An attempt to synthesize from the research on his journey to the oriental spiritual centers of the 14th and 15th century.
My basis goes back to the two Rosicrucian writings, the ‹Fama Fraternitatis› (Fama) and the ‹Confessio Fraternitatis› (Confessio), which Johann Valentin Andreae preceded the publication of the ‹Chymic Wedding› in 1516.1 Rudolf Steiner says of Andreae: «A very young person gives his hand to a spiritual entity that writes down something like the Chymic Wedding.» He also calls the book a «spiritual revelation», a scripture written from «intuition».2 In the following, I assume that the ‹Fama›, which tells from the biography of Christian Rosenkreuz, came from the same ‹source›.
When an elderly monk wants to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, Christian Rosenkreuz begs to be allowed to accompany him. His superiors initially resist, but then they give in. On the journey, the monk falls ill and dies in Cyprus. Instead of returning, Christian Rosenkreuz continues the journey. Only he decides not to go to Jerusalem, but to Damascus, and then to visit the Holy Sepulchre. Shortly before the gates of the city, he has a similar Christ experience as Saul, who then became Paul. Christian Rosenkreuz comes to Damascus shaken and sick and is cared for there by wise doctors. They are amazed by his knowledge of medicine and have intensive conversations with him. So they come to speak of the ‹Sages of Damcar› and Christian Rosicruci feels how the high and noble Ingenium is awakened in him. 3 Intuitively, he knows that he will find what he is looking for there. Christian Rosenkreuz asks for an accompaniment, and so he rides with his companion to Damcar in today’s Yemen. When they get there, to his surprise, he is greeted by the sages living there as a long-awaited one.
Damcar or Dhamar
This mysterious place Damcar can not be found on the map. But Dhamar can. If one researches the history of this place, one soon discovers that with it an ancient spiritual tradition is connected, which has its roots in the stone circles and the star worship of the ancient Arab Nejd4 . Yemen was called Arabia Felix. It also refers to the kingdom of the Queen of Sheba. The stele found there with a crescent moon shell carrying a sun is symptomatic of the spirituality of the place. At the time of Christian Rosycross’s visit, at the turn of the 14th to the 15th century, Dhamar was the center of new social approaches in the Middle East. Thus, one might assume that Dhamar formed a new center where traditional wisdom and approaches to modern science came together. The university of Dhamar, which has been badly destroyed in the civil war today, bears the name Thamar. This is the Semitic name for the royal date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), and so you create a bridge to the myths of the ancient Persian mysteries because Ormuzd had the date palm to the tree of life5 Through which the dead will one day receive life, which already indicates a place of traditional mysteries.
The new center in the Middle East
The Middle East has always had a history dominated by wars and power struggles. Even before Christian Rosycross’s time, the North, i.e. Syria as well as parts of Anatolia and Persia, was conquered and occupied by the Mongols, who over time adopted Islam.
Egypt also had a chequered history behind it. After the Ismaili rule of the Fatimids was replaced by the Seljuk commander and later ruler Saladin, the Mamluks covered the Mediterranean coast and parts of the Red Sea coast with intrigue, murder, and war. They had expelled not only the Latins from the East but also the spiritual traditions of their conquered territories. Since in Christian Rosycross’s time only most of southern Arabia and Yemen were free of occupation, Dhamar takes on a new meaning.
If one goes into more detail about who was expelled to Dhamar by the Mongols and who was expelled to Dhamar by the Mamluks, one comes to a concentration of four large streams that gathered in Dhamar. Firstly, the flow from the consequences of cultural exchange on the Silk Road. Secondly, the traditions of the Persians. Thirdly, the Christian scholars exiled by Justitianus with the closure of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy in Athens also arrived here, and were accepted into the famous academy in northern Syria and then in Gondi Shapur, in today’s western Iran. As a fourth stream, we have the tradition of ancient Egypt, which has turned into alchemy.
1. The Silk Road
If one examines the history of the Silk Road, which has been an important communication route between China, India, and the Middle East since the first century BC, one can imagine how the caravanserai along the trade route not only offered overnight accommodation, but also the opportunity for visitors to exchange ideas in the evening. Religious fanaticism would have been out of place here because the back and forth cultural exchange was based precisely on the fact that one was open to all schools of thought and belief. Thus, Confucianism, as well as Taoism, had set out as well as Buddhism and, in the opposite direction, Manichaeism, of which the most important remnants were found in Western China. The end of the Silk Road ended in Palmyra, in present-day Syria, one of the most important distribution centers of the medieval world.
2. Persian traditions
Persia was the home of the great Zarathustra of the Persian cultural epoch. This should not be confused with the historical Zarathas, who lived in the 6th century BC. In the first centuries AD, the Zarathustrian light-darkness doctrine formed the religious core of the Sassanid Empire until they were replaced by the Islamic conquerors.
Islam began its triumphal march in the 7th century, but immediately after Muhammad’s death in 632, Islam split into two directions, the more esoteric Shiites and the more secular Sunnis. The Shiites adhered to an imam as a mediator to the divine. From the imam worship emerged the Ismaelites, who from the 9./10. century settled in North Africa and Egypt and founded the Fatimid Empire. On the other hand, since the 9th century, there have been Ishmaelites who ‘retreated’ for a century and a half to collect all the wisdom traditions that the world had produced. This collection formed a kind of encyclopedia called ‹Ikhwan al Safa›.
In today’s southern Anatolia or Syria, there were centers such as Edessa and Harran, which lived under the umbrella of Islam, but in which such forms of ancient traditions were cultivated. On closer examination, one can feel how the old, especially Persian-influenced traditions flourished again. But they were supplemented by Neoplatonism and Jewish mysticism. Thus a place was created here where one could work out the paths that led back to the divine. The details of this path to supernatural experiences can be studied in the writings of the philosopher Suhrawardi6 .
Through the Mongol conquests in the 12. and 13th century, such centers were destroyed and spiritual life was driven into exile. Where should they have gone? There was only one country free of eternal wars, that was Arabia Felix. Dhamar was obvious.
3. Gondi Shapur
It has already been mentioned how the exiled Greeks went into exile in Syria, because everywhere in the East there were freer Christian communities, i.e. those that were neither Orthodox nor bound to Rome, where they were welcomed. It was mainly the Aristotelians and scientists who were attracted by the Academy of Gondi Shapur, founded in the 3rd century. Here a wisdom center had formed, where the ancient mystery medicine and its medical knowledge were transformed into a medical practice with hospitals. From this developed at the time of the Abbasid caliphs the high art of surgery and the health system of hospitals with health care. With the same prudent attention to sensual handling, other areas, such as pharmacy and agriculture, also emerged. Mathematics and astronomy supported the scientific endeavor.
I can only touch on the transformation from Egyptian mystery wisdom into an alchemy here. The knowledge of the many practices of the cult of the dead already points to the practical interpretation of the handling in accordance with the mysteries. Magic was just as much a part of it as extensive knowledge of the secrets of body formation, which is expressed in the construction of the pyramids and in the temples. However, the spiritual content was lost over the centuries and there were only the traditions of the practices. From these emerges alchemy.
Christian Rosenkreuz in Dhamar (Damcar)
These four streams met in Dhamar. This is how Christian Rosenkreuz encountered the entire wealth of tradition of the Orient, which was cultivated by the sages in this place.
Within a short time, Christian Rosenkreuz learned the Arabic language so that he could translate the book ‹Liber M› into Latin. The ‹Fama› goes on to say that this was also the place where he familiarized himself with physics and mathematics. You can’t do much with these two terms at first, but the reference to the book ‹Liber Mundi› (the book of the world) means something very specific. Rudolf Steiner said: «The purpose of the external work was to fathom what lies behind the Maya of matter. They wanted to investigate the Maya of matter. The entire macrocosm is based on an etheric macrocosm, an etheric body, just as man has an etheric body. There is a certain border crossing from the coarser to the finer substance. Let us focus on the boundary between physical and etheric substance.»7
Here a few words referred to a renewal of natural science, because of the fact that Christian Rosicruci had had a direct encounter with the Christ essence before Damascus, this did not mean physics in today’s sense, but the entire traditional knowledge of the laws acting in the physical. Mathematics was not mathematics in today’s sense, but the whole world of numerical secrets, which had been read from the stars, among other things. From here, the path is not far from understanding what was meant by the word alchemy.
This alchemy, as a legacy of the Egyptian mysteries, was gladly taken up and extended by the Arab scholars because it was applicable to practical life. Through Christian Rosycross, however, alchemy took on a changed meaning. It was understood as an instrument on which one could train oneself in order to learn to read ‹in the book of nature›. It was the means to gain knowledge about the efficacy of the Divine by placing the external appearance at the beginning and not the further development of the tradition. That is why alchemy in the ‹Fama› was so clearly distinguished from the false alchemists and gold makers. The coinage that Christian Rosycross gave to alchemy is described in the ‹Confessio›. Rudolf Steiner described this change as follows: «Looking at this substance clairvoyantly was the ambition of the Rosicrucians. They saw the preparation, the formation of such a gaze in an increased effectiveness of the moral forces of the soul, which then made this substance visible. In the moral forces of the soul, they saw the power to look. This substance has really been looked at and discovered by the Rosicrucians. They found that this substance lives in a certain form in the world, in the macrocosm as well as in human beings. Out in the world, outside of man, they worshipped it as the great garment, as the dress of the macrocosm.»8
The Sabaean culture in the 14th/15th century
But if we look at Dhamar from the other side, then the Shiite Ismaili influenced Sabaeans had9 at the time of Christian Rosycross’s stay in Damcar, a flourishing economy was brought about. Not only had they become masters in the applied sciences, but they were known as chemists, metallurgists, doctors, engineers, and designers of highly sophisticated machines.10 They distinguished themselves with a highly developed architecture as well as a carefully laid out agriculture. Their horse breeding skills were widely famous. One can see in it a clear devotion to the outer side of life. The achievements of Gondi Shapur could include them, but these were complemented by the other traditions.
Obviously, Christian Rosenkreuz also takes up this side of culture. He transforms the richness of his experiences in Dhamar through his ‹Christ experience›. The recognizing person changes by living in the secrets of the world with recognition. He trains himself to transform himself into an instrument of research, and in doing so he absorbs the Christ impulse. Zosimos of Panopolis had a premonition in the 3rd century. In a letter, Zosimos writes: «Whoever wants to devote himself to the great work must above all prove himself worthy of the indispensable grace of God, he must be filled with piety and good spirits, must be free from self-interest and greed, must always be inclined to prayers and sacrifices according to Solomonic wisdom. More importantly, the alchemist must be capable of deepest spiritual immersion, and only for the sake of its divinity may he practice divine art.»11 This is the attitude that Paracelsus and Goethe take in their scientific work, but also Rudolf Steiner when he speaks of overcoming the scientific way of thinking that empirically relates only to sensory perception.
The second big leg of the journey, Fez
Christian Rosenkreuz worked out the essence of Rosicrucianism in Dhamar. Then, three years later, he made his way via Egypt to Fez in present-day Morocco. In Fez, there was the oldest university in the world. It was founded in the 9th century in connection with the mosque and is now called ‹Al Qarawiyyin University›. Here, too, there was a collection point of the sciences. After the Christians conquered Al Andalus except for Granada, science fled to Fez. Not only did famous mystics and Sufi masters teach here, but Fez was also the place where scientists from all over the African and Islamic world met regularly to share the latest achievements in their research. It was frowned upon to keep one’s knowledge to oneself, for the true philosopher regarded philosophy as the science of the mind, which he approached on practice paths. The more people brought the knowledge of the Divine into consciousness, the more fruitful people’s lives could become.
With his ‹Christ experience› in the soul, Christian Rosenkreuz followed the training path as taught in Fez: ascending from reading and then reciting the Koran (for it had been dictated to Muhammad in the language of Allah) to the disputing understanding of what the masters had interpreted. So you rose to your own experience, first under the guidance of an experienced master, and then, after many years, you were released into self-employment and you were awarded the title of master.
It was only in the higher levels that the other subjects such as medicine, astronomy, physics, and mathematics were taught by building on Islamic theology as an experiential science.
Back to Germany
After two years in Fez, Christian Rosenkreuz returned to Europe via Al Andalus. However, this return journey was paved with bitter disappointments, because he tried to convey his achievements to the scholars, but mostly they defended the small kingdoms of their personal achievements.
Christian Rosenkreuz had similar experiences in France and thus made his way back to Germany. Once there, he retired to solitude for five years. He devoted himself «industriously, swiftly, and undauntedly» to his contemplations and alchemical experiments. Then he remembered his mission, sent to his former, native monastery, and asked three of his confreres to join him.
Thus the nucleus of the Brotherhood was founded. His confreres were trained for many years. Few new ones were added, and when the time was right, Christian Rosicrucian sent them out into the world to work as doctors. Only two monks stayed with him, his scribe and his draughtsman.
Christian Rosenkreuz was born in 1378. At the age of five, his parents gave him to a monastery, where he was well received. Afterward, there is no longer any talk of his parents, except that he came from an impoverished German noble family. He made the journey to the Holy Land with an older monastic brother. After his companion died in Cyprus, he continued his journey alone. In the ‹Fama› it is said that he went on a journey at the age of 16, i.e. about 1394. According to Rudolf Steiner, he was 28 years old when he traveled, around 1406. He was in Dhamcar until about 1398 (or 1410), until about 1401 (1413) in Fez, and then after another five years about 1406 (1418), he came back to Germany. Shortly thereafter, perspective was discovered (1427) and Christian Rosicrucian experienced his chymic wedding in 1459, at the same time as the Platonic Academy flourished in Florence and Marsilio Ficino translated the ‹Corpus Hermeticum› from Greek into Latin at the suggestion of Cosimo de Medici (1463). Christian Rosenkreuz died in 1484 and his grave was not allowed to be opened until 120 years later, i.e. in 1620. There one found his ‹Itinerarium and Vitam›, the basics of his biography, as they were communicated in the ‹Fama›.
- Joh. Valentin Andreae, Fama Fraternitatis (1614), Confessio Fraternitatis (1615) and Chymic Wedding: Christiani Rosencreutz. Anno 1459 (1616), the latter circulating as a manuscript as early as 1604. Texts published by Richard von Dülmen, Stuttgart 1973.
- Rudolf Steiner, GA 35 (1965), p. 384 f.
- This word from the ‹Fama› means the awakening of his inner being, the fruits of his Damascus experience in harmony with his will to fate.
- Sigismund von Gleich, Milestones of cultural history. Stuttgart 1963, p. 141 ff.
- According to a Persian legend. The date palm as a tree of life, references Gen 2:9 and 1 Kings 6, 29-35 and Ez 40:16-41:26. The palm tree as an ornament in connection with the Solomon Temple. On the icons of the Eastern Churches, you can always find the date palm as a symbol for the tree of life.
- See Henri Corbin, En Islam Iranien. Aspects spirituels et philosophiques. Sohrawardi et les Platoniciens de Perse. Paris 1971.
- Rudolf Steiner, GA 130, p. 65.
- A. A. Or.
- The people around Harran were also called Sabaeans. This refers to the Yemenis from the land of Saba.
- Sigismund von Gleich, a. a. O., p. 146. See https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rasuliden and https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaiditen.
- From the letter of Zosimos, cit. on p. 77. Hans Werner Schütt, In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone. The history of alchemy. Munich 2000.