GODS AND BEASTS -- THE NAZIS AND THE OCCULT
CHAPTER 3: Gods and Beasts
In the years preceding World War I, German anti-Semitism was fed by an underground stream of secret cults running like a sewer beneath Vienna and other cultural centers. Hitler dipped into this stream. He lived in a flophouse in the city's slum area, and his life had all the elements of a scenario for a Charlie Chaplin movie about the Little Tramp. He was twenty when he came to Vienna in 1909, rejected for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts, and according to eyewitness accounts, lonely, shy with women, moody, given to violent outbursts -- in short, even in those squalid quarters where the struggle for existence must have brought out the brutal side of human nature, exceedingly odd. He later wrote in Mein Kampf of this period that it gave him "the foundations of a knowledge" which sustained him for the rest of his life: "In this period there took shape within me a world picture and a philosophy which became the granite foundation of all my acts. In addition to what I then created, I have had to learn little; and I have had to alter nothing."
He spent much of his time studying Eastern religions, yoga, occultism, hypnotism, astrology, telepathy, graphology, phrenology, and similar subjects which often appeal to pursuers of magical powers, who usually happen to be powerless. His penchant for the occult led him to a tobacconist's shop near his lodging where he came upon a magazine, Ostara, which must have drawn him. This strange publication was produced by the mystical theorist, [Jorg [Georg] Lanz von Liebenfels] Lanz, who wrote under the acronyn PONT (Prior of the Order of the New Templars).
Vienna, in those days one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe, was hospitable to the formation of occult groups which sprang up with religious fervor, symptomatic of the irrational atmosphere of the time. Vienna's population went up 259 percent between 1860 and 1900, and the flood of new arrivals sought relief from the frustrations of an overcrowded and expensive existence. The city was deluged by mediums, necromancers, and astrologers who claimed to be occupied with a futuristic science which the scientific establishment was as yet unable to appreciate, since experiments were still unverified. The gullible -- scholars included -- believed that intuition and vision enabled specially endowed natures to investigate phenomena which eluded ordinary people.
Lanz, a defrocked Cistercian monk, started his group, the Order of the New Templars, in 1900. His friend, Guido von List, a somewhat different sort of pseudo-priest, started his group, the Armanen, in 1908. Membership was often interlocking, and there was continual feedback between the cults. Around 1912, a number of members of both cults finally came together under one roof in the Germanen Orden, which prefigured the Nazi party.
Historians are divided on the question of whether Hitler was actually ever a member of either the Temple of the New Order or the Armanen, but it is certain that he was a reader of Ostara and met Lanz several times in that period he later alluded to as providing him with "the foundations of a knowledge" which was to become so important to him.
Writing in an oracular, pseudo-anthropological manner, Lanz took mankind from the beginning of time and divided the species into the ace-men and the ape-men, the first being white, blue-eyed, blond, and responsible for everything heroic in mankind. The second group was the repository of everything vile. According to this comic-book mentality, the heroes -- called variously Asings, Heldinge, or Arioheroiker -- were superior by reason of breeding and blood, whereas the inferiors -- Afflinge, Waninge, Schriittlinge, or Tschandale -- always threatened to contaminate through interbreeding.
Ostara was one of a number of magazines which surfaced during this period. Like some of our own pulp magazines, it combined the erotic and the occult in an irrational blend which could capture the fantasies of lost souls. Its lurid stories were calculated to explain history as a struggle to the death between the pure Aryan and the hairy subhuman. This racial struggle, described in mystical, turgid prose, was the essence of human existence. To illustrate it, Lanz filled his pages with gorgeous blond women falling into the snares of satyr-like men. For all the Aryan's superiority, it was quite evident that there was one way in which he was not superior: sexual prowess. The female member of the master race was sexual enough, to be sure, but the male could not hope to compete against the enemy in having sufficient potency to satisfy the infinite needs of the blond beauty. If this sounds reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan's pronouncements against the "inferior" blacks, it is: The lower races must not pollute, through interbreeding, the rich blood of the higher races. Since, sexually, the lower races are more potent, this presents a considerable challenge to the hero.
Lanz was writing in the tradition of a volkisch revival of the conservative Germanic ideal of woman as the keeper of the hearth, in contrast with the modern suffragette who was just then demanding her rights and asserting her own sexual needs.
Race, blood, and sex combined with ancient German occultism -- spells, number mysticism -- to make an overrich Viennese pastry. Not many soup-kitchen derelicts, seeking an escape from their hopeless state, could resist such a package. Ostara, Briefbucherei der blonden Mannesrechtler ("Newsletters of the Blond Fighters for the Rights of Men") addressed these men, for example, in its March 1908 issue when it ran a full-page advertisement promoting a book to help young men choose a career. "What shall I become?" read the advertisement.
It is all too clear what one regular reader, Hider, became, though the direct influence of Ostara upon him is not known. His obsession with the "nightmare vision of the seduction of hundreds and thousands of girls by repulsive, bandy-legged Jew bastards" is identical with Ostara's. We have Hider's own confession that one of his favorite movies was King Kong, the plot of which might have been concocted by Lanz himself.
For such mentalities, Ostara was thoughtful enough to provide a yardstick by which the reader could measure himself as to racial worth and be assured that he was not Jewish. The Rassenwertigkeitindex allowed him to score on the basis of eye, hair, and skin color, and the size and shape of nose, hands, feet, skull, and even buttocks. Black eyes were twelve points to the bad, blue-gray eyes twelve points to the good. Being a reader of Ostara was already sufficient qualification for membership in the "mixed type," the stratum above the lower races. Hitler presumably would have rated himself in this category.
With headlines like these -- ARE YOU BLOND? THEN YOU ARE THE CREATOR AND PRESERVER OF CIVILIZATION. ARE YOU BLOND? THEN YOU ARE THREATENED BY PERILS. READ THE LIBRARY FOR BLONDS AND ADVOCATES OF MALE RIGHTS. -- and subtitles like these -- Race and Nobility; Race and Foreign Affairs; The Metaphysics of Race -- Ostara, thirty-five pfennigs a copy, sometimes reached circulation figures of 100,000 in Austria and Germany.
The Order of the New Templars which this ludicrous oracle founded enrolled blond, blue-eyed members -- and only if they promised to marry women with the same attributes. This was of paramount importance, even though it would not guarantee race purity, since "Through woman, sin came into the world, and it so over and over again because woman is especially susceptible to the love artifices of her animal-like inferiors." The blond Siegfried must win her away from the dark seducer, slaying dragons and giants if necessary. Our interest in this theology is enriched on learning that Lanz's New Templars were assembled as soon as he himself was expelled from a Cistercian monastery for "carnal and worldly desires."
Lanz, a teacher's son, was born in Vienna in 1874. He changed his birthdate and place of origin to mislead astrologers. As a child, his wish had been to become a Knight Templar and to own Templar chateaux or, at least, to reconstruct them. His strongest impression as a youth had been an opera, The Templar and the Jewess, which transported him into ecstasy. (Occultists have always argued that the Templars, a medieval religious and military order, were a Gnostic sect working to purify the world of evil.) In 1893, at the age of nineteen, he entered the Cistercian monastery Holy Cross, which had an important place in Austrian history. The following year, he issued a work about a discovery which held secret meaning for him: a monument from the period of the Crusades, of a manly figure treading barefoot on an animal-like human being. In this relief sculpture Lanz saw the triumph of the higher races over the lesser races, and it became the symbol of his ideology.
In 1900, a year after he was expelled from the monastery, he surfaced again as "Baron von Liebenfels" and started his order, usurping the name and rituals from his beloved Templars. His sign was the swastika; his slogan, "Race fight until the castration knife." This studious-looking, bespectacled young man, as much the model of a minor official as his kindred soul, Himmler, preached a fall from a race-pure paradise that came about when the "Arioheroiker" interbred with the "Dark Races," or "Demonic Slopwork." The hero, Frauja (the Gothic name for Jesus), came to save the Aryan women from the original sinner of "Sodomie" through the commandment "Love thy neighbor as thyself -- if he is a member of your own race." This Lanz took to be the teaching of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. He called his theory Ariosophy.
As crazy as this may sound, Lanz quickly found people who were willing to believe -- and some of the believers were wealthy men, ready to help Lanz make his wildest dreams come true. With their help, he bought the castle of Werfenstein in Lower Austria, in 1907. Other castles, in Marienkamp near Ulm and on the island of Rugen in the Baltic, were also converted into temples where the order conducted elaborate Grail ceremonies. The carefully screened initiates, awesome in white hooded robes, performed celebrations written by Lanz. Using his monastic training, he also composed his own voluminous variations of liturgical texts: a two-volumed New Templars' Breviary, The Psalms in German, and a "secret Bible for the initiated" which ran to ten volumes, as well as prayer books and the like. The race struggle was his major concern, but the order also dabbled in astrology, the Cabala, phrenology, homeopathy, and nutrition. After reconstructing somewhat the Werfenstein castle, fitting it out with Templar symbols of ritual magic, and raising up a swastika flag, never before seen in that part of the world in modern days, he made plans for world salvation. To ensure "the extirpation of the animal-man and the propagation of the higher new man," he called for a radical program; genetic selection, sterilization, deportations to the "ape jungle," and race extermination by forced labor or murder. "Offer sacrifices to Frauja, you sons of the gods!" Lanz wrote. "Up, and sacrifice to him the children of the Schrattlinge." He advocated the establishment of special breeding colonies for the production of more Aryans.
He called his major work nothing less than Theozoologie oder die Kunde von den Sodoms-Affligen und dem Gotter-Elektron. Eine Einfuhrung in die alteste und neueste Weltanschauung und eine Rechtfertigung des Furstentumes und des Adels ("Theozoology or the Lore of the Sodom-Apelings and the Electron of the Gods. An Introduction into the Oldest and Newest Philosophy and a Justification of Royalty and Nobility").
He believed Aryan heroes, "Masterpieces of the gods," to be possessed of splendid electromagnetic- radiological organs and transmitters which gave them special powers. By following his eugenic measures, they would revitalize their lost faculties. Joachim Fest, one of Germany's leading journalists, comments on this in his book, Hitler:
Exactly what had Hitler to do with Lanz? In Mein Kampf the only possible reference to Ostara may be this one: "For the first time in my life I bought myself some anti-Semitic pamphlets for a few heller." His friend from childhood, August Kubizek, mentions that during this period Hitler joined an anti-semitic lodge. But according to Lanz's biographer, Wilfried Daim, not only was Hitler a regular reader of Ostara, but, because he had missed several issues, he looked up Lanz himself in 1909, who was happy to supply him with back copies. In fact, says Daim, he saw Lanz a few times and "left an impression of youth, pallor, and modesty." Fifteen months later, through three changes of residence, the copies were still in Hitler's possession. Lanz claimed him as one of his disciples, writing to an occultist in 1932: "Hitler's one of our pupils. You will one day experience that he, and through him we, will one day be victorious and develop a movement that makes the world tremble."
Hitler attempted to bury all his earlier influences and his origins, and he spent a great deal of energy hiding them. Lanz was forbidden to publish after Germany annexed Austria in 1938. Hitler ordered the murder of Reinhold Hanisch, a friend who had shared the down-and-out days in Vienna. But the influence of Lanz's Ariosophy is evident in passages like these from Mein Kampf:
Here, surely, is the same paranoid, sex-obsessed imagination as the renegade monk's. Though we may never have certain knowledge as to whether or not Hitler was a member of the New Templars, there is ample reason to suppose that Lanz's nasty vapors helped to poison the Third Reich.
The other Viennese occultist who attracted Lanz's disciples, Guido von List, presented a somewhat different variation of the occultist-racist package.
List was born in 1848 to a rich Viennese merchant. At fourteen, in the catacombs of St. Stefan's Cathedral in Vienna, he vowed before a dilapidated altar that when he became adult be would build a temple to the pagan god Wotan. His life's work settled, he became first a merchant and then secretary of the Austrian Alp Society. Members used the Heil greeting, harking back to paganism. List thought of himself as the link with an ancient race of Germanic priests and wise men called the Armanen. Their holiest emblem had been the swastika. Taking the same symbol, which had been in widespread use by many ancient peoples, he started his own secret society, the Armanen, in 1908. To the Germanic peoples, the swastika was an occult symbol for the sun, which represented life. German racists believed that one of the proofs of the inequality of races was that some had a more positive attitude toward the sun than others, and sun worship became a pagan ritual among volkisch groups. List became a pioneer in reviving Teutonic folklore and mythology. This helped to prepare the climate for nationalism.
The Armanen succeeded in attracting such people as Vienna's mayor, Karl Lueger, and the well-known Theosophist Franz Hartmann. List claimed that his group was the inner circle, hence, the leaders of the Aryo-Germanic race, with power to unlock the secrets of the universe. They had the call. They were similar to God. They also happened to be radically anti-Semitic. List apparently never lacked for rich supporters to finance his undertakings. His major undertaking was his plan to lead the master race, which his presumed psychic powers led him to believe he was qualified to do, having been in communication with ancients possessing esoteric wisdom.
He looked like an ancient prophet with his long, flowing white beard. He taught his members runic occultism. Wotan was said to have invented the runes, the ancient alphabet, as part of his secret science. (The Gothic runa means "secret," "secret decision," similar to the Old Iranian run: "secret," "mystery." The early Finnish runo, taken from the Germanic, has to do with magic songs.) Edgar Polome points out in his essay "Approaches to Germanic Mythology," in Myth in Indo-European Antiquity: "What Odin [another name for Wotan] originally acquired by hanging on the tree for nine days, starving and thirsting as in a shamanic initiation rite, was a powerful secret lore, of which the runes later on became merely the tool."
The idea that the runes have occult significance was mentioned as early as A.D. 98 by Tacitus, who described the Germanic peoples as making marks on wood branches in order to practice augury and divination. Old Norse literature speaks of runes carved on wood, over which incantations or charms were spoken. List wrote a book about runes in 1908. Like other German occult groups, his was preoccupied with the magical power contained in the old alphabet.
List had other concerns too, according to Trevor Ravenscroft's book, The Spear of Destiny, largely based on the revelations of his friend Dr. Walter Stein, a Viennese scientist who was a student at Vienna University from 1909 to 1913, when Hitler was living in the city.
A deep interest in occultism, particularly the Holy Grail, led Stein to a bookshop in the old quarter of Vienna that was frequented by Hitler as well. The proprietor, Ernst Pretzsche, had a group photograph on his desk, showing himself with List, whose books on Pan-German mysticism were enjoying a great vogue. But the press had revealed black magic practices, sending Vienna into a furor. List was unmasked as the leader of a blood brotherhood which went in for sexual perversions and substituted the swastika for the cross. The Viennese were so shocked that List had to flee from Vienna. Ravenscroft reports that Dr. Stein told him how Hitler attained higher levels of consciousness by means of drugs and made a penetrating study of medieval occultism and ritual magic, discussing with him the whole span of the political, historical and philosophical reading through which he formulated what was later to become the Nazi Weltanschauung.
Pretzsche had introduced Hitler to consciousness-expanding drugs, as well as to astrological and alchemical symbolism. Hitler told Stein that Pretzsche had been present when List tried to materialize' 'the Incubus" in a ritual designed to create a "Moon Child."
Altering states of consciousness by means of drugs or sexual perversions are not unknown to occult groups. By daring to break taboos against acts which would disgust other people, one might gain powers of which ordinary men did not dream. Hitler's later reputation for unnatural practices (coprophilia, masochism) may well have been deserved -- may, in fact, have been inspired by tutors such as Lanz and List.
The historian Reginald H. Phelps, although he does not touch on the occult practices of Lanz and List, points out in his article "'Before Hitler Came': Thule Society and Germanen Orden," in The Journal of Modern History, that they propagated their theories "with varying success among intelligentsia and aristocrats as well as among that famous foundering petty bourgeoisie that is supposed to be the chief consumer of such wares; the same names run through the same arguments and blow up the same balloons of theory, year after year, in book after book."
About 1912, disciples of Lanz and List started the Germanen Orden under the leadership of a member of List's Armanen, a journalist named Philipp Stauff, and several others.
Theodor Fritsch, one of the founders, had great organizational ability. Originally a technician for windmills, he then published a trade journal for millers, the Deutscher Muller, which provided him with the funds to pursue his real passion, "scientific" anti-Semitism. Besides, windmillers represented a dying branch of the economy. From the 1880's on he had been a leader in the Pan-German movement. His books and tracts brought him a certain notoriety. In 1902, he began to publish the Hammer, a racist scandal sheet which aimed at eliminating all Jewish participation from German cultural life. He tried to spread the word to the workers as well as to the elite, calling for a racist-nationalist organization that would combine the smaller groups into one "above the parties." It was to be impeccably Aryan and was to bring "enlightenment" to the Germanic peoples.
He was joined by a sealer of weights and measures from Magdeburg, Hermann Pohl, and also by Stauff, who brought with him several other List disciples. The organization was to be a secret Bund for the purpose of combatting what they believed to be the Jewish secret Bund, which was plotting world conspiracy. One could only become a member by proving German origin to the third generation. Race science was to be taught, provable in the same way for human beings as the principles of scientific breeding had been established for plants and animals. The origin of all sickness was the result of the mixing of races, they held. The principles of Pan-Germanism were to be disseminated not only among Germans but among all blood-related peoples. The fight was against all un-German thinking, which included Judaism and internationalism.
While the Germanen Orden violently opposed Freemasonry as international and Jew-ridden, it used Freemason terminology and organization. Pohl had a theory that this would guarantee secrecy. Also, Freemasonry's concept of brotherhood would help prevent dissension between members.
Their symbols were runes and swastikas, their costumes reminiscent of Wotan and paganism.
Stauff and Pohl were the only open members. Closet cultists have always enjoyed the high degree of secrecy surrounding the meetings of occult groups. Rites are rarely, if ever, committed to paper. It is as if there is a recognition that power tends to evaporate and mysteries to become cheapened with exposure. At any rate, the initiation and other rites must have been similar to those of the Freemasons and Lanz's and List's groups. As with those other groups, there were inner and outer circles, with the latter yearning to be admitted into the ranks of the former.
The mysteries were revealed through signs and symbols which only the properly initiated could interpret, and only when deemed worthy. The typical occultist saw symbolism everywhere, and hermetic significance in everything. Groups also borrowed heavily from each other, so that if one saw wisdom in the ancient rune symbols, chances were that another would adopt it. Stauff and List wrote books on runic wisdom. Meetings of the Germanen Orden taught the same.
Before World War I, despite countless leaflets distributed and propaganda spewed out, growth of the Germanen Orden was slow. Fritsch issued a call to action. The time for counterrevolution was at hand. For decades the Germanic peoples had been sabotaged by the Tschandale, Lanz's term for the lower races. Now the "chief criminals" must be defeated. "A few hundred courageous men can accomplish the work," said Fritsch. The Jewish liberal leaders
The group, however, was not successful. Pohl, despite his concern with the binding cement of brotherhood, managed to quarrel with everyone.
The war put the finishing touches on its defeat. Pohl wrote to a member in November 1914, Phelps reports,
Between 1914 and 1918 the Orden was inactive, because most of its members were at the front.
Of the known members, only Theodor Fritsch, the "grand old man" of German anti-Semitism, achieved lasting recognition. His Anti-Semitical Catechism, written in 1887, had more than twenty editions and sold almost a hundred thousand copies. His Handbook of the Jewish Question, a 1919 update of the Catechism, reached 145,000 readers. Some years ago, in a suburb of Berlin, a monument was erected to his name.
During the war, all the secret cults were dormant. Pohl was reduced to selling bronze rings inscribed with runic characters. They possessed, he claimed, protective magical qualities, certainly very much needed in those days.
It was not until after the war that the occult anti-Semitic groups produced a mass movement.