Collegium Fraternitatis, from T. Schweighart, Speculum sophicum Rhodo-stauroticum  (Public Domain Image)
The Real History of the Rosicrucians
This is Arthur Edward Waite’s study of the elusive Rosicrucians, a secret society of which the first public notice was in early 17th century Germany. Was this an actual organization, or just a fantasy? No actual Rosicrucians ever surfaced, but there was plenty of documentation about them. The problem is that these documents are, for the most part, obviously fictional. In time, a mythology grew up around the Rosicrucians. Today there are groups which claim the name. These date at the most to the late 19th century, although they usually claim pro forma to go back as far as Egypt or Atlantis. The Rosicrucians have also been woven by conspiracy theorists into their web alongside the Freemasons, Illuminati, Templars, and so on, even though there is not a shred of evidence for this.
Waite presents complete translations of all of the texts which defined the Rosicrucians, including theFama Fraternitatis, the Confessio Fraternitatis, and the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. The longest text, the Chemical Wedding is a fever-dream which is a thinly veiled alchemical allegory. The authorship of these documents is disputed, but it may have been written by Johann Valentin Andreas, a German theologian and writer. Waite also surveys Rosicrucian literature from successive centuries, including extensive quotes from authors who wrote about the Rosicrucians such as Michael Maier, Robert Fludd, Thomas Vaughan and John Heydon. Heydon wrote Voyage to the Land of the Rosicrucians, reminiscent of Thomas More’s Utopia, about a voyage to an obscure continent inhabited by Rosicrucians, included here in its entirety. Waite concludes with a look at a 19th century ‘Rosicrucian’ organization: Hargrave Jennings was, notably, a member of this group. Speaking of whom. . .
The Real History stands in stark contrast to Hargrave Jennings’ The Rosicrucians, their Rites and Mysteries, which Waite (justifiably) criticizes throughout. The very title of this book might be considered a riposte to Jennings. The Rosicrucians are described as celibate, which contradicts Jennings’ focus on the role of phallicism in the Rosicrucian mysteries. Waite also debunks two ‘historical’ anecdotes which Jennings cites, specifically the subterranean sepulchre, and the immortal Venetian. These two incidents were cited subsequently by other authors as fact, using Jennings as the source. Caveat Lector.
All in all, this serves both as a survey of the literature about Rosicrucians and an invaluable anthology of that literature. Waite, although he had a solid background in the occult, is in a firmly rationalist mode in this book. The Real History will be of use to both academic and general readers.
BENEATH the broad tide of human history there flow the stealthy undercurrents of the secret societies, which frequently determine in the depths the changes that take place upon the surface. These societies have existed in all ages and among all nations, and tradition has invariably ascribed to them the possession of important knowledge in the religious scientific or political order according to the various character of their pretensions. The mystery which encompasses them has invested them with a magical glamour and charm that to some extent will account for the extravagant growth of legend about the Ancient Mysteries, the Templars, the Freemasons, and the Rosicrucians, above all, who were the most singular in the nature of their ostensible claims and in the uncertainty which envelopes them.
“A halo of poetic splendour,” says Heckethorn, 1 “surrounds the Order of the Rosicrucians; the magic lights of fancy play round their graceful day-dreams, while the mystery in which they shrouded themselves lends additional attraction to their history. But their brilliancy was that of a meteor. It just flashed across the realms of imagination and intellect, and vanished for ever; not, however, without leaving behind some permanent and lovely traces of its hasty passage. . . . Poetry and romance are deeply
indebted to the Rosicrucians for many a fascinating creation. The literature of every European country contains hundreds of pleasing fictions, whose machinery has been borrowed from their system of philosophy, though that itself has passed away.”
The facts and documents concerning the Fraternity of the Rose Cross, or of the Golden and Rosy Cross, as it is called by Sigmund Richter, 1 are absolutely unknown to English readers. Even well-informed people will learn with astonishment the extent and variety of the Rosicrucian literature which hitherto has lain buried in rare pamphlets, written in the old German tongue, and in the Latin commentaries of the later alchemists. The stray gleams of casual information which may be gleaned from popular encyclopædias cannot be said to convey any real knowledge, while the essay of Thomas De Quincey on the “Rosicrucians and Freemasons,” though valuable as the work of a sovereign prince of English prose composition, is a mere transcript from an exploded German savant, whose facts are tortured in the interests of a somewhat arbitrary hypothesis. The only writer in this country who claims to have treated the subject seriously and at length is Hargrave Jennings, who, in “The Rosicrucians, their Rites and Mysteries,” &c., comes forward as the historian of the Order. This book, however, so far from affording any information on the questions it professes to deal with, “keeps guard over ” 2 the secrets of the Fraternity, and is
simply a mass of ill-digested erudition concerning Phallicism and Fire-Worship, the Round Towers of Ireland and Serpent Symbolism, offered with a charlatanic assumption of secret knowledge as an exposition of Rosicrucian philosophy. 1
The profound interest now manifested in all branches of mysticism, the tendency, in particular, of many cultured minds towards those metaphysical conceptions which are at the base of the alchemical system, the very general suspicion that other secrets than that of manufacturing gold are to be found in the Pandora’s Box of Hermetic and Rosicrucian allegories, 2 make it evident that the time has come to collect the mass of material which exists for the elucidation of this curious problem of European history, and to depict the mysterious Brotherhood as they are revealed in their own manifestos and in the writings of those men who were directly or indirectly in connection with them. Such a publication will take the subject out of the hands of unqualified writers, and of the self-constituted pontiffs of darkness and mystery who trade upon the ignorance and curiosity of their readers.
As the result of conscientious researches, I have succeeded
in discovering several tracts and manuscripts in the Library of the British Museum, whose existence, so far as I am aware, has been unknown to previous investigators, while others, including different copies and accounts of the “Universal Reformation,” as well as original editions of the “Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosy Cross,” which are not in the Library Catalogue, though less generally obscure, I have met with in a long series of German pamphlets belonging to the first quarter of the seventeenth century. These, with all other important and available facts and documents, I have carefully collected and now publish them in the present volume, either summarised or in extenso according to their value, and I offer for the first time in the literature of the subject the Rosicrucians represented by themselves. I claim that I have performed my task in a sympathetic but impartial manner, purged from the bias of any particular theory, and above all uncontaminated by the pretension to superior knowledge, which claimants have never been able to substantiate.
“In cruce sub sphera venit sapientia vera.”–Hermetic Axiom.
“La rose qui a été de tout temps l’emblême de la beauté, de la vie, de l’amour et du plaisir, exprimait mystiquement toutes les protestations manifestées à la renaissance. . . . Rénuir la rose, à la croix, tel était le problème posé par la Haute Initiation.”–Éliphas Lévi.
THREE derivations are offered of the name Rosicrucian. The first, which is certainly the most obvious, deduces it from the ostensible founder of the order, Christian Rosenkreuze. I shall show, however, that the history of this personage is evidently mythical or allegorical, and therefore this explanation merely cakes the inquiry a step backward to the question, What is the etymology of Rosenkreuze? The second derivation proposed is from the Latin words Ros, dew, and Crux, cross. This has been countenanced by Mosheim, who is followed by Ree’s Encyclopædia; and other publications. The argument in its favour may be fairly represented by the following quotation:–“Of all natural bodies, dew was deemed the most powerful dissolvent of gold; and the cross, in chemical language, was equivalent to light; because the figure of a cross exhibits at the same time the three letters of which the word lux, or light, is compounded. Now, lux is called . . . the seed or menstruum of the red dragon, or, in other words, that gross and corporeal light, which, when properly
digested and modified, produces gold. Hence it follows, if this etymology be admitted, that a Rosycrucian philosopher is one who by the intervention and assistance of the dew, seeks for light, or, in other words, the substance called the Philosopher’s Stone.” 1
This opinion exaggerates the importance attributed to the dew of the alchemists. The universal dissolvent has figured under various names, of which ros is by no means most general; the comprehensive “Lexicon Alchymiæ” does not mention it. According to Gaston le Doux, in his “Dictionnaire Hermétique,” Dew, simply so called, signifies Mercury; Dew of the Philosophers is the matter of the stone when under the manipulation of the artist, and chiefly during its circulations in the philosophical egg. The White and Celestial Dew of the Wise is the philosophical stone perfected to the White. Mosheim derived his opinion from Peter Gassendi, 2 and from a writer in Eusebius Renandot’s “Conferences Publiques,” 3 who confesses that he knew nothing whatsoever of the Rosicrucians till the task of speaking on the subject was imposed on him by the Bureau d’Addresse. He says:–“Dew, the most powerful dissolvent of gold which is to be found among natural and non-corrosive substances, is nothing else but light coagulated and rendered corporeal; when it is artistically concocted and digested in its own vessel during a suitable period it is the true menstruum of the Red Dragon, i.e., of gold, the true matter of the Philosophers. The society desiring to bequeath to posterity the ineffaceable sign of this secret, caused them to adopt the nameFrères de la Rozée Cuite.” The mystic triad
of the Society, F. R. C., has been accordingly interpreted Fratres Roris Cocti, the Brotherhood of the Concocted or Exalted Dew, but the explanation has little probability in itself.
“Several chemists,” says Pernetz, in his “Dictionnaire Mytho-Hermétique,” “have regarded the dew of May and September as the matter of the Magnum Opus, influenced doubtless by the opinion of various authors that dew was the reservoir of the universal spirit of Nature. . . . But when we seriously study the texts of the true philosophers, wherein they snake reference to dew, we are soon convinced that they only speak of it by a similitude, and that theirs is metallic, that is, it is the mercurial water sublimated into vapour within the vase, and precipitated at the bottom in the form of fine rain. Thus when they write of the dew of the month of May, they are referring to that of their philosophic Spring, which is governed by the gemini of the alchemical Zodiack, which differs from the ordinary astronomical Zodiack. Philalethes has positively said that their dew is their mercurial water rising from putrefaction.”
The third derivation is that which was generally adopted, even from the beginning, by writers directly or indirectly connected with the Rosicrucians. It deduces the term in question from the words rosa, rose, and crux. This is sanctioned by various editions of the society’s authoritative documents, which characterise it as the Broederschafft des Roosen Creutzes, that is, the Rose-Crucians, or Fratres Rosatæ Crucis, according to the “Confessio Recepta,” terms quite excluding the conception of dew, which in German is Thau, while in Latin the Brothers of the Dewy Cross would be Fratres Roratæ Crucis. This derivation is also supported by the supposed symbol of the Order, whose “emblem,
monogram, or jewel,” says Godfrey Higgins, “is a Red Rose on a Cross, thus:–
Mr Hargrave Jennings, who borrows the whole of this passage 2 without acknowledgment of any kind, also tells us that “the jewel of the Rosicrucians is formed of a transparent red stone with a red cross on one side and a red rose on the other–thus it is a crucified rose.”
All derivations, however, are to some extent doubtful and tentative. The official proclamations of the Society are contained in the “Fama Fraternitatis,” and in the “Confessio Fraternitatis,” which, in their original editions, appear to describe it simply as theFraternitas de R. C., while the initials of its founder are given as C. R. “The Chemical Nuptials of Christian Rosen Kreuze,” published anonymously at Strasbourg in 1616, and undeniably connected with the order, seem to identify it as the Brotherhood of the Rose-Cross, and its founder as Father Rosycross. These designations at any rate were immediately adopted in Germany, and they appear in the subsequent editions of both manifestos,
though as early as 1618 I find Michael Maier, the alchemist, expressing a different opinion on this point in his “Themis Aurea, hoc est, De Legibus Fraternitatis R. C. Tractatus.” “No long time elapsed, when the Society first became known by that which was written, before an interpreter came forward who conjectured those letters to signify the Rose Cross, in which opinion the matter remains till this present, notwithstanding that the Brothers in subsequent writings do affirm it to be erroneously so denominated, and testify that the letters R. C. denote the name of their first inaugurator. 1 If the mind of one man could search that of another and behold formed therein the idea or sensible and intelligible form, there would be no necessity for speech or writing among men. But this being denied to us while we subsist in this corporeal nature, though doubtless granted to pure intelligences, we explain our rational conceptions one to another by the symbols of language and writing. Therefore letters are of high efficacy when they embrace a whole society and maintain order therein, nor is an opportunity afforded to the curious to draw omens from integral names, nor from families situations, nor from places persons, nor from persons the secrets of affairs.”
Proposing his own definitions, he says:–“I am no augur nor prophet, notwithstanding that once I partook of the laurel, and reposed a few brief hours in the shadow of Parnassus; nevertheless, if I err not, I have unfolded the significance of the characters R. C. in the enigmas of the sixth book of the Symbols of the Golden Table. R signifies Pegasus, and C, if the sense not the sound be considered,
lilium. Let the KNOWLEDGE OF THE ARCANA be the key to thee. Lo, I give thee the Arcanum! d. wmml. zii. w. sgqqhka. x. Open if thou canst. . . . Is not this the hoof of the Red Lion or the drops of the Hippocrene fountain?” Beneath this barbarous jargon we discern, however, an analogy with the Rose symbolism. Classical tradition informs us that the Red Rose sprang from the blood of Adonis, but Pegasus was a winged horse which sprang from the blood of Medusa, and the fountain of Hippocrene was produced by a stroke of the hoof of Pegasus.
In England the pseudonymous author of the “Summum Bonum,” who is supposed to be Robert Fludd, gives a purely religious explanation of the Rose Cross symbol, asserting it to mean “the Cross sprinkled with the rosy blood of Christ.” 1 The general concensus of opinion is preferable to fanciful interpretations, and we may therefore safely take the words Rosa and Crux as explanatory of the name Rosicrucian, and by Fratres R. C. we may understand Fratres Roseæ Crucis, despite the silence of the manifestos and the protests of individual alchemists.
The next question which occurs is the significance of this curious emblem–a Red Rose affixed to a red, or, according to some authors, a golden cross. This question cannot be definitely answered. The-characteristic sign of a secret society will be naturally as mysterious as itself in the special meaning which the society may attach to it, but some intelligence concerning it can perhaps be gleaned from its analysis with universal symbolism. Now, the Rose and the Cross, in their separate significance, are emblems of the most palmary importance and the highest antiquity.
There is a Silver Rose, called Tamara Pua, in the Paradise of the Brahmans. “This Paradise is a garden in heaven, to which celestial spirits are first admitted on their ascent from the terrestrial sphere. The Rose contains the images of two women, as bright and fair as a pearl; but these two are only one, though appearing as if distinct according to the medium, celestial or terrestrial, through which they are viewed. In the first aspect she is called the Lady of the Mouth, in the other, the Lady of the Tongue, or the Spirit of Tongues. In the centre of this Silver Rose, God has his permanent residence.”
A correspondence will be readily recognised between this divine woman or virgin–two and yet one, who seems to typify the Logos, the Spirit of Wisdom, and the Spirit of Truth–and the two-edged sword of the Spirit in the Apocalypse, the Sapientia quæ ex ore Altissimii prodiit, as it is called in the sublime Advent antiphon of the Latin Church. The mystical Rose in the centre of the allegorical garden is continually met with in legend. Buddha is said to have been crucified for robbing a garden of a flower, 1 and after a common fashion of mythology, the divine Avatar of the Indians is henceforth identified with the object for which he suffered, and he becomes himself “a flower, a Rose, a Padma, Lotus, or Lily.” Thus he is the Rose crucified, and we must look to the far East for the origin of the Rosicrucian emblem. According to Godfrey Higgins, this is “the Rose of Isuren, of Tamul, and of Sharon, crucified for the salvation of men–crucified,” he continues, “in the heavens at the vernal equinox.” In this connection we may remember the
[paragraph continues]Gnostic legend that Christ was crucified in the Empyrean; and as Nazareth, according to St Jerome, signified the flower, and was situated in Carmel, “the vineyard or garden of God,” Jesus of Nazareth, by a common extension of the symbolism, is sometimes identified as this crucified flower. 1
In classical fable, the garden of Midas, the King of the Phrygians, was situated at the foot of Mount Bermion, and was glorified by the presence of roses with sixty petals, which exhaled an extraordinary fragrance. Now, the rose was sacred to Dionysius, or Bacchus, and Bacchus endowed Midas with the power of transmuting everything into gold; so here is a direct connection between the Rose and Alchemy.
In the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, Lucius is restored to his human shape by devouring a chaplet of roses. Everywhere the same typology meets us. The Peruvian Eve sinned by plucking roses, which are also called Frute del Arbor. 2 A messenger from heaven announces to the Mexican Eve that she will bear a Son who shall bruise the serpent’s head; he presents her with a Rose, and this gift was followed by an Age of Roses, as in India there was the Age of the Lotus.
In the west it appears for the first time in allegorical literature as the central figure in the “four-square garden” of the ancient “Romance of the Rose.” The first part of this poem was written by Guillaume de Lorris before the year 1260, and it was completed by Jean de Meung, whose death occurred in the year 1316, according to the general opinion. This extraordinary work, once of universal popularity, is supposed by some of its commentators to admit of an alchemical interpretation, and openly professes the principles of the Magnum Opus. 1 The garden, or vergier, which contains the Rose, is richly sculptured on its outer walls with symbolical figures of Hatred, Treason, Meanness, Covetousness, Avarice, Envy, Sadness, Age, Hypocrisy, Poverty–all the vices and miseries of mortality. Idleness opens the gate to him, Merriment greets him and draws him into the dance, and then he beholds the God of Love, accompanied by Dous-Regars, a youth who carries his bows and arrows, by Beauty, Wealth, Bounty, Frankness, Courtesy, &c. The lover, while he is contemplating the loveliness of the Rose,
Qui est si vermeille et si fine . . .
Des foilles i ot quatre paire,
Que Nature par grand mestire
I ot assises tire à tire.
is pierced by the shafts of the deity, but he does not in spite of his sufferings abandon his project, which is to possess the Rose, and after imprisonment and various adventures,
La conclusion du Rommant
Est que vous voyez cy l’Amant
Qui prent la Rose à son plaisir,
En qui estoit tout son désir.
[paragraph continues]It will require no acquaintance with the methods of the symbolists to discern the significance of this allegory:–
[paragraph continues]But a little later the same emblem reappears in the sublime poem of Dante. The Paradise of the Divina Commedia
consists, says Eliphas Lévi, of “a series of Kabbalistic circles divided by a Cross, like Ezekiel’s pantacle; a Rose blossoms in the centre of this Cross, and it is for the first time that we find the symbol of the Rosicrucians publicly and almost categorically revealed.”
The passage referred to, so far as regards the Rose, is as follows:–
“There is in heaven a light, whose goodly shine
Makes the Creator visible to all
Created, that in seeing him alone
Have peace; and in a circle spreads so far,
That the circumference were too loose a zone
To girdle in the sun. All is one beam,
Reflected from the summit of the first,
That moves, which being hence and vigour takes.
And as some cliff; that from the bottom eyes
His image mirror’d in the crystal flood,
As if to admire his brave apparelling
Of verdure and of flowers; so, round about,
Eyeing the light, on more than million thrones,
Stood, eminent, whatever from our earth
Has to the skies return’d. How wide the leaves
Extended to their utmost, of this ROSE,
Whose lowest step embosoms such a space
Of ample radiance! Yet, nor amplitude
Nor height impeded, but my view with ease
Took in the full dimension of that joy.
Near or remote, what then avails, where God
Immediate rules, 1 and Nature, awed, suspends
Her sway? Into the yellow of the Rose
Perennial, which, in bright expansiveness,
Lays forth its gradual blooming, redolent
Of praises to the never-wintering sun. . . .
Beatrice led me. . . .
In fashion as a snow-white Rose lay then
Before my view the saintly multitude,
Which in his own blood Christ espoused. Meanwhile
That other host that soar aloft to gaze
And celebrate His glory whom they love,
Hovered around, and like a troop of bees
Amid the vernal sweets alighting now,
Now clustering where their fragrant labour glows,
Flew downward to the mighty flower; a rose
From the redundant petals streaming back
Unto the steadfast dwelling of their joy.
Faces had they of flame, and wings of gold:
The rest was whiter than the driven snow.
And as they flitted down into the flower,
From range to range fanning their plumy loins,
Whispered the peace and ardour which they won
From that soft winnowing. Shadow none, the vast
Interposition of such numerous flights
Cast from above, upon the flower, or view
Obstructed aught. For through the Universe
Wherever merited, Celestial Light
Glides freely, and no obstacle prevents.
CARY’S DANTE, “The Paradise,” xxx., xxxi.
“Not without astonishment will it be discovered,” continues Lévi, that the Roman de la Rose and the Divine Comedy are two opposite forms of the same work–initiation into intellectual independence, satire on all contemporary institutions and allegorical formulations of the great secrets of the Rosicrucian Society. These important manifestations of occultism coincide with the epoch of the downfall of the Templars, since Jean de Meung or Clopinel, contemporary of Dante’s old age, flourished during his most brilliant years at the Court of Philippe le Bel. The ‘Romance of the Rose’ is the epic of ancient France. It is a profound work in a trivial guise, as learned an exposition of the mysteries of occultism as that of Apuleius. The Rose of Flamel, of Jean de Meung, and of Dante, blossomed on the same rose-tree.”
This is ingenious and interesting, but it assumes the point in question, namely, the antiquity of the Rosicrucian Fraternity, which, it is needless to say, cannot be proved by the mere existence of their symbols in the mystical poetry of a remote period. In the Paradise of Dante we find, however, the emblem whose history we are tracing, placed, and assuredly not without reason, in the supreme, central heaven amidst the intolerable manifestation of the Untreated Light, the Shecinah of Rabbinical theosophy, 1 the chosen habitation of God–“a sacred Rose and Flower of Light, brighter than a million suns, immaculate, inaccessible, vast, fiery with magnificence, and surrounding God as if with a million veils. This symbolic Rose is as common a hierogram throughout the vast temples and palaces of the Ancient East as it is in the immense ruins of Central America.” 2
From the time of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines a common device in heraldry is the Rose-Emblem. It figures on our English coins; it is used as a royal badge in the Civil War between the houses of York and Lancaster, it is associated above all with the great mediæval cultus of the Mother of God, being our Lady’s flower par excellence, as the lily is characteristic of St Joseph. “As an emblem of the Virgin, the Rose, both white and red, appears at a very early period; it was especially so recognised by St Dominic, when he instituted the devotion of the rosary, with direct reference to St Mary. The prayers appear to have been symbolised as roses.” 3 In Scandinavia the same flower was sacred to the goddess Holda, who is called “Frau
[paragraph continues]Rosa,” and “it was partly transferred, as were other emblems of Holda, Freyja, and Venus, to the Madonna, who is frequently called by the Germans, Mariën-Röschen . . . But there has been a tendency to associate the White Rose with the Virgin Mary, that being chiefly chosen for her feast-days, while the more earthly feelings associated with the ‘Frau Rosa,’ are still represented in the superstitions connected with the Red Rose.”
In Germany it appears as the symbol of silence. It was sculptured on the ceiling of the banquet hall to warn the guests against the repetition of what was heard beneath it. “The White Rose was especially sacred to silence. It was carved in the centre of the Refectory of the ancients for the same reason,” and the expression Sub Rosa, which was equivalent among the Romans to an inviolable pledge, originated in the ancient dedication of the flower to Aphrodite, and its reconsecration by Cupid to Harpocrates, the tutelary deity of Silence, to induce him to conceal the amours of the goddess of love.
In mediæval alchemy Rosa signifies Tartarum, and in the twelfth Clavis of Basil Valentine there is a vase or yoni with a pointed lingam rising from its centre, and having on each side a sprig surmounted by a Rose. Above is the well-known emblem
The same Rose-symbol is to be found in the hieroglyphics of Nicholas Flamel–
The mystic Rose
Of Hermic lore, which issues bright and fair,
Strange virtues circling with the sap therein,
Beneath the Universal Spirit’s breath,
From the Mercurial Stone.
Finally, in 1598, Henry Khunrath, a supreme alchemical adept, published his “Amphitheatrum Sapientiæ Æternæ,” containing nine singular pantacles, of which the fifth is a Rose of Light, in whose centre there is a human form extending its arms in the form of a cross, and thus reversing the order.
The Cross is a hierogram of, if possible, still higher antiquity than the floral emblem. It is at any rate more universal and contains a loftier and more arcane significance. Its earliest form is the Crux Ansata,
which, according to some authorities, signified hidden wisdom, and the life of the world to come; according to others, it is the lingam; as the hieroglyphic sign of Venus it is an ancient allegorical figure, and represents the metal copper in alchemical typology. The Crux Ansata and the Tau
are met with on most Egyptian monuments. In the latter form it was an emblem of the creative and generative energy, and, according to Payne Knight, was, even in pre-Christian times, a sign of salvation.
The Cross, “the symbol of symbols,” was used also by the Chaldæans; by the Phoenicians, who placed it on their coins; by the Mexicans, who paid honour to it and represented their God of the Air, nailed and immolated thereon; by the Peruvians, who, in a sacred chamber of their palace, kept and venerated a splendid specimen carved from a single piece of fine jasper or marble; and by the British Druids. It was emblazoned on the banners of Egypt, and in that country, as in China, was used to indicate “a land of corn and plenty.” When divided into four equal segments it symbolised the primeval abode of man, the traditional Paradise of Eden. It entered into the monograms of Osiris, of Jupiter Ammon, and of Saturn; the Christians subsequently adopted it, and the Labarum of Constantine is identical with the device of Osiris. It is equally common in India, and, according to Colonel Wilford, is exactly the Cross of the Manichees, with leaves, flowers, and fruits springing from it. It is called the divine tree, the tree of the gods, the tree of life and knowledge, and is productive of all things good and desirable. 1
According to Godfrey Higgins we must go to the Buddhists for the origin of the Cross, “and to the Lama of Thibet, who takes his name from the Cross, called in his language Lamh.” The Jamba, or cosmic tree, which Wilford calls, the tree of life and knowledge, figures in their maps of the “world as a cross 84 joganas (answering to the 84 years of the life of Him who was exalted upon the Cross), or 423 miles high, including the three steps of the Calvary, with which, after the orthodox Catholic
fashion, it was invariably represented. The neophyte of the Indian Initiations was sanctified by the sign of a Cross, which was marked on every part of his body. After his perfect regeneration it was again set upon his forehead and inverted upon his breast. 1
The paschal lamb of the Jewish passover was roasted on a cross-shaped wooden spit, and with this sign Ezekiel ordered the people to be marked who were to be spared by the destroyer. Thus it figures as a symbol of salvation, but classical mythology attributes its invention to Ixion, who was its first victim. As an instrument of suffering and death, it is not, however, to be found on ancient monuments. It had no orthodox shape among the Romans when applied to this purpose, and the victims were either tied or nailed, “being usually left to perish by thirst and hunger.” 2
In the Christendom of both the East and West this divine symbol has a history too generally known to need recapitulation here. On this point the student may consult the “Dictionary of Christian Antiquities,” where a mass of information is collected.
The following interesting passage will show the connection which exists between the Cross and alchemy. “In common chemistry,” says Pernetz, crosses form characters which indicate the crucible, vinegar, and distilled vinegar. But as regards hermetic science, the Cross is . . . the symbol of the four elements. And as the philosophical stone is composed of the most pure substance of the grosser elements . . ., they have said, In cruce salus, salvation is in the Cross; by comparison with the salvation of our souls purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ who hung on the
tree of the Cross. Some of them have even pushed their audacity further, and fear not to employ the terms of the New Testament to form their allegories and enigmas. Jean de Roquetaillade, known under the name of Jean de Rupe Scissa, and Arnaud de Villeneuve, say in their works on the composition of the Stone of the Philosophers:–It is needful that the Son of Man be lifted up on the Cross before being glorified; to signify the volatilisation of the fixed and igneous part of the matter.” 1
I have briefly traced the typological history of the Rose and Cross. It is obvious, as I have already remarked, that the antiquity of these emblems is no proof of the antiquity of a society which we find to be using them at a period subsequent to the Renaissance. It does not even suppose that society’s initiation into the hieratic secrets which the elder world may have summarised in those particular symbols. In the case which is in question, such a knowledge would involve the antiquity of the Rosicrucians, because it is only at a time long subsequent to their first public appearance that the past has been sufficiently disentombed to uncover the significance of its symbols to uninitiated students. Can a correspondence be established between the meaning of the Rose and the Cross as they are used by the ancient hierogrammatists, and that of the Rose-Cross as it is used by the Rosicrucian Fraternity? This is the point to be ascertained. If a connection there be, then in some way, we may not know what, the secret has been handed down from generation to generation, and the mysterious brotherhood which manifested its existence spontaneously at the beginning of the seventeenth century, is affiliated with the hierophants of Egypt and India, who,
almost in the night of time, devised their allegories and emblems for the blind veneration of the vulgar and as lights to those who knew.
In the fifth book of the “Histoire de la Magie,” Eliphas Lévi provides the following commentary on the Rosicrucian symbol:–
“The Rose, which from time immemorial has been the symbol of beauty and life, of love and pleasure, expressed in a mystical manner all the protestations of the Renaissance. It was the flesh revolting against the oppression of the spirit, it was Nature declaring herself to be, like grace, the daughter of God, it was love refusing to be stifled by the celibate, it was life desiring to be no longer barren, it was humanity aspiring to a natural religion, full of love and reason, founded on the revelation of the harmonies of existence of which the Rose was for initiates the living and blooming symbol. The Rose, in fact, is a pantacle; its form is circular, the leaves of the corolla are heart-shaped, and are supported harmoniously by one another; its colour presents the most delicate shades of primitive hues; its calyx is purple and gold. . . . The conquest of the Rose was the problem offered by initiation to science, while religion toiled to prepare and establish the universal, exclusive, and definitive triumph of the Cross.
“The reunion of the Rose and the Cross, such was the problem proposed by supreme initiation, and, in effect, occult philosophy, being the universal synthesis, should take into account all the phenomena of Being.”
This extremely suggestive explanation has the characteristic ingenuity of the hierophants of theosophical science, but it has no application whatsoever to the ostensible or
ascertainable aims of the Rosicrucian adepts. It is the product of intellectual subtlety and the poetic gift of discerning curious analogies; it is quite beside the purpose of serious historical inquiry, and my object in quoting it here is to show by the mere fact of its existence that the whole question of the significance of the Crucified Rose, in its connection with the society, is one of pure conjecture, that no Rosicrucian manifestos and no acknowledged Brother have ever given any explanation concerning it, and that no presumption is afforded by the fact of its adoption for the antiquity of the society or for its connection with universal symbolism.
The researches of various writers, all more or less competent, have definitely established the Crux Ansata as typical of the male and female generative organs in the act of union, the Egyptian Tau, with its variants as typical of the masculine potency, and the Rose as the feminine emblem. Then by a natural typological evolution the Cross came to signify the divine creative energy which fecundated the obscure matrix of the primeval substance and caused it to bring forth the universe. The simple union of the Rose and the Cross suggests the same meaning as the Crux Ansata, but the crucified Buddhistic Rose may be a symbol of the asceticism which destroys natural desire. There is little correspondence, in either case, with known Rosicrucian tenets, and, therefore, the device of the Rose-Cross is separated from ancient symbolism, and is either a purely arbitrary and thus unexplainable sign, or its significance is to be sought elsewhere.
Now, I purpose to show that the Rosicrucians were united with a movement, which, originating in Germany, was destined to revolutionise the world of thought and to
transform the face of Europe; that the symbols of the Rose and the Cross were prominently and curiously connected with this movement, and that the subsequent choice of these emblems by the secret society in question, followed naturally from the fact of this connection, and is easily explainable thereby. To accomplish this task satisfactorily, I must first lay before my readers the facts and documents which I have collected concerning the Fraternity.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
by Arthur Edward Waite
3:1 In reviewing an enlarged edition of this work, published in 1879, the Westminster Review remarks: “In the ‘Rosicrucians’ we have come across perhaps the most absurd book that it has ever been our fortune to review. . . . It affords a great deal of disjointed information on very many subjects, . . . but the one subject on which we have vainly sought information in its pages is the ‘History of the Rosicrucians.’ . . . The whole book is an absurd jumble of passages and illustrations, for most of which no authority is, or could be, given. And through the whole runs a very unwholesome undercurrent.”–W. R. N. S., vol. lvi. p. 256.
3:2 On this point see “A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery and Alchemy,” published anonymously in the year 1850, in London, and Hitchock’s “Remarks on Alchemy,” also anonymous, New York, 1865.
6:1 Mosheim, Book iv., sect. 1.
12:3 In Persia it is connected with the nightingale. “Tradition says that the bird utters a plaintive cry whenever the flower is gathered, and that it will hover round the plant in the spring-time, till, overpowered with its fragrance, it falls senseless to the ground. The Rose is supposed to burst forth from its bud at the opening song of the nightingale. You may place a handful of fragrant herbs p. 13 and flowers before the nightingale,” say the Persian poets. “Yet he wishes not, in his constant and faithful heart, for more than the sweet breath of his beloved Rose.”–Friend, “Flowers and Flower Lore.” There is a Persian Feast of Roses, which lasts the whole time the flower is in bloom.
“Jean de Meung,” says Langlet du Fresnoy in his “Histoire de la Philosophie Hermétique,” flourished at the Court and at Paris in the pontificate of John XXII., and according to the fashion of the times was addicted to the curious sciences, and in particular to Hermetic Philosophy. He composed two treatises called “Nature’s Remonstrances to the Alchemist,” and “The Alchemist’s Answer to Nature.”
Amongs the knoppes I these one
So faire, that of the remnant none
Ne preise I halfe so well as it,
Whan I avise in my wit,
For it so well was enlumined
With colour red, as well fined
As nature could it make faire,
And it hath leaves well foure paire,
That kinde hath set through his knowing
About the red roses springing,
The stalke was as rishe right,
And thereon stood the knoppe upright.
That it ne bowed upon no side,
The swote smell sprung so wide,
That it died all the place about.
CHAUCER, “The Romaunt of the Rose.”
15:1 Compare the Oriental legend, previously cited, of that Silver Rose in which God has His permanent residence. It is an extraordinary instance of identity in the celestial symbolism of East and West.