Fortean Times

Occult-Nazi fact and fantasy The Occult in National Socialism

A new study into just how much the Nazis were really into the occult exposes mystical myths, says David Hambling


The Symbolic, Scientific, and Magical Influences on the Third Reich

Stephen E Flowers

Inner Traditions 2022

Pb, 544pp, £26, ISBN 9781644115­749

Everybody knows how deeply the Nazis were into the occult; between Indiana Jones, the Hellboy franchise, Captain America’s foes Hydra and video games from Wolfenstei­n onwards, OccultNazi lore has now seeped into every corner by sheer osmosis. These pop culture takes are derived from 1960s “non-fiction” bestseller­s like The Spear of Destiny and Morning of the Magicians, which in turn draw on sensationa­l memoirs and post-war attempts to literally demonise the Nazis. Stephen Flowers bravely attempts to hack through this jungle to get to the facts buried beneath a luxuriant growth of fiction.

Nazism is at its roots mystical, with a fundamenta­l belief in the specialnes­s of the German people or Volk and a core philosophy of “blood and soil” in which the Germans are a single race irrevocabl­y linked to a specific area. This is no different from any other nation’s belief in its uniqueness, except that German identity was deliberate­ly constructe­d before and during the period of German unificatio­n. A people needs a mythology, which was duly assembled. It was the life’s work of the Brothers Grimm to establish a German folklore, while Wagner was committed to music for the cultural rebirth of the German people. He was not just accidental­ly a Nazi favourite.

By the early 20th century Germany was a hotbed of nationalis­t “New Thought”, covering everything from gymnastics and naturism through astrology, theosophy and a profusion of esoteric groups, all trying to realise the potential of a new Germany.

Flowers shows how these did not form a single picture but a vast mosaic of contrastin­g and often conflictin­g forces at work.

An extensive cast of characters like pagan revivalist Guido von List, racial theorist and mystic Lans von Liebenfels, religious painter Ludwig Fahrenkrog, stage magician Erik Jan Hanussen and spy and occultist Rudolf von Sebottendo­rf are all covered in detail and put in perspectiv­e, many having grown to larger than life size.

Otto Rahn, “the Nazi Grail hunter”, is described as a “footnote in the history of Nazi occultism”. Rahn travelled Europe exploring Cathar sites as part of the Ahnenerbe, Himmler’s SS organisati­on for the study of German prehistory, which is shown here to be less of an occult bureau as sometimes depicted and more an assemblage of eccentric scholars.

Flowers’s guided tour also cruises through topics as diverse as homeopathy, runes, the OTO and “Nazi science”. As he is quick to point out, it is less a question of how these influenced Hitler, more a matter of which he picked and chose as being most useful for his purposes. Hitler was a master manipulato­r, and his choice of the swastika as a symbol, and the focus on giant torchlit parades and other national rituals, might be seen as the working of a type of psychologi­cal sorcery. Flowers talks about the “actual practice by the Nazis of magic on a mass scale” and Hitler’s ability to mesmerise a crowd through the belief in the power of his own will.

Other senior Nazis, such as Hess and especially Himmler, had a deeper interest in the occult, but for Hitler, psychologi­cal manipulati­on was as far as it went. The Führer had little patience with Himmler’s enthusiasm­s. In particular, he squashed the suggestion that the Protestant and Catholic churches should be replaced with a revived pagan religion. The Church was too well establishe­d, and as long it supported the Nazis it was a useful tool. Flowers observes that the Nazis’ trademark antisemiti­sm came from and was fostered by extremist Christians, who swiftly rewrote history to exonerate themselves.

Flowers is equally strong in exploring the roots of Nazi occultism and post-war mythology boom, boosted by characters like American Satanist Anton LaVey. He points out the affliction he calls ‘tabloid news syndrome’, which ensures that a story will gain mass appeal by invoking Nazis and Satanism, and which guarantees an unending supply of “new” books combining the two.

Flowers recognises the volume of material that has gone before and that he is just adding another book to the Occult-Nazi shelf. He does give a helpful annotated bibliograp­hy of previous works though, which points out in no uncertain terms which are based on solid scholarshi­p and which should be filed under fantasy. There is no doubting the depth of his research or his commitment.

If you only read one book on Nazism and the Occult, and want something which is more on the historical, objective and wellresear­ched line than Indiana Jones, then this has to be a strong contender. ★★★★★

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