SAN JOSE, Calif. — Great, this is all I need, another pointless and wholly irrational fear to further cinch the neural pathways of my knotted psyche.
Here I was, roaming the dimly lit hallways of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in downtown San Jose, marveling at the Moorish architecture, the chiseled hieroglyphics, the two-level replica of a tomb, the everyday objects of ancient life (combs, hair extensions, kohl eyeliner applicators), when I came to a room called the "Afterlife Gallery."
Among the exhibits, I came face-to-desiccated face with a mummy said to date from 1549-1064 BCE (Before Common Era). I thought I was prepared for this, figured it would be no problem, because when you mummify something, aren't you wrapping the body up tightly in linen, hermetically sealed from cranium to metatarsal?
But here was this dude — and yes, the explainer card on the glass case read "Mummy of an Upper-Class Egyptian Male" — partially unwrapped like a burrito. Head, neck and shoulders exposed, bare arms clasped over his still-covered torso, he creeped me out, I don't mind saying. His, uh, remains were of a charcoal tinge, the texture looking like something between leather and a barbecued suckling pig, sans apple.
What really freaked me out, though, was his facial expression. Eyes heavy-lidded, mouth agape, he looked almost alive, as if about ready to sneeze or maybe let loose with a sleep-apnea-induced snore. I kept expecting him to crane his neck to the left, put me in his sights and croak, Do ya mind, pal? I'm trying to get some rest here.
I started sweating. My pulse paradiddled. My stomach churned. I had an overwhelming desire to flee, journalistic responsibility the only thing keeping me rooted in place. I later learned — thanks, Google — that I was suffering from acute Pharaohphobia, fear of mummies.
Yeah, it's apparently a thing.
I pass this along merely as a friendly warning. You may be perfectly fine ogling the mummies, even those partially unwrapped. And you'll have many such opportunities, too, since the Rosicrucian has among the 4,000 pre-dynastic Egyptian artifacts four human mummies and also a mummified Nile catfish, pet gazelle and cats. Funny how the ancient ones adored cats, venerated the little beasts, adorned them in jewelry and buried their remains along side their owners, proving that crazy cat ladies existed way before our time. (I, fortunately, do not suffer from ailurophobia, fear of cats, but for those afflicted, do take note.)
The museum is more than a mummy mausoleum, of course. The Rosicrucian Order, AMORC — more on the mysterious New Age-y organization later — does not display all of its unearthed treasures but, depending on the rotation, you'll see one of the seven known statues of Cleopatra, a 1.5 million-year-old ax, a re-creation of King Tutankhamun's tricked-out coffin, fragments from the Book of the Dead, and assorted trays, utensils, amulets and scarabs entombed with the dead because you never know when you might need a mirror in the great beyond.
All told, the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the Western United States resides in the ornate building, which also features a library, a planetarium and, outside, lovely gardens with exotic foliage like papyrus and the trao plant and a rare bunya pine, whose cones can weigh up to 15 pounds. It's also the North American headquarters for AMORC, part quasi-religious order, part fraternal organization, part philosophical think tank, many parts mystical, mythological and totally esoteric to a lay person.
AMORC, by the way, stands for Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crusis, whose roots date to the 1600s in Europe and spread to America in the early 1900s. San Jose became the mothership in the early 1920s, when the block-long edifice was constructed in what then was farmland but now is a bustling downtown.
Escaping the freaky mummy, I needed to get grounded and repaired to the information alcove, where I sat through all three video presentations the order offers neophytes. I'd like to say I went away with a firm grasp of the theology — I took assiduous notes — but I failed to grasped the abstruse teachings. Guess that's why they call it esoteric.
The presentation started straightforward enough. AMORC is "open to men and women of all nationalities, all religions, and all social classes" and its purpose is to "pass on teachings that are both cultural and spiritual." The video's narrator then asked the question viewers were wondering: "What do the Rosicrucian teachings address?" Brace yourself: "... (It) incorporates the traditional major themes, including the origins of the universe, time and space, life and conscious, psychic phenomena, the nature of dreams, the functions and characteristics of the soul, the mysteries of death, the afterlife and reincarnation, traditional symbolism, the science of numbers and other mystical subjects."
Yup, that about covers it.
But what, like, do they believe? I had to sit through a lot before getting an answer. AMORC "transmutes the faults of human nature into opposite qualities, pride into humility. ... If there is evil on Earth, it's because humans delight in their weaknesses and do not sufficiently aspire to good."
I wondered what that freaky mummy, the so-called upper-class Egyptian male, would've thought about the Rosicrucian tenets, whether, in mummification, he still retained his pride or found a transcendent humility. I wondered, but no way was I heading back to ask him myself.
ROSICRUCIAN EGYPTIAN MUSEUM
Where: 1660 Park Ave., San Jose
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; closed Mondays-Tuesdays
Cost: $9 general, $7 seniors and students with ID, $5 children ages 5-10
More information: www.egyptianmuseum.org; 408-947-3635