With the Adepts:
An Adventure Among
By Franz Hartmann
Published by Ibis Press
183 pages, paperback
Franz Hartmann’s long-out-of-print (1887) novel of the Rosicrucians makes a welcome addition to the small shelf that includes The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosycross, William Godwin’s St. Leon, Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni, Gustav Meyrink’s Angel of the Western Window and one or two other erudite rarities – that is, Rosicrucian fiction.
But of course many would contend that Rosicrucianism itself is a fiction – the hoax and invention of an obscure Lutheran polemicist named J.C. Andreae – and that all Rosicrucian literature from the original 1614 manifestos to the latest A.M.O.R.C. California mail-order brochure are all purest moonshine.
The strange quasi-fictional nature of the Rosicrucians – their very ambiguity – gives them great power on the imaginal plane, like all omniscient but somehow forever inaccessible authorities, Hidden Masters, Hidden Imams, elemental spirits, ghosts and magical animals – the power of potential anomalous truth available perhaps only in dreams – or books.
In fact Rosicrucianism eventually becomes a spiritual path based on books. Initiatic potency is somehow contained in the texts themselves, so that a careful painstaking esoteric reading (and un-reading) will connect the reader’s soul to authentic sources of illumination, as if the book were a closed box that preserved a treasure of balsam and amber that comes alive only when the lid is opened.
Hartmann’s contribution to this genre was a youthful production, the result of his drift away from the Theosophical Society and its esoteric Buddhism back toward Occidental and Hermetic roots (a trajectory somewhat similar to Rudolf Steiner’s). But Hartmann’s fictional Adepts are still speaking a language of Karma, Akasha, Himalayan Mahatmas and Blavatskianism. There’s very little here of Paracelsus and of actual historical (or pseudo-historical) Rosicrucianism.
Nevertheless the little novel does convey a Western form of illumination, not so much in the long monologues of the transcended Adepts, but in the beautiful descriptions of Alpine meadows and mountains where the not-very-active action is taking place.
The most entertaining two chapters appear at the end of the book, after the wise old Abbot’s “long sermons” (as Hartmann himself calls them). First there’s a very convincing tour of an alchemist’s laboratory. The narrator then meets another RC monk, who instructs him in Paracelsan Elemental Spirit Magic. He suddenly finds himself floating in the sea off the shore of Sri Lanka, where he meets the beautiful watersprite, Queen of the Undines. Just as things are getting interesting, he wakes up. Was it all a dream? No… he still has a bit of alchemical gold in his pocket.
The anti-material-world buddhistic puritanism of the Adepts seems quite out of harmony with the life-affirming nature worship of Hermeticism, which emerges in the narrator’s descriptions of mountain scenery and elemental sexuality. Presumably Hartmann’s first “masters” in his return to the West were mountains rather than books. When he got around to reading he would discover real Rosicrucianism, and go on to write his important books on Paracelsus and Boehme – perennial bestsellers.
R.A. Gilbert, who edited and introduced this charming volume, will perhaps favour us some day with the further adventures of Hartmann by reprinting his 1895 novel, Among the Gnomes: An Occult Tale of Adventure in the Untersberg.