Thursday, June 9, 2011

Museums that influenced me growing up: Rosicrucian Egyptian Oriental Museum of San Jose

When I was growing up, my dad used to take me to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Oriental Museum in San Jose, California. I'm sure the first time we went there I was not more than 8 or 9 years old, and possibly younger than that.

The collection was first opened to the public in 1927 and outgrew its location in the administration building of the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC) in 1932. In addition to the collection and gardens, the museum is home to one of the earliest (if not the earliest) planetariums west of the Mississippi River, which still has fascinating and educational shows for visitors.

Red Ice Creations has a 30-minute video tour of the museum which they filmed in 2009 located on their website here (must be a member to view the video). The video touches on some of the history of the American order of Rosicrucians.

As a child growing up, however, I perceived very little about the Rosicrucians themselves: to me, the Rosicrucian Museum was the "mummy museum." For me, and probably for most children visiting the museum, the mummies were the highlight of the trip.

And why not? In the very worthwhile lecture linked in this previous post, professor Victor Maier explains that children are fascinated by his discussion of the mummies of the Tarim Basin; it's only when he explains that they are not real mummies but desiccated corpses that they all begin to cry. But the Rosicrucian Museum of San Jose has real mummies, not desiccated corpses, and what mummies! In addition to the human mummies, there are also mummified cats and baboons, but the human mummies of course are the star attraction.

The Rosicrucian Museum also has an impressive replica of an actual rock-cut tomb from Beni Hasan, Egypt, complete with wall paintings depicting the judgment in the Hall of Two Truths, in which the heart of the deceased is weighed against the feather of Maat in the presence of Thoth, while the demon Amut looks on in hopes of devouring the heart and destroying the soul forever. After successfully passing this judgement, the soul of the deceased is led by Horus into the presence of Osiris.

The connection of the legend of Osiris and Horus with the celestial phenomena of precession is discussed at length in the Mathisen Corollary; for some examination of those connections, see this previous blog post.

The museum also has a wonderful bookstore which I remember fondly from my earliest visits. I remember asking to buy a postcard depicting the mummy of Ramses II and being surprised that my parents would actually buy such a treasure for me (I was probably in third grade at the time). I also remember fondly a miniature nested mummy case which contained a hidden magnet and allowed you to do a magic trick by which you could strike the top of the case to reverse the polarity and make the mummy case repel the nested sarcophagus so that it would not lie still inside!

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Oriental Museum is a venerable fixture in the San Francisco Bay Area and well worth a visit, especially if you have children. Of course, if you take them there too often, you never know what lifelong repercussions it may have!