Ancient Mysteries Await at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose

By Karen Gough
Karen Gough
Karen Gough
Karen Gough is a writer and travel enthusiast. She shares her family’s travel tales at thefootloosescribbler.com
September 15, 2021 Updated: September 15, 2021

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California, contains a wealth of ancient treasures—the largest such collection in western North America.

Not only does the museum house artifacts from the Pre-Dynastic to early Islamic era, it also has exhibits on non-Egyptian Assyrian, Babylonian, and Sumerian periods. Four large galleries—the Afterlife, Daily Life, Rulers, and Religion—tempt visitors to stay for hours.

I have been three times now and never tire of it. It may be time to get an annual membership!

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The Afterlife Gallery contains authentic coffins and mummies from ancient Egypt. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)
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The mummy of an upper-class male from the New Kingdom Period of 1549–1064 B.C. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

There is also a reconstructed underground tomb and even an exhibit on alchemy. The alchemy exhibit is a precursor to the Alchemy Museum that is being developed in the park grounds. Not only will it be the first alchemy museum to exist in the United States, it will also be the largest in the world.

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A partial view of the future Alchemy Museum in Rosicrucian Park. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

The alchemy exhibit might be considered an unusual addition to an Egyptian museum. It makes sense, though, when you realize that the museum is part of the Rosicrucian Park in San Jose, and the park houses the headquarters of the Rosicrucian Order in the United States.

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A recreation of an alchemist’s workshop from medieval Europe. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

Some people believe Rosicrucianism is a cult; others call it a religion. But Rosicrucians say it is a philosophy with educational and humanitarian goals. They do not require adherents to change their religious beliefs.

Rosicrucian philosophy incorporates mystical and metaphysical teachings from ancient Egypt in 1500 B.C., with Western European and Arabic teachings of philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and alchemy. Today, Rosicrucians consider alchemy not as a chemical transformation but as a philosophy of spiritual transformation.

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Part of the Ripley Scroll, created in 1450 by English alchemist Sir George Ripley. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

The idea for an Egyptian museum in San Jose began with H. Spencer Lewis in 1927. Lewis was the founder of the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC (Ancient and Mystical Order Rosa Crucis) in the United States.

Over the decades, the order’s collection grew from one small statue of Sekhmet to thousands of artifacts, leading to a grand opening of the new Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in 1966. Today (pre-COVID), over 100,000 guests visit the museum each year.

Annual visitors include the general public, scholars and researchers, and 26,000 sixth graders. Classes from some schools even fly in from out of state.

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First in the collection: a 13.9-centimeter-tall (about 5.5-inch-tall) bronze statue of Sekhmet—the lion-headed goddess of war, the sun, plague, and healing. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

The popularity of the museum is not surprising. Most of the exhibits include authentic ancient artifacts. Guests can read detailed signage and educational pamphlets, ask questions of knowledgeable staff, or listen to an audio tour. The website is filled to the brim with educational material and information.

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Gods painted on the interior of a 3,000-year-old coffin. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)
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A model of a war boat from the Middle Kingdom Period, 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)
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A rare statue of the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

Visitors can also enjoy an enlightening underground tour of a reconstructed tomb. The tomb, built in the 1960s, is a composite of different time periods. It was created from photographs brought back by a Rosicrucian research expedition that had visited Egypt.

My tour was led by an enthusiastic university intern. She assured one of the children on the tour that she had nothing to be afraid of, and sure enough, the child came out with a smile and questions about Egyptian beliefs in the afterlife.

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The entrance to the reconstructed underground tomb. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)
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The entrance to the tomb is not as scary as it looks. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)
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A painting in the tomb shows a young nobleman voyaging to the afterlife. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

The museum also offers monthly workshops; this month there will be one on making papyrus paper. And there are weekly games of an ancient Egyptian board game called Senet.

Young people, grades K–12, can join the museum’s Junior Archaeologist program to learn about archaeology and Egyptology within the museum. The graduation ceremony takes place in the tomb!

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A table display of papyrus and the making of paper. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)
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The game of Senet depicts a player’s journey through the challenges of life to the afterlife. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

After visiting the museum, it is nice to walk around and explore the grounds of the park. The Peace Garden is modeled after gardens from the ancient Egyptian city of Akhetaton. It includes food and medicinal plants, a pond, a pergola, and a small temple.

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The Peace Garden’s temple and pond. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

The labyrinth is based on one built over 800 years ago in Chartres, France. It is outlined by native plants and is wheelchair accessible.

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The twists and turns of the labyrinth represent the journey of life to the end and beyond. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

There is also a research library for Rosicrucian members.

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Papyrus plants line the walkway to the Rosicrucian research library. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)

I highly recommend visiting this fascinating museum and relaxing park. The museum is located at 1660 Park Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126. There is free parking in the lot behind the museum at Naglee Avenue and Chapman Street. Hours are shorter these days: Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit their website.

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Eye of Horus amulets, thought to provide the wearer with powerful protection from the sun god Horus. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)
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A reproduction of an original statue from Cairo of Amenhotep IV (1380–1336 B.C.), the controversial pharaoh known as Akhnaton. (Courtesy of Karen Gough)
Karen Gough
Karen Gough
Karen Gough is a writer and travel enthusiast. She shares her family’s travel tales at thefootloosescribbler.com