Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

A secret doctrine apparently formulated in the early 17th century; the texts that announced the Rosicrucian Society's existence were probably inspired by the millennial anxieties that ransacked Europe during these decades of violent religious conflict. The immediate sources of Rosicrucian doctrine – all of which is esoteric – seems to be 16th-century Neoplatonism, and it has been suggested that the hermetic speculations in the Cabbala by John Dee may have been directly influential. Whatever the truth, the Rosicrucian Society was a brotherhood whose members affianced themselves to a tradition that Secret Masters embodied the world's history and controlled it from behind the scenes. Their own Magus founder, Christian Rosencreutz, is a typical Secret Master: he lives an abnormally long time; he travels into the East, where he is initiated into arcana and Magic; he returns with his gifts to Europe, where he sets them down in secret; after his death, he becomes a Sleeper Under the Hill; he is credited (long after his death) with the partial authorship of the Fama Fraternitus dess Loblichen Ordens des Rosenkreutzes (1614 chap; trans 1652 UK), which tells his life story, and of the Confessio Fraternitas (1615), which purports to give an historical background, extending into Ancient Egypt, for the secret order.

More interestingly to general readers, Rosenkreutz is also the subject of Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosenkreutz (1616; trans as The Hermetick Romance, or The Chymical Wedding 1690 UK) by Johann Valentin Andreae, a Romance ostensibly much concerned with Alchemy (Rosencreutz discovers the Philosophers' Stone) but in fact a tale that would assuredly have Taproot-Text status were it better-known. Rosenkreutz is interrupted at Easter by an invitation to a royal wedding, and undertakes a perilous journey to the castle where the chymical marriage is held, though only after he has been put through various ordeals. Afterwards he penetrates the marriage chamber, where Venus (> Goddess) reposes asleep; on discovery he is punished by being commanded to remain on guard over the secret chamber, which also contains books of wisdom recounting the secret history of the world. A plethora of occult imagery and the creation of at least one Homunculus adorn the central tale. Whether or not Andreae wrote not only this novel but also the two "nonfiction" founding texts of Rosicrucianism is moot – it seems on balance likely he did. In later life, however, he abjured any relationship to the secret brotherhood he may have created out of whole cloth.

There is no real evidence that the Rosicrucian Order existed at all – as an actual group of men – during the 17th century. Nor is there much more evidence for the existence of the Order of the Gold and Rosy Cross, ostensibly founded on Rosicrucian principles in 1710. During the 18th century, however, various societies began to claim a Rosicrucian provenance, but none adhered in any significant fashion to the precepts of the original fabrication; and the picture is rendered far more complex by the competing and/or complementary activities and assertions of Freemasonry. It was not until the founding of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1887 that the 17th-century material was given heed (though any claimed historical connection was spurious) and that Rituals involving a Seven-sided tomb and a magically preserved Rosencreutz came into use. It is through the Golden Dawn connection that writers like Aleister Crowley and Arthur Machen may have come across and made use of certain fabulous images brought into being by Andreae.

The Invisible College in Mary Gentle's Rats and Gargoyles (1990) is a direct reference to Rosicrucianism, as is Terry Pratchett's Unseen University. The 20th-century (Californian) Rosicrucian Society, whose ads were much enjoyed by readers of pulp Magazines, seems at best a very remote descendant of the original. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.