Founder: G.A.Sullivan Country of origin: England/UK

The Rosicrucian Order, Crotona Fellowship (ROCF) was a neo-Rosicrucian group active in England in the 1920s and 1930s, first on Merseyside and subsequently in Christchurch and Southampton. The group was founded by George A.Sullivan (1890-1942) and its ritual practices were largely restricted to a circle of family and friends, although a correspondence course was devised for solitary members and there was a small London contact group. The group is of intrinsic interest as an English expression of neo-Masonic, neo-Rosicrucian values and practices in the interwar period, and its intimate, esoteric small group format illustrates a seminal lay response to the perceived stagnation of contemporary ‘organized religion’. Furthermore the ROCF has had a diffuse and attenuated impact upon the development of New Age Movements and Wicca through the involvement of Peter Caddy and Gerald Gardner in its activities in the late 1930s (see Caddy, Peter; Gardner, Gerald B.).

The ROCF revolved around the charismatic leadership of its ‘Supreme Magus’, Sullivan, an amateur actor, poet and playwright who was active in occult networks of the day including Theosophical and Co-Masonic circles: Mabel Besant-Scott, daughter of Annie Besant, and leader of Co-Masonry in the UK, was a key ROCF member. Its origins are obscure: Sullivan claims that he founded the group in 1911 as ‘The Order of Twelve’, reviving it around 1920 under its present name, although in another pamphlet it is said to have existed in its present form for ‘at least one hundred years’ and to be descended from ancient Rosicrucian teachers. Its ‘Grand Chapter’ first operated in Birkenhead (c. 1924) and Liverpool (c. 1927) before moving to Christchurch in late 1935 and entering its most productive period. A wooden meeting hall was erected here in the garden of Sullivan’s benefactor and thirty-six members—barristers, solicitors, small business operators, teachers, and clerical workers—attended its annual gathering in 1937 (Heselton 2000:72ff). In 1938 a private theatre was built (Heselton 2000:78ff) and some dedicated members bought bungalows nearby. The Order began to unravel after Sullivan’s death, although Heselton (2000:89) traces the group to Southampton in the early 1950s.

The Order’s ritual practice required a small altar, a cloth with the Rosicrucian emblem, incense, candles, literature, and ritual regalia of the ‘degree’ attained by each member in the neo-Masonic hierarchy. Weekend activities and the annual gathering at the ‘grand chapter’ in Christchurch included communal worship, practical tasks and lectures. A 1925 pamphlet lists over 130 lectures in the Order’s syllabus incorporating a wide range of occult and metaphysical material including ‘positive thinking, healing techniques, empowering others, and growing into self-possession and self-control’ (Caddy 1996:334).

Despite intrinsic interest, the legacy of the ROCF is largely a product of the spiritual biographies of two participants: Peter Caddy and Gerald Gardner. Caddy (1996) makes no secret of his indebtedness to Sullivan and the Order. In the 1960s and early 1970s he sought to transfer the spirit of the ROCF to Findhorn community discourse and practice, renewing contact with surviving Order members and passing on some teachings at Findhorn. Caddy’s own salience in New Age networking in the 1950s and 1960s, and the importance of Findhorn for international New Age culture from the 1960s onwards, means that a ‘Rosicrucian’ factor in New Age culture (in the UK at least) cannot be discounted. Gardner’s case is more complex: he became involved with the Order briefly in 1938 and was largely sceptical, yet claims to have met a faction within the ROCF which belonged to a local witch coven, into which he was duly initiated and from which he subsequently fashioned Wicca. The historicity and mythic function of this surviving coven in legitimizing Wicca is the subject of a complex debate: the more immediate material influence of the ROCF’s initiatic structure and esoteric fellowship upon Gardner’s syncretic system has been less widely considered. Nevertheless, given Peter Caddy’s prominence in the genealogy of New Age from the 1950s onwards, and Gerald Gardner’s role in the creation of Wicca in the late 1940s, the ROCF has had an indirect impact on alternative spirituality in the UK out of all proportion to its slight historical and sociological profile.

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