The Real History of the Rosicrucians, by Arthur Edward Waite, , at sacred-texts.com
THE guise of antiquity being almost indispensable to the pretensions contained in these singular documents, I have preferred presenting them to my readers in the archaic form of the original English translations, which, moreover, represent the Rosicrucian period in this country, than to undertake the somewhat superfluous task of a new version.
If the "Fama" and "Confessio Fraternitatis" are to be taken in their literal sense, the publication of these documents will not add new lustre to Rosicrucian reputations. We are accustomed to regard the adepts of the Rose-Cross as beings of sublime elevation and preternatural physical powers, masters of Nature, monarchs of the intellectual world, illuminated by a relative omniscience, and absolutely exalted above all weakness and all prejudice. We imagine them to be "holding no form of creed, but contemplating all" from the solitary grandeur of the Absolute, and invested with the "sublime sorrow of the ages as of the lone ocean." But here in their own acknowledged manifestoes they avow themselves a mere theosophical offshoot of the Lutheran heresy, acknowledging the spiritual supremacy of a temporal prince, and calling the pope Antichrist. We have gauged in these days of enlightenment and universal tolerance the intellectual capacities of all professors, past
and present, of that art prophetic which is represented by Baxter and Cumming. We know the value of all the multitudinous speculations in the theological no-man's land of the Apocalypse. We do not expect a new Star of Jacob to rise out of the Galilee of religious intolerance, and out of the frantic folly of sectarian squabblings. We do not calculate the number of the beast, we do not denounce the Jesuits, we are not obsessed by an infectious terror of papal power and its possible agressions; on the contrary, we respect the associations connected with sovereign pontiffs, grand lamas, and chief patriarchs. We have, most of us, decided that the pope is neither God's vicar nor the Man of Sin; we persistently refuse our adherence to any theory which connects the little horn with Prince Jerome Napoleon, and we are not open to any positive convictions on the identity of the Scarlet Woman, or of the lost tribes of Israel. All persons possessed of such positive convictions we justifiably regard as fanatics, and after due and deliberate consideration of the Rosicrucian manifestoes, we do Dot feel able to make an exception in favour of this Fraternity, whose
[paragraph continues] In other words, we find them intemperate in their language, rabid in their religious prejudices, and, instead of towering giant-like above the intellectual average of their age, we see them buffeted by the same passions and identified with all the opinions of the men by whom they were environed. The voice which addresses us behind the mystical mask of the Rose-Cross does not come from an intellectual throne, erected on the pinnacles of high thinking and surrounded by the serene and sunny atmosphere of a far-sighted tolerance; it comes
from the very heart of the vexatious and unprofitable strife of sects, and it utters the war-cry of extermination. The scales fall from our eyes, the romance vanishes; we find ourselves in the presence of some Germans of the period, not of "the mystic citizens of the eternal kingdom."
We are dejected and disillusioned, but we are thankful, notwithstanding, to know the truth, as distinguished from the fictions of Mr Hargrave Jennings and the glamorous fables of professed romancers. In this spirit we proceed to a closer acquaintance with the Rosicrucians as represented by themselves.
I have already said that "The Universal Reformation" has little internal connection with the society which is supposed to have issued it in its Teutonic dress. The conclusion which is reached in that curious tract is, indeed, completely opposed to the expressed hopes of the Fraternity. It illustrates the ludicrous futility and abortiveness of the attempt to reform society, even when undertaken by the flower of the world's "literati." It bids the reformers begin their work at home, and reduces their Utopian scheming from the splendid scale of universal reconstruction to appraising sprats and cabbages. It considers mankind to be as good as his surroundings will allow him, and that "the height of human wisdom lies in the discretion to be content with leaving the world as they found it." On the other hand, the "Fama" and "Confessio" invite "the learned of Europe to co-operate with a secret society for the renovation of the age, the reform of philosophy," and to remedy "the imperfection and inconsistencies of all the arts." The discrepancy is singularly complete, and as "The Universal Reformation" throws no light upon the history or the claims of the Rosicrucians, it
need not detain us. "The Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosencreutz" I shall also set aside for the present, because it is an allegorical romance--pace Professor Buhle, as De Quincey hath it--though otherwise of the first importance and interest.
From the "Fama" and "Confessio" we gather the religious opinions of the Rosicrucian Fraternity, and classify them as follows:--
b. Man is born into life by the power of God, falls asleep in Jesus, and will rise again through the Holy Spirit.
c. They acknowledge a personal devil, the old enemy, who "hinders every good purpose by his instruments."
d. They "use two Sacraments, as they are instituted with all Formes and Ceremonies of the first and renewed Church."
e. It follows from this that they believe the Lutheran Reformation restored the Christian Church to its primitive purity.
f. They consider "that from the beginning of the world there hath not been given to man a more excellent, admirable, and wholesome book than the Bible," which is "the whole sum" of their laws.
g. They call the pope Antichrist, a blasphemer against Christ. They execrate him, and look forward to the time "when he shall be torn in pieces with nails." They foretell his "final fall," with the assurance of Brothers the prophet, and in the terminology of Mr Grattan-Guiness.
The philosophical and scientific opinions and pretensions
of the Rosicrucian Society have more claim on our notice. As in their theological views, so in these they are simply the representatives of a certain school of thought current at their epoch. In its aspirations, as distinguished from its methods, this school was considerably in advance of the scientific orthodoxy of the moment. Looking with piercing glance
they dreamed of a universal synthesis, and combining profound contemplation with keen observant faculties, the experimental with a priori methods, they sought to arrive at those realities which underlie phenomena, "in more common but more emblematic words," they sought for the substance which is at the base of all the vulgar metals. Mystics in an age of scientific and religious materialism, they were connected by an unbroken chain with the theurgists of the first Christian centuries; they were alchemists in the spiritual sense and the professors of a divine magic. Their disciples, the Rosicrucians, followed closely in their footsteps, and the claims of the "Fama" and "Confessio" must be viewed in the light of the great elder claims of alchemy and magic. In these documents we find--I. The doctrine of the microcosmus, which considers man as containing the potentialities of the whole universe, or macrocosmus. According to Paracelsus, who first developed this suggestive teaching from obscure hints in the Kabbalistic books, the macrocosmus and the microcosmus are one. "They are one constellation, one influence, one breath, one harmony, one time, one metal, one fruit." Each part of the great organism acts upon "the corresponding part of the small organism in the same sense as the various organs of the human body are intimately
connected with and influence each other." Every change that takes place in the macrocosmus may be sensed by the spiritual body which surrounds the spirit of the minutum mundum. The forces composing the one are identical with those of the other. 1
II. We find, in the next place, the doctrine of Elemental spirits, which it is a common error to suppose originated with the Rosicrucians. This graceful and fanciful hypothesis also owes its development, if not its invention, to the seer of Hohenheim. It was naturalised on French soil by the author of the "Comte de Gabalis," and is known chiefly in England through the preface to "The Rape of the Lock," and of later years through the German "Romance of Undine," which has been many times translated. "When you shall be numbered among the Children of the philosophers," says the "Comte de Gabalis," "and when your eyes shall have been strengthened by the use of the most sacred medecine, you will learn that the Elements are inhabited by creatures of a singular perfection, from the knowledge of, and communication with, whom the sin of Adam has deprived his most wretched posterity. Yon vast space stretching between earth and Heaven has far nobler dwellers than the birds and the gnats; these wide seas hold other guests than the whales and the dolphins; the depths of the earth are not reserved for the moles alone; and that element of fire which is nobler than all the rest was not created to remain void and useless." According to Paracelsus, "the Elementals are not spirits, because they have flesh, blood, and bones; they live and propagate offspring; they eat and talk, act and sleep, &c. . . . They are beings occupying a place between
men and spirits, resembling men and women in their organisation and form, and resembling spirits in the rapidity of their locomotion." They must not be confounded with the Elementaries which are the astral bodies of the dead. 1 They are divided into four classes. "The air is replete with an innumerable multitude of creatures, having human shapes, somewhat fierce in appearance, but docile in reality; great lovers of the sciences, subtle, serviceable to the Sages, and enemies of the foolish and ignorant. Their wives and daughters are beauties of the masculine type. . . . The seas and streams are inhabited even as the air; the ancient Sages gave the names of Undines or Nymphs to these Elementals. There are few males among them, and the women are very numerous, and of extreme beauty; the daughters of men cannot compare with them. The earth is filled by gnomes even to its centre, creatures of diminutive size, guardians of mines, treasures, and precious stones. They furnish the Children of the Sages with all the money they desire, and ask little for their services but the distinction of being commanded. The gnomides, their wives, are tiny, but very pleasing, and their apparel is exceedingly curious. As to the Salamanders, those fiery dwellers in the realm of flame, they serve the Philosophers, but do not eagerly seek
their company, and their wives and daughters are seldom visible. They transcend all the others in beauty, for they are natives of a purer element." 1
III. In the third place, the Rosicrucian manifestoes contain the doctrine of the signatura rerum, which again is of Paracelsian origin. This is the "magical writing" referred to in the "Fama," and the mystic characters of that "Book of Nature" which, according to the "Confessio," stands open "for all eyes," but "can be read or understood by only a very few." These characters are the seal of God imprinted "on the wonderful work of creation, on the heavens, the earth, and on all beasts." 2 This "signature of things" is described by Paracelsus as "a certain organic vital activity," which is frequently "expressed even in the exterior form of things; and by observing that form we may learn something in regard to their interior qualities, even without using our interior sight. We see that the internal character of a man is often expressed in his exterior appearance, even in the manner of his walking and in the sound of his voice. Likewise the hidden character of things is to a certain extent expressed in their outward forms. As long as man remained in a natural state, he recognised the signatures of things and knew their true character; but the more he diverged from the path of Nature, and the more his mind became captivated by illusive external appearances, the more this power became lost." 3 The same doctrine is developed by the most distinguished disciple of Paracelsus, the Kentish Rosicrucian, Robert Fludd. "There are other invisible writings, secretly impressed on the leaves of
[paragraph continues] Nature's book, which are not to be read or comprehended save with the eyes of understanding, being traced by the Spirit of the living God on the hidden fleshly tablets of our own hearts. . . . These internal and spiritual characters, constituting the interior writing, may also to the bodily eyes be the cause and origin of the things which do appear." 1 "It is manifest," he also remarks, "that those vivific letters and characters impressed on the Bible and on the great Book of Nature, and which we call arcane, because they are understood only by the few, are one thing, and that the dead, destroying letters of the same books, whose cortices contain the living and spiritual characters, are another."
IV. These speculative principles appear to have been united with some form of practical magic. Now magic is a term which conjures up into the mind of the ordinary reader some hazy notions either of gross imposture or diabolical compacts and hellish rites; it seems necessary, therefore, to state what it really was in the opinions of those who professed it. According to Paracelsus, magic is that great and hidden wisdom which discovers the interior constitution of everything. "It teaches the true nature of the inner man as well as the organization of his outward body." It includes "a knowledge of visible and invisible nature." It is the only true teacher of the art of healing. If physicians possessed it, their books might be burnt and their medicines be thrown into the ocean. "Magic and sorcery are two entirely different things, and there is as much difference between them as there is between light and darkness, and between white and black." The same authority
teaches that the great agent in magic is the imagination confirmed by that faith which perfects will-power, and that the imagination thus strengthened can create its own objects. "Man has a visible and invisible workshop. The visible one is his body; the invisible one his imagination. . . . The imagination is a sun in the soul of man, acting in its own sphere as the sun of the earth acts in his. Wherever the latter shines, germs planted in the soil grow, and vegetation springs up; and the sun of the soul acts in a similar manner, and calls the forms of the soul into existence. . . . The spirit is the master, imagination the tool, and the body the plastic material. Imagination is the power by which the will forms sidereal entities out of thoughts. It is not fancy, which latter is the corner-stone of superstition and foolishness. . . . The power of the imagination is a great factor in medicine. It may produce diseases in man and in animals, and it may cure them." 1 This theory covers all the phenomena of visions, ecstacies, evocations, and other pseudo-miracles, recognising that they are facts, and accounting for the futility of their results.
V. Whether the Rosicrucians pretended to manufacture material gold is a question which is difficult to decide from the materials contained in their manifestoes. They acknowledge the fact of transmutation, and call it a "great gift of God;" but "as it bringeth not always with it a knowledge of Nature, while this knowledge bringeth forth both that and an infinite number of other natural miracles, it is right that we be rather earnest to attain to the knowledge of philosophy, nor tempt excellent wits to the tincture of metals sooner then to the observation of Nature." 2 Whatever may be thought of this reasoning, it definitely places
the Rosicrucians in that school of alchemy to which I made reference at the close of the first chapter, and whose aim was to accomplish the spiritual side of the magnum opus, or great work of alchemical reconstruction. For them the transmutation of metals being no operation of common chemistry, 1 both the "Fama" and "Confessio" appear to condemn indiscriminately all professors of the purely physical process, which they call "the ungodly and accursed gold-making." Here, as in their other opinions, they echo Paracelsus. "What shall I say to you about all your alchemical prescriptions, about all your retorts and bottles, crucibles, mortars, and glasses; about all your complicated processes of distilling, melting, cohibiting, coagulating, sublimating, precipitating, and filtering, all the tomfoolery for which you throw away your time and your money. All such things are useless, and the labour over them is lost. They are rather an impediment than a help to arrive at the truth." After the same fashion, the "Confessio" denounces the "monstrous symbols and enigmas" by which pseudo-chymists impose upon credulous curiosity. According to Dr Hartmann, "Paracelsus asserts that it is possible to make gold and silver by chemical means; still he condemns such experiments as useless, and it seems to be more than probable that even in such chemical experiments as may have succeeded, something more than merely chemical manipulations was required to make them successful." 2 Éliphas Lévi, one of the most profound commentators on Paracelsus, declares that "there is light in gold, gold in light, and light in all things." Thus the first
matter of the magnum opus is both within and about us, and "the intelligent will, which assimilates light, directs the operations of substantial form, and only employs chemistry as a very secondary instrument." 1
At the same time the Rosicrucians claimed to be in possession of "great treasures of gold," and of the purse of Fortunatus. There seems no special reason to doubt that they intended this to be literally construed, and the "Fama" definitely states that it was a project of their founder, C. R., to institute a society in Europe "which might have gold, silver, and precious stones sufficient for to bestow them on kings."
VI. Closely connected with the secret of metallic transmutation is "the supreme medicine of the world," the life-elixir, which, according to Bernard-le-Trevisan (fifteenth century), is the reduction of the Philosophical Stone into mercurial water. It cures all diseases, and prolongs life beyond the normal limits. Without claiming to be actually in possession of this
the Rosicrucians come before us as essentially, or at least primarily, a healing fraternity. "Their agreement was this . . . . That none of them should profess any other thing than to cure the sick, and that gratis." 2 Professor Buhle, in his notice of the Rosicrucians and Freemasons, says that the evils of Germany at this period were immense, that the land was overswept by a "great storm of wretchedness and confusion." The science of medicine was still in its infancy, the Lutheran Reformation, by spoliating monasteries, had
destroyed hospitals, 1 and the diseases and miseries unavoidably consequent on unsanitary principles and medical guesswork, were undoubtedly very widely spread. The utter incompetence of the ancient methods led many others besides the Rosicrucians to disregard and denounce the traditional authority, and in the wide field of experimental research to lay the foundations of a new and rational hypothesis. The germs of this revolution are found in Paracelsus, and the practical theosophy--medicine itself being a branch of mysticism from the standpoint of orthodox mystics--practised by Rosicrucian adepts is their strongest claim on our favour, the one golden link which joins their dissonant commonplace with the Orphean harmonies of true and divine occultism.
It will be sufficient to enumerate only their belief in a secret philosophy, perpetuated from primeval times, in ever-burning lamps, in vision at a distance, and in the approaching end of the world. I have shown indisputably that there was no novelty in the Rosicrucian pretensions, and no originality in their views. They appear before us as Lutheran disciples of Paracelsus; and, returning for a moment to the problem discussed in the introduction, we find nothing in either manifesto to connect them with the typology of a remote period. It is, therefore, in modern, not ancient, times that we must seek an explanation of the device of the Rose-Cross. A passage contained in "The Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosencreutz" will assist in the solution of this important point.
202:1 "Paracelsus," by Franz Hartmann, M.D., p. 44.
203:1 According to Eliphas Lévi, the Astral Light, i.e., the substance diffused through infinity, and which is the first matter of the material and psycho-material universe, is "transformed at the moment of conception into human light, and is the first envelope of the soul." In combination with fluids of extreme subtlety, it becomes the astral, etherised, or sidereal body. When a man dies and the divine spirit returns into the empyrean, it leaves two corpses, one on the earth and one in the atmosphere, "one already inert, the other still animated by the universal movement of the soul of the world, but destined to die gradually, being absorbed by the astral energies which produced it."--"Mysteries of Magic," pp. 97, 105.
204:1 "Comte de Gabalis." Second Entretien.
204:2 "Confessio Fraternatis," c. viii.
204:3 Hartmann's "Paracelsus," pp. 51, 52.
205:1 Robertus de Fluctibus, "Apologia Compendiana Fraternitatem de Rosea Cruce."
206:1 "Confessio Fraternitatis," c. xi.
207:1 On this point see "Mysteries of Magic," Biographical and Critical Preface, p. xliii.
207:2 Hartmann's "Paracelsus," pp. 177, 178.
208:1 "Mysteries of Magic," p. 204.
208:2 "Fama Fraternitatis," p. 73.
209:1 "The origin of our present hospitals must be looked for in monastic arrangements for the care of the sick and indigent. Every monastery had its infirmaria, managed by an infirmarius, in which not only were sick and convalescents treated, but also the aged, the blind, the weak, &c., were housed."--"Encyc. Brit.," 9th ed., s. v, "Hospitals."