In my last post, I talked about going with my wife to the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, California. You can read that post if you want the background to our quest and a description of Rosicrucian Park. In this post, I’m going to talk about what we encountered inside.
First, a disclaimer: I am not an Egyptologist. I have the basic knowledge that you’d expect from anyone’s who done archaeology, and I specifically studied funerary practices, so I’m a little more up on that aspect of things, but for most things Egyptological I am really an informed layman. So it may be that there are terrible errors that I failed to spot. Please bear that in mind.
What I was really interested in, going in, was actually not the quality of the displays or what have you, but the amount of Rosicrucianism to be found hidden in the interpretation — that is, given that this place was founded and funded by a quasi-occult secret society, how much of their, er, unique worldview was put forward in the exhibits? Let us, then, begin our journey into the mysteries of … ah, you know the drill.
We started out by heading left, into the exhibit on daily life in Ancient Egypt. Now, I’m not 100% certain what this massive inscription from the Sphinx has to do with daily life. This is one of the things about the museum: it’s kind of thematically organised, but on the other hand it only has so much space, so sometimes it looks like things were put wherever there was room for them. I find this kind of endearing from a tourist’s perspective — I understand that proper museum people do not appreciate it so much.
The daily life exhibit is more or less what you’d expect — you got your cosmetic palettes, your headrests, your pots, your somewhat hokey replica of a room for giving birth.
There are a surprising lot of bits of mummies and mummy paraphernalia in the daily life room. I mean, I recognise that religion and daily life were hard to separate in ancient Egypt, but I did sort of get the feeling that over the years they had collected a shitload of mummies and sort of felt that it was a shame for them to go to waste. There was a little section on Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt that at least acknowledged it was a thing.
Next to the Daily Life room was a thing about Mesopotamia, and I confess this was sort of the oddest part of the experience for me. It wasn’t really clear what it was doing there. There were a few words about “Egypt’s neighbour,” but that was the only neighbour they talked about (well, there was a cabinet of Persian stuff). And it was mostly “Mesopotamia’s Greatest Hits” — Code of Hammurabi, some reconstructions of things like the Hanging Gardens and a ziggurat (identified as the Tower of Babel), and of course the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III.
Wait, let me rephrase that.
THE BLACK OBELISK OF SHALMANESER III
BLAAAAARGH! YOU WILL MEET YOUR DOOOOOOOOOM!
Sorry, I just really love that name.
I do wonder if some of this stuff isn’t in there because it’s in or related to the Bible (the Black Obelisk famously contains a reference to the Abrahamic God) and that’s why it was considered important? I’m not sure that’s a kooky esoteric influence so much as maybe a sign that this collection reflects what people were interested in collecting back in the day. But anyway, Mesopotamia.
Crossing the hall, we passed by a framed poster in the lobby under a plaque that thanked the benefactors of the museum. It was headed THE ROSICRUCIAN TIMELINE and it was the first real piece of Rosicrucian wackiness we had seen up to that point. I’ll reproduce it here in its full hugeness so that you can click on it and see how it’s divvied up (although there was some glare on the frame).
It is the absolute usual western occult potted history: Egypt yadda yadda, mystery religions yadda yadda, Mithras, Hermeticism, alchemy, kabbalah, the Templars. Pick the “benevolent society of the enlightened” option and you could write it with your eyes close. I just thought this section was fun:
Yeah, that’s right. Atlantis. Now, in fairness, there is some waffle there about how its actually just a symbol of the “unknown source of the Primordial Tradition,” but even that’s assuming a lot. As goofy as all this might be, I have to say that it was in the lobby, not in an exhibit area, and that you wouldn’t necessarily mistake it for something that was meant to be part of the interpretation. Still maybe a bit shady, though?
Having crossed the lobby, we then came to the bit with the mummies, also known as The Bit Everyone Likes. This was pretty much what you might expect — mummies, mummy cases, mummy stuff, arranged more or less chronologically, with some good bits like X-rays of the baboon mummy that proved it was not in fact a baboon but a fake. There’s also a rock tomb replica, but we didn’t get to go inside because there was a group of schoolkids taking the tour.
So that’s the mummy room. I skimmed the little handouts near the door and didn’t detect any Rosicrucianism per se. It’s a bit theatrical in places, but just to my layman’s eye the whole thing seemed legit. I liked the baboon and the penises, which, I know, is something I say all the time. But it’s true!
Next post: we venture into the little movie-y place, the reading room and the art installation. Be here, it’ll be good!