Theosophist and Rosicrucian Franz Hartmann first published this didactic fable in 1887, and my copy is the 2003 Ibis Press reproduction of the 1910 edition with an additional introduction by R.A. Gilbert, who compares the story to Hilton’s Lost Horizon. Hartmann’s tale is set in the Bavarian Alps, not in Asia, but he does refer to an elided discussion of “White Magic and the wonderful powers of certain Tibetan Adepts” (87), and it is not impossible that Hartmann’s book could have been an inspiration for Hilton, whose actual sources for “Shangri-La” remain obscure.
In Hartmann’s Tibetan references, I understood him to be addressing himself to the interests of a Theosophical readership. He also has his Rosicrucian Imperator affirm the spiritual and cultural significance of H.P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine (50-1), while his occultist doctrines and attitudes toward materialist science and traditional religion are generally consistent with her earlier Isis Unveiled material.
The book attributes the organization of its concealed retreat of adepts to the “Brothers of the Gold and Rosy Cross,” an actual German initiatory order of the eighteenth century, and associates with them an historically extant mystical tome The Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians, of which Hartmann was to produce the first English translation. In fact, the original edition of Hartmann’s “adventure among the Rosicrucians” might be read as little more than an elaborate advertisement for Cosmology, or Universal Science (1888) which Hartmann must have had in preparation by then.
Although Hartmann was one of the founding initiates of the order best known as Ordo Templi Orientis, Gilbert’s biographical essay in the introduction goes to amusing lengths to avoid mentioning O.T.O. as such. His closest approach is in this passage: “Through Kellner, Hartmann had come to know Theodor Reuss, who in 1902 appointed him as Grand Administrator General in the newly formed Sovereign Sanctuary of the German version of the Antient and Primitive Rite of Memphis and Mizraim. … In 1905 Hartmann became Honorary Grand Master General of the Rite, but it fell apart shortly afterwards and he took no part in its later incarnations” (xix). (For considerations relevant to the veracity of this “took no part” claim, see Richard Kaczynski’s Forgotten Templars, 242-3.)
Throughout With the Adepts it is clear that the author’s preoccupation is with the possibility of establishing a secluded spiritual community, which he terms a “Rosicrucian convent.” In the appendix added to the second edition, he claims to have begun this work in Switzerland, although he sounds a clear note of discouragement: “It has not yet been finally decided whether this undertaking will be a success or a failure; but the latter is more than probable, as the method of thinking in old dilapidated and dying Europe is too narrowminded to permit of grasping such an exalted idea” (175). He had in fact taken material steps towards this goal by issuing a prospectus and forming a joint stock company in the late 1880s, but by 1910 it is a little strange to see him still holding out any hope at all for the venture. And yet, the site was close to where Reuss would eventually establish his O.T.O. “Anational Grand Lodge” Verita Mystica at Ascona, perhaps in some measure posthumously answering Hartmann’s aspirations.
On the strength of this context, it seems likely that the emphasis on “Profess-Houses” in the early plans and constitutive documents of O.T.O. may reflect Hartmann’s distinctive contribution to the germinal synthesis of esoteric motives in that organization. Indeed, Aleister Crowley’s much later paper on the governing of Profess-Houses, “Of Eden and the Sacred Oak,” takes for its central metaphor the one introduced here by Hartmann in the voice of the alchemist adept Theodorus:
“Could they not establish a garden, where the divine lotus flower of wisdom might grow and unfold its leaves, sheltered against the storms of passion raging beyond the walls, watered by the water of truth, whose spring is within; where the Tree of Life could unfold without becoming encumbered by the weeds of credulity and error; where the soul could breathe the pure spiritual air, unadulterated by the odour of the poison-tree of ignorance, unmixed with the effluvia of decaying superstitions; a place where this Tree of Life, springing from the roots of the Tree of Knowledge, could grow and spread its branches, far up in the invisible realm where Wisdom resides, and produce fruits which cause those who partake of them to become like gods and immortal?” (156)