Criticisms against Harvey Spencer Lewis and the Principles of Rosicrucianism

From the Lecture Series: The Real History of Secret Societies

By Richard Spence, Ph.D., University of Idaho

Harvey Spencer Lewis claimed that he had a mission to restore Rosicrucianism in America. However, he was questioned and criticized for the authenticity of his claims. Some of his critics, like an esoteric scholar called Manly P. Hall, claimed that Lewis had made the history of Rosicrucianism especially complicated by ‘misinterpretation and impostures’.

An image of a red rose on a cross
The red rose and the cross was the symbol of Rosicrucianism. (Image: RootOfAllLight/Public domain)

Harvey Spencer Lewis’s  Critics and Rivals

One of his fierce critics was Reuben Swinburne Clymer, his rival for the American supreme Rosicrucian. As an advocate of alternative medicine and a member of the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, he slammed Lewis for being an outsider and charlatan. In 1905, Clymer moved up to the position of the grandmaster of the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, or the FRC. His teacher and guru was Paschal Beverly Randolph, who had founded the FRC. According to his biography written by Clymer, he was friends with Abraham Lincoln. He also claims that Lincoln, along with Napoleon III, the French Emperor, and Albert Pike, the Freemason Confederate general were all members of his Rosicrucian order. Of course, in the world of secret societies, mythology often outweighs truth.

Reuben Swinburne Clymer, American occultist and modern Rosicrucian.
Reuben Swinburne Clymer, the Biggest Critic of Harvey Spencer Lewis. (Image: Anonymous Unknown author/Public domain)

The order of Rosicrucian had a lot of branches in different parts of the world. Paschal Randolph founded the FRC in 1858 and claimed it was a branch of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, which was declared to be a descendent of Fratres Lucis formed in the 18th century. Fratres Lucis, in turn, descended from an earlier German order of Rosicrucians. The Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia was formed in 1865 in London. Another order was in Germany, the Ordo Templi Orientis- the Eastern Templars, or OTO. It also claimed to represent Rosicrucianism.

This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

In secret societies, spiritual authority is passed on through apostolic succession. Each branch has to prove its legitimacy through the lineage of its ancestors. This is why Lewis and Clymer, Randolph, and many others, claimed to have descended from other societies. Finally, all these branches and sub-branches claiming to be the descendants of the same order, developed feud and rivalry over an inheritance.

Learn more about Secret Societies: The Underworld of History.

As there was no solid proof of this claimed ancestor, to prove their legitimacy, they would question the legitimacy of their rivals. This is the root of Clymer’s feud with Lewis. He criticized Lewis for advertising holy principles through radio and magazine ads. He suggested that Lewis and AMORC were involved in ‘sex magic’, which is the practice of using sexual energy to achieve ‘magickal’ ends. Curiously, another person involved in magic sex practices, was Clymer’s guru, Paschal Randolph.

The feud between Clymer and Lewis escalated throughout the 1930s. In 1934, Lewis united AMORC with 14 other secret societies and formed the Universal creation of Initiatic Orders and Societies, or FUDOSI, which was its French acronym. Their purpose was to call for shared action against being dishonored by ‘clandestine organizations’ like Clymer’s, of course.

In response, Clymer founded the Universal Federation of Initiatic Orders, Fraternities and Societies, or FUDOFSI. It had ten members, 5 of whom had Rosicrucian descent.

In 1939, H. Spencer Lewis died suddenly, which was a source of joy for Clymer. He continued his activities for the next 27 years, although he never enjoyed the wealth and fame of Spencer Lewis.

Learn more about masonic revolutions in America and France.

The Principles of Rosicrucianism

Paschal Beverly Randolph
Paschal Beverly Randolph, the Founder of Fraternitas Rosae Crucis. (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)

What is Rosicrucian after all? What did it want to accomplish? What theoretical or religious base did it have? Well, it could be argued that they were about everything and nothing. For example, the rose and the cross, which are obviously symbols of some ideas or entities. But what do they symbolize?

From a Christian perspective, the cross is the Christian symbol, the instrument on which Christ was crucified. It is the cross. What about the rose? It can be of any color, red, white, or golden. Also, It could symbolize Christ, divine grace, or salvation. But Christianity was not central in most of the Rosicrucian orders. For example, according to Lewis, AMORC was not a religious organization, and the rose cross was older than Christianity.

In the mystical sense, a rose might symbolize wisdom, redemption, secrecy, light, the divine soul, or even the philosopher’s stone of alchemy. In sex-magic, the rose and cross could mean reproduction, male and female reproductive organs, or sexual ecstasy. It lends itself to many different interpretations and symbolism.

It could mean whatever you had in your mind. The members of the Rosicrucian order claimed that wisdom was passed on from ancient times, and they had the key to this wisdom. But they did not specify what wisdom they were talking about. Maybe you were supposed to be initiated or pay to be granted that wisdom.

Common Questions about the Principles of Rosicrucian

Q: What does the Rose Cross mean?

The Rose Cross had different meanings. The rose can symbolize Christ, divine grace, or salvation. The cross also could mean the cross, the symbol of Christianity.

Q: Was Abraham Lincoln a Rosicrucian?

Paschal Randolph was friends with Abraham Lincoln. He claimed that Lincoln was a Rosicrucian. However, there is no solid proof regarding this claim.

Q: Who was Paschal Randolph?

Paschal Beverly Randolph was the founder of Fraternitas Rosae Crucis or the FRC. In his biography written by Clymer, it is mentioned that he was friends with Abraham Lincoln. He was also involved in sex magic.

Q: What is the Rose Cross Order?

The Red Cross order is a secret society restored by Harvey Spencer Lewis in the United States. A group of French occultists founded it in 1888.

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