The Rosicrucian Enlightenment

By Frances Yates, Warburg Institute

U of London

Barnes & Noble 1972


“In my book Giordino Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, I have argued that the main influence on the new turning towards the world in scientific inquiry lay in the religious attitudes fostered in the Hermetic-Cabalist tradition.” P. 226.



“…the princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I married Frederick V Elector Palatine of the Rhine, who a few years later made a rash attempt to secure …the throne of Bohemia, which attempt ended in ignominious failure.  The Winter King and Queen of Bohemia, as they were mockingly called, fled from Prague after the defeat in 1620, and passed the rest of their lives as poverty stricken exile, having lost both the Palatine and Bohemia.


What has slipped out of history is the fact that a “Rosicrucian” phase of culture was attached to this episode, that the “Rosicrucian manifestos” were connected with it, that the movements stirred up by John Dee in Bohemia in earlier years were behind those manifestos, that the brief reign of Frederick and Elizabeth  in the Palatine was a Hermetic golden age, nourished on the alchemical movement  led by Michael Maier, on Dee’s Monas hieroglyphica….


Disowned by James I, the movement floundered, but it’s reconstruction is a most necessary preliminary  for the tracing of Rosicrucian survival in the later seventeenth centurry. P. xiii.


The Bohemian Tragedy

Rudolph II was a member of the House of Hapsburg. He held aloof from his nephew Phillip II of Spain. He moved the imperial court from Vienna to Prague, which became a center for alchemical, astrological, magico-scientific  studies of all kinds.


Hiding himself in his great palace at Prague, with its libraries, its “wonderrooms” of magico-mechanical marvels, Rudolph withdrew in alarm from the problems raised by the fanatical intolerance of his frightening nephew. P. 17.


Prague became a mecca  for those interested in esoteric and scientific studies from all over Europe.


John Dee and the rise of Christian Rosencreutz

The Rosicrucian movement appears to be rooted in some kind of alliance of protestant sympathizers, formed to counteract the Catholic League.


The philosophy of the Rosicrucian Manifestos (RMs) is linked to the philosophy of the English John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica.


The RMs emphasized macrocosm and microcosm, and stressed that Magia, Cabala and Alchymia  would in some way form a religious philosophy which promised a new dawn for mankind.


Johann Valentin Andreae was likely the author of the 1916 Chemical Wedding, but probably not the author of the Rosicrucian Manifestos.



The Rosicrucian Manifestos

Two stirring announcements of a dawn of enlightenment; the Fama and Confessio.


The Famo, appearing in 1614, in German,  foretells of great changes in the empire. The mysterious Christian Rosencreutz and his brotherhood are introduced. ‘Theophrastus’ (Paracelsus) was ‘well-grounded in the …harmonia, though he was not ‘of our fraternity.’

The Confessio, in 1615, in Latin, continued to talk of the brotherhood  of  Christian Rosencreutz.


Libavius sees in a passage from the Manefestos an allusion to a ‘Paracelsist Lion’ who will ally himself with the Turk and seek to overthrow the ‘Romische Reich’ and substitute for it a world government based on magic spells.


We can dismiss those who believe in the literal truth of  Christian Rosencreutz and his brotherhood. There are also the scoffers, who think the whole thing was a hoax. The invisibility of the Brothers, and their apparent refusal to give any sign of their existence naturally encourages this view. 


The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz

In the years before the 30 years war, Heidelberg castle, the abode of the Palatine Lion and his royal mate, must have been an object of intense emotion, either positive or negative.


The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz is the English translation of the title of the remarkable German romance, or novel,or fantasy, published at Strasburg in 1616. It was the third item in the series which launched the Rosicrucian furore. “A romance about a husband and wife who dwell in a castle full of marvels and images of lions, but at the same time is an allegory of alchemical processes interpreted symbolically as an experience of the mystic marriage of the soul- an experience which is undergone by  Christian Rosencreutz through the visions conveyed to him in the castle, through theatrical performances, through ceremonies of initiation into orders of chivalry, through the society of the court in the castle.” P. 60.


The Palatinate Publisher (Robert Fludd and Michael Maier’s philosophy) 

The Englishman Robert Fludd and German Michael Maier, although denying they were Rosicrucians,  are generally recognized as the chief exponents of Rosicrucian philosophy. Their philosophy also represents a kind of Hermetic Renaissance. Maier was a devout Lutheran; Fludd a devout Anglican. Fludd urges that the disciplines of natural philosophy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics (geometry, music, military art, arithmetic, algebra, optics) be improved and reformed. His concept, laid out in History of the Two Worlds, is basically the same as that laid down in the early Renaissance when Pico della Mirandola added the revival of Hebrew Cabala to the revival of Hermetic philosophy encouraged by Ficino’s use of the newly recovered Hermetic texts. Astral connections run through Fludd’s work, through the influence of Paracelsus, who had made these  correspondences more precise through his medico-astral theories.


Michael Maier. Alchemy is used as a symbol of a religious and intellectual movement of uncommon importance and interest. Both Fludd and Maier belonged to the Frederick of Palatinate movement.


A culture was forming in the Palatinate which came straight out of the Renaissance but with more recent trends added, a culture which may be defined by the term Rosicrucian.

It was all to end disastrously in the Thirty Years War.


The Rosecrucian furor


One candidate for authorship of the RM is Joachim Jungius, a noted mathematician admired by Leibniz.


Rosecrucian furor: a social phenomenon drawing energy from the Rosecrucian manifestos, which were “advertised” to the general public, and had as their goal universal reformation and advancement in learning.


One manifestation of the furor is a still tangled maze of literature.


The Rosecrucian Scare in France

The pious organization of the R.C. Brothers is turned into an organization of devil worshippers; their secrecy becomes a diabolical secret. An attempt is made to start a witch-craze.


‘The worst of all witch persecutions, the climax of the European craze’ were the persecutions that broke out in central Europe in the sixteen-twenties ‘with the destruction of Protestantism in Bohemia and the Palatinate’ and the Catholic re-conquest of Germany. ‘Al over Europe…the witch-trials multiplied with the Catholic reconquest.’ 


Rosecrucianism and Freemasonry

“From the great reservoir of spiritual and intellectual power, of moral and reforming vision, represented by the Rosicrucian manifestos, Freemasonry drew off one stream; other streams flowed into the Royal Society, into the alchemical movement, and in  many other directions.”


The Rosecrucian Enlightenment

“In my book Giordino Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, I have argued that the main influence on the new turning towards the world in scientific inquiry lay in the religious attitudes fostered in the Hermetic-Cabalist tradition.” P. 226.