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The Thule Society (German: Thule-Gesellschaft), originally the Studiengruppe für germanisches Altertum 'Study Group for Germanic Antiquity', was a German occultist and Völkisch group in Munich, named after a mythical northern country from Greek legend. The Society is notable chiefly as the organization that sponsored the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, which was later transformed by Adolf Hitler into the Nazi Party. Hitler, however, was never a member of the Thule Society.
The Thule Society was a cover-name adopted by Rudolf von Sebottendorff, a German occultist, for his Munich lodge of the Germanenorden Walvater of the Holy Grail at its formal dedication on August 18, 1918. The Germanenorden Walvater was a schismatic offshoot of the Germanenorden, a secret society (a.k.a. the "Order of Teutons") founded in 1911 and named Germanenorden in 1912.
Von Sebottendorff later claimed that he originally intended the Thule Society to be a vehicle for promoting his own occultist theories, but that the Germanenorden pressed him to emphasize political, nationalist and anti-Semitic themes. The fact that this claim was made while the Nazis were in power and von Sebottendorff had little to gain by denying anti-Semitism lends credibility to this claim.
A primary focus of Thule-Gesellschaft was a claim concerning the origins of the Aryan race. "Thule" was a land located by Greco-Roman geographers in the furthest north. The term "Ultima Thule" - (Latin: most distant Thule) is also mentioned by the Roman poet Virgil in his epic poem Aeneid. This was supposed to be the far northern segment of Thule and is now generally understood to mean Scandinavia.
Said by Nazi mystics to be the capital of ancient Hyperborea, they identified Ultima Thule as a lost ancient landmass in the extreme north: near Greenland or Iceland. These ideas derived from earlier speculation by Ignatius L. Donnelly that a lost landmass had once existed in the Atlantic, and that it was the home of the Aryan race, a theory he supported by reference to the distribution of swastika motifs. He identified this with Plato's Atlantis, a theory further developed by Helena Blavatsky, the famous occultist during the second part of the 19th century. The Thule-Gesellschaft maintained close contacts with Theosophists, the followers of Blavatsky.
The Thule Society attracted about 250 followers in Munich and about 1,500 in greater Bavaria. Its meetings were often held in the Munich luxury hotel Vier Jahreszeiten ("The Four Seasons").
The followers of the Thule Society were, by von Sebottendorff's own admission, little interested in his occultist theories. They were more interested in racism and combatting Jews and Communists. They are also said to have planned to kidnap the Bavarian Socialist Prime Minister Kurt Eisner. After the establishment of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, they were accused of trying to infiltrate its government and of having attempted a coup on April 30, 1919. During this attempt, the Soviet government took several members of the Thule Society into custody, and later executed them.
Münchener Beobachter newspaper
The Thule Society bought a local weekly newspaper, the Münchener Beobachter (Munich Observer), and changed its name to Münchener Beobachter und Sportblatt (loosely, Munich Observer and Sport Report) in an attempt to improve its circulation. The Münchener Beobachter later became the Völkischer Beobachter (People's Observer), the main Nazi newspaper. It was edited by Karl Harrer.
In 1919, the Thule Society's Anton Drexler, who had developed links between the Society and various extreme right workers' organizations in Munich, together with Karl Harrer established the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP), or German Workers Party. Adolf Hitler joined this party in 1919 . By April 1, 1920, the DAP had been reconstituted as the National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), or National Socialist German Workers Party (generally known as the "Nazi Party").
Von Sebottendorff had by then left the Thule Society, and never joined the DAP or the Nazi party. It has been alleged that other members of the Thule Society were later prominent in Nazi Germany: the list includes Dietrich Eckart, Gottfried Feder, Hans Frank, Rudolf Hess and Alfred Rosenberg. (Eckart, who coached Hitler on his public speaking skills, had Mein Kampf dedicated to him.) Historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (1985: 149, 217-225) has described such membership rolls as 'spurious' and 'fanciful', noting that Feder, Rosenberg, Eckart and Hess were never more than guests to whom the Thule Society extended hospitality during the Bavarian revolution of 1918. It has also been claimed that Adolf Hitler himself was a member (Angebert 1974: 9). There is no evidence to support this claim; on the contrary, the evidence shows that he never attended a meeting, as attested to by Johannes Hering's diary of Society meetings (Johannes Hering, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Thule-Gesellschaft, typescript dated 21 June 1939, Bundesarchiv Koblenz, NS26/865, cit. in Goodrick-Clarke 1992: 201). It is quite clear that Hitler himself had little interest in, and made little time for, "esoteric" matters (Skorzeny 1995).
Other members were Karl Fiehler, Wilhelm Frick, Michel Frank, Heinrich Jost, Wolfgang Pongratz, Wilhelm Laforce, Johann Ott, Hans Riemann, Max Seselmann, and Hans-Arnold Stadler. Two well-known aristocrats in the group were Countess Hella von Westarp, a young woman who functioned as secretary, and Prince Gustav von Thurn und Taxis (both of these were among those abducted and executed by the Communist government in Munich in 1919).
Early in 1920 Karl Harrer was forced out of the DAP as Hitler moved to sever the party's link with the Thule Society, which subsequently fell into decline and was dissolved about five years later (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 221), well before Hitler came to power.
Rudolf von Sebottendorff had withdrawn from the Thule Society in 1919 , but in 1933 he returned to Germany in the hope of reviving it. In that year he published a book entitled Bevor Hitler kam (Before Hitler Came), in which he claimed that the Thule Society had paved the way for the Führer: "Thulers were the ones to whom Hitler first came, and Thulers were the first to unite themselves with Hitler." This claim was not favourably received by the Nazi authorities: after 1933 , esoteric organisations (including völkisch occultists) were suppressed, many closed down by anti-Masonic legislation in 1935 . Sebottendorff's book was prohibited and he himself was arrested and imprisoned for a short period in 1934, afterwards departing into a lonely exile in Turkey.
Nonetheless, it has been argued that some Thule members and their ideas were incorporated into the Third Reich (Angeburt 1974: 9). Some of the Thule Society's teachings were expressed in the books of Alfred Rosenberg. Many occult ideas found favour with Heinrich Himmler who, unlike Hitler, had a great interest in mysticism, but the SS under Himmler emulated the ethos and structure of Ignatius Loyola's Jesuit order (Höhne 1969: 138, 143-5) rather than the Thule Society.
Like the Ahnenerbe section of the SS, and due to its occult background, the Thule Society has become the center of many conspiracy theories concerning Nazi Germany. Such theories include the creation of spacecraft and secret weapons.
The Thule Society in popular culture
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