Psychism and Spirituality

This paper is entitled: Psychism and Spirituality – the Rosicrucian Dilemma, was first read at a Rosicrucian Conference in Bournemouth 2010. it expresses some of my personal reflections on the work of a Rosicrucian, particularly in the context of the FAMA & CONFESSIO, in which, as I understand it, the distinction between Psychism and Spirituality is essential to the accomplishment of the Great Work; by which I mean the spiritual regeneration of the soul of both the individual and of humanity. All quotations and references are from and to Thomas Vaughan’s English translation of the FAMA, published in 1652

Concerning ‘Psychism’ & ‘Spirituality’

On the basis that a delusion, no matter how common-place or popular, is still a delusion, I think this is the right place to qualify what I mean by ‘Spirituality’ and ‘Psychism’; they are after all the main theme of this address. I think most of us would agree that they are common terms, but, do they have a common meaning?

The word Psychism is derived from the Greek ‘Psyche’ which is a term that was, and still is commonly used for the soul. The best description I have read concerning the Psyche is an allegorical tale concerning the evolution of the soul, told by Apuleius in his book Metamorphoses, or the Golden Ass. This ancient story tells of a beautiful princess named Psyche, whose beauty was so marvellous that Venus the goddess of love was threatened by it, and thus she sent her son Cupid to use one his fateful arrows to direct Psyche’s affection towards all that is base and worthless.However, Cupid, instead of fulfilling his mother’s wishes fell in love with Psyche, and through his divine powers transported her to his celestial palace where she became his wife.

However, in fear of his mother’s anger Cupid only visited Psyche in the darkness of night and left before the dawn, thus she neither knew the name nor the identity of her lover. Cupid had warned Psyche never to seek his identity, but Psyche, persuaded by the dark mischief of her jealous sisters, who had convinced her that he was a hideous monster hiding his true form in the darkness, lit a lamp as her husband slept, to see if this was true. Unfortunately some of the hot oil fell from the lamp onto the shoulder of Cupid, who awoke and admonished and divorced Psyche, leaving her desolate.

Thus begins Psyche’s long and desperate search for her beloved, all the while hunted and tormented by the goddess Venus. After many trials and tribulations, including overcoming Hades, she finally achieves immortality and is reunited with Cupid. Personally I like this story as it portrays the soul’s evolution out of the material world of the senses and the instinctive nature of human biology, into the spiritual world.

However, in more prosaic terms the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary describes Psychism as the “Doctrine or theory of the existence of forces unexplainable by physical science in connexion with spiritistic phenomena.” Not really very helpful, in my opinion. Alternatively, Madame Blavatsky, the co-founder of the Theosophical Society, defined Psychism as “A term now used to denote very loosely every kind of mental phenomena e.g. mediumship, and the higher sensitiveness, hypnotic receptivity, and inspired prophecy, simple clairvoyance in the astral light, and real divine seership.”

Perhaps the most revealing thing about both of these definitions is that they describe Psychism in terms of phenomena and the phenomenal world, whether it be the coarse material world we perceive with our senses, or whether it be some astral/ethereal counterpart that we experience with the mind. In either case they are definitions rooted in the discursive mind born of Duality.

The word Spirituality is derived from the word ‘Spirit’, which has many meanings in the English language. Reference books and dictionaries describe the word ‘Spirit’, in its non-material sense, as signifying the essential nature or principle of a place, a thing or a person, but it is also used to signify an entity such as an angel, an elemental, a ghost or a demon. But whether it refers to an object, quality or an entity the term is generally used to describe something that is essentially incorporeal or immaterial. Thus, the spiritual essence of a person, place or thing is beyond image and form. How then is it to be understood?

In my experience this notion of the essence being formless is best expressed in Kabbalistic terms. Kabbalistic thought proposes that Creation emerges in four successive and increasingly material modes from a formless and invisible essence, known as Ain Soph Aur.

The first world is called Atziluth – the archetypal world. It is the world in which the Spiritual essence coalesces into the divine archetypes which are the basis of Creation.

The second world is Briah, the Creative World. This is the world in which the divine archetypes – the differentiated essence – become dynamic but have yet to take form.

The third world is Yetzirah, the Formative world, and it is in this world that the archetypes begin to take form, as in the mind of an architect or designer – albeit a subtle ethereal form that is not usually perceptible to the senses, but is perceivable to the mind.

The fourth is Assiah, the Material world, which is the world of Matter, wherein the archetypes have their most concrete form, a form perceptible to the senses. It is in this world that Adam & Eve were given tunics of skin (Gen. 3: 21).

This concept of a transcendent and formless spiritual essence is also found in Neo-Platonic thought, which propose three principal modes of being,

The One
is the Infinite, the Absolute, the source and ground of existence. It is Unity pure and simple.

 The Divine Nous is the Divine Spirit/Mind in which exists the archetypal ideas and prototypes of creation.

The world Soul is the model of creation itself. It consists of a celestial part that contemplates the Divine Nous, and a terrestrial part which is the vehicle through which the material cosmos is generated.

 Human souls proceed from the World Soul, and as a microcosm of the World Soul consists of two or more parts, the Terrestrial part, the two lowest illustrated in this chart, comprises the realm most commonly experienced by humanity and consists of the material world of the senses and the ethereal world – most commonly known as the Astral. The highest part, the Celestial, the upper two illustrated in this chart, is capable of rising above the material and ethereal world to contemplate the Divine Nous, which constitutes the goal of many esoteric systems.


There are other models that demonstrate this point but the Kabbalistic and Neo-Platonic models shown here were reasonably well known to the esoteric community in the 16th century (See Thorndyke’s History of Magic, and Experimental Science), and are sufficient to demonstrate the SPIRITUAL and the PSYCHIC being a distinction between FORMand ESSENCE. It is clear, then, that throughout history the custodians of the Tradition, whose ranks, according to the Famamust include the first three generations of ROSICRUCIANS, recognised that there is a distinction to be made between Form and Essence. And that the SPIRITUAL is concerned with Essence, and the PSYCHIC with Form.

It seems to me that if there is a one thing above all else that distinguishes Essence and Form it is the concepts of UNITY and DUALITY. That which is spiritual pertaining to Essence and UNITY and that which is psychic pertaining to Form and DUALITY and all that such implies, including the infinity of worlds and creatures who inhabit them.

 The following illustrations of p.62 and p. 63, of the Confessio clearly demonstrates that the authors were conscious of this distinction, and that the realm of Form, was transient and of the nature of Duality.

It seems very clear to me that the main objective of the Fama was to demonstrate, albeit in a veiled manner, an understanding of the spiritual nature of the Great Work, inspiring aspirants in the opening years of the 17th century to focus on the mysteries of the spiritual life rather than squabbling over the theological and political issues that dominated the poisonous atmosphere of religious hatred that polluted Europe throughout the 16th & 17th centuries. This the Fama does, using the metaphoric and allegorical language of Kabbalah and Alchemy, following the precedents established in the ancient world of using stories as allegories of the spiritual life, transmitted in such a way as to convey and protect the integrity of important spiritual ideas by embodying them in a memorable tale.Examples of such methods can be seen in the Mosaic books such as the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, and Moses’ ascent of Mt. Sinai, where history and allegory are obviously combined, or in non-Christian texts such as the story of the Argonauts’ quest for the Golden Fleece. Indeed, as I understand it Apuleius devised the story of the Metamorphoses or Golden Ass as an allegory to circumvent the taboo against speaking publicly about the Sacred Mysteries of Eleusis. He even embedded in the Metamorphoses the story of Cupid and Psyche, which is itself an echo or reflection of the soul’s quest for redemption as portrayed in the Mysteries by Persephone. I think he sailed very close to the wind with that.There are many other examples of the allegorical method available, Chretien De Troyes Arthurian Romances, Dante’s Paradisio, and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress come to mind, but they are simply a very few of many possible examples. However, in their own way by their very existence they all support the validity of the Fama to stand, not merely as an ancient political ‘manifesto’, a historical curiosity, but as an allegorical text full of symbols of the spiritual life. To those who think themselves Rosicrucians but have not studied the Fama, having only read and listened to ‘scholarly’ opinion concerning it, I must say with all due respect, that study it you must! It is well worth the effort, for it is dripping with enigmatic and wonderful references to the mysteries of Alchemy and Kabbalah. For example, consider the curious nature of the following passage from page 3 of the Fama:

It reads: “To such an intent of a general Reformation, the most godly and highly illuminated Father, our Brother, Christian Rosencreutz a German, the chief and original of our Fraternity, hath much and long time laboured, who by reason of his poverty (although descended of Noble Parents) in the fifth year of his age (of his Novitiate) was placed in a cloister, where he had learned indifferently the Greek and Latin Tongues, who ( upon his earnest desire and request) being yet in his growing years, was associated to a Brother, P.A.L. who had determined to go to the Holy Land.”

Now we have a choice; we either accept the literal reading of the text; that a poor five year old boy was given over to a monastery, and began learning Latin & Greek, and who sought the guidance of a more senior member, who incidentally, was prepared to take him to the Holy Land. This would make Christian Rosencreutz a monastic and a catholic, which is possible but unlikely. Alternatively, if the words are considered in metaphorical terms they suggest that Christian Rosencreutz was presented as an initiated member of an esoteric brotherhood. It is even possible that both may be true, that he was intended to be seen as both a monastic and an initiate of an esoteric brotherhood; which is not as far-fetched as it might at first appear, concerning which I refer you to the extensive work of Lynn Thorndike [History of Magic, and Experimental Science] who makes abundantly clear just how involved some members of the monastic orders were in the exploration of the esoteric.

Whatever the whole truth may be it seems to me that one thing is certain – this passage is not saying is that Christian Rosencreutz was a five year old infant when he entered the cloisters, but that he was young in the Work. Furthermore, when Brother P.A.L., is considered in metaphorical terms, he may be seen as a senior member of the Order, who assisted Christian Rosencreutz on his spiritual journey to The Holy Land– which is a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven – the spiritual goal of the mystic and contemplative.

That Brother P.A.L., died in Cyprus and Christian Rosencreutz continued on his journey is also suggestive. Either the author is alluding to ‘Death’ in Alchemical terms, suggesting that Christian Rosencreutz had begun the process of Spiritual Alchemy in which the death (quiescence) of the discursive mind, no matter how inspired, is absolutely necessary. In which case brother P.A.L., is being used as a device to symbolise a form of an inspired intellect [such as John the Baptist], or, he may be alluding to the fact that the teacher can only ever be a signpost and that the student must ultimately make the journey alone. Consider the following passage: “At Fezhe did get acquaintance with those which are commonly called the Elementary Inhabitants, who revealed unto him many of their secrets:”

I don’t know about you but this passage leaves me with several questions: The first being’ what does the author mean by Elementary Inhabitants? Is he alluding to the ‘elementals’, the Sylphs, Undines, Salamanders and gnomes, or is he suggesting something else?

He continues: “Of these of Fez he often did confess, that their Magia was not altogether pure, and also that their Cabala was defiled with their religion; but notwithstanding he knew how to make good use of the same ….” (p.6)

With what ‘Magia’ and ‘Cabala’ did he compare that of Fez, and how was it that one so young, if indeed he was, and I quote: “knew how to make good use of the same”? Whatever the answer may be, these are not the words that describe a youngster or novice alone a strange land.
More revealing is the following:

On page 11, of the Fama Christian Rosencreutz is said to have build a neat habitation, which is the Sancti Spiritus but more of that later. In this ‘habitation’ he “ruminated his voyage, and philosophy, and reduced them together in a true memorial ….”– in my understanding this is a reference to the discipline of meditation, a fundamental undertaking in the Great Work. But more interesting is what follows. Page 12 tells us that after five years he drew out of his first cloister (in itself a puzzle) three of his brethren and bound them to himself. This may mean exactly what it says, that three brothers left their monastery to form a new Order with Christian Rosencreutz, but it also suggests an alchemical allegory concerning the three essential alchemical principles of Sulphur, Mercury and Salt.

Alchemy assumes the existence of three principles in all things, corresponding with the threefold division of man into body, soul and spirit. These principles are Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt. Sulphurrepresents the Spiritus Primus. Its nature is fire, and is understood to be an analogue of the soul. To Sulphur is attributed the Sun, the conscious self – the embodiment of will. Mercury represents the Materia Prima. Its nature is water, which in alchemy is understood to be the Spirit. This is not the spirit of Christian theology, which denotes the divine immortal element of Man, but the vital force that is carried in the air, otherwise called the ‘waters of life’. It is passive malleable and volatile; to it is attributed the Moon. Salt represents the Body, the material form resulting from the combination of Mercury and Sulphur. These three principles, acting together, constitute the nature of all things, including man.

Alchemy also understands the universe to be a UNITY, and that all material bodies emerged from that Unity, their component elements being different forms of one matter and, therefore convertible into one another. This theory may be seen as an analogy concerning the soul’s evolution and regeneration – an evolution from an unregenerate state symbolised by the metal Lead to a spiritually regenerate state symbolised by Gold.

Gold is the symbol of regeneration, and is designated a noble metal, as is Silver; although it is thought to be less mature than gold. In the Eighteenth century, Emanuel Swedenborg, the illustrious Swedish scientist, philosopher and spiritual visionary, designated the man of Gold as “celestial”, and the man of Silver as “spiritual”. Lead, on the other hand, was regarded as a very immature and impure metal: heavy and dull, and as such was considered to be a symbol of man in an unregenerate state.

On a personal note, I was taught to think of Sulphur, as Primus Spiritus, corresponding with the Divine Nous, and to think of Quicksilver, as Materia Prima, corresponding to the World Soul. It is through the conjunction of them both, symbolised by the alchemical marriage of the King and Queen, that the World Soul gives form to the archetypes contained in potentia within the Divine Nous. The materialised forms of the archetypes, and all forms derived from them are represented by the element of salt.

The more I look at the Fama & the Confessio the more I see an interesting structure woven ‘between the lines’ of the narrative. These core Rosicrucian texts do not simply form a mandate for Magic and Experimental Science, although many have taken it as such. As an expression of the aspirations of a tumultuous era the narrative, of the Fama is interesting on its own terms, but it also has hidden depths that veil a subtext concerning the spiritual transformation of human nature, and as such it is invaluable. As far as my understanding of such things allow, I perceive the language of the Fama to be a symbolic language of allegory and metaphor steeped in esoteric thought, part mythological, part alchemical and part Kabbalistic.

But when all is said and done it is clear that a recognisable process of spiritual transformation is implicit in the text of the Fama. And it seems to me that the purpose of the text is to act as a vehicle for this process, a process that is concealed through the use of allegory and metaphor, of sign and symbol, only to be discovered by a persistent and reflective mind. This process appears in the Fama in four stages or phases:

  1.  Apprenticeship (Elemental)
  2. Building the Sancti Spiritus
  3. Interior life (Meditation & Contemplation)
  4. Charity (six commendations)

 The first, The Apprenticeship, is described at the beginning of the Fama. It presents our Christian Rosencreutz on a journey of discovery in the world, but what world he is exploring is left for the reader to discover. At first glance it seems to be a quaint record of an adventure, but closer examination reveals it to be an allegory of a student learning the basic curriculum of the Work and maturing sufficiently to pass through a labyrinth of esoterica until he arrives at a place of self-knowledge and is thus able to begin the construction of the Sancti Spiritus.

The second, the building of The Sancti Spiritus, describes Christian Rosencreutz building a spiritual body, but only after he has understood that the world has little interest in his discoveries is he motivated to do so. Our hero learns the hard way that the world is only interested in securing control over the resources of the world of the senses, and maintaining the status quo – personal power being everything. [illus. p. 11]

The third, the Interior Life, describes Christian Rosencreutz engaging in meditation, exploring his spiritual journey thus far, and reflecting upon the philosophy of the spiritual life. Mathematics was drawn to the reader’s attention as a major subject of his exploration, and I can’t help wondering just what the author of the FAMA means by ‘Mathematics’. Did the author mean the ‘philosophy of Number’, or did the author mean the study of Gematria to unravel the mysteries of scripture? I say this because the CONFESSIO states on page 49:

This suggests to me a Kabbalistic exegesis of Biblical texts using mathematical systems such as Gematria, Temura and Notarikon, and rightly so for such systems are profound meditative tools, capable of revealing subtle layers of meaning in the scriptures that are not obvious to the rational mind.

Confes 49 p

Furthermore, the description of the ‘Vault’ of Christian Rosencreutz gives a marvellous insight to the nature of the Sancti Spiritus, a description that is itself an allegorical puzzle. It has fascinated esoterically minded people for the last four hundred years or more, and has been the central feature of many esoteric orders for more than a century. However, I am inclined to accept the description of the VAULT as an elucidation of the interior world of the soul from a Biblical perspective, [See Exodus 26] an internal cosmology expressed in both Kabbalistic and Alchemical terms.

The fourth, I call Charity. I call Charity because it is concerned with the work of a Rosicrucian living in the world. At its heart is the dynamic of Love – that is to say, Charity; and it is supported by the practice of Humility – by living quietly and invisibly in the world without seek fame, recompense, fortune or power over others. This Rule, combined with the three previous phases, establishes a quintessentially Christian model for living a spiritual life; rooted as it is in the formula established by Jesus Christ: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength, and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self. [Mark 12. 30-31] For those who have the eyes to see this quotation is a cipher that directs the aspirant to learn how to love; to seek entrance into the sacred precincts of the heart; to learn how to govern the soul; to learn how to direct the mind and to harness the strength and power of the psyche. All of which are to be directed to the service of GOD and HUMANITY, but not to the service of SELF. 


I opened this address by saying that the theme of this paper is in many ways a testimony of a personal journey out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of understanding. It is entitled Spirituality or Psychism – A Rosicrucian Dilemma because it is ever so easy to lose oneself in the chemistry of the Psychic World, which is the world of Form and thereby lose sight of the Essence, which is the Spiritual realm.

In my understanding the dilemma for the aspiring Rosicrucian is simply this, if the Great Work is the spiritual regeneration of both the race and the individual, how much of a Rosicrucian’s time should be given to chasing the ephemera that is ‘Psychism’ and how much should be given to the seeking of the ‘Spiritual’. Put another way, what is the core endeavour of a Rosicrucian? Is it to discover the Essence underlying Form or is it to explore the science of Form? This is the dilemma I believe has always been central to Rosicrucianism, and I believe it is a dilemma that will continue to present itself to each new generation of aspirants as they seek to understand the spiritual dimensions of the soul.


Remember, although the Rosicrucians hid their identity they were undeniably professed Christians. That they had esoteric interests in Alchemy, Magic and Kabbalah is also clear. Furthermore, their esoteric interests have influenced the pattern and shape of esoteric endeavours in Europe and beyond for centuries. Their involvement with Magic, Alchemy and Kabbalah is self-evident, and frequently has been the main focal point of public interest and endeavour, not all of which might be called Wise.

Yet, whilst people continue to take literally what has been outlined in the FAMA & CONFESSIO, to seek the power and control over nature that seems to be implied therein, then little will change in the future.