English Rosicrucians

It is not very easy to trace the origin of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood. It is not easy, indeed, to get at the true derivation of the name ‘Rosicrucian.' Some authorities refer it to that of the ostensible founder of the society, the mysterious Christian Rosenkreuse, but who can prove that such an individual ever existed? Others borrow it from the Latin word ros, dew, and crux, a cross, and explain it thus: ‘Dew,' of all natural bodies, was esteemed the most powerful solvent of gold; and ‘the cross,' in the old chemical language, signified light , because the figure of a cross exhibits at the same time the three letters which form the word lux. ‘Now, lux is called the seed, or menstruum, of the red dragon; or, in other words, that gross and corporeal light, which, when properly digested and modified, produces gold.' So that, according to this derivation, a Rosicrucian is one who by the intervention and assistance of the ‘dew' seeks for ‘light'—that is, the philosopher's stone. But such an etymology is evidently too fanciful, and assumes too much to be readily accepted, and we try a third derivation, namely, from rosa  and crux ; in support of which may be adduced the oldest official documents of the brotherhood, which style it the ‘Broederschafft des Roosen Creutzes,' or Rose-Crucians, or ‘Fratres Rosatæ Crucis;' while the symbol of the order is ‘a red rose on a cross.' Both the rose and the cross possess a copious emblematic history, and their choice by a secret society, which clothed its beliefs and fancies in allegorical language, is by no means difficult to understand. ‘The rose,' says Eliphas Levi, in his ‘Histoire de la Magie,' ‘which from time immemorial has been the symbol of beauty and life, of love and pleasure, expressed in a mystical manner all the protestations of the Renaissance. It was the flesh revolting against the oppression of the spirit; it was Nature declaring herself to be, like Grace, the daughter of God; it was Love refusing to be stifled by celibacy; it was Life desiring to be no longer barren; it was Humanity aspiring to a natural religion, full of love and reason, founded on the revelation of the harmonies of existence of which the rose was for initiates the living and blooming symbol....' The reunion of the rose and the cross—such was the problem proposed by supreme initiation, and, in effect, occult philosophy, being the universal synthesis, should take into account all the phenomena of Being. It may be doubted, however, whether this ingenious symbolism has anything at all to do with Rosicrucianism; but it is not the less a fact that the rose and the cross were chosen because they were recognised emblems. And probably because the rose typified secrecy, while the cross was a protest against the tyranny and superstition of the Papacy.

We hear nothing of Rosicrucianism until the beginning of the seventeenth century. The earlier alchemists knew nothing of its theosophic doctrines; and the earlier Rosicrucians did not dabble in alchemy. The connection between the two was established at a later date; when the quest of the ‘elixir of life' and the ‘philosopher's stone' was grafted upon the mysticism which had taken up the ancient teaching of the Alexandrian Platonists, combining with it much of the allegorical jargon of Paracelsus, and something of the theology of Luther and the German Reformers. The antiquity claimed for the brotherhood in the ‘Fama Fraternitatis' is purely a myth. For my own part, I must regard as its virtual founder—though he may not have been its actual initiator—the celebrated Johann Valentine Andreas, who with wide and profound learning united a lively imagination, and was, moreover, a man of pure and lofty purpose. The regeneration of humanity, the extirpation of the vices and follies which had sprung up in the dark shadow of the mediæval Church, was the dream of his life; and it is beyond doubt that he hoped to realize it by secret societies bound together for the purpose of reforming the morals of the age and inspiring men with a love of wisdom. This is proved by three of his acknowledged works, namely, ‘Reipublicæ Christianapolitanæ Descriptio,' ‘Turris Babel, sive Judiciorum de Fraternitate Rosaceæ Crucis Chaos,' and ‘Christianæ Societatis Idea'; and I venture to think, though Mr. Waite will not have it so, that the author of these works was also the author of the ‘Fama,' as well as of the ‘Confessio Fraternitatis' and the ‘Nuptæ Chymicæ,' in which he gathered up all the floating dreams and traditions bearing on his subject, and gave to them a certain form and order, infusing into them a fascinating poetical colouring, and inspiring them with his own idealistic speculations.

‘Akin to the school of the ancient Fire-Believers,' says Ennemoser, ‘and of the magnetists of a later period, of the same cast as those speculators and searchers into the mysteries of Nature, drawing from the same well, are the theosophists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These practised chemistry, by which they asserted they could explore the profoundest secrets of Nature. As they strove, above all earthly knowledge, after the Divine, and sought the Divine light and fire, through which all men can acquire the true wisdom, they were called the Fire-Philosophers (philosophi per ignem ).' They were identical with the Rosicrucians, and in the books of the later Rosicrucians we meet with the same mysticism and transcendental philosophy as in theirs.

Whether we agree in accepting Andreas as the founder of the order, or as simply its hierophant, we must admit that the rise of Rosicrucianism dates from the publication of the ‘Fama' and the ‘Confessio Fraternitatis.' They produced an immense sensation, passed through several editions, and were devoured by multitudes of eager readers. ‘In the library at Gottingen,' says De Quincey (adapting from Professor Buhle), ‘there is a body of letters addressed to the imaginary order of Father Rosy Cross, from 1614 to 1617, by persons offering themselves as members.... As certificates of their qualifications, most of the candidates have enclosed specimens of their skill in alchemy and cabalism.... Many other literary persons there were at that day who forbore to write letters to the society, but threw out small pamphlets containing their opinions of the order, and of its place of residence.'

It is not my business, however, to write a history of Rosicrucianism. I have desired simply to say so much about its origin as will serve as a preface to my account of the principal English members of the brotherhood. The reader who would know more about its origin and extension, its pretensions and professors, may consult Heckethorn's ‘Secret Societies of all Ages and Countries,' Ennemoser's ‘History of Magic,' Thomas de Quincey's essay on ‘Rosicrucians and Freemasons,' and Arthur Edward Waite's ‘Real History of the Rosicrucians.'[36]

The greatest English Rosicrucian, and most distinguished of the disciples of Paracelsus, was Robert Fludd (or Flood, or De Fluctibus), a man of singular erudition, of great though misdirected capacity, and of a vivid and fertile imagination.

The second son of Sir Thomas Flood, Treasurer of War to Queen Elizabeth, he was born at Milgate House, in the parish of Bersted, Kent, in the year 1574. At the age of seventeen he was entered of St. John's College, Oxford. His father had originally intended him for a military life, but finding that his inclinations led him into the peaceful paths of scholarship, he forbore to oppose them, and the youth entered upon a particular study of medicine, which drew him, no doubt, into a pursuit of alchemy and chemistry. Having graduated both in the arts and sciences, he went abroad, and for six years travelled over France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, making the acquaintance of the principal Continental scholars, as well as of the enthusiasts who belonged to the theosophic school of the divine Paracelsus, and the adepts who dabbled in the secrets of the Cabala. Returning to England in 1605, he became a member of the College of Physicians, and settled down to practise in Coleman Street, London, where, about 1616, he was visited by the celebrated German alchemist, Michael Maier.

His active imagination stimulated by his knowledge of the Rosicrucian doctrines, he resolved on revealing to his countrymen the true light of science and wisdom. He had already, as a believer in the theory of magnetism, introduced into England the celebrated ‘weapon salve' of Paracelsus, which healed the severest wound by sympathy—not being applied to the wound itself, but to the weapon or instrument that had caused it. The recipe, as formulated by Paracelsus, would hardly be approved by modern practitioners: ‘Take of moss growing on the head of a thief who has been hanged and left in the air, of real mummy, of human blood still warm, one ounce each; of human suet, two ounces; of linseed-oil, turpentine, and Armenian bole, of each two drachms. Mix together thoroughly in a mortar, and keep the salve in a narrow oblong urn.' This, or, I presume, some similar compound, Fludd tried with success in several cases, and no wonder; for while the sword was anointed and put away, the wound was well washed and carefully bandaged—a process which has been known to succeed in our own day without the intervention of any salve whatever! Fludd contended that every disease might be cured by the magnet if it were properly applied; but that as every man had, like the earth, a north pole and a south, magnetism could be produced only when his body occupied a boreal position. The salve, at all events, grew into instant favour. Among other believers in its virtues was Sir Kenelm Digby, who, however, converted the salve into a powder, which he named ‘the powder of sympathy.' But it had its incredulous opponents, of whom the most strenuous was a certain Pastor Foster, who published an invective entitled ‘Hyplocrisma Spongus; or, A Sponge to Wipe Away the Weapon Salve,' and affirmed that it was as bad as witchcraft to use or recommend such an unguent, that its inventor, the devil, would at the Last Day claim every person who had meddled with it. ‘The devil,' he said, ‘gave it to Paracelsus, Paracelsus to the Emperor, the Emperor to a courtier, the courtier to Baptista Porta, and Baptista Porta to Doctor Fludd, a doctor of physic, yet living and practising in the famous city of London, who now stands tooth and nail for it.' Tooth and nail Dr. Fludd met his adversary, and the public were infinitely amused by the vehemence of his style in his pamphlet, ‘The Spunging of Parson Foster's Spunge; wherein the Spunge-carrier's immodest Carriage and Behaviour towards his Brethren is detected; the bitter Flames of his Slanderous Reports are, by the sharp Vinegar of Truth, corrected and quite extinguished; and, lastly, the Virtuous Validity of his Spunge in wiping away the Weapon Salve, is crushed out and clean abolished.'

In all the dreams of the mediæval philosophy—in the philosopher's stone and the stone philosophic, in the universal alkahest, in the magical ‘elixir vitæ'—Dr. Fludd was a serious believer. It was a favourite hypothesis of his that all things depended on two principles—condensation , or the boreal principle, and rarefaction , the southern or austral. The human body, he averred, was governed by a number of demons, whom he distributed over a rhomboidal figure. Further, he taught that every disease had its own particular demon, the evil influence of which could be neutralized only by the assistance of the demon placed opposite to it in the rhomboid. The doctrines of the Rosicrucian brotherhood he defended with a charming enthusiasm, and when they had been attacked by Libavius and others, he set them forth in what he conceived to be their true light in his ‘Apologia Compendiaria Fraternitatem de Rosea-Cruce suspicionis et infamiæ Maculis Aspersam,' etc. (published at Leyden in 1616)—a work which entitles him to be regarded as the high-priest of their mysteries. It was severely criticised, however, by contemporary men of science, as by Kepler, Gassendus (in his ‘Epistolica Exercitatio'), and Mersenne, whose searching analysis of the pretensions of the fraternity provoked from Fludd an elaborate reply, entitled ‘Summum Bonum, quod est Magiæ, Cabalæ, Alchemiæ, Fratrum Roseæ-Crucis verorum, et adversus Mersenium Calumniatorem.'[37]

In addition to the foregoing works, Fludd gave to the world:

1. ‘Utriusque Cosmi, Majoris et Minoris, Technica Historia,' 2 vols., folio, Oppenheim, 1616; 2. ‘Tractatus Apologeticus Integritatem Societatis de Rosea-Cruce Defendens,' Leyden, 1617; 3. ‘Monochordon Mundi Symphoniacum, seu Replicatio ad Apologiam Johannis Kepleri,' Frankfort, 1620; 4. ‘Anatomiæ Amphitheatrum effigie triplici Designatum,' Frankfort, 1623; 5. ‘Philosophia Sacra et vere Christiana, seu Meteorologica Cosmica,' Frankfort, 1626; 6. ‘Medicina Catholica, seu Mysterium Artis Medicandi Sacrarium,' Frankfort, 1631; 7. ‘Integrum Morborum Mysterium,' Frankfort, 1631; 8. ‘Clavis Philosophiæ et Alchymiæ,' Frankfort, 1633; 9. ‘Philosophia Mosaica,' Goudac, 1638; and 10. ‘Pathologia Dæmoniaca,' Goudac, 1640.

The last two treatises were posthumous publications. Fludd died in London in 1637, and was buried in Bersted Church, where an imposing monument perpetuates his memory. It represents him seated, with his hand on a book, from the perusal of which his head has just been lifted. Just below are two volumes (there were eight originally) in marble, inscribed respectively, ‘Mysterium Cabalisticum' and ‘Philosophia Sacra.' The epitaph runs as follows: ‘viii. Die Mensis vii. A o  D ni M.D.C.XXXVII . Odoribvs vana vaporat crypta tegit cineres nee speciosa tros qvod mortale minvs tibi. Te committimvs vnvm ingenii vivent hic monvmenti tvi nam tibi qvi similis scribit moritvrqve sepvlchrvm pro tota eternvm posteritate facit. Hoc monvmentvm Thomas Flood Gore Courti in-coram apud Cantianos armiger infœlicissimum in charissimi patrvi svi memoriam erexit die Mensis Avgvsti, M.D.C.XXXVII .'

I shall not weary the reader with an analysis of any of Fludd's elaborately mystical productions. They are as dead as anything can be, and no power that I know of could breathe into them the breath of life. But I may quote a few specimen or sample sentences, so to speak, which will afford an idea of their style and tone:

‘Particulars are frequently fallible, but universal never. Occult philosophy lays bare Nature in her complete nakedness, and alone contemplates the wisdom of universals by the eyes of intelligence. Accustomed to partake of the rivers which flow from the Fountain of Life, it is unacquainted with grossness and with clouded waters.'

In reference to Music, which he says stands in the same relation to arithmetic as medicine to natural philosophy, he revives the Pythagorean idea of the harmony of the universe: ‘What is this music (of men) compared with that deep and true music of the wise, whereby the proportions of natural things are investigated, the harmonical concord and the qualities of the whole world are revealed, by which also connected things are bound together, peace established between conflicting elements, and whereby each star is perpetually suspended in its appointed place by its weight and strength, and by the harmony of its herent spirit.'

Light.—‘Nothing in this world can be accomplished without the mediation or divine act of light.'

Magic.—‘That most occult and secret department of physics, by which the mystical properties of natural substances are extracted, we term Natural Magic. The wise kings who (led by the new star from the east) sought the infant Christ, are called Magi, because they had attained a perfect knowledge of natural things, whether celestial or sublunar. This branch of the Magi also includes Solomon, since he was versed in the arcane virtues and properties of all substances, and is said to have understood the nature of every plant, from the cedar to the hyssop. Magicians who are proficient in the mathematical division construct marvellous machines by means of their geometrical knowledge; such were the flying dove of Archytas, and the brazen heads of Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus, which are said to have spoken. Venefic magic is familiar with potions, philtres, and with the various preparations of poisons; it is, in a measure, included in the natural division, because a knowledge of the properties of natural things is requisite to produce its results. Necromantic magic is divided into Goëtic, maleficent, and theurgic. The first consists in diabolical commerce with unclean spirits, in rites of criminal curiosity, in illicit songs and invocations, and in the invocation of the souls of the dead. The second is the adjuration of the devils by the virtue of Divine names. The third pretends to be governed by good angels and the Divine will, but its wonders are most frequently performed by evil spirits, who assume the names of God and of the angels. This department of necromancy can, however, be performed by natural powers, definite rites and ceremonies, whereby celestial and Divine virtues are reconciled and drawn to us; the ancient Magi formulated in their secret books many rules of this doctrine. The last species of magic is the thaumaturgic, begetting illusory phenomena; by this art the Magi produced their phantasms and other marvels.'

The Creation.—‘According to Fludd's philosophy,' says Mr. Waite, ‘the whole universe was fashioned after the pattern of an archetypal world which existed in the Divine ideality, and was framed out of unity in a threefold manner. The Eternal Monad or Unity, without any regression from His own central profundity, compasses complicitly the three cosmical dimensions, namely, root, square, and cube. If we multiply unity as a root, in itself, it will produce only unity for its square, which being again multiplied in itself, brings forth a cube, which is one with root and square. Thus we have three branches differing in formal progression, yet one unity in which all things remain potentially, and that after a most abstruse manner. The archetypal world was made by the egression of one out of one, and by the regression of that one, so emitted into itself by emanation. According to this ideal image, or archetypal world, our universe was subsequently fashioned as a true type and exemplar of the Divine Pattern; for out of unity in His abstract existence, viz., as it was hidden in the dark chaos, or potential mass, the bright flame of all formal being did shine forth, and the spirit of wisdom, proceeding from them both, conjoined the formal emanation with the potential matter, so that by the union of the divine emanation of light, and the substantial darkness, which was water, the heavens were made of old, and the whole world.'[38]


[36] See also Louis Figuier's ‘L'Alchimie et les Alchimistes,' a popular and agreeable survey; and the more erudite work of Professor Buhle.

[37] This is sometimes ascribed to Joachim Fritz, but no one can doubt that virtually it is Fludd's, who accompanied it with a defence of his general philosophical teaching, entitled ‘Sophiæ cum Moriâ Certamen.' But whose was ‘the Wisdom,' and whose ‘the Folly'?

[38] Waite, ‘History of the Rosicrucians,' p. 385.