The Rosicrucians and Their Connection with Freemasonry
Of the two simultaneously social and proto-scientific phenomena examined thus far, Alchemy and Astrology, the Rosicrucian movement which arose in the second decade of the seventeenth century is by far more aptly associated with the rise of Freemasonry as we know it today. Due to the complexity of this subject, some socio-historical context is necessary.
The knotty historical difficulties involved in ascertaining with any certainty what those relationships were are nigh to impossible to untangle. We are not left without clues – and many studies by great scholars – to at least form a clearer idea about what I have here, and elsewhere, called the esoteric soup which characterized the intellectual world in Europe in the period known as the Late Renaissance through the Baroque period. The problems involved in finding the origins of Freemasonry were described by the late historian, and Dame of the British Empire, Frances Yates, in one of her many books on the period and similar subjects, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, as being “an enigma within an enigma” (she was paraphrasing Churchill’s description of the problems of Marxism!).
Despite the complexity of the issues involved, Dame Yates was of the cautious opinion that Rosicrucianism was a significant influence on the future emergence of Freemasonry. In satirical tracts in London during that period, Freemasons and Rosicrucians are often mentioned in the same humorous line, in a way redolent of how the unthinking and not-so-humorous epithet “Commies, Pinkos and Faggots” often was hurled at those who opposed the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s, a phrase that was turned to humor in the famous television series by Neil Simon, All in The Family. One famous London satirical tract announces a parade of “Freemasons and Rosicrucians” which was scheduled to take place on the 31st of November (!) accompanied by much feasting and revelry – something that the Knights Templar were famous for, and which modern Freemasons are sometimes criticized for (i.e., being “too social”).
Part of the mystique of being a Rosicrucian involved their being invisible. This belief was so prevalent during the Rosicrucian scare of the second decade of the 1600s that some intellectuals, accused or suspected of being Rosicrucians, made it a point to appear in public and seriously proclaim their innocence by pointing out that they were not invisible!
How Were the Rosicrucians Founded?
Due to the internal evidence of the documents and the transparent mythic patina on the story of Christian Rosencreutz’s adventures, meetings with secret masters and so on, it is quite likely that there were no Rosicrucians at all – no membership whatsoever — but instead that the three documents that appeared in print, in short succession, in 1614, 1614 and 1616 were serious hoaxes, designed to create the very sort of organization or movement these documents declared already existed! These documents called for an intellectual, political, religious and social reform in Europe. By declaring that there already were Rosicrucians, poised to spearhead changes and calling on them all to take up arms (intellectually and spiritually), the hope seems to have been that such a movement inspire or incite intellectuals to actually form such an organization by beginning to talk to one another – and do so across borders, across languages and religious divides. This is precisely what Freemasonry began to do shortly later, and still does quite successfully.
The three documents that appeared in succession are known by various names, depending on the language used. The authorship of the first two is generally deemed anonymous, although speculations abound about Francis Bacon or an Italian surnamed Bocallini. The first of the three is known as the Fama Fraternitatis, the second as the Confessio Fraternitatis and the last, different in language, style and subject matter, is often attributed to Johann Valentin Andreae and is known in English as the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. These three documents threatened to shake up the social order and frightened the leaders of church and states in a way comparable to the Red Scare in the USA during the 1950s – or, more to the Masonic point, in a way that Freemasonry has been and still is a predictable target of conspiracy theorists since the Revolutions and Wars of Independence in the American Colonies, France and all throughout Latin America. Freemasonry recently emerged as a suspected evil force within the Vatican itself upon the election of Pope Francis – on TVE (Spain) in order to “explain” the intrigues and political maneuvers in Papal politics and finances.
But: What are the Major Tenants of Rosicrucianism Itself?
The claims of Rosicrucianism in the Fama are revealed in the course of a story of a supposed sage named Christian Rosencreutz (spellings vary widely) who, in a way that reminds one of Pythagoras, is said to have roamed Asia, Africa and Europe, before founding his benevolent order in Germany with a handful of “brothers” who were sworn to secrecy and to cure the sick, for free. They were also to travel the world, dressing in the garb of the local population — to be part of the people and to meet together every year or give a good excuse for not doing so. They were also required to seek a person to serve as an apprentice in order to replace him upon death. Their mark (or seal) would be CR – the initials of the founder. Quite intriguingly, the order was to remain a secret for one hundred years, and note that the Grand Lodge of England was founded in 1717. It could be a coincidence, true, but it could also be due to the fact that John Dee, the court astrologer of Elizabeth I, Francis Bacon, whose name also is suggested as the possible author of the Fama and the Confessio, Elias Ashmole, Sir Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren are tied together in a line of personal and professional acquaintance sufficiently close for there to have been a continuity of succession from the late 1500s to 1717. In that time period, the only explicit mention of Freemasonry is from Elias Ashmole who recorded in his diary (1646) when he was made a Mason.
How Has Rosicrucianism Influenced Mainstream Thought?
In order to answer this question, we need to be on the same page as to what “mainstream” thought is. If one means “official” academic or political circles, the status quo, rank-and-file among established official institutions and public organizations, the Rosicrucians hardly get notice. However, if one means “popular culture,” the world in which the arts – music, poetry, novels, painting and sculpture – play a significant role in transmitting most of what the other “official” world is simply unconcerned, then the answer is that the Rosicrucians play a large role in imaginative life of creators and their audiences.
The Rosicrucians, however, are not usually named. For one thing, most of the population partaking of popular culture has probably not heard of them, except in a movie, a paperback novel or in a song. For the general public or “man-in-the-street,” the Rosicrucians are still ironically invisible. They embody an idea, or rather a constellation of hopes and fears. On the one hand, the Rosicrucians embody a hope for a force within humanity, operating behind the scenes to make a better world, to save us from our failures – they await a sort of deus ex machina to descend unto the stage of human history and make everything alright. On the other hand, the Rosicrucians, or rather the idea of such a group, cause fear and represent dark and sinister forces, operating behind those same scenes whom we can blame for our failures, or the failures of institutions. Since the Rosicrucians and the Illuminati are seen by most as fiction, the very real Freemasons stand in for them in the paranoid minds of most conspiracy theorists. The power of the Rosicrucians lies not in whether they existed (or still do exist) in a historical sense, but in the ideas that people have about them.
Did Freemasonry or Freemasonic Traditions Evolve From Rosicrucianism?
This is a great question because it allows us to explore the bigger question of what constitutes cultural transmission. For instance, it is no secret that the vestments of Roman Catholic priests and other clerics, as well as the use of bells and incense, derive from Mithraism – a religion that coexisted with early Christianity but was crushed by the Roman Empire in the years after Constantine decided to make Christianity the official religion of the Empire. That said, Christianity of any flavor is not Mithraism. Its beliefs are almost all different; any similarities are rather simplistic or seem apparent at the level of the big picture (e.g., they both believe in some form of afterlife – but do not agree as to its nature).
In the case of Freemasonry, there is a bit more of an argument to be made in favor of the influence of Rosicrucianism on the development of Freemasonry than there is for the influence of Mithraism on Christianity. The people associated with what was likely a hoax (Rosicrucianism) are clearly implicated in the stream of thought and associations of men that eventually came to be known as the very real organization of the Freemasons. But we have no knowledge of any rituals involved in becoming a Rosicrucian in the 1610s – and more reason to doubt that there were any rituals at all. And, as everyone knows who has even a passing familiarity with it, Freemasonry involves initiation – through ritual drama.
How Do Freemasons Benefit from Studying and Understanding Rosicrucianism?
The story of Rosicrucianism, as told by Dame Frances Yates in the book mentioned at the beginning of this article, is entwined with the struggles of the Reformation and Counterreformation. Rosicrucisanism, whether real or just an idea in the minds of intellectuals (and fearful leaders of the status quo at the time), was part of a number of Protestant mystical reform movements in Germanic territories of Europe. The story involves political intrigue and espionage between Frederick V, the young king of the Palatinate, whose wife was related to James I of England. English became the language of espionage on the continent and Rosicrucianism was strongly Anglo-Germanic in its orientation and English came to be its dominant language for purposes of secrecy (an ironic thought nowadays when so many people speak English around the world). The Catholic forces of Philip III of Spain overran the Palatinate in 1620 when James I did not come through with military support. The young king and his queen went to the Netherlands. Their grandson became… George I of England!
Thus the story of Rosicrucianism is the story of the struggle of Empires, intrigue and how belief systems operate within these struggles. For Freemasons, it shows how one “organization” was either a cultural dead-end or perhaps survived only long enough to inspire the next generation to put some finishing touches on the Masonic lodges as they evolved from trade guilds to what we know today as Freemasonry.
Recommended Reading for Further Study about Rosicrucians and the Development of Freemasonry
Besides the book by Dame Frances Yates mentioned at the beginning of this article, we recommend Alexander Piatigorsky’s: Freemasonry: A Study of the Phenomenon, although we do not agree with his conclusions about Freemasonry and religion. It also contains a wonderful bibliography with even more books to read.
We offer two other recent books: One by the US scholar (UCLA) and social historian, Margaret C. Jacob’s The Origins of Freemasonry as well as a contrasting view by the Scottish historian (a non-Mason): David Stevenson’s The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s Century.