A glimpse into the mysterious and enlightening Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum of San Jose
THE SANTA CLARA
November 10, 2016
Mummies, curses and tombs, oh my! No, I am not talking about movies with our favorite archaeologist, Dr. Jones. I’m talking about the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.
If you lived in the South Bay as a child, chances are that you had a field trip to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose. I was one of those children lucky enough to be bussed over to this abode of Egyptian knowledge, but back then I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now. I wasn’t alone in this neglect; my friends and I were interested in mummies of course, but our interest was restricted to the Indiana Jones franchise.
My childhood disinterest in Egyptian history is disappointing, since the museum boldly claims to be the biggest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the West. But now, as an older and wiser man at the ripe age of 20, I can appreciate learning about ancient Egypt as well as ogling at petrified beings.
Just a brisk 15 minute bike ride from campus, the facade past the corner of Naglee and Park in San Jose immediately draws you in, with a splendid representation of Egyptian temple architecture. Palmiform columns rise from the ground next to their namesake counterparts to support the flat roof. Flanking either side of the entrance are multiple statues of sitting lions, presumably protecting the treasures inside.
The first steps in the museum were strange to me. Waves of nostalgia caused by those first steps rolled over me, and then the smell of preserved history filled the air—I was a third grader once again.
Snapping out of it, I started down the galleries. There are four in total, labelled A through D. I made a beeline toward where the artifacts from the older centuries of Egyptian civilization and several mummies are held. Among the deceased creatures: a baboon, a cat and of course, a human.
In addition to housing the mummies and artifacts, this section is where the entrance to a scale model of an actual tomb lies. The burial chamber proves to be particularly interesting because of the insight it provides—each wall contains illustrations reflecting both life and religion, and infused together they convey the intertwined culture of the Egyptians.
Examining the stories of everyday life flowing along one wall, I couldn’t help but see the similarities between people then and people now. There was even news a while back that this very museum had uncovered writings that described in detail the gossip of a town. Clearly, human interests don’t seem to change.
The exit of the burial chamber takes you directly to a second gallery with an exhibition on women’s life in Egypt. Here, guests can see a birthing chamber along with a myriad of amulets and artifacts designed to somehow help with child labor. And across the way lay a display of heavy and ornate jewelry made from gemstones of carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise and others worn by women.
Further along in the gallery artifacts derived from around the Middle East were displayed to connect Egypt to other civilizations at the time. This row of artifacts is a highlight reel of casts of giant stone steles like the Code of Hammurabi and the famous Rosetta Stone.
Upstairs laid the last two galleries. One of these is dedicated to one of Egypt’s most peculiar rulers, Akhenaten. Married to Nefertiti (essentially the Egyptian Helen), Akhenaten created one of the first monotheistic religions in order to consolidate power—in fact, the pharaoh may have inadvertently influenced aspects of Judaism. And for a while Akhenaten stylized his images and statues to look androgynous and extraterrestrial. I’ve been told many times to not make fun of a person’s appearance, but when the pharaoh looks like a character from the movie “Coneheads,” I have to make an exception.
The final exhibit in the museum was a show dedicated to alchemy across the ages and across the globe. For those of you that don’t know, alchemy is a proto-chemistry field of study that attempted to transmute elements like lead to make gold. However, this hocus pocus pseudoscience didn’t appeal to me and consequently, I felt very much like an outsider during this exhibit. Disappointed, I sought some fresh air.
Outside the museum, the grounds and gardens display Egyptian aesthetics in nature—and also provide the perfect area to mediate in after wandering through several exhibits. But as I soon realized, I had already spent over three hours and the museum was about to close.
Overall, the Rosicrucian Museum proves to be a great way to immerse yourself in the Egyptian world. With immense collections and visuals, I could have spent much longer reading all the information given to me.
As a little kid I enjoyed the fantastic aspects of the Egyptian museum, but now I have the ability to appreciate museums for what they are—buildings that serve as evidence that we share more similarities to our past selves than we give credit.
Contact Max Eberhart at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.