Rosicrucian, member of a worldwide brotherhood claiming to possess esoteric wisdom handed down from ancient times. The name derives from the order’s symbol, a rose on a cross, which is similar to the family coat of arms of Martin Luther. Rosicrucian teachings are a combination of occultism and other religious beliefs and practices, including Hermeticism, Jewish mysticism, and Christian Gnosticism. The central feature of Rosicrucianism is the belief that its members possess secret wisdom that was handed down to them from ancient times.
The origins and teachings of the Rosicrucians are described in three anonymously published books that have been attributed to Johann Valentin Andreae (1568–1654), a Lutheran theologian and teacher who wrote the utopian treatise Christianopolis (1619). The Fama Fraternitas of the Meritorius Order of the Rosy Cross (1614), The Confession of the Rosicrucian Fraternity (1615), and The Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosenkreuz (1616) recount the travels of Christian Rosenkreuz, the putative founder of the group, who is now generally regarded as a fictional character rather than a real person. According to the books, Rosenkreuz was born in 1378 and lived for 106 years. After visiting the Middle East and North Africa in search of secret wisdom, he returned to Germany and organized the Rosicrucian order (1403). He erected a sanctuary (1409), where he was entombed after his death in 1484. The alleged discovery of the tomb 120 years later became the occasion for the public announcement of the order’s existence.
The secretive nature of the early brotherhood—if it actually existed—would have made contact with it difficult. The combination of alchemy and mysticism associated with it, however, became quite influential. Rosicrucianism was attractive to many thinkers throughout Europe, possibly including the English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon. It declined dramatically in the 18th century, however, a victim of the skepticism and rationalism of the Enlightenment, though some Rosicrucian ideas survived in speculative Freemasonry.
In the 19th century, new Rosicrucian societies appeared as part of a general occult revival that took place in Europe and the United States. The first, the Rosicrucian Fraternity, was established in San Francisco in 1858 by the American spiritualist and abolitionist Pascal Beverly Randolph (1825–75). Several groups, such as the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and the Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis, founded in England in 1866 and 1880, respectively, emerged out of Freemasonry.