A gathering for peace

Rosicrucians worldwide in pilgrimage to S.J. meeting

A Japanese man in a suit trains his camera on a white stone sphinx. A woman from London holds her hand above a waist-high marble pyramid. “You can feel the energy,” she says.

Under sunny skies and a loudspeaker droning an Egyptian chant, men and women from 70 countries and throughout the United States mill around a reflecting pool, greeting old friends with a handshake and the invocation, “Peace profound.”

They are Rosicrucians, among 2,100 members of an organization dedicated to ancient metaphysical knowledge practices who are in San Jose this week for their biennial meeting. Some South Africans traveled two days by land to board a plane to America.

Participants have been shuttling between the Fairmont Hotel, for classes and presentations, and San Jose’s Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and Park on Naglee Avenue, the order’s North American headquarters.

For Rosicrucians, the trip to the “2004 World Peace Conference” is something of a pilgrimage. The park is where the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis got its U.S. start — and a jump-start worldwide.

“It’s like coming to the source,” said Wisconsin resident Stephanie Richardson, 44.

For generations of San Joseans, it’s an eclectic theme park incongruously set in an otherwise ordinary neighborhood of leafy streets and picturesque homes. Its onion-domed planetarium, statue of Pharaoh Thutmose III, 60-foot obelisk and Egyptian-style buildings with hieroglyphs and columns recall school-day field trips.

As children, they may have thrilled to see a human mummy or walk through the museum’s life-size replica of a 4,000-year-old tomb. Later, as adults, they may have strolled its lush gardens or read about the mystery of the missing 209-pound meteorite. (The exhibit, which had been on display 40 years, was stolen by a former security contractor and never found.)

Though intriguing for ordinary folks, the park is serious business for Rosicrucians. Its disparate elements support the eclectic interests of the order, whose goal is expanding human potential.

“Every Rosicrucian hopes to come to Rosicrucian Park some day,” said Julie Scott, museum president and grand master of the North American lodge, one of 14 worldwide.

Rosicrucians keep up on the latest discoveries in quantum physics and medical science, for example, and how they relate to the metaphysical practices of ancient Egypt and Greece on which their tradition is based.

In 1928, after obtaining in France a charter to start a U.S. branch, H. Spencer Lewis moved its headquarters from a San Francisco office to four acres in San Jose, where land was cheaper. Now buried in the park, under the pyramid, he turned his collection of Egyptian artifacts into a museum and emerged as the order’s first global leader by bringing Rosicrucianism to a wider audience with correspondence courses.

While the order may dabble in knowledge that is arcane, its practices are no longer so mysterious. They have much in common with New Age explorers of the 1950s and ’60s, who sought to link the energies of the mind, body and spirit. Famed Beat poet Alan Ginsberg recalled the Rosicrucians as the most interesting part of a two-month San Jose stay in the ’50s, when “all sorts of rapturous people, mystics and astrologers were roaming around.”

Certainly, that same spirit lights the wisdom-seekers in San Jose this week.

“One thing I’ve taken from the studies is that there is a universal consciousness, and it’s up to the individual to be in tune with that,” said Nat Brescia, 42, a documentary producer from Toronto who practices meditation. Along with visualization, it is one of the key Rosicrucian methods for healing and self-development.

Rosicrucianism was one of many philosophies to emerge from the New Thought Movement in the United States in the late 19th century, said Jennifer Rycenga, a professor of comparative religion at San Jose State University.

Asian religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, were beginning to be known. Esoteric sects were forming — theosophists were the largest — to seek ways in which the mind or spirit could control the physical world.

Rosicrucianism “is a very important moment in the broadening of America’s spiritual horizons,” Rycenga said.

Membership is on the rise, Scott said. “In times of societal stress, people yearning for greater connection with others or something greater than themselves may seek out esoteric groups like Rosicrucianism,” she said.

The focus of this week’s conference is world peace. Ambitious? Not to Rosicrucians, who strive for inner peace in the belief that it leads to tolerance and an environment for global peace.

“Peace starts with the self,” said Live Soderlund, 42, grand master of the Scandinavian Lodge who will give a presentation on expressions of love Sunday, the last day of the conference.

“It’s not just through your emotions but how you live your life, how you meet other people, how you care for other people, your environment, yourself, everything,” she said.

That’s the essence of the Rosicrucian philosophy, which otherwise has no dogma, no rules.

“You’re always on your own, making your own philosophy of life, but are helped with the building materials for this,” Soderlund said.

So what was that meteorite about? “There is so much to be learned from meteorites,” Scott said. “And by displaying them, visitors become intrigued to learn more about the starry skies above us and the universe in which we live.”

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