Cross purposes: Who are the Rosicrucians?

The world is a better place, it seems, if viewed through a pair of Rosicrucian-tinted spectacles. You may have seen their ad – on a poster or in newspaper at home or abroad – promising to improve your memory, develop your will-power, overcome bad habits and enrich your spirit by unlocking the secret wisdom of the ages.

And that's what just one of the Rosicrucian groups can manage. Add the other 20 or so groups which lay claim to the ancient and mystical name and the possibilities are presumably endless.

This weekend, two of the main Rosicrucian sects are celebrating their 100th anniversary. Not that they put it that way, since the members of the Rosicrucian Fellowship purport to trace their antecedents back to a set of secret manifestoes first published in 1610 revealing truths about the Rosy Cross – the symbols of female and male intermingled – which were "concealed from the average man" but which could bring fulfilment and salvation to the tutored adept.

And the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC) goes one better, claiming that its hidden knowledge goes back through secret doctrines of Jesus Christ and Pythagoras to the ancient gnosis of an Egyptian Pharoah – which is why AMORC has a Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum at its headquarters in San Jose.

The Rosicrucian Fellowship has its headquarters down the road at Mount Ecclesia, in Oceanside, so California will be the centre of both sets of celebrations this weekend. But the Rosicrucian network spreads its tentacles wide, over all five continents, and there are even events this week in Bath and Wantage.

For all their concern about tracing lineage, however, it is possible to find beneath the umbrella of modern Rosicrucianism just about any belief, philosophy or superstition you might care to name – pantheism, reincarnation, alchemy, psychic power, astral out-of-body travel, telepathy. There are Cosmic Ray Coincidence Counters and Sympathetic Vibration Harps. And you can corral just about any historic hero – Plato, Dante, Descartes, Newton – into secret membership of the movement (unbeknown, of course, to the dull minds of conventional historians).

Many people believe this stuff. AMORC claims to have 95,000 members across the world. It is said to spend $500,000 a year just on printing and postage to its devotees in 150 countries. Its headquarters include a museum, a temple, a planetarium, an art gallery and a library from where they publish the periodical Rosicrucian Digest.

The 100th anniversaries they are both celebrating mark the date when their respective founders were initiated in to the Rosicrucian order in Europe. The man behind AMORC, one H. Spencer Lewis, claimed he was received into the order in Toulouse in 1909, while the Fellowship's creator, Max Heindel, is said to have been selected by the Elder Brothers of the Order up a mountain in Germany. Both Americans claim they were then mandated to bring the secrets of the Crux Rosa to the US.

The two men established very different organisations. The Fellowship describes itself as "an international association of Christian mystics". And though it largely spreads the word through correspondence courses it organises itself into churches embracing much conventional Christian doctrine – even if a few of its beliefs (in, for example, the non-divinity of Christ) set it apart from conventional Christianity.

AMORC, by contrast, eschews the Christian origins of Rosicrucianism, extrapolating it backwards almost two millennia before Christ. Its followers are encouraged to set up an altar which it calls a "telesterion" at home containing images of Egyptian deities like the Sun-God Amun-Ra. "We are not a religion," says its UK Grand Master, Sven Johansson, "but like many New Age organisations we provide the tools for people to find their own spirituality by teaching them how to meditate, practice self-healing and lead a life that will bring fulfilment and happiness.

"We have traditions, of which we don't have any proof, and which it is not necessary to believe, which help with that. But we are not like many who call themselves Rosicrucians who are just quasi-religious organisations some of whom, dare I say, are a little bit wacky."

This is not an accusation from which his own organisation has been exempt. Recently a whistleblower named Pierre S. Freeman wrote a book called The Prisoner of San Jose which claimed that AMORC had exposed him to 24 years of indoctrination and mind control. AMORC members have flooded the internet to denounce Freeman as crazed.

Delusion is an attribute in plentiful supply in the world of Rosicrucianism. "No current Rosicrucian group can trace its organisational forbears back to the original manifestoes of 1610-1616," says Professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, the director of Exeter University's Centre for the Study of Esotericism, and author of the definitive history of the subject, The Western Esoteric Traditions.

Rosicrucianism, like theosophy and other movements of the early 20th century, dissatisfied with the new hegemony of science but disillusioned with traditional Christianity, anticipated the New Age religions of today. The retread Rosicrucians – Lewis and Heindel – were ahead of their time, which is why they can celebrate their centenaries this weekend.

For them science has provided too many answers. And when it comes to the questions of spirituality, the demands and disciplines of conventional Christianity have proved less attractive than searching for arcane secrets which they hope will reveal a meaning to life that his hidden from the rest of us. We can only hope they enjoy the chase.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home