CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

CESNUR 2005 International Conference
June 2-5, 2005 – Palermo, Sicily
Religious Movements, Globalization and Conflict: Transnational Perspectives

Spiritual filiation or doctrinal conflicts in modern Rosicrucian movements

Sylvain Imbs

A paper presented at the 2005 CESNUR Conference in Palermo, Sicily. Preliminary version – do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

When one studies the field of so-called “modern western esotericism” over the last century, questions will certainly arise about the filiation, the transmission of teachings from a spiritual master to his followers or disciples, but also about the doctrinal conflicts that lead to schisms.

Would spiritual filiation deal with Freudian psychology, where the murder of the father is an unavoidable step to gain access to an adult state?

Or would another spiritual law be in force here?

Transmission implies to receive a mission, a mission that generally consists of a teaching, a teaching that will have to be carried across a space (that is trans-mission), to enlighten the ignorant with this spiritual knowledge. Pierre LORY showed, in one of the GESC Conferences[1] that in the Islamic world, the “word” links to a higher understanding, that contains the word’s meaning. In Islamic movements, the foundation for each spoken word is well-rooted in a spiritual truth. This is transmission by word, oral transmission, a mode of transmission still very much appreciated in the Islamic world. It includes the underlying notion of an immutable Divine Intelligence.

For Gnostics, transmission implies revelation, because Gnostic knowledge proceeds directly from a link with a Divine world, created by a True God, a revelation that enlightens the world of perception, that world of perception having been created by a False God, the Demiurge.

Thus, from these two examples, we can see that transmission does not always rely on a physical “object”, or on a physical master-disciple filiation, but could very well be directly linked to an immaterial or higher degree of reality. We will see that, indeed, this is the case in many movements within western esotericism.

Let’s go to our main subject and have a look at the modes of transmission of the numerous movements that claim filiation with the 17th century Rosicrucian manifestos issued in 1614-1616, claims that largely extend into the18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The more one studies the inner story of recent Rosicrucian movements (movements in which the “true” history can be studied factually from a sociological point of view, compared to the “public” story, often marked with revisionist policies), the more one meets doctrinal conflicts.

The opposition between Annie BESANT’s theosophy and Rudolf STEINER’s anthroposophy, or between RANDOLPH’s Fraternitas Rosae Crucis and H.S. LEWIS’s A.M.O.R.C.  is well known and documented. We have much less information about the doctrinal conflicts that led Jan LEENE ‘s Lectorium Rosicrucianum to split from Max HEINDEL’s Rosicrucian Fellowship. Such a “true history” of Rosicrucian movements is moreover very difficult to establish because no institution has gathered a complete collection of these movements’ publications on both sides of the Atlantic. We know that such a transatlantic interaction played a significant role in the genesis of modern Rosicrucian movements. A.M.O.R.C., for instance, claims a French filiation (which Vanloo showed however to be mainly imaginary[2]). One of the founders of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, Jan Leene, was the general secretary of Max HEINDEL’s Rosicrucian Fellowship for the Netherlands in 1924.

What definition should we use for “filiation” or “transmission”, and what are the criteria for a “spiritual transmission”?

Antoine FAIVRE defined western esotericism based on a theoretical generalization that has been much used since it’s initial publishing in 1989. His definition relies on six criteria: universal correspondence, a living Nature, the role of mediation and imagination, the experience of the transmutation, concordance, and filiation. This outlines the importance of transmission channels or transmission modes. Rosicrucianism is certainly part of western esotericism, as was recently pointed out by Jean-Pierre BRACH, in a special issue of the well-known French weekly magazine Le Point, on Esotericism[3]. We believe that the modes of transmission in which, globally, few have studied the general field of western esotericism, and will give some examples of movements claiming to be Rosicrucian. We have found that, at least in this area of western esotericism, the majority of these filiations are imaginary, mythical, or even forged, or are schisms resulting from doctrinal conflicts.

The departure point of all movements claiming to be Rosicrucian, is the well-known “Alchemical wedding of Christian RosyCross”, an allegoric text issued in 1616 in Strasbourg and attributed to Johan Valentin ANDREAE. Let’s go back to this text and see how transmission implies a preparation, a transformation of those who receive the transmission[4]. Christian RosyCross (or Rozenkreuz) is invited to a wedding by a supernatural being that appears while his house is weathering a terrible storm. This is not merely the “transmission” of a letter, this allegory stresses a deep transformation of the invitation’s recipient. The text of the invitation warns that “for whoever is not ready, the wedding will do harm to thee”. For whoever is ready (and we suppose that in the allegory, Christian Rozenkreuz is most prone to be ready), he too will suffer, but this suffering will ultimately enable him to a decisive transformation.  On the third day of the wedding, candidates are weighed on a golden balance, but Christian Rozenkreuz is considered unworthy and is put in chains. He will finally be admitted, and eventually win the ordeal, but only because the Queen wants to make fun of him. In another allegory of the “alchemical wedding”, the king and queen must first be beheaded before they can, following complicated alchemical operations, be reborn. One of the criteria of filiation, at least from what is shown in this founding text, is death and resurrection, a symbolic representation commonly depicted in alchemical pictures and allegories. If we follow what the text seems to indicate, true Rosicrucian transmission consists of a symbolic death and resurrection which enables a radical transformation and transmutation in the candidate, an idea that is present in most modern Rosicrucian movements, even in literal references to the events of the Solar Temple.

For Rudolf STEINER, the founder of anthroposophy, transmission seems to refer mainly to the transmission of esoteric knowledge– an esoteric knowledge, called “spiritual science”, which, in a recent book, José DUPRE[5] showed to be identical to the theosophical knowledge laid out in H.P. BLAVATSKY’s books. But for STEINER, transmission also implies that the anthroposopher also acquires subtle senses, which enable him to see and feel situations and the world as they really are. To enable this sensorial transformation in candidates, STEINER created a “Mystery School of the Rosy Cross” within the anthroposophic movement, as was explained in his conference: Christian Rosy-Cross and his mission. We have, however, reason to believe that this aim was not achieved, for instance, because of the posthumous publication in the 60’s of anthroposophy’s “inner texts” called the class lessons, texts that STEINER wanted kept absolutely secret. The publication of this material demonstrates a tense situation within the anthroposophic movement, due to doctrinal conflicts after STEINER’s disappearance in 1924, conflicts that have, to some extent, been explained in José DUPRE’s book. Moreover, it seems to us that anthroposophy only came to it adulthood after STEINER’s dissociation from theosophy due to the “Alcyone” episode.

After H.P. BLAVATSKY disappearance, theosophical leader Annie BESANT created a new order within theosophy: the Order of the Oriental star. The sole aim of this was to announce to the world the birth of a new rising star called “Alcyone” the new Maitreya, spiritual master of the world, who was none other than the young Jiddu KRISHNAMURTI, chosen by Colonel Olcott among the numerous young boys that he had in his private harem in the Adyar premises of Theosophy. KRISHNAMURTI himself was opposed to BESANT’s views and dissolved the “Order of Oriental Star” before he started his well-known career as a writer and philosopher. Let’s also keep in mind that René GUENON too, kept his distance from theosophy, and even wrote a book against it[6].

If we now look at H. Spencer LEWIS’s claims of filiation, we have an almost caricatured combination of every possible initiation and spiritual transmission. H.S. LEWIS was born in 1883. After a few years spent in New York directing a society studying psychic phenomenon, he soon became interested in rosicrucianism and its mysteries, and started his own Rosicrucian movement. For LEWIS, AMORC (the initials stand for Ancient and Mystical Order of the Rosy Cross) has a direct filiation with the Pharaoh Toutmesis III and has been transmitted via documents, seals and objects given to LEWIS during a mysterious initiation in 1909, in Toulouse, in the South of France. Though VANLOO[7] showed this initiation to be largely imaginary (texts allegedly written by French Rosicrucian initiates are written in bad French and without correct accents, and photographs produced by LEWIS show monuments that do not exist in Toulouse), this is still the position maintained by AMORC.

LEWIS had, however, to face a concurrent Rosicrucian movement, the Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, created in the 1850s by RANDOLPH (1825-1875). RANDOLPH briefly met Alphonse CONSTANT (known as Eliphas LEVI) in Paris in 1854, and constantly referred to this meeting as a “spiritual transmission” even after this alleged “transmission” was later denied by Eliphas LEVI, himself. What RANDOLPH wrote about Rosicrucian filiation clearly reflects the ideas commonly found in esoteric rosicrucianism in France in the mid 19th century, which gave birth to the Martinist movements:

No one can become a true Rosicrucian, an initiate philosopher, a brother of the light, unless he has been accepted under a duly recognized “Dome”, a Great Dome or Supreme Great Dome, in a competent jurisdiction that belongs to the original authority of the Fraternitas, where he has been received as a Neophyte, then placed under the instruction of a qualified master, and finally has become a Rosicrucian”. RANDOLPH, of course,  proclaimed himself “Supreme Great Master of the Supreme Great Dome of Fraternitas Rosae Crucis” in 1856. CLYMER, one of RANDOLPH’s “lieutenants”, had strong confrontations with H.S. LEWIS during the 1930’s, resulting in several lawsuits. LEWIS pretended that he had documents undeniably proving that transmission had been given to him and that, consequently, AMORC was the only true Rosicrucian movement in the USA. During his controversies with CLYMER, LEWIS asked him to produce “material documents that could be photographed and seen by normal objective faculties”, a rather strange request from a leader who claimed supernatural powers and control over invisible forces….

We’ll go no further with LEWIS’s AMORC, as it has been extensively studied by Vanloo[8], but will stay in the USA with Carl Louis von GRASSHOFF (1865-1919), a Danish native who immigrated to the US in 1895 and took the more American-sounding pseudonym of Max HEINDEL. HEINDEL too founded a Rosicrucian movement, the Rosicrucian Fellowship, but here the picture is quite different, because filiation was psychically transmitted to him from a disincarnated entity who was allegedly a member of the “Brotherhood of the Elderly Brothers of the Rosy Cross”. This entity (its name is not disclosed) gave HEINDEL precise instructions for his main book, the Cosmo-conception, and a meeting point in Germany where he would be initiated. HEINDEL travelled to Germany and was initiated, his wife’s biography tells us – but once again we do not know the name of his mysterious German initiator. Some writers have identified him as Rudolf STEINER[9], but this remains doubtful. After HEINDEL’s sudden death in 1909, the Rosicrucian Fellowship was taken over by his wife, A. FOSS-HEINDEL, but the movement did not really survived to its founder’s death and has gradually been vanishing from the scene.

We now cross back over the Atlantic and travel to Haarlem, The Netherlands, where the two Leene brothers founded the Lectorium Rosicrucianum in 1924[10]. For Jan LEENE (1899-1968) and Zwier Willem LEENE (1892-1938), no filiation whatsoever with masters, in either physical or psychic appearance, has been claimed. But Jan LEENE was the general secretary of HEINDEL’s Rosicrucian Fellowship for the Netherlands, and his early teachings were similar to HEINDEL’s. Astrology was taught to pupils, and the altars and symbols of the LR were the same as the Rosicrucian Fellowship. We know from sources inside the movement that during the period between 1924 and 1935, the teachings were given psychically, emanating from “the elder brothers of RosyCross”. However, links with Max HEINDEL faded away after 1935, and strong doctrinal differences began to appear. Jan LEENE’s brother died just before WWII, during which the LR was forbidden by Nazis. Temples where damaged and some pupils deported to concentration camps. After the liberation in 1945, Jan LEENE took the name Jan VAN RIJCKENBORGH. He had definitively split from HEINDEL’s teachings in such publications as “The Elementary Philosophy of the Rosycross”[11], written during the forties, in which we can read: “there is no evolution whatsoever, only degeneration”. Mankind, if left alone, would only degenerate and return to a barbaric state. Man has no real soul, but only a replacement soul, which is mortal, made of corruptible fluids. Therefore, a radical revolution and transformation is needed. A New Man must be born, after the old personality dies[12]. No master should intervene in this process, and only self-initiation in the candidate is awaited. This clearly went against HEINDEL’s teachings, and made the schism complete. J. VAN RIJCKENBORGH went further by calling the LR “ the young Gnostic Brotherhood” with a strongly dualistic stance that no member of theosophical, anthroposophic or HEINDEL’s rosicrucianism took. We believe that, again, it is this strong dissociation from “spiritual filiation” that made further development of the LR possible.

From these few examples, we have briefly seen that, at least in contemporary Rosicrucian movements, filiation was indeed less important than differentiation through conflict.

Further studies would certainly help to better understand the important component of western esotericism that is rosicrucianism.

[1] Cahiers du Groupe d’Etudes Spirituelles Comparées, N° 1. Transmission culturelle, transmission spirituelle Actes du Colloque tenu à Paris les 13 et 14 juin 1992. P. LORY, Les Anges et les Mots dans la spiritualité islamique, Archè, 1993

[2] Robert Vanloo, L'utopie Rose-Croix du XVIIe siècle à nos jours, Dervy Ed., Paris, 2001

[3] Le Point Hors série : N°2 : Les textes fondamentaux de l’ésotérisme, Avril 2005. Le Point on the Internet : http://www.lepoint.fr

[4] J. V. Rijckenborgh, Les noces alchimiques de Christian Rose-Croix, Ed. du Septénaire

[5] José Dupré, Rudolf Steiner, ; L’anthroposophie et la Liberté, La Clavellerie Ed, 2004

[6] René Guénon, Le Théosophisme, histoire d'une pseudo-religion, Ed. Traditionnelles, Paris

[7] Robert Vanloo, Les Rose-Croix du nouveau monde, aux sources du rosicrucianisme moderne, Claire Vigne Ed., Paris, 1996

[8] Vanloo, Les Rose-Croix du Nouveau Monde, Ibid.

[9] personal communication with a member of Lectorium Rosicrucianum who states that  he owns a Cosmo-conception book  dedicated by Heindel to his master Rudolf Steiner

[10] See article by Massimo Introvigne: Lectorium Rosicrucianum: un mouvement néerlandais devient international at http://www.cesnur.org/testi/Lectorium.htm

[11] J. Van Rijckenborgh, Elementaire wijsbegeerte van het moderne Rozenkruis, Rozekruis Pers, Haarlem, 1953

[12] J. Van Rijckenborgh, De komende Nieuwe Mens, Rozekruis Pers, Haarlem, 1954