The Hermetic philosophy that was invented and taught by the Rosicrucians influenced Freemasonry more that anything else. Johan Valentin Andreä was born on 17/8/1586 in Herrenberg in the Kingdom of Würtenberg. He became a learned man and in 1610 he left for a long journey that took him to Germany, Austria, Italy and France. Back home in 1614 he became a Deacon in the town of Vaihingen. He climbed up the religious ladder until he became the Protestant Prelate of the Abbey of Bebemhausen and the spiritual counsellor of the Duchy of Brunswick. He died on 27/6/1654. He was well known as a Philanthropist, a conforter of those who suffer, and an enemy of the latent corruption of his time. To help solve men’s problems he established a philanthropical fraternity.
The book “Fama Fraternitatis”, or “Report of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood”, was published in 1615 and another book, “Chemical Nuptials”, in 1616. Christian Rosenkreutz signed both books but they are thought to have been written by Andreä. In them Andreä told the following romantic story of Christian Rosenkreutz, the supposed founder of the new Order.
Christian Rosenkreutz, although born in a good family, was forced to enter into a cloister at a very early age due to lack of money. At the age of sixteen he accompanied a monk on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The monk had to stop his journey at Cyprus due to a sudden illness, but Rosenkreutz proceeded to Damascus on his way to Jerusalem. He remained three years there, during which time he learned the most hidden mysteries of the local sage men. He then sailed to Egypt where he studied the nature of plants and animals, and from there to Fez in Morocco where he lived two years studying the local customs and improving his knowledge. He then went to Spain for a short time before going back to Germany where his proposals for a reformation of moral and sciences were not well received. He then decided to form his own society. He selected three monks from his old convent to whom he communicated, under a solemn vow of secrecy, all the knowledge that he had acquired during his travels. They were told to put down in writing all that they were told and, in addition, they were obliged to cure the sick free of charge. The working load was so high that Rosenkreutz decided to initiate four new members. Two members remained with Christian and the other six were told to travel all over the world, to take care of the sick, and to come back within one year to describe their experience. The members had to choose their successor and they were to use the letter “R.C.” as their seal. The Brotherhood was to be kept secret for one hundred years.
Christian Rosenkreutz died when he was one hundred years old and he was buried in a secret place by his two companions of the time. The society composed of eight members continued to exist unknown to the world after his death. According to a tradition of the order, Christian’s grave was to be discovered one hundred and twenty years after his death, and from that time the brotherhood could be revealed to the world. Inside their building the members discovered a secret vault that contained the most valued secrets of their Order, as well as the corpse of Rosenkreutz, discovered, as told by the legend, one hundred and twenty years after his death. And this is the story of Christian Rosenkreutz and his Rosicrucian Order as told in Fama Fraternitatis, a book obviously written by Andreä, not as a true story, but as a suggestion to the interested men to create such a society. However he was not understood and many people who wanted to join the Order accepted his story as a fact. Andreä’s suggestion was not well received in Germany, and nothing serious came out of it.
Nicolai said that Fama Fraternitatis only announced a reformation, and asked all wise men to unite in a society for the purpose of removing corruption and restoring wisdom. Mystics, and there were many in Germany including the alchemists, were intrigued by Fama Fraternitatis. The alchemists, after trying in vain to join the invisible society of the Rosicrucians, decided to form their own society, but they were not interested in the moral reformation proposed by Andreä. As a result the origin of the Rosicrucians is not to be credited to Valentin Andreä, or to the mythical Christian Rosenkreutz, but to Andreä’s influence on the Mystics and Alchemists who founded their own new society. For instance there was a society of Alchemists in The Hague in 1622 who claimed that they were Rosicrucians, with Christian Rosenkreutz as their founder. Michael Maier, a German Alchemist of the early seventeenth century, adopted the mystical views of the Rosicrucians and introduced the society in England. He took part in the organisation of the Rosicrucian sect on the lines suggested by Andreä even if he had a different opinion on certain basic doctrinal aspects. Maier became friendly with Dr. Robert Fludd (1574/1637), a famous early active English Rosicrucian and, at the same time, Alchemist, Theosophist, and Mystic. Maier died in 1622.
Rosicrucianism was born in Germany and was brought to England in the early seventeenth century where it was well received. As a result, there were mystical initiations in England in both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that were not linked to Freemasonry but, rather, to a Hermetic or Rosicrucian system although both were sometime confounded.
The Masonic Constitutions of 1723 do not mention any higher degrees above the basic three. The Hermetic degrees were obviously not introduced openly into Speculative Masonry until the middle of the eighteenth century. However if they existed in the 1720′, as some authors assert, then they were reserved to a special class of initiates considered as able to understand this Hermetic teaching whereas the majority of the members of the Craft were kept out of it. However there is enough evidences to state that no such system of higher initiation existed in the official Freemasonry. The Master Degree was the top degree available at that time as there was nothing above, whereas the Rosicrucians had many more degrees. As some people were members of both organisations, there was strong pressure on Freemasonry to accept the higher grades well known to the Rosicrucians. It must be clear that there was, and there still is, no direct link or similarity between the two systems which have a different origin, and whose symbols, even if similar, are interpreted differently.