The Fellowship of the Rosy Cross : Introduction
The Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, F∴R∴C∴, was founded, in 1915, by Arthur Edward Waite - mystic, poet, and a foremost authority on western esotericism - to give form and substance to his vision of a fraternity, wholly Christian in character, that would provide practical, ceremonial expression for the spiritual aspirations of esoteric Christians.
Historically the F∴R∴C∴ is a descendant of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but its ethos is very different. The Golden Dawn was essentially a magical Order, and Waite, who had been an early member, had grown increasingly unhappy about its emphasis on magic. He knew in his heart that magic and mysticism cannot co-exist in the same Order, and eventually he gave up his struggle to remodel the Golden Dawn from within and set about the creation of a new, wholly Christian and wholly mystical Order.
And yet it is a true esoteric Order, conforming to the definition of Dion Fortune, for whom such a fraternity should be one 'wherein a secret wisdom unknown to the generality of mankind might be learnt, and to which admission was obtained by means of an initiation in which tests and ritual played their part'. What distinguishes the F∴R∴C∴ from most other esoteric Orders is its rejection of magic and its absolute commitment to Christ, in which it remains true to the aspirations and objects of the original Rosicrucian manifestos - although it looks upon Christ as a universal saviour and firmly rejects a sectarian view of Christianity.
The Work of the Fellowship
Despite the very clear differences in content, the F∴R∴C∴ retains the structure of the Golden Dawn system. Within the Fellowship are four Orders, corresponding to the four Worlds of the kabbalah, and its progressive Grade structure is based on the ten Sephiroth of the kabbalistic Tree of Life. Within each Grade traditional symbols of the western hermetic tradition are also used, but these are not an end in themselves: they are used to give symbolic expression, in the material world, to the spiritual experiences of the members of the Fellowship. It is also recognised that the spiritual path is an ascent of the Middle Pillar, requiring a fine balance of the opposing pillars of severity and mercy.
But who are the members? The Fellowship is a community of esoteric Christians, committed to attaining a deeper understanding of the relationship between man and God, as it affects both the individual and humanity as a whole. There is a common recognition that in a past age and state beyond our comprehension, humanity fell from its proper relationship with its creator. It was not, however, an irreversible fall, and our path back to God can be discovered and followed. Its outer path is that presented by the official churches, but there is also an inner, personal path - the way of the mystic, the path to a direct experience of God. There is, of course, no guarantee that such a state of divine illumination will necessarily be attained in this life by all who seek it, but it is open to us to travel on the path towards it: this is the way of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross.
What, then, are the qualifications for membership of the F∴R∴C∴? Membership is open to both men and women who accept Christ as their Lord; who are prepared to dedicate themselves to a communal growth in spiritual understanding; who are willing to study the elements of the western hermetic tradition, and to practise the ceremonial path of ascent through the stages of the Tree of Life; and who are willing to accept that spiritual growth brings with it a duty of service to others. They must accept also that such growth is a slow process.
The Rosicrucian myth - which is presented to initiates after a certain stage has been attained - is an analogue of the life of Christ, and just as it took many years for the destiny of Christian Rosencreutz to unfold, and more than a century before his symbolic 'resurrection' took place, so the initiate of the F∴R∴C∴ cannot expect rapid advance within the fraternity. Nor should the initiate forget that spiritual progress is not determined solely by attention to symbols and to ceremonial practice: prayer, meditation, and contemplation in the context of a sacred space are of far greater importance. And these, too, are followed within the fellowship.
What the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross offers, above all, is a place, a time, and a community within which the individual can strive, as an essential element of a dedicated group, towards the final goal of the Christian mystic: consciousness of, and union with the indwelling Christ. This is what A. E. Waite sought, successfully, to construct within the F∴R∴C∴, a practical and effective path that others can follow. The progressive grades that Waite developed dovetail neatly into the traditional stages of this path, and thus supply an ideal framework for those who enter the Order to progress on a ceremonial and reflective journey towards attainment of the Divine Vision and, ultimately, of Union with Christ.
A brief history of the F∴R∴C∴
The question will inevitably arise, did Waite succeed in his aim? This can best be answered by looking at the history of his Fellowship.
Established in difficult times - in the darkest days of the World War - the Fellowship answered to a clear need for spiritual certainty in a disordered world. It attracted dedicated men and women - by the time of Waite's death in 1942 some 200 members had entered the F∴R∴C∴ - who committed themselves to spreading its ideals as widely as possible. In this they succeeded. Among them were the photographer, Alvin Langdon Coburn; the artist and alchemist, John Trinick; the superlative ritualist, Marjorie Debenham; the masonic writer, J.S.M. Ward; and the critic, theologian and novelist, Charles Williams. Through their work, and that of many others, the fruits of their experience of esoteric Christianity were given to countless seekers for whom such awareness would otherwise have forever remained unknown.
After Waite's death, during another World War, the Fellowship went into abeyance and both the Salvator Mundi Temple, and its daughter Temple in Cornwall closed their doors. The Fellowship was revived in London in 1965 by a small group of surviving members and since that time it has grown slowly but surely. There are three temples in the United Kingdom including the premier Salvator Mundi Temple, with other Temples in Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, New Zealand and the USA. In all of them are dedicated members working towards the final goal of the mystical life: Union with the Divine.
Admission to the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross is strictly by invitation, but further information on membership will be given gladly to all serious inquirers.
- A.E. Waite, The Way of Divine Union. 1915 [An unofficial reprint was issued in the U.S.A. in 1992 and a new edition, with a critical introduction and bibliography is currently in progress]
- A.E. Waite, Lamps of Western Mysticism. 1923 [A reprint was issued at Blauvelt, N.Y., by Rudolf Steiner Publications in 1973]
- R.A. Gilbert, A.E. Waite, Magician of Many Parts. 1987