The Rosicrucians are members of a mystical fellowship or brotherhood that came to prominence in Europe in the early 17th century. The emblem of the fellowship is an open-petalled red rose at the center of a golden cross, perhaps symbolizing blood and sacrifice, beauty and purity, as well as the binary oppositions of male and female, suffering and glory. The fellowship appears to draw its teachings from a range of esoteric movements including alchemy, magic, Gnosticism, and Jewish and Egyptian mysticism. It is neither a religion nor an order of Freemasons, though it has some of the features of both of these, but is more concerned with the discovery of spiritual truth and the hidden meaning in things.
Though its roots are sometimes traced as far back as first century Egypt, the origins of the fellowship are traditionally thought to lie with a German scholar, Christian Rosenkreutz, whose dates are said to be 1378-1484. He is described as having learned mystic secrets from the Arabs while traveling in the Holy Land, Egypt, and Morocco. It is not clear whether Rosenkreutz is a historical figure, a mythological or allegorical personage, or an assumed name. Key figures in the history of Rosicrucianism include the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541), the English scholar, magician, and traveler John Dee (1527-1608), the German alchemist Michael Maier (1568-1622), the English doctor and scholar Robert Fludd (1574-1637), the German theologian Johann Valentin Andrea (1586-1654), and possibly the scientist and writer Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Three important publications in the early 17th century were the Fama Fraternitatis (1614), the Confessio Rosae Crucis (1615), and the Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosenkreutz (1616). As well as telling the story of Christian Rosenkreutz, these texts spoke of the dawning of a new age, a secret brotherhood whose members had special healing powers and a new knowledge that was to solve the world's problems. They excited the popular imagination, and by 1620 more than an additional 400 pamphlets had been published discussing Rosicrucian ideas.
Rosicrucianism remained very much in the public eye for the next hundred years, and references to it abound in the literature of the time, including, for example, one in Pope's dedication to his famous poem "The Rape of the Lock." In 1714, issue no. 379 of the Spectator contains a description of the tomb of Rosenkreutz, and issue no. 574 contains an account of Addison's conversation with a Rosicrucian, which he describes as a mixture of "unintelligible cant" and "natural and moral ideas." His conclusion is that the Rosicrucian's "great secret was nothing else but content." Perhaps it was the rationalization of Rosicrucianism in the 18th century and the identification of the Philosopher's Stone with spiritual contentment that led to a loss of interest in its ideas. But the Rosicrucian message has always been the advancement of humanity through spiritual enlightenment accompanied by such values as tolerance, compassion, and selflessness.
Various groups calling themselves Rosicrucian and claiming to be a continuation of the genuine Rosicrucian tradition still exist in the 21st century, the biggest of which is probably Antiquus Mysticusque Ordo Rosae Crucis (the Ancient and Mystical Order of the Rosy Cross [AMORC]), with its headquarters in San Jose, California. They see it as their role to bring an ancient spiritual tradition to modern consciousness, but their influence is insignificant compared to the great days of Rosicrucianism.