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Nazi occultism is an occult undercurrent of Nazism, of minor overall importance. While some historians attest semi-religious elements in Nazism, these are frequently portrayed incorrectly by pseudo-historic writers.
In his third film, the popular American movie character Indiana Jones battles the Nazis over the Holy Grail. Some might find it hard to believe but there is actually a connection between a section of the RuSHA department of the SS and the Holy Grail, centering on the person of Otto Rahn. This Indiana Jones movie is just one example of the representations of Nazi occultism in popular culture, not to mention several conspiracy theories (e.g. about the Vril Society or about Karl Haushofer). However, the real difficulty with this topic lies not in the fictional accounts but in the vast Modern Mythology of Nazi Occultism which exists in the form of books that tend to portray themselves as objective, but are basically inventions. The best known example of this is Trevor Ravenscroft's The Spear of Destiny.
Among high-ranking Nazis, Richard Walther Darré, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler and Alfred Rosenberg are credited with an interest in the occult. Adolf Hitler's religious beliefs in particular have been a question of examination. Their views seem to have continued an occult or esoteric movement of the 1920s in Germany that is generally referred as Ariosophy. However (with the exception of Karl Maria Wiligut), there is no evidence that prominent 'Ariosophists' had any direct influence on Nazism.
Key concepts of Ariosophy as well as Nazi occultism include the origins of the Aryan race (and its alleged purest branch, the Teutons or Germanic peoples), and the alleged superiority of Aryans over all other races. (In this point they bear similarity to völkisch movements.) Locations such as Atlantis, Thule, Hyperborea, and after 1945 also Shambhala and the star Aldebaran have been proposed as the original homeland of the Aryan übermenschen (supermen). One other key belief is that the Herrenrasse (master race) has been weakened through interbreeding with those considered untermenschen (lesser races).
After 1945, esoteric elements within Nazism were continued and expanded. Two examples of Nazi mystical philosophies include Esoteric Hitlerism and the Tempelhofgesellschaft. Esoteric Hitlerism includes the Nazis' race-specific pre-Christian Paganism (including Hindu mythologies).
The organizations Artgemeinschaft and Armanen-Orden represent significant developments of Ariosophy after World War II. Ariosophic themes are often alluded to in Neo-Nazi music (e.g. Rock Against Communism and National Socialist black metal), particularly references to artifacts such as the Spear of Longinus.
Occult elements within Nazism
Since there has been no independent movement of Nazi occultism, one can not possibly write a history of it. There are only certain occult elements within Nazism that are difficult to connect to each other.
Adolf Hitler's religious beliefs
Since 1957, when the Austrian psychologist Wilfried Daim published the important study on Lanz von Liebenfels enough evidence exists to say that Hitler had been exposed to the ariosophic Weltanschauung in Vienna. However, to which extent he was influenced by it, is not clear. In the research into this question, Hitler's Mein Kampf has even been compared to Liebenfels' Theozoologie in detail. According to Jackson Spielvogel and David Redles of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (), the influence of the anti-Judaic, Gnostic and root race teachings of H.P. Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, and the adaptations of her ideas by her followers, constituted a popularly unacknowledged but decisive influence over the developing mind of Hitler.
Thule Society and the origins of the NSDAP
The Thule society, from which the NSDAP originated, clearly was one of the ariosophic groups of the 1920s. Thule Gesellschaft had initially been the name of the Munich lodge of the Germanenorden. It took its name from an alleged lost continent Thule, which was assumed to be the mythical homeland from which the Aryan race had originated. (Atlantis at least, and most likely also Hyperborea, were taken to be identical with Thule.) The superiority of Aryans over all other races was a key concept and the members of various Germanenorden-lodges saw themselves (as Teutons or Germanic peoples) as the 'purest' branch of the Aryan race.
Himmler and the SS
Credited retrospectively with being the founder of "Esoteric Hitlerism", and certainly a figure of major importance for the officially-sanctioned research and practice of mysticism by a Nazi elite, was Heinrich Himmler who, more than any other high official in the Third Reich (including Hitler) was fascinated by pan-Aryan (i.e. broader than Germanic) racialism and by certain forms of Germanic neopaganism. Himmler has been claimed to have considered himself the spiritual successor or even reincarnation of Heinrich the Fowler, having established special SS rituals for the old king and returned his bones to the crypt at Quedlinburg Cathedral. Himmler even had his personal quarters at Wewelsburg castle decorated in commemoration of him.
It also seems that Himmler had an interest in Astrology. The astrologer Wilhelm Wulff was consulted by Himmler in the last weeks of the Second World War. One detailed but difficult source for this is a book written by Wulff himself, Tierkreis und Hakenkreuz, published in Germany in 1968. That Walter Schellenberg had discovered an astrologer called Wulf (!) is also mentioned in Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Last Days of Hitler.
Too much can be made of the importance of bizarre cultism in Himmler's activities, but it did exist, and was one of the reasons behind the split between Himmler and Darrč that took place in the late 1930s.
The SS had invented its own mystical religion, based very loosely upon imagery taken from Germanic tribal faiths combined with Christianity and "visions" from those figures in order to counter what they viewed as the Jewish-influenced religion of Christianity. Mystical organizations were created, usually connected with elite SS corps, and adopting specific rituals, initiations and beliefs. This religion was seen as the German original race-cult religion (ursprüngliche Rassenkult-Religion, a phrase attributed to SS-member Rudolf J. Mund), however, what exactly was indoctrinated in the SS about it is not known.
In 1935 Himmler established with Darré the Ahnenerbe. At first independent, it became the ancestral heritage branch of the SS. Headed by Dr. Hermann Wirth, it was dedicated primarily to the research of proving the superiority of the 'Aryan race' but was also involved in occult practices. A great deal of time and resources were spent on researching or creating a popularly accepted "historical", "cultural" and "scientific" background so the ideas about a "superior" Aryan race could prosper in the German society of the time. For example an expedition to Tibet was organized in order to search for the origins of the Aryan race. To this end, the expedition leader, Ernst Schäfer, had his anthropologist Bruno Beger make face masks and skull and nose measurements. Another expedition was sent to the Andes.
Himmler is supposed to have sent an a party of SS men to Tibet in order to search for Shangri-La, an expedition which is more likely to have had straightforward espionage as its purpose.
The Nazis, occult relics and Atlantis
Surrounding the Ahnenerbe Society there was also speculation about Atlantis and the Holy Grail. (It seems that there were no official expeditions related to this; one can assume that they would have been rather unsuccessful anyway.)
Otto Rahn had written a book Crusade against the Grail (Kreuzzug gegen den Gral) in 1933. In May 1935 he joined the Ahnenerbe, in March 1936 he also joined the SS formally. In September 1935 Rahn wrote excitingly to Weisthor [Karl Maria Wiligut] about the places he was visiting in his hunt for grail traditions in Germany, asking complete confidence in the matter with the exception of Himmler. Rahn's connection of the Cathars with the Holy Grail ultimately leads to Montségur in France, which had been the last remaining fortress of the Cathars in the Middle Ages. According to eyewitnesses, Nazi archaeologists and military officers had been present at that castle.
Notwithstanding Trever Ravenscroft's theory on this, the Nazis did not need to search for the Spear of Destiny. With the annexation of Austria in 1938, the Hofburg Speer, a relic stored in Vienna, had already come into the possession of the Third Reich and Hitler subsequently had it moved to Germany (Berlin most likely). It was returned to Austria after the war.
Esotericism in Nazi Germany
The totalitarian State of the Nazi party had a tendency to suppress all independent religious groups. This not only applies to groups such as Freemasons and Rosicrucians, but even to the established churches in the Third Reich (see: Nazism and religion). Hitler would later openly ridicule many German mystics, particularly practitioners of Freemasonry, Theosophy, and Anthroposophy. According to their private writings,, the leaders of the Nazi Party in Germany did not wish to encourage forms of paganism which did not serve to further their goals of promoting pan-Germanic ethnic consciousness.
Already in 1927, Hitler had fired the Gauleiter of Thüringen, Artur Dinter, from his post because he wanted too much to make a religion of Aryan racial purity. In 1928, Dinter was expelled from the party when he publicly attacked Hitler about this decision.
The full focus of the state was not aimed at religious groups until 9 June 1941 when Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the security police, banned lodge organizations and esoteric groups. However, the suppression of esoteric organisations began very soon after the Nazis acquired governmental power. Dr. Anna Bramwell points out that "occultist racialists were banned as early as 1934."
Rudolf von Sebottendorff had been involved in the Thule Society and a schismatic offshoot of the Germanenorden. In January 1933 he published Bevor Hitler kam: Urkundlich aus der Frühzeit der Nationalsozialistischen Bewegung (Before Hitler Came: Documents from the Early Days of the National Socialist Movement). Nazi authorities (Hitler himself?) understandably disliked the book, which was banned in the following year. Sebottendorff was arrested but managed to flee to Turkey.
Bramwell notes that a secret society called the Skald Order "was banned by the Nazis after 1933 because of its allegedly masonic nature." Several members of the Skald held office in the Third Reich, including Dr Ludolf Haase (a founder member of the Skald), Herbert Backe and Theo Gross; all came under covert investigation, though Backe is said to have been cleared of disloyalty by Heydrich from his deathbed.
Even "the German Order of Druids was caught in the National Socialist anti-Masonic law of 1935, and was closed down", observes Bramwell, "protesting to the last that they were not Freemasons but good, German Druids."
In 1936, Friedrich Bernhard Marby, who had developed his own rune theories after reading the literature of Guido von List, was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. He was released from the Dachau concentration camp in 1945. Siegfried Adolf Kummer was, like Marby too, censured by Wiligut in his capacity as Himmler's cousellor on the occult.
Allegedly the stage magician Franz Bardon had attracted the notice of Adolph Hitler "Like other workers for the Light" and was incarcerated in a concentration camp for three and a half months in 1945.
Rudolf John Gorsleben had died due to a long standing heart complaint on 23 August 1930.
Werner von Bülow had supported Wiligut, while the later had been involuntarily committed to the Salzburg mental asylum between November 1924 and early 1927. He and Herbert Reichstein also had applauded the advent of the third reich in their esoteric magazines.
Peryt Shou went apparently without being molested.
Lanz von Liebenfels, one of the most important of the Germanic racial-mystics, had his writings banned in 1938. Allegedly Ludwig Fahrenkrog, the founder and leader of the Germanische Glaubens-Gemeinschaft, was prohibited to write or exhibit his art because of his refusal to end his writings with the words "Heil Hitler", and Ernst Wachler, a member of his group and of Jewish ancestry, ended in a concentration camp.
The persecution of occultists could have been due to the influence and recommendations to Himmler by Karl Maria Wiligut, Himmler's personal occultist. Wiligut had identified Irminism as the true ancestral religion, claiming that Guido von List's Wotanism and runic row was a schismatic false religion. On Wiligut's recommendation Himmler could have had many of List's followers and non-official Nazi occultists imprisoned. However, historians assume that these measures were most probably the result of the general Nazi policy of suppressing lodge organizations and esoteric groups.
After the war Germany was demonised and the occult seen as a Nazi practice. Post-1945 German mysticism was virtually driven underground. Germanic spiritualism was revived to a large extent by Karl Spiesberger (Fratur Eratus) and by 1955 the Armanen runic system and Pendulum dowsing had once more become very much traditional in German speaking circles as it was before the war. Other notable German pendulum dowsers of which a great deal of pendulum material has been derived from are the works and practices of, not only but mainly, Spiesberger and Straniak, are Dr. E. Clasen, Dr. K.E. Weiss (ss), Rud. Vöckler, Von Reichenbach, Professor Karl Bähr, Friedrich Kallenberg 1911-1934, Professor DR. Leopold Oelenheinz, and Professor Hellmut Wolff (30/3/1906-22/3/1986). Other than popular Western astrology, there is also a school of thought regarding Germanic Runic Astrology and its usage in divination within the northern tradition of Odinism.
Esoteric Nazism and other developments after the Third Reich
With the fall of the Third Reich, a new form of Nazi occultism took off as Hitler, who had died at the end of the war, could now be deified. Savitri Devi Mukherji was the first major post-war exponent of what has since become known as Esoteric Hitlerism. She connected Hitler’s Aryanist ideology to that of the pan-Hindu part of the Indian Independence movement, and activists such as Subhas Chandra Bose. For her, the swastika was an especially important symbol, as it symbolized the Aryan unity amongst the Hindus and Germans (and was also a symbol of good fortune for Tibetans, Navajo, and Hopi).
Savitri Devi integrated Nazism into a broader cyclical framework of Hindu history. She considered Hitler to be Kalki, the tenth and final avatar of Vishnu, and called him "the god-like Individual of our times; the Man against Time; the greatest European of all times", having an ideal vision of returning his Aryan people to an earlier, more perfect time, and also having the practical wherewithal to fight the destructive forces "in Time". She saw his defeat - and the forestalling of his vision from coming to fruition - as a result of him being "too magnanimous, too trusting, too good", of not being merciless enough, of having in his "psychological make-up, too much 'sun' [beneficence] and not enough 'lightning.' [practical ruthlessness]"; unlike his coming incarnation:
The next major figure in Esoteric Hitlerism is Miguel Serrano, a Chilean diplomat. He wrote both The Golden Ribbon--Esoteric Hitlerism and Adolf Hitler, the Last Avatar. The concept of Hyperborea has a simultaneously racial and mystical meaning for Serrano (cf. ). He believes that Hitler was in Shambhala, an underground centre in Antarctica (formerly at the North Pole and Tibet), where he was in contact with the Hyperborean gods and from whence he would someday emerge with a fleet of UFOs to lead the forces of light (the Hyperboreans, sometimes associated with Vril) over the forces of darkness (inevitably including, for Serrano, the Jews who follow Jehova) in a last battle and thus inaugurating a Fourth Reich.
According to Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (Black Sun, p. 182), "Serrano follows the Gnostic tradition of the Cathars (fl. 1025-1244) by identifying the evil demiurge as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. As medieval dualists, these eleventh-century heretics had repudiated Jehovah as a false god and mere artificer opposed to the real God far beyond our earthly realm. This Gnostic doctrine clearly carried dangerous implications for the Jews. As Jehovah was the tribal deity of the Jews, it followed that they were devil worshipers. By casting the Jews in the role of the children of Satan, the Cathar heresy can elevate anti-Semitism to the status of a theological doctrine backed by a vast cosmology. If the Hyperborean Aryans are the archetype and blood descendents of Serrano's divyas from the Black Sun, then the archetype of the Lord of Darkness needed a counter-race. The demiurge sought and found the most fitting agent for its archetype in the Jews". As religious scholars Frederick C. Grant and Hyam Maccoby emphasize, in the view of the dualist Gnostics, "Jews were regarded as the special people of the Demiurge and as having the special historical role of obstructing the redemptive work of the High God's emissaries" (Collier's Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, 1997, p. 166). Serrano thus considered Hitler as one of the greatest emissaries of this High God, rejected and crucified by the tyranny of the Judaicized rabble like previous revolutionary light-bringers. Serrano had a special place in his ideology for the SS, who, in their quest to recreate the ancient race of Aryan god-men, he thought were above morality and therefore justified, after the example of the anti-humanitarian "detached violence" taught in the Aryo-Hindu Bhagavad Gita.
The writings of Miguel Serrano, Savitri Devi and other proponents of Esoteric Nazism have spawned numerous later works connecting Aryan master race beliefs and Nazi escape scenarios with enduring conspiracy theories about hollow earth civilizations and shadowy new world orders. The book Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival, by Hypnerotomachia Poliphili scholar Joscelyn Godwin, discusses pseudoscientific theories about surviving Nazi elements in Antarctica. Arktos is noted for its scholarly approach and examination of many sources currently unavailable elsewhere in English-language translations. Godwin and other authors such as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke have discussed the connections between Esoteric Nazism and Vril energy, the hidden Shambhala and Agartha civilizations, and underground UFO bases, as well as Hitler’s supposed survival in Antarctic oases or in alliance with Hyperboreans from the subterranean world.
Extraterrestrial origin of the Aryans
Some Nazi esotericists regard the Aryan blood as originally extraterrestrial-
Serrano supports this idea from pagan myths which assign divine ancestry to 'Aryan' peoples, and even the Aztec myth of Quetzalcoatl (one of the 'White Gods' of the ancient Americas) descending from Venus. He also cites the entirely respectable (but not widely accepted) scientific hypothesis of Bal Gangadhar Tilak on the Arctic homeland of the Indo-Aryans, as his authority for identifying the earthly centre of the Aryan migrations with the 'lost' Arctic continent of Hyperborea
The collective Aryan unconscious
In the book Black Sun, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke reports how C.G. Jung described "Hitler as possessed by the archetype of the collective Aryan unconscious and could not help obeying the commands of an inner voice. In a series of interviews between 1936 and 1939, Jung characterized Hitler as an archetype, often manifesting itself to the complete exclusion of his own personality. 'Hitler is a spiritual vessel, a demi-divinity; even better, a myth. Mussolini is a man' ... the messiah of Germany who teaches the virtue of the sword. 'The voice he hears is that of the collective unconscious of his race'". Richard Noll has controversially argued that the early Jung was influenced by Theosophy, solar mysticism and völkisch nationalism in developing the ideas on the collective unconscious and the archetypes. Jung's suggestion that Hitler personified the collective Aryan unconscious deeply interested and influenced Miguel Serrano, who later concluded that Jung was merely psychologizing the ancient, sacred mystery of archetypal possession by the gods, independent metaphysical powers that rule over their respective races and occasionally possess their members. A similar esoteric thesis is also put forward by Michael Moynihan in his book Lords of Chaos.
The Tempelhofgesellschaft was founded in Vienna in the early 1990s by Norbert Jurgen-Ratthofer and Ralft Ettl to teach a form of Gnostic religion called Marcionism. The group identifies an "evil creator of this world," the Demiurge with Jehovah, the god of Judaism. They distribute pamphlets claiming that the Aryan race originally came to Atlantis from the star Aldebaran (this information is supposedly based on "ancient Sumerian manuscripts"). They maintain that the Aryans from Aldebaran derive their power from the vril energy of the Black Sun. They teach that since the Aryan race is of extraterrestrial origin, it has a divine mission to dominate all the other races.
The modern mythology of Nazi occultism
By its very nature the study of the occultist influences on the Nazis attracts sensationalistic authors who often seem to lack the ability or the patience to conform to the scientific method of history. There is a persistent idea, widely canvassed in a sensational genre of literature, that the Nazis were principally inspired and directed by occult agencies from 1920 to 1945. Appendix E of Goodrick-Clarke's book discusses The Modern Mythology of Nazi Occultism. He refers to the writers of this genre as crypto-historians. As their possible motive he mentions a post-war fascination with Nazism. Mattias Gardell, a historian who researches a related field, points at another explanation:
Gardell obviously refers to documentaries such as History Channel's documentary Hitler and the Occult. This documentary takes Joachim von Ribbentrop's infamous statement of his continued subservience to Hitler at the Nuremberg Trials as evidence of Hitler's "occult power". After the author Dusty Sklar has pointed out that Hitler's suicide happened at the night of April 30/May 1, which is Walpurgis Night, the narrator continues: "With Hitler gone, it was as if a spell had been broken".
Another documentary quotes Walter Johannes Stein, who is otherwise known as an esotericist researching on the Holy Grail and source in Trevor Ravenscroft's The Spear of Destiny. There are also persistent rumours that on three occasions, Pope Pius XII performed an exorcism on Hitler at a distance, but failed every time. For a demonic influence on Hitler, Hermann Rauschning's Hitler Speaks is brought forward as source, although most modern scholars do not consider Rauschning reliable. (As Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke summarises: "recent scholarship has almost certainly proved that Rauschning's conversations were mostly invented".) Similarly to Rauschning, August Kubizek, one of Hitler's closest friends since childhood, claims that Hitler--17 years old at the time--once spoke to him of "returning Germany to its former glory"; of this comment, August said: "It was as if another being spoke out of his body, and moved him as much as it did me."
Various conspiracy theory homepages claim that the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley sought to contact Hitler during World War II.
Indeed, if Hitler (and also Stalin) or the Nazis in general, were the agents of Satan, or 'black forces', 'invisible hierarchies', 'unknown superiors' or any other discarnate entity, this would be a convenient explanation. Explaining Hitler's rise to power, the Second World War and possibly even The Holocaust by the means of the paranormal seems to serve the function of protecting the authors and readers alike from having to deal with this rationally.
Pseudo-historic books on Nazi occultism
As early as 1940, Lewis Spence had published a book titled Occult Causes of the Present War. In the book, Spence identified a neopagan undercurrent in Nazism (for which he largely blamed Alfred Rosenberg), which he equated with "satanism;" he further connected Nazism to the Illuminati. Goodrick-Clarke examines several books written about Nazi occultism between 1960 and 1975. These were typically sensational and under-researched. A complete ignorance of the primary sources was common to most authors and inaccuracies and wild claims were repeated by each newcomer to the genre until an abundant literature existed, based on wholly spurious 'facts' concerning the powerful Thule Society, the Nazi links with the East, and Hitler's occult initiation. Books debunked in Appendix E of The Occult Roots of Nazism are:
Other pseudo-historic books:
Alan Baker, 2000, Invisible Eagle. The History of Nazi Occultism
The use of runic symbology, the Germanic mystical revival, and the existence of an official Nazi government department for the study of the Germanic ancestral heritage (including paganism) lend credence to the idea that there was a pagan component to Nazism. This appears to be a problem for occultist or neopagan authors like Stephen McNallen, Stephen Flowers (translator of The Secret King), and Michael Moynihan. They have argued that Nazi mysticism is a distortion and misrepresentation of Odinism.
McNallen goes as far as to speak of the lie that 'Hitler was a pagan' or that 'Asatruar trace their roots to Nazi Germany.' In an article entitled "The Wiligut Saga" featured in the book, Adolf Schleipfer points out the differences between Wiligut's beliefs and those generally accepted within Odinism.
Some northern European neopagan groups, such as Theods, Ásatrúarfélagiđ and Viđartrúar, have explicitly stated that neo-Nazism is not common among their members. On the other hand, there are neopagan organisations with close ties to Neo-Nazism, such as the Artgemeinschaft, and the attraction of many Neo-Nazis to Germanic paganism remains an issue particularly in Germany
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