From Rosicrucianism to Freemasonry

Esotericism in Europe during the 17th to 19th Centuries

In trying to understand the popularity and development of Runic Occultism, it is important to see how other esoteric currents influenced European culture prior to this. The most influential seem to be the Rosicrucian and Freemasonic movements. These two movements seem to have had an effect on both German and French language esotericists (both of whom are of interest to us).

Soon after the publication of the Rosicrucian manifestos (mentioned above), these documents were published in other languages and gave rise to what is now known as the ‘Rose-Cross Movement’ or Rosicrucianism. They presented the allegorical stories or legends of a German doctor and mystic known as “Father Brother C.R.C.” (identified in the third manifesto as “Christian Rosecross”). The manifestos purported to announce the existence of a previously unknown esoteric order and used an interesting mixture of Alchemical, Esoteric Christian, Hermetic and what we could call Gnostic-Kabbalistic language or symbolism.

A high point in the momentum of this Rosicrucian Movement may have been when two mysterious posters appeared on the walls of Paris in 1623. The first said “We, the Deputies of the Higher College of the Rose-Croix, do make our stay, visibly and invisibly, in this city…”, and the second ended with the words “The thoughts attached to the real desire of the seeker will lead us to him and him to us.” Rosicrucianism seems to have become a spiritual & cultural movement across Europe.


Freemasonry as the Child of Rosicrucian Fraternity?

Next comes the emergence of what we now call Freemasonry. The formal foundation of Freemasonry in England was on June 24th, 1717 (although, there are written records of Masonic lodges having meetings prior to this date). With it, Freemasonry begins to gain prominence in European esoteric circles.

There are French traditions which say that the first Masonic lodge in France was founded in 1688 just outside of Paris in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. However, the first French lodge of English origin that was established in France (whose existence is historically certain) was founded in Paris around 1725.

In Germany, the first Masonic lodge was founded in 1737 in the city of Hamburg and, a few years later in 1740, a Grand Lodge was founded in Berlin.


‘Higher’ Degrees of Freemasonry and the Rite of ‘Strict Observance’

Traditional Freemasonry is based upon three degrees (often referred to as the ‘Blue Lodge’):

1) Apprentice
2) Companion or Fellow
3) Master

However, additional degrees were developed and were especially popular in France called Hauts Grades or “High Degrees” (they appear to have first emerged about 1737). Most of these ‘higher’ degrees build off of the symbolism of the first three (the ‘Blue Lodge’) in order to incorporate Kabbalistic, Hermetic, Chivalric or Alchemical teachings into their rituals and studies. The French Masonic influence on German Masonry is connected to an interesting story.

In 1741, a German named Baron Gotthelf von Hund was at the coronation of Charles VII in Frankfurt, where he was admitted into the Masonic brotherhood. Then, in December of 1742, Hund went to Paris and became Master of a Masonic lodge there, in early 1743. Later that same year, he claimed he was also initiated (by “Jacobite-Scottish knights”) into the Order of the Knights Templar. Hund further claimed to have been appointed by the “unknown superiors” of the Templars as “Provincial Grand Master” of the Order of Province VII (Germany) and was supposedly charged with the revival of the Templar Order in Germany.

In 1745, there was a Jacobite attempt to overthrow the British monarchy while most of their Army was fighting in mainland Europe, which was supposed to occur along with a coordinated French Jacobite attack on Britain. This revolt failed and soon afterwards Hund lost touch with his French Jacobite masters. Notwithstanding, in 1749, he had established a Masonic lodge in Unwürde, Germany on his estate and began working a ‘High Degree’ system. The following year, he settled in Lower Kittlitz and built a castle with an octagonal floor plan (which is interpreted as having Masonic symbolism).

The new French ‘Scottish Rite’ that Hund introduced to Germany, he named “Rectified Masonry” and later the Rite of Strikten Observanz or “Strict Observance”, while referring to the English system of Freemasonry as the Rite of “Late Observance”. However, it did not become popular until a little later…

In 1764, seeking to re-establish his link with his French Jacobite masters, Hund unintentionally unmasked a fraud named George Frederick Johnson (who claimed to be an exiled Jacobite with knowledge of the higher degrees of Freemasonry). Johnson had been accepted by the lodge at Jena as their Masonic mentor, and now claimed superiority over all other lodges in Germany and Bohemia. Those who accepted his rule had their own charters and papers burned, and their leaders re-initiated (at some expense) into Johnson’s system of higher degrees.

Hoping that Johnson was a link to his own missing superiors, Hund agreed to meet, and Johnson brought his entire entourage (with representatives of his subordinate lodges). However, Johnson’s bizarre behavior, and his failure to produce promised material, convinced both Hund and Johnson’s own people that he was a fraud. He was later found to be a conman named Johann Samuel Lechte.

When their discredited mentor left, all those lodges turned themselves over to Hund as the unexpected hero of the hour, and the Rite of Strict Observance was born, rapidly becoming the predominant form of Masonry in Germany. It had 7 degrees:

1) Apprentice
2) Fellow
3) Master
4) Scottish Master
5) Secular Novice
6) Knight
7) Lay Brother

By 1768, the Rite of Strict Observance had 40+ lodges. It appealed to German national pride, attracted the non-nobility, and was allegedly directed by the “unknown superiors” (a term later incorporated into Martinism in 1884). The Rite of Strict Observance was particularly devoted to the reform of Masonry, and specifically to the elimination of the occult sciences (which at the time seem to have been widely practiced in many lodges), and the establishment of cohesion and homogeneity in Masonry through the enforcement of strict discipline, the regulation of functions, etc. Despite its initial popularity, soon after Hund’s death in 1776, the Rite became defunct.


‘Higher’ Degree Alchemical and Rosicrusican Orders in Europe

About the same time that Hund was first establishing lodges in Germany (the 1750s), there was another Masonic-Rosicrucian order named Gold- und Rosenkreuz [“The Golden and Rosy Cross”] founded in Berlin. This organization was said to have included King Frederick William II of Prussia and Johann Christoph von Wöllner as members.

In contrast to the Rite of Strict Observance, this Order emphasized the need to study and practice occultism (specifically Laboratory Alchemy and Ceremonial Magic). The supposed purpose of the Order was to regenerate man back to his original state, to restore the image of God, and (with the aid of Jesus Christ) to fight against the devil and darkness while building the Kingdom of Light. According to a researcher on the subject, Tommy Westlund:

“This was accomplished by teaching the members the arts of alchemy, magic and prophecy, through an elaborate degree system.

…The initiation rituals were influenced by the Masonic blue lodge degree rituals, and very often sought to explain alchemical meanings and symbolism hidden therein. In addition, they each had what we could call a purifying aspect. Each degree had a special lodge room with several sections (colored according to alchemical stages), and during an initiation, a brother might have to visit several rooms in order to receive certain objects or instructions, which were then brought to the room of the degree he was being received into (all done in ceremonial manner with questions, passwords and signs).”

Candidates were expected to already be Master Masons (in the ‘Blue Lodge’) and Alchemy was a big part of their studies. It had a 9-degree hierarchy based on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life:

1) Juniorus
2) Theoricus
3) Practicus
4) Philosophus
5) Adeptus Minor
6) Adeptus Major
7) Adeptus Exemptus
8) Magister
9) Magus

As a side note: much of the hierarchical structure for “The Golden and Rosy Cross” order was used over a century later in some English esoteric orders: Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, established in 1865; as well as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, established in 1888.

Continuing to quote Westlund:

“…the Order sought to promote laboratory alchemy as a preparation for the true divine magic, and with these two, members could become prophets.

And for several years, this was a great success throughout Europe. However, nothing lasts forever, and instead of the mandatory 10 year reformation (which should have happened in 1787), the Order slowly faded out, due to inner conflicts, alchemical experiments with fatal outcomes; Unknown Superiors that never came with even more secret teachings, and outer conflicts with the Asiatic Brethren, the Illuminati and the enlightenment scene as a whole.

In the end of the 18th century, the term Rosicrucian became a substitute for charlatan, imposer or just general ignorance…”

The mid to late 1700s saw a huge variety of Masonic ‘High Degree’ systems in France, many created there, but others were imported from Great Britain, Germany and elsewhere.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, there were attempts to organize and standardize these various Masonic Rites, leading to multiple ‘High Degree’ systems, such as: the French Rite, the Adonhiram Rite, the Rite of the Metropolitan Chapter of France, the Rite of Wisdom, the Rite of Perfection, the Sovereign Counsel of the Knights of the East, the Academy of True Masons, Counsel of the Emperors of the East & West, the Consistory of the Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret, the Rectified Scottish Rite, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, the Memphis Rite, the Mizraim Rite, etc.

Many of these Orders did not survive another 50 years (into the mid-1800s), but luckily their rituals were preserved in manuscripts or other published forms and can be studied today…


Relevant Esoteric Influences in the 19th Century

Religious Currents in Europe leading up to and during the 1800s

With the popularity of Freemasonry beginning to decline, space started to open for other groups to make an attempt at holding the torch of spiritual reform in Europe.

Now, some new esoteric, spiritual or religious currents become popular that will play a role in the emergence of the Runology of the 20th century. They were:

1) the Spiritualist Movement – a combination of the ideas of Swedenborg and Mesmer
2) the Od or Odic Force – Reichenbach’s idea of Vital Force(s) that emanate from all living things (somewhat similar the Mesmer’s “Animal Magnetism”)
3) the Theosophical Movement – bringing the ideas of the East to Europe (and to the West in general) and, with it, the popularity of Esotericism and Occultism

When these currents merge together with the Völkisch Movement, we have the materialization of a new wave of Runic Esotericism. If we want to understand the environment wherein the Völkisch Movement was able to flourish, we’ll have to back up a little in history to see the bigger picture.


The Great Awakenings

After the Protestant Reformation, there continued to be attempts to reform traditional Christianity in Europe. Beginning in the early to mid-1700s, there were a number of surges in religious popularity that historians have named the “Great Awakenings”. We have already noted the Rosicrucian manifestos and their influence above, so now let’s look at other religious currents during the same time period.

According to the scholar Christine Leigh Heyrman, “during the middle decades of the 18th century, a new ‘Age of Faith’ arose to counter the currents of the Age of Enlightenment, to reaffirm the view that being truly religious meant trusting the heart rather than the head, prizing feeling more than thinking, and relying on biblical revelation rather than human reason.”

The first Great Awakening was an evangelical upsurge in England, Scotland, Germany and the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s. It has been described as a focus on religious experience, rather than on traditional doctrinal divisions (between the Protestant and Catholic churches). With it, there was an emphasis on religious faith as opposed to religious intellectualism and scholasticism. Here we also see the emergence of the theological view that religious conversion had to be a “new birth” experienced in the heart and not simply an intellectual grasp of ‘proper’ Christian doctrine.

The second Great Awakening began around 1790, gaining momentum by 1800 and on into the 1820s (when membership rose among Baptist and Methodist congregations). Like the first Great Awakening, it emphasized a kind of Romanticism characterized by enthusiasm, emotion, and an appeal to the supernatural, while rejecting the skeptical rationalism and deism of the Enlightenment. As it begins to wane, we see the emergence of a new spiritual movement, now called ‘Spiritism’ or ‘Spiritualism’.



Spiritualism first appeared in the 1840s in upstate New York (earlier religious movements such as Millerism and Mormonism had also emerged from this area, during the second Great Awakening). Many believed that this area was a special place where direct communication with God or angels was possible. Spiritualism was concerned with the afterlife and communicating with ‘the spirits of dead people’ (whom they called ‘discarnate humans’ or simply ‘spirits’).

Central to their system is the idea that spirits are capable of growth and perfection, progressing through higher spheres or planes, and that the afterlife is not a static state, but one in which spirits evolve. Here we see the emergence of the idea that a disincarnated person can continue to develop after death, similar to a ‘spiritual evolution’.

One of the reasons Spiritualists were interested in contacting spirits was the idea that spirits can provide knowledge about moral and ethical issues, as well as about God and the afterlife. Many believers therefore speak of “spirit guides” (specific spirits, often contacted, and relied upon for guidance). Spiritualists believe that those they called ‘spirit mediums’ are gifted with the ability to communicate with spirits, however anyone may become a ‘medium’ through study and practice. According to Spiritualists, anyone may receive spirit messages, but formal communication sessions (séances) are held by mediums, whereby they claim to directly receive information.


Swedenborg, Mesmer and the Foundations of Spiritualism

For Spiritualist, the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) and the teachings of Franz Mesmer (1734–1815) provided an outline for those seeking direct personal knowledge of the afterlife, the ‘spirit’ world and the supernatural.

Swedenborg was a Swedish Lutheran theologian, scientist, philosopher and mystic, who was best known for his book on the afterlife, Heaven and its Wonders and Hell From Things Heard and Seen [De Caelo et Eius Mirabilibus et de inferno, ex Auditis et Visis] (1758). This book is often known as simply “Heaven and Hell” in English translations.

Swedenborg had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist. Then, at 53, he entered into a spiritual phase in which he began to experience dreams and visions, beginning on Easter Weekend, on 6 April 1744. It culminated in a ‘spiritual awakening’ in which he received a revelation that he was appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ to reform Christianity.

Swedenborg says that after we die, we wake up in the intermediate region of the spiritual world, neither in Heaven nor Hell, but in a neutral “no man’s land” that he calls the “World of Spirits”. Here we gradually lose the ability to pretend and the spiritual “real us” comes out. Following this judgment, the new spirit goes on to the Heaven or Hell of its own free will. God does not force them. Spirits gather with those that are alike to themselves, whether in Heaven or Hell.

According to Swedenborg, people are kept in spiritual freedom by means of the equilibrium between Heaven and Hell. He says that anyone can enter Heaven, but as soon as an evil person inhales the Heavenly air, they have excruciating torment so they quickly shun it and escape to keep with their true state. He emphasized that the basic spiritual orientation of a person toward good or evil cannot be changed after death. Thus, an evil spirit could leave hell, but never wants to.

Two features of Swedenborg’s view particularly resonated with the early Spiritualists:

1) that there is not a single Hell and a single Heaven, but rather a series of higher and lower Heavens and Hells;
2) that spirits are intermediates between God and humans, so that the divine sometimes uses them as a means of communication.

Although Swedenborg actually warned against seeking out spirit contact, his works seem to have inspired others to do so.



The second person who influenced Spiritualism was Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), a German medical doctor with an interest in astronomy. Mesmer theorized that there was a natural energy transference that occurred between all animated and inanimate objects. He called this ‘animal magnetism’ and believed that it was an invisible natural force (Lebensmagnetismus ) possessed by all living things, including humans, animals, and vegetables. He also believed that this force could have physical effects, including healing.

Mesmer’s theory attracted a wide following between about 1780 and 1850, and continued to have some influence until the end of the 1800s. Although Mesmer did not contribute religious beliefs to the Spiritualists, his technique (later known as hypnotism) was used to induce trances. Through these trances subjects often reported contact with supernatural beings.


Reichenbach’s Odic Force

Baron Dr. Karl Ludwig von Reichenbach (1788-1869) was a notable chemist, geologist, metallurgist, naturalist, industrialist and philosopher, who is discovered several chemical products of economic importance, extracted from tar (such as eupione, waxy paraffin, pittacal and phenol). In his last years, he dedicated himself to research on a field of energy combining electricity, magnetism and heat, emanating from all living things, which he called the Odic force.

In 1839 Von Reichenbach retired from industry and entered upon an investigation of the pathology of the human nervous system. He studied neurasthenia, somnambulism, hysteria and phobia, crediting reports that these conditions were affected by the moon. After interviewing many patients he ruled out many causes and cures, but concluded that such maladies tended to affect people whose sensory faculties were unusually vivid. These people he called “sensitives”.

Influenced by the works of Franz Anton Mesmer, he hypothesized that the condition could be affected by environmental electromagnetism. As von Reichenbach was investigating the manner in which the human nervous system could be affected by various substances, he conceived of the existence of a new force allied to electricity, magnetism, and heat. He thought this force was radiated by most substances and that “sensitives” were more influenced than others.

Eventually, his investigations led him to propose a new force allied to magnetism, which he thought was an emanation from most substances, a kind of “life principle” which permeates and connects all living things, naming it the Odic force. He said that (1) the Odic force had a positive and negative flux, and a light and dark side; (2) individuals could forcefully “emanate” it, particularly from the hands, mouth, and forehead; and (3) the Odic force had many possible applications.

The Odic force was said to explain the phenomenon of hypnotism. In Britain, after the translation of Reichenbach’s Researches on Magnetism, Electricity, Heat and Light in their Relations to Vital Forces in 1850 by Dr. Gregory (professor of chemistry at the University of Edinburgh), research was undertaken to try to show many of the Odic phenomena to be of the same nature as those described previously by Franz Mesmer and Emanuel Swedenborg.

Von Reichenbach hoped to develop scientific proof for a universal life force; however, his experiments relied on perceptions reported by individuals who claimed to be “sensitive”, as he himself could not observe any of the reported phenomena. The “sensitives” had to work in total or near-total darkness to be able to observe the phenomena. Reichenbach stated that, through experimentation, possibly 1/3 of the population could view the phenomenon, but far less otherwise.


Blavatsky’s Theosophical Movement

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891) was born in Russia and studied Esotericism throughout Europe and the Middle East before eventually traveling to India and Tibet. Sometime between 1967-1868, she traveled to Constantinople, where she met Master Morya and together they traveled overland to Tibet. There they stayed with another spiritual Master named Koot Hoomi, near to Tashilhunpo Monastery, Shigatse (modern Xigazê).

There she claimed she was taught an ancient, unknown language (known as Senzar) and translated a number of ancient texts written in this language that were preserved by the monks of a monastery. She also claimed that while in Tibet, she was taught how to develop and control her psychic powers.

Blavatsky alleged that she left Tibet with the mission of proving to the world that the phenomena identified by Spiritualists was objectively real, thus defending it against accusations of fraud made by scientific materialists. However, she also stated that the entities being contacted by Spiritualist mediums were not the spirits of the dead (as the Spiritualist movement typically alleged), but instead either mischievous elementals or the “shells” left behind by the deceased.

After traveling to Cairo in 1871, she established a société spirite with the help of Emma Cutting. This group was largely based on Spiritism, a form of Spiritualism founded by Allan Kardec which professed a belief in reincarnation, in contrast to the mainstream Spiritualist movement. However, Blavatsky believed that Cutting and many of the mediums employed by the society were fraudulent, and so she closed it down after two weeks.

Later (after returning to Europe), in 1874, Blavatsky traveled to the United States, where she met Henry Steel Olcott, who soon became her friend and spiritual collaborator. Then, in September of 1875, Blavatsky, Olcott, and an Irish Spiritualist named William Q. Judge decided to establish an esoteric organization which they called the “Theosophical Society”.

That same year (1875), Blavatsky began work on a book outlining her Theosophical worldview. Although she had hoped to call it The Veil of Isis, it was published as Isis Unveiled. While writing it, Blavatsky claimed to be aware of a second consciousness within her body, referring to it as “the lodger who is in me”, and stating that it was this second consciousness that inspired much of the writing. It was first published in two volumes in 1877.

Isis Unveiled became very popular and all 1000 copies first edition sold out in one week. It has been described by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke in his book Helena Blavatsky (2004) as teaching a universal doctrine present in all religions and cultures:

“The underlying theme among these diverse topics [in Isis Unveiled] is the existence of an ancient wisdom-religion, an ageless occult guide to the cosmos, nature and human life. The many faiths of man are said to derive from a universal religion known to both Plato and the ancient Hindu sages.

The wisdom-religion is also identified with Hermetic philosophy as “the only possible key to the Absolute in science and theology” (I, vii). Every religion is based on the same truth or “secret doctrine”, which contains “the alpha and omega of universal science” (I, 511). This ancient wisdom-religion will become the religion of the future (I, 613).”

Now Theosophical ‘Lodges’ (formally organized groups who met regularly to study and present information to the public) were being established throughout the United States and Europe. In 1879, Blavatsky moved back to India and continued to teach her doctrine there, before returning to Europe in 1883.

In 1885, Blavatsky resigned as secretary of the Theosophical society (due to deteriorating health) and started focusing on her next book, The Secret Doctrine. This was eventually published in 1888 in two volumes: the first volume is named Cosmogenesis, and the second Anthropogenesis.

This book is of particular interest for our studies because this is where Blavatsky presents the concepts of the Seven Rounds and the Seven Root-Races and says that the “Aryan” race is the 5th, describing it with the following words:

“The Aryan races, for instance, now varying from dark brown, almost black, red-brown-yellow, down to the whitest creamy colour, are yet all of one and the same stock – the Fifth Root-Race – and spring from one single progenitor, … who is said to have lived over 18,000,000 years ago, and also 850,000 years ago – at the time of the sinking of the last remnants of the great continent of Atlantis.”

The Secret Doctrine, Vol. II, p.249

Not only was the term Aryan used by the Theosophical movement, but so was the swastika…



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