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Nazism and the Occult



This overview provides a summary of popular and far-right literature about the relationship between National Socialism and "the occult." It then briefly discusses the historical sources and contexts related to those discourses. Given the often polemical, simplifying, or fictional character of approaches to this topic, the article argues for the necessity of more serious and reliable research.
Julian Strube
In the post-war period, especially since the s, ideas of an ‘esoteric National
Socialism’ were widely disseminated by best-selling books, movies, and other media
(Goodrick-Clarke , –). The National Socialists were depicted as black
magicians or occultists and associated with ‘magic,’ ‘irrationalism,’ ‘occultism,’ or
‘superstition,’ vaguely summarized by the term ‘the occult.’ In the vast majority of
those publications, ‘the occult’ is used as a waste-basket category (Hanegraaff ,
), which included a diffuse mass of negative ‘otherness.’ When it was not done for
commercial reasons and sensation-seeking, this ‘othering’ resulted from an attempt
to understand the often-incomprehensible atrocities of the National Socialists, in
order to exclude them from ‘normal’ people by depicting them as ‘irrational’ or ‘evil.’
An opposite ‘esoteric’ interpretation was developed by far-right and neo-Nazi
authors since the s (Sünner , –; Goodrick-Clarke , –).
Those authors attempted to rationalize the crimes committed by the National
Socialists by placing their actions in the revisionist context of a dualistic battle of
good against evil. According to their writings, an ‘esoteric SS’ took up the ancient
tradition of defending ‘light and truth.’ After the war had been lost, those esoteric
troops retreated to secret bases and have continued their  ght until today, giving
hope and con dence to the admirers of the lost ‘Third Reich.’ Such ideas have been
widely disseminated since the s, gaining considerable importance since the
Both of these ‘discursive networks’ (Bergunder , –), which can be
discussed in terms of ‘popular reception’ and ‘esoteric neo-Nazism,’ are usually
signi cantly detached from reliable historical sources. It will be shown that these
networks were interdependent and created credibility through systematic cross-
referencing. A comprehensive study of that process of sedimentation (Bergunder
, –) remains a desideratum. The following discussion will only be able to
point out several key topoi. It will become clear, however, that the most commonly
discussed ‘esoteric’ in uences on National Socialism were either marginal or entirely
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Before and During World War II
The process of associating National Socialism and signi ers like ‘magic’ and ‘occult’
already started after  (Hakl /). As early as , the French author
René Kopp published an article in the journal Le Chariot, stating that Bonaparte,
Mussolini, and Hitler were ‘masters’ sent to earth by higher powers. In , Kopp
asserted that pictures of Hitler proved his possession by ‘a ghost of unknown origin.’
In his Le tyran nazi et les forces occultes (), Edouard Saby identi ed Hitler as a
medium, a magician, and an initiate of a secret ‘Rosicrucian society’ with links to
Tibet and the Vehm. In the most in uential of such publications, Hitler Speaks ()
by Hermann Rauschning, the reader is informed about Hitler’s practice of black
magic and his possession by evil forces. Rauschning’s accounts, which were based on
entirely  ctitious conversations with Hitler, were produced in English, French, and
German, establishing the ‘occult’ image of Hitler and serving as key sources for later
authors. The year  saw the publication of Lewis Spence’s Occult Causes of the
Present War, a book that was to establish a still  ourishing genre devoted to the
exploration of links between Nazism and Satanism. The common reason for the
success of those various publications was their explanation for the incredible triumph
of National Socialist Germany so shortly after its defeat in World War I. Indeed, the
shocking fall of France in  contributed signi cantly to the cogency of that new
literary genre.
Popular Post-War Reception
In the s, a wave of enormously successful publications continued the earlier
‘occultization’ of National Socialism and its leaders. The most in uential was The
Morning of the Magicians () by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, translated
into several languages and selling millions of copies. The French authors presented
the National Socialist elite as an order of black magicians initiated and controlled by
secret societies such as the Thule Society or the  ctitious Vril Society (on the latter,
see Strube ). Especially the Schutzstaffel (SS) and its ‘research institution,’ the
Ahnenerbe, were described as ‘a religious order’ whose ‘monks’ received their occult
initiation on SS castles, performing dark magical rituals. Pauwels and Bergier were
the most in uential authors to coin the idea of an ‘esoteric National Socialism’ or
‘magical Socialism.’ They included esoteric organizations such as the Hermetic Order
of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society in their narrative. Through their
occult connections, the initiated German elites were supposedly maintaining links to
Tibetan Lamas and the Eastern esoteric realms of Agartha and Shamballah (on the
changed spellings, cf. Godwin , –). Pauwels and Bergier also emphasized
the development of ‘Nazi science,’ a mix of irrational magic and futuristic technology
that developed into a major topos in popular culture.
Such ideas were widely spread in popular texts, such as Robert Charroux’s
bestseller, Le Livre des secrets trahis (). Even more successful was The Spear of
Destiny () by Trevor Ravenscroft, which elaborated the alleged magical operations
of Hitler and his apprentices, adding the hunt for the Holy Lance and its ‘occult
powers.’ These bestsellers led to a wave of speculative occult literature, including J. H.
Brennan’s Occult Reich () and Francis King’s Satan and Swastika: the Occult and
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the Nazi Party (). The perception of National Socialism in popular culture was
heavily in uenced by such publications. The idea of ‘occult Nazis’ can be found in
Hollywood movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark (), Indiana Jones and the Last
Crusade (), Hellboy (), and Captain America (), or the independent
movie Iron Sky (). Likewise, similar ideas are reproduced in countless comic
books, music records, or successful video games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein
() and its successor Wolfenstein (). Despite its mix of half-truths and entirely
ctitious accounts, the popular invention of ‘esoteric National Socialism’ remains
highly in uential. It is backed up by a great variety of pseudo-scienti c books and
documentaries that decisively outnumber serious approaches to the subject.
Esoteric Neo-Nazism
Notions of an ‘esoteric National Socialism’ were not only discussed in popular
literature, but also in far-right and neo-Nazi circles. In the early s, a group
gathered in Vienna, consisting of the former Austrian SS members Wilhelm Landig
(–) and Rudolf Mund (–), as well as the engineer Erich Halik. This
‘Vienna Circle’ laid down the foundations for the development of an ‘esoteric neo-
Nazism’ (see Goodrick-Clarke ; cf. Sünner ). The  rst publications from the
Vienna Circle sphere date from the s when Halik published a series of articles in
the Austrian journal Mensch und Schicksal. Halik maintained that the UFO sightings
that had caused a sensation since  were not extraterrestrial spaceships, but rather
‘cultic devices’ used by ‘the highest hierarchy of Gnostic Christianity and accordingly
of earlier Gnostic Paganism’ to in uence society. In order to support his theory, Halik
referred to the ‘research’ of Otto Rahn (–), who had identi ed the medieval
Cathars as the inheritors of a suppressed Pagan tradition reaching back to the Gnostics
and who were, he argued, the keepers of the Holy Grail. Later, Halik revealed that the
supposed UFOs were nothing but secret German aircraft used by ‘esoteric forces’ in
the SS. Those ‘SS-Cathars’ had retreated to subterranean bases under the poles after
the defeat of Germany and were still operating under their emblem, the ‘Black Sun.’
Wilhelm Landig extended those topoi to his in uential Thule trilogy, published in
 (Götzen gegen Thule),  (Wolfszeit um Thule), and  (Rebellen für
Thule), respectively. The novels transported a trivial but still complex narrative that
reinterpreted the SS as successor of an ancient ‘heretical’ tradition  ghting a perennial
battle against the ‘forces of evil,’ the adherents of the ‘false god Jahwe.’ On the ‘good
side,’ the reader would not only  nd Germans but also Arabs, Indians, Japanese,
Chinese, South Americans, Mongolians, and, especially, Tibetan Lamas. The latter
enabled extensive elaborations of the Shamballah/Agartha topos that was already
familiar in the writings of authors like Pauwels and Bergier. It becomes evident that
the Vienna Circle had been in uenced by popular writings about ‘esoteric National
Socialism’ and blended them with their positive reception of earlier authors like Rahn
and the ‘Aryan Atlantis’ writer Herman Wirth (–).
A younger generation of authors continued the work of Landig and his companions
in the late s (Strube , –). At that time, the so-called Tempelhofgesellschaft
(Temple Court Society) took up its publishing activities and organized various
meetings. The Tempelhofgesellschaft was then led by the former policeman Hans-
Günter Fröhlich and had close ties to the German-speaking far-right network. There
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was a vivid exchange between the older generation of the Vienna Circle and the
Tempelhofgesellschaft, revolving around the ‘Black Sun’ symbol and the supposed
‘Babylonian/Assyrian/Sumerian’ origins of ‘the Germans.’ Like Landig, they referred
to earlier discourses from the nineteenth and early twentieth century to back up those
claims. In , the Tempelhofgesellschaft authors Norbert Jürgen-Ratthofer and
Ralf Ettl published Das Vril-Projekt, another brochure that wildly elaborated the
popular narratives of the Thule and Vril Societies, putting a great emphasis on the
UFO aspect and maintaining the extraterrestrial origin of ‘the Germans’ who
descended from a civilization in the star system Aldebaran, where they reigned over
inferior races in an empire of ‘National Socialism on a theocratic basis.’
Besides the vast distribution of photos, drawings, and blueprints of ‘Nazi UFOs’
(Flugscheiben), the principal in uence of the Tempelhofgesellschaft remains its
reinterpretation of the ‘Black Sun’ symbol. While the ‘Black Sun’ had been a central
motif of esoteric neo-Nazism since the s, it has only been related to a motif in
the  oor of the Wewelsburg castle in the novel The Black Sun of Tashi-Lhunpo
() by the pseudonymous author Russell McCloud. The Tempelhofgesellschaft
authors, however, who identify this motif with the ‘Black Sun,’ understand it to be
an ancient Babylonian, Assyrian, and thus German or Aldebaranian symbol
expressing the ‘bright power of the true divinity.’ This description also resurfaced in
Landig’s Rebellen für Thule (), making the exchange of the Tempelhofgesellschaft
authors with their mentor evident. After the THG had split up, Ralf Ettl founded the
Freundeskreis Causa Nostra in . It remains active and maintains relations to
far-right publishers and networks.
It has been indicated that the discursive networks of popular and neo-Nazi ideas
about ‘esoteric National Socialism’ are not independent. For example, on the one
hand, popular stories about the Thule and Vril Societies have conspicuously in uenced
the construction of esoteric neo-Nazism. On the other hand, ideas about Nazi UFOs
and the Black Sun were widely disseminated in popular culture. While most of the
mentioned topoi are post-war inventions, the question remains if there is a diachronic
dimension to the association of National Socialism and esotericism. For example,
various pre-National Socialist groups and individuals in the heterogeneous völkisch
milieu have evidently been in uenced by esoteric ideas. This might lead to the
assumption that esoteric ideas have also found their way to the core of National
Socialist ideology. Indeed, the personal convictions of a few high-ranking individuals,
as well as the symbolism developed by organizations such as the SS, seem to con rm
that assumption. The following section will approach that complex question by
shedding some light on key aspects that dominate post-war discourses surrounding
the relationship between esotericism and National Socialism.
The SS, the Wewelsburg, and the Ahnenerbe
No historical organization is as central to discourses about esotericism and National
Socialism as the Schutzstaffel (SS), particularly its depiction in popular publications.
In academic literature, initially the idea of a monolithic ‘SS state’ (Kogon )
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consisting of elite warriors was generally accepted. However, in the s and s,
scholars began to revise this perspective. It was demonstrated that the SS was a
disunited body of sub-organizations and individuals struggling for power, indicative
of a National Socialist polycracy (Hüttenberger ; cf. Schulte , XV). It
became clear that the image of an ‘elite force in black uniforms’ was primarily
indebted to SS propaganda. Moreover, the organizational chaos within the SS was
one of the main reasons why its history was subject to speculation in the post-war
period, which focused primarily on the obscure projects of the Ahnenerbe and the
megalomaniac plans of Heinrich Himmler (–), the head of the SS
(Reichsführer-SS). Indeed, Himmler is the primary example cited of a leading
National Socialist with esoteric af nities. It has been shown, however, that his
interests in subjects such as astrology and Ariosophy were restricted to his private life
(Longerich , –). Moreover, Himmler’s private esoteric interests have been
exaggerated in such a wide variety of publications that the few serious studies to
examine this aspect of his life are easily overlooked. (A comprehensive, reliable study
of Himmler’s relationship with esotericism has yet to be written.)
Perhaps the most conspicuous connection to Ariosophy is Himmler’s patronage of
Karl Maria Wiligut (–) who was known in the SS by the pseudonym
‘Weisthor.’ Little is known about Wiligut’s actual thought and it remains unclear as
to what degree his ideas in uenced SS symbolism (such as the SS ring) and plans for
the extension of the Wewelsburg castle. The accounts of the astrologer Wilhelm Wulff
and Karl Wolff, the head of Himmler’s personal staff, are of questionable credibility
(cf. Howe ; Wulff ; Hüser ; von Lang ; Schulte , ). It is
certain that Wiligut exerted a direct in uence on Himmler’s personal thought and
that Himmler continued his relationship with his advisor even after he was forced to
of cially dismiss him in , when his stay in a mental asylum in the s became
public. In the Rasse-und Siedlungshauptamt (RuSHA), Wiligut was responsible for
the archive and exerted signi cant in uence on the department of Vor-und
Frühgeschichte. There is no comprehensive, serious study of the life of Wiligut and his
role in the SS – within which he was generally detested (see Lange  for sources).
The Vienna circle author Rudolf Mund has produced a thoroughly unreliable
hagiography of him (Mund  and ; cf. Mund and Wefenstein ; Goodrick-
Clarke /, – has adopted many of the ideas within Mund’s book).
Another curious case is Otto Rahn, one of the idols of post-war esoteric neo-
Nazism. Rahn’s quest for the Holy Grail and its supposed guardians, the Cathars,
greatly impressed Himmler. Becoming a co-worker of Wiligut, he of cially joined the
SS in  and a special edition of his book Luzifer’s Hofgesind () was given to
Hitler by Himmler. However, his background is little known and deserves further
attention (cf. Lange  and ). He wrote his main work, Kreuzzug gegen den
Gral (), before his contact with the SS. Moreover, despite Himmler’s interest in
his studies of the Cathars, his theories remained private and exerted no in uence on
SS ideology. After leaving the SS in , most likely because of his homosexual
leanings, Rahn committed suicide.
The Wewelsburg castle has been identi ed, within both popular literature and
scholarly studies, as the location for a number of occult rituals performed by the SS,
or even as the repository of the Holy Grail and the Holy Lance (Hüser ; Höhne
; Siepe ). Indeed, popular narratives about SS ‘rituals’ even found their way
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into the studies of esteemed experts (Fest , –; cf. Hüser  ). Recent
scholarship, however, has shown that no ‘cults’ or ‘rituals’ of any kind have ever
been performed at the Wewelsburg (Schulte ). Himmler’s plans for turning the
castle into a weltanschauliches Zentrum and an organizational base for the SS were
never realized.
In popular literature, the supposed occult machinations of the SS were closely
linked to the Ahnenerbe. This ‘research society’ was founded in July  by
Himmler, Walther Darré (–, the head of the RuSHA), and Herman Wirth
(Kater ; Kroll ). The latter’s attempt to prove the existence of an ancient
Aryan empire that had disappeared with the destruction of Atlantis was one of the
driving forces when the society was established (Kater , –; cf. Wiwjorra
; Halle ; Löw ). The ‘research’ of the Ahnenerbe was conducted for
ideological and propaganda reasons in order to establish an SS in uence on the
German academic landscape (Kater ; cf. Kroll , esp. –; Halle ).
The output of the Ahnenerbe, however, was never acknowledged within German
academia. When Wirth cofounded the Ahnenerbe, his reputation as a scholar had
already been seriously questioned. Additionally, one of the main critics of Wirth had
been Alfred Rosenberg, who contributed to the frequent power struggles between the
Ahnenerbe and Rosenberg’s Amt (of ce). Eventually, Wirth was pushed out of the
Ahnenerbe in .
Early in its history, the Ahnenerbe spawned several sub-divisions and of ces to
conduct research within various  elds. These included Hanns Hörbiger’s (–
) Welteislehre (World Ice Theory) that was widely discussed in popular science
in the s. The Welteislehre, which was also held in high esteem by Himmler, was
another example of a failed attempt to establish an obviously pseudo-scienti c theory
amongst German scholars (Wessely  and ; and although it should be read
with caution, see Nagel ). Another famous project, Ernst Schäfer’s expedition to
Tibet, was not carried out for any ‘occult’ reasons, but rather in order to explore the
Caucasian terrain, to explore alternative ways to produce vegetable and animal
materials, and to con rm racial theories (Mierau ). When the war began in
, the ‘research’ of the Ahnenerbe focused increasingly on ‘practical’ projects,
including human experiments. However, the Ahnenerbe largely failed to establish its
ideologically informed science. This failure was primarily due to the organizational
chaos within the SS and the Ahnenerbe itself. It was no ‘occult bureau’ as suggested
by authors such as Trevor Ravenscroft who have greatly exaggerated the importance
and in uence of this fragmented organization.
There is no historical evidence to suggest that there has been anything like a
powerful ‘esoteric circle’ within the SS. It is clear that Himmler consistently had to
hide his private esoteric interests from the public and other party elites like Hitler and
Goebbels. His future plans for the SS, including the Wewelsburg or the Externsteine,
never left the planning stage (Halle ; Schulte ). Those individuals within the
SS who were following an esoteric agenda – notably Wiligut and Rahn – were pushed
out of the organization and met tragic ends. Certainly, there is no evidence to indicate
that those individuals interested in esotericism in the SS had the power to develop
secret weapons or to build subterranean bases and worldwide networks. (However,
more research is needed to fully understand the complexity of the relationship
between Himmler’s interest in esotericism and his development of the SS.)
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The Thule Society
The Thule Society was the successor of the Germanenorden, a secret branch of the
völkisch society, Reichshammerbund, both of which were founded in  and were
radically anti-Semitic. They propagated a Germanic racism that was based on the
völkisch biological re-interpretation of ‘Aryanism,’ which was in uenced by the
Ariosophy of Guido von List and Lanz von Liebenfels (Goodrick-Clarke /,
–; cf. Bönisch ). When the Thule Society was founded in , Rudolf
von Sebottendorff (Adam Alfred Rudolf Glauer, –) became its leading
force. During extensive travels, Sebottendorff had developed a keen interest in
esotericism that was increasingly in uenced by Ariosophical ideas. Of cially, the
Thule Society was founded for ‘the research of German history and the promotion of
German nature (Art),’ as well as the research of the Edda, the Sagas, and similar
subjects. The choice of the name ‘Thule’ was probably inspired by writings that had
combined the Thule myth as the origin of the ‘Aryan’ race with the topos of Atlantis.
The society played an active role in the opposition to the Bavarian Soviet Republic in
/, but quickly dissolved after its fall in May . Certainly, Sebottendorff
did not participate in the activities of the society after June , although he did try
to revive the Society within the Third Reich in . However, he was discredited by
Nazi authorities for claiming a pioneering role in the formation of early National
Socialism. Following a brief period of internment, he travelled to Turkey, where he
found employment in the German Intelligence Service in Istanbul. He committed
suicide on  May,  (Goodrick-Clarke , –).
The Thule Society was not an esoteric or ‘occult’ order (Rose ; Gilbhard
). Its importance for the völkisch struggle against the Bavarian Soviet Republic
made it a focal point for a disparate group of individuals and ideas. That the society’s
emblem included a swastika is not particularly signi cant, in that, not only was it
taken from the Germanenorden and Ariosophers such as Guido von List, but it was
common in völkisch and nationalist currents at that time. That is to say, it does not
indicate an esoteric orientation of the society. Sebottendorff sometimes propagated
Ariosophical and other esoteric ideas, but those tended to be met with suspicion.
Furthermore, the Thule Society cannot be seen as a direct predecessor of the Nazi
Party. Indeed, as noted above, when, in , Sebottendorff claimed in his book
Bevor Hitler kam that the Society had been central to the development of National
Socialism, he incurred the wrath of the Party and was brie y interned in .
Hitler, who expressed contempt for the ‘völkisch wandering scholars’ (cf.
Schirrmacher , vol. , –; vol. , –), was never a member of the
Society. Neither was Himmler. That said, later Nazi Party functionaries such as
Dietrich Eckart and Alfred Rosenberg were granted ‘guest’ status and Rudolf Hess
and Hans Frank were, for political reasons, members for a brief period. However,
again, this does not allow us to conclude that the Thule Society operated as an elite
pre-National Socialist school. Indeed, in order to argue this point, later authors, such
as Pauwels and Bergier, have distorted the facts about the Thule Society, reframing it
as an occult order, which initiated and controlled key  gures within the Nazi Party.
Their imaginative accounts include, for example, Karl Haushofer (–), who
was never a member of the Society, nor the ‘initiator’ of Hitler, not, indeed, did his
ideas concerning geo-politics have anything to do with occult masters from the East
(Jacobsen ).
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 : Nazism and the Occult –
Ariosophy is primarily a combination of völkisch nationalism, eugenic racism, anti-
Semitism, and esoteric currents, especially Blavatsky’s Theosophy. The term was
coined by Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (Adolf Joseph Lanz, –). Lanz was a
Cistercian monk who had entered the novitiate in Vienna in  and left the order
in  (Goodrick-Clarke /; Hieronimus ). He developed the idea of
an ‘Aryan’ Christianity that was rooted in völkisch-Christian discourses, propagating
the biological superiority of the ‘Aryans’ over inferior races that were believed to be
the result of sexual intercourse with beasts. Lanz dubbed his teachings Theozoologie,
expressing the importance of both the theological and biological aspects. From
–, he spread his ideas in his journal Ostara. In , he founded the Ordo
Novi Templi in Vienna. He was also becoming increasingly in uenced by the
Theosophical writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (–), as well as by a range
of other esoteric ideas taken from, for example, Kabbalah and Rosicrucianism. From
 to , he collaborated with the publisher Herbert Reichstein (–)
and succeeded in spreading Ariosophy amongst German-speaking esotericists.
Initially enthusiastic about the rise of National Socialism, Lanz soon distanced
himself from what he considered to be a principally ‘boorish’ movement. Under the
restrictions imposed by the Nazi Party from  onwards, the Ordo Novi Templi
was forbidden. However, Lanz revived the order in  and remained its leader
until his death in .
The second most important in uence on the development of Ariosophy was the
popular writer Guido von List (Guido Karl Anton List, –). List’s thought
was formed in the Austrian Pan-German, völkisch milieu of the late nineteenth
century. After a modest success with völkisch-romantic novels in the s and
s, List signi cantly developed his ideas in  during a period of enforced rest
following an eye operation to remove a cataract. At that time, he articulated the  rst
synthesis of German nationalism and Blavatsky’s Theosophy. Increasingly his ideas
found followers and, in , a List Society was founded. In , he created the
Hoher Armanen-Orden, the aim of which was to propagate his ideas about an ancient
Germanic elite called the Armanen. In his books Die Rita der Ario-Germanen ()
and Die Bilderschrift der Ario-Germanen (), List articulated an esoteric
interpretation of runes that remains in uential today, even in circles that are hostile
to Ariosophy.
Members of the List Society disseminated his ideas in the Reichshammerbund and
Germanenorden, thus exerting a signi cant in uence on the milieu that later fed into
National Socialism. However, as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (/) has shown,
Ariosophy must not be seen as a direct predecessor to National Socialism. Post-war
publications (e.g. Daim ) have exaggerated the in uence of Lanz and Ariosophy
on Hitler and early National Socialism. Those elements of Ariosophy that later
resurfaced in National Socialist ideology (e.g. eugenics and ‘Aryan’ supremacy) were
not limited to Ariosophy. It should also be noted that the Ariosophical interpretation
of Theosophy is quite distinct from that of the Theosophical Society. Again, additional
research is required to understand the precise relationship between the ‘esoteric
milieu’ in German-speaking countries and the emergence of Ariosophy. Also, the
apparent differences between the ‘Christian’ developments following Lanz and the
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– Julian Strube –
‘Germanic’ developments following List deserve further attention (see Goodrick-
Clarke ; von Schnurbein , ).
Of cial Attitude Towards Esoteric Groups
The of cial stance of the state towards esoteric individuals and organizations became
increasingly hostile after . While there is evidence of continuities between
esoterically inclined currents, such as Ariosophy, and National Socialism, those
af nities never resulted in ‘occult’ in uences at a state level. Esoteric groups in uenced
by such movements as Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Rosicrucianism, Ariosophy,
Mazdaznan, or New Thought were classi ed as ‘sects hostile to the state.’ In the view
of state of cials, their unwillingness to adapt to the National Socialist Weltanschauung
encouraged disunity amongst the Volksgemeinschaft. As Corinna Treitel ()
suggests in her study of German occultism, two speci c transgressions led to the
persecution of esoteric groups by the authorities: the  rst was the denial of rigid
racial hierarchies that, for example, became evident in the Theosophical proclamation
of a ‘brotherhood of humanity’; the second was the accusation of ‘superstition’ that
would poison the minds of the German people. Hence, in July , all Freemasonic
lodges, Theosophical circles, and related groups were dissolved and okkultistische as
well as spiritistische publications and activities were forbidden.
The famous  ight by Rudolph Hess, who, in an attempt to bring an end to the
war, had parachuted over Scotland in , led to an increased suspicion of occult
in uence. It was, for example, claimed that the in uence of astrologers and other
‘charlatans’ surrounding Hess had led to his ‘insanity.’ Hitler and, especially,
Goebbels had always protested against ‘superstition’ and ‘mysticism,’ which now
had to be  nally eradicated. The resulting crackdown in June  led to a brutal
suppression of esoteric activity in Germany, to the interning of occultists and the
forcing of many underground. Ironically, this purging of the occult and the sectarian
took place under the aegis of the police chief, Himmler, who, while privately
expressing an interest in esotericism, of cially supported the crackdown on
superstition, which he perceived to be a threat to the unity of the German people (cf.
Dierker, Staudenmaier, and Meyer in Puschner ).
An examination of the most discussed ‘occult’ or ‘esoteric’ elements of National
Socialism demonstrates that they were either marginal or  ctional. Historical evidence
con rms that the private occult interests of certain individuals such as Himmler and
Hess did not, after all, translate into of cial Nazi policy. Additionally, it is arguably
problematic to classify several of those interests as ‘occult.’ For instance, Himmler’s
enthusiasm for natural healing was also common in the Lebensreform movement,
whose adherents did not necessarily have any occult interests (Buchholz et al. ).
The Romantic fascination for everything ‘Germanic’ was shared by many Germans,
including those adhering to völkisch currents that were declared enemies of
Okkultismus (Treitel , –). To some extent, this highlights a number of
general theoretical and methodological problems. What is exactly included under the
umbrella terms ‘occult’ and ‘esotericism’? Can it be equated with Lebensphilosophie,
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 : Nazism and the Occult –
Idealism, anti-modernism, anti-materialism, or even a tradition of irrationalism that
ultimately led to National Socialism (Lukács )? To what degree is there a
con uence with the völkisch milieu?
It should be noted that the discursive networks discussed above were typically
heterogeneous. Consequently, it is sometimes dif cult to identify the various esoteric
currents, which is further complicated by the fact that their self-designations varied
constantly. After all, ‘esotericism’ could not be exclusively linked to right- or left-
wing politics. An identi cation of ‘irrationalism’ with esotericism is certainly an
oversimpli cation, yet still common even in academic discourse where ‘irrationalism’
is often suggested as a common basis for National Socialism and esotericism (since
Adorno ). That problematic assumption is further complicated by the fact that
esotericists were persecuted by the National Socialist authorities as a result of their
perceived ‘irrationality’ and ‘superstition.’ Again, National Socialism’s relationship
to ‘the occult’ is far more complex and tenuous in many cases than previously
imagined and still requires signi cant analysis, particularly the esoteric aspects of the
heterogeneous völkisch discourses that partly prepared the ground for National
Socialism (Puschner  and ; Breuer ; cf. Mohler , esp. –).
Ariosophy, for example, was a product of völkisch and occult ideas, but how exactly
it was perceived in the various milieus in which it was developed and circulated and
in what ways it shaped ideology is still not entirely clear. Again, what was the nature
of its relationship to other ‘occultural’ elements?
The relationship between esotericism, or ‘the occult,’ and National Socialism is
not only relevant for the comprehension of the past, in that, as we have seen, the
subject has become an essential feature of post-war culture. Since the conclusion of
the Second World War, an neo-Nazi esotericism has adopted the teachings of Wiligut
and Rahn, developing them into motifs such as the ‘Black Sun’ and the Aryan ‘Thule’
topos. This becomes most evident in the writings of the Vienna circle author Rudolf
Mund, who rose to the highest rank in the post-war Ordo Novi Templi. Such thinkers
developed a number of scattered occult and völkisch ideas into a monolithic system
that had not existed before and that had certainly not exerted an in uence on
National Socialism. Hence, it is necessary to differentiate between post-war esoteric
neo-Nazism and historical National Socialism. Additional research is needed to
understand the complex relationship between the völkisch, esoteric, and National
Socialist networks, as well as their reception in the post-war period. That research
should, of course, focus on a careful historical contextualization and avoid popular
oversimpli cation that still exerts a considerable in uence.
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– Julian Strube –
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... Es kann grob zwischen einer eher "germanisch" und einer eher "christlich" ausgerichteten Ariosophie unterschieden werden (Vgl. Strube 2015). Erstere wurde durch Guido "von" List (1848-1919) geprägt, letztere von Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (i.e. ...
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Research into the life and work of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a Greek-Armenian spiritual teacher and one of the foundational figures of modern mysticism, remains an emergent field within the academic study of religion/s. While esotericists such as H. P. Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner have been thoroughly studied, international academic study of Gurdjieff is still scarce. Gurdjieff lived his early adulthood amidst a severe power struggle between the major powers of the Russian, British and Ottoman empires. He survived the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Russian Civil War of 1918–22 and two World Wars. In his writings, he states how after the turn of the twentieth century, he understood it to be his mission in life to help mankind stop wars from happening, and during his years as a teacher, the question of war was omnipresent because of the events surrounding him and his pupils. Despite all this, there is no previous academic research on the topic of Gurdjieff and war. In this article, I examine the role of wars and armed conflicts in Gurdjieff’s personal life narrative according to his own writings, present his narrative in a military-historical context and analyse his narrational tools and motives as a first step towards a comprehensive study of a much larger subject.
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The idea that there has been some kind of “esoteric” National Socialism has spread far and wide, particularly since the 1960s, becoming a significant topos in contemporary religious and political discourse. Not only the mainstream and academic press, but far-right and neo-Nazi circles maintain that there has been an “esoteric SS” still operating under the sign of the so-called “Black Sun,” combatting the “forces of evil.” The symbol of the Black Sun has become particularly popular since the 1990s, and other central topoi of “esoteric neo-Nazism” have become recognizable in popular culture today. This article will re-construct the genealogy of esoteric neo-Nazism and investigate the question of the alleged “esoteric” qualities of National Socialism. It will be shown that the “esoteric” content of National Socialism is to be regarded as a later, postwar invention without a historical foundation in the Third Reich.
Academics tend to look on 'esoteric', 'occult' or 'magical' beliefs with contempt, but are usually ignorant about the religious and philosophical traditions to which these terms refer, or their relevance to intellectual history. Wouter Hanegraaff tells the neglected story of how intellectuals since the Renaissance have tried to come to terms with a cluster of 'pagan' ideas from late antiquity that challenged the foundations of biblical religion and Greek rationality. Expelled from the academy on the basis of Protestant and Enlightenment polemics, these traditions have come to be perceived as the Other by which academics define their identity to the present day. Hanegraaff grounds his discussion in a meticulous study of primary and secondary sources, taking the reader on an exciting intellectual voyage from the fifteenth century to the present day and asking what implications the forgotten history of exclusion has for established textbook narratives of religion, philosophy and science.
Zusammenfassung Die Religionswissenschaft kann sich nicht auf einen gemeinsamen Gegenstand einigen. Bei genauerem Hinsehen zeigt sich jedoch, dass in der bisherigen Diskussion ein konsensfähiges zeitgenössisches Alltagsverständnis von „Religion“ vorausgesetzt wird, das aber unerklärt und unreflektiert blieb. Im Rahmen eines kulturwissenschaftlichen Ansatzes ist es möglich, dieses Alltagsverständnis so zu konzeptualisieren, dass es als historischer Gegenstand der Religionswissenschaft etabliert werden kann. Dazu wird insbesondere auf die theoretischen Ansätze von Ernesto Laclau, Judith Butler und Michel Foucault zurückgegriffen. Die vorgestellten Überlegungen sind unmittelbar anschlussfähig an die postkolonialen Debatten und ermöglichen dadurch zugleich, das Konzept eines „europäischen Religionsbegriffs“ zugunsten eines globalen Verständnisses zu überwinden.
There is an ongoing debate whether esotericism could be a meaningful subject for Religious Studies. The recent history of the academic research into esotericism will be presented and critically discussed, how it has tried to define its subject and how this discussions have reached an impasse. It is proposed that certain theoretical perspectives from cultural studies offer alternative ways in determining a research subject, especially one based on Ernesto Laclau's concept of “empty signifiers.” This argument will be followed by a methodological application that translates the theoretical considerations into a concrete and specific research design of discursive networks.