Ring Around the Rosy Cross

Metro - Silicon Valley/September 12, 2002
By Gary Singh

In San Jose, a town that's never known itself, rarely does one find anything lasting 75 years. All secrecy aside, the Rosicrucians have accomplished exactly that. Sure, they don't place those strange "Master Your Life" ads in Popular Science anymore, but they still exist behind the shadows in San Jose, where Imperator Harvey Spencer Lewis established Rosicrucian Park in 1927. Shortly thereafter, the original Rosicrucian Egyptian Oriental Museum took shape.

To commemorate their 75th anniversary in San Jose, the Rosicrucians are sponsoring a new exhibit of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. The exhibit, a chronological presentation of archival photographs, paintings and artifacts, tells the sometimes lurid yarn of the Rosicrucian Order's contributions to San Jose life and culture.

Just the photographs alone are enough to peak the interest of any budding San Jose historian. A handful of vintage scientific machines, originally from the classrooms of the Rose Croix University International, are also on display, reminding one of a 1950s sci-fi flick. There's an autoharp--and even a miniature Tesla Coil. Other oddities include a 1980 Dennis the Menace comic book that spoofs the Rosicrucians.

"We are definitely one of the forgotten entities in San Jose," says Stephen Armstrong, a member of the Rosicrucian Order. "Most people say, 'Oh yeah, I went there when I was a kid,' but other than that they don't know anything about it."

As is so. Every San Josean knows of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, but few are versed in the organization's veiled history. Established by the Rosicrucian Order, A.M.O.R.C. (AMORC)--those mystical truth-seekers whose voluminous monographs espouse ancient wisdom to thousands of dues-paying initiates around the globe--the park began as one single lot. It now encompasses a five-acre city block with its own zip code.

Rosicrucian Park in 2002 is a great place to eavesdrop on tourists and nuclear families in a quasi-Vegas setting. Statues of pharaohs and sphinxes loom over the property, and you expect to see their eyes secretly moving, as if someone inside were looking out. Well-trimmed lawns, a huge obelisk, a waterfall, twisting walkways, gardens and the monolithic administration building are all maintained with meticulous care. And the long-defunct planetarium boasts its own definitive faded-hotel attractiveness.

The museum itself basks in Disneyland-style wonderment. Teenage docents lead tours through faux tomb settings and spin tales about ancient Egyptian afterlife while visitors gawk at mummies, papyrus displays and the like. Indeed, the collection of artifacts is monstrous, and more than 30,000 children visit the place every year. Where else are you going to see a mummified baboon, for crying out loud?

But just who and what are the Rosicrucians themselves?

Since they've been universally assigned the apocalyptic nom de plume "secret society," it may be difficult to convince readers that a more adequate description might be their own, which is "a philosophical, initiatic and traditional organization perpetuating knowledge that initiates have transmitted through the centuries." Their teachings, originating in the mystery schools of ancient Egypt, offer a nonmainstream route to esoteric Western spirituality and include lessons on the structure of matter, human consciousness, psychic centers, intuition, vibroturgy, radiesthesia and other esoteric subjects.

Neither a religion nor a sect, AMORC's members include people from all creeds and all walks of life. In fact, some Rosicrucian members do not subscribe to any specific religious beliefs at all. As long as you can cough up $215 a year, you're in.

"That's what separates us from other similar groups," says David Cherveny, F.R.C. "We have no dogma. We don't tell you how to think. In anthropological terms, we're a voluntary association group."

This appears to be true, as from the moment of their affiliation, Rosicrucians are asked to become "walking question marks" and to regard their own conscience as their only master. AMORC's teachings are never imposed on the members.

"If I had to sum up Rosicrucianism in one phrase," says Armstrong with his fist over his heart, "I'd say that it's to know thyself. The method is to learn things yourself."

AMORC stands for the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, and its symbol is the rose cross, that is, a standard cross with a rose at its center. There is no religious connotation associated with this cross. The cross, to Rosicrucians, symbolizes man's body, and the rose represents the unfolding of the soul. Together, the two symbolize the dual nature of human beings on their path of spiritual evolution.

Although AMORC claims heritage going all the way back to the mystery schools of ancient Egypt, the Rosicrucians first infiltrated the public sphere via three bizarre esoteric treatises, published in Germany in the early 17th century. Fama Fraternitatis (Rumor of the Brotherhood) and Confessio Fraternitatis (Confessions of the Brotherhood) proclaimed the existence of one "Fraternity of the Rosy Cross," who possessed powers beyond conventional understanding and who were secretly shaping the course of human history. A third document, The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz, surfaced a few years later.

Jump to 1909. American businessman Harvey Spencer Lewis, director of the Institute of Psychic Research in New York, is initiated into the Rose-Croix in Toulouse, France. He then receives the mandate to lay the foundation for the order's resurgence in North America and decides to call it AMORC. Following brief stints in New York, Florida and San Francisco, Lewis chooses San Jose to be the world headquarters in 1927.

"He came here because the weather was great, and the land was cheap," says Armstrong.

Talk about a hidden history of San Jose. Rosicrucians seek to know themselves by concentrating on the master within, as opposed to looking outside for answers. San Jose, a town known for its identity complexes, is just the opposite. The city is constantly looking outside for solutions to its problems, instead of staying in touch with its own inner wisdom, strength and balance. Maybe there's a lesson here somewhere, I don't know. In any event, the Rosicrucians will continue to pierce the mysteries of nature and the universe, whether or not anyone else in San Jose knows who they are.

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