz. We have all heard of secret societies that are associated with special membership, traditions, and teachings. Rosicrucianism is more of a broad term that refers to the study of particular doctrines or the membership in a secret society connected with Christian Rosenkreuz. Rosenkreuz, whose last name means rose-cross, supposedly founded the Rosicrucian order around the early 1400s. This Order was symbolized by the Rosy Cross and had some influence upon freemasonry as well as spawning many different groups of secret societies throughout the centuries.
The beginnings of Rosicrucianism can be traced back to the early 1600s in late Medieval Europe. A couple of manifestos were circulated called the Fama Fraternitatis (The Fame of the Brotherhood) and the Confessio Fraternitatis (The Confession of the Brotherhood). The Fama Fraternitatis tells of the legend of Christian Rosenkreuz. Rosenkreuz was apparently a doctor and German mystic who lived in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He spent time wondering throughout the Middle East and learning about mysticism from the Arabs. He was said to have found enlightenment there and returned to Germany to spread his teachings to prominent figures in Europe. Instead, he was laughed at and dismissed.
Undeterred, Rosenkreuz began his own secret Rosicrucian order with a small handful of friends and disciples. Each member was male, a doctor, a bachelor, and a virgin. These men formed the Fraternity of the Rose Cross and built a temple called the Spiritus Sanctus, in which they were supposed to meet together once a year. The members agreed to certain tenets including acting as healers but not in return for any payment. They also would not wear any particular uniform or clothes to identify themselves but try to blend in to cultures in which they lived. Each member would find someone to be his successor, and they would use the letters C.R. as their mark. They also agreed that this order would remain secret for one hundred years.
The Confessio Fraternitatis goes into further detail about what the members believed and it has an ominous apocalyptic tone. The pamphlet tells of a society that had found the secrets to enlightenment. This society was a brotherhood of alchemists and sages who were preparing themselves to transform the political and intellectual environment of Europe. This upcoming reformation of the age would return it to a state of grace. Another pamphlet, entitled The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz, was highly symbolic by presenting Rosenkreuz in a wedding. The treatise was an allegory for alchemy, although instead of changing base metals into gold, the premise was that through a spiritual process, one is enlightened and turned into spiritual gold.
The historical basis for the Fraternity of the Rose Cross is dubious at best. There is no evidence that the order actually existed, and the author of The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz, which is believed to be Johann Valentine Andrade, called his pamphlet a joke. Many believe that Order was entirely invented by Andrade. However, Rosicrucianism still had influence, especially on those apt to believe in secret societies. The seventeenth century saw an increased excitement over Rosicrucianism throughout Europe, and people were willing to accept that this group and their teachings could bring change to the religious, political, artistic, and intellectual climate. The original pamphlets were reissued, and about four hundred pamphlets and books were published that discuss Rosicrucianism.
The legend of Christian Rosenkreuz inspired a variety of works from such men as Heinrich Khunrath, Michael Maier, Elias Ashmole, Robert Fludd, and Thomas Vaughan among others. Many of these works defended Rosicrucianism, and several other societies sprang up in response to the discourse about it. These societies had an element of occultism in them. Efforts have also been made to connect Rosicrucianism to the development of the Invisible College and the Royal Society of London, a scientific society still in existence today. Plus, there are many literary works during that time period that make references to the Rose Cross.
Rosicruciansim has also been shown to have influenced freemasonry in its emergence in Scotland during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The eighteenth degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite is called Knight of the Rose Croix. The Golden and Rosy Cross was a secret society in Central Europe that had strong ties to freemasonry. This group was responsible for influencing many freemasons to adopt Rosicrucianism. Plus, many Masonic historians have drawn up their own accounts of Christian Rosenkreuz and the origins of Rosicruciansim. Moreover, many groups have adopted the symbolism of the cross and the rose, including the Knights Templar.
Several different groups have sprung up in modern times that claim to be Rosicrucian. These include the Rosicrucian Fellowship, the Anthroposophical Society, the Archeosophical Society, the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, the Rosicrucian Order of the Golden Dawn, and the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC). AMORC is still around today and provides mail-order subscriptions to their teachings. Some of these groups are more Christian in orientation while others focus upon the freemason teachings and rites. Despite its lack of historical authenticity, Rosicrucianism has had a strong influence on other secret societies and groups throughout the centuries.
Although its historical basis is open to speculation, Rosicrucianism has all the elements we associate with secret societies: exclusive membership, questionable origins, and somewhat fantastical, mystical teachings. Rosicrucianism can be traced back to the publication of three pamphlets in the 1600s that have to do with Christian Rosenkreuz. It is said that the beliefs of members were apocalyptic and connected to alchemy. In any case, Rosicrucianism has been an influence in the formation of other secret societies throughout the centuries including the freemasons, and the symbolism of the rose-cross has endured.