Towards the close of the last century William Butler Yeats, that celebrated poet of the Irish literary Renaissance, wrote an essay entitled 'The Body of the Father Christian Rosencreux'. It told how Christian Rosencreuz, lying in a magnificent tomb, lit by lamps,
was found by students of the order.


The Rosicrucian myth was initiated by three manifestoes, published in Germany in 1614 and the following years. The first one, 'Fama Fratemitatis’ (The Rumor of the Brotherhood) told of the discovery of the body of this mystical magician 120 years after
his death and describes his life spent in travelling and gathering disciples; and invites those interested to join. Although many, including some famous names applied, there is no record of anyone succeeding in becoming a member.


The third manifesto, 'The Chemical Wedding', almost certainly the work of a Protestant theologian, Johann Valentine Andreae, tells how Christian Rosencreuz was invited to the wedding of a king and queen in a magnificent palace, and made a Knight of the Rosy Cross, amid alchemical experiments and displays of occult magic.


The second manifesto, 'Confessio Fraternitatis', repeats the teaching of the 'Fama' but promises a better future for the world if the powerful knowledge of the brotherhood is practiced. This manifesto draws heavily on the 'Monas Hieroglyphica' of John Dee and uses his mysterious sign on the title page.


John Dee, one of the greatest scholars of the Elizabethan Age, was the son of a minor officer at the court of Henry VIII. He was educated at Cambridge in the classics and mathematics and became a foundation fellow of Trinity College at the age of nineteen. Thirsty for more knowledge he moved to Louvain and absorbed alchemy and the Hermetic art. Returning to England aged 24 he amassed a large library of some 20,000 volumes; and became adviser to Queen Elizabeth who asked him to name for her a suitable day for her coronation.

He published the first translation of Euclid in English, pointing out the value of geometry in navigation and land measurement and in occult learning. He also published 'Monas Hieroglyphica', dealing with the mystical properties of his monas sign, somewhat resembling the alchemical sign for mercury, but perhaps leading to communication with the spiritual world. Now aged 54 he went off to Bohemia to study necrmancy and angelology.

This was an important study of that age in which apocalyptic secrets were communicated by God through his angels. Some six years later, returning to England Dee found himself for some reason out of favor with the Queen. He finally died in poverty in 1608. Some critics believe that the wise fool in King Lear is modeled on John Dee.

It is interesting to compare the Rosy Cross of the Rosicrucian Order with the Rose-Croix for in their differences and similarities lies the key to the origins of both orders; and to the reason why they diverged.


The Rose-Croix of our Order is symbolised by a Latin Cross with a red Rose, traditionally the five-petalled Tudor Rose, at its intersection. The Rosy Cross of the Rosicrucians is similar in outline but carries the alchemical symbols for sulphur and mercury as well as five-pointed stars or pentacles, symbols of magic.


The streams of knowledge which led to Rosicrucianism obviously lie in alchemy and the Hermetic Art. The Hermetic art was based not on the Greek god Hermes (Mercury in the Roman Pantheon) but on a legendary Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus (Hermes
the Thrice-greatest) sometimes identified with Thoth but in early Christian lore held as receiving visits from Moses, Pythagoras and Plato and reputed to have foretold the birth of Jesus.


Alchemy (an Arabic word meaning from Egypt) was the study of metals by pious men and since gold was the most perfect of metals, to try to transmute baser metals into gold. They also sought elixirs, which would return themselves to a spiritual proximity to the angels and the perfection of Adam before the Fall when he shared a garden where God walked.


It is hard for us on this side of the world with barely two centuries of Western culture behind us to comprehend that on the other side of the world there are no more than four centuries of modern rationalist thinking. Of course we share the heritage of the classics
and two thousand years of humanities and Christianity, but these were centuries of accepted beliefs which mankind did not often care or dare to challenge.
Until the Elizabethan Age only some ten generations ago, it had been possible for a scholar like John Dee, to absorb all learning. The Greek mathematicians and philosophers, the work of the early fathers and saints of the Christian Church, as well as what remained of classical literature and knowledge.


Until the Elizabethan Age ended in 1603 the world had believed that there were only four elements earth, air, fire and water and that all Nature including humanity was compounded from them.

Of course all this is an over-simplification. From primitive times man had observed changes in nature and had learned how to manipulate some of these natural changes.
In the Bronze and Iron ages, the blacksmith became the most important man of the tribe after the chieftain because of his craftsmanship with metals.
But it was the Greek philosophers who thought hard about the nature of matter and postulated it as manifestations of our four elements.


In Egypt the smiths were brought into contact with Greek thought and realised that their art used earth puddled in water to make clay for their furnaces, air to raise the fire to golden or white heat, and then water again to temper the product.
By the time this skill had come to Arabia it had begun to concentrate on sulphur and mercury.

Sulphur for its earthiness and combustibility, mercury for its lustre and mobility.
With the wakening in the west of a spirit of enquiry in the thirteenth century, alchemy attracted wide interest throughout Europe.

Yeats' essay about Father Rosencreux went on to deplore the lack of imagination in the modern world. As he put it, "the ancients and the Elizabethans abandoned themselves to imagination as a woman abandons herself to love, and created beings who made the people of this world seem but shadows"

An image reminiscent of Plato's vision of men chained in a cave with a fire behind them and believing their shadows on the wall to be their real selves instead of striving for the perfection within them.  The mental attainments of the Greeks speak for themselves but what did imagination mean for the Elizabethans. It is unlikely that Yeats meant that quickening of the human spirit which carried Drake and his fellow seadogs into the Spanish Main.

Nor did he mean the vast new perspectives opened up by the circulation of printed books. Much more likely he was using imagination in its derivative sense from images and was thinking of the mystical visions of Edmund Spenser in 'The Faerie Queen' and the fairies that abound in so many of Shakespeare's plays. The sensitivity of artistic minds in touch with the supernatural which has been continued, even if only in a thin stream by William Blake, Herbert, Francis, Thompson and even Yeats himself.




When Elizabeth died in 1603, James VI of Scotland came to the English throne as
James the first and led in the Stuart dynasty which though it lasted less than a century, marred by conflict and civil war, yet when it ended, had left England not only in a strong economic position but with a resolution of the struggles of several centuries of Church with State and King with Parliament.

Early in the reign of James the first an event occurred of some relevance to our story.
In 1614 his daughter Elizabeth was given in a marriage in London to a German Protestant Prince, Frederick the Palatine Elector. It was a spectacular ceremony with lighting contrived by Indigo Jones to give the illusion of magic, and then the couple set off on a triumphal progress across the continent of Europe, (still accompanied part of the way by Indigo Jones) to Heidelberg where as one of the historians put it,

There followed the six greatest years of Renaissance mystical culture.
It is trusting a great deal to coincidence to believe that this was not in some way connected with 'The Chemical Wedding' of the Rosicrucian manifestoes, published at that time and place. Perhaps even the lack of continuity in the Rosicrucian legend may in part be explained by Frederick's accepting the throne of Bohemia against the Emperor's wish and his annihilation at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, unsupported by the Protestant Princes who had persuaded him to the venture and without any aid from his father-in-law. It is one of the ironies of history that the marriage of his grand-daughter Sophia to the Duke of Hanover brought to the English throne George I, a king who could speak no word of English.

The seventeenth century in Germany was also a troubled century.
As the historian Beard puts it in 'The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century",
'especially in Germany it (the Reformation) soon parted company with free learning, it turned its back upon culture, it lost itself in a maze of arid theological controversy; it held out no hand of welcome to wakening science'.

This certainly explains why the Rosicrucian legend proliferated into numerous sects practicing the doctrine. Best known of course, was the widespread and subsequently masonic "Goldund Rosenkreux" society (The Brotherhood of the Golden and Rosy Cross).

In 1781 a member of Prussia's Royal house, Frederick William II, successor to Frederick the Great was initiated into this esoteric order where members influenced his rule. Goethe wrote a good deal about Rosicrucianism and obviously it, despite its alchemical learnings, was prominent among continental secret societies.




In England our Order was more fortunate. The Stuart dynasty had given us another great gift. Although secret societies flourished on the continent, the Lynx-Eyed in Italy, Illuminati in Bavaria and France and the Alumbrados in Spain, the Stuarts seem to have
taken no action against the Invisible Society meeting at Gresham College in England where during troubled times such prominent figures as Robert Boyle continued to meet. Indeed when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, one of his early acts in 1662
was to found the Royal Society for these men. Their discussions were based not on accepted beliefs but on the logic of Francis Bacon that scientific truth could only rest on observation and experiment.

These were the days when speculative masons were being welcomed into operative lodges and when the Grand Lodge was formed in 1717, many of the names were synonymous in the two societies. This was the great watershed.
English masonry not only sprang from a practical operative base but was also built on the basis of modern scientific thought. The transition was not accomplished overnight. Isaac Newton, a mason by long tradition, if not by proof (Certainly there is a lodge named for him at Cambridge) remained an alchemist all his life. In spite of the advances in Physics and Astronomy made by Kepler, Galileo and Newton, Chemistry had no atomic table to replace the four elements for another century. Although Boyle had certainly found gases in the air, it was 100 years before Lavoister named oxygen and provided the basis for our table of elements to replace the accepted four.

In England the change to the more rational world we know came earlier than to the continent. The King James Bible at the beginning of the seventeenth century had by the beginning of the next century contributed, unlike the Lutheran Bible, to religious
Tolerance, and the pragmatic basis on which modern science was to flourish were firmly established. It was in this climate that English Freemasonry was united in a Grand Lodge, free from the occult influence of its reception on the continent. But traces remain. Even the craft masonry based on the practical doctrines inherited from operative masonry.

The Blazing Star in the centre of the tessellated pavement is not the Star of David, the six-pointed Seal of Solomon, as one might have expected but the five-pointed pentacle of the Rosicrucian Cross, a symbol in stick figure form, said to represent man with his arms and legs outstretched, the four lower points standing for the four elements of which he was composed and the fifth at the apex for the spirit. The traces are more obvious in our Ancient and Accepted Rite. In the First Point of our Rose-Croix degree we pray that purified by the sacred fire of Divine Love, we may be able to distinguish the precious metal from the dross.

 The transition from black to red repeats the colour changes of the alchemist's experiments with the salts of mercury. In higher degrees especially in universalist constitutions, the planets are identified with metals and in one of ours the candidate is enjoined to rise above things of sense and to pierce the dark veil, which hides from mortals the principles of nature.

Whether Yeats meant by men of imagination, such men as these, or those sensitive poets with a mystical yearning, or whether he meant men like Isaac Newton who despite his elegant logic in giving laws for the universe, still practised alchemy.
All of these men wanted to stay in touch with the occult and supernatural in flights of visionary ecstasy.

The wonder is that he, so steeped in the great heritage of Irish legend, with its wealthy invocation of the Supernatural, should ever have turned his pen to Christian Rosenkreuz.


This talk was prepared by Kieth. Stewart 33" Grand Librarian




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