To understand the legacy that our Order seeks to perpetuate and develop, it is useful to have some basic knowledge of the different main currents and societies that have influenced our Order, directly and indirectly, through transmissions and material.
Throughout the 18th century, orders, mysticism, magic and alchemy flourished in Europe. There were of course many connections to the 17th century, but what foremost distinguished the 18th century were the many well-organized societies that emerged, and which quickly spread to other countries. They had in common that they presented coherent systems and initiation rites, with the purpose of achieving direct knowledge of mankind, nature and the divine in what we now term the western Rosicrucian or hermetic tradition. Some sought to establish their own systems on top of the three recognized degrees of freemasonry. Those were thus called freemasonic high degree systems (red degrees) and were without a doubt the societies that succeeded most in becoming widespread. There were, however, also other societies that chose to work outside freemasonry, and some that did both.
Among the most important societies, we must mention the German based orders of Strict Observance, Gold und Rosenkreutz and Asiatic Brethren, the French orders of Elus Cohen and Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la CitÚ Sainte, and the Italian orders of Memphis and Misra´m. But with the exception that they all built upon freemasonry, and thus were classified as high degree systems, their contents differed considerable.
Strict Observance (SO) claimed a linear succession to the old Templars, and sought to reform freemasonry and replace its esoteric connections (magic and alchemy) with a strict discipline and functionality. After the death of its leader, Baron von Hund, duke Charles (later King Charles XIII) of Sweden was meant to become its international leader, and then, as the leader of European freemasonry, reform the system (which he later did in the Swedish rite). However, the Duke resigned as its leader after less than 2 years, due to a strong resistance from high-grade members in both Denmark and Germany (Sweden and Denmark were not on very good terms back then), and the rite thus never merged with the Swedish masonic rite. His brother, King Gustaf III, was initiated into the Royal and Noble Order of the Thistle (also called the Order of St Andrew) by the "Pretender", the Jacobin Stuart II (who laid claim on the English throne), and brought the lineage to Sweden. Also Baron von Hund, the founder or re-establisher of the Strict Observance, was initiated into the Order of the Thistle (by Christophe de Bonneville), possible as a way of strengthening its connection with the templar order. This claim, rather ironically, together with the belief in secret chiefs that would come and provide the order with the “real” esoteric teachings, brought the order to an end in 1782 (see CBCS – in 1777, Willermoz was chosen to reform the system).
Gold und Rosenkreutz (GuR), which claimed a direct or indirect linear succession to the Rosicrucian groups of the 17th century, highlighted the role and importance of alchemy and sought to (re)establish the society that the Rosicrucian manifestos described. They believed, like SO, in secret chiefs that would eventually come and provide the true alchemical secrets. At least a couple of high-ranking lodge masters were deceived by people claiming to be such secret chiefs. Tommy Westlund and Susanna ┼kerman have found evidence in the archives of SSA that non other than Cagliostro founded the Swedish lodge of GuR, a person who is otherwise more related to the Egyptian Misra´m system and its famous Arcana Arcanorum. This is further supported by the great similarity that exists between the Arcana Arcanorum that Swedish members worked with, and the alchemical work which belongs to the 8th and 9th grades of GuR. In Sweden there also existed an independent religious current which gave apostolic ordinations in a Rosicrucian context, called Theosophia Apostolica RosŠ CrucŠ.
The Asiatic Brethren (The Brethren of St John the Evangelist from Asia in Europe) (AB), which initially was formed from the Gold und Rosenkreutz order, claimed direct or indirect linear succession to the seven churches of St John in Asia. They emphasised the role and importance of magic, but worked also with inner alchemy (officially they rejected outer or laboratory alchemy, but at least some members held another view) and Kabbalah (in contrast with many other societies, they actually had a Jewish kabbalist writing their kabbalistic lessons). They differed prominently from other societies by not requiring Christian faith of its members. It was introduced in Sweden by the royal court secretary C A Boehman, but was then already in decline due to the war between them and GuR (they both sought to expose the other group as a hoax controlled by the Jesuits, when they were not both fighting Weishaupt's Illuminati). the work got an abrupt ending when Boehman was deported in 1803, accused for espionage in what can only be described as a great conspiracy, conducted by old GuR members. Boehman was also working extensively with a masonic-magical society called DELU, which became the successor of AB. Their head quarter was in Denmark, and prince Carl of Hessen was its Danish leader. This society was, in contrast to the others here mentioned, opened for both men and women, with initiation rituals based on inner alchemy.
The above mentioned societies generally ceased their activities between ca 1790 and 1830. The currents flourished again at the end of the 19th century, foremost in England and in France, but let us first consider the French and Italian movements.
Elus Cohen (EC) or the Elected Priests was founded by Martinez de Pasqually and operated a practical theurgical system, including prayers, invocations, evocations and exorcisms, with the aim of universal reintegration. It was early recognized as a valid freemasonic high degree system by the French grand lodge and opened several lodges, but did not spread outside the borders of France. After Pasqually's death the order started to suffer from a lack of leadership, and one of its sincere members, as well as Pasqually’s personal friend, Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, decided to implant its esoteric teaching in Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la CitÚ Sainte (CBCS) – “Knights Beneficent of the Holy City” – which was absorbed into the Rectified Scottish Rite. This order became the direct successor of the Strict Observance in 1782, and thus carried on the legacy of Elus Cohen but without its practical operations. EC did not really resume any work after the French revolution, whereas CBCS continued in Switzerland. Both orders were re-activated in France in the mid 20th century. Another member of the EC, Louis Claude de St Martin, continued its teaching in what later became known as the way of the heart (where the other strong influence was the German mystic Jacob B÷hme), and although he never created any order there exists today countless societies paying homage to him in what is now known as the Martinist tradition.
The rites of Misra´m and Memphis, commonly known as Egyptian freemasonry, originated in Italy and combined masonic symbolism with Egyptian and alchemical references. Cagliostro introduced the three very secret and famous degrees of Arcana Arcanorum (AA) into the rite of Misra´m in 1788, out of which the rite of Memphis later manifested (1838), which also incorporated templar and chivalry symbolism. The rites merged into Memphis-Misra´m (MM) in the late 19th century, and are unrivalled when it comes to quantity of degrees in one system. Several versions of the AA have existed and been in use, and since many consider it to be the one real golden treasure of the hermetic tradition, no MM society dare to give any details about it (some however have dared to make up their own versions, so that they officially can claim to possess it). The Grand Sanctuary Adriatic (GSA) of MM was founded by Marco Edigio Allegri in 1945, which incorporated martinist and apostolic currents into the rite.
Golden Dawn (GD) with its inner order Rosae Rubea et Aurea Crucis (RR&AC) was created in England in 1888, which some today claim has a direct succession to AB and indirect to GuR; however, there exists no similarity between the theoretical and practical material of AB and GuR with that of RR&AC, wherefore this rather seems to be wishful thinking and perhaps a political point of view. RR&AC highlighted magic as the working tool, supported by tarot, astrology, geomancy and Egyptian mythology. The order was opened for both men and women and today several societies claims direct or indirect succession to it through one of its successors (Alpha et Omega, Holy Order of the GD and Stella Matutina).
Several societies were created in France during the same time, which worked with kabbala and the hermetic tradition, for example Ordre Kabbalistique de la Rose+Croix (OKRC), and martinists organized themselves in Ordre Martiniste (OM) with Papus as their leader. France had in many ways a “richer” heritage to pour from than England, since EC had survived through CBCS, and EASIA-EASIE, Rose-Croix d’Orient and FAR+C conveyed the heritage of the earlier Rosicrucian’s, and the different rites of Memphis-Misra´m offered a continuation in the Egyptian masonry. Further, the foundation of the modern Gnostic movement took place when Jules Doinels created L’Eglise Gnostique Universelle Catholique. One should therefore not underestimate the French importance within the hermetic tradition, even if we today often are enticed to believe that the Anglo-Saxon world has been behind everything of importance.
All these named societies and traditions have two things in common; a) they have, to a greater or lesser extent, preserved and perpetuated the western hermetic tradition, and b) they have all been involved in mud-slinging campaigns against fellow brethren/groups. The former we draw our inspiration from, seeking to continue their exalted work; the latter we strive to be conscious about, so that history does not have to repeat itself again and again.
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