The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians by William Walker Atkinson - Read Online
The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians
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The Rosicrucians are a truly "secret society" whose philosophy has come to light at different points in history. In the 1600s they issued a set of manifestos calling for an enlightened revolution that would reshape society into a more democratic ideal. Even the American Founding Fathers were influenced by these manifestos.

Writing as Magus Incognito, William Walker Atkinson reintroduces a new generation of readers to the Rosicrucian ideals, as well as to a myriad of connections between occult concepts as varied as alchemy, reincarnation, the astral plane, auras, Eastern and Western mysticism, and the "evolution of mankind" among seven esoteric versions of planets in our solar system.

There are more than two dozen organizations of Rosicrucians, with local groups in nearly every state—more than 100 in all—and half a million or more followers. Interest continues to be high in this group.

Published: Red Wheel Weiser on
ISBN: 9781609257637
List price: $18.95
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The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians - William Walker Atkinson

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Veil after veil will lift—but there must be Veil upon veil behind.

—Edwin Arnold, The Light of Asia

I'm about to tell you a secret. Well, I'd like to tell it to you, but there is a catch. Once I've told you, your life will be different, and the way you read this book will have changed. If you don't want to know the secret, then I suggest you simply skip this introduction and dive straight into the main text of Magus Incognito's The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians.

But it really is an exquisite secret.

Still here? All right then, I'll tell you. The secret is that some parts of this book are absolute inventions. Precisely which parts are fanciful and convenient illusions is a larger mystery, and one which I am unqualified to solve, but I will point out a few chimeras that I do know of for certain and pray you'll forgive me for it. My reason for doing so is not to show how clever I am, and it's not to prove the rest of this book wrong. Quite the opposite: it's simply to show you that in some instances, invention is exactly what we need. And notice that I'm not claiming these inventions are falsehoods, or even lies. On the contrary, the parts of this book that are not strictly true contribute to the entire book's overall truth.

The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians is many things: It is a story. It is an account of history, and, in a way, it is a scientific textbook. It is also a manual for life, and a call to action. Its message is powerful enough to make kings and bishops tremble, and the meek and disenfranchised stand up and attempt great deeds. And that is precisely why I hope you take it to be true, as others wiser than you or I have for centuries. In taking up study of the Rosicrucian teachings, you will find yourself in a chain of initiates stretching back before the beginnings of recorded history. Let me introduce you to one now.

Magus Incognito is the name, and for as enigmatic a moniker as the good mage dons, his real business in this slim volume is the pulling back of the veil covering ancient mysteries. How ancient? Suffice it to say that one of the founding fathers of Western esotericism, Pythagoras himself, is thought to have wrestled with some of the same mystical riddles put forth in The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians. A lineage of great thinkers and writers has taken up the task of lifting the curtain on this same stage and, like any good story, it is one which rewards repeated telling, and which only grows more relevant to each new generation who hears it.

A stage play is an apt metaphor for the Rosicrucian cosmology, for it is a grand drama that, similarly to life itself, can be revisited at any time, revealing new truths and posing more questions each time. There are stage sets and dramatic lighting effects and characters both onstage and off. There is a script, but it's a revision written by the assistant director. We mortals are actors and audience alike. Some of us read the script a bit too faithfully to be believed, while others ad lib with so much conviction that we redirect the plot, taking everyone in new and unexpected directions. The play is still in production. There are endless casting calls and grueling daily rehearsals.

And where is Magus Incognito during all this? He is in the wings, an accommodating stage manager for the actors, and in the house, a chatty usher for the audience, offering a better seat and a copy of the program to those who have questions. His story is as fantastic as the most outlandish science fiction, and it offers a new century's readers a timeless myriad of connections between occult concepts as varied as alchemy, reincarnation, the astral plane, auras, Eastern and Western mysticism, and the spiritual evolution of mankind along a tour of seven esoteric versions of planets in our own solar system. Despite all this spectacle, people are drawn to read the story, even to take up individual parts in the play, not so much because of the strange and marvelous backdrops but because of the transformations promised on both a personal and universal scale.

Who is this man, this self-proclaimed initiator into mystery? It is again to the printed program itself that we can look for answers. The first edition of The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians appeared in 1915, advertised in the back pages of books and pamphlets from the Advanced Thought Publishing Company of Chicago, Illinois. The house's other titles that year included instruction in clairvoyance and crystal gazing by one Swami Bhakta Vishita and astral travel tips by the equally exotic Swami Panchadasi. These mysterious authors, along with a handful of others, released their manifestos into the world under the editorship of the most unlikely of publishers, an ex-grocer and part-time lawyer from Baltimore by the name of William Walker Atkinson.

By 1915 Atkinson was already a prolific publisher. Since 1900, he had been publishing dozens of books, pamphlets, and articles based on the mind-over-matter ideals of Mental Science, the notion that the power of human reasoning could be utilized for bettering one's life, whether one sought renewed physical fitness, a promotion at work, or improved relations with friends and family. He was a master at reconciling the practical and the arcane, and his blend of the sixth sense with common sense on topics including memory, positive thinking, and the law of attraction (the concept that the thoughts in our mind become things in our lives) fueled one runaway hit after another.

Atkinson was fascinated by Eastern mysticism, and his stable of authors included Hindu gurus who presented health guidelines based on yoga, breath-work, and other Indian teachings. When Magus Incognito's manuscript came across the transom, however, Atkinson recognized in it a means of imparting timeless wisdom of the Western world to satisfy his readership's hunger for self-mastery.

Except the manuscript never actually arrived—at least, not from the outside world. Its origin was in the very office of William Walker Atkinson, the secret identity behind the bestselling authors Yogi Ramacharaka, the aforementioned Swamis Panchadasi and Bhakta Vishita, the French magnetic healer Theron Q. Dumont, the Three Initiates of The Kybalion, and now, Magus Incognito.

Atkinson's writings under his own name were successful; just a few years earlier, the Advanced Thought Publishing Company had released his Mind Power: The Secret of Mental Magic, and his name was on a number of Mental Science books and articles released by other publishers. Why then would he want to pen The Secret Doctrine under a pseudonym, one he'd never used before and would retire following the book's publication?

Perhaps he thought the grandiosity of this work was too much to attribute to himself, a mere mortal. Perhaps doing so would diminish the power of the message he wished to convey. But what moved Atkinson to put on the robes and pick up the pen of Magus Incognito more than either of these reasons was that by doing so he was following in the footsteps of the great Rosicrucian authors of history.

The legend underlying Rosicrucianism is that there is a class of men entrusted with a secret, one which gives them a greater understanding of life and reality. Every so often, the legend goes, representatives of this class reveal themselves and impart to a new civilization their ancient teachings. Their claims are so venerable that they predate any other worldviews based on faith or reason, and yet they nonetheless hold true today.

The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross was one of the outer manifestations of these inner teachings. The group appeared in the ephemeral form of pamphlets published beginning in 1614 laying out the philosophy of the man from which their order took its name, Christian Rosenkreutz, also known as Frater C.R.C. Rosenkreutz was a widely traveled scholar and mystical practitioner more than one hundred years dead at that point, but one whose insight into human nature and mankind's collective potential for positive change was several centuries ahead of its time. The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross held up Rosenkreutz as an exemplar for all of humanity, and the progressive ideals they outlined regarding spiritual alchemy and the free healing of the sick were revolutionary enough that their pamphlets were reprinted instantly in translations across Europe, catching the disapproving attention of both Church and State. Suspected association with the revolutionary Brotherhood was highly politicized, and because of this the members of this Invisible College remained hidden. Rumors abounded that this or that public figure was a Rosicrucian, and when René Descartes was cornered and pressured to confess, he dodged punishment with the defense that he couldn't possibly be a Rosicrucian as long as he was still visible by his accusers.

It was through this sort of deft maneuvering that the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross survived, mainly in the imaginations of those who heard of it, but now and again in the hands of writers and printers who would present another manifesto to the world. That there was such marked desire among these publishers and their readers to join made the Rosicrucians a bit—a tiny bit, mind you—more solid and real. But no matter how ephemeral the actual members turned out to be, Rosicrucianism was pure gold to philosophers and publishers alike. As Magus Incognito, William Walker Atkinson was of the mind that this might still be true three hundred years later.

What is perhaps most fascinating about the writings of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, and all the writings their work has since inspired, is not the spiritual or political leaps they ask of their readers, or even that there was a man in the 1400s whose thoughts were worth such a complete revision of society. No, the most incredible truth is that the Brotherhood only half-heartedly claimed to believe in Rosenkreutz's existence at all. His truth, their truth, was one which needed no figurehead, required no priest or king or even an established council of decision makers. For these early Rosicrucians, there was nothing more real than the power of the individual human being's imagination, a fire which could be passed from mind to enlightened mind through books and pamphlets and oral teachings, and from one generation to the next. This is how Frater C.R.C. had passed it to them, and this is how he learned it during his travels in the Middle East. The Arab and Indian sages had preserved the knowledge of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Babylonia, and they in turn had learned it from . . . well, it's only my task here to introduce you to The Secret Doctrine. I'll leave it to Magus Incognito to reveal the true secrets to you himself.

If a bit of pomp and circumstance helped the transmission along, if far-fetched claims and mystery nabbed a bit more attention, then so be it. And who among the readership of 1915 would believe that all this strange, wily wisdom could come from the mind and pen of a semi-retired attorney from Baltimore? It was better for all parties concerned to picture Magus Incognito himself, sporting a Middle Eastern cloak and fez, his gray beard neatly combed and waxed into forked points to better illustrate the dual nature of reality. Atkinson hedged his bets and went with the latter persona, and then as well as today it gives The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians a feeling of special wisdom imparted, a book not for everyone but only those who are ready to receive it.

One of the first truths that 21st-century seekers of occult knowledge learn is that the hidden teachings of the Rosicrucians are never further than a few clicks away. Mystery schools are active today just as they were in William Walker Atkinson's time. The only things that have really changed are the speed at which one may find and contact them, and the fact that many of them now accept both men and women into their ranks. In exchange for a membership fee and a vow of secrecy supplicants may be initiated into the ancient wisdom. The potency of the vow of secrecy is so great that the teachings remain outside the scope of common knowledge today.

Except that they're not, not really. One of the revolutions of the modern Age of Information is that you and I can now go online and download every last rite and ritual of the Rosicrucians. This sort of rending of the veil is nothing new—Aleister Crowley was accused of it after he published the initiation rituals of the Golden Dawn in his Equinox series in 1914.

What are the disadvantages of secret teachings going open source? Is the freedom of information regarding Rosicrucian mysteries—a freedom arguably brought about in part by the group's own progressive 17th-century pamphlets—counterproductive? What magic remains for the eager student of today, in a world where all the trade secrets of Magus Incognito and the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross are laid bare? Or are there no real drawbacks, because the lessons, the text, has as much to do with true wisdom as lead and gold have to do with true alchemy? Wisdom comes to us not while we point and click ourselves toward the grave, but during times when we are in a particular state of mind, one unattainable through outer means. Our inner sanctum is one unique to each of us, yet shares commonality among all people. This place, and nowhere else, is where the true secret doctrine of the Rosicrucians can be revealed. That the mystery schools continue to draw seekers today, even though their writings are available to all, is testament to the notion that there is always a higher teaching to be attained, a greater understanding available to the student who is ready for the teacher to materialize. As Magus Incognito himself states: When the Pupil is ready, the Master appears.

Creator and Creation

What exactly is Magus Incognito hoping to teach to a new cohort of petitioners? Like the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, he prefers to teach through storytelling. After recounting a few preliminary anecdotes about the historical Rosicrucians, he goes further back in time to tell us an even grander story.

Begin at the beginning, the King of Hearts advised Alice. Magus Incognito does one better by beginning at The Beginning, tackling that trickiest of metaphysical conundrums, the how and why of the quantum wobble which gave birth to the universe. It is a tale of the original storyteller, the initial consciousness, whose first stirrings set into motion all that we now experience as reality. Magus Incognito's account continues through numberless ages, bringing us to the modern day, which happens to be quite near the midpoint of the narrative. The sand in our hourglass continues to flow, and the present cosmic day will, eons from now, yield to cosmic night and then . . . well, I'm getting ahead of myself again.

It's a nice story, and one which sounds familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of monotheistic creation myths. But where does Rosicrucianism stand in relation to religion, or to any other way of looking at life and reality? Magus Incognito's presentation appeals to readers new to Rosicrucian thought. Perhaps they still conceive of universal origin as a limitless Creator, or they put their faith in a distant, impartial event such as the Big Bang. The Rosicrucians have their own creation myth, and even though it is described precisely, there is room to accommodate traditional notions of God as well as a seemingly random occurrence leading to life as we know it. The author of our guidebook even thoughtfully provides us with a few symbols and diagrams to illustrate some of the doctrine's more mysterious concepts, reminding us that these representations are merely that—other ways of putting forth in concrete terms ideas which transcend the limits of mere matter.

Not that attempting a scientific explanation of mystical concepts is unadmirable, just as any of us could benefit from writing a poem or a song to describe what laboratory research has pinned down for certain. Both activities are merely showing in a new light the knowledge gained from one or another path of inquiry into the nature of life, and the result is a fuller picture.

One of the most beautiful aspects of Rosicrucianism is its flexibility, and William Walker Atkinson was hardly the only author in history to riff on it and make it his own. Atkinson's contemporary, Austrian reformer Rudolf Steiner, even used Rosicrucianism as a basis when he spun off new business, art, education, and architectural methods from his own philosophy of Anthroposophy. Seen in the appropriate light, shifting from seemingly bizarre concepts in Rosicrucianism to novel approaches to everyday industries and situations can be so seamless that when applied, the philosophy makes perfect sense, and the resulting transformations can be both genuine and genius.

Those drawn to Rosicrucianism after a crisis of faith in their own lives will be gratified to see how the philosophy does an admirable job of doing away with the dogma which bogs down other paradigms. Where notions and arguments are so often derailed by our individual senses of belief, be it in science or religion, Rosicruciansim instead applies logic to problems. The Rosicrucian doctrine does something science is ill-equipped to do—it places mankind at a particular point on a continuum involving all of reality. After reading Magus Incognito's revelation we realize we are no longer disconnected life forms on a random speck of soil in space. We have a meaningful place in which to stand and regard the rest of the universe. Furthermore, the tenets of Rosicrucianism present in straightforward terms an idea missing from the belief systems of the world's most influential religions: the idea that there is a progressive movement, among all life and over the course of unfathomable generations, back toward our origins in the great Unknown. Our path is one back to the original motive responsible for our being here now, a source to which we will return wiser and, with a lot of hard work and a little luck, better equipped to try it all again someday. Rosicrucianism gives us a purpose, a literal higher calling, reminding us that as human beings we have an active role in the unfolding story of the cosmos.

That we can walk this path with or without scientific faith or devotion to the divine and not contradict Rosicrucian doctrine is the basis for the philosophy's beauty and strength. One can ponder the mysteries of the periodic table one moment and those of Rosicrucianism the next without contradiction. And one may still worship an omniscient and omnipotent God and love and believe in Her no less, even if a bit of Her slip is showing.

Perhaps the most intriguing of all the concepts Magus Incognito presents is the idea of metempsychosis, the survival of a person's soul following bodily death and its eventual self-directed reappearance on Earth. In one deft stroke the Rosicrucians tie together reincarnation, a type of personal heaven between lives, and an evolution of the soul mirroring that of the physical life we've found represented in the fossil record. As each soul returns for another ride on the terrestrial merry-go-round, it does so as an individual seeking a more fully realized life than the one led before, and in doing so helps to speed the entire human race along on its journey toward unification with the rest of creation. That this process is not led by some bearded patriarch on a celestial or earthly throne, or even by an explicit moral code, but by each human soul's desire to express its individual will to become a better human being—even if these desires take several incarnations to manifest themselves—speaks volumes about the Rosicrucians' respect for another human institution outside the bounds of science and religion—art. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that some of the most eloquent glimpses of the truth of pre-existence arrive in the form of poetry, paintings, sculpture, and other art. And artistically prodigious children bear out, at least to Magus Incognito's satisfaction, the reality not only of the transmigration of souls but also the bringing of knowledge from their previous lives to their new ones.

It becomes perhaps a little too tempting to take this insight into Rosicrucianism and ascribe a kind of spiritual supremacy to the selfexpressive activity of art, or to the notion that the artistic process may bring us closer to the Unfathomable. Art is simply a different way by which we interpret reality. If science and religion seem to be two ends of a single rod stretching between heaven and earth, one activity leading us to look down, the other up, then perhaps art offers us an opportunity to look around, see the world as it is, and reveal truths about it by creating things anew.

All artists will have a soft spot for the Rosicrucian notion of the Demiurge—the initial, flawed creation of the Creator, and the agent responsible for the actual making of everything we can see and experience in life. By subcontracting the crafting of the universe to a builder whose work, while good, isn't foolproof, God can remain all-powerful and mankind can be freed from the question of why imperfection exists in a world supposedly created by a perfect being. One of Atkinson's deeply held principles, evident in everything he wrote, was that our thoughts have consequence in our lives, and that through our thoughts we create our reality. In the Demiurge he found a godlike representation of this concept, one after which we could mold our behavior if we truly wanted to experience life as art, existence as a creative act.

While true everyday identification with the Demiurge would be impossible for even the most enlightened of earth's souls, we might still experience rare glimpses of higher consciousness that give us a sense of what it must be like. We might imagine how, when the Demiurge gets up in the morning still groggy from sleep, it might stub its toe on the doorjamb or burn its fingers making the tea, uttering less than creative expletives, which nonetheless go on to create, resulting in the marred world we now inhabit. There is a morality implicit in this paradigm, an opportunity for people to try to improve themselves and the world entrusted to their care. When a parent or a teacher says damn, the kids will say it too. They'll repeat anything they hear, so why not give them creative, true, beautiful, and good words and actions to imitate?

Magus Incognito doesn't give us any hard and fast laws by which to act, but his Secret Doctrine puts forth a number of principles underlying the structure and workings of the universe, and these help illuminate a path of spiritual progression that is open to anyone. No matter what path someone's life has taken to this point, picking up the study of Rosicrucianism ensures that they, and not any outside person, institution, or force, will guide themselves to greatness and achieving their dreams. By turning the practice of art on oneself, applying creativity and the recombination of seemingly disparate elements into something new within one's mind and heart, the budding Rosicrucian takes the first conscious steps on the path to a better life, and in turn, a better world for all. Destructive behavior and selfishness are rendered impossible by the student's understanding that all of existence is tied together, and that an affront to the one is an affront to the whole.

With this sly and munificent reframing of reality, Magus Incognito succeeds in giving everyday people a foundation for pondering and attempting that most mysterious state of mind and intriguing mechanism for miracles—magic. A ragged survivor of the ages, magic today is one of humanity's most debased and misunderstood terms, and a practice dismissed and feared in equal measure. This makes no difference to our guide, who couldn't care less about the full-blown assault on magic raging in the factories, schools, and churches of the Western world. Instead he jumps into the fray and begins teaching. He likens human consciousness to a chariot and its driver, and from this starting point Magus Incognito sends us to a remedial traffic school of the soul, teaching us to take the reins and move ourselves where we would like to go, rather than being driven or dragged about by anyone or anything else. The curse of being human, he tells us, is the curse of self-awareness. The more we know about ourselves and our world, the more difficult it becomes to satisfy our desires.

These magical lessons are an education in ascendancy from our basic human state, which, when neglected can hover