Reuben Swinburne Clymer (November 25, 1878 – June 3, 1966) was an American occultist and modern Rosicrucian responsible for either reviving or creating the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, perhaps the oldest continuing Rosicrucian organization in the Americas. He practiced alternative medicine, and wrote and published works on it as well as (his version of) the teachings of Paschal Beverly Randolph, sex magic, vegetarianism, religion, alchemy, and Spiritualism. This lead to a number of conflicts with Harvey Spencer Lewis and the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, FUDOSI, Aleister Crowley, and even the American Medical Association.
Clymer was born in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. He studied medicine in Chicago, Illinois, and registered as an osteopath in New York in 1910. His work with alternative medicine regularly brought him into trouble with the United States government and the American Medical Association. As an osteopath, he opposed vaccination, and claimed that meat was the primary cause of cancer, and (especially when combined with beans, bread, potatoes, and beer) immorality and insanity.
Randolph and the FRC
Clymer joined the FRC in 1897, becoming a grand master of it in 1905 at age 27.
In either 1900 or 1904, Clymer got into publishing with his Philosophical Publishing Company, which he used to keep Paschal Beverly Randolph’s books in print well into the 20th century. Clymer was deeply influenced by Randolph, who he created a hagiographic (and mostly fictitious) history of. Clymer claimed that his orders were originally founded by Randolph (although many were completely unrelated), tying their already mostly fictional histories together under Randolph, particularly the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light orders in Quakertown.
Clymer created a more consistent and palatable belief system from Randolph’s thoughts, cleaning up the problematic sex magic practices Randolph espoused at times, as well as Randolph’s self-contradictions on numerous points. The pseudo-history assembled by Clymer cast Randolph as the legitimate heir of an ancient Rosicrucian tradition in America. This was accomplished by turning many people Randolph mentioned running into members of various occult organizations secretly connected to ancient Egyptian Rosicrucians, known members into masters of groups they were members of, and an unknown young man who met Eliphas Levi into none other than a young Randolph. If Clymer lacked a starting point or could not fill a plot hole, he claimed that such gaps were the result of the desctruction of records by enemies of Randolph’s (and Clymer’s) Fraternitas. In addition to the standard claims of Western Occultism of ties to famous Neoplatonists, alchemists, magicians, Clymer also connected Randolph’s “order” to Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon III, Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Papus, Albert Pike, and the Count of St. Germain. Although Clymer apparently believed his biography of Randolph to be absolutely historical, it is understood now to be largely fictitious.
According to Clymer, Randolph founded the FRC in 1858, with control passing onto Freeman Dowd in 1875, then Edward Brown in 1907, then Clymer in 1922. Unlike a number of fraternal orders (particularly the Shriners), Clymer explicitly denied that Rosicrucians had any special ornamentation or jewelry. As a result, the FRC is noted for its lack of self-promotion and advertising.
Other organizations founded by Clymer include the Church of the Illumination, the College of the Holy Grail, and the Sons of Isis and Osiris. The Church of the Illumination serves as an outer body for the FRC, spreading its teachings under the name of “Divine Law” in hopes of bringing about a new era through symbolic alchemy.
Rivalry with Harvey Spencer Lewis and AMORC
Clymer’s claim to being the true leader of American Rosicrucianism put Clymer in direct competition with Harvey Spencer Lewis, founder of Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis. This competition was turned to bitter rivalry thanks to disagreement of the role of sex in magic, both sides accusing the other of perverse teachings while holding that their sexual practices were enlightened and pure. Clymer’s views, largely lifted from Rudolph, were that bodily fluids produced by a married couple needed to be regularly exchanged for the physical and spiritual health of each partner.
Clymer and Lewis competed for the attention of different national branches of the Ordo Templi Orientis for official ties, with both finding comparable success and neither being able to use their ties to the O.T.O. to claim legitimacy over the other. When Lewis co-founded FUDOSI (which recognized Lewis’s AMORC as the true heirs of American Rosicrucianism), Clymer co-founded FUDOFSI with Constant Chevillon and Jean Bricaud (which favored Clymer’s FRC), and claimed that Lewis’s FUDOSI was a failed and mistaken grab at legitimization. In response to these attacks, AMORC published material calling Clymer’s ideas “some of the weirdest notions that a human mind ever harboured,” further pointing out that his positions were “self-appointed and self-devised.” Clymer retaliated by raising suspicion about Lewis’s doctorate, accusing Lewis of hocking inauthentic works, and (due to Lewis’s association with Aleister Crowley) practicing black magic. Crowley initially responded by offering to help Lewis fight Clymer, though Crowley’s later attempt claim control of Lewis’s AMORC, resulting in a rift between them.
The American rivalry eventually created a rift in European Rosicrucianism as well.
By 1939, Lewis’s death and legal attacks by the American Medical Association brought the rivalry between Clymer and AMORC to an end. Clymer continued to practice alternative medicine and lead the FRC until his death in 1966, succeeded by his son.
Clymer’s more popular writings include A Compendium of Occult Law, Mysteries of Osiris, and The Rosicrucian Fraternity in America. The Rosicrucian Fraternity in America, with emphasis on a single fraternity, was an attack on AMORC and Lewis.
He also translated some works of Ludovico Maria Sinistrari, though changing Sinistrari’s incubi and succubi to elementals and suggesting that the virgin birth of Jesus was the result of a Salamander impregnating Mary.
Clymer wrote books on nutrition (such as Dietetics and Diet, the Way to Health), as well as authorizing a Rose Cross Aid cookbook. In 1904, he wrote an anti-vaccinationist pamphlet titled “Vaccination Brought Home to You,” which documented two cases of children’s bad reactions to vaccines.
Clymer’s involvement in new religious movements, the drama that invariably followed Clymer and similar leaders (such as Father Divine), inspired a number of early 20th century detective stories, such as Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse.
Clymer’s works are also standard reading for American Rosicrucians, and his interest in medicine is continued by the FRC to this day, with the Beverly Hall headquarters housing chiropractic and naturopathic clinics. His prolific writing about Paschal Beverly Randolph and his teachings remain influential in the study of Randolph, in part because little is known about Randolph (even by Clymer).