PSEUDO-ROSICRUCIANS — IMPOSTORS AND FOOLS
The fool’s paradise is the world of self-created illusions, without the recognition of the underlying eternal truth.
The Devil is God inverted. Falsehood is truth perverted. The spirit produces the form to be its true image; but, for all that the form does not always represent the true qualities of the spirit. Thus the sun shines upon the earth, and his rays produce wholesome and poisonous growths, and the spirit of Christ for ever remains in His glory, even if a thousand of so-called “Christian” sects misrepresent Him, so that His image can no more be recognised in them. Likewise the true Brothers of the Golden and Rosy Cross still exist, even if the name of their order has been misused by impostors and fools.
The age at which the idea of Rosicrucian societies became popular was a time when orders of all kinds were flourishing. Monasteries, convents, and religious orders were the plagues of the country; in some places the Catholic clergy, in others the Protestant clergy, were, so to say, omnipotent. The work of the great Reformation had only begun its work, and free thought and free speech were little known. The Protestant clergy were not less intolerant than the Catholics who preceded them; and in some places the latter were still in possession of all the authority they possessed at the time of the Inquisition. In consequence of the power of the Church over the citizens of the country—a power which the former abused very freely—it became necessary to have secret societies and places where the members could secretly meet and exchange their opinions without being overheard by spies and traitors. Secret orders of all kinds were, therefore, existing in great numbers, and foremost of all were the Freemasons, an order which, on account of the strength of its principles, has continued to exist. At that time Masonry was not what it is now. A writer of those times, in a work published in 1666, informs us that it was neither a political nor a Christian institution, but a truly secret organization, which admitted such men as members who were anxious to obtain the priceless boon of liberty of conscience, and to avoid clerical prosecution.
But the air of mystery which hung about the masonic lodges was also very attractive to all who were mystically inclined. Then, as now, strange rumours circulated about the doings of the Masons, wild stories were whispered about among the ignorant, which the clergy of those times, like their brothers of the present day, helped to start, circulate, and exaggerate. They were accused of practising black magic and sorcery, and some even accused them of being in league with devils. All these things served to attract to the masonic lodges not merely those who were desirous of freedom of speech, but also those who desired to learn forbidden secrets; and, moreover, adventurers of all kinds sought to gain admittance and sometimes succeeded. Many of the masonic brothers attempted to study and practise alchemy; and there are some accounts proving that sometimes successful alchemical experiments were made in the lodges.
But, generally speaking, then, as now, those who joined a lodge for the purpose of having some very important secrets revealed to them, were sadly disappointed, for besides the external ceremonies and forms, which they were sworn not to reveal, and which were of no further importance, they were informed of nothing which would have been worth revealing. They went from one degree to another, paying large sums for being admitted into higher degrees, and still no revelations were made, and all they learned on such occasions was some other form of ceremony, a knowledge of which was hardly worth the price they paid for it. It is, therefore, not surprising that when the Rosicrucian mania broke out, and when the more exaggerated accounts about the great powers of that order were fully believed, that the Masons opened their ranks to anyone who was supposed to be a Rosicrucian, and that if the latter succeeded in making the brothers believe that he was actually such a favoured person, he would at once gain a great deal of influence in the lodge.
These circumstances opened the doors of the masonic lodges to a great many strolling adventurers, vagabonds, charlatans, and mountebanks; and especially the Catholic as well as the Protestant “Jesuits” were not slow to see their advantage, and to gain admission to the lodges under the disguise of Rosicrucians. They pretended to be in communication with certain unknown superiors, some grand patriarch of Jerusalem, or some invisible somebody, whose orders had to be obeyed without asking any questions, but whose names must not be revealed; and to make such supposed orders more effective, they produced letters and documents apparently coming from such superiors, but which they had written and sealed themselves. On some occasions they performed sleight-of-hand tricks, produced sham apparitions of ghosts and deceased persons, for the purpose of deluding the members of the lodge, and to make them believe in their supernatural powers. Thus they made Freemasonry their tool and used the power which they gained for the advancement of their own interests.
Volumes might be filled with amusing accounts of the doings of the pseudo-Rosicrucians; but we have only room for a few examples, and shall, for that purpose, select those whose influence in history was of considerable importance. One of the adventurers, of whom it is still doubtful whether or not he possessed any occult powers, was the reputed Schroepfer, a bankrupt inn-keeper of Leipzig. His only object seemed to be to make as much money as he could, and to spend it as fast he made it. He assumed the name “von Steinbach,” and pretended to be a French Colonel, and to have been appointed by the Duke of Orleans as secret ambassador, sent to reform masonry, and to establish a connection with the Jesuits, who were at that time driven away. These Jesuits, he said, were in possession of an enormous amount of treasure, which they had entrusted to his care; but his intention was to use that money for the benefit of the country, and whoever wanted to obtain a share of it would have to come to confession and to better his life. It is almost incredible that any sane person should have believed such nonsense; nevertheless, when a prospect of obtaining money is held out, most people are ready to believe almost anything. Moreover, Schroepfer had a wonderful power of gaining the confidence of those who came near him, and he had some knowledge of chemistry, which gave him a scientific air, and so it happened that even some people of high social position believed in his assertions.
To gain full power over his dupes, he deposited in a bank at Frankfurt a sealed package, to be returned to him whenever he desired it; this package was said to contain several millions in bank-notes, but which, as might have been supposed, contained nothing but brown paper. On the strength of that supposed deposit, which “could not then be touched,” he borrowed large sums of money. He even gained the confidence of the Duke of Cairland, in whose presence he caused the apparition of the Chevalier de Saxe to appear in the palace. This scene is described by an eye-witness as follows:—”The large room wherein the ghost was to appear had the form of a theatre, and had formerly been used for the purpose of giving private plays and operas. The spectators were sitting in a half-circle, and they received strict orders not to leave their seats under any circumstances, nor to touch nor examine any of the apparatus for the conjuring process, else the most dread consequences would follow. They had, furthermore, to swear that they would not reveal afterwards what they had seen. The Duke and his Minister, von Wurmb, and other dignitaries were present. Schroepfer appeared, nodded to the assembly, and walked in a haughty manner up to the platform.
The Duke had desired to see the apparition of the Chevalier de Saxe, and Schroepfer consented. Suddenly all the candles in the room went out at once, and every one present felt a feeling of horror creeping over him. At the same time a stupefying smoke of some incense which Schroepfer was burning filled the room. Gradually the platform grew more light, while the place for the spectators remained in darkness. A kind of bluish light shone upon the faces of the latter, which gave to every one of them a ghostly appearance. Gradually a cloud became visible in the background of the stage. At first it was only like a thin mist, but slowly it grew more solid. Gradually it assumed the outlines of a human form. The details of the figure became clearer, the face could be seen and recognised; there was the living image of the Chevalier de Saxe. “The Duke, seeing his dead relative standing before him, broke out in an exclamation of horror. The apparition lifted its arm. Every one was terrified; none dared to speak. There were deep sighs.
”Then the ghost began to speak in a hollow voice, complaining that he had been disturbed in his sleep in the grave. “The Duke appeared to be near fainting; but being a courageous man, he rose with an effort, and it seemed for a moment that his reason was to be victorious over superstition. Laying his hand on his sword, he exclaimed, ‘Illusion of hell! Go back to the place from whence you came!’ “At that moment the sword dropped from his hand, as if he had been suddenly paralyzed. The apparition was gone and the room was dark. Suddenly, as quickly as they had been extinguished, the candles began to burn again, and we all saw the conjuror in his long habit of black velvet, looking still paler than usual, the sweat standing upon his forehead, resembling a man who has just escaped some great danger.
Having recovered, he turned to the Duke and reproached him. “‘Your Excellency,’ said Schroepfer, ‘may congratulate yourself that we have not all been killed. Only the most powerful conjurations on my part could prevent the apparition from murdering us. It was the most terrible hour of my life.’ “The Duke excused himself, and finally begged pardon, promising to be more obedient at some future occasion.” “There were a great many people of whom Schroepfer had borrowed money, sometimes even large sums, and they all grew impatient, and wanted to be paid. Schroepfer was forced to produce the package from the bank, and it was found to be worthless. But even that was not sufficient to destroy the confidence of his dupes. They persuaded themselves that he was a high Rosicrucian Adept, who was only testing their faith.
“Can we, in our ignorance,” they said, “head the Master’s heart and know his intentions? Perhaps he is going to take away our earthly Mammon, and give us for it the imperishable philosopher’s stone.” “At last, however, the measure was full; the creditors refused to be fed any longer on idle promises; they wanted their money. So they selected a deputation from their midst, and sent them to Leipzig, where Schroepfer had gone to escape their importunity. When they entered his room he bade them welcome in à kind manner and full of assurance. “I have already been informed of your coming,” he said, “and have been waiting for you.” “Then,” they answered, “you will also know that we have come for the purpose of obtaining a settlement of our financial affairs.” “What!” exclaimed Schroepfer, appearing to be astonished, “do you doubt me?’ “Not I,” answered the one addressed; “but some of my friends do.” “And you, sir?” asked Schroepfer, turning to another one and fixing his eyes upon him.
The person addressed trembled, and began to stammer an excuse; but Schroepfer, whose face assumed a triumphant smile, continued:—
“Oh, you of little faith! ye are worse than the doubting Thomas, more obstinate than Peter, who thrice denied his Master.
I have opened before you the portals of the spirit world and made you see its inhabitants, and you still doubt my power. I wanted to lead you into the innermost sanctuary, and to make you richer than all the kings of this earth; but you have not stood the test imposed upon you. Shame upon you! Without faith and confidence no miracle can be performed. Doubt is the great sin of the world.” “Mercy, great master!” exclaimed one; “do not punish the innocent with the guilty. I did not doubt.” “I know it,” answered Schroepfer; “and for the sake of one just man, I will forgive the sins of all. The mammon after which your sinful heart hankers, you shall receive; what I promised will be done; but it would have been better for you if you had chosen the hidden wisdom instead of possessions which perish.”
They then begged his pardon, and at last he became less stern and forgave them their doubts. He promised not only to unveil to them all the secrets of the true Rosicrucians, but he also appointed a certain day for the payment of his debt. The revelations about the secrets never came; but the day appointed for the payment of the debt arrived. In the evening preceding that eventful day, Schroepfer invited all his creditors to his house. The supper which was served was excellent; the wine of the first quality. Schroepfer was in high spirits, more talkative than usual, and amused his guests by some clever sleight-of-hand tricks, attributing it, of course, all to the spirits. Midnight passed, and the guests prepared themselves to depart for their residences, but the host objected. “I shall not let you go,” he said, “you may all sleep here, and in the morning, even before sunrise, I will show you something entirely new. Heretofore I have shown you dead people whom I have called back into life; but this morning I will show you a living man whom you will believe to be dead.”
He then took up his glass filled with wine, and caused it to jingle by bringing it in contact with the glasses held by the others, with each one successively. As he approached the last one, his glass broke into pieces. “What does this mean?” asked one. “The fate of mankind,” answered Schroepfer. “The wine of life has escaped, the vessel broke to pieces; I am fatigued enough to die.” He feel asleep, and the guests followed his example, sleeping in armchairs and on lounges as well as they could manage it. Early in the morning Schroepfer called to them to awake; telling them that it was time to go. They all went together out of the town to an almost solitary place called the “Rosenthal.” Schroepfer was silent, and appeared to be very serious. Having arrived at the place of destination, he ordered his companions to remain where he posted them. “Do not move,” he said, “until I call you to help me to raise the buried treasure. I am now going into that grove, where you will soon see a wonderful apparition.” With a satirical smile on his pale face he turned away and disappeared in the bushes. Soon a sound as of a pistol-shot sounded from there.
They thought that it was perhaps fired by some hunter, and paid no further attention to it. They waited. One quarter of an hour after another passed away, and nothing happened. They did not dare to leave their places, fearing to rouse the anger of the magician by their disobedience. The mist of the morning had turned into a fine rain, which made their position very uncomfortable. They grew impatient, and consulted with each other what was to be done. While they were discussing the subject, some proposing to follow Schroepfer into the bushes, and others objecting, saying that by doing so they might interrupt his incantations, or at least give him a welcome excuse for not obtaining the treasure, a stranger approached.
His appearance was so sudden that it almost appeared miraculous.
“I know,” said the stranger, “for whom you are waiting. Schroepfer will not come; he is dead.” “You lie!” exclaimed one of the company, being very indignant about this intrusion. Instead of answering, the stranger gave a certain secret sign which proved him to be one of the superiors of a high masonic order. All present bowed respectfully.
“Follow me,” he said, “and you will see that I told you the truth.”
They followed him into the ticket, and there they found the magician dead upon the sod. He held a pistol in his hand; the ball had penetrated his heart. Thus perished a man who, although he was an impostor, may nevertheless have been in possession of some occult knowledge, but who had not strength enough to resist the temptations of the senses, and who misused his powers for the gratification of his personal self. Johann Christoph Woellner was the son of a Protestant clergyman, who resided near Spandau, and became preacher of the Evangelical community at Grossbehnitz, near Berlin. While in this position he succeeded in seducing the daughter of his patron, the General Itzenplitz, and the family at last consented to a marriage which they could not prevent.
The affair was still more scandalous on account of the publicly known fact that Woellner made love to the mother of the girl before he married the latter. By this marriage he acquired a considerable fortune. He was very much inclined to mysticism, and soon became one of the most active and prominent members of the Rosicrucians. His name in the lodge was Chrysophron, and by the influence of his friends he obtained an influential position, which he used for the advancement of his own selfish interests, and finally he obtained a position at the Prussian Court. He appeared externally very modest and meek; while at the same time his conceit and ambition were without limits, and no means were too vile to him, if by them he could accomplish his purpose. His low forehead indicated a person of very little intelligence, but a great deal of cunning.
His little eyes were continually looking downwards; his manners were those of a pious coxcomb. Sympathetic souls find each other, and he therefore became very intimate with Bischofswerder, another pseudo-Rosicrucian, who was Minister of State and favourite of King Frederic William II. of Prussia, and he in company with his friend worked together for the destruction of the religious liberty of the people, as shall be described further on. Another of the same class was the pastor Johann August Stark, an Evangelical preacher, but secretly a Catholic, and in league with the Jesuits. He was an extraordinary hypocrite. Still worse, but more ridiculous, was his disciple, the pseudo-Rosicrucian Mayr, a very eccentric character and a great fanatic. He was limping, bald-headed, squinted, and of most unprepossessing appearance. A broad trunk, with an immense hydrocephalic head rested upon thin, weak legs.
He usually wore black pantaloons and vest, and an orange-coloured coat. While preaching, he shot with a pistol from the pulpit at a man who slept during the sermon, and wounded him, exclaiming, “I will wake you up!” He had all kinds of religions. In the morning he went to the Catholic mass, next he preached in the Protestant church, then spent his afternoons in the Jewish synagogue or with the Mennonites, and in the evening he went to the masonic lodge. These were some of the types of the “Rosicrucians” which infested the masonic lodges of those times, and it is a marvel that they did not destroy masonry. Some of them were impostors, others were dupes, and not a few imposed upon their dupes, while at the same time they were the dupes of others.
This confusion of incompatible elements, such as freethinkers, pietists, reasonable men, and superstitious fools, could not fail to bring on a separation within the lodges, and they naturally became divided into two parts, of which one represented progression and tolerance, the other one bigotry and superstition. Among the latter class was the “Society of the Cross,” who at their initiation had to take the following oath: “In the name of the crucified I swear to break all ties which bind me to my father, mother, brothers, sisters, wife, relatives, friends, sweethearts, king, benefactors, or to any other human being, whom I may have’ sworn to obey, so that I may belong entirely to Christ.”
The Crown Prince, afterwards King Frederic William II. of Prussia, was himself a member of a masonic lodge and a great admirer of Woellner and Bischofswerder, who exerted their nefarious influence over him, and whenever the unfortunate prince appeared to become subject to doubts regarding the supernatural powers of his friends, they quieted him again by causing the spectre of some dead friend to appear before him, which was not at all difficult to do, as they were in possession of all the paraphernalia necessary to perform sleight-of-hand tricks, such as magic lanterns, electric batteries, etc.; and there was no danger of being detected in these tricks, as the spectators had to remain within a certain “magic” circle, which they were not permitted to leave; and it was always said that a disobedience to the orders of the magician would be followed by the direst consequences, or perhaps be fatal to all. The greatest enemies of the so-called “Rosicrucians” were the Illuminati, a secret organization, radiating throughout the whole of Germany. At their head stood the councillor Weishaupt, formerly professor at the University of Ingolstadt, in Bavaria.
He had been educated in his youth in a Jesuit convent, but afterwards became a bitter enemy of that order. He wanted to liberate the people from the bonds of bigotry by spreading his cosmopolitan ideas, and he founded the order of the Illuminati, using the already existing masonic symbols and formulæ. He proclaimed that the object of his order was not to interfere with the Church or State, but that it intended to work for the moral improvement of humanity, to do good, to prevent evil, and to spread useful knowledge to all parts of the world. The necessary requirements to become a member of his order are described by him as follows:—”He who is not deaf to the voice of suffering, whose heart is open to charity, and who is the brother and friend of the unfortunate, is our brother. He should love all creatures, and not cause pain even to a worm. He ought to be constant in adversity, indefatigable in doing good, courageous in overcoming difficulties. He should not look with contempt upon the weak; he should be above all selfish and personal considerations, and be anxious to benefit mankind. He should avoid idleness, and not consider any kind of knowledge to be below his dignity to investigate. But the main object of his life should be the attainment of self-knowledge. He who cares for virtue and truth for its own sake will not care for the applause of the vulgar.
He who dares to do that which his own heart commands him to do is fit to become a member of our order.” His order, like all secret orders, possessed the charm which always surrounds that which is mysterious. It had three degrees; the first one consisted of the novices and the minervales. After passing an examination, the candidate was accepted into a higher degree, consisting of the lesser and the higher degree of Illuminati, and finally followed the highest degree, the Priests. According to Weishaupt’s ideas, the main object of true religion was to lift man up to a higher conception of his true nature and destiny, and thereby bring him up to a realization of this higher state of human dignity. This could not be accomplished by force, but merely by the spreading of knowledge, displacing error and superstition. He thought that if men could once realize the necessity of virtue and be all united by brotherly love, immorality, vice, degradation, and poverty would cease to exist, and men would become their own rulers and guides.
He furthermore attempted to prove that true (esoteric) Christianity was not a popular religion, or a religion for the vulgar, but that it was a system of philosophy, given in symbols, comprehensible only to those who were far enough advanced to be instructed in it, and it was the duty of the Illuminati to study the esoteric side of the religious systems, and to try to comprehend their meaning. The highest rank in the highest degree was that of Regent.
The Regents were the superiors of the order, and only the most useful and virtuous members were admitted to that rank, after having passed through long and severe probations. Soon the Illuminati became objects of fear and suspicion for the Governments, especially in Bavaria. A Protestant clergyman, Lange, was accidentally killed by a stroke of lightning. When his body was examined by the authorities, they found some papers regarding the order, and a list of some of its prominent members. This was the signal for a universal inquisition and persecution. Many of the noblest and most eminent persons were imprisoned or banished, others fled, and a price was set upon Weishapt’s head, who, however, escaped to Gotha, where he found an asylum. Still the order of the Illuminati continued to exist, and between them and the Rosicrucians there existed the same animosity as now between the Liberals and the Ultramontanes, or between Progressionists and Conservatives.
Each party denounced the other one, and each party had some just cause; for the Rosicrucians attempted to push the people still lower into darkness and superstition, while the Illuminati gave them a light which the people did not understand, and by undermining the authority of the priesthood, which governed the people by fear, they also undermined the authority of the law, by which the people must be ruled, as long as they cannot rule themselves. King Frederic the Great cared nothing about these religious quarrels. In his dominions everyone was at liberty to follow the religion which suited him best; and all the efforts of the Rosicrucians were therefore directed to maintain their power over the Crown Prince, and in this they succeeded. The Crown Prince was a good-hearted but weak-minded man, whose strength had been to a certain extent exhausted by too much sensual enjoyment. Fie often had spells of great moral depression and brooded over his regrets for the past. He needed some comfort and consolation, and this he attempted to find sometimes in the arms of the Countess of Lichtenau; at other times in those of the pietists and “Rosicrucians,” Bischofswerder and Woellner. These “Rosicrucians” used all the means they could to obtain power. They calumniated Frederic the Great, and saw in him their greatest enemy, because his liberal measures hindered them from forcing their narrow-minded ideas and bigotry upon the people. They frightened the credulous Crown Prince by painting and exaggerating to him the dire consequences of the spreading of “irreligious” doctrines.
They proposed to restore the Inquisition in a Protestant shape. Frederic the Great died; Frederic William II. became King; but he was ruled by Bischofswerder and Woellner, and by his mistresses. One of the first successful attempts of the former was to restore to a great extent the power of Rome in Protestant Germany. Woellner became Minister of the religious department, and soon followed the issue of the infamous “religious edict” of July 9, 1788. In this edict everybody was warned by order of the King to subordinate his own reason to the dogmas of the Church; and those who should contravene this order were threatened with the loss of the offices they held and with imprisonment. They generously permitted everybody to believe what he pleased, but they strongly prohibited any expression of opinion in regard to religious matters, if such opinions were not sanctioned by the Church.
But those who should dare to ridicule a clergyman were threatened with the heaviest punishment. At the same time censure was established, so that nothing could be printed and published without having first been submitted to the clerical authorities for approval. The excitement caused by this shameful edict was terrible. The Illuminati led by the bookseller Nicolay, at Berlin, protested against it; but their writings were confiscated. Woellner surrounded himself with “Rosicrucians” and pietists and “spiritual examination board” was instituted, which examined every candidate for an office in regard to his creed before he could be appointed. They examined all clergymen and school teachers and ejected everyone who was not a hypocrite and who dared to say what he thought. They published a miserable catechism written in bad Latin, in which was prescribed what a person would have to believe before he could pass the examination. Pietistic schools and hymn-books were introduced and everything possible was attempted to make the people more stupid than they already were. The disgrace which was brought upon the name “Rosicrucians” by these pseudo-Rosicrucians was so great that even to this day everything connected with Rosicrucianism is believed by the public in Germany to be identical with bigotry, pietism, hypocrisy, knavery, animalism, and absurdity.