In discussing colorful forms of spiritualism in the Victorian era, we would be quite remiss is we ignored the group that started it all, that brought medieval hermeticism, western esotericism and occultism into the Renaissance and paved the way for much Freemason thought, the Golden Dawn, Theosophy and all that came after it including Wicca and all things New Agey.
The impact of the Rosicrucians is undeniable. As the Reformation cleared European thought from centuries of rigidly dogmatic Cathloic dogma and new forms, offshoots and sects of Christianty popped up like flies ta a barbeque, many new free thinkers were willing and ready to explore what were, truthfully, long traditions who had carefully hidden themselves, such as Cabbalists, Alchemists, Astrologers and Occultists practicing magic. These were all schools of thought and exploration that had been hanging around in the shadows of medieval society, but after the Reformation were being more readily searched out and brought to attention by notable people such as John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s consultant.
The original Rosicrucian Order who truly brought all this stuff into vogue and into the modern world had so much impact and yet is so shrouded in secrecy so little can be said about them. There is, i assure you, a perfectly excellent reason for this. They sort of didn’t exist.
Beginning in 1614 three tracts appeared. one a year for 3 years. The first one was Universal and General Reformation of the Whole Wide World; together with the Fama Fraternitatis of the Laudable Order of the Rosy Cross, written to all the Learned and Rulers of Europe; also a short reply sent by Herr Haselmayer, for which he was seized by Jesuits and condemned to a galley; now put into print and communicated to all true hearts.
Yes, that’s the title. Folks, in the days before TV and computers people had a lot of time to read. And you can’t even be bothered to spell out Oh My Gd. (Nor i to spell check. Usually i finish a post and literally run off. Like today. I can only shudder when i think of how many spelling and grammar errors you will have to trudge through. I feel your pain. I do. Not enough to proofread right this moment, but i feel it deep in here. Right here. Thump.)
This tract was actually three parts. In part one it reprinted a pirated German translation of a work by Italian author Traiano Boccalini. The work is a a satire in which the god Apollo calls together a gathering of wise men to fix the world. Proposal after proposal is suggested most ludicrous. By the end the finale decree is to pass a law regulating market vegetables whereupon everyone disbands and return home jubilant and triumphant.
So there’s that. The next part, the Famas Fraternitatis gets down to business and proclaims the existance of a secrte society which has been gaurding hidden wisdom for some about 200 years. The Order was founded by a monk of noble birth (gotta have the noble birth in there. Monk cause he’s humble and learned but noble because… the credibiility of having a good bloodline cannot be overstated. But i digress) who is called only C.R.C. This CRC travlled to the exotic Middle East and learnt the magical secrets of the universe. But upon returning to Europe he found his learning rejected by men and threatening to the Church. So he founded a small, secret Fraternity who passed on this knowledge from his death in 1484 until now, 1614 when the post Reformation world was finally ready for it.
In fact it said, in 1604 the current members had rediscovered the vault where CRC had been buried an uncovered wonders beyond imagination. The Fraternity called upon all who were truly interested and ready to contact them.
The third section is a letter by an Adam Hasselmayer attempting to contact them. he calls them undceiving Jesuits (as opposed to the implied deceiving ones currently operating as Jesuits). He is caught by said Jesuits and made into a galley slave for 5 years as punishment.
What’s interesting is that the third part is real. There really was an Adam Hasselmayer and he got a copy of the Rosicrucian manuscript in 1611, two printings before the 1614 one which became famous. He really did write a letter trying to reach the Brotherhood and the Jesuits really did make his poor ass into a galley slave for 5 years. DAMN what dicks.
The next year another tract was published. This time it discussed in length a very baffling work by the affore mentioned John Dee, Monas Hieroglyphica an almost impenetrable essay on Occultism. They continued to call out the Catholic Church, farting in their general direction.
Finally in 1616 the big finale came: The Chemical Wedding of Christian Roenkreutz in the year 1549. This is the work they’re remembered for. It’s a deep allegorical story full of symbolism, in particular alchemical symbolism and not turn base metal into gold Alchemy but spiritual alchemy, whereby a man can achieve profound mystical states.
The Chemical Wedding of Christian Roenkreutz in the year 1549 cemented the Rosicrucians into rock stars. All across Europe interested parties began to search and write and attempt contact with this mysterious Order who left no real forwarding address, just a claim that the ones who tried and were truly ready to find them would. The Jesuits went into overdrive.
But, you ask, who WERE these masked men?
A small group of college students who around 1605 had written and assembled the material that was the 3 tracts, partly as scholarly prank and partly because, admiring John Dee immensely, alchemy, esotericism and occultism was a hobby of passion for them. They invented the Order, and created the manuscripts which were handed around a bit before someone finally took them to a willing printer and had them printed. One of them was Johann Valentine Andrade from Wurttemburg, who would go on to become a Lutheran minister and who later sheepishly waved the whole thing away, saying it was “a fiction, a jest, of little worth.” and blaming youthful folly. Also in the student circle were Tobias Hest and Christoph Besold.
It became the most impacting and influential college prank the world had ever seen. More tomorrow.