Listed as voelkish (and elsewhere called a “traditionalist” in the sense of anti-modernist but also, as believing in a special tradition as in “lineage”) former Thule leader ‘von’ Sebottendorf bears no responsibility for the Nazi Party. Had the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei that von Sebottendorf initially controlled not existed, Hitler would have taken over a different party, and had the Munchner Beobachter and Sportblatt not existed, Hitler would have found another paper.
(See also the upcoming 2e edition of Detlev Rose, Die Thule-Gesellschaft: Legende Mythos Wirklichkeit, Rose here debunks the alleged occult background, or/and that the Thule society would have had an influence on Hitler. The 1e hardback edition was published in 1994.)
On the surface, the Thule Society was an ariosophical education society. Ariosophy (meaning wisdom of the Aryans) was a form of occultism based on the thought of two Viennese pseudo-scholars, Guido von List and Lanz von Liebenfels.”
One problem of course is, that not even once, be it in his speeches, writings or/and private letters did Hitler mention either List or/and Lanz (von)Liebenfels. In fact the only source that Hitler might in fact have read Lanz's Ariosophical periodical, Ostara, comes from Lanz himself who during the same conversation claimed also Lenin just like Hitler read Ostara (Quoted in, and as the basis of the book by Wilfried Daim, The Man Who Gave Hitler His Ideas.), comes from Lanz himself who during the same conversation claimed also Lenin just like Hitler, read Ostara and that both were his indirect disciples. But Lanz's story about Hitler as relied privately to Daim may have been self-serving, inflating his real importance.
Also in The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939 (published in the UK, 2005) Richard Evans rejects any suggestions that Hitler was fascinated with occult knowledge mediumism or/and paganism. He quotes from a 1936 speech where Hitler in fact clearly rejects occult mysticism, “In the National Socialist movement subversion by occult searchers for the Beyond must not be tolerated.” (Evans, 2005, p.257)
This doesn't mean there were no sympathisers for the Nazis in occult circles. For example Peter Bierl documented how German Waldorf schools went to great lengths to accommodate themselves to the Nazi regime from 1933 onward, and a number of important Waldorf figures were enthusiastically supportive of Nazism. Most Waldorf leaders at the time had an ambivalent relationship to Nazism, sympathizing openly with some of its goals while striving to protect Waldorf's autonomy. The failure of these efforts is a striking case study in anthroposophy's complex (and so far largely repressed) interaction with Nazism. (Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister. Die Anthroposophie Rudolf Steiners und die Waldorfpädagogik.)
That as we shall see, occult and volkisch texts emanated in some cases from the same presses however makede it tempting to overplay the importance of the earlier, occult-volkisch publishing enterprise a subject that has been milked by a number of authors making occult claims about National Socialism.
It is important to realize however, that presses focused exclusively on volkisch-occult texts belonged to a small and highly specialized sector of the overall market. Of a total of sixty-one presses, only twelve could be considered primarily volkisch.. And the significance of this group shrinks further when we realize that, even combined, their publication lists were very small compared with those for a single mainstream press like Oswald Mutze or Wilhelm Friedrich. It should be clear by now, in any case, that the world of occult publishing had a structure whose complexity cannot be encompassed adequately in the volkisch-occult construct.
A useful comparison here might be made to the press of Eugen Diederichs, which published on the new racial thinking, German mysticism, and the occult. Regularly tarred with the all encompassing term volkisch, this press actually published books with neither a racialist nor a nationalist tinge, even in the 1930’s. Similarly, the Theosophical press of Paul Zillmann did more than just publish Ariosophical tracts. Neue Metaphysische Rundschau, for instance, published the racist essays of Guido von List alongside racially neutral pieces by such mainstream occult leaders as Annie Besant, H. P. Blavatsky, and Carl du Prel.
We should not, in any case, be surprised that the publishing history of the occult in Europe consisted of a jumble of different political shadings, cultural styles, and social programs. This very variety reflected the ferment that accompanied modernist innovation as in the current lecture, Germans struggled to accommodate themselves to the exigencies of the new age.
Within this larger context, publishing houses acted as one of the crucibles in which new and experimental cultural forms were generated and fused. As previous historians have suggested, presses during this period were important not just because of their publication lists but also because they acted both as cultural patrons and as cultural entrepreneurs, nurturing carefully selected cultural currents while also selling and profiting from them.
The Nirwana-Verlag fur Lebensreform, founded before World War I, was a case in point. Plugging itself as not just a publishing house but as the biggest specialized business in Germany devoted to occult texts and items, the press claimed to offer customers a variety of valuable services: ease of access (located on the posh Wilhelmstrasse, in the very heart of metropolitan Berlin), a regularly updated catalog that included hundreds of items, prompt and helpful service, and the advantage of buying from experts who had devoted years of study to the occult. Its catalog in 1922 consisted of 937 texts covering a wide variety of topics, including healthy living, human sexuality, nudism, occultism, spiritualism, magnetism, religion, Theosophy, occult novels, and astrology. Phrenological heads, scriptoscopes, and other occult props and instruments were also available for immediate sale.
As this impressive catalog of goods suggests, the German occult belonged to the larger culture of consumption. "Buy this and you will be wiser, healthier, and happier" was a standard message that appeared in innovative ways. A text printed in the 1922 catalog of the Nirwana-Verlag fur Lebensreform exhorted consumers thus:
are many books, cheap and large, in this press for Lebensreform:
To go to the source of wisdom Study the catalog diligently, And quickly choose
Many books, rare, ideal Solid works full of power, For every scientific branch, Especially for the occultist.”
While institutions like the Nirwana-Verlag fur Lebensreform were undoubtedly commercial businesses, finally, they were also more than this. The press ran a lending library well stocked with books on naturopathy, nudism, Theosophy, and occultism, sponsored lectures and demonstrations, and carried informational brochures about schools and services that customers might be interested in exploring. As should by now be clear, presses like the Nirwana-Verlag fur Lebensreform saw themselves as active agents in the vast movement for the reform of European, in this case German life. They existed not only to make money but to promote a certain lifestyle whose modern character was striking. Hans Fischer's fictional experiences had a solid basis in fact.
Already in the 1920s, astrologers certified and employed by such "professional" institutes were charging substantial fees for their services. Rudolf Sagittarius, an astrologer at the Institut fur wissenschaftliche Astrologie and Graphologie (Institute for scientific astrology and graphology) in Kiel in 1929, for instance, offered paying customers a menu of options and included the construction of a birth horoscope with an oral consultation, the construction of a birth horoscope with exact mathematical calculations, a graphological character analysis, or a graphological test for professional advice. Many of the more populist astrologers dabbled in other forms of occultism as well. They gave demonstrations of hypnosis and telepathy, occult character analysis, and occult techniques of healing.
That the "new worldview" movements, including the occult, proved remarkably adaptable to the modern marketplace did not escape contemporary notice. In a passage that might as well have applied to the occult movement, one critic lampooned Anthroposophy thus:
is Anthroposophy? It is the department store of all ... disguised religions,
for all social positions and professions, all sexes, all ages. You are a doctor?
We carry four bodies and a few intermediate stages. You are a philosopher?
Please, please, an infinitely rich stock, 253 world views.... You are a
historical researcher? Please, go to the third floor: past and future times.
You are an optimist? Please, check in with the woman dressed in white in our basement department for reincarnation. A pessimist? It's not so bad. Please, check in with the woman dressed in black in our unrivalled department for reincarnation, located in the basement....
A poor writer? Yes, yes, hard times for the press. Well, we always have quite a few newspapers and a book press; perhaps there is something to be done. But, of course, my lady. We have an especially carefully run department for new, inconsolable widows. You are a carpenter? ... A noble profession ... Christ's father ... let's see what we can do for you.... Ah, honorable privy councillor, you are a politician and businessman? One moment please. Take a club chair and a Waldorf. You know, of course, about the director and the English minister of education ... yes, really excellent international connections ... there comes our department head for the tripartite division of the social organism.”
This satire captured an important facet of German high modernity: the new worldview movements whose proliferation was integral to the genesis of this modern age owed their success not least to their adherents' adaptability to the mass marketplace, symbolized here by the department store. In this, the occult was no exception. If the many clubs and rural retreats added up to an occult public, the many presses, mail-order businesses, department stores, schools, and individual providers catering to this public added up to a vibrant occult marketplace. Indeed, occultists' emphasis on achieving satisfaction in this world rather than the next was well suited to the offerings of the modern marketplace and its ability to cater to the ethic of "personal satisfaction."
Discussion of the German occult movement however, has focused almost exclusively on the supposedly occult roots of National Socialism. In their effort to locate these roots other scholars have been particularly assiduous in investigating Ariosophy, a Theosophical offshoot. Although these studies have turned up a wealth of interesting information about Ariosophy, they have tended to obscure the history of mainstream German/European Theosophy-a much larger, at least equally influential, and certainly more sociopolitically diverse movement.
To put it bluntly, Theosophy complicates our view of the occult reform culture in fruitful ways. Too often, historians have seen this reformist milieu in terms of what came later, trawling it continuously for signs of liberalism and proto-Fascism. Valuable as this scholarship has been for our understanding of Nazism, it has often misread signs of a thriving reformist culture with political leanings that defy easy categorization. Theosophy is a case in point, for although it did produce Ariosophy, it was also an important site for reframing traditional liberal ideas around modern occult ones.
Understood as a political tradition not easily reducible to social or economic factors, liberalism in its classical form rested on a belief in the inevitability of progress, an emphasis on the sanctity and central importance of the individual, a hostility to any church claiming possession of an absolute truth, and a socially integrative vision of a coming classless society in which citizens would enjoy equal rights before the law. In late-nineteenth-century Germany, as rights, pacifism, clothing reform, prison reform, antivivisectionism, vegetarianism, and the Free India movement.
Britain, where the Theosophical movement was particularly strong, Theosophists
found a variety of political homes, from left-wing feminism and socialism in
the late nineteenth century to right-wing fascism in the 1920’s and 193o’s as
we will see in the following lectures focusing on the occult revival in the UK.
Early Theosophists understood themselves to belong to a spiritual vanguard dedicated to the cultural renewal of modern life on an occult basis. Critical of their era's rampant materialism and spiritual poverty, Theosophists sought to create a so-called "sixth root race," or universal brotherhood, that would live in full cognizance of humanity's spiritual nature and incorporate people from around the world.
Drawing on the popularity of Social Darwinian thought, Theosophical doctrine mixed biological and spiritual notions of race in an often incoherent manner. Theosophists could insist that the race to which one belonged had primarily to do with one's degree of spiritual maturity, yet at the same time claim that such biologically understood "races" as the North Indian Aryans had achieved a particularly high degree of spiritual maturity. Considerations of race, moreover, could enter the Theosophical milieu in other guises. Rudolf Steiner, for instance, often claimed that white Europeans had achieved a higher level of spiritual perfection than the African, Asian, or Jewish races. Sometimes, he even went so far as to claim that in the grand cycle of spiritual evolution, the Germanic race had advanced the furthest. At other times and with comparable frequency, however, Steiner reiterated the core spiritual unity of all the world's peoples.
Ariosophists, however, the most important exemplars of
Theosophical occultism in the voelkisch mode, rested
on the thinking and writing of the Austrian Guido von List, who had made a name
for himself in the 1870’s as a writer of fantasy novels about a glorious
Teutonic past, and read key Theosophical works.
Relying in part on a series of clairvoyant visions received at the supposed ruins of ancient Teutonic battles, he began to imagine an ancient religion called Wotanism. By 1908, his fantasies extended backwards to a Teutonic past in which an Aryan priesthood presided over a racially homogeneous society, and forwards to an ideal future in which Germans would live once more in a state of total race purity. Through publications and the founding of the Guido von List Society in 1908, he drew a following among voelkisch groups all over German-speaking Europe. The writings of his followers may have introduced Adolf Hitler to new varieties of political racism.
Links between the Ariosophical milieu and early National Socialism bring up the question of just what Ariosophy and Theosophy did and did not share, beginning at the most superficial level with the movements' names. Coined in 1915 by Joerg Lanz von Liebenfels, one of List's most important followers, Ariosophy played on the term Theosophy.
the preface to the Handbuch der Ariosophy
(Handbook of Ariosophy, 1931-32), for instance, the
publisher Herbert Reichstein noted Ariosophists'
support for such occult practices as mind reading, clairvoyant vision, and
prophecy. These "Kabbalograms," he claimed,
would help customers answer such weighty questions as whom to marry or whether
and when to have a child. Ariosophy and Theosophy
were also united in invoking the occult knowledge of spiritual masters. According
to Ariosophical lore, occult knowledge belonged
exclusively to an elite priesthood, a clear echo of the Theosophical concept of
a Great White Brotherhood. But behind these similarities lay an important
difference based in Ariosophists' rejection of the
Theosophical interpretation of occult knowledge.
Whereas mainstream Theosophists believed that the main purpose of the Great White Brotherhood was to share its occult knowledge with humanity in spite of giving each ‘race its place; without limits to race, religion, or sex, for Ariosophists, occult knowledge was a tool for erecting a racially pure social order.
Theosophists and Ariosophists however, on occasion sought out the same spiritual gurus. Ariosophist Seiling (calling himself a Kathar), patronized the mystic Alois Mailander, whose other disciples included Franz Hartmann and Wilhelm HubbeSchleiden, neither of whom belonged to the Ariosophical milieu. So Theosophists and Ariosophists moved indeed in the same social circles without bothering too much about their movements' ideological differences. Or when List's Die Bilderschrift der Ario-Germanen (The picture-writing of the Ario-Germans) appeared in 1910, Franz Hartmann praised it in his Theosophical periodical.
Yet significant is the fact that voelkisch groups that did make use of Theosophical concepts did not absorb the Theosophical cult of the self or or a practical sense for universal brotherhood to any great degree. Rather, they appropriated Theosophy's invocation of an idealized past and cosmic scheme of racial evolution in order to underpin their developing interest in imagining a new social order based on nationalist grounds.
Cultural affinities between occultism and members of the Nazi party under Hitler were less than the average percentage of the population that were interested in related subjects in 1930’s Germany. And any affinities that were there with some in Hitlers National Socialist Party, these affinities never translated into a sociopolitical alliance of occultists with the state. Just the opposite in fact, the Nazi regime and the occult movement is one of escalating hostility. Like so many before them, state officials after 1933 tended to see the occult movement as a dangerous force of antiquated superstition whose charismatic proponents threatened to lead the public astray. Plus more so, saw the occult movement as a menace that promoted a corrosive individualism and antithetical to the Nazi worldview. Hess's predilection for Waldorfschools (founded by Rudolf Steiner) and Astrology, in fact, became a tool for casting him as mentally ill in May 1941, when he took it upon himself to parachute into Britain and attempt to end the war on the western front. A public relations disaster for Germany, his "treason" was blamed on the pernicious influence of his astrologers and rapidly became an excuse for a brutal crackdown on the German occult movement more generally. Hans Frank, who was the leading jurist of the Nazi party and attended the meeting with Hitler following Hess's flight, reported how Hitler castigated the astrologers who had manipulated him into action. It was high time, Hitler insisted, to rid Germany of such superstitious riffraff."
In fact the Nazi’s hostility to the occult movement achieved its institutional form first in the Sicherheitsdienst (SD-the security service) and later under the umbrella of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA-the Reich security main office).
An SS officer named Kolrop assumed charge of a special desk dedicated to monitoring sects, including occult ones. Germans with ties to the occult movement were institutionally defined as sectarians, a distinction they shared with Mormons, Christian Scientists, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, Seventh Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Whereas the Christian sects were officially classified as religious ones, however, occultists who adhered to Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Rosicrucianism, Ariosophy, astrology, the teachings of Bo Yin Ra, Mazdaznan, New Thought, and piritualism were considered-along with Freemasons-to be members of “worldview sects.
the eyes of Nazi officials, this was a stubbornness that turned sects into a
distinct barrier to the creation of a united Volksgemeinschaft.
The projects pursued by the SD and RSHA were varied. An RSHA program description drawn up circa 1939 listed a representative spectrum of goals for a statistical study of sects on which Kolrop’s team was to embark. The team would monitor meetings for any communist and pacifist elements that might be at work and gather information to aid the eventual dissolution of sects altogether. This information, in fact, was to result in the publication of a special reference work to help police outposts coordinate their response to local sectarian activity. Accompanying this reference work would be a series of special reports on individual sects like the Seventh Day Adventists and two spiritualist groups known as the Gottesbund Tanatra (Tanatra association of God) and the Bund der Kdmpfer ffir Glaube und Wahrheit (Association of fighters for faith and truth).
Kolrop codified these efforts into a list of the top ten dangers that occult and other religious sects like Theosophy and Anthroposphy as sects posed to the Nazi state, Kolrop finally came out with a simple declaration: sectarian activity threatened the Volksgemeinschaft merely by promoting an alternative worldview; it thus encouraged disunity in the Third Reich. In other words, it was not so much that members of sects were seen as political opponents of Nazism, but that their adherence to an independent worldview-one distinct from National Socialism-necessarily defined them as resisting the will of the state. This resistance, both to giving up their own worldview and accepting the National Socialist one, was at the most basic level what cast them as ideological foes of the Third Reich.
Although the SD and the RSHA lumped all sects together as ideologically suspect, they did not thereby assume that all sects menaced the Volksgememschaft in the same way. As it turned out, police observers detected many different ways in which sectarians refused allegiance to the new order. jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, were persecuted particularly for their refusal to give the German salute, swear the German oath, or perform army service. Members of occult groups may have participated in this type of refusal, but it was probably not these failings that landed them on the Nazi blacklist; the documents suggest that instead it was two specific transgressions that earned occult groups the epithet staatsfeindlich. A transgression concerned occultists’ alleged ability to mesmerize and manipulate the masses. As one report put it, occultists “hypnotized” the masses with spiritualist mischief (Unfug) and poisoned their minds with medieval superstitions.
latter transgression put occultists in the same class as Freemasons. Sects like
the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who attracted older women and simple people from the
lowest classes, in contrast, seemed more benign.
Occultists thus rated the same danger level as Freemasons because they were perceived as offering a worldview whose popularity among intellectuals gave it a dangerous cultural authority with the masses.
Such inconsistent views on the dangers posed by occult sects revealed tensions in the Nazi state’s attitudes toward the occult, tensions with which officials in Wilhelmine and Weimar Germany had already struggled (I pointed this out in a link I posted before).
Nazi observers could not grasp what was so compelling about occult leaders like the voelkisch spiritualist Joseph Weissenberg. Able to see occultists only as unruly dissidents from the dominant ideology, Nazi observers thus were forced to attribute mysterious powers to the very occultists they sought to expose as charlatans. Informed by numerical proof such as this, those looking out from the SD and RSHA at the spiritual landscape of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s were alarmed at the rapid sectarian spread following the seizure of power in 1933. Searching for the underlying causes of this growth, the officials of the SD and RSHA were inclined to accuse organized Protestantism for failing to attract believers and thus forcing those with strong religious urges to turn elsewhere for spiritual fulfillment.
An anonymous report dated January 1937, for instance, lamented the dismal legal tools available to wage the war against occultism. Occult activities, the report’s author claimed, escaped state action because of legal loopholes that no one had yet bothered to close. Although such activities stupefied and confused the public and promoted non-Nazi and non-Germanic thinking, the author pointed out, they were neither Marxist nor Jewish and thus remained without penalty. To rectify this dangerous situation, the author recommended that at the very least legal measures be enacted against literature written from an astrological, characterological, or occult perspective.
Eventually, the regime not only censored occult publications but also embarked on a much more sweeping series of operations against occult activities in general. These actions came in two great waves, the first in 1937, the second in 1941. An official decree in July 1937 dissolved Freemasonic lodges, Theosophical and Anthroposophical circles, and related groups throughout Germany. But it was in 1941, in the wake of Hess’s flight to Britain, that this was enforched.
Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the SD, revealed the extent of a police response in a June 1941 report on the secret actions pending against the occult movement. The justification for this crackdown, he explained, was simple: “In the current fateful struggle of the German people, it is necessary to maintain the spiritual as well as physical health of both the individual and the entire Volk: “Occult teachings were once again declared illegal, as they had been in 1937, and all occultists were declared “parasites” on the Volksgemeinschaft. But this time, the ban was accompanied by a host of police measures.
Police were ordered to shut down any presses printing occult materials, to confiscate any publications they found there, and to arrest all astrologers, occultists, spiritualists, prophets, faith healers, Christian Scientists, Anthroposophists, Theosophists, Ariosophists, and adherents of any similar creeds. Detainees were either to be sent to concentration camps or put to work on useful projects. The crackdown, which was to go into effect on 9 June 1941, also required local police stations to submit detailed reports on their actions and the state of occult activities in their districts within a week.
An irony embedded in this development was that it occurred under the aegis of police chief Himmler, who in his more private moments, as I pointed out below, was inclined to maintain a somewhat more open attitude toward specific occult practices. Like many figures before him, figures of an utterly different political persuasion, Himmler dearly could not resolve the issue consistently.
When Hitler rose to power in 1933, occult life was indeed flourishing in Germany. As Wolfgang von Weisl observed acerbically in a 1933 essay: “Today, occultism-Anthroposophy, Theosophy, spiritualism, parapsychology, astrology, and their accompaniments-has taken the place of monism and become the science of the half educated as well as the Ersatz-church of the uneducated.” Weisl saw this not only as a German phenomenon, but more broadly as a European one. The thousands of men and women who followed the spiritualist leader Weissenberg near Berlin were of the same ilk as those others who made the pilgrimage to the Austrian town of Graz, the “Mecca of Spirits,” to consult the mediums Frieda Weissl and Maria Silbert, or those who took the train to visit yet other occult virtuosos like a certain Mr. Vlcek in Prague or Rudi Schneider in Paris. These were the men and women who, who read the dozens of occult periodicals that appeared in the German press, who attended the hundreds of lectures and demonstrations sponsored by Theosophical, Anthroposophical, spiritualist, and parapsychological circles throughout Europe.
If Weisl’s picture of a broad European stage upon which all manner of occultists performed for cosmopolitan audiences reflected the situation in 1933, it was a portrayal he would have been forced to alter just a few months later since almost immediately following the Nazi seizure of power, a gathering wave of official hostility engulfed the fifty-year-old occult movement.
initially some groups that had been active before the seizure of power
continued their programs and a few new groups sprang up, decrees issued from
1935 onward and the police actions that accompanied them eventually forced most
Berlin’s Zentralbibliothek der okkulte Weltliteratur (Central library for occult world literature) was a typical example of an older group that remained viable in the early years of the Third Reich. Continuing its pre-1933 tradition, the library sponsored a biweekly lecture series under the direction of Joseph Stoll. The roster for the fall Of 1937 included the medical doctor Walter Kraesner speaking on “Magic in Today’s World”, and the philosopher Johannes Maria Verweyen giving a talk on Christian mystical phenomena in light of parapsychology.
While groups like the Zentralbibliothek der okkulte Welditeratur carried on with such activities after 1933, new groups emerged to join them. Hanns-Maria Clobes, for instance, managed to establish the Archiv fuer Reinkarnation (Archive for reincarnation) in Leipzig in the mid-1930’s. This project demonstrated the wide extent of occult activity throughout Germany through 1937. Representatives from Theosophical, Anthroposophical, spiritualist, astrological, parapsychological, and other occult circles eagerly contributed material for Clobes’s archive.
But while groups like the Zentralbibliothek and individuals like Clobes and Schurig continued to sound pre-1933 themes, other parts of the occult movement began to display signs of nazification. The Esoterische Studiengesellschaft (Esoteric study group) in Leipzig, for example, which continued to meet much as it had before the Nazi seizure of power, sponsoring frequent public lectures on characterology, chirology, graphology, and occultism, showed signs that it had made adjustments to the new realities of Nazi Germany. A promotional pamphlet published in 1936 closed by declaring the group’s solidarity with Hitler’s antimaterialism, on the one hand, and aggressive nationalism, on the other.
Antimaterialism, of course, had and still is a standard feature of Theosophical groups for decades, but the mention of nationalism was decidedly new. Theosophical groups, both within Germany and out, had generally espoused a robust internationalism and commitment to universal brotherhood. Perhaps, however, this closing declaration of solidarity was little more than window dressing, an opportunistic accommodation to the new regime.
Although such attempts to nazify were not always cosmetic, even occultists genuinely enthusiastic about the new regime found it difficult to earn official sanction. In 1935, for example, the Ariosophist Ernst Issberner-HaIdane published his book Arisches Weistum (Aryan wisdom). It included chapters on spiritualism, astrology, clairvoyance, telepathy, and chiromancy, all of which he pitched as forms of ancient Germanic practice. Consistent with his title, Issberner-Haldane took care to voice not only his wish that the occult sciences serve the cause of National Socialism, but also the opinion that Jews belonged to a lower race and that the witch burnings of the Middle Ages had been a crime against the German people.52 Despite its enthusiastic anti-Semitism and narrow German nationalism, however, Arisches Weistum did not fare well among official observers. When the book ended up in police hands in 1935, its reader expressed skepticism about the Nazi merits of the text, which he judged to be much closer to Anthroposophy-well on its way to being labeled officially staatsfeindlich-than National Socialism. The text’s primary threat, the policeman concluded, was that it might be spreading false information about the racial history of Germany. In other words, the Nazi regime of the mid-1930s remained officially suspicious of occultists’ motives and skeptical of their Nazi credentials.
Nor was it only bureaucrats who regarded such nazification efforts by occultists with a suspicious eye. In 1935, Ernst Pistor, editor of the anti-Semitic periodical Judenkenner (Jew-connoisseur), published a short piece detailing the recent crackdown in Saxony on the Leipzig branch of the Mazdaznan sect. Pistor noted with satisfaction that despite members’ attempts to “nazify” themselves after 1933 by draping their temple with swastikas and filling it with “Heil Hitlers!” the Saxon police had not been fooled; instead, the police had rightly discerned that Mazdaznan was nothing more than a mask for international Jewry. Using anti-Semitic slurs like this, Pistor concluded that the state had been perfectly justified in banning Mazdaznan.
In 1935, the Horpena joined Mazdaznan on a national blacklist, followed a year later by the Gottesbund Tanatra and Gnosis. Occult publishing enterprises were shut down as well. In May 1937 several astrological journals, including Astrale Warte, were banned in Berlin. Soon, most occult journals had suffered a similar fate.
Restrictive policies like these, of course, did not necessarily translate into the immediate cessation of occult activities, as the official police files show. A telegram to the main office of the Gestapo in Berlin in 1935 noted that despite the ban the Weissenberg sect was still active around Frankfurt/Oder and even surreptitiously publishing its periodical Johannes Botschaft.
The persistence shown by Weissenberg’s followers was mirrored in case after case as occultists simply moved their meetings, trade, and beliefs underground. And police files continued to record their transgressions. A 1939 report to the Gestapo office in Dresden, for instance, noted that a member of the banned spiritualist group Horpena had been arrested. Similarly, the Gottesbund Tanatra, a spiritualist circle, appeared regularly in the files of the SD as a group whose members refused to cease their activities.
police raid in 1940 on a villa in Kirschlag Linz
revealed a covert Anthroposophical school with daily lectures, discussions, and
And despite the ban on astrological publications, a report prepared by the German propaganda ministry in 1939 noted that three astrological newspapers published out of Leipzig, Dresden, and Erfurt were still in circulation, each with a print run of a few hundred to a few thousand copies.
The propaganda ministry’s files also contained a report on a Professor W. A. Christiansen, who was still giving lectures with titles like “A Review of Mysterious Forces” in the summer after Hess’s flight to Britain. Christiansen claimed that he had even performed his “anti-occult” show several times for such Nazi groups as Kraft durch Freude (Strength through joy), an association for German workers. Indeed, Christiansen’s desperate attempt to save his occult livelihood by proffering whatever Nazi credentials he could muster epitomized the situation in which all German occultists found themselves after 1933. Categorized as ideological enemies of the Reich, for reasons as varied as their internationalism or mystical obscurantism, occultists were forced into a criminal underworld.
An example is an the above mentioned exponent of the liberal wing of Lebensphilosophie, Verweyen born to a Catholic family in 1883, he finished doctoral work in philosophy in 1905 and then, like so many of his contemporaries, embarked on a period of intense personal exploration. He visited Theosophical circles, immersed himself in the works of Nietzsche and Wagner (like Steiner, at least Nietze), dabbled in monism, embraced Lebensreform and vegetarianism, and became a poet, composer, and a pacifist. In the midst of all this, he also found time to finish his habilitation in philosophy in 1908.
Active in the Theosophical Liberal-Katholische Kirche (Liberal-Catholic Church), he extolled Krishnamurti, calling his teaching “a message for all, to the entire world-and yet, oddly enough, a message for none, that is, not a message to be accepted ... mechanically, slavishly by each person, without thereby hindering [Krishnamurti’s] true intention...
the byways he had traversed, Verweyen’s interests and
activities clearly tended to the ecumenical, pacifistic, and even anarchical,
interests and activities from which his occult predilections were inextricable.
This was also what landed him on a Nazi blacklist in 1934, when the regime
forced him to give up his chair in philosophy at the University of Bonn and
earned him constant surveillance and harassment from the regime over the next
several years. By 1939, Verweyen had joined an
anti-Fascist circle in Wiesbaden; by 1941, he was under arrest; and by 1945, he
had died in the extermination camp of Bergen-Belsen.
Verweyen and also the stage clairvoyant Hanussen paid for their transgressions with their lives a price for their crimes that most astrologers, clairvoyants, hypnotists, and other occult seers in Germany did not have to pay.
That occult and voelkisch texts emanated in some cases from the same presses makes it tempting to overplay the importance of the occult-voelkisch publishing enterprise a subject that has been milked by a number of authors making occult claims about National Socialism. In fact the only affinity that complicated the Nazi’s hostility of the occult, from Ariosophy to Theosophy, to Anthroposophy and so on, showed up with health practices and programs, some of which tapped the same currents of Lebensreform as the occult movement. In the 1920s, a deep antagonism toward conventional medicine and the strong conviction that modern life had damaged their souls and bodies led many Germans of all political persuasions, including fascism, to embrace nature cures, folk remedies, vegetarianism, fresh-air exercise, Anthroposophic medicine, and other, similar practices. Germans committed to both National Socialism and Lebensreform, indeed, dedicated themselves to recreating a life in harmony with the laws of nature and biology.
naturalism was part and parcel of the Nazi quest for a “sanitary utopia” in
which pioneering work in public health-an antismoking campaign, a concern with
food additives, and a “war on cancer”-was joined to genocide.
To appease the Nazi’s the Anthroposophical society (before it was forbidden in Germany after Hess failed to make a peace deal with England) even went so far as to pressure its Jewish members to leave, which most of them did but not without bitter feelings. Although Hitler, despised occultists or the belief in a ‘spiritual world’, two members of the wider Nazi leadership did cultivate some connections to the occult milieu, Rudolf Hess interested in Anthroposphy and naturopathy , plus Heinrich Himmler with an interest in Astrology and known to have read the Baghavat Gita as I will next describe in detail. But then again this would come to the same average population percentage that also later (including today) has an interest in the ‘esoteric’. Take for example President Reagan who had his schedule based on horoscopes provided by his wife and so on.
Hess, follower of homeopathy and proponent of organic food, followed a strict diet. And besides being a protector of Waldorf education, also Astrological horoscopes and magnetic therapies were regular features of his life. Hess’s predilection for such pursuits, in fact, became a tool for casting him as mentally ill in May 1941, although send by Hitler, parachuted into Britian in an attempt to end the war on the western front. A public relations disaster for Germany, it was blamed on the pernicious influence of Hess’s occult inclinations and rapidly became an excuse for a brutal crackdown on the German occult movement.
It was high time, Hitler had reportedly insisted, to rid Germany of such superstitious riffraff. Whatever the truth of this private account, it is a matter of public record that the regime’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels mounted a public campaign to save face for Germany by painting Hess as a lunatic occultist. Immediately after the failure of Hess’s flight became known. In fact like Hitler, Goebbels revealed his utter contempt for all things occult. To him, they were nothing more than a superstitious throwback to the Middle Ages and a plague on the Nazi social body. But like Hess, Himmler developed an interest in natural healing and was very critical of modern hospitals and university-trained physicians.
Intestinal spasms had plagued Himmler and refused to improve under the care of regular doctors. In desperation, Himmler had finally consulted a naturopathic practitioner named Felix Kersten at some point in the 1920’s. When Kersten’s treatment afforded him some relief, Himmler became a convert to alternative medicine. Once war broke out in 1940, Kersten was trapped in Germany and, despite his Finnish citizenship, soon found himself pressed unwillingly into service as Himmler’s full-time doctor. Himmler’s interests in herbalism, homeopathy, mesmerism, and Biochemie (holistic medicine), in fact, led him to establish a special garden in the concentration camp of Dachau, and allow experiments with naturopathic medicines on his slave laborers, for example arnica for burns (this can be found in the Nuerenberg trials).
Kersten’s memoirs revealed, that Himmler also consulted one or two astrologers during the war, although apparently without much faith in their predictive powers. Moreover, although Himmler had also expressed a deep antipathy toward Catholicism, the religion of his Bavarian youth, this by no means meant that he had no religious inclinations. Kersten’s memoirs showed that Himmler in fact believed in some form of reincarnation and was sufficiently enthused about Oriental religions to read the Bhagavad Gita. The most dramatic link between the occult and any top Nazi official was with certainty Wiligut, who had served as an Austrian officer during the Great War before discovering around 192o his special talent for clairvoyantly recovering knowledge about ancient Germanic history, a knowledge he claimed by virtue of his blood relation to a long chain of sages. By the early 1920’s, Wiligut had become convinced that Jews, Freemasons, and the Catholic Church-whom he (and also Theosophists and Anthroposophists ) blamed for Austria and Germany’s defeat in 1918-were persecuting him. Yet in spite of this rather alarming symptom, September of 1933, Himmler (or did he initially not know of this because Willigut presented himself under an invented name) appointed Wiligut, under the pseudonym Karl Maria Weisthor, to head the “Department for Pre- and Early History,” one of the many subsidiary’s of the SS Rasse-und Siedlungshauptamt (Race and settlement main office). Two years later then, Himmler consulted ‘Weisthor’ even for symbolic and aspects. For example ‘Weisthor’, contributed to the design of the infamous Totenkopfring, or deat’s head ring, worn by the SS, and also persuaded Himmler in 1935 to make the Wewelsburg castle the ceremonial home of the SS, imbuing it with an aura of ancient Germanic authenticity. But by 1939, Wiligut’s star had waned and he was forcibly retired by Himmler from the SS.
Himmler’s astrological dablings were reported in detail in 1968 by Wilhelm Wulff and I reported about this last year on my website. What the cases of Hess and Himmler reveal that particularly fringe medical practices, and in the case of Himmler’s dependence on an alternative healer accompanied his willingness to sample the services of the astrologer Wulff and read the Bhagavad Gita, a text central to the Theosophical portion of the occult movement. On the other hand an assessment that other top Nazis echoed, Martin Bormann, chief of the party chancellery, made his antipathy to occultism perfectly dear in a secret report issued in May 1941. The report linked superstition, faith in miracles, and astrology together as channels for the distribution of propaganda hostile to the state. Occultists, in his opinion, were using medieval methods to sow discontent among the masses. Borman, Goebels, and also Rosenberg expanded this to mean Ariosophy and other groups attempting to “Germanize” Christianity and others who rejected Christianity as unsalvageable and instead quested after a Germanic neo-paganism. Activists in the voelkisch milieu by the end of the first WW agreed on the need for German renewal but disagreed, often intensely, on the appropriate means by which to effect it. Guido von List saw the occult as a tool for Germanic salvation, other voelkisch leaders did not. The criticisms with which this latter group assailed occultists, in fact, eventually found their way into the rationale behind the Nazi regime’s persecution of the entire German occult movement.
During the 1920s and early 1930s, the voelkisch movement included several theorists who lumped occultists with Freemasons and maligned both groups as participants in an international conspiracy against German culture. For these theorists, one of the worst crimes of the Freemasons had been to promote a dangerous cosmopolitanism that led to Jewish emancipation in the nineteenth century. Such views became part of official ideology in 1933, when Hitler came to power. Although at this point Freemasonic circles in Germany counted only seventy-six thousand members, the regime nevertheless moved against the Freemasons as important ideological enemies of the Third Reich. The strong international ties and the hierarchical, hermetic nature of the lodge structure, official ideology held, made Freemasonry inimical to the ideals of the 11 national community (Volksgemeinschaft) ). In order to understand the official Nazi response to occultism, thus, it is also necessary to understand the voelkisch response to Freemasonry, with which occultism was persistently linked in the Nazi worldview.
For example Alfred Rosenberg, who later became head of the party’s Foreign Affairs Department during the Third Reich, in publications like Die Spur des Juden im Wandel der Zeiten (The tracks of the Jew through the ages) and Das Verbrechen der Freimaurerei (The crime of Freemasonry) 1921, Rosenberg early on had developed the notion that Germany had been undermined by an international conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons.
He argued repeatedly that Freemasons were natural conspirators and the born enemies of the German people. Not content to limit his views to books and longer essays, Rosenberg also took his message to the popular press shortly after the first World War. In a piece published in 1921 in Voelkischer Beobachter, for instance, Rosenberg accused Freemasons of viewing Orientals, Negroes, and mulattos as their “brothers.” Such attitudes, he believed, made Freemasons and Jews allies against Germandom.
He reiterated this message in 1930 when he published his famous tome The Myth of the Twentieth Century, which claimed that it was thanks to Freemasons’ “preaching of ‘humanitarianism’ and the doctrine of human equality [that] every Jew, Negro or Mulatto can become a citizen of equal rights in a European State.” This humanitarianism, he continued, had also spawned the “pornographic journalist,” the new practice of racial intermarriage, and the stock exchange.