What's Up with the Rosicrucians?

Are they truly an ancient mystical order, or merely a mail-order New Age literature business?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Religion

Skeptoid #164
July 28, 2009
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

What do you get when you mix alchemy, The Da Vinci Code, Nazis, Christianity, mysticism, the Knights Templar, Shakespeare, The Secret, and ancient Egypt? No, not a bad movie about Ben Stiller working late at a museum; you get the Rosicrucians. Who are they, what are they up to, what do they believe, and what the heck's the deal with all the historical imagery?

In San Jose, California, stands an Egyptian obelisk, covered in heiroglyphics. Nearby is a statue of Caesar Augustus, outside a planetarium in classical Islamic architecture. In the midst of this historical montage, surrounded by living papyrus plants, is the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, actually quite a good museum filled with authentic Egyptian artifacts. The rest of this city block is taken up by the world headquarters of AMORC, the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis. The name Rosicrucian comes from Rosy Cross, an ancient symbol that's been adopted by many religious and pagan groups throughout history. To the modern Rosicrucian organization, the cross with an unfolding white rose in the center represents the human body and its consciousness opening up, carefully steering away from its more common traditional connections with Christianity. The Rosicrucians downplay any religious associations with their symbology, claiming not to be a church, and welcoming members of any religion or no religion. (Here's a hint: When you're taking peoples' money, don't turn anyone away at the door.)

According to tradition, the founder of Rosicrucianism was the none-too-improbably named Christian Rosenkreuz, born in 1378, the last surviving member of an assassinated German noble family, secreted away to a monastery where he grew to found the order that bore his name. Rosenkreuz traveled throughout the Christian, Muslim, Dharmic, and pagan lands, amassing his knowledge and acquiring a small but tight group of followers. Of his death, all that is known to Rosicrucian tradition is that his body lies somewhere in a geometrically proportioned cave, incorrupt, and bathed in white light from an unseen source.

Rosenkreuz's story is told in the Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, an anonymous manifesto published in Germany in 1614. The following year, another manifesto appeared, the Confessio Fraternitatis, which declared the existence of a secret society of alchemists and sages following pious Christian principles and planning an intellectual enlightenment of Europe. Then in 1616, the third and last of the Rosicrucians' three major manifestos was published, The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, an allegorical tale of Rosenkreutz using alchemy to assist in the wedding of a king and queen in a strange and magical castle. The three manifestos made quite a splash in certain circles. Leaders of the occult and science tried to make contact with the secret society described, including Rene Descartes, William Shakespeare, and the philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon. In fact, by some accounts, Francis Bacon was not only actually one of the secret society members, he may have written the first two manifestos; and some Rosicrucians claim he wrote Shakespeare's works as well. Another hint is that Bacon was also a member of a Templar society, and the Knights Templar bore the same rose-colored cross as the Crusaders. Some believe the third manifesto was written by the Lutheran alchemist Johannes Valentinus Andreae, whose name was also claimed in a 1960's hoax as one of the Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion, which figured so prominently in The Da Vinci Code.

So suffice it to say that there is enough pop-culture quasi-history to adorn Rosicrucianism with as much illustrious intrigue as you wish. Our task is to see if we can connect the dots, and find out what links there are, if any, between all those legendary characters and the people who sit in offices in San Jose today, depositing checks and doing the books. Exactly what are they up to? What do they do, and what do Rosicrucian members do? Here's the answer.

If I were to summarize the modern Rosicrucian organization, I'd compare it to a low-pressure, less expensive version of Scientology, based on New Age beliefs instead of L. Ron Hubbard's science fiction. You send them a few hundred dollars a year for your membership, and they send you printed lessons for self study that teach you all about their mystical belief system, the "keys to universal wisdom", as they put it. Like Scientology and Freemasonry, Rosicrucians reach various levels, or degrees, based on how much of the self-study material you've purchased and read. You can even perform your own initiation ceremonies into each new degree at home. In your first five years as a Rosicrucian, you'll cover the three "neophyte" degrees from First Atrium through Third Atrium, and then the "temple" section from First Temple Degree through Ninth Temple Degree. By this time your teaching will include topics such as:

One of the benefits available to modern Rosicrucians is magical assistance to those in need of actual assistance, which they provide to successful petitioners via their "Council of Solace". Their web site describes how this works:

The Council does this by putting certain spiritual energies into motion and directing them in accordance with mystical law and natural principles. Metaphysical aid is thus directed to individuals ...with health, domestic, economic, or other problems, and aid is also directed to those who are attuned with the Council. The aid of the Council of Solace operates on the cosmic plane. Its activity is solely metaphysical and in no way interferes with any professional or health-care assistance being received on the physical plane.

So at this point you're probably yawning at this yet-another "spin the wheel and invent a New Age philosophy". So it's a good time to introduce William Walker Atkinson, an author who wrote about 100 books in the early 20th century under many pseudonyms. He is credited with being one of the principal architects of the New Thought movement, which evolved into today's New Age movement. His book The Law of Attraction in the Thought World is one of the primary influences of Rhonda Byrne's book and movie The Secret, and in fact the word "Rosicrucian" appears subtly on screen throughout the movie's title transitions. Many of the principal writings of the Dharmic movement of the 1960's, so popular with the Beatles and attributed to various swamis and yogis, were in fact written by Atkinson. But one of Atkinson's books broke the pattern and was written not to promote the New Thought mysticism, but rather to expose it. Published under the name Magus Incognito, its title was The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians. In it, Atkinson claims that the true Rosicrucian order does not accept fees, has no formal organization, and is in fact secret. He then gives away all the contents of the Rosicrucian degrees. Why would he write this book?

AMORC, the modern formal Rosicrucian group, was launched in New York in 1915. The original founder, Harvey Spencer Lewis, and its first leader (or "Imperator" as they call it), is said to have borrowed quite heavily from the works of Yogi Ramacharaka in developing the Atrium and Temple Degree series. Who was the real author behind the name Yogi Ramacharaka? You guessed it, William Walker Atkinson. Apparently annoyed that his work had been so broadly and obviously "borrowed from" (to put it politely) without attribution, Atkinson quickly produced The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians by retitling some of his own earlier works that contained the material used in the Rosicrucian lessons, and adding a few jabs like "real Rosicrucians would never take your money the way AMORC does".

Atkinson also reminded us that the term Rosicrucian and the rosy cross symbol have both been in the public domain for centuries, so nobody has any exclusive right to use them; and in fact that there are many competing Rosicrucian groups out there. Although AMORC has clearly won in the marketplace with its expansive San Jose headquarters, you might also choose to join the Ancient Order of the Rosicrucians, the Fraternitas Rosicruciana Antiqua, the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, or any of a dozen others, all based on essentially the same occult New Age mystical traditions.

Ever since the original manifestos were published by the first in this long line of clever authors, it seems everyone's been trying to get in on the Rosicrucian action; either directly by name or by rebranding it the way Rhonda Byrne, and in fact William Atkinson himself, have done. It's even been borrowed by whole nations in search of a defining philosophy. In his book The Occult Roots of Nazism, author Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke found that Nazi symbology was inspired by an 18th century German Rosicrucian order called Gold und Rosenkreuzer.

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And thus we have a ten-cent tour of the history of Rosicrucian mysticism. It was invented in the early 1600's by European intellectuals who wrote allegorical tales blending alchemy with Protestant Christianity. It was revived in the early 1900's by the New Thought movement seeking ancient forms of mysticism that appealed to the notions of a population just beginning to learn that such a thing as a cosmic universe existed, and searching for meaning within it. And a century later, Rosicrucianism remains just one more flavor of for-profit New Age products, leveraging claims to ancient wisdom into bank deposits. It professes that the "keys to the universe" were known to a handful of Europeans 400 years ago, they just never managed to do much with them, since recurring credit card billing hadn't been invented yet.

I will close with the phrase that Rosicrucians like to put at the bottom of all their written communications. It means "So it shall be" and is often used to mean "Amen" or "In the name of God":

So Mote It Be!

Brian Dunning

© 2009 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

AMORC. "Mastery of Life." Rosicrucian Order. Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crusis, 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 13 Jan. 2009. <http://www.rosicrucian.org/about/mastery/>

Atkinson, W. The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians. Chicago: L.N. Fowler & Co., 1918.

Editors. "Rosicrucians." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press, 1 Oct. 2009. Web. 12 Jan. 2009. <http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/society/A0842439.html>

Melchior, F. "Manifestations of the Neo-Rosicrucian Current." The Alchemy Web Site. Adam McLean, 10 Nov. 1997. Web. 23 Jul. 2009. <http://www.levity.com/alchemy/rosi_grp.html>

Schwarz, Avraham. Empowering Thoughts: The Secret of Rhonda Byrne or The Law of Attraction in the Torah. New York: BN Publishing, 2007.

Yates, F.A. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London: Routledge, 1972.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "What's Up with the Rosicrucians?" Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 28 Jul 2009. Web. 3 Sep 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4164>


10 most recent comments | Show all 94 comments

as i read it, skeptoid can be supported for $US3.99 per month, $US48 a year. you can chooose to pay more.

AMORC dues in the US cost $150 to access material online. join a local group and you add probably $100 to that.

looks like when you join AMORC your mathematical faculties take a hit and you just can't add up figures anymore.

fools do abound. liars too.

wishar spenly cerve, mt shasta
April 25, 2014 9:21am

anyone can say 'a thing is what it is.'

at one level, is anyone disputing that? a wasted line there. the poster mayzwell not have typed it.

this is a discussion of the origins of a group that makes public claims that are interesting, but for the most part bogus.

that group also has a real history that it doesn't lay claim to, but which is far more interesting, and evidently far more recent. that is a matter of historical discussion and examination. it tells us a lot about the fantasies and hopes of a particular era, that is, the early 20th century and onwards.

if members of the group do not like that, they need to examine themselves, not others whose interest is in the facts.

one question may be, why some people choose to associate with a significant other which they know has an entirely fantastical story of its own origin, the things it tells people and where it is going.

AMORC is very clearly a body which isn't really there for the reasons it says it is. the examination of the 'gladio 'stay behind' movements and connections with the far right in france, the country in which it is now based, and with dictators throughout the francophone world, are interesting enough in themselves to have attracted serious journalists for many years.

in the end, of course, AMORC isn't what it is, and that is interesting and a matter for continual investigation.

sri sobitha bhikku, san jose
May 20, 2014 1:12am

Rosicrucian Fellowship - International Headquarters
2222 Mission Avenue, Oceanside, CA 92058-2329, USA

Situated in an area with likely more military presence than anywhere on the planet. Situated in an area that took the Rosicrucians in the guise of the Conquistadors centuries to "cleanse". This is an order that in the guise of the Pilgrims and Jesuits, undertook much "cleansing", and are presently the faction, in control of "White Magic", and consequently all forms of media.

Rollo, North America
May 29, 2014 11:42am

I found as a student for decades that AMORC was quite alright in helping people to develop their human potential, but it's not for everyone. I have studied lots of other mysticism and philosophy such as Yoga and Theosophy and find that the Rosicrucian way is as good as if not better than most in being understandable to westerners in particular. It taught me to broaden my mind. I think that many sceptics operate primarily on an intellectual level so it is difficult if not impossible to accept some metaphysical aspects of these teachings, so it will be misunderstood much of the time, even though Rosicrucians use the scientific methods of observation and experimentation. From my observations I have not found that the dues were used other than in providing student services, extension, administration and research in the Australian, Asian and New Zealand section of the Order. Keep up the good work!

stu, perth, western australia
November 4, 2014 6:28am

I'm an ex member & to come to the point it's a mail order operation that teaches meditation and believes in reincarnation,self healing,being able to be in another part of the world and also telepathy.The "dues" in the UK are £200($360)for membership which gets you "monographs" which start with an introduction from some well known philosopher then a "lesson".Names are dropped like Plato,Pythagoras,Socrates,Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon--all dead before AMORC was founded in 1915,though implied that the likes of Bacon & Descartes were members of the Order along with a host of Egyptian Pharaohs from their"mystery schools".There was nothing in those lessons that could not be found on the internet or any reference library and many of the experiments it could be argued were verging on "mind control" with staring at candles& chanting and looking into mirrors..Religion ?. Christianity,Islam,Buddhism,zoroasta,atheist.moonie ...take your pick as all were welcome.I never met anyone in 2 years as for fellowship and frankly am glad as most on line on facebook came across as aging hippies who thought they were "illuminated" and one rung up the ladder..There's a saying that easiest people to brainwash are those that cannot be brainwashed...I will leave you to decide but you will keep hearing the same messages..."you will learn in future lessons" and given the impression as being a pupil of the "illuminated"

ex member, UK
November 8, 2014 2:33pm

"Why don't you join the Rosicrucians,
they can give you back your hope,
you can find your love with diagrams
on a plain brown envelope. "

Leonard Cohen

ex member, UK
November 8, 2014 3:00pm

If the folks at AMORC had a realistic message that was etched in stone ,passed down from one to another,like
The system that these folks use has been passed down for quite a while.
The three founders of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn - William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott, and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers - were Freemasons and members of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (S.R.I.A.). Westcott appears to have been the initial driving force behind the establishment of the Golden Dawn.
AMORC has a system ripped of from other books..
Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians....

When we know better,we do better

Will A, Port Credit Canada
March 17, 2015 7:34pm

On their list of recommended books is 'Son of the Sun' by Savitri Devi. One might think that they would have second thoughts about including any of her works on their list since, during the thirties and forties, she was a rabidly enthusiastic supporter of Hitler, was utterly anti-Semitic, and reveled in Aryan race mysticism. Later, she would consort with the likes of George Lincoln Rockwell and William Pierce, of Turner Diaries fame.
Just an interesting aside!

chris, georgetown, ca
June 9, 2015 3:23am

This is not surprising. AMORC has always had far-right leanings and they have always been an element of the organisation and what it is really about, as opposed to what it claims to be and to be about.

In 1937, Lewis wrote defending 'Mr Hitler and his form of government' in his magazine, after he and his senior officers had toured Germany, in the period AFTER the Nuremburg laws had been enacted.

These august worthies, who ought to have had keener powers of observation than the average man, if the claims of AMORC are to be believed, managed to see rather less of the truth than the man on the street, unencumbered by AMORC's mystical practices.

Here is Lewis, trumpeting away in his magazine:

"... I particularly learned, as did the others in my party, that the propaganda in America had led us to believe that all Jews in Germany were being persecuted because they were Jews, and not because of any outrageous acts that a few might have performed, and not because they had been violators of some law like any other human being. It is true that in Germany a violator of the law is punished regardless of his religion, but not one of them had been punished because he was a Jew, nor was his punishment made any more extreme or any different because he was a Jew."

"I hope that these facts will help some to realize that there is a very definite form of false propaganda being carried on in the American newspapers and magazines ..."

wishar spenly cerve, Mt Shasta
June 15, 2015 9:31am

The Rosicrucian Fellowship is a non-profit organization and a Mystic Christian church school. It has no connection with other organizations using the title of "Rosicrucian". Members NEVER claim to be 'The Rosicrucians'. Healing is open to all, and so are the courses and classes, without monetary charge.

RF member, Ohio
July 20, 2015 8:41am

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