Just who were the original Rosicrucians? And what about the Priory of Sion? Apart from being so-called Secret Societies (which can mean just about anything) just who were they? And what ‘secrets’ (if any) were they withholding from the world? Isn’t it time to uncover the truth? In this article I will be laying bare much of the mystery surrounding these two clandestine organisations. So let’s start at the beginning: in 1623, the residents of Paris could have read these extraordinary words emblazoned on a placard in their city:
“We who are the authorised messengers the Brothers of the Rosy Cross [Rosicrucians], making visible and invisible sojourn this town … do give instruction, without external means, in speaking the language of the countries wherein we dwell. If anyone shall seek us out of mere curiosity, he will never communicate with us; but if he be actuated by an earnest desire to be inscribed on the register of our fraternity … the firm will of the reader shall be sufficient to make us known to him and him likewise to us.”1
As might be expected, much curiosity was aroused by this enigmatic announcement. If anyone asked openly about this shadowy cabal, an unknown person would take the inquirer to one side and say to him gravely:
“Predestined to the reformation which must take place speedily in the whole universe, the Rosicrucians are depositaries of supreme wisdom, and undisturbed possessors of all gifts of Nature … In whatsoever place they may be, they know all things which are going on in the rest of the world better than if they were present amongst them; they are superior to hunger and thirst and have neither age nor disease to fear. They can command the most powerful spirits for God has covered them with a cloud to protect them from their enemies, and they cannot be seen except by their own consent …”2
The placards arrived a few years after the appearance of the so called Rosicrucian Manifestos, the Fama Fraternitatis (1614) and the Confessio Fraternitatis (1615), based on the teaching of a certain Christian Rosenkreutz. Apparently, ‘our loving Father, Brother C. R.’ had travelled far and wide and acquired extensive occult wisdom. But the Fama declared that the ‘learned’ in current society are full of ‘pride and covetousness’ and cannot see the Truth. The Manifestos insisted that the secret knowledge possessed by the Brothers was superior to the ‘erroneous doctrines’ of academia and the Confessio even called for a ‘new citadel of truth’ where we should ‘destroy the old, ruinous building’ (of knowledge) and begin anew. In other words, orthodox religion and science – in their descriptions of Reality – were useless. Apparently, the philosopher Descartes once had to hotly deny that he belonged to the Brotherhood!
The Priory of Sion: A Modern Secret Society?
Similarly, in the late 20th century, the reading public were informed of another mysterious secret society, supposedly dating all the way back to 1099 in Jerusalem. This was the Priory of Sion, a putative chivalric order whose aim was to install ‘a secret bloodline of the Merovingian dynasty on the thrones of France and the rest of Europe.’ (Wikipedia.) An order of such pedigree would, presumably, possess documents of authenticity, and these duly appeared when registered at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. The Priory’s list of Grand Masters, dating back to 1188, contained such notable figures as Nicolas Flamel, Robert Fludd, Johann Valentin Andrae and Isaac Newton, all known to have been deeply immersed in Alchemy.
But the really fascinating part was the discovery of two medieval parchments with enciphered messages referring to the Priory of Sion. These had apparently been found, by chance, in 1891 by a Catholic priest, Bérenger Saunière, in an obscure French village, Rennes-le-Château. It seemed that Sauniere had hit upon a veritable treasure trove with these parchments and their recondite messages. The enigmatic Saunière is said to have taken them to his Church superior, and soon after began to amass great wealth – was he being paid to keep silent, and if so, what was so earth-shaking about them?
When deciphered, however, they only created further questions. The documents referred to the 17th century artist Nicolas Poussin who, along with David Teniers, was alleged to possess the key to whatever mystery was being concealed. It apparently was visually encoded in Poussin’s painting, ‘The Shepherds of Arcadia’, which bears the ambiguous inscription ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’.
Arcadia is the bucolic paradise mentioned by the ancient Roman fabulist Virgil. In short, it is an occult symbol for the kind of place one ‘enters’ as a spiritually awakened Initiate in the Classical Mysteries, or as a Gnostic … or through the pursuit of Alchemy. Arcadia thus compares with other allegorical ‘places’ in ancient texts – countries or communities where people are long lived, content beyond compare, or there is always plenty and peace: Thaumasia, Elysium, the Buddhist Shambhalla, the (Celtic) Otherworld, Plato’s Atlantis, Hyperborea or Lemuria. These are lands that never existed except as metaphor, as symbols, as they represent a far more abstract and elusive spiritual goal.
And so, as William Hazlitt‘s translation puts it, ‘Et In Arcadia Ego’ means: ‘I was once an Arcadian.’ This may be the context for Poussin’s painting – he’s saying something about his own secretive activities with spiritual disciplines like Alchemy. He may have been saying, in effect, ‘I too have found the Philosopher’s Stone’: landing in Arcadia, I have grasped the mystery of life. It is of note that ‘Et In Arcadia Ego’ can also be viewed as an anagram, ‘I Tego Arcana Dei’, or: Be Gone! I conceal the secrets of God. (Very Alchemical!)
Interestingly, personal correspondence citing a meeting with Poussin (written by French Abbé Louis Fouquet) supports this conjecture, and there are eyebrow raising clues as to some ‘secret’ that Poussin was concealing. Particular ‘things’ are mentioned which would give the letter’s recipient (the Abbé’s brother Louis Fouquet) certain,
‘advantages which even kings would have great pains to draw from him [Poussin] and which according to him it is possible that nobody else will ever rediscover in the centuries to come. And what is more, these things are so difficult to discover that nothing now on this earth can prove of better fortune or be their equal.’3
Academic historians have expressed bafflement as to what this mighty secret could be – one not only impossible to discover, but an item about which nothing could ‘prove of better fortune.’ He is almost certainly referring to the Great Secret of Alchemy – knowledge of the Philosopher’s Stone (and its powers). However, there’s only one thing wrong with all of this monumental secrecy attached to the Priory of Sion, for they were not a genuine secret society at all, but a hoax. Just like the Brothers of the Rosy Cross, neither was a real brotherhood or cult of any kind – not like the Masons, say, with their ancient rituals and bond of mutual silence. No, their fabled existence was a device for spreading Hermetic or Alchemical knowledge (the mythical Christian Rosenkreutz was said to be skilled in the ‘transmutations of metals’, i.e. an alchemist). One of the Priory’s own documents makes this fairly clear:
‘Allegorical works have this advantage, that a single word suffices to illumine connections which the multitude cannot grasp. Such works are available to everyone but their significance addresses itself to an elite. Above and beyond the masses sender and receiver understand each another [and this constitutes] a form of esoteric communication.’ 4
Indeed, one of the latterday ‘Grand Masters’ of the P.S., Pierre Plantard – though necessarily cagey about his activities and ideas – quite plainly admitted that the aims of the Priory of Sion were ‘philosophical’. (Alchemists were also called Natural Philosophers.) Here, Plantard spoke the truth, for both the Priory of Sion and Rosicrucians were essentially a ludibrium – a Latin word meaning ‘plaything’, ‘jest’ or – indeed – ‘hoax’. This is why Johann Valentin Andreae (1587–1654), one of the supposed ‘navigators’ or Grand Masters of the Priory, invoked this word when referring to the ‘ludibrium of the fictitious Rosicrucian Fraternity’.
Andreae was also the author of The Rosicrucian Manifestos. But why – given their noble and sublime aim – would he call them ‘fictitious’? Well, they (and the P.S.) were ‘fictitious’ in only one sense – the point was to draw attention to the teachings held dear by certain alchemists and to remind us of these ‘undisturbed possessors of all gifts of Nature’, who can ‘command the most powerful spirits’. In other words, Initiates who use what they’ve learned for their spiritual and material benefit (and that of others.) They are a ‘brotherhood’ only in this sense – they all share the same esoteric knowledge. If not a secret society, then certainly a kind of fraternity with secrets in common! American occult writer Robert Anton Wilson summed it up nicely:
‘The Priory Of Sion fascinates me, because it has all the appearances of being a real conspiracy, and yet if you look at the elements another way, it looks like a very complicated practical joke by a bunch of intellectual French aristocrats. And half of the time I believe it really is a practical joke by a bunch of intellectual French aristocrats. And then part of the time I think it is a real conspiracy.’5
This article is an adapted version of ‘The Rosicrucians and the Priory of Sion – a Mystery Uncovered’, originally published in the Winter 2018 edition of Diamond Fire magazine (vol. XXX, no. 4). You can find Diamond Fire here on Facebook.
1. Quoted in The History Of Magic, Eliphas Levi, Rider 1982 (p. 268).
3. Quoted in The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, Baigent M., Leigh R., Lincoln H., Corgi, 1982 (p.38).
4. ibid (p.190).
5. Interview: Robert Anton Wilson, “Mary Mary Quite Contrary”.