Freemasonry's Strong Link with the Hermetic Philosophy of the Rosicrucians
Of all the theories which have been advanced in relation to the origin of Freemasonry from some one of the secret sects, either of antiquity or of the Middle Ages, there is none more interesting than that which seeks to connect it with the Hermetic philosophy, because there is none which presents more plausible claims to our consideration.
There can be no doubt that in some of what are called the High Degrees there is a very palpable infusion of a Hermetic element. This cannot be denied, because the evidence will be most apparent to anyone who examines their rituals, and some by their very titles, in which the Hermetic language and a reference to Hermetic principles are adopted, plainly admit the connection and the influence.
There is, therefore, necessity to investigate the question whether or not some of those High or Philosophic Degrees which were fabricated about the middle of the last century are or are not of a Hermetic character, because the time of their invention, when Craft Masonry was already in a fixed condition, removes them entirely out of the problem which relates to the origin of the Masonic Institution.
No matter when Freemasonry was established, the High Degrees were an afterthought, and might very well be tinctured with the principles of any philosophy which prevailed at the period of their invention. But it is a question of some interest to the Masonic scholar whether at the time of the so-called Revival of Freemasonry, in the early part of the 18th century, certain Hermetic degrees did not exist which sought to connect themselves with the system of Masonry.
And, it is a question of still greater interest whether this attempt was successful so far, at least, as to impress upon the features of that early Freemasonry a portion of the characteristic tints of the Hermetic philosophy, some of the marks of which may still remain in our modern system. But as the Hermetic philosophy was that which was invented and taught by the Rosicrucians, before we can attempt to resolve these important and interesting questions, it will be necessary to take a brief glance at the history and the character of Rosicrucianism.
On the 17th of August of 1586, Johann Valentin Andred was born at Herrenberg, a small market-town of what was afterward the kingdom of Wurtemburg. After a studious youth, during which he became possessed of a more than moderate share of learning, he departed in 1610 on a pilgrimage through Germany, Austria, Italy, and France, supplied with but little money, but with an indomitable desire for the acquisition of knowledge.
Returning home, in 1614, he embraced the clerical profession and was appointed a deacon in the town of Vaihingen, and by subsequent promotions reached, in 1634, the positions of Protestant prelate of the Abbey of Bebenhausen and spiritual counselor of the Duchy of Brunswick.[i]
He died on the 27th of June in 1654, at the ripe age of sixty-eight years. On the moral character of Andred, his biographers have lavished their encomiums. A philanthropist from his earliest life, he carried, or sought to carry, his plans of benevolence into active operation. Wherever, says Vaughan, the church, the school, the institute of charity have fallen into ruin or distress, there the indefatigable Andred sought to restore them.
He was, says another writer, the guardian genius and the comforter of the suffering; he was a practical helper as well as a theoretical adviser; in the times of dearth and famine, many thousand poor were fed and clothed by his exertions, and the town of Kalw, of which, in 1720, he was appointed the superintendent, long enjoyed the benefit of many charitable institutions which owed their origin to his solicitations and zeal.
It is not surprising that a man imbued with such benevolent feelings and actuated by such a spirit of philanthropy should have viewed with deep regret the corruptions of the times in which he lived, and should have sought to devise some plan by which the condition of his fellowmen might be ameliorated and the dry, effete theology of the church be converted into some more living, active, humanizing system.
For the accomplishment of this purpose, he could see no better method than the establishment of a practical philanthropical fraternity, one that did not at that time exist, but the formation of which he resolved to suggest to such noble minds as might be stimulated to the enterprise. With this view, he invoked the assistance of fiction, and hence there appeared, in 1615, a work which he entitled the Report of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood, or, in its original Latin, Fama Fraternitatis Rose Crucis.
An edition had been published the year before with the title of Universal Reformation of the Whole World, with a Report of the Worshipful Order of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood, addressed to all the Learned Men and Nobility of Europe.[ii]
There was another work, published in 1616, with the title of Chemische Hochzeit, or Chemical Nuptials, by Christian Rosencreutz. All of these books were published anonymously, but they were universally attributed to the pen of Andred, and were all intended for one purpose, that of discovering by the character of their reception who were the true lovers of wisdom and philanthropy, and of inducing them to come forward to the perfection of the enterprise, by transforming this fabulous society into a real and active organization.
The romantic story of Christian Rosencreutz, the supposed founder of the Order, is thus told by Andrea. I have borrowed for the most part the language of Mr. Sloane,[iii] who, although his views and deductions on the subject are for the most part erroneous, has yet given us the best English epitome of the myth of Andred.
According to Andrea's tale, a certain Christian Rosencreutz, though of good birth, found himself compelled from poverty to enter the cloister at a very early period of life. He was only sixteen years old when one of the monks purposed a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher, and Rosencreutz, as a special favor, was permitted to accompany him. At Cyprus, the monk is taken ill, but Rosencreutz proceeds onward to Damascus with the intention of going on to Jerusalem.
While detained in the former city by the fatigues of his journey, he hears of the wonders performed by the sages of Damascus, and, his curiosity being excited, he places himself under their direction. Three years having been spent in the acquisition of their most hidden mysteries, he sets sail from the Gulf of Arabia for Egypt. There he studies the nature of plants and animals and then repairs, in obedience to the instructions of his Arabian masters, to Fez, in Africa.
In this city, it was the custom of the Arab and African sages to meet annually for the purpose of communicating to each other the results of their experience and inquiries, and here he passed two years in study. He then crossed over to Spain, but not meeting there with a favorable reception, he returned to his native country. But, as Germany was then filled with mystics of all kinds, his proposals for a reformation in morals and science meets with so little sympathy from the public that he resolves to establish a society of his own.
With this view, he selects three of his favorite companions from his old convent. To them, under a solemn vow of secrecy, he communicates the knowledge which he had acquired during his travels. He imposes on them the duty of committing it to writing and of forming a magical vocabulary for the benefit of future students.
But, in addition to this task, they also undertook to prescribe gratuitously for all the sick who should ask their assistance, and as in a short time the concourse of patients became so great as materially to interfere with their other duties, and as a building which Rosencreutz had been erecting, called the Temple of the Holy Ghost, was now completed, he determines to increase the number of the brotherhood, and accordingly initiates four new members. When all is completed, and the eight brethren are instructed in the mysteries of the Order, they separate, according to agreement, two only staying with Father Christian.
The other six, after traveling for a year, are to return and communicate the results of their experience. The two who had stayed at home are then to be relieved by two of the travelers, so that the founder may never be alone, and the six again divide and travel for a year.
The laws of the Order as they had been prescribed by Rosencreutz were as follows:
1. That they should devote themselves to no other Occupation than that of the gratuitous practice of physic.
2. That they were not to wear a particular habit, but were to conform in this respect to the customs of the country in which they might happen to be.
3. That each one was to present himself on a certain day in the year at the Temple of the Holy Ghost, or send an excuse for his absence.
4. That each one was to look out for a brother to succeed him in the event of his death.
5. That the letters R. C. were to be their seal, watchword, and title.
6. That the brotherhood was to be kept a secret for one hundred years.
When one hundred years old, Christian Rosencreutz died, but the place of his burial was unknown to anyone but the two brothers who were with him at the time of his death. They carried the secret with them to the grave. The society, however, continued to exist unknown to the world, always consisting of eight members only, until another hundred and twenty years had elapsed, when, according to a tradition of the Order, the grave of Father Rosencreutz was to be discovered, and the brotherhood to be no longer a mystery to the world. It was about this time that the brethren began to make some alterations in their building, and thought of removing to another and more fitting situation the memorial tablet, on which were inscribed the names of their associates.
The plate, which was of brass, was affixed to the wall by means of a nail in its center, and so firmly was it fastened that in tearing it away a portion of the plaster of the wall became detached and exposed a concealed door. Upon this door being still further cleansed from the incrustation, there appeared above it in large letters the following words:
POST CXX ANNOS PATEBO: After one hundred and twenty years, I will be opened.
Although the brethren were greatly delighted at the discovery, they so far restrained their curiosity as not to open the door until the next morning, when they found themselves in a vault of seven sides each side five feet wide and eight feet high. It was lighted by an artificial sun in the center of the arched roof, while in the middle of the floor, instead of a tomb, stood a round altar covered with a small brass plate, on which was this inscription:
A. C. R. C. Hoc, universi compendium, vivus mihi sepulchrum feci: While living, I made this epitome of the universe my sepulcher.
About the outer edge was:
Jesus mihi omnia: Jesus is all things to me.
In the center were four figures, each enclosed in a circle, with these words inscribed around them:
1. Nequaquam vacuus: By No Means Void.
2. Legis Jugum: The Yoke of the Law.
3. Liberias Evangelii: The Liberty of the Gospel.
4. Dei gloria intacia: The Unsullied Glory of God.
On seeing all this, the brethren knelt down and returned thanks to God for having made them so much wiser than the rest of the world. Then they divided the vault into three parts, the roof, the wall, and the pavement. The first and the last were divided into seven triangles, corresponding to the seven sides of the wall, each of which formed the base of a triangle, while the apices met in the center of the roof and of the pavement. Each side was divided into ten squares, containing figures and sentences which were to be explained to the new initiates. In each side, there was also a door opening upon a closet, wherein were stored up many rare articles, such as the secret books of the Order, the vocabulary of Paracelsus, and other things of. a similar nature.
In one of the closets, they discovered the life of their founder; in others they found curious mirrors, burning lamps, and a variety of objects intended to aid in rebuilding the Order, which, after the lapse of many centuries, was to fall into decay. Pushing aside the altar, they came upon a strong brass plate, which being removed, they beheld the corpse of Rosencreutz as freshly preserved as on the day when it had been deposited, and under his arm a volume of vellum with letters of gold, containing, among other things, the names of the eight brethren who had founded the Order. Such is an outline of the story of Christian Rosencreutz and his Rosicrucian Order as it is told in the Fama Fraternitatis.
It is very evident that Andrea composed this romance. For it is nothing else not to record the existence of any actual society, but only that it might serve as a suggestion to the learned and the philanthropic to engage in the establishment of some such benevolent association. Vaughan says:
He hoped that the few nobler minds whom he desired to organize would see through the veil of fiction in which he had invested his proposal; that he might communicate personally with some such, if they should appear, or that his book might lead them to form among themselves a practical philanthropic confederacy answering to the serious purpose he had embodied in his fiction.[iv]
But his design was misunderstood then, as it has been since, and everywhere his fable was accepted as a fact. Diligent search was made by the credulous for the discovery of the Temple of the Holy Ghost.Printed letters appeared continually, addressed to the unknown brotherhood, seeking admission into the fraternity - a fraternity that existed only in the pages of the Fama. But, the irresponsive silence to so many applications awoke the suspicions of some, while the continued mystery strengthened the credulity of others.
The brotherhood, whose actual house "lay beneath the Doctor's hat of Valentin Andred," was violently attacked and as vigorously defended in numerous books and pamphlets which during that period flooded the German press. The learned men among the Germans did not give a favoring ear to the philanthropic suggestions of Andred, but the mystical notions contained in his fabulous history were seized with avidity by the charlatans, who added to them the dreams of the alchemists and the reveries of the astrologers, so that the post-Andrean Rosicrucianism became a very different thing from that which had been devised by its original author.
It does not, however, appear that the Rosicrucians, as an organized society, made any stand in Germany. Descartes says that after strict search he could not find a single lodge in that country. But, it extended, as we will presently see, into England, and there became identified as a mystical association. It is strange what misapprehension, either willful or mistaken, has existed in respect to the relations of Andrea to Rosicrucianism. We have no more right or reason to attribute the detection of such a sect to the German theologian than we have to ascribe the discovery of the republic of Utopia to Sir Thomas More, or of the island of Bensalem to Lord Bacon.
In each of these instances, a fiction was invented on which the author might impose his philosophical or political thoughts, with no dream that readers would take that for fact which was merely intended for fiction.
And, yet, Rhigellini, in his Masonry Considered as the Result of the Egyptian, Jewish, and Christian Religions, while declining to express an opinion on the allegorical question, as if there might be a doubt on the subject, respects the legend as it had been given in the Fama, and asserting that on the return of Rosencreutz to Germany, "he instituted secret societies with an initiation that resembled that of the early Christians."[v]
He antedates the Chemical Nuptials of Andred a century and a half, ascribes the authorship of that work to Christian Rosencreutz, as if he were a real personage, and thinks that he established, in 1459, the Rite of the Theosophists, the earliest branch of the Rose Croix, or the Rosicrucians. For the French make no distinction in the two words, though in history they are entirely different.
History written in this way is worse than fable. It is an ignis fatuus which can only lead astray. And, yet, this is the method in which Masonic history has too often been treated. Nicolai, although the deductions by which he connects Freemasonry with Rosicrucianism are wholly untenable, is yet, in his treatment of the latter, more honest or less ignorant.
He adopts the correct view when he says that the Fama Fraternitatis only announced a general reformation and exhorted all wise men to unite in a proposed society for the purpose of removing corruption and restoring wisdom. He commends it as a charming vision; full of poesy and imagination, but of a singular extravagance very common in the writings of that age. And he notes the fact that while the Alchemists have sought in that work for the secrets of their mysteries, it really contains the gravest satire on their absurd pretensions.
The Fama Fraternitatis had undoubtedly excited the curiosity of the Mystics, who abounded in Germany at the time of its appearance, of whom not the least prominent were the Alchemists. These, having sought in vain for the invisible society of the Rosicrucians, as it had been described in the romance of Andred, resolved to form such a society for themselves.
But, to the disappointment and the displeasure of the author of the Fama, they neglected or postponed the moral reformation which he had sought, and substituted the visionary schemes of the Alchemists, a body of quasi-philosophers who assigned their origin as students of nature and seekers of the “philosopher’s stone” and the “elixir of immortality” to a very remote period.
Thus, it is that I trace the origin of the Rosicrucians, not to Valentin Andrea, nor to Christian Rosencreutz, who was only the coinage of his brain, but to the influence exerted by him upon certain Mystics and Alchemists who, whether they accepted the legend of Rosencreutz as a fiction or as a verity, at least made diligent use of it in the establishment of their new society.
I am not, therefore, disposed to doubt the statement of L. C. Orvius, as cited by Nicolai, that in 1622 there was a society of Alchemists at The Hague, who called themselves Rosicrucians and claimed Rosencreutz as their founder.
Michael Maier, the physician of the Emperor Rudolf II, devoted himself in the early part of the 17th century to the pursuits of alchemy, and, having adopted the mystical views of the Rosicrucians, is said to have introduced that society into England. Maier was the author of many works in Latin in defense and in explanation of the Rosicrucian system.
Among them was an epistle addressed:
To all lovers of true chemistry throughout Germany, and especially to that Order which has hitherto lain concealed, but is now probably made known by the Report of the Fraternity (Fama Fraternitatis) and their admirable Confession.[vi]
It is a very childish objection that the brotherhood has promised so much and performed so little. The Masters of the Order hold out the Rose as a remote reward, but they impose the Cross on all who are entering.
Like the Pythagoreans and the Egyptians, the Rosicrucians extract vows of silence and secrecy. Ignorant men have treated the whole as a fiction; but this has arisen from the probation of five years to which they subject even well qualified novice:[vii]
Omnibus verae chymiae Amantibus per Germaniam, et precipere illi Ordini adhue delitescenti, at Fama Fraternitatis et confessione sua admiranda et probabile manifestato.
Before they are admitted to the higher mysteries, and within that period, they are taught how to govern their own tongues!
Although Maier died in 1622, it appears that he had lived long enough to take part in the organization of the Rosicrucian sect, which had been formed out of the suggestions of Andred. His views on this subject were, however, peculiar and different from those of most of the new disciples. He denied that the Order had derived either its origin or its name from the person called Rosencreutz.
He says that the founder of the society, having given his disciples the letters R. C. as a sign of their fraternity, they improperly made out of them the words Rose and Cross. But, these heterodox opinions were not accepted by the Rosicrucians in general, who still adhered to Andrea's legend as the source and the signification of their Order.
At one time Maier went to England, where he became intimately acquainted with Dr. Robert Fludd, the most famous as well as the earliest of the English Rosicrucians. Robert Fludd was a physician of London, who was born in 1574 and died in 1637.
He was a zealous student of alchemy, theosophy, and every other branch of mysticism, and wrote in defense of Rosicrucianism, of which sect he was an active member. Among his earliest works is one published in 1616 under the title of A Compendious Apology clearing the Fraternity of the Rosy Crossfrom the stains of suspicion and infamy cast upon them.
There is much doubt whether Maier communicated the system of Rosicrucianism to Fludd or whether Fludd had already received it from Germany before the visit of Maier. The only authority for the former statement is De Quincey (a most unreliable one), and the date of Fludd's Apology militates against it.
Fludd's explanation of the name of the sect differs from that of both Andrea and Maier. It is, he says, to be taken in a figurative sense, and alludes to the cross dyed with the blood of Christ. In this explanation, he approaches very nearly to the idea entertained by the members of the modern Rose Croix degree.
No matter who was the missionary that brought it over, it is very certain that Rosicrucianism was introduced from Germany, its birthplace, into England at a very early period of the 17th century, and it is equally certain that after its introduction it flourished, though an exotic, with more vigor than it ever had in its native soil. That there were in that century, and even in the beginning of the succeeding one, mystical initiations wholly unconnected with Freemasonry, but openly professing a Hermetic or Rosicrucian character and origin, may very readily be supposed from existing documents.
It is a misfortune that such authors as Buhle, Nicolai, and Rhigellini, with many others, to say nothing of such non-masonic writers as Sloane and De Quincey, who were necessarily mere sciolists in all Masonic studies, should have confounded the two institutions, and, because both were mystical, and one appeared to follow (although it really did not) the other in point of time, should have proclaimed the theory (wholly untenable) that Freemasonry is indebted for its origin to Rosicrucianism.
The writings of Lilly and Ashmole, both learned men for the age in which they lived, prove the existence of a mystical philosophy in England in the 17th century, in which each of them was a participant. The Astrologers, who were deeply imbued with the Hermetic philosophy, held their social meetings for mutual instruction and their annual feasts, and Ashmole gives hints of his initiation into what I suppose to have been alchemical or Rosicrucian wisdom by one whom he reverently calls "Father Backhouse."
But we have the clearest documentary testimony of the existence of a Hermetic degree or system at the beginning of the 18th century, and about the time of what is called the Revival of Masonry in England, by the establishment of the Grand Lodge at London, and which, from other undoubted testimony, we know were not Masonic.
This testimony is found in a rare work, some portions of whose contents, in reference to this subject, are well worthy of a careful review. In the year 1722, there was published in London a work in small octave bearing the following title:[viii]
Long Livers: A curious History of such Persons of both Sexes who have lived several Ages and grown Young again: With the rare Secret of Rejuvenescency of Arnoldus de Villa Nova. And a great many approved and invaluable Rules to prolong Life: Also, how to prepare the Universal Medicine. Most humbly dedicated to the Grand Master, Masters, Wardens, and Brethren of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of the FREE MASONS of Great Britain and Ireland.
By Engenius Philaiethes, F. R. S., Author of the Treatise of the Plague. Viri Fratres audite me. Act. xv. 13. Diligite Fraternitatem timete Deum honorate Regem.1. Pet. ii. 17. LONDON. Printed for J. Holland, at the Bible and Ball, in St. Paul's Church Yard, and L. Stokoe, at Charing Cross, 1722. pp. 64-199.
Engenius Philalethes was the pseudonym of Thomas Vaughn, a celebrated Rosicrucian of the 17th century, who published, in 1659, a translation of the Fama Fraternitatis into English. But, as he was born in 1612, it is not to be supposed that he wrote the present work. It is, however, not very important to identify this second Philalethes.
It is sufficient for our purpose to know that it is a Hermetic treatise written by a Rosicrucian, of which the title alone-the references to the renewal of youth, one of the Rosicrucian secrets, to the recipe of the great Rosicrucian Villa Nova, or Arnold de Villaneuve, and to the Universal Medicine, the Rosicrucian Elixir Vitae - would be sufficient evidence.
But, the only matter of interest in connection with the present subject is that this Hermetic work, written, or at least printed, in 1722, one year before the publication of the first edition of Anderson's Constitutions, refers explicitly to the existence of a higher initiation than that of the Craft degrees, which the author seeks to interweave in the Masonic system.
This is evidently shown in portions of the dedication, which is inscribed to: “the Grand Master, Masters, Wardens, and Brethren of the Most Ancient and Most Honorable Fraternity of the Free Masons of Great Britain and Ireland" and it is dedicated to them by their "Brother Engenius Philalethes."
This fraternal subscription shows that he was a Freemason as well as a Rosicrucian, and therefore must have been acquainted with both systems. The important fact, in this dedication, is that the writer alludes, in language that cannot be mistaken, to a certain higher degree, or to a more exalted initiation, to the attainment of which the primitive degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry were preparatory.
Thus, he says, addressing the Freemasons:
I present you with the following sheets, as belonging more properly to you than any else. But what I here say, those of you who are not far illuminated, who stand in the outward place and are not worthy to look behind the veil, may find no disagreeable or unprofitable entertainment; and those who are so happy as to have greater light, will discover under these shadows, somewhat truly great and noble and worthy the serious attention of a genius the most elevated and sublime - the spiritual, celestial cube, the only true, solid, and immovable basis and foundation of all knowledge, peace, and happiness. (Page iv.)
Another passage will show that the writer was not only thoroughly acquainted with the religious, philosophical, and symbolic character of the institution, but that he wrote evidently under the impression (rather I should say the knowledge) that at that day others besides himself had sought to connect Freemasonry with Rosicrucianism.
Remember that you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and the fire of the universe. Ye are living stones, built up a spiritual house, who believe and rely on the chief Lapis Angularis, which the refractory and disobedient builders disallowed; you are called from darkness to light; you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.
Here the symbolism is Masonic, but it is also Rosicrucian. The Masons had derived their symbol of the STONE from the metaphor of the Apostle, and like him had given it a spiritual signification. The Rosicrucians had also the Stone as their most important symbol. Says one of them:
Now in this discourse will I manifest to thee the natural condition of the Stone of the Philosophers, appareled with a triple garment, even this Stone of Riches and Charity, the Stone of Relief from Languishment - in which is contained every secret; being a Divine Mystery and Gift of God, than which there is nothing more sublime.[ix]
It was natural that a Rosicrucian, in addressing Freemasons, should refer to a symbol common to both, though each derived its interpretation through a different channel. In another passage, he refers to the seven liberal arts, of which he calls Astronomy "the grandest and most sublime." This was the Rosicrucian doctrine.
In that of the Freemasons, the precedency is given to Geometry. Here we find a difference between the two institutions which proves their separate and independent existence. Still more important differences will be found in the following passages, which, while they intimate a higher degree, show that it was a Hermetic one, which, however, the Rosicrucian writer was willing to engraft on Freemasonry.
And now, my Brethren, you of the higher class (note that he does not call it a degree) permit me a few words, since you are but few; and these few words I shall speak to you in riddles, because to you it is given to know those mysteries which are hidden from the unworthy. Have you not seen then, my dearest Brethren, that stupendous bath, filled with the most limpid water, than which no pure can be purer, of such admirable mechanism, that makes even the greatest philosopher gaze with wonder and astonishment, and is the subject of the contemplation of the wisest men. Its form is a quadrate sublimely placed on six others, blazing all with celestial jewels, each angularly supported with four lions.
Here repose our mighty King and Queen, (I speak foolishly, I am not worthy to be of you), the King shining in his glorious apparel of transparent, incorruptible gold, beset with living sapphires; he is fair and ruddy, and feeds among the lilies; his eyes, two carbuncles, the most brilliant, darting prolific never-dying fires; and his large, flowing hair, blacker than the deepest black or plumage of the long-lived crow; his royal consort vested in tissue of immortal silver, watered with emeralds, pearl and coral.
O mystical union! O admirable commerce! Cast now your eyes to the basis of this celestial structure, and you will discover just before it a large basin of porphyrian marble, receiving from the mouth of a large lion's head, to which two bodies displayed on each side of it are conjoined, a greenish fountain of liquid jasper. Ponder this well and consider. Haunt no more the woods and forests; (I speak as a fool) haunt no more the fleet; let the flying eagle fly unobserved; busy yourselves no longer with the dancing idiot, swollen toads, and his own tail-devouring dragon; leave these as elements to your Tyrones.
The object of your wishes and desires (some of you may, perhaps have attained it, I speak as a fool), is that admirable thing which has a substance, neither too fiery nor altogether earthy, nor simply watery; neither a quality the most acute or most obtuse, but of a middle nature, and light to the touch, and in some manner soft, at least not hard, not having asperity, but even in some sort sweet to the taste, odorous to the smell, grateful to the sight, agreeable and delectable to the hearing, and pleasant to the thought; in short, that one only thing besides which there is no other, and yet everywhere possible to be found, the blessed and most sacred subject of the square of wise men, that is.......
I had almost blabbed it out and been sacrilegiously perjured. I shall therefore speak of it with a circumlocution yet more dark and obscure, that none but the Sons of Science and those who are illuminated with the sublimest mysteries and profoundest secrets of MASONRY may understand. . .
It is then what brings you, my dearest Brethren, to that pellucid, diaphanous palace of the true disinterested lovers of wisdom, that triumphant pyramid of purple salt, more sparkling and radiant than the finest Orient ruby, in the center of which reposes inaccessible light epitomized, that incorruptible celestial fire, blazing like burning crystal, and brighter than the sun in his full meridian glories, which is that immortal, eternal, never-dying PYROPUS; the King of genius, whence proceeds everything that is great and wise and happy.
These things are deeply hidden from common view, and covered with pavilions of thickest darkness, that what is sacred may not be given to dogs or your pearls cast before swine, lest they trample them under foot, and turn again and rend you.
All this is Rosicrucian thought and phraseology. Its counterpart may be found in the writings of any of the Hermetic philosophers. But it is not Freemasonry and could be understood by no Freemason relying for his comprehension only on the teaching he had received in his own Order. It is the language of a Rosicrucian adept addressed to other adepts, who like himself had united with the Fraternity of Freemasons, that they might out of its select coterie choose the most mystical and therefore the most suitable candidates to elevate them to the higher mysteries of their own brotherhood. That Philalethes and his brother Rosicrucians entertained an opinion of the true character of Speculative Masonry very different from that taught by its founders is evident from other passages of this Dedication.
Unlike Anderson, Desaguliers, and the writers purely Masonic who succeeded them, the author of the Dedication establishes no connection between Architecture and Freemasonry. Indeed, it is somewhat singular that although he names both David and Solomon in the course of his narrative, it is with little respect, especially for the latter, and he does not refer, even by a single word, to the Temple of Jerusalem.
The Freemasonry of this writer is not architectural, but altogether Theosophic. It is evident that as a Hermetic philosopher he sought to identify the Freemasons with the disciples of the Rosicrucian sect rather than with the Operative Masons of the Middle Ages.
This is a point of much interest in the discussion of the question of a connection between the two associations, considering that this work was published only five years after the revival. It tends to show not that Freemasonry was established by the Rosicrucians, but, on the contrary, that at that early period the latter were seeking to engraft themselves upon the former, and that while they were willing to use the simple degrees of Craft Masonry as a nucleus for the growth of their own fraternity, they looked upon them only as the medium of securing a higher initiation, altogether un-Masonic in its character and to which but few Masons ever attained.
Neither Anderson nor Desaguliers, our best because contemporary authority for the state of Masonry in the beginning of the 18th century, give the slightest indication that there was in their day a higher Masonry than that described in the Book of Constitutions of 1723.
The Hermetic element was evidently not introduced into Speculative Masonry until the middle of the 18th century, when it was infused in a fragmentary form into some of the High Degrees which were at that time fabricated by certain of the continental manufacturers of Rites.
But if, as Engenius Philalethes plainly indicates, there were in the year 1723 higher degrees, or at least a higher degree, attached to the Masonic system and claimed to be a part of it, which possessed mystical knowledge that was concealed from the great body of the Craft, "who were not far illuminated, who stood in the outward place and were not worthy to look behind the veil.”
By which it is clearly implied that there was another class of initiates who were far illuminated, who stood within the inner place and looked behind the veil - then the question forces itself upon us, why is it that neither Anderson nor Desaguliers nor any of the writers of that period, nor any of the rituals, make any allusion to this higher and more illuminated system?
The answer is readily at hand. It is because no such system of initiation, so far as Freemasonry was concerned, existed. The Master's degree was at that day the consummation and perfection of Speculative Masonry. There was nothing above or beyond it.
The Rosicrucians, who, especially in their astrological branch, were then in full force in England, had, as we see from this book, their own initiation into their Hermetic and Theosophic system.
Freemasonry then beginning to become popular and being also a mystical society, these Mystical Brethren of the Rosy Cross were ready to enter within its portals and to take advantage of its organization. But they soon sought to discriminate between their own perfect wisdom and the imperfect knowledge of their brother Masons, and, Rosicrucian-like, spoke of an arcana which they only possessed.
There were some Rosicrucians who, like Philalethes, became Freemasons, and some Freemasons, like Elias Ashmole, who became Rosicrucians. But there was no legitimate derivation of one from the other. There is no similarity between the two systems-their origin is different; their symbols, though sometimes identical, have always a different interpretation; and it would be an impossible task to deduce the one historically from the other. Yet there are not wanting scholars whose judgment on other matters has not been deficient, who have not hesitated to trace Freemasonry to a Rosicrucian source.
Some of these, as Buhle, De Quincey, and Sloane, were not Freemasons, and we can easily ascribe their historical errors to their want of knowledge, but such writers as Nicolai and Reghellini have no such excuse for the fallacy of which they have been guilty. Johann Gottlieb Buhle was among the first to advance the hypothesis that Freemasonry was an off shoot of Rosicrucianism. This he did in a work entitled On the Origin and the Principal Events, of the Orders of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry[x]published in 1804. His theory was that Freemasonry was invented in the year 1629, by John Valentin Andrea, and hence that it sprang out of the Rosicrucian system or fiction which was the fabrication of that writer. His fallacious views and numerous inaccuracies met with many refutations at the time, besides those of Nicolai, produced in the work which has been heretofore cited.
Even De Quincey himself, a bitter but flippant adversary of Freemasonry, and who translated, or rather paraphrased, the views of Buhle, does not hesitate to brand him as illogical in his reasoning and confused in his arrangement. Yet both Nicolai and De Quincey have advanced almost the same hypothesis, though that of the former is considerably modified in its conclusions.
The flippancy and egotism of De Quincey, with his complete ignorance as a profane, of the true elements of the Masonic institution, hardly entitle his arguments to a serious criticism. His theory and his self-styled facts may be epitomized as follows: He thinks that the Rosicrucians where attracted to the Operative Masons by the incidents, attributes and legends of the latter, and that thus the two Orders were brought into some connection with each other.
The same building that was used by the guild of Masons offered a desirable means for the secret assemblies of the early Freemasons, who, of course, were Rosicrucians. An apparatus of implements and utensils, such as was presented in the fabulous sepulcher of Father Rosencreutz, was introduced, and the first formal and solemn Lodge of Freemasons on which occasion the name of Freemasons was publicly made known, was held in Masons' Hall, Masons' Alley, Basinghall Street, London, in the year 1646.
Into this Lodge, he tells us that Elias Ashmole was admitted. Private meetings he says may have been held, and one at Warrington in Lancashire, which is mentioned in Ashmole's Life, but the name of a Freemasons' Lodge, with the insignia, attributes, and circumstances of a Lodge, first, he assures us, came forward at the date above mentioned. All of this he tells us, is upon record, and thus refers to historical testimony, though he does not tell us where it is to be found.
Now, all these statements we know, from authentic records, to be false. Ashmole is our authority, and he is the very best authority, because he was an eye-witness and a personal actor in the occurrences which he records. It has already been seen, by the extracts heretofore given from Ashmole's diary, that there is no record of a Lodge held in 1646 at Masons' Hall; that the Lodge was held, with “all the attributes and circumstances of a Lodge," at Warrington; that Ashmole was then and there initiated as a Freemason, and not at London.
Finally, that the record of the Lodge held at Masons' Hall, London, which is made by the same Ashmole, was in 1683 and not in 1646, or thirty- five years afterward. An historian who thus falsifies records to sustain a theory is not entitled to the respectful attention of a serious argument. And, so, De Quincey may be dismissed for what he is worth.
I do not concede to him the excuse of ignorance for he evidently must have had Ashmole's diary under his eyes, and his misquotations could only have been made in bad faith. Nicolai is more honorable in his mode of treating the question. He does not attribute the use of Freemasonry directly and immediately from the Rosicrucian brotherhood.
But, he thinks that its mystical theosophy was the cause of the outspring of many other mystical associations, such as the Theosophists, and that, passing over into England, it met with the experimental philosophy of Bacon, as developed especially in his New Atlantis, and that the combined influence of the two. The esoteric principles of the one and the experimental doctrines of the other, together with the existence of certain political motives, led to a meeting of philosophers who established the system of Freemasonry at Masons' Hall in 1646. He does not explicitly say so, but it is evident from the names that he gives that these philosophers were Astrologers, who were only a sect of the Rosicrucians devoted to a specialty.
The theory and the arguments of Nicolai have already been considered in the preceding chapter of this work, and need no further discussion here. The views of Rhigellini are based on the book of Nicolai, and differ from them only in being, from his Gallic ignorance of English history, a little more inaccurate. The views of Rhigellini have already been referred to on a preceding page.
And now, we meet with another theorist, who is scarcely more respectful or less flippant than De Quincey, and who, not being a Freemason, labors under the disadvantage of an incorrect knowledge of the principles of the Order. Besides we can expect but little accuracy from one who quotes as authentic history the spurious Leland Manuscript. Mr. George Sloane, in a very readable book published in London in 1849, under the title of New Curiosities of Literature, has a very long article in his second volume on The Rosicrucians and Freemasons.
Adopting the theory that the latter are derived from the former, he contends, from what he calls proofs, but which are no proofs at all, that:
The Freemasons are not anterior to the Rosicrucians; and their principles, so far as they were avowed about the middle of the 17th century, being identical, it is fair to presume that the Freemasons were, in reality, the first incorporated body of Rosicrucians or Sapientes.
As he admits that this is but a presumption, and as presumptions are not facts, it is hardly necessary to occupy any time in its discussion. But he proceeds to confirm his presumption, in the following way. He says:
In the Fama of Andrea, we have the first sketch of a constitution which bound by oath the members to mutual secrecy, which proposed higher and lower grades, yet leveled all worldly distinctions in the common bonds of brotherhood, and which opened its privileges to all classes, making only purity of mind and purpose the condition of reception.
This is not correct. Long before the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis there were many secret associations in the Middle Ages, to say nothing of the Mysteries of antiquity, in which such constitutions prevailed, enjoining secrecy under the severest penalties, dividing their system of esoteric instruction into different grades, establishing a bond of brotherhood, and always making purity of life and rectitude of conduct the indispensable qualifications for admission.
Freemasonry needed not to seek the model of such a constitution from the Rosicrucians. Another argument advanced by Mr. Sloane is this:
The emblems of the two brotherhoods are the same in every respect - the plummet, the level, the compasses, the cross, the rose, and all the symbolic trumpery which the Rosicrucians named in their writings as the insignia of their imaginary associations, and which they also would have persuaded a credulous, world concealed truths ineffable by mere language; both, too, derived their wisdom from Adam, adopted the same myth of building, connected themselves in the same unintelligible way with Solomon's Temple, affected to be seeking light from the East - in other words, the Cabala - and accepted the heathen Pythagoras among their adepts.
In this long passage, there are almost as many errors and miss-statements, as there are lines.
The emblems of the two Orders were not the same in any respect. The square and compasses were not ordinary nor usual Rosicrucian emblems.
In one instance, in a plate in the Azoth Philosophorum of Basil Valentine, published in the 17th century, we will, it is true, find these implements forming part of a Rosicrucian figure but they are there evidently used as phallic symbols, a meaning never attached to them in Freemasonry, whose interpretation of them is derived from their operative use.
Besides, we know, from a relic discovered near Limerick, in Ireland, that the square and the level were used by the Operative Masons as emblems in the 16th or, perhaps, the 15th century, with the same signification that is given to them by the Freemasons of the present day.
The Speculative Masons delved nearly all of their symbols from the implements and the language of the Operative art; the Rosicrucians took theirs from astronomical and geometrical problems, and were connected in their interpretations with a system of theosophy and not with the art of building. The cross and the rose, referred to by Mr. Sloane, never were at any time, not even at the present day, emblems recognized in Craft Masonry, and were introduced into such of the High Degrees fabricated about the middle of the 18th century as had in them a Rosicrucian element.
Again, the Rosicrucians had nothing to do with the Temple of Solomon. Their "invisible house," or their Temple, or "House of the Holy Ghost," was a religious and philosophic idea, much more intimately connected with Lord Bacon's House of Solomon in the Island of Bensalem than it was with the Temple of Jerusalem.
And, finally, the early Freemasons, like their successors of the present day, in "seeking light from the East," intended no reference to the Cabala, which is never mentioned in any of their primitive rituals, but alluded to the East as the source of physical light - the place of sun rising, which they adopted as a symbol of intellectual and moral light.
It would, indeed, be easier to prove from their symbols that the first Speculative Masons were sun-worshippers than that they were Rosicrucians, though neither hypothesis would be correct. If anyone will take the trouble of toiling through the three books of Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy, which may be considered as the text-book of the old Rosicrucian philosophy, he will see how little there is in common between Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry.
The one is a mystical system founded on the Cabala; the other the outgrowth of a very natural interpretation of symbols derived from the usages and the implements of an operative art. The Rosicrucians were Theosophists, whose doctrines were of angels and demons of the elements, of the heavenly bodies and their influence on the affairs of men, and of the magical powers of numbers, of suffumigations, and other sorceries.
The Alchemists, who have been called "physical Rosicrucians," adopted the metals and their transmutation, the elixir of life, and their universal solvent, as symbols, if we may believe Hitchcock[xi] by which they concealed the purest dogmas of a religious life.
But, Freemasonry, has not and never had anything of this kind in its system. Its founders were, as we will see when we come to the historical part of this work, builders, whose symbols, applied in their architecture, were of a religious and Christian character; and when their successors made this building fraternity a speculative association, they borrowed the symbols by which they sought to teach their philosophy, not from Rosicrucianism, not from magic, nor from the Cabala, but from the art to which they owed their origin.
Every part of Speculative Masonry proves that it could not have been derived from Rosicrucianism. The two Orders had in common but one thing - they both had secrets which they scrupulously preserved from the unhallowed gaze of the profane.
Andrea sought, it is true, in his Fama Fraternitatis, to elevate Rosicrucianism to a more practical and useful character, and to make it a vehicle for moral and intellectual reform. But even his system, which was the only one that could have exerted any influence on the English philosophers, is so thoroughly at variance in its principles from that of the Freemasonry of the 17th century, that a union of the two, or the derivation of one from the other, must have been utterly impracticable.
It has been said that when Henry Cornelius Agrippa was in London, in the year 1510, he founded a secret society of Rosicrucians. This is possible although, during; his brief visit to London, Agrippa was the guest of the learned Dean Colet, and spent his time with his host in the study of the works of the Apostle to the Gentiles. "I labored hard," he says himself, "at the Epistles of St. Paul."
Still. he may have found time to organize a society of Rosicrucians. Mr. Morley says:
In the beginning of the 16th century, secret societies were chiefly composed of curious and learned youths had become numerous, especially among the Germans, and towards the close of that century these secret societies were developed into the form of brotherhoods of Rosicrucians, each member of which gloried in styling himself Physician, Theosophist, Chemist, and now, by the mercy of God, Rosicrucian.[xii]
But to say of this society, established by Agrippa in England in 1510 (if one was actually established), as has been said by a writer of the last century that:
The practice of initiation, or secret incorporation, thus and then first introduced has been handed down to our own times, and hence, apparently, the mysterious Eleusinian confederacies now known as the Lodges of Freemasonry.[xiii]
[ii] “Allgemeine und General Reformation der ganzen, weiten Welt. Beneben der Fama Fraternitatis des Loblichen Ordens des Rosencreutzes, an alle Gelehrte und Haupter Europae geschreiben," Cassel, 1614.
- BROTHER ISAAC NEWTON
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