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on 16 October 2017
McIntosh presents a detailed analysis of the formation of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood, its teachings, and myths. Only in the later sections, dealing with subsequent groups influenced by the Brotherhood does McIntosh lose some focus.
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on 3 September 2016
”The Rosicrucians: The History, Mythology and Rituals of an Esoteric Order” is a scholarly but basic introduction to the stream of thought known as Rosicrucianism. The book is written by Christopher McIntosh, author of several works on the history of Western esotericism. The foreword is authored by Colin Wilson, which may or may not be a commendation. Wilson seems to be writing forewords to pretty much everything!

The original Rosicrucians emerged in Germany during the 17th century and rapidly spread to other lands, most notably Britain. Organized as a secret society and based on part-ironic founding documents, their real history and purpose is somewhat difficult to gauge. McIntosh sees Rosicrucianism as a more or less direct continuator of the esotericism which thrived during the Renaissance. Ficino, Pico, Agrippa and Paracelsus were important characters in this revival of earlier esoteric traditions such as Hermetism, Neo-Platonism, the Cabala and Pythagoreanism. McIntosh describes Rosicrucianism as “Gnostic”, but personally I feel that Hermetic is a better term, since the brothers of the Rosy Cross were interested in transmuting this world, not simply leave it behind. The original Rosicrucians also had millenarian streaks freely based on Joachim of Fiore and his apocalyptic speculations. There was also a related utopian streak. The world would be changed to the better by a combination of science, spirituality and education. Campanella's “City of the Sun” and Bacon's “The New Atlantis” preached a similar-sounding message. At some point, alchemy became Rosicrucianism's defining feature, while the movement started to overlap with Freemasonry, in particular “Scottish” Masonry (really a Jacobite invention during their French exile). The alchemy wasn't strictly spiritual in character, but really involved attempts to make gold from base metals.

It's not clear whether there is a direct continuity between 17th and 18th century Rosicrucianism. What is clear is that groups claiming the mantle of Rosicrucianism were popular in Germany during the 18th century as a conservative counter-reaction to the Enlightenment. For a brief moment, Rosicrucians even had political power. The Prussian king Frederick William II was a member of the “Order of the Golden and Rose Cross”, and appointed his spiritual mentors to important political offices. He also organized bizarre séances at the royal court, including attempts to contact spirits with the aid of a machine!

During the 19th and 20th centuries, new occult groups emerged which had little or nothing to do with the original Rosicrucians, but laid claim to the tradition anyway. Of these, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and some of its offshoots were probably closest to the original version of the tradition. Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophy, Max Heindel's Rosicrucian Fellowship, H Spencer Lewis' AMORC and R Swinburne Clymer's Fraternitas Rosae Crucis are further removed, being strongly inspired by other occult streams. The book also contains a chapter on the late 19th century “Rosicrucian” revival in France, and an additional section on Rosicrucian-inspired literature, Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel “Zanoni” being a well known specimen. For some reason, the author doesn't discuss Paul Foster Case's group Builders of the Adytum.

Since McIntosh's book is meant as an introduction, more advanced readers might be disappointed by the summaries and omissions. Still, I think it was well worth reading. I consider it a good complement to the Rosicrucian entries in John Michael Greer's “The Element Encylopedia of Secret Societies”, which I also warmly recommend.

So what is Rosicrucianism, then? Perhaps the best short explanation is a cluster of secret societies, somewhat resembling Freemasons, which originally embodied the Western esoteric tradition in a mostly Renaissance garb. Later, the “meme” started to mutate and today, the term has little meaning except as mystery-signaling. But sure, if you look hard enough, perhaps Master Christian Rosenkreuz will appear behind a stack of obscure alchemical treatises in some used book store…
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on 24 November 2001
For those with a preliminary interest in the Rosicrucian (R+C) philosophy and teachings, this is a good overall introduction. The book ties together the Gnostic- and Hermetic-influenced origins of the R+C and various accounts of their evolution through the ages up to the 1990s.
This book was written by an author who is up to his neck in esotericism and the history of the Age of Reason. The author does a good job of explaining just how dangerous it was in times past to hold some of the beliefs that R+Cs did, and why things were kept so secret. I had the feeling he did his research well, going back where possible to original documents in various continental libraries in order to do so. One glance at the bibliography of this book will prove the breadth of his research and, likely, the intensity of his interest in the subject.
It is not a handbook of R+C teachings, but does contain very helpful information on key parts of the R+C tradition: the Fama Fraternitatis, Confessio Fraternitatis and Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. The roles of key personalities relevant to the R+C are considered: Johann Andraea, Francis Bacon, Dr. R. Swinburne Clymer, John Dee, Rene Descartes, Goethe, Max Heindel, Dr. H. Spencer Lewis, Michael Maier, Paschal B. Randolph, Rudolph Steiner, A.E. Waite, Adam Weishaupt (of the Bavarian Illuminati), etc.
There are 16 b/w plate illustrations.
One of the later chapters gives potted histories of some of the 20th century R+C groups: AMORC, Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, Golden Dawn, Lectorium Rosicrucianum, Rosicrucian Fellowship.
Although this book is not an exposé of detailed R+C teachings and symbology, it is a valuable resource for someone interested in knowing more about the Rosicrucians and in tying together the various strands, movements and philosophies.
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on 29 March 1999
If you are already a rosicrucian, this book will not help you since you have inside information. But if you want to read a true historian's view on facts involving the Rosicrucian movement, this is an excellent book. The author made a very thorough job of investigating sources.
His basis is veryfiable facts (not all facts unfortunately can be verified). He started writing on Rosicrucianism with the thought of it being a fledging unimportant movement, but had to change his mind completely as the many details came to the surface. This books covers everything from the Fama (manifestos) to present day rosicrucian movements like AMORC, and the Fellowship...
A very technical and scholarly book!
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on 28 April 2013
Very clear but at times a little too detailed for me. That is my problem as I am new in the Order. If you wish to understand it is a good primer, otherwise ensure that you have a good mentor to guide your further study.
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on 27 November 1998
When I picked up the book, what I hoped to find was a book telling me what Rosicrusianism was all about. What I got was an outsiders speculation on the subject. I wouldn't recommend it if you are truly interested in the subject.
S.L. USA
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