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The Nazi Love Affair With the Occult

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Heinrich Himmler, Rudolph Hess, Alfred Rosenberg, and other senior Nazis were keen believers in mysticism and the occult. Many of their ideas were anchored in the mythology of the creation of the Aryan people.

Arno Breker’s sculpture depicting the perfection of the Nordic Aryan.

Arno Breker’s sculpture depicting the perfection of the Nordic Aryan.

The Thule Society

Before there was a Nazi Party in Germany, there was the Thule Society. It was founded in 1918 with the aim of studying the origin of the Aryan people and the lost mythical land of Ultima Thule from which they were believed to spring.

One of the prominent members was Lanz von Liebenfels, who “argued that the Aryan people were intentionally bred via electricity by interstellar deities called Theozoa, while the other races were the result of interbreeding between humanity and ape-men” (The Big Think).

This meshed in with the World Ice Theory that was a favourite of Hitler. According to this premise, Aryans were created by some sort of cosmic sperm that arrived from outer space, riding on a meteor. The sperm, apparently without the aid of an egg, developed into white supermen that were engaged in a battle with “mongrel breeds.”

In order to join the Thule Society, prospective members had to swear an oath: “The signer hereby swears to the best of his knowledge and belief that no Jewish or coloured blood flows in either his or in his wife’s veins, and that among their ancestors are no members of the coloured races.”

The Thule Society’s Karl Harrer joined with far-right politician and anti-Semite Anton Drexler to form the Deutsche Arbeiterpartie (German Workers’ Party) in 1919. Drexler was also a member of the Thule Society. An early recruit was Adolf Hitler, who worked to change the party into the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also known as the Nazi Party.

Much of the philosophical underpinnings of the Nazi Party were borrowed from the Thule Society.

The pure Aryan family on a 1938 calendar.

The pure Aryan family on a 1938 calendar.

Himmler’s Astrologer

Many Thule Society members, such as Hermann Göring, Wilhelm Frick, and Heinrich Himmler, found themselves very much at home in the Nazi Party. There was the veneration of the Aryan master race, the anti-Semitism, and the occult to attract them.

Himmler was a devotee of astrology and employed his own diviner of the planets and stars, Wilhelm Wulff.

Another astrologer, Karl Ernst Krafft, fairly accurately predicted an attempt on Hitler’s life in 1939. As a result, astrologers were in great demand and Wilhelm Wulff was given the task of drawing up daily horoscopes for the leader of the SS and the Gestapo.

Of course, a cleverly written horoscope can mean whatever the reader wants it to mean. As Himmler was predisposed to believe that bits of rock and clumps of gas floating about in the heavens influenced the daily affairs of people he was a sucker for Wulff’s forecasts. It’s said Himmler rarely made a decision without first consulting Wulff.

British intelligence got wind of the German high command’s fascination with astrology and made plans to exploit it. They started planting fake horoscopes in newspapers around the world predicting that Hitler’s days were numbered.

Major Leslie Sheridan was a member of the intelligence crew that worked on the zodiac deception. He wrote that “If we can organise an elaborate orchestra of Hitler’s fate which will echo round the world, the result will not only be the breaking down of the belief that Hitler is Superman but also music may be heard within Germany, where astrology is a recognised science, and even reach the ears of Hitler himself, with unsettling effect on his judgment.”

Around the Séance Table

Erik Jan Hanussen claimed many talents as a clairvoyant, astrologer, psychic, occultist; expertise that made him attractive to the Nazi high command.

Preceded by fame as a stage mentalist, Hanussen arrived in Berlin in the 1920s to perform his skills in the dark arts of mind reading. His expertise in chicanery enabled him to become immensely wealthy and to move in the highest circles of Berlin society. Naturally, this included moving into Hitler’s orbit.

He became a confident of Nazi Party leader, reading his palms and the bumps on his head. He assured Hitler that he was destined to become the unchallenged head of Germany. Drawing on his performer’s skills, he coached Hitler in the use of body language and voice intonation that he used in his speeches.

Hitler Uses Hanussen's Lessons for Dramatic Effect.

Hanussen held séances in his Palace of the Occult with senior Nazis in attendance. At one of these performances he predicted the Reichstag fire that would be used as an excuse to give Hitler dictatorial powers. Clearly, he was in on the plot, and it showed he couldn’t be trusted with confidential information.

The inconvenience of Hanussen’s Jewishness, that had been concealed, came out into the open. Three bullets from storm troopers put an end to his occult influence on the Third Reich in March 1933.

Erik Jan Hanussen (centre) performs one of his séances.

Erik Jan Hanussen (centre) performs one of his séances.

Karl Maria Wiligut

By the end of World War I, Karl Maria Wiligut had had a distinguished military career in the Austrian Army. At the same time, he had immersed himself in ancient Germanic legends and the supposedly hidden knowledge attached to them.

After a spell in a mental hospital, Wiligut turned up in Munich. In the Bavarian capital he became active in occult circles and this lead him to the company of Nazis.

Wiligut pedalled his own version of the Teutonic origin myth. According to him, Aryan culture got going in 228,000 BCE. At this time, said the clairvoyant, the Earth had three suns and dwarfs, giants, and fabled creatures roamed the land. He was, of course, directly descended from the era’s kings.

Despite holding and espousing these views, (although quite possibly because of holding them) Wiligut caught the attention of Heinrich Himmler. The head of the SS was deep into the paranormal and Wiligut was just the man to help advance the ancient destiny of the Aryan race.

Himmler made him the head of the Department for Pre- and Early History and tasked him with creating a religion based on ancient Germanic paganism and the god Irmin. This would serve the mystical needs of the 1,000-year Reich. The centre for this, Wewelsburg Castle, was to be the spiritual home of the SS and Wiligut worked on designs to make it so.

With Himmler’s patronage, Wiligut shot up through the ranks of the SS as he communed with his ancestors from many millennia earlier. But, in February 1939, Wiligut abruptly resigned. The true reason for this has never been unearthed but it may have been because of his increasingly erratic behaviour and heavy drinking.

“Not for the Masses”

While the senior Nazis were swimming in the pool of superstition and magical thinking, occultism was deemed not suitable for the common herd.

Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels banned astrology. He did not want alternative narratives spreading other than his official, approved message. He understood the power of manipulating the widespread belief in the occult among the German population.

Himmler added his voice to the ban “In the Third Reich we have had to forbid astrology. Those who contravene the regulations can expect to be locked up in a concentration camp until the war is over. We cannot permit any astrologists to follow their calling except those who are working for us. In the National Socialist state, astrology must remain privileged. It is not for the masses.”

Bonus Factoids

  • Himmler set up a “Witches Division” within the SS. Members of the group scoured Eastern Europe in search of Germanic women who had been persecuted by Jews and Catholics. The alleged spilling of Teutonic blood was given as justification for the Holocaust.
  • At one point in the war, the Pendulum Dowsing Institute in Berlin was called in to locate Allied warships. A metal pendulum on a string was passed over a map of the Atlantic so the diviner could locate the presence of battleships, cruisers, and the like.
  • Himmler’s astrologer, Wilhelm Wulff, was assigned to the Nazi’s Institute for Occult Warfare in Berlin. After the war he said “I felt as though I were in a madhouse.”
  • According to Professor Eric Kurlander, who has written the definitive book on this subject (see Sources below), there was a severe labour shortage in Germany in 1943 although 3,000 people were employed in Berlin reading to portents of tarot cards.

Sources

  • “The Nazis’ Love Affair with the Occult.” Matt Davis, The Big Think, October 6, 2019.
  • “The Nazis and the Occult.” Paul Callan, Daily Express, March 8, 2008.
  • “Hitler’s Jewish Psychic.” Mel Gordon, guiltandpleasure.com, summer 2006.
  • “Karl Maria Wiligut (‘Weisthor’).” Web Archive, March 7, 2005.
  • “Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich.” Eric Kurlander, Yale University Press, 2017.
  • “Nazis and the Dark Arts.” Robert Carver, The Spectator, June 17, 2017.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Rupert Taylor

Comments

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on February 22, 2021:

Wow, this is a really interesting article. It's well written and very revealing. Thanks so much for this. What really hit me was how superstition made the Germans vulnerable to the British.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 21, 2021:

What a fascinating history lesson! Everyone is aware of the Nazi party, but I had never heard about the Thule Society.

DW Davis from Eastern NC on February 21, 2021:

When one looks at the members of the Third Reich who believed in an Aryan master race, I find it interesting that none of them, especially not Hitler, Himmler, nor Hess, would have qualified.

The same is true of the vast majority of those who claim membership in the racist gang Aryan Nations today here in the US.