How Franz Hartmann Helped Spread Scientific Occultism In Germany

Franz Hartmann (1838–1912) also did a lot to spread scientific occultism in Germany. He had a very interesting life in Europe and the Americas, working as a soldier, doctor, coroner, and mining speculator, among other things. Hartmann was already interested in Spiritualism, but after reading Isis Unveiled, he became interested in Theosophy. In 1883, he decided to go to Adyar to meet Blavatsky and Olcott. Blavatsky thought he was so great that she made him acting president of the Theosophical Society while she and Olcott went to Germany to start a branch there.

Hartmann stayed there until 1885, when, after the Coulomb scandal, the Theosophists left India.
Hartmann then started the occult magazine Lotusbluthen, which ran from 1892 to 1900 and was the first German magazine to have the swastika on the cover. (34) In eastern mysticism, the swastika is a symbol with many good meanings. In the next chapter, we’ll learn more about it. The increased interest in this magazine led a number of German publishers to put out long book series on a wide range of occult and esoteric topics, including the work of Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater, who took over the Theosophical Society after Blavatsky’s death in 1891.

When the Theosophists left India in 1885, the German branch of the society broke up. In August 1896, Hartmann started a new society in Berlin as a branch of the International Theosophical Brotherhood in the United States. Paul Zillmann, who started the monthly Metaphysische Rundschau (Metaphysical Review) and later published the works of the Ariosophists, was also on the executive committee (whom we shall meet shortly). By 1902, the two main centers of German Theosophy, in Berlin and Leipzig, made it much easier to work together. Before that, there had been a lot of competition between different groups within German Theosophy.

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Hugo Vollrath, a follower of Hartmann’s, started the Theosophical Publishing House in Leipzig in 1906. He may have done this to counter the growing influence of Theosophist Rudolf Steiner in occult circles. Annie Besant, whose beliefs were firmly Hindu, didn’t like Steiner because he was a mystic Christian. In 1912, Steiner left and started his own Anthroposophical Society. The Theosophical Publishing House put out a lot of magazines and book series about the occult, competing with other publishers like Karl Rohm, Johannes Baum, and Max Altmann who were also interested in this potentially profitable field.

The number of people interested in occultism grew quickly in Vienna, which already had a long history of esotericism and a fascination with strange things. New occult groups were started, like the Association for Occultism, which had its own lending library, the Sphinx Reading Club, and the First Viennese Astrological Society.  In fact, the seeds of Germanic occult racism were planted most widely in Vienna. People were worried about how economic change, scientific rationalism, and fast industrialization seemed to threaten traditional “natural” ways of life. Occultist ideas about humanity’s centrality and importance in the larger cosmos (of the essential meaning of life) and the volkisch ideology, which reassured Germans of the value and importance of their cultural identity, helped to calm these fears. The doctrine of Ariosophy, which started in Vienna, was the most powerful way that this mix of culture and spirituality was shown.