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Vow of Celebrity

The pages of history are saturated with rose-colored innuendo, with Rosicrucians on the leading edge of esoteric exploration, pushing the envelope between science and magic

By Christina Waters

ALL THE MYRIAD BRANCHES using the name "Rosicrucian" today trace their ancestry back to the mystery schools of Egypt and the controversial Pharoah Amenhotep, whose interest in the secret wisdom wafting its way from the Middle and Far East led him to a radical insight--the sun was a single god--and to change his name to Akhnaton. This pharaoh's scandalous rejection of the elaborate Egyptian cosmology foreshadowed both the neo-Platonic rationalism and the figure of Jesus Christ. By the time of Alexander the Great and Socrates, a few centuries before Christ, Egyptian thought was freely playing around with Hindu ideas and Arab mathematical, medical and scientific inventions in the academic hotbed of Alexandria. From algebra to alchemy--the transmutation of substances, especially the deeply desired formula for turning base metals into gold--the Arabs continued to exert an influence on mystical sciences via the 12th-century Crusades. The plucky Crusaders not only plundered the Holy Land but retrieved Eastern mysticism and brought it back to Euro-Christian contexts. Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon and Paracelsus were only a few of the scientists smitten by the Eastern lore involving Hermes Trismegistus (also known as Thoth, an apocryphal messenger of sacred Egyptian secrets). There was a convergence, during the 13th century in Europe, of many strands of esoteric philosophy, specifically a wedding of Eastern religions, emerging chemistry and medical science leading to a spiritual examination of the nature of reality. These strands all converged in a loosely organized body of knowledge that came to bear the underground label "Rosicrucian," one of the main agendas of which was to show that the study of natural science led to direct knowledge of God. "As above, so also below," the quest to see the macrocosm as a mirror of the microcosm, became the mantra of these quasi-spiritual/quasi-empirical studies.

Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, the Hebrew mystical study of the cabala--every esoteric pursuit that wasn't nailed down--were conjoined in this fluid hodgepodge of intellectual inquiry that hurled itself headlong into the European Renaissance.

Symbolism was huge in these circles, not only the rays of light, the eye of God, the symbols of the zodiac and Hebrew magic glyphs, but the rose and the cross as well. In the 14th century pamphlets began appearing tracing the mystical journeys of a pseudonymous character, Christian Rosenbreuz (Rose Cross). In the 1600s two important manifestos of the new secret society--of which no one would admit to being a member--the Fama Fraternitatis (1614) and the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenbreuz (1616), were printed, the first of which is said to have been secretly penned by Francis Bacon, a busy guy who also supposedly wrote Shakespeare's oeuvre. The second work was later acknowledged to be the creation of one of Martin Luther's best friends, a minister whose family coat of arms contained a rose and a cross. At any rate, the cause of trying to figure out the geometry of Heaven and Earth was taken up by British physician Robert Fludd, whose books of obscure metaphysics were gorgeously illustrated with engravings in the style of yet another Rosicrucian enthusiast, poet/printer William Blake.

The secret society (so secret that members barely knew of each other's existence) kept hidden its ultimate purpose--rumored to be everything from finding the secret of eternal life to the successful conversion of mud into living matter--the province of an even more secret group within the larger secret society. It would disappear from sight in one country, only to reappear in a later century, alive and well, in yet another region. And conspirators as wildly different as Blaise Pascal, Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Faraday and St. Theresa of Avila were all somehow involved in moving the mystical order forward through time.

Francis Bacon, an intellectual tinkerer of the first rank, was among other things a writer of utopian theories, and following his ideas of a New Atlantis, Rosicrucian colonists settled in America in 1694, landing in Philadelphia to establish their first center. This is where Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine became enchanted with the Order and its enlightenment ideals. Surging up strongly in France during the 19th century, the Toulouse-based Order of the Rosy Cross inducted an American businessman and spiritual seeker, Dr. H. Spencer Lewis, in 1909, who promptly reactivated what was officially called the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC, in 1915 in New York, and in 1927 in its present-day North American headquarters in San Jose. The rest is rose-colored history.

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From the Dec. 11-17, 1997 issue of Metro.

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