What is Rosicrucianism?
Rosicrucianism was born at the beginning of the 17th century from a legend about a man called Christian Rosenkreuz. According to the legend, Rosenkreuz was a German doctor who lived in the 15th century. He is credited with creating the Order of the Rose Cross, which gave its name to the tradition.
The spiritual movement draws on several other traditions and brings together Hermeticism, Christian mysticism, alchemy and the Kabbalah. The Kabbalah is a system of beliefs that derives from ancient Hebraic traditions. Though inherited from the Jewish religion, Christianism also has a Cabbala (with a different spelling). Whether Jewish or Christian, the tradition, if followed correctly, is to bring an evolution of the being, transforming the initiate into a better self, bringing them closer to their God. Quite similarly, Rosicrucianism aims at a “universal reformation of mankind”.
Together with freemasonry, Rosicrucianism is now one of the most well-known traditions of occultism. Since it appeared in the 17th century, it has had a lasting influence on many hermetic groups and shaped the occult revival of the 19th century. Although it has been quite forgotten today, at the time the movement was a large-scale phenomenon that touched most classes of society. Many significant people of the era dabbled in occult movements, making a lasting imprint on European culture. For example, Oscar Wilde and W. B. Yeats, two well-known writers of the time, were both initiates of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult group that heavily included Rosicrucianism in its teachings.
Before our manuscript was published, three other texts set the basis for what came to be know as Rosicrucianism; these were published in 1614 (Fama Fraternitatis RC), 1615 (Confessio Fraternitatis) and 1617 (Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosicross anno 1459). All three works are now considered manifestos to the spiritual tradition.
“The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosy Cross”
Not long after that, in 1618, Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum (The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosy Cross) was published by one “Theophilus Schweighardt” (a pseudonym, thought to be the German alchemist Daniel Mögling).
The manuscript is written in Latin, but it is famous enough to have been transcribed and translated. Today, the text is thus available in several languages, including English, on the internet.
Like many writings dealing with subjects like hermeticism or alchemy, it is a complex text, and those who have sought to decipher it have not always come to the same conclusions.
MS. Lat. misc. e. 74, which is a copy of Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum, has other interesting features though: three colourful paintings, tucked at the end of the manuscript, such as this one:
Imagery in esotericism is always packed with symbols and acts as codes that can be deciphered by adepts. Lines, shapes, words and colours were always thought out with a lot of care and an image such as this one is meant to be more than just a pretty picture. This manuscript shows the pictures in glorious colourful details; however, when Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum was published, the paintings became simple black and white engravings. These still became very popular, to the point that today, this is the image that illustrate the Wikipedia page defining Rosicrucianism!
Though the engravings might be famous, and other coloured versions of the pictures (maybe lithographs) exist, I have not been able to find any coloured version online as rich as the one in MS. Lat. misc. e. 74.
The content of the manuscript might be available through the internet, but it doesn’t quite compare to the experience of holding the manuscript and admiring its three paintings, coloured and highlighted in gold leaf.
This item is now available through the Bodleian Archives & Manuscript interface.