The Rosicrucian Order is a legendary esoteric Order with its roots in the Western mystery tradition. This hermetic Order is viewed among earlier and many modern Rosicrucianists as a "College of Invisibles" from the inner worlds, composed of great Adepts, aiming to give assistance in humanity's spiritual development.
The "Brethren of the Rose Cross" is perceived by students of metaphysics as an important part or even the source of the hermetic-Christian tradition of the Western alchemy treatises period subsequent to the publication of Dante's The Divine Comedy in the early 14th century.
However, researchers of history and the society in general through the last centuries have assumed its origin in a group of German Protestants between 1607 and 1616 (early 17th century), when three anonymous documents were elaborated and published in Europe: Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, Confessio Fraternitatis, and Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz anno 1459. The influence of these documents, presenting the "most laudable Order" and promoting a "Universal Reformation of Mankind", was so huge that the historian Frances Yates refers to this period of the 17th century as the Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Members of subsequent organized groups which call themselves Rosicrucian, however, date the beginning of the Order to much more ancient times.
In the 17th century, three Rosicrucian manifestos were anonymously published: Fama Fraternitatis in 1614, Confessio Fraternitatis in 1615, and the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz in 1616. Together, they presented the legend of a German pilgrim named "C.R.C." (later introduced in the third manifesto as Christian Rosenkreuz). The legend tells that this pilgrim studied in the Middle East under various occult masters and founded the Rosicrucian Order, which aimed to bring about a "universal reformation of mankind." During Rosenkreuz's lifetime, the Order was said to consist of no more than eight members, and when he died, the Order disappeared, only to be "reborn" in the early 17th century at the time of the publication of the manifestos.
The manifestos were filled with symbolism and have been interpreted in many ways over the centuries. They do not directly state Rosenkreuz's years of birth and death, but in the Confessio Fraternitatis, the year 1378 is presented as being the birth year of "our Christian Father," and it is stated that they could describe the 106 years of his life, which would imply the year 1484 for his death. The foundation of the Order can be similarly deduced to have occurred in 1407. However, these dates are not taken literally by many students of occultism and are considered as allegorical statements for the understanding of the initiated. The reasoning arises from the manifestos themselves: on one hand, the Rosicrucians clearly adopted the Pythagorean tradition of envisioning objects and ideas in terms of their numeric aspects, and, on the other hand, they directly state: "We speak unto you by parables, but would willingly bring you to the right, simple, easy, and ingenuous exposition, understanding, declaration, and knowledge of all secrets," but that a fundamental requisite to achieve this knowledge is "that we be earnest to attain to the understanding and knowledge of philosophy."
Thanks to the complexity and subjectivity of the ideas expressed in the manifestos, there are many different perspectives about them among contemporary Rosicrucianists: some accept the legend as literal truth, others see it as a set of parables with deeper meanings, and yet others believe Rosenkreuz to be a pseudonym for a more famous historical figure, usually Francis Bacon.
Several modern societies have been formed for the study of Rosicrucianism and allied subjects. However, many researchers on the history of Rosicrucianism argue that modern Rosicrucianists are in no sense directly derived from those of the 17th century. Instead, they are considered to be keen followers. Moreover, some have viewed the 17th century Order as a literary hoax or prank, rather than an operative society. Others contend that history shows them to be the genesis of later operative and functional societies.
The curious legend in which the fabulous origin of the society was established was so improbable that the genesis of the Rosicrucians was generally overlooked or ignored in the writings of the time. Christian Rosenkreuz had discovered and learned the Secret Wisdom on a pilgrimage to the East in the 15th century. The metaphorical quality of these legends lends to the nebulous nature of the origins of Rosicrucianism. For example, the opening of Rosenkreuz's tomb is thought to be only a way of referring to the cycles in nature and to cosmic events, and Rosenkreuz's pilgrimage seems to refer to transmutation steps of the Great Work
It is on the foundation of these teachings that Rosenkreuz conceived the plan for simultaneous and universal religious, philosophic, scientific, political, and artistic reform. To implement his plan, he united with several disciples (seven at first, according to Fama Fraternitatis) to whom he gave the name of Rose-Croix.
The publication of the Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis (1614)What was known in the early 17th century as the "Fraternity of the Rose Cross"—approximately a century prior to Adam Weishaupt's Enlightenment secret society, the Illuminati—seems to scholars to have been a number of isolated individuals who held certain views in common, which apparently was their only bond of union. These views were regarding hermetic knowledge, related to the higher nature of man, and also with common philosophical concepts of the foundation of a more perfected human society. There is no trace of a formal brotherhood or secret society which held meetings or had officers or leaders, and for this reason, it has been deduced that the writers who posed as Rosicrucians were moral and religious reformers and utilized the techniques of chemistry (alchemy) and the sciences generally as media through which to publicize their opinions and beliefs. Their writings included a hint of mysticism or occultism, promoting inquiry and suggesting hidden meanings discernible or discoverable only by Adepts.
The publications of Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, Confessio Fraternitatis (1615), and Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz caused immense excitement throughout Europe. These works declared the existence of a secret brotherhood of alchemists and sages who were preparing to transform the arts, sciences, religion, and political and intellectual landscape of Europe while wars of politics and religion ravaged the continent. Not only were these works re-issued several times, but they were followed by numerous pamphlets, favourable and otherwise, whose authors generally knew little of the real aims of the original author and often amused themselves at the public's expense. It is probable that the first work was circulated in manuscript form about 1610, even though there was no mention of the order before that decade. In his autobiography, Johann Valentin Andreae (1586–1654) claimed the anonymously published Chymische Hochzeit (Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz) as one of his works, although he subsequently described it as a Ludibrium. However, in his later works, alchemy is the object of ridicule and is placed with music, art, theatre and astrology in the category of less serious sciences. His role in the origin of the Rosicrucian legend is controversial.
Martin Luther's seal.
Ancient wax seal, shown inverted, with the possible inscription "D: M. Luther"(?) and alchemical symbols (Pallas, Earth & Mercury or Salt, Sulfur & Mercury or spiritus, amimas & corpus), found in Germany. The authors of the Rosicrucian works generally favoured Lutheranism. However, the relationship between Lutheranism and the Rosicrucians is ambiguous, but some have suggested a connection: Rosicrucian documents denounce the hypocrisy in the Catholic Church of those times; the symbol of Martin Luther is a cross inside an open rose; and, from May 1521 until March 1522, Luther stayed at the Wartburg Castle southwest of the Thuringian forest, where Rosenkreuz is said to have been born.
Around 1530, more than eighty years before the publication of the first manifesto, the association of cross and rose already existed in Portugal in the Convent of the Order of Christ, home of the Knights Templar, later renamed Order of Christ. Three bocetes were, and still are, on the abóboda of the initiation room. The rose can clearly be seen at the center of the cross. At the same time, a minor writing by Paracelsus called Prognosticatio Eximii Doctoris Paracelsi (1530) contained a reference to, and image of, a double cross over an open rose. The occultist Stanislas de Guaita, in "Au seuil du Mystère" (1886), used Paracelsus' writing and other examples to prove the "Fraternity of the Rose Cross" existed far earlier than 1614.
It is evident that the first Rosicrucian manifesto, Fama Fraternitatis, was influenced by the work of the respected hermetic philosopher Heinrich Khunrath, of Hamburg, author of the Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae (1609). He was in turn strongly influenced by the work of the mysterious philosopher and alchemist John Dee, author of the Monas Hieroglyphica (1564). In fact, the invitation to the royal wedding opens with the Monas Heiroglyphica symbol.
The legend and ideas presented in the first two manifestos and in the "Chymical Wedding" inspired a variety of works. Among these, are the works of Michael Maier (1568–1622) of Germany, Robert Fludd (1574–1637) and Elias Ashmole (1617–1692) of England and many others, such as Teophilus Schweighardt Constantiens, Gotthardus Arthusius, Julius Sperber, Henricus Madathanus, Gabriel Naudé, Thomas Vaughan (Sédir, Les Rose-Croix, Paris 1972, p. 59 to 68). Elias Ashmole published the Theatrum Chimicum britannicum in 1650 and in the preface to this work he defends the Rosicrucians. Some later works with an impact on Rosicrucianism were the Opus magocabalisticum et theosophicum by George von Welling (1719), of alchemical and paracelsian inspiration, and the Aureum Vellus oder Goldenes Vliess by Hermann Fictuld in 1749.
Michael Maier was ennobled with the title Pfalzgraf (Count Palatine) by Rudolph II, Emperor and King of Hungary and King of Bohemia. He also was one of the most prominent defenders of the Rosicrucians, clearly transmitting details about the "Brothers of the Rose Cross" in his writings. Maier made the firm statement that the Brothers of R.C. exist to advance inspired arts and sciences, including Alchemy. Researchers of Maier's writings point out that he never claimed to have produced gold, nor did Heinrich Khunrath nor any of the other Rosicrucianists. Their writings point toward a symbolic and spiritual Alchemy, rather than an operative one. In both direct and veiled styles, these writings conveyed the nine stages of the involutive-evolutive transmutation of the threefold body of the human being, the threefold soul and the threefold spirit, among other esoteric knowledge related to the "Path of Initiation".
In his 1618 manifesto, Pia et Utilissima Admonitio de Fratribus Rosae Crucis, Henrichus Neuhusius stated that the Rosicrucians left for the East due to the instability in Europe at the time (the forthcoming Thirty Years' War). Samuel Ritcher in 1710, and later René Guénon, 1886–1951, also presented this idea in some of their works. However, another eminent author on the Rosicrucians, Arthur Edward Waite, contradicts this idea. It was in this fertile field of discourse that many "Rosicrucian" societies arose. They were based on the occult tradition and inspired by the mystery of this "College of Invisibles."
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, various groups styled themselves Rosicrucian. Some of these groups claimed to be the authentic legendary Rosicrucian Order, a few others spoke of an historical lineage to the Rosicrucian Tradition, and a few of them of a spiritual filiation with the hermetic Order.
The diverse groups who link themselves to a "Rosicrucian Tradition" can be divided into two categories: Esoteric Christian groups, which profess Christ, and para-Masonic groups. There are a few connections between these including Martinism which studies Christian mysticism and quite a few other para-Masonic organizations that practice Esoteric Christianity in reverence, study, and ritual as well as claim descent from Masonic origin or unity with a secret Freemasonry. A genuine Esoteric Christian Freemasonic Rosicrucian organization is Societas Rosicruciana.
Esoteric Christian tradition
The Rosicrucian Fellowship's teachings are Christian and claim to present the mysteries (esoteric knowledge) which the Christ spoke of in Matthew 13:11 and Luke 8:10; it seeks to prepare the individual through harmonious development of the mind (occultist) and the heart (mystic) in a spirit of unselfish service to mankind and an all-embracing altruism. According to this Fellowship, the Rosicrucian Order was founded in the year 1313  and is composed by twelve exalted Beings gathered around a thirteenth, Christian Rosenkreuz; these great Adepts are presented as belonging to the human evolution but have already advanced far beyond the cycle of rebirth; their mission is explained as aiming to prepare the whole wide world for a new phase in religion—which includes awareness of the inner worlds and the subtle bodies, and to provide safe guidance in the gradual awakening of man's latent spiritual faculties during the next six centuries toward the coming Age of Aquarius .
According to major occult writers, the Order of the Rose Cross is for the first time expounded in the major Christian literary work that has molded the subsequent spiritual views of the western civilization: The Divine Comedy (1308–1321) by Dante Alighieri   .
The para-Masonic groups may be defined as being late heirs of the alchemy and hermetic knowledge created in the 15th or 17th century and generally speak of a lineal descent from earlier branches of the ancient Rosicrucian Order in England, France, Egypt, or other countries. The inner structure of these groups is based upon Masonic lines, such as grades, initiations and titles.