The origins of Nazism and its relation to the occult has been a part of popular culture since at least 1959. There are documentaries and books on the topic, including The Morning of the Magicians (1960) and The Spear of Destiny (1972). Historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke analyzed the topic in The Occult Roots of Nazism in which he argued cautiously for some real links between some ideals of Ariosophy and Nazi ideology. He also analyzed the problems of the numerous popular “occult historiography” books written on the topic. He sought to separate empiricism and sociology from the “Modern Mythology of Nazi Occultism” that exist in many books which “have represented the Nazi phenomenon as the product of arcane and demonic influence”. He considered most of these to be “sensational and under-researched”.
Goodrick-Clarke, the Völkisch movement, and ariosophy
Historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke‘s 1985 book The Occult Roots of Nazism discussed the possibility of links between the ideas of the Occult and those of Nazism. The book’s main subject was the racist-occult movement of Ariosophy, a major strand of Nationalist Esotericism in Germany and Austria during the 1800s and early 1900’s. He described his work as “an underground history, concerned with the myths, symbols, and fantasies that bear on the development of reactionary, authoritarian, and Nazi styles of thinking”. He focused on this unexamined topic of history because “fantasies can achieve a causal status once they have been institutionalized in beliefs, values, and social groups.”
He describes the Völkisch movement as a sort of anti-modernist, anti-liberal reaction to the many political, social, and economic changes occurring in Germanic Europe in the late 1800s. Part of his argument is that the rapid industrialization and rise of cities changed the “traditional, rural social order” and ran into conflict with the “pre-capitalist attitudes and institutions” of the area. He described the racially elitist Pan-Germanism movement of ethnic German Austrians as a reaction to Austria not being included in the German Empire of Bismarck.
Goodrick-Clarke opined that the Ariosophist movement took Völkisch ideas but added occultish themes about things like Freemasonry, Cabbalism, and Rosicrucianism in order to “prove the modern world was based on false and evil principles”. The Ariosophist “ideas and symbols filtered through to several anti-semitic and Nationalist groups in late Wilhelmian Germany, from which the early Nazi Party emerged in Munich after the First World War”. He showed some links between two Ariosophists and Heinrich Himmler.
The Modern Mythology of Nazi Occultism
“There is a persistent idea, widely canvassed in a sensational genre of literature, that the Nazis were principally inspired and directed by occult agencies from 1920 to 1945”.
Appendix E of Goodrick-Clarke’s book is entitled The Modern Mythology of Nazi Occultism. In it, he gives a highly critical view of much of the popular literature on the topic. In his words, these books describe Hitler & the Nazis as being controlled by a “hidden power . . . characterized either as a discarnate entity (e.g., ‘black forces‘, ‘invisible hierarchies‘, ‘unknown superiors‘) or as a magical elite in a remote age or distant location”. He referred to the writers of this genre as “crypto-historians“.The works of the genre, he wrote,
“were typically sensational and under-researched. A complete ignorance of the primary sources was common to most authors and inaccuracies and wild claims were repeated by each newcomer to the genre until an abundant literature existed, based on wholly spurious ‘facts’ concerning the powerful Thule Society, the Nazi links with the East, and Hitler’s occult initiation.”
In a new preface for the 2004 edition of The Occult Roots… Goodrick-Clarke comments that in 1985, when his book first appeared, “Nazi ‘black magic’ was regarded as a topic for sensational authors in pursuit of strong sales.”
In his 2002 work Black Sun, which was originally intended to trace the survival of “occult Nazi themes” in the postwar period,Goodrick-Clarke considered it necessary to readdress the topic. He devotes one Chapter of the book to “the Nazi mysteries”, as he terms the field of Nazi occultism there. Other reliable summaries of the development of the genre have been written by German historians. The German edition of The Occult Roots… includes an essay “Nationalsozialismus und Okkultismus” (“National Socialism and Occultism”), which traces the origins of the speculation about Nazi occultism back to publications from the late 1930s, and which was subsequently translated by Goodrick-Clarke into English. The German historian Michael Rißmann has also included a longer “excursus” about “Nationalsozialismus und Okkultismus” in his acclaimed book on Adolf Hitler’s religious beliefs.
According to Goodricke-Clarke the speculation of Nazi occultism originated from “post-war fascination with Nazism”. The “horrid fascination” of Nazism upon the Western mind emerges from the “uncanny interlude in modern history” that it presents to an observer a few decades later. The idolization of Hitler in Nazi Germany, its short lived dominion on the European continent and Nazism’s extreme antisemitism set it apart from other periods of modern history. “Outside a purely secular frame of reference, Nazism was felt to be the embodiment of evil in a modern twentieth-century regime, a monstrous pagan relapse in the Christian community of Europe.”
By the early 1960s, “one could now clearly detect a mystique of Nazism.” A sensationalistic and fanciful presentation of its figures and symbols, shorn of all political and historical contexts” gained ground with thrillers, non-fiction books and films and permeated “the milieu of popular culture.”
Some of this modern mythology even touches Goodrick-Clarke’s topic directly. The rumor that Adolf Hitler had encountered the Austrian monk and anti-semitic publicist, Lanz von Liebenfels already at the age of 8, at Heilgenkreuz abbey, goes back to Les mystiques du soleil (1971) by Michel-Jean Angbert. “This episode is wholly imaginary.”
Nevertheless, Michel-Jean Angbert and the other authors discussed by Goodrick-Clarke present their accounts as real, so that this modern mythology has led to several legends that resemble conspiracy theories, concerning, for example, the Vril Society or rumours about Karl Haushofer‘s connection to the occult. The most influential books were Trevor Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny and The Morning of the Magicians by Pauwels and Bergier.
In Ravenscroft’s book a specific interest of Hitler concerning the Spear of Destiny is alleged. With the annexation of Austria in 1938, the Hofburg Spear, a relic stored in Vienna, had actually come into the possession of the Third Reich and Hitler subsequently had it moved to Nuremberg in Germany. It was returned to Austria after the war.
Demonic possession of Hitler
For a demonic influence on Hitler, Hermann Rauschning‘s Hitler Speaks is brought forward as source, although most modern scholars do not consider Rauschning reliable. (As Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke summarises, “recent scholarship has almost certainly proved that Rauschning’s conversations were mostly invented”.) Similarly to Rauschning, August Kubizek, one of Hitler’s closest friends since childhood, claims that Hitler—17 years old at the time—once spoke to him of “returning Germany to its former glory”; of this comment August said, “It was as if another being spoke out of his body, and moved him as much as it did me.”
Some members of the Catholic Church also believe that Hitler was possessed by the devil. There even are documents that state that Pope Pius XII tried to perform an exorcism on Hitler at a distance, but failed.
An article “Hitler’s Forgotten Library” by Timothy Ryback, published in The Atlantic (May 2003),mentions a book from Hitler’s private library authored by Dr. Ernst Schertel. Schertel, whose interests were flagellation, dance, occultism, nudism and BDSM, had also been active as an activist for sexual liberation before 1933. He had been imprisoned in Nazi Germany for seven months and his doctoral degree was revoked. He is supposed to have sent a dedicated copy of his 1923 book Magic: History, Theory and Practice to Hitler some time in the mid-1920s. Hitler is said to have marked extensive passages, including one which reads “He who does not have the demonic seed within himself will never give birth to a magical world.” The quote was previously mistranslated as “a new world” in Ryback’s article. An English translation of Magic is due June 2009.
Theosophist Alice A. Bailey stated during World War II that Adolf Hitler was possessed by what she called the Dark Forces. Her follower Benjamin Creme has stated that through Hitler (and a group of equally evil men around him in Nazi Germany, together with a group of militarists in Japan and a further group around Mussolini in Italy) was released the energies of the Antichrist, which, according to theosophical teachings is not an individual person but forces of destruction.
According to James Herbert Brennan in his book, Occult Reich; Hitler’s mentor, Dietrich Eckhart (to whom Hitler dedicates Mein Kampf), wrote to a friend of his in 1923: “Follow Hitler! He will dance, but it is I who have called the tune. We have given him the ‘means of communication’ with Them. Do not mourn for me; I shall have influenced history more than any other German.”
New World Order
Conspiracy theorists “frequently identify German National Socialism inter alia as a precursor of the New World Order.” With regard to Hitler’s later ambition of imposing a National Socialist regime throughout Europe, Nazi propaganda used the term Neuordnung (often poorly translated as “the New Order”, while actually referring to the “re-structurization” of state borders on the European map and the resulting post-war economic hegemony of Greater Germany), so one could probably say that the Nazis pursued “a” new world order. But the claim that Hitler and the Thule Society conspired to create “the” New World Order (as put forward on some webpages) is completely unfounded.
There are also unverifiable rumours that the occultist Aleister Crowley sought to contact Hitler during World War II. Despite several allegations and speculations to the contrary (e.g. Giorgio Galli) there is no evidence of such an encounter. In 1991, John Symonds, one of Crowley’s literary executors published a book: The Medusa’s Head or Conversations between Aleister Crowley and Adolf Hitler, which has definitely been shown as literary fiction. That the edition of this book was limited to 350 also contributed to the mystery surrounding the topic. Mention of a contact between Crowley and Hitler—without any sources or evidence—is also made in a letter from René Guénon to Julius Evola dated October 29, 1949, which later reached a broader audience.
Erik Jan Hanussen
When Hitler and the Occult describes how Hitler “seemed endowed with even greater authority and charisma” after he had resumed public speaking in March 1927, the documentary states that “this may have been due to the influence” of the clairvoyant performer and publicist, Erik Jan Hanussen. It is said that “Hanussen helped Hitler perfect a series of exaggerated poses,” useful for speaking before a huge audience. The documentary then interviews Dusty Sklar about the contact between Hitler and Hanussen, and the narrator makes the statement about “occult techniques of mind control and crowd domination”.
Whether Hitler had met Hanussen at all is not certain. That he even encountered him before March 1927 is not confirmed by other sources about Hanussen. In the late 1920s to early 1930s Hanussen made political predictions in his own newspaper, Hanussens Bunte Wochenschau, that gradually started to favour Hitler, but until late 1932 these predictions varied. In 1929, Hanussen predicted, for example, that Wilhelm II would return to Germany in 1930 and that the problem of unemployment would be solved in 1931.