Hartmann, Franz

Hartmann, Franz (1838–1912)

(pop culture)

Franz Hartmann, theosophist and author on the occult, was born November 22, 1838, in Bavaria, Germany. Through his mother, he claimed to be descended from Irish nobility. He became a physician and moved to the United States to practice his profession. In America, he encountered spiritualism and in the late 1870s became associated with the newly founded Theosophical Society. The international headquarters of the society was established in Adyar, India, in the early 1880s and Hartmann was invited to stay for a period. In 1884 he published his first major work, the sympathetic Report of Observations During Nine Months’ Stay at the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar (Madras), India. His report was largely lost in the furor that was to follow the next year when Richard Hodgson published his devastating attack upon theosophical leader Madame H. P. Blavatsky, claiming that all the unusual occurrences that had been reported around her were the result of fraud. The Hodgson Report forced Blavatsky into a period of retirement in England, and Hartmann accompanied her back to Europe. He had meanwhile been working on his next book, Magic, Black and White (1885).

Hartmann later left Blavatsky in England and returned to his native Bavaria. There, he claimed, he encountered a secret order of occultists, Rosicrucians. He served as the president of the Theosophical Society in Germany for a brief period, but soon left to found his own independent group. It was during this period that Hartmann became interested in vampirism. He investigated several cases of contemporary vampirism and reported them in a series of articles in occult journals. From these investigations, Hartmann developed a theory of psychic vampirism. He came to believe that vampires were real but were not bloodsucking revenants. They were better described as a force field of subhuman intelligence that acted instinctively, not rationally. Hartmann saw the vampiric force as more malignant than evil. He supported this theory with his report of a young serving boy who had exhibited classic signs of a vampire attack. The boy was emaciated to the point of physical collapse, yet had an insatiable appetite. He reported that a force had settled on his chest, during which time he became paralyzed and unable to cry out. He claimed the force had sucked the life out of him. His employer attended to the boy during one of these attacks and reported that he had grasped an invisible yet tangible gelatinlike substance resting on the boy’s chest. Hartmann concluded that the man had encountered ectoplasm, a mysterious substance that was alleged to stream from the bodies of spiritualist mediums during séances.

In 1895, Hartmann authored a book about the phenomena surrounding premature burial. He developed a theory put forth earlier by Z. J. Piérart, a French psychical researcher in the 1860s, concerning the astral body. Piérart hypothesized that when a person was buried alive, the astral body (a ghostly double of the physical body, which many occultists believe to be an essential component of every individual) separated from the physical body. The astral body would vampirize others (taking both blood and life) and thus nourish the living body in the tomb; hence the lifelike characteristics of many exhumed corpses. Hartmann ascribed this theory to Paracelsus (1493–1541), the sixteenth-century alchemist. Hartmann took the theory one step further, suggesting that the astral body could be severed completely from the physical and thus continue as a free-floating, earthbound vampire spirit. He cited one case in which a young man committed suicide after being rejected by the woman he loved. Following the man’s death, Hartmann believed, his astral form attached itself to the woman and began to suck the life out of her.

Hartmann’s cases have become classic reports of actual modern vampires (and as such were reprinted in the volumes by Montague Summers and Donald Glut), though his theories generally have been discarded except within a few occult circles. Occult theories of the intangible “astral body” and of “ectoplasm” provide an explanation by referring to phenomena equally elusive and as much in need of explanation as vampirism. Most modern theories of psychic vampirism view it as a report on the social interaction of living persons.

Hartmann wrote a number of occult books. After the turn of the century, he spent much of his time wandering in the Untersberg Mountains near Salzberg. He died August 7, 1912, in Kepten, Bavaria.


Glut, Donald F. True Vampires of History. New York: H C Publishers, 1971. 191 pp.
Hartmann, Franz. Premature Burial. London: 1896.
———. “An Authenticated Vampire Story.” Occult Review (September 1909).
———. “A Miller of D———.” Occult Review 9, 5 (November 1924): 258–259.
———. “A Modern Case of Vampirism.” Reprint in Donald F. Glut. True Vampires of History. New York: H C Publishers, 1971: 128–131.
Rogo, Scott. “In-depth Analysis of the Vampire Legend.” Fate 21, 9 (September 1968): 70–77.
Summers, Montague. The Vampire in Europe. London: Routledge, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co., 1929. 329 pp. Rept. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1960. 329 pp.
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