With Napoleon back in the news thanks to an upcoming film, I revisited my favorite esoteric library, where his old Rosicrucian collar remains on display.
This history is of the mystical sort, with several threads converging on several levels, all in San Jose.
Which brings us to 1909, when a young mystic named Harvey Spencer Lewis traveled to Toulouse, France, went through a secret initiation with the European leaders of the Rosicrucian Order and officially received the mandate to pass on the teachings and bring them back above ground in North America. In 1915, Lewis established the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC) in New York and then briefly moved the headquarters to San Francisco and Tampa, Florida, before permanently relocating to San Jose in 1927 and building Rosicrucian Park, where AMORC’s headquarters have been ever since. Lewis was the Imperator of the order, disseminating ancient wisdom to thousands of truth seekers and dues-paying initiates around the globe and the one who also established the original museum and the planetarium. He “revitalized” San Jose decades before any politician used that term.
For the last few years of his life, Lewis lived across the street from Rosicrucian Park at 1295 Naglee, on the corner, in a house that still exists. If you stand in front of that house, you can easily see where a secret underground tunnel might have existed, going diagonally beneath the intersection and straight to what was then the original temple complex. But that’s a whole other story.
In 1926, before Lewis even built Rosicrucian Park, he traveled to Paris, where he was given an original fraternal collar once worn by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), whom AMORC claims was a Grand Master of the Rosicrucian Order in France. The collar remains on display, under glass, inside the Rosicrucian Research Library, located in another Egyptian-style building on Randol Ave, designed and constructed by George Kocher in 1939. The text panel says Napoleon’s old collar was “presented to H. Spencer Lewis by the Paris Grand Lodge of Rose Croix at a special reception, when it was placed on the shoulders of Dr. Lewis and he was given high honors.”
The library, which is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, began as Lewis’ personal collection of occult, esoteric and metaphysical books in 1916. Once the Rosicrucians settled in San Jose, a library building was envisioned, officially opening in June of 1939, just months before Lewis passed away.
Today, the library is a living epicenter of mystical innovation. The shelves and furniture remain from 1939. Many of the books still have old library catalog cards, depending on when they were originally donated. One doesn’t need to browse very long to find remarkable science books from 60 years ago, an entire alchemy section, oddball travel journeys from a century back, plus philosophy, herbalism and histories of fraternal orders. In the biography section, one finds Napoleon, Nebuchadnezzar, Nefertiti and Isaac Newton, one after the other. Almost every single issue of Rosicrucian Digest—thousands of weeks’ worth of publications—are also available for any curious adept.
In its entirety, the whole library is probably the most significant occult collection anywhere publicly available, and it’s all thanks to Harvey Spencer Lewis, who sadly passed away in August of 1939.
According to the very next issue of Rosicrucian Digest, September, 1939, hundreds of people from all over the country attended the largest funeral ever witnessed in San Jose: “The large auditorium stage was banked row after row with magnificent floral pieces, wreaths and sprays, dozens having been telegraphed not only from various sections of the United States but cabled and radioed from foreign lands.”
As I’ve suggested for nearly 20 years now, I consider these columns to be the equivalent of ancient monographs that I am now permitted to bring above ground and transmit to the public at large. It is up to you, dear reader, to take the baton and see where you fit into the lineage of history. So far, the details have gone from Ancient Egypt to Napoleon to Harvey Spencer Lewis, and from Paris to the mystical crossroads of Park and Naglee in San Jose. It doesn’t get any more esoteric than that.