History and Tradition of the Societas Rosicruciana in America

By Edward L. Gilmore (1925- Phoenix College S:.R:.I:.A:.)

The antiquity of the Order now known as “The Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross,” or “The Order of the Ruby Rose and Golden Cross,” or in common parlance “The Rosicrucian Order,” or “Brotherhood”, its history and tradition, have been a matter of long continued investigation by many. The secrecy so long maintained by its true members as to its actual existence, and the esoteric character of its teachings, have made many doubt that such an order ever really did exist, as an Order, prior to comparatively recent times. The same is also true of Masonry, to a degree, though that having been always a more public and popular order, its history is probably more easily traced by actual records and reference to its existence found in the archives of past centuries. But with the Rosicrucian Order and Masonry both, their antiquity does not depend upon either having existed in the distant past under the name by which it is now known exoterically, or even by the esoteric name, if any, known only to its members. A church was not called a “church” in Egyptian, Hebrew, or Greek, but by names of entirely different derivation and pronunciation, that indicated or meant the kind of an institution or building now indicated by the English word “church.” It is the philosophy and teachings that are really to be traced, and the succession of organizations, known by many names during the past centuries, at times rising to a place of influence and power among the people, at times sinking into practical oblivion, only to be again revived and take a place as a guiding influence in the lives of men, that are really the criteria by which its antiquity is to be traced and tested, and these come to us through tradition and writings understandable only to the initiate.

Dealing first with the history, or the actual written records of the past, and confining ourselves strictly to the name, we find that although there may be no authentic history of the Order, or of a fraternity or organization known by this or a similar name, traceable beyond, probably, the sixteenth century, yet considerably before that time, and possibly as early as the twelfth century, there are found references to the existence of such a Brotherhood in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. And from records now existing we find that during the centuries beginning possibly even before the eleventh and continuing through the sixteenth, there arose and developed throughout Europe, and especially in Germany, a widespread and intense interest in all kinds of supposedly occult teachings. This interest centered around, and was based upon rumors and claimed knowledge of the existence of a valid Occult or Alchemical order popularly known as The Rosicrucian Brotherhood. No one seems to have had or at least to have divulged any authentic information as to the real existence, place of gathering, or membership of such an order, or by whom instituted, during these earlier centuries, yet the almost universal belief in its actual existence, even among the most enlightened people of that time, would seem to be strong evidence that there was some real basis for such, even though this basis be now unknown, and we may reasonably accept it as a fact that such an Order did exist. The secrecy maintained as to its membership and the esoteric character of its teachings, coupled with the then limited knowledge of writing or other means of actually recording the proceedings of such an order may easily account for this lack of authentic record, even if it were not then deemed wise by the members of the Order that even this data be preserved only by memory and communication by word of mouth in succession.

It is true that the prevalence of this faith and belief in the existence of such an Order opened the doors to all kinds of pretenders, frauds and charlatans who, with a pretence of deep occult, and chicanery, gained each his band of followers, imposing upon the credulity of many to their own enrichment, and in consequence many honest investigators have come to doubt the existence of any real occult knowledge, or a genuine order or fraternity of this character in those countries at this time. But each conclusion, we think, is unwarranted. As has been often said, where there is widespread imitation, the real undoubtedly exists.

Early in the seventeenth century (1614) (soon after the art of printing became known), there appeared a publication containing the “Fama Fraternitatis” and “Confessio Fraternitatis”, the former said to have been circulated in MS as early as 1610. These, with “The Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosencreutz,” published in 1616, (but circulated in MS from 1459), are the three great treaties from which many orders labeled as “Rosicrucian” have sprung, all but one of which were, necessarily, but the interpretation of one man or possible a small body of men, of the lofty and inspiring truths more or less plainly revealed by these writings.

As these writings were anonymously issued, many commentators have considered them simply fiction, and intended as satires upon the then popular craze for the secret or occult, referred to above. This view is, however, in our opinion, refuted by the many great truths deeply hidden therein, not then known to the world but which have since been practically proven and become common knowledge.

The claim is also made that one, Andrae, a Lutheran theologian was the real author of these writings, that they were written while he was yet a young man, and that later in life he wrote a pamphlet acknowledging authorship, at the same time stating that his purpose in their publication was only to ridicule and flagellate this popular craze, as just stated. This, however, is met by the contention that from the deep and accurate knowledge displayed, the author necessarily was, and must have been, at the time of writing these pamphlets, a member and advocate of the Order, but that, later in life, he, as a Lutheran Clergyman, evidently found himself at variance with them, and for this reason sought to discredit them in this subsequent pamphlet.

Regardless of who was the true author, and whether or not Andrea, posing as such, later tried to discredit them, we think that the great and lofty truths, more or less hidden or partially revealed by these remarkable pamphlets, undoubtedly establish the honesty, sincerity and true knowledge of the author at the time of writing, or else they were written at the instance or dictation of another. It is difficult to conceive how any one with any degree of spiritual conception, could attribute an unworthy purpose to the real author of these evidently inspired teachings.

But it is from the English branch of the Order that the Societas Rosicruciana in America derives, and from which it obtained its charter, and, therefore, with which we are most vitally concerned. And in this connection it is interesting to note that it is contended by some that the “Fama” was really written by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), that this fact is plainly proven by an analytical comparison of it with Bacon’s “New Atlantis”, written just prior to his death.

In this English branch of the Order, Robert Fludd was the great exponent, followed by Heyden, who was born in 1629. It is particularly to be noted that these authors, even at this early time, claimed an origin of the Order far antedating that of the Rosencreutz legend, and in “An Epilogue for an Epilogue,” Heyden says: “I shall tell you what Rosicrucians are, and that Moses was their father.”

All through this period, however, the focal point around which was built the popular faith, both in England and on the Continent, in the existence of such an order, was the name of “Christian Rosencreutz,” the hero of “The Chymical Marriage,” though the claim is made by some that the name of the Order is derived from other sources, such as the Armorial Bearings of the Andrea family, and the Seal of Martin Luther. These claims, if true, would seem only to involve the conclusion that the name of this Hero was derived or deduced, by the author, whether Andrea or some other, from the Armorial Bearings referred to, or the Seal of Luther, which simply traces the derivation one step further back.

Others trace the source to the use of the Rose and Cross in the Hindu or Eleusinian Mysteries, which again could very well be the source from which either the said Armorial Bearings or Seal were derived, resulting only in another and longer step backward toward the primal origin. Under this view there can be no reasonable quarrel between the contenders for the different conclusions, and harmony, an underlying principle of the Order under discussion, is thereby again established. It may be pertinent here to remark that the name given to an Order by the public, whether it be the result of a misunderstanding of the real name, or derived from some principle or practice of the Order, sooner or later becomes its accepted name even to the members, and is used by them in all public writings.

However, regardless of the source of the name by which the Order has been and is known, the Brotherhood itself teaches that “the existence, study, work and accomplishment of Christian Rosencreutz is a fact,” though not now provable by historical or external evidence. The lack of such evidence is explained by the fact that this was not the exoteric or legal name of the person who assumed it. That while in the “Fama Fraternitatis” the personality from whom the Order was derived is depicted, no name has ever been divulged, yet the actual existence and life history of this founder, referred to therein as “C.R.C.”, “Father R.C.” and “A.C.R.C.” is a matter of more or less exact knowledge. That “Rosencreutz” was an esoteric name, but the Master Mind it identified “was intended to be and is, an example to all who seek the Hidden Mysteries.”

How then can it be contended that our Order dates from “remotest antiquity,” or how can the claim be made and sustained “that Moses was their father?” Simply that the Order under this new or modern name is a revival of and the heir to that which had existed from even before Moses, originating, as we are taught, with the Ancient Priesthood of Egypt, which in the passing of the centuries, under whatever name known or perpetuated, had flourished, waned and been revived, each time possibly under a new name appropriate to the time, country and language used, only to again flourish, wane, fall into practical obscurity, and be again revived.

In this way, “Our father Rosy Cross was to the Order what the Messiahs have been to Humanity in all ages, the Reviver of the ancient teachings and practices, a living illustration of the potency of the underlying principles of the philosophy.” And we might say that He, the latest, like the Christ, “came to fulfill the law,” not only by living it, but also by amplifying and further revealing to humanity the Divine Mysteries.

Thus, laying aside the question of mere name, we will consider the more reasonable and fitting question of the antiquity of the true science and philosophy to which our Order has fallen heir. And in answering this we have access to records of which the scholars of the 17th century had no knowledge. The claim made by Heyden, referred to above, that “Moses was their father,” so far from limiting the origin of the Order to Moses, only credits Moses, according to our concept, with being the father of a comparatively modern line of inheritance, and one of the long line of “fathers” or chief exponents and exemplars, through whom the Order, or at least its science and philosophy, have descended even to men of our time. The origin of the Order in the Egyptian Priesthood is in no way affected by this, for it is plainly stated in the Biblical Record that “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” (Acts 7-22) Nor need we stop with Moses in this line, for it is written of Abram that he was born in “Ur of the Caldees,” and this people were, without doubt, well versed in the Egyptian Mysteries, we were all the civilized peoples of that day within those closely related countries east of the Mediterranean. Further, that Abram lived in Ur until about his seventy-fifth year, when he left Haran to go into the land of Canaan, and (Gen. 12-9) “Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.” “And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there.” The narrative then reveals Abram’s deception of the Pharaoh, and that the Pharaoh knew what Abram had done, and accused him of it. It is well established that the Pharaohs of those times were the heads, and probably the most advanced of the Priesthood. This record not only proves this Pharaoh, by his wisdom, to have been such, but shows further that Abram, during his sojourn in Egypt, was in touch and association with the highest of the Priesthood. And this before Abram really reached his maturity, for he was but seventy-five years old when he made his sojourn in Egypt, and he lived to be “an hundred, three score and fifteen years” old. Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that Abram, the first of the Hebrew Patriarchs, was also “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.”

Of peculiar pertinence here, we find it stated in a brochure by Fr. S.C. Gould, on “Ye Samian Y,” (Sept. 2, 1889) on authority of C. L. Reinhold, that the whole Mosaic religion was an initiation in the Mysteries, that Moses instructed the tribes in much of his knowledge, and further that the secret book that the world has lost was in the possession of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, “the great Adept.”

This reference leads to another thought, possibly worthy of consideration in this connection; to quote from this brochure: “That when the priest placed his hand on the candidate for orders or initiation, he samached him; that is marked him with the Hebrew final M (Mem-standing for 600) which has a recondite meaning. (See Deut. XXXIV, 9)” In the “Fama” we find the “Book M” referred to twice or more. Can this have a similar significance or “recondite meaning?” Frater Gould also tells us that Abram’s “traditional work ‘Sepher Yetzirah,’ gives thirty-two paths of wisdom.” “Aleph, Mem, and Shin are the three mothers (air, water and fire), which symbolize the triple path of the ancients.”

To limit the heritage of our Order to the period during which it has borne its present or a similar name would be to stultify its claims. To trace its ancestry through the many orders and brotherhoods of the past, under whatever names known, through which its science, philosophy and religion have descended, and have been developed and enlarged, is only to seek out its true ancestry, for down through the centuries of the past, not only through history and legend, but the science, philosophy and symbology, an unmistakable line of succession is evident. And as men of this new era increase in spiritual concept and knowledge this succession becomes more and more distinct and evident. That its primal origin, when considered in this way, can never be fixed, must be conceded, unless it be embodied in the secret archives and symbology of this Order to be “recovered by future generations,” for this undoubtedly antedates the most remote antiquity of which there is even a trace or legend now extant. But s we advance in our knowledge and understanding of these ancient secret orders or priesthood, we are led to wonder if these ancient philosophers had not really progressed to a profundity of true knowledge of the truth not yet reached, or regained, by modern men.

A similar line of succession must be, we think, conceded by any honest investigator, to be true of the exoteric Christian church or religion. Many, even today, would seem to think that there was really no “religion” in the world at or before the coming of the Christ, except Judaism, but that all other people lived in “idolatry,” commonly defined as “the worship of images of wood and stone as gods.” But on the contrary a most cursory review of ancient history as known to all scholars of this day, and accessible to any interested seeker, will prove this to be untrue. The truth is that during the century, or more, preceding the coming of the Christ there was, throughout the whole civilized world of that time, such religious enthusiasm and earnestness as has never been equaled since. And many people had not only attained to a high “Wisdom Religion,” meaning a purely mental, philosophic concept, but had also true personal concepts involving morality, charity and brotherly love among men. And the Egyptian Priesthood, even in the earlier Dynasties, had undoubtedly attained to many profound truths and very high spiritual development. Their true “religion,” knowledge of which was limited to the Priesthood, as was true of all ancient religion, including the early Apostolic Christian church, was of a very high standard. It is said, by eminent scholars that man’s first concept of immortality, or at least the continuance of conscious life after physical death, was, so far as can now be traced, evolved by the Egyptian Priesthood. In the beginning this concept applied only to the Kings or Pharaohs, who, for this reason, were called “the children of Ra.” From this gradually grew a broader and broader concept, including first members of the Royal Family, later the highest members of the Priesthood, and finally all of the people. And there is considerable evidence to show that the belief of the Hebrew Patriarchs in “One God” was derived directly from the Egyptians, while the concept of a conscious existence after physical death was first grasped, or divulged among the Israelites ages after it was openly and commonly taught to the Egyptian people.

Thus Christianity is just as positively and undoubtedly the successor and heir to, and the modern embodiment of all preceding exoteric religions, as Rosicrucianism of today is of the esoteric or arcane societies of all past ages. It is well established that the early Christians, in order to avoid persecution, sought and obtained access to and the protection of the arcane societies during the early centuries of our era, and that from this association there developed a secret Christian Order, with regular “degrees” of initiation and advancement. And that in the church which finally developed there was embodied not only the public teachings of the Christ, but portions of what had formerly been the secret and ritualistic work of this secret Christian Order. But, as we are told, only so much of the “Divine Mysteries” were publicly taught, as the people were “able to bear.”

The Rosicrucian Order of today, we think, can truly lay claim to ancestry and heirship from the ancient Egyptian Priesthood, whose teachings, through the ages, have been preserved and transmitted to us through the many arcane or secret brotherhoods of different times, countries and civilizations, such as the Mithraic, Eleusinian, Dionysian, Essenes, and others, each, no doubt, with many contemporaneous branches, including that of which Abram, Moses and other Hebrew Patriarchs were adepts.

Lest we be misunderstood, let it be stated most positively that our Order, unlike many branches of the modern Christian Church, does not and has never confined itself to the “letter of the law” inherited from its ancient brethren. In no sense is it a body of “Fundamentalists” even concerning its esoteric inheritance. While accepting the underlying principles of our ancient brethren, we realize that all “truth” as attained by mortals is but partial, and that only by honest and persevering effort on his own part can man ever attain to a better understanding of truth. As God is Truth, and God is illimitable, so Truth is illimitable. Thus as the centuries pass, all true Rosicrucian students, constantly seeking to enlarge their concept and increase their actual knowledge, have kept not only abreast, but in advance of exoteric science of their times. But their work is not selfishly confined to members of the Order. Every Rosicrucian student is not only willing, but is seeking at all times to give to those who seek the very limit of the Truth that they are now “able to bear.”