Twisted Relations Between Nazis and Occult
Judging from youtube videos and TV documentaries, as well as books, there seems to be a fixation on Nazism and the occult. Since Nazism is the epitome of evil, many people seem to think that it just must be connected with the occult. After all, Hitler’s rise to power and dictatorial sway over the German population defies reason. The atrocities his regime perpetrated were of demonic proportions.
However, the Nazi involvement with the occult is more complicated and bizarre than many people realize. Even before Hitler’s right-hand man, Rudolf Hess, flew his foolish and naïve mission to Britain to try to negotiate with the British, Hitler had expressed disapproval of Hess’s interest in the occult. Upon learning about Hess’s escapade, Hitler exploded in rage and blamed Hess’s lunacy on his occultism. After fulminating against Hess’s “astrological clique,” Hitler stated, “It is thus time radically to clear away this astrological nonsense.”
Hitler was not just blowing hot air. Hess’s replacement, Martin Bormann, informed Reinhard Heydrich, the leading figure in the SS behind Himmler, that Hitler “wishes that the strongest measures be directed against occultists, astrologists, medical quacks, and the like, who lead the people astray into stupidity and superstition.”
In early June Heydrich organized a police sweep and threw astrologers, spiritists, theosophists, and other occultists into prison or concentration camps. German police simultaneously shut down presses publishing occult literature. Goebbels, who agreed with Hitler’s anti-occultist mentality, joyfully recorded in his diary: “All astrologers, hypnotists, Anthroposophists, etc., arrested and their entire activity crippled. Thus finally this swindle has ended. Peculiarly not a single clairvoyant foresaw that he would be arrested. A bad professional sign!”
However, not all Nazis agreed with Hitler’s rejection of the occult. Himmler, whose police forces had carried out this anti-occultist campaign, was steeped in the occult. In a bizarre twist, Himmler released the astrologer Wilhelm Wulff from police custody, on the condition that he ply his trade for Himmler. Thus, while other astrologers were languishing in Nazi prisons or concentration camps, Himmler had his personal astrologer casting horoscopes for him.
The Nazi relationship to the occult was thus ambiguous and complicated, as I explain in detail in my new book Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs That Drove the Third Reich. Some leading Nazis, including Hitler, Goebbels, Bormann, and Heydrich, held most occult beliefs and practices in contempt. Others, such as Hess and Himmler, embraced occultism of various sorts.
Some writers have tried to connect Nazism to the occult in yet another way. They argue that Nazi ideology, especially Hitler’s own worldview, emerged from occultist sources. Already in 1958 Wilfried Daim published Der Mann, der Hitler die Ideen gab (The Man Who Gave Hitler His Ideas), claiming that the Viennese occultist Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels provided Hitler with his ideology. Daim, who was not a historian, did show many common features between Lanz von Liebenfels’s racist religion, known as Ariosophy (wisdom of the Aryans), and Hitler’s ideology.
Unfortunately, however, Daim did not seem to understand that many of the ideas he found in Lanz von Liebenfels’ writings were rather commonplace in Vienna at the time. Correlation is not causation. Hitler could easily have lifted the same ideas from many other sources (possibly some of the same sources that undoubtedly influenced Lanz von Liebenfels).
The historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke in The Occult Roots of Nazism has done a more careful study of Viennese occultists, especially Lanz von Liebenfels and Guido List, to explore their influence on Hitler. I once quipped to a historian who specializes in German occultism that what I found remarkable about this book is that—despite its title—it never shows any occult roots of Nazism. It shows similarities between these two occultists and Nazi ideology in their embrace of social Darwinism, Pan-German nationalism, Aryan racism, and eugenics. However, Goodrick-Clarke specifically notes in his conclusion that Hitler did not imbibe their religious tenets or practices. He even concludes: “Ariosophy is a symptom rather than an influence in the way that it anticipated Nazism.”
Still others wanting to find occult roots of Nazism have pointed to connections between early Nazi leaders and the Thule Society in post-World War I Munich. The problem with this interpretation is that the Thule Society was not essentially an occult organization. It was led by Rudolf Sebottendorf, a zealous occultist, to be sure, but its purpose was to promote right-wing nationalism and anti-Semitism, not occult religion. Many members were not occultists at all, such as the prominent publisher Julius Friedrich Lehmann, a leading figure in the Thule Society and a friend of Hitler. Further, there is no evidence that Hitler ever attended the Thule Society, though Hess (who was committed to occultism) was a member and several other Nazi leaders attended Thule Society meetings on occasion.
Thus, the connections between Nazism and the occult are not straightforward. Some Nazis embraced occultism, while others rejected it. The Nazi regime jailed some occultists, while Himmler and the SS protected others. Nazi atrocities certainly reached demonic proportions, but not all of that can be blamed on occultism.