Nazis play a major role in the culture wars. Anyone arguing for the value of Western Civilization, the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Enlightenment, and the heritage of the Ancient Greeks will eventually be confronted with the Nazis. If cultural relativism is wrong, if it is wrong to say that Islam or Communism or New Age are not all equally valuable options on the cultural menu, then what about the Nazis? After all, the Nazis were Christians, weren’t they? Wasn’t the Holocaust informed by Christian theology? How dare Western Christians criticize jihad or communism’s purges? You have the worst crime in history on your team’s scorecard.
About that claim that the Nazis were the worst. The Nazis were compulsive record keepers. Hollywood directors and Soviet cameramen participated in the liberation of concentration camps. Their films have been required viewing for generations of students. We lack comparable documentation for others’ crimes. When I inform students of the cost of the establishment of communism or the advance of jihad, they indicate to me that they have never been exposed to these facts before. Historian Stephen Kotkin’s conservative estimate is that communism cost 65 million lives, while historian David Satter estimates that “the greatest catastrophe in human history,” killed 100 million. Bill Warner estimates that the death toll from jihad is 270 million.
His figure is controversial, but supported with citations. Any other honest estimate will be similarly overwhelmingly vast. Tamerlane, the fourteenth century “Sword of Islam,” is estimated to have killed five percent of the entire population of the world. There are two hundred million untouchables, or Dalits in India, and, even as India modernizes, their victimization continues. Hinduism mandates that Dalits must suffer to pay for their sins in their past lives. On November 17, 2018, The New York Times ran an account of a Dalit scalped by higher caste Hindus. Yes, worldviews besides Nazism have resulted in mass graves. We are less aware of those mass graves. So we assume that Nazism’s mass graves are the worst.
If the Nazis did not carry out their crimes as integral and predictable expressions of Western Civilization and Christian theology, what did ground them? What were their guiding beliefs and principles? The extent to which Nazism was informed by neo-paganism is made clear in Eric Kurlander’s 2017 book Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich, published by Yale University Press. Hitler’s Monsters is a dense, ambitious, scholarly tome. There are over one hundred pages of footnotes and bibliography. Kurlander acknowledges that previous authors have documented Nazism’s involvement with New Age ideas and practices, and he draws on these authors’ work. Kurlander also acknowledges that without the perfect storm of historical circumstances exploited by Hitler, including Germany’s defeat in WW I, the punitive Versailles Treaty, and the Depression, Nazism probably never would have risen to power. And Kurlander notes that New Age beliefs don’t cause a believer to become a Nazi.
But Kurlander is unafraid to state the importance of his research. “No mass political movement drew as consciously or consistently as the Nazis on … occultism and … pagan, New Age, and Eastern religions, folklore, mythology … Without understanding this relationship between Nazism and the supernatural, one cannot fully understand the history of the Third Reich … Hitler’s Monsters is the first book to address this rich, fascinating, often extraordinary relationship from the party’s origins to the end of the Second World War … the Third Reich would have been highly improbable without a widespread penchant for supernatural thinking.”
You can get a sense of what the Nazis believed by walking through any given New Age store. On such a visit, you will encounter astrology, reincarnation, hypnotism, Chinese massage, and yoga how-to books, next to homeopathic flower “cures,” vegetarian recipes, and magical gardening manuals advising you to harvest your crops in tune with the movement of celestial bodies. There will be alternative histories of the universe and planet Earth, including books about the lost city of Atlantis. For teens, there will be lurid witch, vampire and werewolf novels.
Allegedly “non-fiction” books will inform you of your secret, spiritual Tibetan or Indian ancestry or past lives. The Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu classic, will be in an honored place. There will be books by or about Madame Blavatsky and Nostradamus, as well as Zoroastrian, Zen, Shinto, and Buddhist scriptures. Friendly pamphlets will extol the virtues of Islam in contrast to degenerate, oppressive Christianity. There will be a “serious,” “scholarly” tome insisting that witches were descendants of a pagan nature religion, and that the witch trials were really the Catholic Inquisition’s efforts to wipe out paganism.
Gurus will promise that Enlightenment concepts like objective reality and the scientific method are mere dogma created and exercised by lesser minds. These gurus will insist that you are somebody special, with a special destiny, and you need not be hidebound by conventional reality, science, or religion. Only lowly people believe in objective reality. You can use the power of your will to create any reality you want. Gravity is for lesser mortals. You can levitate.
Continuing your stroll through the New Age shop, you will encounter invitations to worship Satan. Satan is misrepresented by those stuffy, Christian prudes. Why should you, as special as you are, obey a God who orders you to rein in your appetites? Satan will strengthen your wildest urges. You’ll find materials on ley lines, special magical places exuding special geographic magic known only to a privileged few. You’ll find out how to use ancient runes in divination, and how to dowse, that is, how to find water, lost objects, and magical energies using only a forked stick.
Now imagine yourself a top Nazi, a Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels or Hess. You’d buy every single one of these products. Himmler “carried around with him” the Norse Edda, the Hindu Vedas and Bhagavad Gita, and the speeches of Buddha. Nazis participated in orgies aboard a yacht named after “The Indian goddess of love” the “Aryan Schakti [Shakti].” Nazi yoga. Nazi Buddha. Yes. The Nazis were that nuts. And they were that New Age.
An eclectic mélange of New Age beliefs and practices were in the roots that vomited up Nazism’s toxic tree. These beliefs and practices were harnessed to support Nazism’s most consequential, and most evil, acts. These beliefs and practices inspired daily life in concentration camps, human medical experimentation that violated every tenet of ethics and reason, weapons research and development, and military decisions. New Age beliefs and practices influenced Nazism’s bloody demise. Any understanding of Nazism that does not include New Age’s influence on Nazism is incomplete. Any understanding of New Age that does not take into consideration its influence on Nazism is incomplete.
Not all Nazis were interested in New Age beliefs, and not all Nazis were interested in all expressions of New Age. Some might prefer astrology; others homeopathy. On May 10, 1941, Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, known as “The Yogi from Egypt,” after consulting an astrologer and inspired by a supernatural dream, flew to Scotland in an attempt to make peace with the British. He was captured and imprisoned. Less than a month later, beginning on June 4, 1941, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Main Security Office, launched the “Hess Action.” Heydrich wanted to purge the occult from the Nazi party as well as the general public. Heydrich’s timing of the Hess Action indicates how seriously he took the issue. Heydrich initiated the Hess Action two weeks before Germany’s ultimately disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union. As a result of Heydrich’s action, some astrologers ended up in concentration camps. Some of those same practitioners were later released and went to work for top Nazis. Curt Munch was released from Sachsenhausen in order that he could use his psychic powers to locate Mussolini.
Hitler himself, Kurlander argues, didn’t want to restrain the occult because it was meaningless; he wanted to limit and control common people’s access to the occult because of its power. Goebbels exemplified this power-centric approach to the occult. Goebbels used Nostradamus for propaganda purposes.
Decades before Hitler arrived on the historical scene, many German seekers had partially or completely rejected Judeo-Christian cosmology, morality and worldview. They also rejected Enlightenment values and the scientific method’s insistence on objective facts. Many chose to find meaning and structure in pre-Christian paganism, Eastern religions, and new gurus like Madame Blavatsky. The Brothers Grimm, Wagner’s folklore-inspired operas, Nietzsche’s philosophy, and Herder’s writing on nationalism are partial expressions of, and, in turn, inspirations for, these trends. Kurlander writes, “Folklore, mythology, and neo-paganism rushed to fill an important gap in the German spiritual landscape, helping to occupy ‘the transcendental realm of mystic life’ vacated by Judeo-Christian traditions … Folklore and mythology facilitated fascism.” “By the end of the nineteenth century, folklore, mythology, and Ario-Germanic religiosity was etched into the consciousness of millions of ordinary Germans.” In this search for new paradigms, universal values were rejected in favor of moralities based on identity, place, and race. “I am a German, therefore I should or I can …” might be the preface to any moral statement.
The senseless mass destruction and humiliating defeat of WW I, and rapid modernization and upheaval, helped the previous century’s turn to nationalism, magic, myth, and folklore take center stage. Nazis saw a ripe opportunity to jettison the past, adopt a scorched earth mentality, and impose their new paradigm. In his 1930 book The Myth of the Twentieth Century, Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg declared the “collapse” of all that had come before and a “new dawn” and a “new faith” a “new light” a “new mission:” “blood and blood, race and race, folk and folk.” “That is the task of our century; to create a new human type out of a new view of life.”
Social Darwinism and biological racism were interwoven with New Age spiritual beliefs. Not only would old, impure ideas be jettisoned. Human beings deemed racially unfit to participate in superior souls’ upward thrust to perfection also had to be eliminated. “‘One could insist that the race to which one belonged had primarily to do with one’s degree of spiritual maturity’ … the lost civilization of Atlantis was considered to be the prehistoric source of divine (possibly extraterrestrial) racial and spiritual perfection,” writes Kurlander, quoting another author about Theosophy, a New Age belief system that predated, and influenced, Nazism’s rise. “Cosmic eugenics” blessed the destruction of that “‘which is unworthy to take part in the ascent of humanity … Humanity has risen by throwing out the lower forms in order to purify itself … dark skin is due to demonic interference’ … Luciferian remnants’ must be elevated ‘as a wise guiding force left behind for the evolution of mankind in general’ … Nazi religious theorists would make nearly identical arguments,” Kurlander says, quoting another New Age author who also wrote decades before Nazism’s rise. Other New Age thinkers, again, decades before Nazism, advocated selective breeding, and the elimination of inferior races and the handicapped. This culling was supported by a New Age theory that humanity was the result of breeding between angels and animals. Nordic people contained a higher percentage of angel. Indeed, New Age thinkers (and Friedrich Nietzsche) adopted a Hindu caste system term, chandala, for “untouchable” to talk about “lower races.”
A weakening of the influence of Judeo-Christian morality and a return to pagan norms appeared to be foreseen by at least one concerned observer. German poet Heinrich Heine, who was born Jewish but converted to Lutheranism, wrote in 1834 that “When once the taming talisman, the Cross, breaks in two, the savagery of the old fighters, the senseless Berserker fury of which the Northern poets sing … will gush up anew … the old stone god will rise from the silent ruins and … Thor, with his giant’s hammer, will at last spring up and shatter to bits the Gothic cathedrals.”
Hermann Rauschning, a former Nazi, diagnosed Hitler’s success. “Every German has one foot in Atlantis [and one in Tibet], where he seeks a better fatherland.” Pre-Nazi New Age societies and thinkers sometimes voiced their awareness that Hitler was mining and benefitting from the paths they had paved.
The Thule Society, or Study Group for Germanic Antiquity, was founded in 1918. Its purpose was an unsavory mix of biological racism and flakey, folkloric concepts of German origins. The Thule Society symbol was a swastika, an ancient, pagan symbol often found in Hindu and Buddhist art. Thule Society member and fan of Nordic folklore and “the wisdom of India,” Dietrich Eckart, argued that the “racially superior ‘Indo-European people’ had been corrupted by the ‘Jewish desert spirit’ embedded in mainstream Christianity.” Eckhart said on his deathbed that “Hitler will dance, but it is I who will call the tune.” In other words, Eckart and other New Age Germans saw Hitler as fulfilling their goals. Germany’s occult magazines supported Hitler, even before he took power. They lent whatever legitimacy they had to his seizure of power by predicting a “‘world turning'” “‘Third Reich'” lead by “‘a single prophet who preserved the German essence against all odds.'”
Top Nazis were not only not believing Christians, they were anti-Christian and determined to extirpate Christianity from their Reich. As Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach said, “the destruction of Christianity was explicitly recognized as a purpose of the National Socialist movement.” Alfred Rosenberg dreamed of a day when “Nordic sagas and fairy tales will take the place of the Old Testament stories of pimps and cattle dealers.” Nazism’s anti-Christian, pagan worldview was obvious to contemporaries. Christopher Dawson, “the greatest English-speaking Catholic historian of the twentieth century,” warned in 1935 that Nazism could “develop a mythology and ethic” that may “take the place of Christian theology and Christian ethics.” On January 13, 2002, Joe Sharkey, writing in The New York Times, reported on then-recently released documents outlining “How Hitler’s Forces Planned to Destroy German Christianity.”
In addition to rejecting, and hoping to overturn, Christianity, Nazis also rejected the Enlightenment ideal of objective reality. Konrad Heiden, a historian of Nazism, said that Nazism incorporated a hodgepodge of political theories. (To Be Continued Next Week) –
(Front Page Mag)
Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete, Bieganski, and God through Binoculars.