Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Beliefs Don't Stink! (Part One)

"But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

"The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

"And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

"Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

"And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God.

"Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

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As the story of doubting Thomas in the Gospel of John makes quite clear, in the English language the verb "to believe" does not imply believing without evidence. This simple fact is also communicated by the well-known proverb "Seeing is believing", which, as a matter of fact, strongly implies the opposite, and which has been in circulation in the English language at least since the early 17th century (it appears in a collection of proverbs compiled by John Clarke published in 1639, but is even older than that).

The word "believe" appears well over 200 times in the works of Shakespeare, and 18 times in Hamlet alone, where it is first uttered by Horatio in Act One, Scene One:
"Before my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes."
Obviously, then, the English word "believe" can mean either belief based on evidence or belief without evidence. To remove this ambiguity it is necessary to explicitly state whether or not there is evidence, and/or making this clear through the context.

Moreover, the English word "believe" can be used to denote a belief that is based on scientific evidence. Take, for example, this sentence from a January, 2000 NASA press release (link) quoting Yale University researcher David L. Rabinowitz:
"We now believe there are between 500 and 1,000 near-Earth asteroids larger than one kilometer (about 0.6 miles) in diameter."
Similar examples are easy to find if one searches the scientific literature for the phrase "we now believe".

At the risk of belaboring this point, let us ask why Rabinowitz says (above) that scientists "now believe there are between 500 and 1,000 near-Earth asteroids" etc., etc.? Is it because these scientists have prayed to their Gods and in answer to their prayers the truth has been revealed unto them? No. (Although it must be allowed parenthetically that a great many working scientists have tried this and will admit to it if they are honest!) Rather, it is because these scientists have examined the evidence and have come to a scientific conclusion based on that evidence.

Moreover, like all scientific conclusions, this conclusion about asteroids contains some (in this case fairly significant) amount of uncertainty. An alternative way of stating "between 500 and 1,000" makes the measure of uncertainty more explicit: "750 plus or minus 250".

Not only do all scientific conclusions involve uncertainty, but all scientific meaurements (aka "data") involve uncertainty. One thing that lay people are often completely ignorant about is the fact that data and uncertainty always go hand in hand, and this even to the extent that any data worth a scientist's attention must include, as an integral part of the data, an estimate (for, quite naturally, there is unavoidable uncertainty when it comes to quantifying uncertainty itself) of the error involved in the data.

To briefly summarize:

1. Belief can be based on evidence, and often is. In fact, the word "belief" often comes up in the context of arguments to the effect that evidence should always be required as a basis for belief.

2. All scientific data, and, necessarily so, all scientific conclusions based upon the analysis and interpretation of data, involve uncertainty.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

No Beliefs Please, We're Pagan!

Whatever Western culture knows of reason, logic, skepticism, critical thinking, and scientific methodology is due to the philosophers Pythagoras and Socrates, and to those who have striven to live and to learn according to their examples.

Pythagoras taught that the universe is a single, living, conscious, intelligent, ensouled, Divine being, and that each of us is a part of this single being, which he called "Cosmos". Pythagoras also taught that the psyche/soul survives the physical death of the body, and, moreover, that we have all lived many lives before, and will live again many times in the future in different bodies. More specifically, Pythagoras taught that in many of our past lives we have not been human, but that we have rather inhabited every manner of animal body, and that we will do so again in the future. For this reason Pythagoras was a strong proponent of vegetarianism, even warning that those who eat meat could very well have the blood of their own deceased loved ones on their hands!

In addition to teaching panpsychism, pantheism, metempsychosis (reincarnation), and vegetarianism, Pythagoras was a scientific pioneer who championed the idea that the properties of the physical world can be expressed in mathematical formulas. Pythagoras also promoted the use of experimentation, especially in the field of harmonics, as a way to test and demonstrate theories about the physical world.

Socrates encouraged his friends to consult oracles, according to his life-long friend, Xenophon, who also tells us that Socrates would meet with his friends to discuss various oracular pronouncements in order to try to discover their meaning. Another close life-long friend of Socrates, Chaerephon (who was one of Athen's most famously outspoken radical democrats) once traveled to Delphi to ask the Oracle of Apollo the following question: "Is there anyone more wise than Socrates?" To which the Oracle simply answered "No." When Socrates was later accused of impiety and put on trial for his life, he explained that all of his philosophizing among the Athenians had been conducted in an effort to understand this sacred pronouncement from the God Apollo. Socrates insisted that just as he had never abandoned his post, even when his life was at risk, when he served in the Athenian army as a hoplite, just so would he never abandon his philosophical "post", and he would therefore continue, regardless of the consequences, to engage in what he saw as his sacred duty to conduct his philosophical investigations.

Socrates' most famous student, Plato, founded the first educational institution in Western history, the Academy. And just a generation after Plato, the Platonic philosopher Euclid would provide the model upon which the very concept of "proof" is based in the Western mind (a model that few who speak of "proof" ever live up to). The Pythagorean/Socratic tradition of advances in mathematics and science would later culminate in the figure of Ptolemy, who developed a sophisticated theoretical framework for the design, conduct, and analysis of scientific experiments in the second century AD.

All of those named above, and many others whose names could be added to the list (from Aristotle to Poseidonius to Hypatia) were all Pagans, and as such they were all believers. They believed in the Gods, and they participated in the traditional worship of the Gods, including both small-scale household rituals and grand city-wide (or wider) festivals and other ceremonies, gatherings, Mysteries, etc.

Anyone who claims to be more rational, more scientific, more skeptical, more intellectually sophisticated, etc., than the great Pagan philosophers of the ancient world simply cannot be taken seriously. Anyone who claims that there is some conflict between traditional Pagan beliefs and sound reasoning knows nothing about either one.

P.S. If you have no idea what I am on about, here are some links to provide some context:
What Do I Believe Anyway? Jason
Saepe sub nomine pacis bellum latet Sannion
The Philosopher’s Dilemma Sufenas
Humanist Paganism on the rise? Brendan

And here are some relevant posts (of mine) from the past:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's 1997 Speech at the New York Open Center

Way back in January, 2010, I linked to and quoted (extensively) from a speech given by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (January 15, 1953- August 29, 2012) to the New York Open Center in 1997 (here is a link to that earlier post).

The complete speech was, at that time, available online at the website for Lapis magazine, which is published by the Open Center. Several months later I noticed that the Lapis magazine website was down, but a cached version of the speech could still be accessed via google, and at that time I downloaded the whole thing in case it disappeared completely, which it now almost has. The speech is still viewable at a "zoominfo" page (http://www.zoominfo.com/#!search/profile/person?personId=1343476241&targetid=profile), but otherwise all other traces of it, except for bits and pieces quoted here and there, have vanished. (UPDATE: I checked again on April 12, 2014, and found a link with the entire speech here: http://archive.is/eK3Mw.)

I believe that this speech is significant because in it there are strong, explicitly religious overtones that are only hinted at in Goodrick-Clarke's published works. In particular, one finds that Goodrick-Clarke is committed to a religious analysis of the "roots" of Nazism that exonerates Christianity (except possibly for forms of Christianity viewed as deviant by Goodrick-Clarke) while condemning Paganism (qua Paganism).

According to Goodrick-Clarke, the Holocaust "can only be understood in a theological context." And this context is that the Nazis "wanted to destroy Christian civilization in the name of a new dispensation under pagan influence." This could only happen because the Nazis had abandoned "Christian" ethical principles in favor of Occultism, thus becoming morally debased because of the "narcissism and paranoia that run through these pseudo religions."

In the first two sentences of the Author's Preface to the 2004 Edition of his The Occult Roots of Nazism (originally published in 1985) Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke stated the following:
As we witness the renewed growth of the far right across Europe and America and the former East Bloc, The Occult Roots of Nazism helps illuminate its ideological foundations. By examining the occult ideas that played midwife to the Hitler movement, the most destructive right-wing ideology in history, we can better understand their implications today.
So while it is true that Goodrick-Clarke conceded, for example, in that same book "that Hitler really wasn't an occultist in his own right," he nevertheless literally made a career out of the following false claims concerning Nazism, Christianity, Paganism and the Occult:

1. Nazism has it's "roots" in the Occult.

2. Occultism was the "the midwife" of Nazism.

3. Under the sinister influence of Occult ideas and neopaganistical "pseudo religions", the Nazis abandoned the "Christian" belief in personal responsibility ("mea culpa, my fault"), and therefore succumbed to the "terrible danger" of "narcissism and paranoia."

4. The Nazis "wanted to destroy Christian civilization in the name of a new dispensation under pagan influence."

5. The Occultism of the Nazis also provides the "ideological foundations" of the modern day "far right".

But enough of my analysis and preamble. Here is the late Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke in his own words:

The Occult Roots of Nazism
by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke
[speech given by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke to the New York Open Center in April 1997, originally published in Lapis Magazine, Feb 18, 2009]

The occult side of Nazism can be easily dismissed as a popular fantasy. But scholarly analysis of the Aryosophist societies in turn of the century Vienna reveals many clear links between racist occult movements, convinced of the unique spiritual origins and destiny of the Aryans, and Hitler's evil clique.

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke has a wide ranging interest in the history of ideas and the Western esoteric tradition. His book The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology is published by New York University Press. This article is based on a talk he gave at the New York Open Center in April 1997.

"The past is another country, they do things differently there." – L P Hartley, The Go Between

In talking about the rise of the occult movement at the end of the 19th century, I want to recall fin-de-siècle Vienna, not through some album of old sepia photographs but in flesh and blood. Imagine a still very old fashioned sort of place, with state processions of the emperor and his courtiers side-by-side with feudal levels of poverty and prostitutes on the street, but with Mahler directing the Opera, Sigmund Freud developing psychoanalysis, and Modernist culture flourishing. Vienna was an odd mix of old and emergent new.

Austria-Hungry was a relatively late developer in terms of capitalist and industrial economy. Britain, France, and Germany were far more advanced. The empire was still dominated by agriculture, and so the world of factories, steam, and now electricity represented an enormous challenge to the way of life led by people not only in the countryside and in provincial towns like Graz and Linz, but also in Vienna itself. Until the late 1870s, Vienna was still a walled town. It was surrounded by fortifications erected in the 17th century to defend the city against the Turks. During the 1880s and 1890s, the old walls were replaced by the great circular, ring-road development that defines Vienna today. This represented a terrifying threat to people. People were frightened by the pace of change, frightened by modernity, by industry, frightened because such changes challenged the way they were used to living – their religious world, the world of traditional elites, even knowing people down on the corner. Almost everything they had known was being swept away before their eyes. Suddenly there were immigrants, colored people even. Vienna was a melting pot. People were drawn from all over the empire. There were Poles, Ukrainians, Serbs and Croats, Italians, Czechs. The massive change represented by industry, urbanization, slum clearance, and the disappearance of the old city, accompanied by revolutionary developments in music and art, represented a new kind of metropolitan culture, quite divorced from the sort of culture people were used to. The scale of immigration created an altogether new awareness of multiracial society, and it was a shock for an urban society to confront that so early. In the final decades of the 19th century, Vienna was changing from what was predominantly a German city into one of the first multiracial metropolises.

Simultaneously, there were changes of tectonic scale in the world of ideas. Quite aside from the development of psychoanalysis, fundamental challenges were being made to religious orthodoxy. For creationist Christianity the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species in the 1850s was a shocking alarm signal, striking deep at the root assumptions of established theology. Science was changing the way we saw ourselves in nature. As a direct result, occultism experienced its first great resurgence since the late medieval period. When we talk about the modern occult revival we think of the Golden Dawn in London, and particularly of the theosophical movement, which brought Eastern religion onto the mental horizon of the Western world. But theosophy was not an isolated phenomenon; it was one response among many to the rapid changes – intellectual, artistic, and physical – of the late 19th century.

Theosophy was closely related to a wide range of emergent cults that involved nudism, vegetarianism, natural medicine, and interest in mantic sciences like divination and astrology. Such movements experienced a great surge of interest right up to the outbreak of World War 1. Theosophy itself is in some ways an extension of a very old tradition, because it is so closely related to gnosticism, which started amongst certain heretical sects in the early Christian era, who claimed a superior esoteric knowledge of spiritual matters. These sects shared the conviction that there exists secret knowledge, neither based on reflection, nor achieved by reason. This knowledge of the heart comes through meditative visions in which the truth is revealed. The systems differ considerably, but two common themes can be discerned in traditional gnosticism and are very important for understanding the way in which gnosticism and occult ideas can suddenly take on a political projection. Firstly, there's an Oriental element. In original Persian dualism, the two realms of good and evil, light and darkness, order and chaos are sharply contrasted as independent principles. Most gnostic sects disappeared round about the fourth century, but their ideas lived on. They inspired the Manichaean religion, and today we use the adjective manichaean to mean dualist. During the third to fifth centuries, there developed a gnostic synthesis of Neoplatonic philosophy, pharaonic Judaism, and cabalism. Gnostic and hermetic ideas were revived again in the 15th century and also take a sharply dualistic form. By the end of the 19th century this polar form of gnosticism emerged in theosophy.

In the early years of the 20th century the ideas of the Theosophists were adopted by radical nationalists who wished to stress the importance of ancient Teutonic wisdom. Guido von List (1848-1919), a native of Vienna, identified himself as a guru of ancient Germanic mysteries. It's no accident that this movement started in Vienna, because Vienna was on the fringe of the German-speaking world. Metropolitan Germany lay to the west. To the east lived Hungarians, to the north Czechs and Slovaks, and to the south the various nationalities of the Balkans. And so the Germans of Vienna, with its emerging multiracial society, were a natural audience for doctrines that sought to identify, define, and glorify their own origins.

List's earliest writings were characterized by a spontaneous nature worship. From 1877 to 1887, he published numerous articles, drenched in Germanic references, about the Austrian countryside, in periodicals known for their nationalist sentiment. He celebrated the countryside as the theater of mythological beings. The Alps and the Danube were seen not only as natural objects but as mirrors of the soul of the German past. Streams, fields, and hills were personified as beings in which he tied myth and folklore. At the same time, List was working on his full-length novel, Carnuntum, which described the fateful battle between the Romans and the German tribes at Carnuntum in AD 375. In his opinion, the German victory there unleashed the migrations which led to the sack of the Rome in AD 410 and the ultimate collapse of the Roman Empire. For List, the very word Carnuntum recalled the aura of ancient Teutonic valor and was a motto for the process which eventually restored the ancient Germans to the stage of world history. With his old- style nationalist sentiment expressed in plays, public lectures, and articles, List soon made his mark within the pan-German movements of the late 1890s.

In 1903 the theosophical publication Die Gnosis published an article in which List outlined the stages of a theosophical cosmogony, illustrated with symbols of sun wheels, the triskelion, and three- and four-armed swastikas. He wrote for the first time about the immortality of the soul, reincarnation, and karmic determination – all ideas borrowed from Theosophy. An important part of his gnosis was described as an old Aryan sexual religion, which took the form of a religiously sanctioned eugenic program designed to maintain the purity of the race. Here he was tapping into the ideas on root races that had been propounded by H P Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, but he was in fact specifying and identifying very much with the German Aryan race. Emphasizing the distinction between this kind of esoteric knowledge and other mundane or profane forms of knowledge, List indicated the political authority of initiates over the profane masses in archaic society. Here we see the growth of something that's altogether more political than mythological.

List's ideas were taken seriously. Around 1905 Friedrich Wannieck, a wealthy Viennese businessman in Prague, together with his son Oskar and some fifty other individuals from the Viennese banking and commercial elite, signed an announcement listing the foundation of the List Society to finance and publish a full program of official research into the ancient Teutonic past. In response, List wrote a series of six weighty tomes on the Aryan Germanic world, though it was a work of his imagination more than of empirical research – he claimed an "ancestral memory" whereby he could read the past through clairvoyance. With his great beard and Wagnerian bonnet, he presented himself as a kind of Aryan patriarch, discerning beneath the rubble of modernity and the debris of the Christian religion an ancient, shimmering German world order which had existed long before the Roman Empire. Using as evidence stone circles, burial mounds, and megaliths in the Austrian countryside, he mapped out an ancient Aryan world that could be lifted from the mists of ancient history and called forth in people's minds. He saw himself as a descendant of ancient priest-kings, high initiates whose knowledge gave them authority over the rest of society. He claimed that he and his sectarian followers – the members were called HAO (High Armanen-Order) – within the List Society, represented the vanguard of a new priestly revival, whose message had to be carried to all Germans in central Europe so that the nation might restore its former glory. This group was predominantly upper middle class, but included artisans and craftsmen, as well as a number of aristocrats, all convinced that they were the legitimate and direct heirs of an old sacred hierarchy. His paramount ideological concern was to restore to certain groups a status rapidly being undermined by modern industrial society.

Another important German nationalist to embrace Theosophy at the time was Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels. He went even further than List. Born in 1874 in Vienna, he founded in 1905 a gnostic order called the Order of the New Templars, whose members were drawn from leading figures in Viennese public life, business, and the armed forces. Lanz's gnosis owes more to Christian religion than to the Hindu doctrines of Theosophy, and as a result his theology is somewhat clearer than List's. However, still the most obvious feature in Lanz's religion was its dualism, which links it to the classical gnostic systems of light and darkness. He was a great fantasist. He claimed he was derived from Sicilian nobility, changed his birth date by about two years, which he later said was to mislead people who wanted to get an astrological fix on him, and during his childhood acquired a romantic interest in the medieval past and its religious and chivalrous orders, which he revered as the spiritual elite of a remote and pious age. It's probable that this complex of sentiments motivated his decision to enter the Cistercian order in 1893. But while he took vows in 1897 and assumed teaching duties in 1898, he was also evolving his own heretical theology, which in due course led to the renunciation of the monk's habit. Unlike List's marriage of nature religion and theosophical notions, Lanz's was in fact quite a dynamic form of heretical Christianity. In 1894 his attention had been drawn to a tombstone – a relief which he found on the underside of some flagstones in the monastery cloister – portraying a nobleman treading upon an unidentified beast. His reflections on its literal implications suggested to him that the root of all evil in the world actually had a subhuman animal nature. He subsequently directed his energies towards the study of contemporary anthropology and zoology. From the scriptures, apocryphal writings, and the findings of modern archeology, he assimilated current German racist ideas into this theology. He identified the stereotypical Aryan race as the divine principle and the various dark races of Negroes, Mongols, and what he called Mediterranialites (Slavs and Italians) as the evil principle. Lanz's distinctive and original contribution to this ideology was the sublimation of prejudice and national glorification into a doctrine which typified the blond and dark races as cosmic principles working for order or chaos, respectively, in the universe. As a result of this doctrine, Lanz was forced to leave the monastery in 1899, justifying his departure with the assertion that he could better inform the church from outside. Like List, Lanz implied that he was rediscovering ancient religion. He wasn't selling this as a new cult; he was saying that he'd found something that Christianity had obscured. Once outside the monastery, Lanz enrolled in several learned societies and began writing for racist periodicals. In 1905 he formulated a full statement of his theology, in Theo-Zoology or the Lore of the Sodom-Apelings and the Electron of the Gods. There he claimed that we are in fact sublime spiritual beings derived from some higher divine species. He claimed that there once existed a race of gods, which represented an earlier and superior form of terrestrial life. He suggested that these divine beings possessed extraordinary sensory organs for the reception and transmission of "electronic signals"-that these "godmen" were telepathic and omniscient. Besides these godmen there existed an entirely distinct race of "beastmen" who represented a fallen, primal man in Lanz's account of the origins of the world. Again, it's very similar to gnosticism, in that there's a primal man – a clay man – that creates the race of the animals and lower beings like Negroes and Mongols and Mediterranialites. At the same time the Aryans come from the stars, from a divine order. The history of all subsequent humanity is a shameful record of increasing racial corruption of the form of the godmen, so that now the pituitary gland and the pineal gland are the sole material remnants of the divine electronic power of the fallen gods.

Today, hard core neo-Nazi literature invokes the themes of ancient civilizations and mysteries to suggest that the Aryans have extraterrestrial origins. The idea of supermen and of gods on Earth has of course been current for some years in the popular books of Erich von Däniken, Robert Charroux, and more latterly in Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods. In the Nazi variant of this mythology, we read that the Aryans are descended from the angels or other extraterrestrial beings and are just visitors to this benighted planet which they are trying to develop. When Lanz turned to the history of religion, it was likewise interpreted as a front for struggle between task of the Aryan race to rear a new race of godmen and the bestial inferior races who sought to compromise the holy Aryans by dragging them down with their promiscuous embraces. It all sounds extraordinary, but it's a very powerful sexual fantasy as well as a religious myth. The Old Testament recorded the attempts of the chosen people – the Aryans of course – to return to the old gnosis, while the New Testament was interpreted as a revival of the gnosis by Christ, who is considered an exceptional (transracial) Aryan. At the end of this historical scheme was the promise of final salvation, the second coming, and the kingdom of heaven, which Lanz interpreted as the restoration of the race of godmen from Aryan stock on earth. That was the ultimate terrestrial paradise in Lanz's religion. When we look at these ideas today, we think of them as crazy, but I want to show that they produced very concrete links with the early Nazi Party and thus played a critical role in 20th century history.

There was in Germany, around about 1910 or so, already a well-formed anti-Semitic movement. Disgruntled German patriots, nationalists, and simple racists became focused on the power of the Jews. They identified Jews with modernity, with innovations in art and music as well as with capitalism and industrial development. When Germans were concerned, in a reactionary sense, with things moving too fast or of losing their bearings, they looked back to an old-fashioned world. The myth in early 20th century Germany was that Jewry was at the core of a secret worldwide conspiracy to impose a new world order which was displacing ordinary Germans. As a reaction, the Germanenorden was founded in 1912 by right-wing Germans who decided they needed a secret order of their own, with its own conspiracy techniques, secret meetings, passwords, and so on to oppose the Jewish conspiracy. There was a good deal of overlap between the membership of the Germanenorden and the List Society. Lanz Von Liebenfels also had a direct input through some of the closest followers. The growth of the Germanenorden was also very closely connected with something called the Thule Society. In fact, the Thule Society and its founder, Rudolf von Sebottendorff, represented the key link between the Aryan-theosophical movement and the Nazis. Von Sebottendorff was himself an occultist too, born in 1875 in Saxony, the son of a locomotive driver. He left Germany in the late 1890s to work on steamships, was trained as an engineer, and traveled to Australia, Egypt, and America. But later we find him in Turkey, where he spent most of the time until 1913 studying the dervish orders. On his return to Germany, he had developed an extraordinary interest in occultism. Consequently, he joined the Germanenorden, and by January 1918 – when World War 1 was still raging on the western front – he'd managed to build the Bavarian chapter of that order into about fifteen hundred members, which was quite sizable considering that most young men were serving at the front. So membership consisted largely of older men, and they tended to be men of senior authority in commerce and academia. By the end of the war, when Germany was plunged into quasi-revolution, the Germanenorden organized itself into the Thule Society, whose proclaimed object was to foster Germanic mythology and national tradition. The Thule Society fed into the Nazi party much of what List, Lanz, and the Theosophical movement had been promoting.

There were three distinct channels of influence. One was journalistic. Von Sebottendorff picked up a flagging weekly suburban newspaper called the Munich Observer, which in due course became the Nazi party's daily organ. As early as 1920, all the shares in that newspaper were owned by Adolf Hitler. Von Sebottendorff started the paper very much with a view to attracting young people to his own brand of occult and anti-Semitic ideas. This he did by including a lot of sports features. As a result the paper was enormously successful even before the time it passed into Nazi party ownership. The second channel of influence whereby the Thule Society was effective was paramilitary activity. With postwar demobilization groups were recruited by the Thule Society to directly engage in counterrevolutionary activities against the left, which had asserted itself in Munich after the war.

But the Thule's most important channel of influence was political. The Society was regular host to a number of political groups in the prestigious club rooms of the Hotel Vier Jahreseitzen in Munich. We know from the Society's records that regular attendees included such figures as Gottfried Feder, who wrote the economic program for the Nazi party, Alfred Rosenberg, who became the leading ideologue for the Nazi party, Rudolf Hess, and Dietrich Eckart, who was Hitler's mentor in Munich. A famous poet and playwright of the day and an extraordinary character (as well as a drug addict), Eckart introduced the young Hitler to monied and influential circles that were absolutely crucial in building up the Nazi party's respectability at a time when it just as easily could have been perceived as an eccentric working-class movement. Eckart helped Hitler get to the right places and to the right parties. But von Sebottendorff was also mindful of the fact that he had to reach out beyond the educated middle classes; he had to get through to the working class. He had the idea of study circles within workers' movements. He entrusted the formation of a so-called political workers' circle to a Thule member and sports journalist named Karl Harrer. Harrer attracted large numbers of men to Thule groups at industrial plants in Munich. So as early as 1919, they were getting through to the working classes, and planting the seeds of a mass movement. Within less than two years, this seed had developed into the political party known as the German Workers' Party (formed in 1919), which changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), or "Nazi" party, in 1920.

How much of the original dynamic of Aryan racial cultist ideology was preserved in the Nazi party itself, once it was dominated by politicians, rather than occult cranks, is a matter of debate. It's fair to say that Hitler really wasn't an occultist in his own right, but he was certainly someone who could relate to gnostic dualism in a strong way. While he was raised as a Catholic, there's evidence to suggest that he tended towards that heretical side of Catholicism that sees the world in very sharp black and white terms. Certainly, Hitler's anti-Semitism owed much to the famous anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to which he was introduced by his mentors, Dietrich Eckart and Alfred Rosenberg. This notorious Jew-baiting document was first published in German in 1920, but had originated in Russia in the late 1890s. It was highly popular among Czarists during the Russian Revolution as a way of attributing the forces of disorder and radical change to the Jews. There's also very strong evidence to suggest that Hitler actually read Lanz's magazines in Vienna, before World War 1. But after the war there was tremendous acceleration in Hitler's dualistic worldview – most probably due to the Protocols – that the world can be saved only if the Jews are destroyed. Many contemporary observers, people like Albert Speer and others who knew him very well and saw him daily right throughout the Third Reich, noticed that an almost eerie, strange light came into Hitler's eyes whenever Jews were the subject of discussion. He looked kind of haunting; he looked paranoid; he looked strange. He looked as if he was up against something he couldn't beat in the end, because ultimately it was a projection of his own fear. There was the sense that he was a prisoner of dualism.

The person who best exemplified this kind of messianic occultism was undoubtedly Himmler, leader of the SS, Hitler's terrifying police and security force, who was responsible for the administration of the Holocaust. The SS combined the idea of recreating a racial aristocracy on purely eugenic lines with the idea of an ideological elite representing wisdom derived from the Aryosophists. Himmler was totally dominated by these ideas. He maintained within his staff a private magus named Karl Maria Wiligut, who came straight out of the occult tradition. Wiligut was born in 1866, demobilized after a perfectly respectable and successful military career in the Austrian-Hungarian army at the end of World War 1, went into retirement, but was hospitalized because he had a nervous breakdown and exhibited traits of schizophrenia and paranoia. Then in the late 20s, he moved to Germany and became a prominent figure within the Aryosophical underground. By 1933 he'd joined Himmler's staff on the recommendation of an SS officer who happened to be a member of Lanz's order. Wiligut was promoted from the rank of captain to brigadier and joined Himmler's private staff. His job consisted almost exclusively of recording myths and symbols and stories that he intuited from the ancient Teutonic past, because he, like List, considered himself an ancient priest king, a magician who had direct knowledge of Germanic traditions. From Himmler's archives we know that anything that Wiligut produced, Himmler read, marked with his signature HH, and assiduously filed. Wiligut also designed the death's head ring that was worn by all SS men and claimed by Wiligut to be his ancient family's seal. Wiligut also administered to Himmler all kinds of stimulants and special medications that unfortunately had a very damaging effect on his health. Himmler was aware of Wiligut's psychiatric history, and it was widely known that he'd been committed as a patient in Salzburg before 1933 and he was obliged to resign. But he made one final, extraordinary contribution to Himmler's SS mythology and ritual, and that was the design of a great medieval castle celebrating Teutonic glory, intended as a kind of pagan Vatican, a Germanic center in opposition to Rome and Christianity. The Nazis were ultimately determined to replace the Christian heritage of Europe with something that reflected their pagan past.

Such dreams and visions and beliefs were redolent with gnostic and manichaean heresies. But while Nazi racist beliefs have plenty of theological precedence, in terms of dualistic doctrine and a fanatical desire to change the nature of life on earth, such heresies had never ignited historical events of such consequence. I am convinced that the Nazi fantasies of being a missionary-elect, the Nazi pursuit of the millennium in the name of nationalist racist ideology, and the extermination of six million European Jews in death camps are political events which can be understood only in a theological context. It is perfectly consistent with earlier examples of militant heresy in Europe that the Nazis should have wanted to destroy Christian civilization in the name of a new dispensation under pagan influence. When endless columns of Nazi legionaries were marching beneath crooked crosses in the massive marshal displays at Nuremberg, Nazi Germany was effectively saluting its first founder-emperor and Führer of the new one thousand year Reich. But those feelings of exuberance and hope were matched by equally intense feelings of fear and a conviction that destruction of evil was a condition of this new age. Again I'm reminded of the eerie expression that Hitler allegedly wore whenever the word Jew was mentioned in his presence. The proposed shining eternal city of Germania, Hitler's resurrected Berlin, was to be the political center of a vast Germano-Eurasian empire, predicated upon a network of slave and death cities where the antagonists of the millennium would be worked to death or immolated in a holocaust conducted by god's chosen people, the Aryans. The Nazi crusade for a new eon was entirely dualistic in its conception of battling deities for good and evil, order and chaos, and Judeo-Christian in its adoption of cultural symbols involving the destruction of the followers of Satan in a lake of fire and brimstone.

In Auschwitz we see the stain that Nazism cast upon humanity as a whole, an undying testimony to its perverted crusade. The Nazi crusade failed, despite its appeal amongst eccentric apologists for new empires and faiths, because of its hysterical narcissism, its paranoid hatred of things outside itself. You could say that the fundamental pathology of Nazi Germany's hysterical rejection of things that were foreign to itself was a rather brittle talisman. If we think about the lessons of Nazism and the shadow within certain kinds of new age belief, it really comes down to the fact that there is a terrible risk in such projections. When you start to split the world into light and darkness, order and chaos, goodness and evil, it's important that we also bear in mind something that comes very strongly to us through Christian belief: the idea of mea culpa, my fault. List and Lanz, the founders of Aryosophy, cast themselves as shining knights. But their religious dualism was shot through with the idea that they were right and the rest of the world was inferior or wrong. It's this terrible danger of the narcissism and paranoia that run through these pseudo religions and their hysterical assertion of rightness against all that seems disorderly or different that constitutes the ultimate risk – the sense that one can only solve one's problems by destroying the other.


"Nazis & Christians & Pagans" (related posts from this blog):

  1. Nazis and Christians and Pagans, Oh My!
  2. Christian Nazi Quote-fest
  3. Fascism, Islam, and Freedom of Expression
  4. "Hitler was not an occultist": Mitch Horowitz is right but his sourcing is all wrong
  5. Karla Poewe's "New Religions and the Nazis" reviewed by Richard Steigmann-Gall
  6. Rosenberg, Chamberlain, Harnack
  7. Religion, Racism & the Right
  8. Southern Poverty Law Center: There They Go Again
  9. Carl Jung & the Cowardly Blood Sport of Nazi-Baiting
  10. C. G. Jung and the Nazis: notes on two specific allegations
  11. The Not-So-Occult Foundations of Nazism
  12. Traditionalism & Anti-Modernism: A Guide For The Perplexed Pagan
  13. "We need to start dismantling this notion of 'Tradition.'"