Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 2, Vernal Equinox 2002
Willy Schrödter's A ROSICRUCIAN NOTEBOOK:
Weiser, 1992. First published in 1954 in German as Geheimkunste der Rosenkreuzer.
It was Charles Hoy Forte who memorably called his first collection of bizarre phenomena "The Book of the Damned". Damned, not by any traditional religion but by an insidious new pseudoreligion: modern science. Forte observed that the scientific orthodoxy of the time refused to have dealings with any phenomenon which was outside its power to explain. However Forte argued that there will always be more phenomenon occurring than can be explained by modern science, and therefore the responsible thing to do was simply to record their occurrence, perhaps in the hope that wiser future generations would have more insight than the present. In this Forte was at least agreeing with another great mind who lived three centuries before him: "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
What Forte did for unexplainable phenomena generally, the late Willy Schrödter (1897 - 1971) has done to the myths and legends surrounding the Rosicrucian Fraternity. That is to say, he has collected together all the various stories alleging great and wondrous things to the Invisible Brotherhood, as well as data which suggests the some of these stories might have a basis in reality.
The Rosicrucians first came to public attention in between the years 1614-1616, when three curious books were published: Fama Fraternitas; Confessio Fraternitas; and Die Chymishe Hochzeit von Christian Rosenkreutz ("The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz"). It is these three books, known as the Rosicrucian Manifestos, which provided the most fuel for the legends surrounding the Fraternity and consequently are referred to most often in Schrödter's book. Subsequently, a number of key figures in esoteric circles publicly associated themselves with the Rosicrucian movement: Robert Fludd, Thomas Vaughan, Jacob Boehme, Michael Maier, etc. Many of the key players in the revival of the Western Mystery Tradition at the end of the 19th Century claimed either to belong to offshoots of the Rosicrucian Order (e.g. Eliphas Levi, Kenneth Mackenzie, Frederick Hockley, P. B. Randolph, the founders of the Golden Dawn) or were inspired by others who themselves claimed to be Rosicrucians (e.g. Edward Bulwher-Lytton, Francis Barrett, etc).
The history of the Rosicrucian movement, at least since the seventeenth century, therefore parallels the history of the Western Mystery Tradition itself. So influential has the Rosicrucian Fraternity been on the minds of those thinking about the Western Mysteries, that perhaps over-eager commentators on the subject have claimed that anyone who has become famous in Magic must have been associated with them. Thus, claims about so-and-so being a Rosicrucian have been advanced about Trithemius, Cornelius Agrippa, Francis Bacon, John Dee and Paracelsus, even though all of these people lived prior to the publication of the Manifestos, during the time when the tomb of Christian Rosenkreutz was shut up and sealed.
Prior to the publication of the manifestos, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Rosicrucian Fraternity ever existed. Consequently, neither is there any evidence that groups claiming to be Rosicrucian since 1614 have had links of any kind to a prior order. And yet, fundamental to Rosicrucian practice is the belief, at least for mystical purposes, in the reality of the original order, and in the historicity of Christian Rosenkreutz himself. Rosenkreutz is, in other words, the egregore of the Rosicrucian movement. Schrödter approaches the subject of Rosicrucianism by dividing it into a number of sub-topics, such as "Telepathy and Magnetic Dials", "Rosicrucian Spiritual Healing", "Rosicrucian Optics", "Astral Projection" etc. He then presents data not merely from Rosicrucian authors, but also from pre-Rosicrucian sources, from the traditions of the Orient, and even from modern authorities, all in an attempt to show that a given legend concerning the Rosicrucians is at least possible. Take, for example, "Astral Projection". In the Fama Fraternitas we are told that the Rosicrucians agreed
that every year upon the day C. they should meet together at the house Sancti Spiritus, or write the cause of his absence.
Schrödter however points us to a later Rosicrucian author, Theophilus Schweighardt, who wrote:
The College of the Holy Ghost is suspended in the air where God works, for it is HE who presides over it.
and G W Surya (1873 - 1949), author of Modern Rosicrucians, who wrote:
Yet Schrödter also compares these accounts with the experience of a pre-Rosicrucian, Johannes Beer, who had the power of "entering the 'doors' of the mountains and visiting the lower parts of the earth" and also points out the similarity of experience of Indian Yoga Siddhas. Schrödter himself speculates that the Rosicrucians did indeed have the power of fully-willed Astral Projection.
None of this is proof, of course, but as I have said previously, Schrödter's approach is like unto Charles Forte's. His main aim is to put the relevant data on record, not to prove conclusively whether or not Astral Projection is an actual objective reality. Similarly, he is more interested in alerting his reader to the fact that there are many accounts of alchemists succeeding in literally making gold, without trying to prove scientifically whether alchemy is possible or not.
Reading Schrödter's book, one gets the impression that the Rosicrucians were far more than magicians: they were technologists of what was then the future. Schrödter points out that many of the supposed miracles attributed to the Rosicrucians could be easily re-created today with our modern understanding of chemistry, biology, electronics, optics, and even nuclear physics. However, none of these disciplines existed at the time the miracles were first reported. There are only three possible conclusions: that these reports are false or misleading; that the Rosicrucians were endowed with fantastic supernatural powers; or that the Rosicrucians made use of technology hundreds of years before it was supposed to have been invented.
I find this third possibility amazing - it strikes me as ironic that modern groups claiming to be Rosicrucian, like off-shoots of the Golden Dawn, are looking to the past, trying to revive the practices of medieval and renaissance times. Would not the real Rosicrucian Fraternity, assuming it exists somewhere, be more interested in building and using time machines, flying in spaceships capable of interstellar travel, and generally doing all the things we read about in science-fiction novels? Schrödter's book gives the impression that the true Rosicrucians see the magical quest as one of discovering the secrets of the Future, not of re-discovering the secrets of the Past.
Aside from the information about the legends surrounding the Rosicrucians, Schrödter's book is a mine of information for English-speaking readers. Schrödter draws on a great number of sources and consequently reveals a number of facts that had never been translated out of German before. Thus we learn that the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage was available in the German language since 1725 and that the said Abramelin was in fact one Ibrahim el-Mu'allim (1281 - 1412). Also the Western Mystery Tradition does indeed have its own equivalent of Hatha Yoga exercises, in the form of so-called "Turkish Freemasonry" or the exercises of Nollius.
It is important to remember when reading this book that it is, quite literally, a notebook. The information is gathered together in something of a rough and ready style - it is a reference book, not high literature. Perhaps it has not been edited too keenly. For example: at one point Schrödter says he will keep a certain method of telepathy secret, but later in the same chapter he announces he will reveal it after all! (It involves snails and chessboards, by the way). Some references are repeated in different chapters, indicating that the book was put together in separately written sections.
This is not necessarily a failing. Schrödter to writes in an interesting and engaging way. His prose is unpretentious, which I personally found was a relief after having read many occult authors who are closer to A. E. Waite than they are to Ophiel.
Although it is a good book, and I am glad to have read it, it is clearly not the last word on any of the subjects which it covers. There are a few things I would disagree with, like the ordering of the Tarot trumps. The most important thing about this book is that it is meant to be food for thought. It will appeal mostly to those already interested in Rosicrucianism, and who want to take their interest into exciting new areas. By taking an overview of all the topics in this book, it gives a flavour of the Invisible Brotherhood to those who don't know much about it. Most of all it hints at just how influential that this Fraternity, even though the real Rosicrucians might only be fictional, was in the history of the Western Mystery Tradition.