A secret society’s greatest power isn’t always its network of influential members or its guarded knowledge promising untold wealth or power to adherents.

Sometimes, the idea of the group and what it represents is enough to inspire real-world change, even if that change is based on a lie. As origin myths go, the story of The Order of the Rosy Cross contains all the mystery and adventure to garner attention. According to their own myth, laid down in the Rosicrucians’ three defining pieces of literature, German doctor Christian Rosenkreuz started the Order at the turn of the 15th century. Rosenkreuz, according to three books released at the beginning of the 17th century, had journeyed across the Middle East toward Jerusalem, amassing ancient wisdoms from sages. He later shared it with a small brotherhood upon his return to Germany, who became the first Rosicrucians. This fellowship believed that the secret knowledge Rosenkreuz brought with him, which blended science, arts, alchemy and mysticism, led to personal enlightenment for the initiated.

In actual fact, scholars almost uniformly agree today Rosenkreuz only existed on the page. Even the manifestos themselves go so far as to state that they are speaking in parable. The European response to these ideas, however, was very much real. Ravaged by political instability and religious conflict, the people of the 17th century latched on to a movement emphasizing scientific knowledge as a key to advancing mankind. The literature quickly spread across the whole of the continent, with Rosicrucian ideas making their way into new works, influencing any number of emerging intellectuals, including the English philosopher Francis Bacon.

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