from Mystics and Seers of All Ages by Reginald Merton
In Southern France there are certain districts covered with pine groves that are periodically ravaged by fires. Often the pines grow again, and where before there was nothing but calcined dust, you may see, some years later, a new forest of resinous trees. But sometimes, as though the violence of the fire had reached the very seeds themselves, the hill that was once covered with trees remains bald and barren for many years. Then suddenly, on the top of the hill, there springs up a single tree, which, strangely full of life, rises solitary as though to attest the lost presence of a dead forest that flourished there at one time.
Likewise, out of the great Albigensian forest region, which was cut down, burned and reduced to ashes, there survived but one man, who was to perpetuate the perennial philosophy of all men by transforming it. Like the solitary pine on the hill, he plunged his vigorous thought deep into the human soil of his time and saw it rise high into the blue heaven of the centuries with its foliage of books. From the Albigenses, there sprang in the middle of the thirteenth century, the wise man known today under the symbolic name of Christian Rosenkreutz, who was the last descendant of the German family of Germelshausen.
So intense was the desire to suppress the heresy that grew up around this peaceful man that not only were the bodies of his followers destroyed but also the stones of the houses that had sheltered them, and the documents that might have enshrined their thought. Besides, these Hermeticists very soon realized that their only chance of survival lay in wrapping themselves in obscurity, hiding under false names, corresponding in cipher. Today, their history can no longer be traced except under the disguise of legend. But a man who has left so deep a mark after a life so obscure and so lacking in wonders and miracles cannot have been created by legend. Discretion, modesty, unostentatious goodness, knowledge without parade -- these are not the attributes of a legend. Christian Rosenkreutz is as real a figure as Jesus or Buddha; their attributes may be considered more glorious, but their historical foundation is scarcely more secure.
The original Albigensian doctrines had spread fragmentarily to the north of France, the Low Countries and Germany. Families of refugees had found their way there. Solitary men had escaped, begging their way, from the sunny land in which they were thenceforward outlaws and accursed. Many of them died. But some reached the distant countries where the vine does not grow, where the rivers are more rapid and the sun less hot. And some of them gave an account of what they had heard in their low houses under the shelter of the ramparts of Toulouse or in the shadow of Montsegur; they imparted to others what was still a flaming truth in their hearts. A few of them were understood. Little nuclei of Albigenses formed round a preacher, a spare, brown-faced man, who looked like a Saracen. The seed carried by the wind was thus to germinate in the country to which chance had brought it.
Under the influence of wandering Albigensians, the doctrine crossed the fir-grown mountains and flowered in the Rheon district, on the border of Hesse and Thuringia. In the middle of the Thuringian forest stood the castle of Germelshausen. The men who inhabited it were a grim, sullen family, half-brigands, whose Christianity was mixed with pagan superstitions. They spent their time fighting their neighbors, and they did not disdain to ambush and rob travelers. They venerated an idol of worn stone, the origin of which was unknown to them. It was probably the fruit of some long-past pillaging expedition. It might have been a Greek statue of Athena. It stood in the courtyard of the castle beside the chapel door.
The period was the middle of the thirteenth century. Germany had just been devastated by a fanatical Dominican, Conrad of Marburg, envoy of Pope Gregory IX. Another Dominican, Tors, carried on his work. He was accompanied by a one-eyed layman called Jean, who claimed that his single eye had been given the divine faculty of distinguishing at first glance a heretic from a good Christian. Almost all who came within the field of view of this terrible eye were marked with the sign of heresy. It was no doubt enough for him to catch a glimpse, through the rocks and firs, of the towers of the castle of Germelshausen to discover from the color of its stone that it sheltered a brood of heretics. Perhaps something of the power of the eternal spirit was given off from the ancient statue that stood in the courtyard. Count Conrad of Thuringia, who had razed to the ground the little town of Willinsdorf, decided on the destruction of the castle. He besieged it several times, at intervals of some years. The castle fell at last, and the whole family of Germelshausen (which now adhered to the mystical doctrine of the Albigenses, practiced its austerities, and believed in reincarnation and in the Coagulated Body that delivers from reincarnation) was put to death at the final assault.
The youngest son, who was then five years old, was carried from the burning castle by a monk, who had taken up his quarters in the chapel and was struck by the amazing intelligence shown by the child. This monk, this ascetic dweller in the chapel of the Germelshausens, was an Albigensian adept from Languedoc, and it was he who had instructed the family in the Hermetic disciplines. After the siege, he took refuge in a monastery nearby, into which the breath of heresy had already penetrated. It was in this monastery that the last of the Germelshausens, who was to be known by the name of Christian Rosenkreutz, was brought up and educated. He learned Greek and Latin and, with four other monks of the community, formed a fraternal group determined to devote themselves to the search for truth. They made a plan to seek this truth at the source whence it had always sprung, the East.
Christian soon continued his journey alone and, no doubt as a result of directions he had received, made for Damascus. He did so because the tie with the East, which was about to be broken in the West, still existed there. Just as Apollonius had learned from the Pythagorean groups among whom he lived the exact whereabouts of the abode of the earth's wise men, so Christian Rosenkreutz knew, probably from the adept who had instructed the Germelshausens, that Damascus lay on the path to initiation.
It cannot have been easy to leave the Christian kingdom of Cyrus for the country of the infidels. But to him who sincerely seeks truth all religions are alike; and when he left Christian territory, Rosenkreutz assumed the dress and appearance of a Muslim pilgrim. At that time Damascus was under the dominion of the Mamelukes. All the learned men and poets of Persia had taken refuge there from the invading Mongols under Hulagu. The destruction of Baghdad and Nichapur and the annihilation of their universities and libraries convinced the intellectuals of the East that thought was dying. There were rumors of the end of the world. There had been great earthquakes in Syria and a rain of scorpions in Mesopotamia. The Mongols occupied Persia and watchers on the ramparts of Damascus searched the horizon anxiously for the appearance of their advance guards. The city and its people were uneasy to say the least.
How great must have been Christian's astonishment in the city of the three hundred mosques to converse among men learned in the literature of the East! What discoveries for a young man so greedy for knowledge! He read the Guide of the Erring by Maimonides, the Alchemy of Happiness by Gazali, the Golden Meadows by Mazoudi. He heard Omar Khayam's poetry recited and made every effort to understand his books on algebra and Euclid. He discussed astronomy with the disciples of Nazir Eddin. He meditated on the Masnavi, the sacred book of the Sufis, and was amazed to find in it the same mystical pantheism of his spiritual fathers the Albigenses. How barbarous Germany must have seemed to him amid the intellectual effervescence that surrounded him. In the presence of the great Arab civilization, now drawing to its close, he understood still more clearly the necessity for his mission, which was to preserve the truth of spirit and transmit it to the men of his race.
After several years' study at Damascus, when he had acquired the greatest sum of knowledge possible to a man whose sole aim is to learn, he thought to obtain a higher knowledge, for which he was then ripe. The enigmatic name of the place to which he directed his steps has been preserved by tradition. It was Damcar, in Arabia. At Damcar, a word that probably designates a "monastery in the sand," there was at that time, and possibly there still is, a center of initiates. Damcar was for him what the abode of wise men was for Apollonius. He remained there some years, then went to Egypt, crossed the Mediterranean, and visited Fez.
In the reign of Abou-Said-Othman there was in Fez (city of the "six hundred playing fountains"), a school of astrology and magic. It had become secret since the persecutions of Abou Yusuf. It was there that Rosenkreutz learned divination by the stars and certain laws that govern the hidden forces of Nature. But he was eager now to return to his own country. He soon left Fez and took ship for Spain. It was probably at this time that he took the name of Rosenkreutz, a symbolic word that embodied the essence of his beliefs. In Spain, he entered into relations with the Alumbrados, a secret society that had come into being under the influence of the Arabs and which studied the sciences and practiced a mystical philosophy derived from that of the Hermeticists and Neo-Platonists. They were engaged also in the search for the Philosopher's Stone in accordance with the writings of Artephius. Not long afterwards, this secret society would be wiped out by the Inquisition.His Mission The Fama Fraternitatis recounts an echo of the disappointment experienced by Christian Rosenkreutz. He was anxious to communicate to others the new truths that he was bringing in the domain of science and philosophy. He hoped to set right mistakes, to transmit with love that which he had learned. But he was received with scorn and laughter. In every century, half-knowledge has enveloped pseudo-scholars in an illusion of certainty that prevents them receiving any new ideas. Before a mediocre mind can grasp an unfamiliar truth, habituation is necessary, even though the truth be radiant as the sun. It was then that Christian Rosenkreutz realized that only slowly can wisdom enter the human heart. He had to remember the persecutions that had struck down too eager possessors of the truth. And, though he wondered at the time necessary for the spirit to develop, whereas a flower opens in a single day and a tree reaches its full height in a single century, he reconciled himself to leaving the acorns to the pigs and keeping the pearls for the elect few. He considered the fine filters through which thought must trickle to the men of his race in rare, microscopic drops, so that they might not be consumed by it. He counted up how many he would be able to initiate and saw that their number could not be more than eight. He laid the foundations of an occult group that was so secret and the members bound together by an oath that was so terrible, that the group was able subsequently to act as he had ordered, to pursue and attain its aims, for nearly three centuries without its existence being known, except by vague whisperings.
The curiosity of superficial men who find pleasure in anecdotal history may have been disappointed by this secrecy. But who could maintain that it is due to the egoism of a superior minority scorning to enlighten their fellows and share their knowledge with them? How many men are there in the world in the present day who are sufficiently free from intellectual pride to entertain an absolutely new idea? Is not this pride a barrier that precludes even the approach of a new idea? If Christian Rosenkreutz disembarked today from Fez and tried to explain that the problem of the unity of matter is linked with the development of love in man -- would he not appear ridiculous to every academician in the world? If he tried to teach, would he not find, on the part of those who wish to learn, this incapacity to receive? To help him without hope of reward, would he find now, as he found then, even eight faithful followers?
Christian Rosenkreutz passed through France without leaving any trace. It must have been about the time when the mystic Marguerite Porete was burned in Paris, and Christian was probably anxious to get back to Germany. Long years had passed since he had been there. Germany was affected by all sorts of mystical currents that sprang from the Albigensian heresy. There were the Brothers of the Free Spirit, who affirmed the vanity of external cults and sacraments, denied purgatory and hell, said that man was a fragment of God, which must, after a long series of lives, return at last to the divine essence. There were the Friends of God, who aimed at emancipation from desire, and were addicted to practices analogous to those of the Yoga system, while their philosophy was modeled closely on Eastern Hermetic philosophy.
But the Church organized its persecution more intensely than these sects propagated themselves. Christian Rosenkreutz, seeing the number of imprisonments and burnings, was compelled to weigh the danger into which the spiritual light brought those among whom it spread. He went back to Thuringia to find the three monks, who had been the companions of his early studies. They formed a brotherhood of four members, and the number was increased a little later to eight. It was at this time that the brotherhood of the Rosicrucians had its greatest efflorescence and contained a greater number of true initiates than was ever again reached. All, the members of the brotherhood were Germans, except the brother designated by the Fama Fraternitatis under the initials "Brother I.A.," who came from another country, probably Languedoc.
Christian Rosenkreutz taught his disciples the secret writing and the symbols by which adepts corresponded with one another. He wrote for their use a book that was the synthesis of his philosophy and contained a summary of his scientific and medical knowledge. The role played by the brotherhood seems to have been to influence the few men in the West who were at that time interested in science, so that science might be turned in the direction of objectivity (alchemical Distillation). It is possible that this was the great crossroad of our civilization. If the aim of the Rosicrucians had been attained, science, instead of being organized for material ends only, might have been the source of a boundless development of the spirit. We have seen that it has not been so.
Rosenkreutz made rules for his disciples' life. The first of these rules was unselfishness, which will always be the most difficult virtue to put into practice. The men who have a reputation for unselfishness and live among us with a vague halo of generosity, are only men who are less greedy than others. Nobody is unselfish. There is not a single example in our modern society of a man big enough to break the terrible bond of riches and pass readily and unostentatiously from wealth to poverty, or even from poverty to greater poverty. As soon as the mind has reached a certain level, it understands that it is in this direction that the first step must be taken. Yet it does not take that step. One of the bravest men of all, and one most deeply convinced of the virtue of poverty -- Tolstoy -- made up his mind only a few hours before his death to become a wandering beggar. But he was too late, like most of us.
Another essential rule was absence of pride. The Rosicrucian had to pass unnoticed, might not pride himself on his knowledge, had to remain so far as possible anonymous. For the ordinary man, modesty is as impossible to practice as poverty. It is even a matter of common observation that great intellectual faculties are almost always accompanied by a form of stupid, boastful vanity. And this very vanity is regarded with favor as the sign of genius.
The third rule of the Rosicrucians was chastity. Wise men have always attached great importance to chastity, though neither Pythagoras nor Socrates nor Plato nor the Alexandrine philosophers practiced it rigorously. Possibly it is nothing more than a preventive measure against excess and against the violence generated by such desires. Logically, if pleasure in eating is not forbidden there is no reason why the pleasure of sex should be forbidden. And these two orders of physical pleasures are in some degree comparable. In the ordinary man they are both equally indispensable to life. Yet while eating involves only the physical pleasure arising out of a good digestion, the other, if practiced with a person who is loved, contains marvelous possibilities of pleasure and may even be a path to perfection in itself. Only, at present, nothing is commonly known of this path. The laws that teach how a high spiritual level may be attained through community of desire and its mutual satisfaction have not yet been written by any modern master. I have never heard even of there being any oral teaching on that subject. A prudishness that is as old as the world has cut short with a command of silence the forward impulse that humanity might have received through the flesh.
The men, designated by the symbol of the rose and cross, traveled all over the world, each one with a mission to fulfill. But with one exception nothing was ever heard of them again. "Brother I.A.," according to the Fama, returned to Southern France, where it may have been his task to rekindle the old Albigensian flame. But he must by that time have been very old. Did he succeed in resuscitating the ancient sect with the same secrecy that surrounded the Rosicrucians? Tradition reports only that he died near Narbonne.
Historically, nothing is known of the activities of Rosenkreutz himself during the last part of his life, that is to say, at the beginning of the fourteenth century. It may, however, be supposed, without great fear of error, that he inspired Jean de Mechlin, who preached in Northern Germany, and that at Brussels he was the source of truth from which the mystic Bloemert drew. This inspired woman performed miraculous cures and published writings in which she taught the liberation of one's inner being through love. Her disciples asserted that on either side of her they saw a seraph, or angel who advised her.
It was in all probability Christian Rosenkreutz who was the mysterious visitor (as to whose identity so much has been written) of Johann Tauler. Johann Tauler was the most celebrated doctor of theology of his time. The learned world of Europe came to Strasbourg to hear his sermons. One day he was visited by a layman whose name he never divulged and who converted him to a mystical philosophy, the ideal of which was absorption into the divine essence. For two years, he kept silence and became a member of the Friends of God. This sect possessed the same characteristics as the Albigenses: It rejected as the expression of evil the cruel god of the Old Testament; it condemned marriage and taught poverty as a practical means of divine realization.
Of the death of Christian Rosenkreutz nothing is known. As in the case of Apollonius of Tyana, no burial place can be determined. It was a rule among the adepts to maintain secrecy with regard both to their birth and to their death. Was it merely to avoid the violation of the grave and the profanation of the body to which the Church condemned heretics? Or could it be to permit the transference of their spirit into another human body and thus prevent even the suspicion of a secret so astounding to ordinary men?
There has come down to us nothing more than an unsubstantiated legend regarding the burial place of Christian Rosenkreutz. Two and a half centuries after his death, at the time when the story of his life was beginning to become known, his disciples, or rather men who would have wished to be his disciples, asserted that they had found a geometrically proportioned cave, in which rested, bathed in artificial sunlight, the still intact body of the master.
In all times men have wished that those whom they considered greater than themselves should not die in the flesh. They attach less importance to the permanence of their spirit, although of course that is the only possible form of eternity for them. Thus, when the bodies of Catholic or Muslim saints are found, they are said to emit a pleasant odor. But the true fragrance given off by the bodies of wise men in the silence of the earth and in corruption is made of no material quintessential atom, no perfumed volatilization. The subtle radiations of their soul float over the places where they lie and impregnate them long after the bodies have ceased even to be dust. But you must yourself be a wise man to establish connection with this posthumous life; and if your perception allows you to catch a glimpse of the fact that the best cannot escape the law, it will also make you feel more deeply the sadness inherent in the changes of life and death.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century there arose a sort of Rosicrucian mania. The Fama Fraternitatis and the Confessio published, in a naive form, what ordinary men knew of the sect of Rosicrucians -- which indeed was extremely little. A great many philosophers and scholars, as well as many impostors, attracted by the sublime philosophy of the Rosicrucians, claimed to be their followers. Secret societies were formed, which very soon ceased to be secret owing to the vanity of their members, who boasted of their membership. Most of these groups, when they were not Lutheran, bowed to the authority of the Church. Most alchemists considered themselves Rosicrucians, owing to the philosophy's Hermetic viewpoint. Descartes tried to establish contact with the genuine brotherhood of Rosicrucians, and he searched for them in the Low Countries and in Germany, but on his return to France said he had not been able to find out anything definite about the group.
It has been asserted that Paracelsus, Francis Bacon and Spinoza were all Rosicrucians; but there seems to be little proof of this. In the eighteenth century, a new grade, that of the Rosicrucian Degree, was introduced into Freemasonry by the Jesuits, who had made their way inside the movement and everywhere formed groups within it. The hardy independence of the heresies of the thirteenth century had completely disappeared. The so-called Rosicrucians recognized the sacraments, studied the Old Testament as the source of all truth, acknowledged the power of the Church and the infallibility of the pope. Is this not the line of development that all spiritual currents follow? The tree produces a beautiful flower, a perfect fruit, and falls victim to an obscure force that poisons the sap and kills the living tree.
Nonetheless, the true Rosicrucians carried on their work. Their brotherhood has never ceased to remain secret. Through the self-sought obscurity of each member, no one ever knew the identity of those who belonged to the brotherhood. From the assertion of certain men that they were Rosicrucians, the one sure inference was that they were not members of the sect founded by Christian Rosenkreutz. The influence of this free spirit was felt in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by all who struggled against the tyranny of Calvinism and Lutheranism, which were as intolerant as the Inquisition, and against the intransigence of the universities, which tried to submit all thought to the intellectual discipline of Aristotle. But the messengers remained faithful to their vow not to make themselves known. The message reached its destination, but it was not known who had brought it to light.
Certain characteristics in the lives of certain men may, however, give rise to the supposition that they were the true possessors of the Rosicrucian tradition. Paracelsus practiced medicine gratuitously; his philosophy was Neo-Platonic and Hermetic; he wore only very unpretending clothes and exalted poverty; upon his appointment as professor of surgery by the senate of Bile, he burned in the amphitheater before the students the old medical books, which were believed in blindly but which, owing to the respect in which they were held, were actually an obstacle to the search for truth. Philalethes, who possessed the secret of the Philosopher's Stone, traveled all over the world to heal the sick; his continual preoccupation was to escape the fame that his cures brought him. Although the Comte de Saint-Germain had a fondness for precious stones, he may, for other reasons, be numbered among the true Rosicrucians. Yet the same conclusion cannot be drawn in the case of Spinoza from the simple facts that his seal was in the form of a rose and that he did not sign his work. Too zealous writers have assigned to the Rosicrucians every remarkable figure of the last few centuries.
In 1888, Stanislas de Guaita and Papus founded the cabalistic Order of the Rosy Cross, with a ceremonial, grades and, possibly, special dress. These facts, together with the stir that they made over this foundation, were sufficient indication that the new order was not inspired by the tradition of its original founder. The same may be said of the Catholic Order of the Rosy Cross founded by Josephin Peladan at the same time. These orders had only an ephemeral life. At the present day there can still be found various groups, almost all of them Christian, calling themselves Rosicrucians, but they do not correspond to any reality based on initiation.
The only true Rosicrucians -- the eight heirs who have followed one another in unbroken succession of the Albigensian Christian von Germelshausen -- have carried on their secret work uninterruptedly. Perhaps those who first breathed in the perfume of the spiritual rose and savored its delicate truth, considered the game lost, they abandoned the races that strove only for material well-being and retired into the inaccessible solitude of the Himalayas and elsewhere. But a game in which the stake is divine can never be lost. Possibly the true Rosicrucians left Europe at one time and have since returned. The legend of them, after providing one of the chief topics of conversation among European intellectuals, died down after the French Revolution. At the present day it interests only a small number of seekers after knowledge. The eight wise men have returned to their task, though this task has become excessive. By what means are they seeking to accomplish it now?
Sometimes it needs very little to turn a human soul in a new and better direction. It may happen that the reading of a book is enough, or a chance word that you hear, or even the face of a kind man that you catch a glimpse of one evening that reminds you that good exists. Each one of us, when the moment has come or when he or she asks with sufficient intensity, may meet one of the eight wandering wise men. Let him not be in a bad temper that day, or inattentive, or tired. Wisdom is not capricious, as luck is; but it visits us much less often. He who sees the branches of the cross Open towards the four cardinal points of the spirit, may take the wrong road, may go backwards, may be for the time overwhelmed by ignorance. But he who holds his anchorage in the storm, he sees the light on the hilltop; sooner or later he will once more find the right way. All glory to the messenger who found this safety-giving signal and fixed it in wood or stone that it might be transmitted to others! All glory to the messenger who, through the virtue of the symbol, created the possibility that the truth should be preserved. He has added name and number to the milestone; he has been the comfort of the traveler, the safety of the lost wanderer.
The Rosicrucians took the union of the rose and the cross for their symbol because this union embodies the meaning of their effort and emphasizes the fact that that effort must be made by all men. For immemorial ages, the wisest among us have discovered that the aim of humanity on earth is to attain divine wisdom. Only two ways lead to this divine wisdom: knowledge and love. The cross is the oldest symbol in the world. Ever since the appearance of the earliest civilizations, it has denoted mind or spirit moving towards perfection since it divides reality into the Below and the Above. The rose symbolizes love because by its perfume, color, and delicacy; it is Nature's masterpiece of beauty, and beauty excites love, just as love transforms into beauty the elements on which it is bestowed. By the rose blooming in the middle of the cross, the whole meaning of the universe is explained. The truth shines out with splendor for all with a deeper sense of knowing. In order to realize his possibilities and become perfect, mankind must develop his capacity for love to the point of loving all creatures and all forms perceptible to his senses; he must enlarge his capacity for knowledge and understanding to the point of comprehending the laws that govern the worlds, and of being able to proceed, through his intuition and the loving intelligence of his heart, from every effect to every cause.
He who reaches higher knowledge through an enlarged intelligence and intuition will be able to love only those persons and things whose machinery he understands, whose movements he truly sees, whose passions he comprehends as though they were his own. He who reaches the state of perfect love through the emotional impetus of the heart will see the barriers of ignorance fall before him and will conquer knowledge by the bestowal of himself on that which he loves. For the two ways meet and at a certain level become one.
The symbol of the Rosy Cross is well-founded and eternal, and there will be no need of any other for thousands of human evolutions. Every man can weigh himself up by reference to the rose and cross and can find in it a provisional touchstone of good and evil. It is the interrogation point which is formed in many consciences, though they may not confess it to themselves. What is good and what is evil? Am I right to do something that seems good from my point of view and evil from that of others? Naturally the rose and cross cannot serve as a key to every riddle, for there are too many doors in the darkness of the soul. The agonizing question that every man asks himself at least once in his lifetime and most men ask themselves a thousand times, the question whether it is more important to develop oneself or to help others, whether it is better to sacrifice oneself or to progress by study, remains unsettled. But the two ever-present symbols give man the framework of an answer, if he is sincere with himself.
Whenever a man becomes identified through love with that totality of universes that we call God, or with a landscape, or with some creature, though it be only a dog, he is on the way of the rose, protected by it and enriched by its substance. Whenever he emerges from his ignorance, learns a fact or a law, allows his mind to go a little farther in knowledge of reality, he is progressing towards that super-terrestrial and super-celestial point at which the cross stretches forth its four spiritual branches.
That is the message that Christian Rosenkreutz brought to the West. It is a message that may seem very modest to professional skeptics (who are convinced that they possess all knowledge and consider hatefulness more important than love). But it was brought very humbly by a messenger who gloried in concealing his name and who, after journeying for more than a century to transmit his little truth, has left no other trace of his passing than the design of the open flower at the center of the cross.
Hemeticists very soon realized that their only chance of survival lay in wrapping themselves in obscurity, hiding under false names, corresponding in cipher.
How great must have been Christian's astonishment in the city of the three hundred mosques to converse among men learned in the literature of the East!
The symbol of the Rosy Cross is well-founded and eternal, and there will be no need of any other for thousands of human evolutions.