Long before the establishment of Freemasonry as a fraternity, a group of mystics founded in Europe what was called the "Society of Unknown Philosophers."
Prominent among the profound thinkers who formed the membership of this society were the alchemists, who were engaged in transmuting the political and religious "base metal" of Europe into ethical and spiritual "gold"; the Qabbalists who, as investigators of the superior orders of Nature, sought to discover a stable foundation for human government; and lastly the astrologers who, from a study of the procession of the heavenly bodies, hoped to find therein the rational archetype for all mundane procedure. Here and there is to be found a character who contacted this society. By some it is believed that both Martin Luther and also that great mystic, Philip Melanchthon, were connected with it. The first edition of the King James Bible, Bible, which was edited by Francis Bacon and prepared under Masonic supervision, bears more Mason's marks than the Cathedral of Strasburg. The same is true respecting the Masonic symbolism found in the first English edition of Josephus' History of the Jews.
For some time, the Society of Unknown Philosophers moved extraneous to the church. Among the fathers of the church, however, were a great number of scholarly and intelligent men who were keenly interested in philosophy and ethics, prominent among them being the Jesuit Father, Athanasius Kircher, who is recognized as one of the great scholars of his day. Both a Rosicrucian and also a member of the Society of Unknown Philosophers, as revealed by the cryptograms in his writings, Kircher was in harmony with this program of philosophic reconstruction. Since learning was largely limited to churchmen, this body of philosophers soon developed an overwhelming preponderance of ecclesiastics in its membership. The original anti-ecclesiastical ideals of the society were thus speedily reduced to an innocuous state and the organization gradually converted into an actual auxiliary of the church.
A small portion of the membership, however, ever maintained an aloofness from the literati of the faith, for it represented an unorthodox class—the alchemists, Rosicrucians, Qabbalists, and magicians. This latter group accordingly retired from the outer body of the society that had thus come to be known as the "Order of the Golden and Rose Cross" and whose adepts were elevated to the dignity of Knights of the Golden Stone. Upon the withdrawal of these initiated adepts, a powerful clerical body remained which possessed considerable of the ancient lore but in many instances lacked the "keys" by which this symbolism could be interpreted. As this body continued to increase in temporal power, its philosophical power grew correspondingly less.
The smaller group of adepts that had withdrawn from the order remained inactive apparently, having retired to what they termed the "House of the Holy Spirit," where they were enveloped by certain "mists" impenetrable to the eyes of the profane. Among these reclusive adepts must be included such well-known Hermetic Philosophers as Robert Fludd, Eugenius Philalethes, John Heydon, Michael Maier, Henri Khunrath, Baron Tchoudy, Gitchel, Michael Sendivogius, Louis de Saint Martin the eminent German Rudolph Salzmann, Jacob Boehme and Honoré de Balzac.
These adepts in their retirement constituted a loosely organized society which, though lacking the solidarity of a definite fraternity, occasionally initiated a candidate and met annually at a specified place.
It was the Comte de Chazal, an initiate of this order, who "raised" Dr. Sigismund Bacstrom while the latter was on the Isle of Mauritius. In due time, the original members of the order passed on, after first entrusting their secrets to carefully chosen successors. In the meantime, a group of men in England, under the leadership of such mystics as Ashmole and Fludd, had resolved upon repopularizing the ancient learning and reclassifying philosophy in accordance with Bacon's plan for a world encyclopedia. These men had undertaken to reconstruct ancient Platonic and Gnostic mysticism, but were unable to attain their objective for lack of information. Elias Ashmole may have been a member of the European order of Rosicrucians and as such evidently knew that in various parts of Europe there were isolated individuals who were in possession of the secret doctrine handed down in unbroken line from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians through Boetius and the early Christian Church.
The efforts of the English group to contact such individuals were evidently successful. Several initiated Rosicrucians were brought from the mainland to England, where they remained for a considerable time designing the symbolism of Freemasonry and incorporating into the rituals of the order the same divine principles and philosophy that had formed the inner doctrine of all great secret societies from the time of the Eleusinia in Greece. In fact, the Eleusinian Mysteries themselves continued in Christendom until the sixth century after Christ.