By the mid 1800s there finally existed a plethora of Rosicrucian groups, all practicing various forms of western esotericism and occultism, most with a Christian mystical bent. Many claimed to have descended from the original Rosicrucians of the 1400-1600s, but as no such thing actually existed (you have been reading the other posts up to here, right?), it is simply another example of how every single society of this nature will invent a good historical backstory to give themselves weight and credence. This is so prominent a practice that honestly, there are scarse few exceptions.
It wasn’t just Europe anymore. In America Rosicrucian groups were all the rage too. Back in the 1700s some German sects went to the New Land to build Rosicrucian communities in Pennsylvania. (For all my PA peeps:They set up shop in what is now Lancaster and Germantown) They had some influence on early American folklore and folk magic, but eventually were swallowed into the larger German communities that grew in those areas over the next century and a half of German immigration.
Here’s a good story and an interesting persoanlity:
In the mid 1800s there was a famous African American “Rosicrucian” named Paschal Randolph. At least he claimed to be a Rosicrucian, heck he wrote as the pseudonym ‘The Rosicrucian’, although he also said at one point his Rosicrucian teachings had come from within himself or were borrowed from occultists who came before him but were Rosicrucian in spirit. He was very, very big into sex magic, a lot of white women came to him to learn how to…. ****, and he was particularly sensational in that he insisted that orgasms were essential to mental health including FEMALE orgasms. Remember, this was a time in which doctors denied the very existence of the female orgasm.
Paschal was a barber in upstate New York in the 1840s when Spiritualism hit. (I’ve covered this fun time in history here.) He converted and was soon a practicing medium. Not only did he channel spirits but he claimed to be a clairvoyant physician who specialized in sexual problems. He gained a lot of notoriety and toured both the States and Europe. The spiritualism movement was a major proponent of the abolition of slavery and Randolph, especially being black, lectured extensively on this during his tours.
However, in 1858 he denounced Spiritualism and toured the ANTI-Spiritualism circuit, claiming mediums were the passive victims of evil spirits. The anti-spiritualism side consisted really of two positions. One, which was later championed by Harry Houdini claimed the entire medium thing was a load of bullcock. The other, supported by various Christian churches claimed it was diabolical. Randolph came down on the diabolical side and thus his tours were financed by Christian churches.
Randolph ended up quarrelling strongly with the churches supporting him and finally left the States. He returned several years later and after a failed bid to enter politics began writing extensively on esoteric and occult philosphies and practices, often under the pseudonym “The Rosicrucian”. Most of his teachings revolved around skrying, that is putting oneself into a calm, open trance state and then staring into magic mirrors in order to perform clairvoyant feats such as astral travel, remote viewing and contact with spirits, and also practicing sex magic, where the two parties both focus their will on as common intention at the moment of orgasm. His sex magic teachings would go on to later inspired Crowley.
Randolph became very well known amongst a certain crowd, and began a number of Rosicrucian organizations including the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, the oldest suriving Rosicrucian order in America. He actually launched numerous Orders, both Rosicrucian and other types of magical societies, but alas, he was infamously arrogant with a hot temper. No one could get along with him for a long period of time. He would start an Order, get into conflict with the members he would recruit and then dissolve the Order all within a matter of months. Again and again. However some of the Orders he founded survived, mostly because he would leave the state and hence the order and these became enormously influential to later esoteric and occult societies such as the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.
Randolph’s life was filled with broken marriages, broken relationships, failed businesses and in 1949 he killed himself, although this is slightly disputed. There is a line of thought purports otherwise: “a later Supreme Master of the Fraternitas, stated that years after Randolph’s demise, in a death-bed confession, a former friend of Randolph had conceded that in a state of jealousy and temporary insanity, he had killed Randolph”
So, there’s one awesome story. But let us wrap up our forray into Rosicrucianism with one more personality and one more story: Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca.
So, in 1920 a Rosicrucian Order was founded in England by actor George Sullivan. Many of its members were former members of a Theosophy sponsored Rosicrucian group. This order, the Rosicrucian Order of the Crotona Fellowship sponsored a theater group in the New Forest area of Britain. Gerald Gardner, a retired civil servant who had worked in Malaya and written a book about the Malayan magical practices settled down there in the late 1930s, met this Rosiocrucian Order and its offshoot the New Coven. He developed an enormous interest in the esoteric and occult and went on to study with Aleister Crowley and leading Druid at the time, Ross Nichols.
In the 1950s Gardner put all these pieces together into Wicca. Wicca is clearly and obviously a amalgamation of these sources: a huge hunk from the Rosicrucian group (including most of the initiation rituals of Wicca) and its splinter Coven, sex magic techniques and rituals from Crowley and ideas on duotheism and fertility religion from Ross Nichol’s Druid Circle of the Universal Bond. There is an additional last source, an English youth movement called Woodcraft He then did WHAT THEY ALLLLLLLLLLLL DO, which is slap a backstory on it claiming it’s linked to all thing ancient, in this case the old pagan fertility cults from Neolithic times.
He claimed the New Coven was in fact an unbroken pagan link, and this may have indeed been the New Coven’s own self purported backstory. It as not however true. This idea of witch cults tied to ancient pagan fertility cults is known as the Witch-cult theory and traces to a writer name Magaret Murray, who became close friends with Gardner and a supporter of Wicca. However, before this she had published two books which claimed the existance of an unborken witch cult which had survived since ancient times and which all witch trials in Europe had hoped to finally extinguish.
Sadly, Murray’s Witch cult argument has been demonstrated as false and poor and intentionally misleading scholarship, both by her peers and later folklorists, witch trial experts and historical researchers. Murray dismissed all criticism as being the Christian world out to shut her up, although most of the researchers and experts, especially the ones who came after her were nothing of the sort, but her work achieved a degree of popularity. Groups suddenly appeared who wished to resurrect the Witch-Cult as described in Murray’s works, and this would include the New Coven Rosicrucian splinter group.
What had started as a Rosicrucian group splintered into a slightly more folksy Coven attempting to model itself on Murray’s work. This inspired Gardner immensely. He in turn combined it with a rich tapestry pulled from the other sources i’ve named, launched a magnificently brilliant publicity campaign, and created a brand spanking new religion founded on esoteric principles, Wicca. Wicca, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is flourishing today and offers some of the most interesting new forms of spirituality and esotericism of the modern day. (Yes, yes, really contains secret ancient lore, blah blah blah. No religion is historically accurate. None. I don’t hold it against them. Everyone backstories. The Jews for heaven’s sake backstoried the entire Egyptian slavery thing and Moses, although this is probably not the place to start in on that stuff.)
Anyway, that’s it, folks. We have concluded our excursion into the Land of Rosicrucians. I hope it’s been entertaining. I hope some of you are still reading this after today’s lengthy post. I hope all the roses on all your metaphorical crosses bloom brightly. See you tomorrow with Gd knows what.