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Mystic Pages

The Rosicrucian Museum hosts a new show of rare of esoteric volumes


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IN THE CULTS of Zoroaster there is represented the chalice with a flame. The same flaming chalice is engraved upon the ancient Hebrew shekels of the time of Solomon and of an even remoter antiquity. In the Hindu excavations of the periods of Chandragupta Maurya, we observe the same powerfully stylized image. Upon Tibetan images, the Bodhisattvas are holding the chalice blossoming with tongues of flame ... Not in imagination; but in realities are being interwoven the great teachings of all ages, the language of pure Fire!" So wrote the Russian mystic painter Nicholas Roerich in 1926 in his Banners From the East. Roerich, a Rosicrucian, played an influential role in the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as he was the mover and shaker behind FDR putting the Great Seal of the United States and the all-seeing eye on the back of the $1 bill. The eye is a Masonic and Rosicrucian symbol dating back centuries.

Included in a folio volume, Banners From the East is part of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum's "Rare Books of the Rosicrucian Library" exhibit. The books are all behind glass cases, as many are too fragile to be handled. Stephen Armstrong of the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC) leads me through the exhibit. A heavy-set man with a large gray beard, he points to first edition English and Latin copies of Francis Bacon's The Naturall and Experimentall History of Winds from 1653 and 1660. "Bacon was Imperator of the Rosicrucian Order," Armstrong informs me. We then peek through the glass at a first-edition English copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Treatise on Painting. Considering all the hysteria with The Da Vinci Code, I ask if he too was a Rosicrucian. "We don't really know exactly what was going on at that time," Armstrong says. "But he was definitely an esotericist."

Gracing the far corner of the gallery, we see two 18th-century volumes of Sibly's Astrology: A New and Complete Illustration of the Celestial Science of Astrology: or The Art of Foretelling Future Events and Contingencies. Sibly was the first person to construct an astrological chart for the United States, in the late 1700s. "America shall in time have an extensive and flourishing commerce; an advantageous and universal traffic to every quarter of the globe, with great fecundity and prosperity amongst the people," he predicted.

Not far away sits a copy of Yermah the Dorado: The Story of a Lost Race by Fiona Wait Smith Colbern, one of only 500 printed in 1897. In the novel, Colbern depicts an Atlantean utopia with seven hills and temples on the site of present-day San Francisco. The Temple of the Sun is located at what's now the corner of Haight and Shraeder streets, while the Temple of Neptune resides at what's now Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park.

And of course original copies of Fama Fraternitatis, Confessio Fraternitatis, and Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz are part of the exhibit. Dating to 1614, 1615 and 1616, respectively, these three treatises constitute the major body of work that the 17th-century Rosicrucians first disseminated to the public at large. Other highlights of the collection include Pierre-Sylvain Maréchal's account of the voyages of Pythagoras, a 16th-century herbal by Jacobus Theodorus "Tabernaemontanus," and several works by Theosophist Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, whose initiates were organized by Dr. Gérard Encausse into what is today the Traditional Martinist Order.

We then come back to Roerich's volume and discuss the Great Seal of the United States and the all-seeing eye. I mention it's amazing that it took so long for the seal to make it onto the back of the dollar, and that I wonder why George Washington and crew didn't put it there from the beginning. "Yeah," said Armstrong. "Considering they were all Masons."

Rare Books of the Rosicrucian Library runs through Aug. 15 at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, 1342 Naglee Ave., San Jose. The museum is open 10am-5pm Tuesday-Friday and 11am-6pm Saturday-Sunday. Admission is $9/$7/$5. (408.947.2787)

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From the March 24-31, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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