The Masonic Gold- and Rosenkreutz

In the decades following the establishment of English Freemasonry a, Rosicrucian variety in Germany, was marked by an emphasis on alchemy, secret-occult gnosis and theocratic sentiments.

Evidence of the emergence of this latter tendency according to Karl H. Frick and Christopher Mc Intosh occurs in a Czech manuscript of 1761, which draws from the lureum Vellus (`Golden Fleece,' 1749) of Hermann Fictuld a correspondent with the famous theosopher Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782), and has been touted as a possible `founder' of the Gold- and Rosenkreutz.

In the Aureum Vellus he made mention of die goldenen Rosenkreutzer as the inheritors of the `Golden Fleece' sought by Jason and the Argonauts; the work as a whole dealt with the alchemical significance of Greek and Egyptian mythology and a alchemical treatment of pagan mythology drawing from Michael Maier's Arcana Arcanissima, Symbola Aureae Mensae and Atalanta Fugiens. This text is to be found in the Fables Egyptiennes et Grecques Devoilees (1758) of Antoine Joseph Pernety, who would become librarian to the most prominent member of the Gold- and Rosenkreutz, King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia (1786-1797).

Pernety later returning to France, would start his own group called ‘Illumines d’Avignon" (the Illuminate of Avignon).

Following the collapse due to scandal of Baron von Hund's `Strict Observance' Templar strain of Freemasonry in 1782, the Gold- and Rosenkreutz became the dominant force within the German Craft, alongside the 'Illuminati' joined by many former Templars including the second in command and creator of its higher degrees, Baron Knigge.

The Gold- and Rosenkreutz was marked by its anti Enlightenment stance and its emphasis on Christian piety and alchemy. Alchemical ideas and symbols were incorporated into the rituals of initiation and the teachings that accompanied each grade; laboratory alchemy was also an important part of the work of the order from the third degree onwards. Paracelsian and Valentinian alchemy were the order of the day, although there were some members denied the tria prima of Paracelsus and worked with the traditional sulphur-mercury theory as Maier had done.

There was a believe in the vitalistic conceptions of a correspondence between gold, the sun and God, and a belief in a vital spirit conveyed by the blood which is the basis of a miraculous medicine and tincture for metals.

Members of the Gold- and Rosenkreutz also defended the complementarily of pagan and Christian belief in the manner of their predecessors; thus Biblical authority was upheld alongside the authority of a Tradition stretching back to ancient Egypt. 

The Asiatic Brethern and Sabbatian Masonry

In the early 1780s there emerged an organization, known initially as Die Ritter des Lichts (Knights of the Light) and later as Die Brueder St. Johannes des Evangelisten aus Asien in Europa (the Asiatic Brethren of St. John the Evangelist in Europe). Although it did not use the word “Rosicrucian” in its name, it can be considered part of the neo-Rosicrucian current for three reasons. First, the founder, Hans Heinrich von Ecker und Eckhoffen, was an ex-member of the Gold- und Rosenkreuz. Secondly, the order drew on the same well of symbolism and esoteric tradition as the Gold- und Rosenkreuz. Thirdly, the initiates to the highest of the five grades of the order, the grade of Melchisedeck, were known as “Royal Priests” or “True Rosicrucians.”

The order of the Asiatic Brethren stands out among German masonic and para-masonic organizations of its day, chiefly on account of the way in which it welcomed Jewish members (at least for a time) and was steeped in Jewish esoteric lore. Because of this it has attracted the attention of writers on Jewish history, notably Jakob Katz, who includes a detailed chapter on the order's history in his Jews and Freemasons in Europe 1723-1939. For the same reason it presents particular difficulties for the historian who is inclined to categorize the whole Rosicrucian phenomenon as anti-Aufklaerung. Before attempting to assess the Asiatic Brethren in the context of the Aufklaerung and in relation to the issue of Jewish emancipation, it is necessary to know the outlines of the order- history.

Whether or not Hans Heinrich von Ecker und Eckhoffen was identical with Magister Pianco, author of Der Rosenkreuzer in seiner Bloesse, it is generally agreed that he had been a member of the Gold- und Rosenkreuz, with the order name of Nichneri Vekorth. Under this name he published in 1782 a defence against Phoebron's attack on him in Der im Lichte der Wahrheit strahlende Rosenkreuzer, denying his authorship of the Pianco book. Ecker, with the help of certain collaborators, founded the order of the Ritter des Lichts in Vienna in about 1780 or 81. The main document on its origins is a history of the order written by one of its members.the kabbalistic scholar Franz Josef Molitor, who describes the creation of the order as follows:

“Probably he [Ecker] had already conceived the idea of founding a new order when in Vienna he made the acquaintance of K Justus. This Franciscan monk, whose civilian name is said to have been Bischof, was the apothecary of his monastery and either belonged himself to the order of the Rosicrucians or at least was engaged in alchemical work. He possessed also other knowledge, which he had brought with him from the East, since he had spent a long time at a monastery in Jerusalem. Here or elsewhere in the Orient he had become acquainted with kabbalistic Jews and especially with a certain Asaria, originally a merchant, who had handed his business over to his sons to devote himself entirely to study. Asaria belonged to a kabbalistic Jewish sect which is spread throughout the three parts of the old world and, after giving up his trade, travelled around in various countries on behalf of his order. Through Justus Eckhoffen was initiated into mystical Jewish knowledge, without, however, making particular progress in its theoretical aspects. On the other hand he had brought correspondingly more practical knowledge of alchemy and magic with him from the Rosicrucians. It is uncertain whether he immediately formed an association for such secret work in Vienna or whether Justus had already founded one. Ecker, however, brought it fully to life, initially under the name of the Brothers of Light. Its ritual was kabbalistic; thus, for example, the two pillars bore the sephirotic names of Netlzach and Hod. When this form was found no longer suitable the order was given a different one and emerged under the name of the Asiatic Brethren of Saint John in Europe.”

A picture of the order in its first incarnation as the Ritter des Lichts can be found in the Signatstern, a collection of miscellaneous masonic material from Woellner-Nachlass, which was published in 1803-15. From the details given here it is clear that, although at this stage Ecker had not yet developed the full Jewish-Christian syncretism that characterized the later version of the order, he had already begun to introduce certain Jewish touches. The fourth of the five grades, for example, was that of “Levite.” The same source gives details of the elaborate organizational structure that Ecker envisaged. Each grade was to have its own chapter, and the chapters themselves were arranged into provinces with seven chapters each.

The premises where the elections to the office of Provincial Administrator were to take place are described as follows:

“The building where the knights and brethren assemble for the election should be spacious, well located and appropriate for this purpose, that is to say it should have at least four moms, the first being an ante-room.

... The entry to the Chapter Room should be through a large doorway. The walls of the room should be bright red with green borders. On each wall should be seven candelabra, each with three arms, and in the centre of the room should hang a seven-branched candelabrum, all the candelabra being of gold.”

The passage goes on to describe an elaborate throne for the Provincial Administrator in front of a sanctum flanked by golden pillars in which is displayed the word "Jehovah" in a triangle surrounded by flames.

A similar type of room must have been used for the regular ceremonies of the fifth grade, that of the Priests or True Rosicrucians, judging by the diagram and description given of the layout. Once again, there is a throne in front of a sanctum, and the other features of the room include a vessel with myrrh and salt dissolved in water, a golden ox covered with a black cloth, an arrangement of  the golden pillars and a vessel for the “sacred fire” of seven different fuels, on which was to be burned an incense made of ten spices.

The rituals of the various grades have a loosely masonic framework, and the regulations stipulate that no one who has not been initiated in a regular masonic lodge can be admitted to the order.

The symbolism of the rituals owes much to the Gold- und Rosenkreuz, as can be seen in the initiation ritual for the first grade where regular masonic symbols are interpreted in an alchemical sense, just as they are in the Gold- und Rosenkreuz. The familiar masonic emblem of the star, for example, is represented as standing for the word Aesch-Majim “the watery fire or fiery water, which we know how to obtain from our substance.”

Ecker hoped to present his new order to the masonic world at the Wilhelmsbad convention of 1782. To this end he travelled to Schleswig early in 1782 to visit the Landgraf Carl von Hessen-Kassel, a prominent freemason and an avid explorer of mystical and esoteric rites who will be encountered again. Whatever took place between Ecker and the Landgraf, he did not succeed in his aim, since a protest against his appearance at Wilhelmsbad was registered by a group of leading members of the Berlin lodge Friedrich zum goldenen Moewen, headed by Woellner. Curiously, it is reported that Woellner later became a member of Ecker's order, along with Bischoffswerder and Crown Prince Frederick William, but at the time he and his co-protestors clearly felt acute resentment against Ecker. The letter that this group wrote to Duke Ferdinand von Braunschweig, Grand Master of the Strict Observance, speaks of the “danger that fearfully threatens the Convention and so many lodges in Germany” and continues:

“We know that Satan's emissaries are coming there to work their mischief We know that a totally new bogus order, the Knights of the True Light, has been created and is divided into the following five grades: Novices of three, five and seven years, Levites and Priests. All are said to be conferred free of charge and performed with acts of the blackest diabolic magic.”

Having failed in his attempt to appear at Wilhelmsbad, Ecker returned to Austria and resided for some two years at Innsbruck in the Tyrol where he gained support for his order from Franz von Gumer (1734-1794), a prominent Tyrolean citizen, freemason, former mayor of Bozen and one of the leading opponents of the Josephine reforms in the Tyrol. Gumer had converted part of his house at Bozen into a masonic temple for meetings of the Bozen lodge. This room is still preserved, and the ceiling painting has a Rosicrucian touch in the form of a painting featuring the alchemical symbols of salt, sulphur and mercury.  Probably Gumer was a member of the Gold- und Rosenkreuz before (or even after) joining forces with Ecker, but in any event he was clearly cast in the Rosicrucian mould, as is shown by his papers, which are preserved at Innsbruck. These contain, among other things, magical talismans, kabbalistic alphabets, numerological keys and detailed records of alchemical processes.

Also among the papers is a letter to Gumer from Ecker, written in 1783. This letter, which deals with practical matters relating to the order, is evidence that the grades of Ecker's system were actually being worked at this time, since Ecker was evidently in the course of preparing working texts of the rituals. The letter also implies that Gumer was supporting him financially. Ecker writes:

“I would, Your Excellency, have handed over the first grade, together with the appropriate work to be undertaken ... except that I do not know which brethren are still affiliated to the Province, and, since no one answers my enquiries, there is nothing I can do. Would Your Excellency ... have the kindness to request Brother [illegible] to furnish me with the [illegible] of the brethren at Innsbruck. ... The second grade, which is now ready, contains about 70 sheets ... together with 30 painted hieroglyphs. For each of these I had to pay the painter F1 [1 florin].”

There follows a list of expenses, adding up to 43 Florins and 48 Kreuzer, and Ecker adds: “This, therefore is the sum to be paid for the second grade.”

While in the Tyrol, Ecker made the acquaintance of a Jew named Joseph Hirschfeld, who was to play a key role in the re-shaping of the order. Molitor writes:

“Hirschfeld, a native of Karlsruhe, had first attended the Gymnasium of his native town and then studied medicine at Strassburg. Since, however, he was lacking in support he left the university and went to the Tyrol, where he was employed in salt-mining. As Eckhoffen found in him an able man, he took him as his secretary, especially on account of the Hebrew language, which he [Ecker] did not know but needed because of the fact that the order was founded on Hebrew documerits.”

Molitor leaves out the fact that between leaving Strassburg and going to the Tirol Hirschfeld had a sojourn in Berlin where he was befriended by Moses Mendelssohn and his circle but did not accept their rationalist doctrines. As Ecker's secretary he was employed to copy out the documents of the Ecker's order. This led to an interest in their content, and soon Hirschfeld became a member of the order.

In 1784 Ecker took up residence in Vienna, and the following year he and Hirschfeld reorganized the order as the Asiatic Brethren. Another important collaborator was one Baron Thomas von Schoenfeld, an apostate Jew and prolific writer who was to end his life on the guillotine during the Reign of Terror in Paris. He had been a follower of the Sabbatian movement, the cult of the 17th-century pseudo-Messiah Sabbatai Zevi, and incorporated certain Sabbatian doctrines into the orders teachings. Other members of the order at this time included, according to Molitor, many distinguished individuals such as the Prince of Lichtenstein, the Austrian Minister of Justice (no name given), the Count von Westenburg and the Count von 711un. Other Christian members listed in a different source included three army officers, two court officials and a doctor of medicine.

As for Jewish members, at least three wealthy Viennese Jews belonged to the order: Arnstein, Eskeles and Hoenig. Arnstein's brother-in-law in Berlin, Isaac Daniel Itzig, also became a member.

The order as it now emerged was unique among German masonic and paramasonic orders in its total openness to Jewish members. Its symbolism and ritual pratice were an extraordinary amalgam of Jewish elements, Christian mysticism, alchemy and mystical Freemasonry. From Judaism it took the basic terminology of its hierarchy. The supreme council of the order was known as the Synedrion (Sanhedrin), and the officers carried Hebrew titles. Prince Carl von Hessen, for example, who became titular head of the order, had the title of Chacharn Hackolel, while Ecker- title was Rosch Hamdabrim. As Gershom Scholem points out in his article on Hirschfeld, this terminology was different from the purely biblical Hebrew terminology that pervaded ordinary Freemasonry, and must have stemmed from Hirschfeld's knowledge of rabbinical Hebrew.

The intention behind these practices, as Molitor explains, was to bring about religious unity by leading Christianity back to its Jewish form. Molitor states that this unifying spirit also Jay behind the practice of giving Jewish names to Christian members, and vice versa. Thus Ecker became Abraham, and his younger brother Carl became Ismael. Hirschfeld, however, as an exception, was given the Hebrew name Elias. Another practice was to celebrate Christian holidays, such as Christmas and the Day of Saint John the Apostle, as well as Jewish festivals, such as the anniveraries of the birth and death of Moses, of the Exodus and of the Giving of the Law.

As Katz points out, this mingling of Christian and Jewish observance must have been easier for the Christian members to accept than for their Jewish brethren.

The former could regard themselves as merely re-establishing contact with the Jewish roots of Christianity, whereas the latter must have been strongly aware that they were breaking their own religious code, especially when, as at certain gatherings of the order, they were required to eat pork with milk. Katz attributes such antinomian practices partly to the Sabbatian strain in the order, but he also detects an Aufklaerung influence in the willingness of theGold- und Rosenkreuz, was Georg von Welling- Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum.

From Welling's work came most of the alchemical notions and terminology used by the order, such as the idea of the Aesch-Majim, or fiery water, thought to be the primal substance of creation, which, as already mentioned, was represented by the six-pointed star, Signatstern. From Welling also came the gnostic-dualistic outlook, which again we found in the Gold- und Rosenkreuz, in which the Fall of Lucifer was seen as being responsible for the emergence of the material realm and its separation from the spiritual. As Scholem points out, these ideas, although fully in the Christian theosophical spirit of Boehme and Paracelsus, could quite easily be combined with legitimate kabbalistic doctrines, which Hirschsfeld also incorporated into the order's teachings. Scholem also states that the order-documents contain an unmistakeably Sabbatian element, namely the doctrine relating to the separation of the thinking and unthinking lights in God, that is to say the separation of the lights in which the thought of creation was present, from those in which this intention was not and is not present.

The rituals and information of The Asiatic Brethern/Fratres Lucis later became an inspiration for the Rose of Perfect Silence in Paris of which P.B. Randolph became a member and obtained a charter to run his own Rosicrucian organization. Randolph sold scryer’s mirrors from the Paris motherlodge to the members of his USA branch. In London Francis Irwin S.R.I.A. members A.F.A. Woodford and S.C. Bingham had the material, and later the Golden Dawn in England and Francesco Brunelli’s Arcana Arcanorum in Italy, yes even Theodor Reusse’s original O.T.O. idea, all were inspired by the overrated Fratres Lucis. So here now the second part of Chris McIntosh Study:

With Vienna as their base, the Asiatic Brethren flourished and spread, but their success soon aroused the animosity of certain prominent freemasons of the established rites and of two individuals in particular. One was Prince Johann Baptist Karl von Dietrichstein, Grand Master of the Austrian lodges and reported to have been a member of the Gold- und Rosenkreuz. The other was the prominent mason and Aufklaerung figure Ignaz von Born. In order to regulate Austrian Freemasonry, and partly to suppress the Asiatics and other idiosyncratic tendencies, Dietrichstein (perhaps by now a disenchanted Rosicrucian), with the encouragement of Ignaz von Born, proposed to Joseph 11 that he pass a law imposing stricter controls on masonic activity. When Ecker heard of this plan he and three other representatives of the order held a meeting with Dietrichstein and Baron von Kressel, another leading freemason, to try to persuade them not to take action against the Asiatic Brethren. Following the meeting Ecker, writing under his order name of Abraham, issued a circular, preserved in the Gumer Nachlap and dated 14 January 1745 (i.e. 1785), in which he declared:

"As various false rumours concerning ... unbrotherly proceedings have been concocted and spread abroad, the wise and venerable lesser Sanhedrin of the Order of the Asiatic Knights and Brethren of Saint John the Evangelist in Europe has com missioned me, the undersigned Brother, to make known to the Brethren of our order, by means of a circular, the discussions which Brothers von Ziegler, von Pichel, von Wiesenthal and the undersigned held with his Princely Grace von Dietrichstein as national Grand Master ... and His Excellency Baron von Kressel as Provincial Grand Master. ...

First, the Brethren explained that the order ... is not a new order but the one that has been known for more than a thousand years in Europe under the name of the Brethren of Saint John, transmitted from individual to individual. Thus, for example, Brother von Ziegler, among others, has been in the order, in its old form, for 21 years. By the old order we mean the one which was not constituted as a systematic body but, as I have said, was passed on by word of mouth to those who were worthy. Thus any Brother who knows the original source of the hieroglyphs knows also the source of their meaning,

Secondly, we read out our rules, and after the worshipful Brethren Prince von Dietrichstein and Baron von Kressel had seen that there was nothing in them that was contrary to religion and good morals or to the duties of a faithful subject, they declared that they had not the slightest objection to them and indeed wished that they could be generally applied." (Tiroler Landesarchiv, Gumer Nachlas, Circulare, issued by Abraham (Ecker und Eckhoffen), fol.90, recto and verso.)

On the subject of the proposed law, Ecker wrote:

"Would not such a law be totally contrary to the fundamental principles of Freemasonry? Can I demand of a man that, from his childhood to his 30th year, he remain in school, a school in which they talk of knowledge and wisdom but where the teachers hardly know the names of these things. That would truly be despotic tyranny like the schemes of the Jesuits who strictly forbid their pupils to go near any stream that leads to true Aufklaerung."

Here Ecker is referring to the notion of ordinary masonry as a Pflanzschule for the higher degrees where the true wisdom is to be found. It is striking that he invokes the word Aufklaerung and the bete noire of the Jesuits.

Unfortunately Ecker's representations to Dietrichstein were of no avail, for in December of 1785 Joseph 11 issued his Freimaurerpatent, which brought Freemasonry under the Emperor's protection but greatly reduced the number of lodges that were permitted to operate and struck a blow against the Asiatics; and other higher degree systems as well as the Illuminati. In the event the Freimaurerpatent went a good deal further in its restrictions on Freemasonry than Dietrichtstein and Born had intended. After the passing of the edict, Ecker remained for a time in Vienna (perhaps until 1786 or 87), but then moved to north Germany.

Meanwhile the order had spread far and wide, and there are records of lodges in Prague, Innsbruck, Berlin, Frankfurt, Wetzlar, Marburg and Hamburg. The Hamburg lodge was run by Hans Heinrich von Ecker's younger brother Hans Carl. It had 24 members including bankers, merchants, physicians and a clergyman, but no prominent aristocrats or people of great distinction. Six of the members were Jews: two merchants, one a court agent and one a physician.

The elder Ecker came to Hamburg to attend the inauguration of his brother's lodge in December, 1785, but he had another reason for making the journey north from Vienna. This was just the time when the Freimaureredikt was being promulgated (it came into effect early in 1786), and Ecker was now hoping that his order would find new protection in the north. He found it in two prominent freemasons, Prince Ferdinand of Braunschweig and the Landgraf Carl von Hessen-Kassel.

The former, who has been encountered before as the former head of the Strict Observance, a high-ranking member of the Illuminati and an ardent alchemist, became Generalobermeister of the Asiatics in 1786. Carl von Hessen, however, played a more important role. Carl was the son-in-law of the Danish King Frederick VI, held lands in Schleswig, Holstein and Norway and played a leading role in Freemasonry in both Denmark and northern Germany.

He had been in touch with Ecker since 1782, and now he accepted the title of supreme head of the order. Like Ferdinand of Braunschweig, Carl von Hessen was one of those aristocrats who had a finger in every masonic pie, including the Illuminati, which he joined in 1782, becoming Nationaloberer for Denmark, Sweden and Russia. Also like Ferdinand, he evidently saw no conflict between his position in the secular, rationalist Illuminati and his fervent devotion to the mystical side of Freemasonry. He was constantly preoccupied with a search for the "hidden superiors" and the "true secret", and this search led him into numerous high-degree systems including the Gold- und Rosenkreuz, the French order of the Philaletes and the Asiatics. He was an indefatigable devotee of alchemy and possessed his own laboratory. In this he was guided by the mysterious French Comte de Saint-Germain,  whom he harboured on his estates during the last years of Saint-Germain's life.

Under the protection of Carl von Hessen, Ecker and Hirschfeld now moved to Schleswig, which became the headquarters of the Asiatic Brethren.  However, if Ecker thought he had found a safe haven he was wrong, for the order now found itself under attack from masons who disapproved of its policies. The first attack came from certain masons in Hamburg who were incensed by the activities of Carl von Ecker's lodge and issued an anonymously written eight-page pamphlet entitled Unpartheiische und grundliche Nachricht von der Freymaurerloge der Juden und anderen geheimen Geselischaften in Hamburg (1786), which deplored the admission of Jews on the grounds that Jesus Christ had always been the cornerstone of Masonry.

An anonymous rebuttal published the same year and probably written by Carl von Ecker, defended the practice of admitting Jews and pointed to the example of English Masonry which had never discriminated against Jews.( Ein Wort zum Nachdenken aber die sogenannte Unpartheiische und grundliche Nachrichten von der Freimaurer-Loge der Juden und andere geheimen Gesellschaften in Hamburg).

The following year, 1787, came another work attacking the Asiatics. This was entitled Authentische Nachricht von den Ritter- und Bruder- Eingeweihten aus Asien, zur Beherzigung der Freymaurern. Although this was published anonymously, the author is known to have been a Dane of German origin named Friedrich Muenter, a distinguished theologian, scientist and eminent freemason, who later became bishop of Seeland. What makes the authorship interesting is that Muenter is generally regarded as an Aufaurung figure.

He was, for example, a member of the Illuminati and was in correspondence with Weishaupt and Bode as well as with Bom and the Vienna Illuminati. He was a strong advocate of enlightened religion and in masonic matters normally strove to avoid intolerance towards any system.

The Authentische Nachricht, as the foreword explains, was based on documents of the Asiatic Brethren which had come into Muenter's hands. In the foreword Muenter laments the theosophical, magical and Rosicrucian strains in Freemasonry which had become stronger in recent years, threatening to turn people away from philosophy and enlightenment. He affirms the link between these strains and the suppressed Jesuit order, and goes on to attack the Rosicrucians for the way in which they nonsensically mix alchemy and theology and for the hierarchical nature of their system and the blind obedience and belief that they demand of their followers. He continues:

"If the Rosicrucians continue for another half century in the way that they have begun, then philosophy and enlightened science will be ousted; we shall have no more history or philosophical theology; monkish legends, priestly hocus-pocus and superstition will possess the thrones; the princes, already deceived by swindlers, will all become royal priests and will learn from the despotism of the order yet more fearful despotism. ..."

It has long been known that the Rosicrucians are divided into many sects that, to all appearances, hate each other, which to some extent they do ... but whose heads are all united and strive towards a common goal. ... Ibis is partly to confuse the world and make them seem weaker than they are, partly to lure people into the various societies through the appeal of novelty ... and partly, through the apparent enmity between sects, to discover and nullify secret attacks against their whole structure. (no place of publication given, 1787, pp. xviii-xxi.)

Muenter becomes even more lurid when he writes of initiation ceremonies in a secret cave at the monastery of Monte Senario near Florence, formerly used by the Etruscans for sacrifices. These Florentine Rosicrucians, he says, are in correspondence with those in Munich. The fact that a man of Muenter’s erudition could write in this vein is another indication of just how powerful a bete noire the Rosicrucians could be to the Aufklaerer.

Turning to the Asiatic Brethren, Muenter writes:

"A new branch of the Rosicrucians, which only emerged a few years ago, is the order of the Initiated Asiatic Knights and Brethren. That these belong to the same class as the Rosicrucians, even though they pretend to be enemies of the latter, becomes clear as soon as one knows their constitution. They claim to have their great Sanhedrin in the East, probably the Middle East, but are in close touch with the priests of the Egyptian .%risdom in the Pyramids, from whom they often receive secret letters. (pp. xxii-xxiii.)

Muenter goes on to reproduce the rules for admission to the order:

(1) Any brother, of whatever religion, class or system, can enter the order, provided that he is a right-thinking, honest and genuine citizen. ...

(2) Such a brother must, however, have been made a Knight and Master in an ordinary and regular Melchisedeck or St. John's lodge of freemasons.

(3) Ile name Melchisedeck lodges refers to those lodges in which Jews, Turks, Persians, Armenians, Copts etc. labour. ..."( pp. 1-2.)

These Melchisedeck lodges were a device to enable the Asiatics to admit Jews while at the same time insisting that they be already initiated as masons. Since nearly all regular masonic lodges in Germany administering the Craft (or St. John's) degrees were exclusively Christian, it was necessary to claim the existence of an alternative Craft-degree system for Jews. In fact, the Melchisedeck lodges existed only in name, and the conferring of the Melchisedeck degrees was probably a formality. Mueinter, in a footnote, deplores this practice: "It is, as every Entered Apprentice knows, the first rule of a regular working lodges of all systems, that only Christians can be accepted." And he adds, quite incorrectly, that no lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of London admit Jews. In fact, as already mentioned, the English lodges were at pains not to be exclusively Christian.

Muenter's attack drew counter-attacks from both of the Ecker brothers. Heinrich replied under his own name in a work entitled Abfertigung an den ungenannten Verfasser der verbreiteten sogenannten: Authentischen Nachricht von den Ritter- und Bruder-Eingeweihten aus Asien, published at Hamburg in 1788. In this work, Ecker denied that his order was an off-shoot of the Rosicrucians and contradicted Muenter's assertion that Jews were never admitted into regular lodges.

Carl von Ecker's counter-attack was written under the pseudonym of "Carl Friedrich von Boscamp, called Lasopolski" and was entitled Werden und koennen Israeliten zu Freymaurern aufgenommen werden? (Hamburg, 1788). Carl von Ecker here laments the prejudices against Jews in Germany, using language that is strongly redolent of Aufklaerung views, as for example when he writes of the Jews not being able to enjoy "the original rights of a free man, resting on the indisputable law of nature". At the same time he holds the Jews partly responsible for their own condition. He deplores, for example, the fact that many of them preserve what he calls superstitious and absurd opinions instead of simply obeying the pure mosaic teachings of their religion.

Freemasonry, according to Carl von Ecker, provides perhaps the only route to enlightenment for the Jews, and therefore it must be open to them.

Although the Eckers had thus defended the admission of Jews, the issue continued to be a cause of dissension within the order. Some of the Schleswig members, for example, felt that, although existing Jewish members should be allowed to remain, new ones should be restricted. There was trouble also in the Hamburg branch of the order. Carl von Ecker applied for masonic authorization from Duke Ferdinand of Braunschweig, who agreed only on condition that Jewish members be expelled from the group. Carl von Hessen proposed a compromise in which Jewish Asiatic Brethren would form a separate lodge called the Melchisedeck lodge, but the Hamburg Jewish members rejected this proposal and left the order.

Hirschfeld, meanwhile, was having his own problems in the Schleswig branch, culminating in a legal battle which began when he sued Ecker for payment of a debt. Ecker retaliated by claiming that Hirschfeld had threatened his life, and the affair quickly escalated. Hirschfeld was placed under house arrest and expelled from the order in a circular that accused him of having gone too far in imposing Jewish kabbalistic elements on the rituals of the order. Although kabbalistic meditation was valuable, the circular argued, its object was to lead the Christian beyond the limits attainable by a Jew.

In the midst of Hirschfeld's troubles Heinrich von Ecker died in August 1791, while the trial was still in progress. Hirschfeld was released and restored to favour with Carl von Hessen, but he was not allowed to resume his former position in the order. Resentment against him still simmered, and he was suspected of having written an anonymous polemic against the Asiatics entitled Der Asiate in seiner Bloesse oder gruendlicher Beweis: dass die Ritter und Brueder Eingeweihten aus Asien echte Rosenkreuzer sind, which appeared in 1790. This repeated the claim that the Asiatics were merely the Rosicrucians in a new disguise and castigated them for their unjust treatment of Hirschfeld .

In February 1792 a mysterious person, referred to as I. Ben Jos. appeared in Schleswig and was presented by Hirschfeld as a leading member of the order. Katz identifies him as none other than Tliomas von Schoenfeld, the Viennese Jew who had played a seminal role in the foundation of the order. He paid 550 Taler to settle Hirschfeld's debts, and the two of them travelled to Strasbourg where they made the acquaintance of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, the "Philosophe Inconnu", whose work had exerted such a strong influence on highdegree masonry. From here Schoenfeld went on to Paris where he tragically died on the guillotine on 5 April 1793. With the Asiatic Brethren in a state of collapse, Hirschfeld went back to his native Karlsruhe and eventually settled at Offenbach, near Frankfurt.

In 1796 he and his brother Pascal published a book entitled Biblisches Organon oder Realuebersetzung der Bibel mit der mystischen Begleitung und kritischen Anmerkungen, which evinces the same mixture of Kabbalism and Christian theosophy as had pervaded the Asiatic Brethren.

As late as 1817 Hirschfeld was still dreaming of resurrecting the order.

Although the order of the Asiatic Brethren was short-lived its echoes affected a Jewish masonic lodge founded in Frankfurt in the wake of the Napoleonic conquest. While it is not within the scope of this study to enter into a fun discussion of this lodge, which has been dealt with in detail in Jacob Katzs Jews and Freemasons in Europe,'s it is relevant to give a brief outline of its history based largely on Katzs account. Apart from the Asiatic Brethren, various attempts had been made by German Jews to enter Freemasonry, either by setting up lodges of their own or by entering existing lodges. Any lodges with Jewish members were, however, branded as irregular by the mainstream of German Masonry, which remained, as we have seen, resolutely Christian. This changed, however, with the Napoleonic conquest, during which French affiliated lodges were established on German soil, in which the admission of Jews was given official approval in line with the policy of the Grand Orient in Paris. It was under these circumstances that a Jew named Sigismund Geisenheimer founded, under French aegis, the Loge de I’Aurore Naissante or, in German, Zur aufgehenden Morgenroethe (translated:Golden Dawn ), often called simply the Judenloge.

The lodge, chartered in 1807 and ceremonially inaugurated the following year, was of mixed Jewish and Christian membership, and among the Christian members was Franz Joseph Molitor, the kabbalistic scholar who had been an important member of the Asiatic Brethren and had remained in close touch with Hirschfeld. At the inauguration he made a speech welcoming the event as symptomatic of the dawn of a new era in which all classes of men would look upon each other as brothers. "And so," he declared, mixing theosophical language with the vocabulary of Aufklaerung, "the illumination of the Enlightenment penetrates to all classes of society, and estates that diverge in the State return united in the world of the spirit”. (J. Katz, Jews and Freemasons in Europe, p.58)

All went well for the lodge until the German reconquest, when the Parisian affiliation became a liability and it was forced to seek authorization elsewhere. An attempt was made, through the mediation of Hirschfeld, to obtain authorization from Carl von Hessen. This was at first agreed, but later the arrangement broke down over Carl's ambivalent attitude towards the question of Jewish members, in other words over the same problem that had bedevilled the Asiatic Brethren. While Carl was willing to recognize the importance of the Jewish tradition of esoteric wisdom, he still clung to the belief that Christianity was the ocean into which all true initiatory traditions flowed.

Thus, for example, he insisted that no Jew should hold the office of master in the lodge, and it was a dispute on this point that led to a severing of relations with Carl. Molitor was influenced by Carl into shifting his ground away from his original humanistic position, and he came to share the view that the upper levels of Masonry were accessible only to those who accepted the symbols of Christianity. In the end, as Katz writes, "he developed a philosophical system consisting of a synthesis of the Jewish Cabala and the beliefs and ideas of the Catholic Church". (Katz p. 66)

After the break with Carl von Hessen the Judenloge succeeded in obtaining authorization from the English Grand Master, the Duke of Sussex, to operate under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of London. Henceforth its position was secure, but it remained isolated and ostracized by the mainstream of German Masonry.

Meanwhile Hirschfeld had tried to introduce the rites of the Asiatic Brethren into the Frankfurt lodge, but the lodge would have none of it. When an anonymous pamphlet, Das Judenthum in der Maurerey, was published in 1816 attacking the lodge in venomous terms and pointing to its links with Hirschfeld, the members published a rebuttal of the pamphlet's allegations, stating that the lodge had never pursued alchemical speculations and denying that anyone called Hirschsfeld had ever been a member.

With regard to the lodge's attitude to the higher degrees, Katz writes: "It is almost obvious that, in choosing between limiting their degrees to the first three and instituting the higher ones, or between humanistic aspirations and mystic or quasi-mystic doctrines, the lodge decided in favor of the former in each instance." This assertion, however, is contradicted in a most surprising way by a communication from the lodge to the Grand Orient in Paris during the Napoleonic phase, which is now preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale. The communication, which was in reply to an enquiry concerning the position of Jewish masons in Germany, states, among other things:

"Jews are eager to possess the degree of Rose-Croix, and there are many who do possess it and who have received it from French chapters and even from the Grand Orient of France. ...

The Jewish Rose-Croix members take part in all the workings and observe all the ceremonies of this degree. ...

They receive the French Rose-Croix degree because in Germany there are no chapters.

The ostensible reason that German masons give for rejecting Jews is that the latter cannot swear on the Gospel, but in fact the real motive is commercial jealousy."

The four signatories of the letter include the Jewish founder Geisenheimer and F.J. Molitor, both of whom sign themselves "S P R", Souverain Prince RoseCroix. (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, Fonds Maconnique, "Note du Comite Secret des Relations Exterieures de ]a Loge Aurore Naissante de Francfort-sur-le-Mein adressee an Frere Furtier du Grand Orient de France.)

These French Rose-Croix grades were different in character from the Gold und Rosenkreuz degrees, but were no less Christian and mystical in emphasis. The fact that Geisenheimer and other Jewish masons took part in them, in apparent contradiction to the humanistic leanings of the Frankfurt lodge, demonstrates once again how difficult it is to draw a dividing line between Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment strains in masonry.


For updates click homepage here





shopify analytics