History of the Rosicrucian Order essay

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Rather than continue the process that began in the first two books, in which the Rosicrucian Order first announced themselves, gave their history, and then responded to certain criticisms while making their position within Christian theology clearer, the Chymical Wedding can almost be seen as the first instance of literature written within the Rosicrucian tradition, rather than as part of its manifesto-like founding documents, because it does not seek to explain the history of Rosicrucianism, but rather explicate how the teachings and underlying beliefs of Rosicrucianism contribute to and alter one's interpretation of Christian scripture (Williamson 17; Dickson 760). Specifically, one can see a distinct connection between the Chymical Wedding and seventeenth-century attempts to expand Protestantism throughout Europe. The Chymical Wedding can be seen as a the most explicit attempt on the part of Rosicrucians and Rosicrucian supporters to wed the new (or newly revealed) society to the larger religious and cultural movements of the day (Dickson 760-761).

In addition to the founding texts of Rosicrucianism themselves, there has also been serious scholarly consideration of the Rosicrucian Order. The foremost of these is called the Rosicrucian Enlightenment and was written by Francis Yates. Yates' work represents the first substantial, rigorous examination of the Rosicrucians in a historical context, and in many ways it represents the established standard in terms of Rosicrucian scholarship. While Yates focuses mostly on the Rosicrucians' "significant contribution to many areas of Renaissance thought and activity," this effort requires her to demonstrate the Rosicrucians' historical, political, and religious context in detail, which is why her work remains an essential component of any study of Rosicrucianism to this day (Corbin 149). As a result, Yates' scholarship will be helpful in contextualizing the emergence of the Rosicrucian Order during the early seventeenth century.

Yates' scholarship transformed the study of Rosicrucianism, and as a result, inspired subsequent scholars to examine the subject. Thus, some years later, some of the most interesting of these subsequent scholarly examinations of the subject were compiled into the book the Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited, after a series of conferences held in Yates' honor (Matthews et. al.). While not all of the essays included in this book are directly relevant to the study at hand, they nevertheless represent important scholarship on the topic, particularly because they serve to extend and expand Yates' own critical and methodological contributions.

However, not all scholarly research on necessarily agrees with Yates' historical contextualization of Rosicrucianism's emergence, and particularly with the belief that it emerged specifically out Frederik V's court (Shackelford 1; Yates 29). Thus, scholarship outside the realm of Yates and her considerable influence is necessary in order to present a more comprehensive and critically rigorous examination of the history of the Rosicrucian Order. Thankfully, the role of the occult and esoteric knowledge in Europe has long fascinated scholars, even if Rosicrucianism is not the most popular topic, and so substantial research on the topic has been collected into the book Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance. Like the Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited, not all of the essay in Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance will be relevant to this study, but its examinations of some of the individuals who may have contributed to the early Rosicrucian texts will be invaluable when considering the history of the order.

In addition to the primary texts and important secondary texts discussed above, the extant literature on the Rosicrucian Order also includes a number of texts that must fall into something of a different category, either because they are metaphysical or alchemical texts written well after the primary Rosicrucian works, or else because they are academic texts which are not concerned with Rosicrucianism directly but which can still offer important insights into the movement. It is not necessary to mention all of these texts in detail here, simply because this literature review would become overlong with little tangible benefits. Instead, it should suffice to simply mention them in general here, and then discuss them in greater detail when necessary in subsequent chapters.

Interestingly, the state of the scholarship concerning the Rosicrucian movement has at this point become somewhat stale, simply because much of what can be said about the movement's general origins has been said, barring any new discoveries of primary texts or unexpected revelations about the extent or content of the group's membership (if a group ever actually existed). This is particularly interesting because although new scholarship can challenge certain details, such as the connection or lack thereof between the early Rosicrucian movement and the political leadership of the day, the most interesting areas of new research lie in attempting to uncover the extent of Rosicrucianism's influence on the political and religious debates of its day as well as its lasting legacy. While it seems unlikely that anyone will be able to offer any substantial new information regarding the origins of Rosicrucianism, examining the Rosicrucian Order's history can allow one to better understand how the controversies, myths, and offshoots Rosicrucianism inspired continue to influence contemporary metaphysical and social debates.

Chapter 3: Methods N/a

Chapter 4: Findings

To begin, this chapter will first discuss the historical evidence related to the emergence and spread of Rosicrucianism based only on what evidence is available and independently verifiable, before moving on to a discussion of the history and beliefs provided by Rosicrucianism's founding texts. Finally, it will conclude with a discussion of the ideological and metaphysical offshoots of Rosicrucianism, such as Freemasonry. In the discussion chapter that follows, these findings will be discussed in conjunction with Rosicrucianism's more general legacy, in order to demonstrate how the foundational ideas and history of the Rosicrucian Order have allowed it to continue impacting society to this day.

The decision to structure this chapter with an initial focus on the independently verifiable historical evidence was made in an attempt to ground this discussion of metaphysical concepts in a more easily intelligible fashion. Because one goal of this thesis is to demonstrate how the Rosicrucian Order's particular theological and metaphysical ideas helped to establish its importance in Western history, it seems prudent to begin not with a discussion of those ideas, but rather the context in which they were first made public. Thus, even if one accepts the Rosicrucian notion that there actually existed a secret society some one hundred fifty years before the publication of Fama Fraternitatis, and furthermore, that this secret society was privy to esoteric knowledge passed down in an unbroken line from as far back as ancient Egypt (as some believe), it is still more helpful to begin in the year 1614, because it is here that, for all intents and purposes, the Rosicrucian Order became a reality in the minds of the public at large (or at least those who could read) (Lewis 33-37).

As mentioned in the previous chapter, one of the few substantial scholarly disagreements about the emergence and spread of the Rosicrucian Order has to do with the political context of the early seventeenth century, and particular how closely tied the publication of Fama Fraternitatis was with the activities of the German and English royalty, and particularly with the marriage of Frederick V and Princess Elizabeth (Shackelford 1). Put simply, the debate centers around interpretations of certain symbols and recurring themes favored by Frederick's court, and whether this evidence is sufficient to conclude that the authors of the first Rosicrucian texts were somehow related to the court or were instead based somewhere else in Germany. This question is interesting because were the Rosicrucian Order to actually be connected with Frederick's court, then it would help make the group's religious and political goals much clearer.

This question has been debated since Yates first published her seminal work on the Rosicrucian Order, and it is unlikely that it will be resolved here. Instead, one may take this point of scholarly disagreement in order to examine the political and religious context of the early seventeenth century, because regardless of whether the Rosicrucians were directly connected to Frederick or not, one cannot help but note that the earliest Rosicrucian texts seemed to contain content aimed directly at the most pressing political and religious issues of their time. This is why the remaining debates in scholarship, while practically unresolvable, nevertheless point towards important details.

When laying out the case for Frederick's possible connection to the Rosicrucians, including the fact that Frederick himself rode under "the Red Cross of St. George," she notes a few important details that will help put the emergence of the Rosicrucian Order in some context. Perhaps most importantly, the marriage of Frederick to Princess Elizabeth represented a kind of culmination of political and religious -- there was little difference at the time -- conflict that had been raging at least since Martin Luther's break with the Roman Catholic Church almost a century earlier (Yates 1). The marriage represented a consolidation of Protestant power in Europe, and it was attended by…[continue]

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