"Was helfen Fackeln, Licht oder Briln so die leut nicht sehen wöllen?"
"What help are of torches, light or glasses, when people do not want to see?"
Heinrich Khunrath

In looking at the phenomenon whose history I have outlined in this book, one thing that strikes us is that it is curiously difficult to categorize. It is not a religion, since its followers have often practised it side by side with Christianity and other religions and have regarded it as an addition rather than a substitute. It is not a cult since that implies something too specific and ephemeral. Nor is it a philosophy, since it is too nebulous and elusive to be given that name. Another thing that makes it stand out is the way in which, as I mentioned in my introduction, it grew out of the abrupt appearance of a deliberately created mythology.
The thing that it perhaps most closely resembles is Freemasonry, with which, as I have shown, it has certain connections. But its relation to masonry is rather like that of a rambling vine to a tree. One part of the Rosicrucian vine attached itself to the masonic tree and bent itself to the shape of the branches, and a small amount of sap was exchanged. But that is as far as the connection goes. Moreover masonry is a much more solid and coherent movement with a recognizable doctrine, code and set of practices, albeit rather diffuse.
When we try to reduce Rosicrucianism to its basic elements we are left with little more than a name, a symbol, a legend, certain occult associations, and a Gnostic type of outlook. Yet somehow this strange organism has succeeded in surviving and growing over a period of more than three centuries. How can we explain this? One answer is that its very vagueness has helped it to survive. It has frequently changed its colour and shape to suit its environment, yet has still remained identifiable. It has been used by many self- styled adepts to make all sorts of extravagant claims without any danger of their being contradicted since no one has ever been in a position to say what the ‘true’ Rosicrucianism was. It has never been short of disciples, for human beings love a mystery, and the Rosy Cross is a mystery par excellence.

Having traced the history of the Rosicrucian movement through its many manifestations to the present day it is natural to ask what lessons this history has to offer. One thing it teaches us is that a nebulous idea can be a thing of power if it is cloaked in mystery and at the same time presented in the form of a simple but suggestive symbolism. It also shows us that such an idea can lead up blind alleys as well as avenues of light. Although the movement has included many dubious characters it has also inspired people genuinely anxious to bring about a ‘New Dawn’. And it has certainly had an enriching effect on art and literature. On balance one could say that the world would have been poorer without it.
As for the false adepts who have often called themselves Rosicrucian, one must remember that it is not always easy to distinguish between the imposter and the true sage - in fact often a person can be both of these at the same time. This truth is illustrated in some of the occult novels and stories of the German writer Gustav Meyrink (1868-1932). Meyrink had a more than academic interest in the esoteric. He was a member of the occult lodge of the Blue Star in Prague which became affiliated to a group surrounding an elderly weaver who was supposed to have received a Rosicrucian initiation. In a short story called Meister Leonhard (published in 1916), Meyrink describes a quack doctor and wonder-worker called Schrepfer. It may have been more than coincidence that he chose the same name as the eighteenth-century masonic propagandist of doubtful character mentioned in Chapter Eight. At any rate, Meyrink’s Schrepfer is described as a curiously contradictory individual:

"Doctor Schrepfer ate fire, swallowed swords, turned water into wine, thrust daggers through his cheeks and tongue without drawing blood, healed possessed people, charmed away injuries, invoked spirits, bewitched men and cattle. Daily Leonhard realized that the man was a fraud who could neither read nor write and yet performed wonders ... Everything that the trickster said and did had a double aspect: he cheated men and at the same time helped them; he lied and his speech concealed the highest truth; he spoke the truth and the lie sneered forth. He fantasized carelessly and his words came true."

In this description Meyrink conveys the paradoxical fact that occult knowledge is often transmitted through seemingly disreputable channels. A man can be at the same time a cheap charlatan and a purveyor of the greatest wisdom. In fact it is hard to think of a great mystical teacher of recent times who did not have an element of the trickster or showman about him. This applies to such recent figures as Levi, Crowley and Gurdjieff. Nowhere is this truth more apparent than in the history of the Rosicrucian movement.

I believe that the most fruitful way to look at Rosicrucianism is not as a specific doctrine or authority handed down through a succession of groups, but rather as the way that certain individuals have chosen to express an inner quest. Every seeker after truth must choose the symbology that accords best with his own particular search. The Grail cycle is one example of such a symbology. Rosicrucianism is another. From time to time people who have felt themselves drawn to this symbolism have gathered together with varying degrees of formality. But the quest itself is of too elusive a nature ever to yield to analysis.
These groups of seekers are like the ‘League’ described in Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East (Die Morgenlandjahrt). In this powerful little novel Hesse’s narrator describes his involvement with a group of travellers, each bent on

realizing some personal dream through his journey. Later the narrator is given permission by the chiefs of the League to have access to all the group’s secret archives so that he can write an account of the brotherhood. But as soon as he begins to look through the archives he finds himself faced by a bewildering array of documents filling room after room and often written in foreign languages which he cannot understand. He soon realizes, with a sense of humiliation, that the task is beyond him and curses his own presumptuousness in thinking that such an undertaking was possible. Perhaps it is equally presumptuous to try to write a history of the Rosicrucian movement, and if I have persisted where Hesse’s hero gave up it has been in the hope of adding a crack of light to an obscure subject. Some readers will perhaps accuse me of using a misnomer in the title of this book. If I can claim to have partly ‘unveiled’ the Rosy Cross it is in the sense of having cleared away some of the fog surrounding the whole question. It is not of course a complete unveiling. There remain other layers of veils to be removed. But that must remain the privilege of the individual seeker.

The Rose Croix of Heredom Degree

The Eighteenth Degree of the Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite of Freemasonry known as the Rose Croix of Heredom, appears to have begun being worked towards the end of the eighteenth century and presents an interesting masonic adaptation of the Rosicrucian motifs. Details of it can be found in various masonic manuals. I quote here from The Text Book of Advanced Freemasonry, published anonymously in 1873. This Degree is philosophical, the end of-which is to free the mind from those encumbrances which hinder its progress towards perfection, and to raise it to the contemplation of inimitable truth, and the knowledge of divine and spiritual object...
The emblems of this Degree are the Eagle and the Pelican, the Cross and the Rose. The Eagle is a symbol of Christ in his divine character ... The Pelican is an emblem of our Saviour shedding his blood for the salvation of human kind. The Cross, as with the Egyptians, is a symbol of everlasting life, but since our Saviour’s time it has been adopted by all Christians as an emblem of Him who died for the redemption of the human race.
The Rose is figuratively Christ, hence he is called ‘the Rose of Sharon’. Ragon says that the Cross was in Egypt an emblem of immortality, and the rose of secrecy; the rose followed by the cross was the simplest mode of writing ‘the secret of immortality’...
As in the case of other orders we have encountered, the Rose Croix Knight selects a name from an approved list of characteristics, becoming, for example, ‘Eques ab Honestate’ (Knight of Honesty), ‘Eques a Sinceritate’ (Sincerity) or ‘Eques a Hilaritate’ (Joyousness).

The book goes on to describe the arrangement of the chamber for the Rose Croix degree as follows:
"This Degree requires Three Chambers, and, if possible, an Outer or Preparation Room for the reception of Candidates, where the preceding Degrees, to the 17th inclusive, are to be given by name, unless the same is done in extenso. The next is named ‘the Black Room’, this should be hung with black, the floor covered with an oil cloth representing a Mosaic pavement in black and white squares or lozenges, in the East two Black curtains arranged so as to be drawn asunder entirely, and sufficiently open to show the Altar, which should be raised, and on it three steps covered with black with a white border, on which silver or white Swords are worked. Behind and above the upper step a Transparency, on which appears three Crosses, in the Centre or Highest Cross should be the Mystic Rose (Black), placed in the centre of the Cross, and surrounded by a Crown of Thorns, the other two Crosses should have a Skull and Crossbones at the feet. Behind the Curtains and at the foot of the Altar should be a Triangular Table, covered with black cloth, and white fringe round the edge, on which must be placed Three Waxlights, a Bible, Compasses, and Triangle. Beside the Altar there should be a Couch for the M.W.S. to recline on. On the Altar, before the Transparency, at the foot of the Cross, there should be placed a Rose made of Black Crape. In the centre of the room must be the Tracing Board, and on the floor a painting of seven circles in white upon a black ground, and in the centre a Rose. In the North, South, and West there must be Three Pillars, six feet high, in the Capitals of which must be inscribed ‘Faith, Hope, and Charity’, or rather their initials ‘F.H.G.’, painted on small tins or cards, and suspended by a Hook to each Pillar. Each Column must be surmounted by Eleven Lights, disposed in a box having eleven holes, and the letters ‘F.H.C.’ respectively in the centre. If the Black Room be sufficiently large it may be divided into two by a second black curtain behind the Altar, at all events there must be a passage thence to the Red Room, according to the position of the Apartments. From the Black Room should open the Chamber of Death, and thence the Red Room, but if this cannot be managed, the Candidate, after having been refused admission in the second part of the Ceremony, must be sent into the Reception Room, and the Black Room transformed into the Chamber of Death. The Chamber of Death must have the emblems of mortality strewed about, and sundry obstacles so placed that the Candidate may have some difficulty in groping his way to the Black Curtain, behind which a Lamp of Spirits of Wine and Salt must be placed, and the Wick of the Lamp also strewed with Salt, and two or three persons in winding sheets grouped around it as Corpses; the Chamber of Death may be lighted by Transparencies, representing Skulls, Crossbones, &c., or by seven flambeaux fixed in Skulls and Crossbones. The Third or Red Room must be, brilliantly illuminated, and all the Brethren in their highest costumes ranged under their Banners, the room hung with red; in the centre the Tracing Board, the representation of the Mysterious Ladder of Seven Steps; on the Altar must be Seven Steps and Thirty-three Lights, behind a Transparency, representing the Blazing Star of Seven Points; in the centre the letter G. On the top step of the Altar must be the Cubic Stone, in front of which a Red Rose opened, with the letter G in the centre. The Altar must be profusely decorated with Roses, and perfumed with Atta of Roses. No Cross should appear in this part of the Degree, but the WORD, when found, can be suspended to a Silk Thread, stretched across by small hooks behind each letter and about the cubic stone, when they can easily be removed previously to the WORD being burnt. The last part of the Ceremony is given in the Red Room, arranged as above, except that the Ladder is to be removed, and a Pedestal covered with a white cloth placed at the East end of the Tracing Board, on which are placed a Salver of Biscuits or Passion Cakes, a Cup on each side, one containing the Loving Mixture, and the other Spirits of Wine and Cloride of Strontian, in which to burn the WORD, and a Salt Cellar with Salt. In conferring the Degree of Rose Croix the Degrees are given by name from the Fourth to the Fourteenth inclusive in a Grand Lodge of Perfection. A Grand Lodge of Princes of Jerusalem is then declared open, and the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Degrees are conferred by name; the Grand Lodge of Princes of Jerusalem is then closed, and a General Lodge of the Knights of the East and West is opened, the Degree is given by name, with the Signs, Tokens, and Words. The Grand Lodge of the Knights of the East and West is then closed, and the Eighteenth or Rose Croix Degree is then conferred in extenso; the great length of time necessary is a sufficient excuse for not giving the others in that manner."

The ceremony itself is too long and involved to quote in full, but briefly it involves the candidate petitioning the presiding officer, the ‘Most Wise Sovereign’, for admission and being told that he must first find the ‘lost word’. In a symbolic search for the word he passes through the Black Room where he undergoes symbolic dangers and afflictions, designed to fortify his virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. On emerging, he is questioned again by the Most Wise Sovereign and gives the lost word, ‘I.N.R.I.’. These letters are then placed on the altar, and the candidate is admitted to the Rose Croix degree.


From the Book by Christopher McIntosh, "The Rosy Cross Unveiled", 1980, p. 160-165
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Dr. Christopher McIntosh is a writer, historian and translator, specializing in the esoteric traditions of the West. One of the greatest authority for the scientific research of the Rose Cross phenomena. In the course of his life he has worked in publishing in London, for the United Nations in New York and for UNESCO in Hamburg, and has travelled throughout the world. He was for several years on the faculty of the Centre for the Study of Esotericism at Exeter University.