Get a site

mason eye

Freemasonry Watch Banner

Magic Realism - A book review of 'The Occult Roots of Nazism, Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology' by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke

Rotating Compass & Square


A book review by William Main

"The Occult Roots of Nazism, Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology" by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (New York University Press, 1992, 293 pages)

In The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, an historian at Oxford University, traces how fantasies of occult forces, pseudo-science and racism made an indirect but significant contribution to the Nazi rise to power and the Holocaust.

Of course, Goodrick-Clarke does not attribute Nazi influence directly to occult forces. Since the end of World War II some journalists have published exaggerated accounts of occult groups in the Third Reich and taken the claims of obscure cults at their word. Goodrick-Clarke's book is not an expose of evil magic, but an account of how marginal, atavistic ideas eventually came to influence Nazi policy and thus the destiny of modern Europe.

Goodrick-Clarke describes occultism as based on ersatz religious doctrine dating back to the 1st Century A.D. including Astrology, Gnosticism, and Hermeticism (writings attributed to a legendary Egyptian magician, Hermes Trismegistus). The Renaissance and the late 18th Century each saw a revival of interest in such ancient magical and pseudo-scientific texts.

Goodrick-Clarke attributes each successive wave of occultism to political and social upheavals of the time-the decline of the Roman Empire, the development of scientific methodology, the growth of rationalism-which seemed to raise doubts about traditional religious beliefs and institutions.

The 19th Century saw another revival of occultism in Europe which Goodrick-Clarke attributes to the industrial revolution and the abrupt displacement of traditional ways of life. One of the major occult trends of the time was Theosophy developed by the Russian, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (183 1 - 189 1) . Her works were largely a plagiarism of earlier occult and Hindu writings. In The Secret Doctrine (1888) she mixed traditional Hindu teachings and contemporary archaeological speculation to form a systematic doctrine that described a cycle of creation, growth, decline and eventual rebirth of the universe. Blavatsky's rehash of Hindu teachings influenced occultists of all kinds, but she added one original element that became particularly significant for Aryan occultists. Blavatsky identified each cycle in the history of the universe with the emergence of a new race; depending on the phase of the cycle in progress a given race represented an advance or decline in spiritual perfection. This idea was later elaborated and given a more explicit racist interpretation by Aryan occultists.

Ariosophy (wisdom of the Aryans) as Aryan occultism came to be called, first surfaced in Austria in the 1880s and later spread into Germany. Goodrick-Clarke argues that the emergence of Ariosophy was sparked by rapid social and economic changes in Austrian society near the turn of the century. German-speaking people achieved political unity with the establishment of the Second Reich in 1871, but even then many ethnic Germans remained within the borders of Austria-Hungary. The period from 1860 to World War I in Austria was a time of rapid industrialization and Slavic immigration; during this time the population of Vienna nearly tripled and the ethnic demographics of the city changed significantly so that Germans formed only a plurality of about 35 percent.

A voelkisch (or people's) movement that emphasized the cultural unity of all German-speaking people became a strong influence in Austrian society. As Goodrick- Clarke describes it, the voelkisch movement presented "an idealized image of medieval Germany. . . to prove her claim to spiritual unity, even if there had never been political unity." Voelkische groups were formed that emphasized the importance of German literature and mythology, the beauty of nature and the traditional lifestyle of German peasants. Along with furthering real or imagined aspects of German culture, voelkische groups also denounced Slavic immigrants, Jews and other potential competitors for political influence in Austria.

The voelkisch movement also contained a strong anti-Catholic element. Georg von Schonerer (1842- 1921), the leading exponent of the pan-Germanism in Austria, started a los von Rom (break with Rome) movement in 1898 to encourage German conversion from Catholicism to Lutheranism. Schonerer was not motivated by a principled dispute with Catholic doctrine, but by a desire to use Lutheranism as a rallying point against Slavic immigrants and for pan-German unity.

All of these diverse elements-anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, pan-German aspirations, and dislike of industrial society-came together in the work of Guido von List (18491919). List began his career in Vienna as a novelist and playwright who specialized in themes of German history and mythology. His early novels described the rituals of pagan sun worship, the adventures of Teutonic warriors and the resistance of German tribes to the Roman Empire. But List considered himself more than just a Romantic writer: he styled himself a mystic and nature worshiper who had clairvoyant recollection of ancient Aryan history and religion. He claimed that his novels were not simply fiction but accurate historical reconstructions based on his ancestral memories of the distant German past.

List gradually shifted his work from literature to a kind of revisionist interpretation of German history. Goodrick-Clarke describes List's version of German history as "a personal mythology, by means of which List imposed a set of modern German nationalist meanings upon cultural objects." List claimed all previous accounts of German history were inaccurate. He believed that the Germans had an advanced civilization long before the Roman Empire. According to List, Wotanism had been the ancient Aryan religion-although, in fact, List's description of Wotanism was mostly lifted from Theosophy (in particular he borrowed Blavatsky's idea of "root races" and her cyclical view of history). As evidence of this lost tradition, List interpreted folk- tales, place-names and heraldic symbolism as a kind of secret code that had been formulated by the Aryan priesthood to pass on their occult teachings in the face of Christian persecution.

List claimed that a sexual morality which prohibited breeding with racial inferiors had been the foundation of Aryan society. List outlined a code of racial purity he claimed had once been practiced by Germans as a kind of ancient eugenics program; families were required keep records certifying their racial purity; education, public service and all legal rights were reserved exclusively for Germans; nonAryans were fit only to be slaves. List argued that these policies could once again be put to use for the renewal of modern Germany. Goodrick-Clarke notes "these ideas, published as early as 1911, bear an uncanny resemblance to the Nuremberg racial laws of the 1930's and the Nazi vision of the future."

Lists revision of the ancient German past culminated in a conspiracy theory that explained the tribulations of modern Austria. He explained that the downfall of Aryan civilization was caused by a backlash of primitive people lead primarily by Christians- indeed, Christianity was little more than a front organization for racially inferior people jealous of Aryan accomplishments. Christian values of humility, charity and respect for the weak were mere disinformation designed to undermine Aryan unity and self-confidence. In modern times the assault on Aryan culture was continued by capitalism, socialism, Jews and the Catholic Church. All of these movements supposedly coordinated their efforts through an entity List called the Great International Party, a phantom organization that List claimed was dedicated to the fall of Aryan civilization.

In 1908 the List Society was formed by List's followers to sponsor readings of his works and spread his ideas throughout Austria and Germany. One of the founding members of the List Society was another Austrian, Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels (1874- 1954), who eventually went on to start his own Aryan cult. Lanz had been a member of a Cistercian monastery from 1893 to 1899 and had received an extensive education in ancient languages and Old Testament history. He eventually broke with Catholicism to develop his own occult theology.

After studying then current discoveries in anthropology and physics, Lanz produced a work called Theo-Zoology or the Lore of the Sodom-Apelings and the Electron of the Gods (1905). Lanz believed there had once existed a super-human race of creatures gifted with psychic powers of telepathy and telekinesis. These gods had miscegenated with animals to produce half-human/ half-animal creatures which were put to use as concubines. Modern man was a distant remnant of the original god-like race whose psychic abilities had atrophied as a result of breeding with biological inferiors (again, some of these ideas had first been suggested by H.P. Blavatsky and other Theosophists.)

Lanz differed from List by believing that Judaism and Christianity had originally been Aryan religions. As God's chosen people Aryans were the least contaminated race of humanity; the Old Testament had been written for benefit their as a warning against the dangers of miscegenation (now, that's revisionist history!). Jesus was the last survivor of this psychically gifted race and had been crucified by racial inferiors jealous of his power. Lanz interpreted the teachings of Jesus as an allegory for the evolutionary process; good was evolutionary progress toward Godlike power, while evil was synonymous with racial degeneration.

In 1907 Lanz founded the Order of the New Templars (ONT). The original Knight Templars had been a military/ religious order founded after the First Crusade to maintain Christian control of the Holy Land. Lanz expropriated the name and symbolism of the Templars, but replaced their chivalric code with his own racist occultism. Aspiring ONT members had to posses appropriate Aryan physical characteristics and answer detailed questions about their racial background. Lanz hoped that ONT members would form the human stock for a selective breeding program that would eventually restore Man's latent psychic abilities. In the meantime, Lanz devised ONT rituals, costumes and forms of address which vaguely imitated monastic practices. Eventually Lanz raised enough money from wealthy patrons to buy a castle on the Danube for use as ONT headquarters and place of worship.

As the Ariosophic movement spread from Austria into Germany it became more overtly political. Of the many obscure occult groups that flourished in Germany around World War I, Goodrick-Clarke focuses on the Germanenorden, most of whose members had originally been active in the List Society or the ONT. The Germanenorden was founded in Munich in 1912 as a secret anti-Semitic organization meant to counteract the supposed Jewish conspiracy to control Germany. At first the organization concerned itself mostly with elaborate occult rituals. In 1918 leadership of the Germanenorden was taken over by Rudolf von Sebottendorff (1875-1945), a German engineer who had become interested in occultism while living in the Middle East. Sebottendorff changed the name of the group to the Thule Society and transformed it from a religious cult into an organization of political activists dedicated to destabilizing the Weimar Republic. Among other actions, Sebottendorff organized an attempt to kidnap Kurt Eisner, the head of the Weimar government (Eisner was later assassinated by a man with connections to the Thule Society). Thule Society also members helped organize and train a paramilitary force that took part in fighting against Communist forces that briefly seized control of Munich in 1919.

However, Sebottendorff worried that prospective Thule Society members would be put off by the group's occult orientation. In an attempt to attract a working class membership, the Thule Society founded a front organization called the German Workers Party (DAP) that offered the same anti-Semitic and racist ideas without mentioning occultism. This was the group that Adolf Hitler first discovered as an army spy in 1919. Hitler was soon elected to the leadership of the organization and in 1920 he renamed the DAP the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) or Nazi Party. Hitler eventually took over ownership of the Thule Society's treasury and weekly newspaper, and also recruited Thule Society contacts Rudolf Hess and Alfred Rosenberg who went on to become important officials in the Third Reich. As the emblem of the Nazi Party Hitler adopted the Thule Society's insignia, a swastika.

Hitler not only inherited an organization founded by Aryan occultists, but he was influenced by policies that had their origin among Ariosophists. From 1905 to 1916 Lanz von Liebenfels published a magazine, Ostara (the name of the pagan Goddess of Spring). Goodrick-Clarke establishes that during his early years in Vienna, Hitler met with Lanz a number of times to obtain back issues of Ostara and discuss Lanz's theories on race (this discovery is not original to Goodrick-Clarke and has been mentioned by Hitler biographers including Joachim Fest.) Lanz wrote articles for Ostara advocating polygamy for racially pure Aryan men and sterilization of non-Aryans-both policies put into practice by the Third Reich. Lanz also explicitly called for the deportation and extermination of all non-Aryans living in Germany. Thus it is possible that the idea of the Final Solution was first planted in Hitler's mind by occultist who believed the Germans were the Chosen People and Jesus was an Aryan.

While Hitler might have been influenced by Lanz's ideas on race, he contemptuously rejected other aspects of occult mystification and pseudo-history. The Nazi leader who made himself a patron of occult mysticism was the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, who retained a self-proclaimed Aryan mystic as part of his personal staff.

Karl Maria Wiligut (18661946) began his career as an officer in the Austrian Army and saw action during World War I. After the war Wiligut began to claim that he was the last decedent of an Aryan priesthood that could trace its origins back to god-like creatures who inhabited Germany over 200,000 years. Like List, Wiligut claimed to have clairvoyant recollection of ancient German society and religion. He corroborated most of List's description of ancient German history, but he also endorsed Lanz's belief in an Aryan Jesus (p. 181). Again, Wiligut believed that Aryan civilization had been destroyed by a conspiracy of Jews and Catholics. Wiligut made contact with Lanz's ONT in Austria and later moved to Germany where he became noted as a lecturer and guru within the Aryan occult network.

In 1933 Wiligut was brought to the attention of Himmler by an SS officer who had been a member of the ONT. Himmler appointed Wiligut to the SS Race and Settlement Main Office and eventually gave him the rank of SS Brigadier. Wiligut's tasks included advising Himmler on racial policy, developing rituals to be performed at official SS ceremonies, and designing a special ring marked with runes and the SS Death's Head insignia to be awarded to important SS officers by Himmler himself.

According to Goodrick-Clark, Wiligut suggested to Himmler that the SS expropriate a castle in the German province of Westphalia. Wiligut prophesied that the castle would become a Nazi stronghold against invading barbarians from the East. Himmler put the castle to use as an SS indoctrination center, museum and temple where wedding ceremonies and solstice festivals devised by Wiligut were held. Goodrick-Clark describes Himmler's long range plan for Wewelsburg as "creating an SS Vatican on an enormous scale at the center of a millenarian Greater Germanic Reich."

In 1939 Wiligut's influence in the SS abruptly declined when it was discovered that back in Salzburg, Austria he had been declared legally insane and confined to a mental institution from 1924 to 1927. This action was taken by Wiligut's wife who claimed he had threatened to kill her after she complained of his squandering the family savings. Wiligut was forced to resign from the SS and had to return his prized Death's Head ring to Himmler.

Goodrick-Clarke does not offer any theoretical conclusions about the nature of occultism; he considers the social disruption of German society at the turn of the century enough to explain the emergence of Ariosophy. To this extent he corroborates T. S. Eliot's diagnosis of the appeal of occultism in The Dry Salvages:

To explore the womb, the tomb, or dreams; all these are usual Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press: And always will be, some of them especially When there is distress of nations and perplexity Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road.

Occultism is a symptom of alienation from society, but it is also a symptom of alienation from reality itself-an insight anticipated by another Eliot line: "Human kind cannot bare very much reality." In a sense, there is a magic to occultism after all-it is possible to create a fantasy world in one's mind that blots out reality.

-William Main

Taken from the December 1994 issue of "Fidelity" Magazine, 206 Marquette Avenue, South Bend, IN 46617.


The electronic form of this document is copyrighted. Copyright (c) Trinity Communications 1994. Provided courtesy of:

The Catholic Resource Network Trinity Communications PO Box 3610 Manassas, VA 22110 Voice: 703-791-2576 Fax: 703-791-4250 Data: 703-791-4336

The Catholic Resource Network is a Catholic online information and service system. To browse CRNET or join, set your modem to 8 data bits, 1 stop bit and no parity, and call 1-703-791-4336.



Further Reading:

Refutation of the New Age Movement

Holy Spirit Watch