The Spirit in the Sky: A brief history of seekers, from Druids to Zoroastrians by A.R. Goldyn, Max Sparber and Niels Strandskov
Americans live in woeful ignorance of religion. We labor under the delusion that the world is dominated by three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and everything else can be quietly lumped into the "Eastern Religion" or "New Age" sections of our bookstore.
Americans have always viewed the world as a vast buffet, a table covered with international delectables spread out for our delighted sampling. We read lightweight books with titles like A Pocket Guide to Zen while watching videotapes explaining the basics of yoga. We hang Native American dreamcatchers from our rear view mirrors, and with what purpose? Do we plan to fall asleep at the wheel? Our dilettante approach to alternative spirituality produces exactly this sort of metaphysical confusion, creating a culture in which religion involves either a strict allegiance to a monolithic mainstream or a notoriously vapid spiritual dabbling (think of Madonna's trifling studies of Hinduism and Kabbala).
There are genuine spiritual seekers out there, and there are religions with long histories and complex theologies that are never mentioned in college survey courses in religious studies. Some are indigenous religions, beaten down by hundreds of years of imperialism and dismissed as primitive practices. Some are modern creations, liberally borrowing elements from past cosmologies to create a contemporary vision of spirituality. Some are strange hybrids, dismissed (sometimes unfairly) by mainstream religions as cults but believed fervently by their followers. Some are religious societies, where individual members may belong to any religion but band together over shared rituals and goals.
What follows is a brief, necessarily incomplete selection of the incredible range of religious practice. This is intended as an introduction, nothing more, to the magnificent diversity of human belief.
While I don't believe that all Americans "live in woeful ignorance," I think it is true that a large number of us (them?) do, and I have encountered some of the more annoying things mentioned above (like improper use of Native American traditions, for example). In any case, I thought the authors put together an interesting article, and I thought some of you might like to read what they had to say about Rosicrucianism:
Rosicrucianism is not a religion; it is a religious order, a mystic, largely Christian organization. However no matter what religion you are, you may join a Rosicrucian order and membership does not require any conversion. Some Christian groups have criticized the Rosicrucians, calling them cultists - most likely because Rosicrucians believe that all religions are equal. They draw beliefs and practices from many, and their practices are metaphysical or considered magical.
The roots of the word "Rosicrucian" are the Latin "rosae," meaning rose (which is a symbol of secrecy), and "crux," meaning cross; thus, one common symbol of Rosicrucianism is a cross superimposed with the red rose of Venus.
Often associated with Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism relies heavily on magics and is the mother of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Rosicrucianism can be officially traced to the 12th and 13th centuries, but members of the organization claim that private records prove it to be much older. Rosicrucianism was said to have been founded by a German named Christian Rosenkreutz, but he is now considered merely a representational mythical figure whose name means "a Christian of the Rosy Cross."
Rosicrucianism draws heavily from Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and pagan religions. Its followers have long been noted for their ability to heal, their concern for keeping balance in the world and their practice of alchemy. Rosicrucian orders teach esoteric methods of using innate psychic and spiritual parts of the brain to effect change in the world - think metaphysics, creative visualization and astral travel. A basic tenet of Rosicrucianism is that "all manifestation comes from energy and that for all physical manifestation a triangle of energies is needed."
Rosicrucians subscribe to the principles of karma and reincarnation. They believe that people can alter the way they live and behave and free themselves from the reigns of karma and teach that reincarnation is "a fact of existence" and that our souls weather many incarnations on the path to perfection.
Rosicrucian orders continue to survive throughout the world. One of the oldest and most noted is the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC), founded in 1915 and still thriving with chapters all over the world.