The rise and fiery end of German National Socialism between 1919 and 1945 represents one of the most puzzling phenomena of modern history, far stranger than any work of fiction. After a life on the mean streets of Vienna and Munich, an unemployed nobody named Adolf Hitler seized control of a tiny, dysfunctional party on the fringes of Munich politics, suddenly developed a talent for fiery oratory, and turned the party into one of the most terrifyingly effective political machines of modern times. Only 14 years after that party’s founding, with a platform consisting mostly of medieval racist fantasies, it seized control of one of the most educated and cultured nations in the world.

In 1933, when Hitler became its Chancellor, Germany was economically, politically, and militarily prostrate, bankrupted by the Great Depression, burdened with vast reparations by the victors of the First World War, and threatened with immediate invasion if it attempted to start rebuilding its military. Seven years later German tanks and aircraft crushed the allied French and British armies, conquered France in less than two months, and came within an ace of forcing Britain out of the war. In the early part of the war Hitler and his armies forged an empire from the Atlantic to the gates of Moscow and from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara desert, and went under only after most of the world rose up in arms to crush them. As Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier pointed out in their seminal work on the occult dimensions of Nazism, Le Matin du Magiciens (The Morning of the Magicians, 1960), the historical arc of the Nazi movement might best be called “a few years in the absolute elsewhere.”

Since 1960, a substantial literature in most western languages has pointed to occultism as a major factor in the Nazi phenomenon. Most of these works are packed with misinformation, factual inaccuracies, and blatant fabrications, and a very large number of them draw sweeping conclusions about Nazi occultism without having any clear idea of what occultism is in the first place. The irony, as a handful of pioneering historians have pointed out, is that a very solid case can be made for occultism in the National Socialist movement, but that nearly everything written about the subject has missed the actual occult dimensions of Nazism and strayed off in pursuit of fantasy and fraud instead. See Occultism.

The occult side of National Socialism began long before the Nazi party itself took shape, with a Germanic racist offshoot of the Theosophical movement called Ariosophy. The two chief Ariosophical theorists, Guido von List (1848–1919) and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (1874–1954), rejected the Theosophical faith in spiritual evolution, replacing it with a cosmology in which members of an original semi-divine Aryan race had fallen from grace and lost their superhuman powers through interbreeding with subhuman beast-men. List and Liebenfels each founded secret societies, the Höhere Armanen-Orden (Higher Armanen Order, HAO) and the Ordo Novi Templi (Order of New Templars, ONT) respectively, to promote Ariosophical teachings. The ONT published a magazine, Ostara, in which many of the later themes of Nazi politics and racial theory first saw print. See Höhere Armanen-Orden; Ordo Novi Templi; Theosophical Society.

Ariosophy found an eager audience in Germany in the years before the First World War, and in 1912 the first German Ariosophical secret society, the Germanenorden, was founded by Hermann Pohl. Originally launched as the secret wing of the largest German antisemitic organization of the time, the Hammer-bund, the Germanenorden was pulled between occult and political factions and finally split in half in 1916. The Munich lodge of the Germanenorden Walvater, the magical side of the schism, operated under the cover name of the Thule-Gesellschaft (Thule Society), drawing its name from the lost continent of Thule. In 1918 members of the Thule Society organized a political party, the German Workers Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP), as a front to draw the working classes away from communism. See Germanenorden; Thule; Thule Society.

On the evening of September 12, 1919, an Austrian veteran named Adolf Hitler, who worked as an informer spying on Munich political parties for German Army intelligence, attended a meeting of the DAP. He joined a few days later and quickly became the party’s leading figure. A longtime student of the occult and a convinced Ariosophist, Hitler soon came to the notice of important figures in the Thule Society. Thule members Rudolf Hess and Ernst Röhm became close associates of the future Führer. Another important figure was Dietrich Eckart, an Ariosophical occultist and writer associated with many Thule initiates though not actually a member himself. Eckart became Hitler’s mentor; he has also been named as Hitler’s occult instructor, and while no conclusive evidence supports the claim, that role was one Eckart was certainly equipped to fill. See Hitler, Adolf.

As the DAP transformed itself into the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party, NSDAP) and became the dominant force on the German far right, many other Ariosophists and occultists flocked to it. One was Heinrich Himmler, who joined in 1919 and took over the SS (Schutzstaffel, Protection Force) in 1929 after a series of bitter political struggles within the party. Perhaps the most serious of Nazi occultists, Himmler believed himself to be the reincarnation of the medieval German king Heinrich I. Under his leadership the SS became an occult secret society with immense influence throughout German society, and the SS headquarters at the medieval castle of Wewelsburg became the center of the Third Reich’s occult dimension as Himmler implemented many of the old ONT programs on a colossal scale. See SS (Schutzstaffel).

Ironically, given the extensive occult involvements of top Nazi leaders, the history of National Socialist Germany reads like an object lesson in the dangers of negative magic. Blind to the consequences of their own actions as they lashed out at imaginary racial foes, the Nazi leadership created enemies for the regime faster than Nazi armies and concentration camps could kill them, in a spiral of violence and self-inflicted destruction that ended with Hitler’s suicide, the collapse of the Nazi movement, and the total devastation of Germany itself. Any student of occult philosophy could have predicted such an outcome.

The magical dimensions of National Socialism were no secret in the occult community before or during the war. French occult periodicals discussed Hitler’s occult background in the 1930s, and English magician Dion Fortune, in a series of war letters circulated among British occultists to organize anti-Nazi rituals, described the magical side of the Nazi phenomenon in plausible terms. Starting in 1960, though, this material was all but buried beneath a mountain of sensational literature that exploited rumors of Hitler’s connections with the occult and the world of secret societies for all they were worth. Pauwels and Bergier’s Le Matin du Magiciens began the trend with a colorful but inaccurate description of Hitler’s occult connections. From Pauwels and Bergier come the claims that top Nazis were in contact with Tibetan masters, and that the geography professor Karl Haushofer was the secret mastermind behind Hitler’s rise.

Even more influential was Trevor Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny (1972), which used ideas borrowed from Rudolf Steiner and the Austrian mystic Walter Stein to fill out a colorful story about Hitler’s quest for world power through control of the Spear of Longinus, allegedly the spear that pierced the side of Jesus during his crucifixion. Ravenscroft’s book has been shown to be nonsense by skeptic Ken Anderson in his book Hitler and the Occult (1995), but The Spear of Destiny remains in print and its claims have been recycled for more than three decades. See Anthroposophical Society; Grail; Spear of Longinus.

Another dimension of the postwar mythology of National Socialism has its roots in the rise of neo-Nazi movements and secret societies around the world. The two most important figures here are Savitri Devi (1905–82) and Miguel Serrano (1917–). Savitri Devi (born Maximiani Portas) argued that Hitler was an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu and the redeemer of the Aryan race in the Kali Yuga, the dark age of Hindu tradition. In her major work of Nazi theology, The Lightning and the Sun (1958), she argued that Hitler was a messianic figure who used the violent methods of the Kali Yuga to initiate a new Golden Age. These ideas became popular in neo-Nazi groups in the 1960s, after Devi made contact with National Socialists in Britain and America.

Chilean author and diplomat Miguel Serrano’s mystical theology of Nazism, Hitlerismo esoterico (“esoteric Hitlerism”), reaches much more deeply into occult traditions. Trained in a Chilean magical lodge with links to right-wing French occult circles, Serrano adopted a Gnostic theology in which the distant ancestors of the Aryans, divine beings from the hidden dimension of the Green Ray descended to earth on the lost polar continent of Hyperborea to do battle with an inferior godling and the beast-men he had created. Some of the Hyperboreans interbred with the beast-men, creating today’s humans, while others withdrew from the earth’s surface into the hidden cities of Shambhala and Agharta inside the hollow earth. According to Serrano, Hitler was “the last avatar,” a mighty being who withdrew to the hollow earth at the end of the Second World War before traveling home to the realm of the Green Ray. Despite their resemblance to third-rate science fiction, Serrano’s theories have been adopted by a number of neo-Nazi secret societies. See Black Sun; hollow earth; neo-Nazi secret societies.

All of this postwar mythologizing, much of it carried out by people with little if any knowledge of actual occultism, has served mostly to cover the actual occult dimensions of National Socialism with many layers of nonsense. A few historians have looked into the Ariosophical background and occult activities of the National Socialist movement, but the definitive history of Nazi occultism remains to be written.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006