The Rosicrucian phenomenon was sparked by the appearance of the Fama Fraternitatis Roseae Crucis oder Die Bruderschaft des Ordens der Rosenkreuzer. Adam Haslmayr famously wrote a response to it in 1612, having seen a manuscript copy in 1610 while in the Tyrol. The Fama Fraternitatis was first printed in 1614 (in German), and then in English in 1622 (in Thomas Vaughan’s translation).
The Fama tells the story of the founding of the Rosy Cross in 1459 by Christian Rosenkreutz who, having lived some years in North Africa, had learnt much from the Wise Men of Arabia, but had been unable to raise any interest in what he had discovered once back in Europe:
[In Spain] He shewed them new Growths, new Fruits, and Beasts, which did concord with old Philosophy, and prescribed them new Axiomata, whereby all things might fully be restored: But it was to them a laughing matter; […] The same Song was also sang to him by other Nations.
Thus rebuffed by Europe’s wise, he eventually founded his “first Cloyster” with three men, “Brother G.V. Brother J.A. and Brother J.O.”:
After this manner began the Fraternity of the Rosie Cross; first, by four persons onely, and by them was made the Magical Language and writing, with a large Dictionary, which we yet dayly use to Gods praise and glory, and do finde great wisdom therein; they made also the first part of the Book M:
Subsequently, they built a new building (“Sancti spiritus”), and expanded the membership to eight with
…brother R.C. his deceased father’s brother’s son, brother B. a skilful Painter, G. and P.D. their Secretary, all Germains except J.A. […], all batchelors and of vowed virginity.
After a while, these eight members went out into different countries, vowing to cure the sick (but without being paid for it), and to do their best to come back to the Rosy Cross’s Sancti spiritus every year on a certain day called “C”.
The Fama goes on to describe how later members of the Rosy Cross, not knowing anything of their founder’s death, discovered a mysterious hidden vault…
…of seven sides and corners, every side five foot broad, and the height of eight foot; Although the Sun never shined in this Vault, nevertheless it was enlightened with another sun […]
This vault contained Christian Rosenkreutz’s tomb: there, under a “fair plate of brasse”, they found…
…a fair and worthy body, whole and unconsumed […] with all the Ornaments and Attires. […] Herein also we found his Itinerarium, and vitam, whence this relation for the most part is taken. In another chest were looking-glasses of divers virtues, as also in other places were little bells, burning lamps, & chiefly wonderful artificial Songs; generally all done to that end, that if it should happen after many hundred years, the Order or Fraternity should come to nothing, they might by this onely Vault be restored again.
Where was this building and fabulous vault? Teasingly, the Fama ends by saying:
Also our building (although one hundred thousand people had very near seen and beheld the same) shall for ever remain untouched, undestroyed, and hidden to the wicked world, sub umbra alarum tuarum Jehova.
Finally, the Fama also refers to a second document called the “Confessio”…
…where we do set down 37 Reasons wherefore we now do make known our Fraternity, and proffer such high Mysteries freely, and without constraint and reward: also we do promise more gold than both the Indies bring to the King of Spain; for Europe is with child and will bring forth a strong child, who shall stand in need of a great godfathers gift.
The Confessio Fraternitatis was first printed in Kassel in Germany in 1615: much of its text seems to have been written to fill gaps in the Fama.
It also attempts to defend the Rosy Cross against its detractors, saying that “we cannot be by any suspected of the least heresy”, and affirming that it is fundamentally a Christian phenomenon (though it has to be said that it seems to espouse an esoteric, personal kind of Christianity, rather than an exoteric, formalised one).
However, anyone looking there for the previously-mentioned “37 Reasons” or for fulfilment of the promise of “more gold than both the Indies bring to the King of Spain” will search in vain. For the most part, the Confessio seems to have little to say of genuine substance about the Rosy Cross beyond grandiloquent phrases and wordy denunciations of alchemy and “false tinctures”.
One of the few passages that seem to hint at what might be going on asserts that…
[…] our treasures shall remain untouched and unstirred, until the Lion doth come, who will ask them for his use, and employ them for the confirmation and establishment of his kingdom.
The Confessio, inevitably, never makes clear the identity of the “Lion”.
The third core Rosy Cross document is the Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreutz anno 1459 (usually referred to as the Chymical Wedding). It first appeared in print anonymously in Strasburg in 1616, though Johannes Valentin Andreae later (in his autobiography) claimed that he had originally written it in 1605.
Markedly different from the Fama and the Confessio, it weaves Christian Rosenkreutz into a long and oddly allegorical story that runs over seven days, one chapter per day. It describes Rosenkreutz’s journey to the wedding of the King and Queen, where his path – depending on the commentator’s affiliations – tends to get presented as alchemical, hermetic, symbolic, allegorical, ironic, spiritual, Jungian, or whatever. In truth, I suspect the book is more of a pastiche-ful collage than anything else: it is easy to read into it what you want to find.
Finally, given Johannes Valentin Andreae’s claimed authorship of the Chymical Wedding (and there seems no obvious reason to doubt that claim), a key document that relates to the Rosicrucian phenomenon is Andreae’s autobiography: it is from this document that Carlos Gilly and others were able to reconstruct the members of the Tübingen circle where Andreae was circa 1609-1610.
In it, he describes the Chymical Wedding as a ludibrium, a word that has been translated many ways, though never entirely satisfactorily. My own interpretation swings more towards the word’s youthful, playful game aspect: for all its layers of metaphor, the Chymical Wedding seems to me to have been written primarily as a puzzle-book, for droll amusement and intellectual entertainment rather than for spiritual enlightenment: essentially, rather more ‘Dan Brown’ than ‘Zen kōan’.
Finally, there is also a large corpus of Rosicrucian-style texts (Gilly lists over 350 in his Cimelia Rhodostaurotica) to consider. Perhaps most notable of these is the Assertio Fraternitatis, a Latin poem by “B.M.I. the youngest of the Brothers of R.C.”, written in Hagenau on 22nd September 1614.
However, many modern Rosicrucian researchers urge caution when dealing with these secondary or imitative works, because none contains any definitive evidence of a direct or authorial connection with the Fama, Confessio or Chymical Wedding.
The Secret History of the Rosicrucians (c) 2012, 2015 Nick Pelling.
2. The Three Texts
3. Dating The Fama And The Confessio
4. The Fama’s First Draft
5. So… What Was The Point Of It All?
6. ‘Book M’
7. Another Mysterious Manuscript
8. Stories From The Margins
9. Andreae’s Two Journeys
10. The Limits Of Evidence