The Long View: Lucifer's Court

This is John J. Reilly’s masterful summary of not only esoteric fascism, but of the curious historical phenomenon of the Albigensians. John wraps up everything he wrote over a number of years on the subject into a cohesive whole.

Lucifer’s Court:
A Heretic’s Journey in
Search of the Light Bringers

By Otto Rahn

Translated by Christopher Jones
German Original Published 1937
Translation 2008, Inner Traditions International
242 Pages, US$16.95
ISBN 978-159477197-2

Reviewed by John J. Reilly

This review originally appeared
on the website of
The Southern Literary Messenger.


This book and its companion volume,Crusade against the Grail (1), are about as close as we can get to an “authoritative” statement of the esoteric dimension of the Nazi regime in Germany. The publication of the Crusade book in 1933 persuaded SS leader Heinrich Himmler to invite its author, Otto Rahn (1904-1939), to work for the SS as a folklorist. As the book under review here also does in part, that work developed the thesis that the doctrines of the medieval Cathars of Provence were encoded into Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th-century version of the Grail legend. Rahn later became a member of the Ahnenerbe (“ancestral heritage”(2)) bureau of the SS, in whose employ he finished Lucifer’s Court. It is generally conceded that Rahn’s death by exposure during a winter hike in 1939 was a suicide forced upon him by the SS, because of rumors of homosexuality, or of Jewish ancestry, or both. Nonetheless, Himmler thought highly enough of this book to order a special edition of 5,000 leather-bound copies to be printed during the war; for distribution, presumably, to select SS personnel.

Esoteric Fascism

Both of Rahn’s books have been translated from German into English for the first time by Christopher Jones. These editions include acknowledgements of support and assistance from figures prominent in what has been called the “the esoteric Right” or “esoteric fascism”(3). We may note that the title of the original, Luzifers Hofgesind, might more literally be translated as “Lucifer’s Courtiers,” and in fact some references in English to the German version have used that expression, or “The Courtiers of Lucifer.” This edition has Lucifer’s Court, the translator explains, because translations into other languages use some such title. A minor point: the original subtitle, at least in the German edition I have been able to locate, is “eine Riese zu Europas guten Geistern,” which is “a journey to Europe’s Good Spirits.” The English subtitle of this edition suits the content better, but the author did not think of it.

One cannot discuss this book today without at least mentioning the 1989 Steven Spielberg film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The overall story in that film was a quest for the Holy Grail, but finding the Grail required first finding the “Grail Diary” of a cranky old archeologist, in which he had recorded his researches. Lucifer’s Court is a journal rather than a diary, but it does bear a superficial resemblance to the missing document in Spielberg’s film. This book is an account of the travels of a man looking for traditions about the Holy Grail; and sometimes, we may reasonably suspect, for an actual object, understood in Rahn’s case as the legendary treasure of the Cathars. (We will get to the Cathars below, after we have given the devil his due.)

The differences from the film are even more interesting, of course. The Grail for Rahn, to the extent that he considers it a physical object, is the German Grail, the Stone that fell from Heaven in Parzival, rather than the cup associated with Jesus in the Anglo-French Grail stories. The film was devoid of references to the Cathar sect, as indeed was everyone else’s understanding of the Grail legend until the middle of the nineteenth century. Also unlike the film, the book is virulently, relentlessly, jumping-up-and-down anti-Christian. It is particularly anti-Catholic, so much so as to reduce the antisemitic implications of its rejection of Yahweh to a mere subtext. In Crusade against the Grail, Rahn seemed content to accept the Cathars’ view of themselves as the true Christians (a view that Hitler seemed to share, if we may believe Otto Wagener’s Memoirs of a Confidant). In this work, Rahn has become more radical. If the Cathars considered themselves Christians at all, then they were mistaken. Lucifer, properly understood, is the hero of the story.

The sections of the book, all undated and very brief, are headed by place names; the author tells us what he saw or felt or did at each location. The sections are arranged in three groups. The first deals with the author’s visits to cities in France, chiefly sites associated the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade that destroyed them. The second group includes trips to northern Italy, Switzerland, and southern Germany. The third begins in the author’s native Hesse in Germany and then moves in stages on a trip that leads across the North Atlantic to Iceland. The organizing principle appears to be that the medieval drama of the Grail was played out in the South, but the meaning and perhaps the origin of the Grail is to be found in the furthest North. The North is key for Rahn, both as a symbol and as a source of historical influence from pre-historic times.

Early in the book, in a passage written in Paris, the author cites the verses from Isaiah 14 that are traditionally said to refer to the fall of Satan from Heaven:

How have you fallen from the heavens, O glowing morning star; been cut down to the ground O conqueror of Nations?

For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north...

For Rahn, Isaiah speaks for the great enemy: for Yahweh, the spiritual tyrant of the past 2,000 years, whose prophet here gloats over the discomfiture of a would-be liberator. The liberator, the model for all insurgents, is the Morning Star, called in Latin “Lucifer,” which means “Light Bearer.” We are told explicitly that Lucifer is Apollyon, the Angel of the Pit in Revelation 9:7-11. His adherents are scattered throughout history and in many countries. Among them, Rahn held, was Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), the German mystical writer, whose Aurora is quoted by Rahn as an example of the positive to which Isaiah is the negative:

Look, I will tell you a secret: The time has come for the groom to crown his bride; guess where the crown lies? Toward midnight, because the light is clear in the darkness...

Midnight here, we are given to understand, means “Land of the Midnight Sun,” which Rahn intends to visit. There, and throughout his travels, he hopes to find historical and legendary evidence of the activities of Lucifer’s courtiers:

In this way, I am hoping my readers will appreciate the story of those who sought justice regardless of the Mosaic twelve commandments and from their own sense of justice and duty; those who, rather than ever arrogantly expecting assistance from Mount Sinai, went to a “mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north,” in order to bring solace to their kind; those who placed knowledge above faith and existence above the light; and, not least, those who recognized that Yahweh could never, ever be their divinity and Jesus of Nazareth could never, ever be their salvation. In Lucifer’s house there are many dwellings. Many paths and bridges lead to him.

There are mysteries in that passage, not the least of which is that the Decalogue seems to have sprouted two new commandments. Actually, there are mysteries intentional and otherwise throughout the whole book. Rahn often quotes slabs of text without citation, a deficit that his editors do not always supply. There are questionable specific points. As the translator notes, Rahn’s grasp of mythology was not above criticism. The Argonauts, for instance, whose adventures in Rahn’s imagination seem to have occurred largely in the North Atlantic, are said to have gotten their name from the town “Argos,” rather than from the name of their ship. More serious is the question of whether and to what degree Rahn’s thesis is supposed to relate to history at all.


Rahn clearly does take very seriously the argument of the French occult writer Joséphin Péladan that the Cathars of Provence were the real matter of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, and that the Grail was a secret or object they were protecting. In Lucifer’s Court, Rahn develops this theory in the section “Carcassonne.” Rahn’s initial identification is of the perfectly real 13th-century French poet, Guiot of Provins, with “Kyot of Provence,” the otherwise unknown source to whom Wolfram attributes his information. Provins is a small region to the southeast of Paris, while Provence is a major region in the south of France. This is the kind of wordplay that Wolfram loved, but it is very far from proof that Wolfram was doing more than making good-natured fun of a contemporary’s name, much less that he was recording an esoteric history of events in Provence. As Richard Barber notes in his sober study, The Holy Grail (4), the parallels between the notables of medieval Provence and the characters in Parzival just are not that close. Neither do Rahn’s etymologies help. “Parzival,” the knight of the Grail Quest, is said to mean “cut well” in Occitan, the language of the troubadours of southern France. Rahn, or at least this translation, does not trouble to mention that “Percival” is the original. In any case, he equates this with the name of a Provencal nobleman, “Trencavel,” whose alleged origin (trenca vel) is supposed to mean the same thing. This is not a very telling equation; it grows less so when we consider that the usual etymology of “Percival” is “pierce the valley.”

There are similar problems with Rahn’s understanding of the Cathar heresy as a whole. Catharism is actually a blanket term for a range of sects and beliefs which had some currency throughout Europe. The Cathars of southern France were called “Albigensians,” after the city of Albi. Rahn does not make these distinctions, and since he is concerned with Cathars elsewhere, particularly in Germany, we will use that term.

The Cathars

Catharism is one of those doctrines we know only from the accounts of its enemies, so reconstructing its actual content has always been difficult. (For the incautious, Theodore Roszak’s novel, Flicker (5), may not be too far off the mark.) The Cathars seem to have been Manicheans, in the sense their theology was like that of the third-century Zoroastrian would-be prophet, Mani, though they may not have knowingly looked to him for inspiration. Manicheanism is a kind of dualism, holding that there are independently existing good and evil principles. In the Cathar version, this world, the world of matter, is evil, and Yahweh of the Old Testament is its god. In some versions of this kind of speculation, the Creator was an inferior entity, sometimes called the Demiurge, and his Creation was defective. It is not clear how much of this the Cathars believed, but none of it would have been original with them: the Christian heretic Marcion had jettisoned the Old Testament as the work of the devil in the second century. For him, the New Testament, or part of it, is the revelation of a good, alien God. This God did not create the world. His messenger was Jesus, according to Marcion, though as we have seen, Rahn thought otherwise.

The Cathars seemed to have believed that Jesus was never really material, and that he was never crucified. They further rejected the Church hierarchy and its system of sacraments. They had a sacrament of their own called the consolamentum. Those who received it became perfecti, Latin for “Perfect Ones” (Cathar is Greek for “pure.”) Most Cathars received it on their deathbed; those who took it earlier became clergy. Perfecti pledged to vegetarianism, and not to take life, and to celibacy. Birth was an evil, since the entrapment of human souls in matter was one of the things Catharism was supposed to help remedy. The Cathars seem to have believed in a cycle of reincarnation which, like the Buddhists, they sought to escape. Ordinary believers, who had not yet become perfecti, could and did function normally in medieval society. Among them was the bulk of the aristocracy of Provence; hence Rome’s campaigns, first of evangelization, and then of crusade against the Cathar strongholds.

To this account of possible Cathar doctrines Rahn adds and subtracts with perfect freedom. Cathar anti-natalism and horror of matter disappear entirely: rather, in his account, it is the followers of Yahweh who are hostile to the natural world. There are ancient doctrines which make a hero of Lucifer, or at any rate, of Satan: Rahn mentions more than once the old notion that Lucifer is simply in exile from Heaven, and will return in due course. In the section entitled “On a Southern German Road,” Rahn sets out a vision, or a profound meditation, in which he is instructed in the role of Lucifer as an intermediary, or role model, by a Cathar named Bertrand of Foix. It is not at all clear that the Cathars ever thought any such thing, however. We may note that, after the meditation, he camps with a group of Hitler Youth; they are Courtiers of Lucifer, too.

Rahn’s investigations into Catharism tend to merge into other interests. Rahn was a member of the völkisch wing of the Nazi movement, along with Himmler and Himmler’s personal wizard, Karl-Maria Willigut (also known as “Weisthor”). Rahn followed up references to what in English-language folklore studies is sometimes called “the fairy faith.” He describes how medieval heroes gained immortality by finding the mountaintop rose-garden paradise of Laurin, King of the Dwarfs, a notion he conflates with the mountaintop paradises of Asgard and Olympus, and with that northern mountaintop to which Isaiah says Yahweh is so keen to restrict access. The Courtiers of Lucifer in the West may have been nominally Christian, but they actually hoped to go after death to the “bosom of Arthur,” like Shakespeare’s Falstaff. Shakespeare was in on the secret, too, it seems.

As for the Grail, Rahn’s accounts of it vary as much as the descriptions of legend. Parzival introduced the idea that the Grail Stone had been brought to Earth by angels of ambiguous allegiance. In later developments of the story, the Grail is a jewel that fell from the crown of Lucifer. Rahn likes that expression and uses it repeatedly. As many commentators on Rahn have noted, stones do sometimes fall from the sky. There has been considerable speculation that Rahn may have been seeking, or actually helped recover, a meteoric Cathar relic on his spelunking expeditions to the south of France. However, in the section of this book under “Halberstadt,” he views what is apparently an actual meteoric stone. Called the Teufelstein, the devil allegedly threw it at the local cathedral when it was under construction, in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the cathedral’s completion. All Rahn says is that “Christians will believe anything.” It is not over reading the text, perhaps, to infer that he is signaling the reader not to make the Grail-meteor connection.

Ultima Thule

By and by, in fact, we learn that maybe we should not take the connection between historical Catharism and Luciferian liberation too literally, either. Rahn mentions a Persian tradition about a holy stone that parallels Parzival’s Grail story in essential ways. In fact, he suggests that “grail” may be derived from the Persian word for the stone, “ghral” (6). The same illumination came to two groups of Aryan peoples, one in Western Europe and the other in the Near East. The familiar Grail story is just one manifestation of it. The quest of the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece is, in some ways, the same story. This illumination is connected with the recollection of a time when the far north was warm and hospitable, and a healthy sort of mankind lived in harmony with nature. The name “Hyperborea” comes up. By Rahn’s own account, his wanderings were always destined to end in Ultimate Thule.

History as Myth

The point has never been the recovery of an empirically verifiable historical tradition. Rather, to use a term that Rahn (or this translation) does not use, Rahn realizes that he has been seeking to clarify an archetype. Or perhaps that term is too easy. In the section under “Runkel an Lahn,” Rahn presents a vision in which the divine is generated by the struggle between life and death. By rising above their individuality and embracing this struggle, heroes can hope to attain a genuine immortality by entering the mythical realm. Readers may be reminded of Julius Evola’s description in Revolt against the Modern World of the mutual permeability of chronological and mythological time (7). The difference is that Evola’s criticism of Nazi mysticism as stultifyingly chthonic seems to apply to Rahn’s ideas: the völkisch worldview is oriented toward the folk soul, rather than to eternity. The fate of the hero is less like apotheosis and more like psychic mulch.

Don Quixote

The Cathars may have been dualists, but Rahn’s ideas are not essentially dualistic. Dualism involves two universal principles in conflict. Rahn’s mythological version of history, in contrast, is a struggle between folk souls, actualized as a struggle between their gods. As it happens, there are just two such entities, Yahweh and Lucifer, that interest Rahn. They represent the Jewish and German (or Aryan) peoples and the struggle between them. However, one might point out that there is no particular reason why there should not be more than two, or more than one. This cosmic struggle is a historical accident; different only in scale, perhaps, from a fight occasioned by a chance encounter between dinosaurs. (8)

A long section of the book is an excerpt from Don Quixote, the story of the old knight whose mind was so addled by reading romances of medieval chivalry that he could no longer tell the difference between the stories and reality. Rahn identifies with Quixote, but not in the sense that either was really deluded. Rather, the stories that entranced Quixote, like the völkisch mythology that absorbed Rahn, are more real than the events of the everyday world. The events of the everyday world, both in the past and in the present, gain their meaning to the extent that they reflect the myths. Legends communicate a higher truth than does sober history.

All these points come together, indeed perhaps the whole tale of the Third Reich and the occult comes together, in the section “Reykholt,” a place in Iceland. Rahn takes care to emphasize his disappointment with Ultimate Thule, the place to which he believed the remnants of ancient Nordic culture fled to escape the Christian infection, and perhaps the last piece of a primordial world that existed before all known history. Iceland as Rahn encountered it, however, was treeless; at the summer solstice, it was not so much nightless as shadowless. Reykjavik the capital was a town of corrugated-iron roofs and concrete walls. The locals were friendly enough, but there seemed nothing to connect this shabby country with the world of the Eddas, Elder or Younger.

Rahn does manage to do some hiking, apparently with another German, who may also have been another SS man: the circumstances and purpose of Rahn’s visit are not described. The two climb a cliff and settle down to admire the view. The companion delivers a lecture.

Much of this discourse expands on the relationship we have just considered between myth and history. Where something divine or celestial strikes the Earth, we are told, a horde may turn into a people. Culture is the striving of the Earth to reach Heaven. Heaven and Earth meet at the point of sacrifice. In a healthy world, the sacrifice is perpetual, a relationship of balanced flow between high and low that unites man and nature. The story of the world since the triumph of Christianity, however, is the story of the consequences of the interruption of that flow. The myths of northern Europe reflect the coming of the current dark age; they also foreshadow its ending.

The twilight of the gods was at the same time the dissolution of tribal loyalty to the gods, heroes, and the almighty forces of nature...In place of mythical divine wisdom, a ritual mechanical intellect has assumed its place in the ‘me’-addicted world of things...The mythical world of prehistory also saw its destruction in the final battle of the gods...Odin was eaten by a wolf...We should remember that Rome’s mother was a she-wolf...Odin’s son, the silent Widmar, killed the wolf in yet another act of revenge. As it says in the Edda, Baldr returned and announced to mankind the divine mystery of the earth and the cosmos: ‘On Gimil’s heights, I saw a room brighter than the sun and decked in gold. Worthy lords must live there...’ What is that strength from above that conquers the power of death and hatred? Who can awaken a very lonely mankind after the twilight of the ‘me’-addiction, so that we can rebuild society in selfless service, taking care not to destroy freedom, but to heal it?


Readers will note that, like the Evolan version of Tradition with which it shares many points, this is essentially a revolutionary project. (9) Despite Rahn’s devotion to European history and mythology, one cannot help but notice that the center of almost every place he visits is a church; a church he hates, either for its architecture, or its history, or the presumed greed of its incumbent clergy. When the myth is the reality, then the visible sticks and stones, and flesh and bones, become not just expendable but intolerable.

I have been studying the Third Reich and the occult for 30 years. This book pretty much sums the subject up.


(1) Crusade against the Grail is reviewed here.

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(2) The nature of the Ahnenerbe is described in Heather Pringle's The Master Plan, reviewed here.

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(3) Postwar esoteric fascism is the subject of the essay, After the Third Age.

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(4) The Holy Grail is reviewed here.

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(5) Flicker is reviewed here.

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(6) Rahn's contemporary, Charles Williams, wrote a book about a Persian stone with Grail-like properties. A review is here.

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(7) The relevant section of Revolt against the Modern World is quoted here.

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(8) Readers may wish to compare Rahn's vision of competing folk souls with the views of the neo-Nazi ideologue, Francis Parker Yockey, in Yockey's Imperium (reviewed here) and the practice of Aeonic Magic by Traditional Satanists (described here).

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(9) For an overview of Tradition, see Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World, reviewed here.

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Copyright © 2008 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Master Plan

The Ahnererbe was a peculiar institution in the Third Reich. It had an independent source of revenue in the form of a bicycle reflector patent, which meant that while some of its activities were favored and supported, others weren’t, but it could continue regardless. Its research was a weird mix of actual science and crank obsessions. Real history tends to be better than any comic book.

The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust
By Heather Pringle
Disney Books (Little Brown), 2006
463 pages, $18.96
ISBN-10: 0786868864

The Third Reich was certainly influenced by “rejected knowledge” to some degree: many of its principal figures made reference on occasion to occult ideas or to cranky pseudoscientific theories, and at least some of its symbols and ceremonial seem to have been transmitted to it through the Occult Revival of the latter 19th century. One of the most interesting questions in the history of the 20th-century, however, is whether rejected knowledge was central or even constitutive of German National Socialism and of the Third Reich, or whether such ideas were “in the air” at the intersection of politics and popular culture but had no important effect on the regime.

What makes this study by Heather Pringle (a science-writer with an interest in archeology) so valuable is that she does not try to answer the whole question. We don’t get much intellectual history in the text, though the bibliography cites all the major studies. Rather, she focuses on the eccentric research interests of SS-leader Heinrich Himmler, particularly as those were manifest in the activities of an SS bureau known as the “Ahnenerbe.” (The term can be translated in various ways: I would go with “Ancestral Legacy.”) The Ahnenerbe has long played a role in popular history and fiction as the “SS Occult Bureau.” In this book, it is reduced to its proper proportions as an “advocacy-research” service that, before the war, funded some odd enterprises but was otherwise a small organization that worried about its budget and had to hunt for office space. During the war, though, the Ahnenerbe expertise in “racial science” was called upon to facilitate aspects of the Holocaust, while its more conventional medical expertise played a role in criminal human experiments. Several of its members were executed for war crimes, including its managing director, Wolfram Sievers (but not its president, Walther Wüst: like many of the people in this book, he lived to a remarkable old age). Not all of the story is new: the Tibetan expedition of Ernst Schäfer in 1938-39 has been covered in detail before. Even so, this book provides useful supplementary information. And the title is not wholly misleading: Himmler’s use of the Ahnenerbe really does provide important context for describing what the Nazis were trying to do.

Bicycles funded the search for Atlantis. The SS contrived to get control of a patent for pedal-mounted safety reflectors, and then made the use of those reflectors mandatory. The money went to support the Ahnenerbe after its organization in 1935. Himmler felt that some independent source of funding was necessary, because Hitler was not usually keen on Himmler’s investigations into folklore and the borders between history and myth.

Hitler was a free-thinker on these matters. Statements of his can be used to show that he believed in various forms of psychic power, in pre-Ice Age civilizations, and even in Hans Hörbiger’s “World Ice Theory.” (That was a catastrophist model of world history proposing that the Earth had in the past captured a series of moons whose later disintegration had caused a corresponding series of deluges and world ages.) He was also in tune with Himmler on the centrality of race to history, both with regard to the splendid Aryan race in the past and its even more splendid revival in the future. They agreed on the characterization of Jewry as an essentially biological phenomenon that had to be exterminated. Hitler parted company from Himmler, however, regarding the latter’s high evaluation of the pre-historical Nordic past. Himmler was avid to view archeological digs of ancient Germanic settlements and to reconstruct the religion and ethos of the people who had dwelt there. For when empirical investigation failed, he had a literal shaman in his employ, the famous Karl-Marie Willigut, who would channel the ancient dead for Himmler’s edification. (Willigut in a trance could put on a good show, apparently: he told the skeptical Ernst Schäfer some things about Tibet that Schäfer thought only he knew.) Hitler, in contrast, was rather embarrassed by these digs, at least when they dealt with settlements dating from the Roman era; even the most ingenious long-house did not amount to much compared to the Coliseum. Further more, Himmler not only hoped to replace Christianity; he promoted the use by the SS of a calendar of neopagan rituals to replace the Christian ones. Hitler liked this not at all: he may have been a dictator and an apostate who had long-term plans for Christianity, too, but he was also a practical politician who took care not to gratuitously provoke the Catholic and Protestant Churches.

Himmler had been hiring researchers individually since the Nazi Party came to power in 1933. The most important of these, perhaps, was the Grail-hunter Otto Rahn, later an Ahnenerbe member (he is mentioned only in passing in this book). The interest that some senior members of the Nazi Party took in esoteric studies became increasingly well-known. A coffee-magnate built, or planned to build, a “Haus Atlantis” on Böttcherstrasse in Bremen. The structure was to be largely in honor of the first president of the Ahnenerbe, Herman Wirth, a Dutch philologist who had detailed and publicly expressed ideas about where the remnants of Atlantis, the homeland of the Aryan race, might be found in the Atlantic. He also claimed to have discovered the world’s first writing system in the petroglyphs of southeastern Sweden, a view not widely shared then or since. A crisis occurred at the Nuremberg Rally of 1936. Hitler took the trouble to denounce “Böttcherstrasse Culture” as an example of an excessively mystical interpretation of National Socialism. In this, I might point out, he was reiterating the dismissal in Mein Kampf of “völkisch” nationalism. One way to put it, I suppose, was that Hitler was condemning the New Age wing of the Party.

This was an awkward turn of events for Himmler (as I suppose it must also have been for Alfred Rosenberg, the Party ideologist who also had some good words for Atlantis in The Myth of the 20th Century but who did not have any bicycle money to console him). The next year, Himmler replaced Wirth with Walther Wüst, a respectable orientalist who was also keenly interested in Aryans, but in his case they were the less imaginary ones to be found in Sanskrit and Old Persian texts. (The term “Aryan” comes from Sanskrit philology.) Some of the more exotic-sounding projects were closed down. By no means were they all crank schemes, however. One of the projects was a sound-recording tour by a young Finn named Yrjö von Grönhagen of the Karelia region of Finland. His goal was to record the spells and tales of the shamans and witches of the region, which he did in what sounds like an example of ordinary anthropology. The problem was that there was already an extensive literature about the relationship of Finnish folk culture and language to that of ancient Germanic northern Europe, and Wüst quickly satisfied himself that Grönhagen knew nothing about it. He was sent back to the classroom.

The Ahnenerbe thereafter focused on studies that were more verifiable, and even practical, at least from the SS point of view. The bureau backed reputable archeological digs of ancient villages (Hitler could not be everywhere) and funded the excavation of their share of cavemen. An irony here: the scientific consensus at the time had it that Cro-Magnon humans had evolved from the Neanderthalers, but Himmler believed otherwise. Today most anthropologists would say that Himmler was right, but as a rule, Himmler’s ideas were wrong or incoherent. The Party line could raise issues of professional ethics for researchers whose results did not seem to lead them to politically congenial conclusions. To judge by this book, the Ahnenerbe often did serious research that provided useful data, provided you ignored the conclusions.

The Ahnenerbe sometimes mixed science with useful espionage. That was the case with the classics scholar, Franz Altman, who combined library and archeological research in Italy, Dalmatia, and the Middle East with some political and logistical snooping. In Iraq and Syria, he tactfully sounded out local Arab tribal leaders about their attitude toward a revolt against the French and British (they were keen) and laid some of the groundwork for the unsuccessful pro-Axis uprising that occurred during the war. As with many of the scholars in this study, his work for the Ahnenerbe did his career no permanent harm; after the war, be became West Germany’s most eminent classicist.

The crown jewel of all Ahnenerbe projects was the Schäfer expedition to Tibet. At least in Himmler’s mind, the expedition was to demonstrate that Tibetan civilization had been created by an ancient incursion of Aryan conquerors who had then become the upper class. The expedition did quite a lot of animal specimen collecting (Schäfer himself was a zoologist of the megafauna-shooting variety), but its primary purpose was the racial classification of humans. That was chiefly the task of a young racial-studies expert, Bruno Beger. This work involved the detailed study of skull shape and bone length with calipers and rulers, and the making of plaster face-casts. The author tells us that anthropology had largely abandoned this kind of study; it had already been discovered by that time that body shape was dependent on other factors in addition to genetics, and therefore was unhelpful for the taxonomy of human groups. Nonetheless, data of this sort were still taken seriously in Germany. Indeed, they would arguably be the foundation of the Nazi version of applied geopolitics.

The outbreak of war cancelled what would have been the Ahnenerbe’s largest expedition so far: a journey by the sweetly crackers Edmund Kiss to examine million-year-old Aryan ruins in Bolivia. The bureau then turned from theoretical research to aiding the war effort. This rarely had happy results. The most gruesome parts of the book deal with a war-time Ahnenerbe department, the Institute for Military Research. When you hear about Nazi scientists doing deranged-sounding experiments on living subjects, that is probably the group in question. However, there was more to the Ahnenerbe war record than experiments with poison gas and sterilization through irradiation.

As a group with a high level of historical and cultural expertise, the Ahnenerbe was soon prevailed upon to send its agents to remove interesting items from the museum collections of occupied countries. In Poland, they immediately encountered the agents of Hermann Göring, who also liked expensive things and felt entitled to steal them. The agents of Himmler and Göring reached a rough compromise: Göring got most of the fine art of the past few centuries, while the Ahnenerbe got most of the ancient and archeologically important material. The stuff that found its way into Göring's treasuries usually survived the war, but many valuable artifacts were destroyed when the SS partially demolished its academy at Wewelsburg Castle at the end of the war.

Hitler is quoted in this book as saying that his aims were really quite modest: all he wanted to do was resettle the German people on territory that they had occupied before. The disruptive factor was that the romantic popular history promoted by people like the Ahnenerbe said that the Germans, during their earlier incarnation as Goths, had once had a vast empire in most of what is now European Russia. These beliefs had some slight overlap with history in the Crimea, where there had in fact been Gothic cities that alternately attacked and traded with the eastern Roman world in late antiquity. When the Germans occupied the Crimea during their invasion of the Soviet Union, Ahnenerbe scientists went to the Crimea to find the ruins of the Gothic capital and prepare an itinerary for a visit by Himmler.

During this highpoint of Nazi power, Himmler actually took the first steps towards implementing the only real Master Plan the Nazis had: the creation of a German empire the size of a subcontinent. The German military was apparently not supposed to press on all the way through Siberia, but to create an impenetrable border along the Urals. Ahnenerbe officials fantasized about the huge estates they would soon be given in the East. First, though, a new yeomanry was to be settled in what had been the Russias, using persons certified by Ahnenerbe techniques as racially German. Himmler’s experts had the designs for the new villages all prepared, down to the traditional Germanic amphitheaters for public meetings.

Some luckless ethnic Germans from northern Russia were conscripted to begin this project and sent to the Crimea. There they were given small farms on sharecropper-terms: a quota of dairy products for the SS, in return for protection and some material support. The settlers were promised more land if their performance was satisfactory. The project did not come to anything. We may surmise that similar projects would not have come to much, even if Stalin or his successor had made peace with Hitler. There just weren’t that many Germans, inside or outside Germany, who aspired to become peasants. Any persons who were so inclined would probably not have prospered in new settlements that seem likely to have all the organic vitality of a Stalinist collective farm. A Nazi victory would have created a vacuum.

The book touches on several contexts in which Ahnenerbe racial science played a role in the war against the Jews. One of these involved the attempt by Nazi officials to deal with the fact that the ethnology of the Caucasus included mysteries that did not fit their philosophy. The term “Khazar” does not occur in this book, but the Nazis found groups of people, the Mountain Jews, rather like the semi-legendary Khazars: ethnically Turkic tribes, with a manner of life like that of Cossacks, but who identify their religion as Judaism. Except they weren’t necessarily Turkic, either. To complicate matters further, the peoples of the region were not divided into self-contained millets, as in the Middle East, but intermarried and shared their customs. The Nazis were quite prepared to slaughter the genuinely Jewish tribes, but they could not believe that some of the Taras Bulba types they were meeting were really Jewish. So, Ernst Schäfer and Bruno Beger were summoned again, this time to the Caucasus to separate the sheep from the goats. They were to use racial-science criteria to decide whether a people were Jewish or not. If the group met the measurement criteria, it would be eliminated, even if its members prayed toward Mecca five times a day.

As things turned out, the Nazi presence in the Caucasus was too brief for Schäfer and Beger's new expedition to be sent, but the author takes special care to put Beger's role in the later "Jewish Skeleton" project in the worst possible light, which is admittedly pretty bad. The project has been variously described, but the gist of it was that prisoners in concentration camps were to be selected as anatomically typical, killed, and taken to a laboratory in the west where they would be stripped of their flesh; the skeletons were then to become displays in a research museum. Beger later claimed that he had no idea that the people he was measuring at Dachau were to be used for any such purpose, or at least that he found out when it was too late. He suffered some legal troubles in later life when these matters came to light, but experienced embarrassment rather than punishment. The author describes her interview with him in an apartment full of Tibetan mementos: a preternaturally hale and wholly unrepentant 90 year old, like an ambiguous knight who had managed to take a swig from Otto Rahn’s life-prolonging Grail.

The Ahnenerbe was something of a comfort to Himmler in his final days. He had long believed that the legends of Thor’s Hammer and similar stories from the Vedas contained historical memories of wonder weapons used by vanished civilizations. He avidly received reports that they had been rediscovered. One such proposal in the closing weeks of the war led him to declare that the military situation was about to reverse. From the description in the book, the weapon sounds a bit like an electromagnetic-pulse device, but with some relationship to ground current that would have allowed it to disable all electrical equipment across wide regions. The Ahnenerbe duly sent the proposal out for review and eventually reported that the inventor did not know what he was talking about. Nonetheless, while that hope still lived, Himmler had reason to keep the war going. We should remember that Willigut, his own wizard, had prophesied that an invasion of Europe from the East in the 20th century would be stopped at Wewelsburg Castle. The Russians never got so far west, but the Vedic EMP device would have fit the prophecy nicely.

Even a review this long cannot mention all the Ahnenerbe activities the book discusses. Similarly, the book does not purport to be an encyclopedic account of everything the Ahnenerbe did, and it scarcely touches at all on the role of rejected knowledge in the Nazi regime as a whole. It does, however, cover quite enough to be essential reading for anyone interested in this subject.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Himmler's Crusade

Expedition members with hosts in  Gangtok ,  Sikkim  are (from left to right) unknown, unknown Tibetan,  Bruno Beger ,  Ernst Schäfer ,  Sir Basil Gould , Krause, unknown Tibetan, Karl Wienert, Edmund Geer, unknown, unknown  By Bundesarchiv, Bild 135-KA-11-008 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

Expedition members with hosts in Gangtok, Sikkim are (from left to right) unknown, unknown Tibetan, Bruno Beger, Ernst Schäfer, Sir Basil Gould, Krause, unknown Tibetan, Karl Wienert, Edmund Geer, unknown, unknown

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 135-KA-11-008 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

Himmler’s Crusade:
The Nazi Expedition to Find the Origins of the Aryan Race
By Christopher Hale
John Wiley & Sons, 2003
422 Pages, US$27.95 
ISBN 0-471-26292-7

Remarkable stories clustered around the Schäfer Expedition to Tibet of 1938-1939. The project was only one of several German expeditions to that part of the world at about the same time (the one that included Heinrich Harrer is perhaps the best known because of his memoir, Seven Years in Tibet), but the Schäfer Expedition had the backing of SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler and of the Ahnenerbe, the research bureau reputed to be interested in the occult. Besides, it reached the then rarely visited holy city of Lhasa, and the Germans were known to have found favor with the ruling Regent.

The British feared that the Germans were attempting to organize a Himalayan Front against India in preparation for the coming war. Tibetan peasants said that the fearsome leader of the German team drank blood. Later, more imaginative rumors had it that the true purpose of the expedition was to open contacts with the diabolical forces resident in Agarthi, a hidden city of theosophical legend.

Christopher Hale is a noted producer of travel and anthropology documentaries. In this book he never shies away from reporting a lurid story or an intriguing rumor, but he manages to make the Schäfer Expedition and its participants no more fantastic than they really were. Thus, though Himmler seems to have been keen on uncovering the theosophical mysteries of Tibet, the members of the expedition were doing more or less serious science. The Germans and the Tibetans do seem to have been making tentative diplomatic overtures, though perhaps to cross purposes. And yes, the expedition’s leader did drink the blood of animals he killed: it was a hunter’s thing.

That leader was Ernst Schäfer (1910-1992), an ambitious zoologist who specialized in ornithology and big-game hunting. The book is chiefly concerned with him and with Bruno Beger (1911-2004), the team’s anthropologist. They figure most prominently among the five scientists on the expedition. They also had disturbing careers as experts in the biological sciences for the SS during the war.

Schäfer had been in Tibet before, on two specimen-gathering trips led by the wealthy American naturalist Brooke Dolan. Dolan had learned Theodore Roosevelt’s trick of getting scientific institutions (in Dolan’s case, the Philadelphia Academy of Natural History) to fund his hunting expeditions, with the happy side effect of making the hunters moderately famous. Dolan and Schäfer journeyed to eastern Tibet, a debatable land of chronic skirmishing among the Chinese Nationalist government, various war lords, the ineffectual Tibetan army, and, just in time for the second expedition, the Red Army on the Long March. On neither trip did they come anywhere near Lhasa (Dolan did reach Lhasa in 1945, as a member of the OSS), but Schäfer’s books and articles about his adventures made him something of an authority in Germany about Tibet, as well as a minor public figure. Those qualifications and his membership in the SS were more than enough to bring him to the favorable attention of Heinrich Himmler.

Schäfer had been planning his own, more thoroughly scientific expedition to Tibet as soon as he returned home in 1935 from the second and rather acrimonious Dolan expedition. He needed sponsors, and Himmler offered to help him financially and bureaucratically. Part of the cost to Schäfer was that his enterprise would be associated with the Ahnenerbe (usually translated “Ancestral Inheritance Bureau”). That SS agency really did have someone looking for information about the Holy Grail at the time; a close connection with it could ruin an academic career, even in Nazi Germany. Schäfer succeeded in refusing to include an Ahnenerbe expert who had written a novel entitled Springtime in Atlantis, and in fact the financial help that the Ahnenerbe could give was so small that its patronage was not conspicuous. Nonetheless, after his return, Schäfer would manage an independent Asia-studies institute that was technically within the Ahnenerbe.

Hale gives us a history of the role of Tibet in the European imagination. Helena Blavatsky did not originate that country’s reputation for mystery and antiquity, but she did canonize Tibet’s place in the occult canon, particularly the connection with Atlantis and the Aryan race. The story takes several forms. A widespread version, with which Himmler would have been familiar, has it that the early Aryan race was instructed in Tibet by survivors of Atlantean civilization and may have originated in Tibet. A somewhat more prosaic theory embraced by the anthropologist Hans Günther had it that the Aryan race had actually originated in Europe and had spread to Asia in the past and then retreated. Günther was interested in Tibet because he believed that the Tibetan aristocracy might be a remnant of one of the high-water marks of Aryan expansion. That was one of the questions that Günther’s protégé, Bruno Beger, was included in the Schäfer Expedition to explore.

Physical anthropology is not one of the Black Arts. If you believe current television dramas, forensic anthropology is the principal tool of the criminal justice system. Be that as it may, the sort of racial classification that Beger did was old-fashioned even at the time. Hale suggests that it could be dangerous and painful for the subjects of the research; when practiced on colonial peoples, it was not necessarily consensual. Beger, however, promoted trust by also operating a clinic in the regions through which the expedition traveled, though he had no qualifications as a medical doctor. The Germans made themselves fairly popular with the locals. The problem was the English.

Tibet’s complicated history is the story of a nation once as aggressive as the Mongols that had transformed itself into one of history’s notable theocracies. The religion came from the south, but the politics came from the east: theocratic Tibet had evolved under a Chinese protectorate. The Tibetans were traditionally keen to keep that relationship formal (rather like Korea’s traditional relationship with China, perhaps), but Chinese governments made it intimate and coercive when they could. Though the English had occupied Lhasa in 1904 under the suspicion that the Tibetans were colluding with the Russians to subvert the Raj in India, the Tibetans were nonetheless on good terms with the British Empire: the Chinese had occupied Lhasa in 1910, and the 13th Dalai Lama had gone briefly into exile under British protection. From the Tibetan point of view, however, the English were not helpful enough in counterbalancing China, either in terms of diplomatic support or military assistance. The Tibetan army, such as it was, was in serious need of modern armament, which the English would neither give nor allow others to provide. The English were not pleased at the prospect of a delegation appearing at Lhasa from a country with a reputation as an arms manufacturer and whose Japanese ally was already at war with China.

In Hale’s telling, Schäfer outmaneuvered the British at every point. First he went to London and held polite conversations with the India Office. The British offered every facility to assist Schäfer’s progress through India and Sikkim. They also noted that they had no authority to grant access to Tibet, and that the Tibetan government (called the “Kashag”: a committee of ministers) would, alas, almost certainly refuse a visa. Certainly that was what the British agent at Lhasa would advise the Kashag to do, as Schäfer no doubt knew. Nonetheless, he took the offer of a limited trip to Sikkim. In this he acted partly on the advice of Francis Younghusband, the leader of the British expedition of 1904. Younghusband approached Schäfer on his own initiative and told him the best course would be to go as far as he was allowed and then keep going.

That was pretty much what Schäfer did, though without ever quite defying either the Raj or the Kashag. Essentially, once at the border between Sikkim and Tibet, he wheedled a local invitation to cross it. Then he used local contacts to get permission for a two-week stay at Lhasa. Eventually, he was allowed to stay for several months. As Hale points out, that was an odd choice for a naturalist to make if his primary objective was to collect exotic animals.

The diplomatic aspect of the expedition is a murk punctuated by tantalizing hints. The 13th Dalai Lama had died in 1933, and the 14th had been proclaimed in 1937. That child, however, putatively the reincarnation of his predecessor, lived in the border region with China, and the Kashag had not yet managed to negotiate his passage to Lhasa. Schäfer dealt with the Regent, Reting Rimpoche. The Regent granted Schäfer long interviews at short notice, a most unusual practice, during one of which he asked point blank whether Germany would be interested in selling arms to Tibet. He wrote a friendly letter to “his Majesty führer Adolph” Hitler, expressing an interest in improving relations between Germany and Tibet (indeed he wrote two letters, after Schäfer suggested the first was insufficiently effusive). On the other hand, the Nechung Oracle had issued this public prophecy: “Protect the teachings, make sacrifices, be friendly to strangers, but reject their gifts, because they won’t help the living. A dragon rules their world…” Schafer, for his part, was able to send mail back to Germany. This included an anti-British article that appeared in the Frankfurter Zeitung while he was still in Tibet, resulting in an awkward interview with the British political officer from Sikkim. While in India, he is also known to have consulted with the future Axis collaborator, Subhas Chandra Bose.

As war in Europe drew visibly closer, the British became generous with offers of extended permission to explore the Himalayan region: if Schäfer were still in the Raj when hostilities began, he could be interred, as did happen to other German explorers. The Schäfer Expedition got out with a few weeks to spare, however, sailing from India to the Middle East and to Iraq, where German military planes waited to take them home.

During the war, Schäfer developed and Himmler approved a plan to travel to Tibet and organize an anti-British legion. Similar plans were in the works for Afghanistan, and in neither case did they get beyond the discussion stage. Schäfer’s proposal does not appear to have been coordinated with the Kashag, even tentatively. In any case, Schäfer seems to have been the apple of Himmler’s eye, despite Schäfer’s frequent insubordination, or maybe because of it. (He may have been the only person in the Third Reich ever to be sent to the Finnish Front as a punishment.) He spent most of the war working on SS academic projects, notably the Asia-studies institute, which was named after the Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin. He wrote about his latest expedition, and he produced a notable anthropological film, Secret Tibet. In Hale’s estimation, the chief Nazi element in the film is its anti-clericalism. The Tibetans had once been a warrior race with an extensive Asian empire, the film explains, but they had been enervated by a foreign religious philosophy and a tyranny of monks: let Germany beware.

Schäfer also did some consulting. In his capacity as a documentarian, Schäfer was asked to organize the documentation of highly secret SS experiments on the effects of the rapid decompression of aircraft pilots. The subjects would be prisoners of various sorts. Schäfer asked to see the project. Though in the experiment he was shown the subject was only made groggy, Schäfer correctly surmised that the subjects would often be killed in these tests. He seems to have been genuinely horrified. He did not flatly turn down the request to cooperate, but he demanded exotic equipment and made other excuses for delay. Eventually, the matter was dropped (though the experiments continued). Hale suggests, perhaps correctly, that Schäfer was asked to document the experiments not so much because of his qualifications as because his involvement would make him complicit with the SS.

Bruno Beger served for much of the war as a combat officer. Unlike Schäfer, he did not evade participation in an appalling Ahnenerbe project, though it is still not clear how much he knew about it when he first agreed. The SS wanted racial classifications of its prisoners, so Beger was sent to Auschwitz to select interesting subjects (he was particularly on the lookout for Central Asians among the Soviet POWs). He made the familiar measurements of the living subjects. Soon after the measurements were taken, these people were gassed and pickled. The idea was to reduce them to skeletons for a large collection that could be systematically compared with the measurements taken from living bodies. As things turned out, the Ahnenerbe technicians at Strasbourg to whom the bodies were sent never got around to turning them into skeletons, and the attempt to dispose of them as the Allies approached was half-hearted. Beger’s part was overlooked in the immediate aftermath of the war, though this atrocity figured in several war-crimes trials. Then Beger’s name was mentioned at Adolf Eichmann’s trial. Beger himself was tried in 1971, and convicted. Because of extenuating circumstances, and the ambiguity of his role, he was sentenced to time already served.

The members of the Schäfer Expedition adapted well enough to the post-war world. Two went on to conventional academic careers. Schäfer himself was interred and interrogated (the book provides some of the transcripts). When he was released, he decided that his talents might be better employed managing a wildlife preserve in Venezuela. Hale interviewed several elderly Sikkimese who had worked on the Schäfer Expedition. On the whole, they remembered the Germans fondly.

The image of Tibet in the 1930s that we receive from Himmler’s Crusade is confused, which no doubt reflects both the documentary sources and the reality. We do get some good travel writing. On the whole, though, Tibet sounds singularly uninviting. Again and again we hear of “dung,” “muck,” “filth,” and “dung” again. How exactly could Hale have known that the streets of Lhasa were “wet with excrement” during the New Year’s festival? And if Lhasa was so impossibly distant and remote, how was it that the Schäfer Expedition was in fairly regular mail contact with Germany? Not that mail was Schäfer’s only means of communication: the Chinese legation let him use their radio. (Other technical support was supplied by the influential Tibetan contractor who ran the local hydroelectric station.) Hale discusses Tibetan religion as it relates to his story, but apparently with no great interest in the subject itself. Still, there is something to be said for any history that does not treat Tibet as Shangri-La, and a great deal to be said for this one. Anyone with an interest in modern Tibetan history or in the Occult Reich will find this book valuable.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-04-18: Soggy Internet, Virginia Tech Massacre, The Secret Glory

The infrastructure failure that John mentions here where a big storm inundated NYC and affected theoretically robust networks like the Internet would be repeated on a much larger scale five years later with Hurricane Sandy.

Soggy Internet, Virginia Tech Massacre, The Secret Glory

No, it wasn't a nor'easter: That storm that dropped nine inches of rain on the New York City area over Sunday and Monday was not a coastal storm, which is what nor'easters (I hate that contraction: northeasters) are. The pattern was more like that of a winter continental storm that brings a blizzard.

Anyway, my own neighborhood is right at the mouth of the Hudson on New York Bay. Short of the Deluge, there is no way to get the sort of flooding here that forced evacuations further inland. On the other hand, the ground becomes completely saturated; my condominium's basement took a foot of water, and that was with the pump working.

I mention the storm here only because, while it was happening, the Internet slowed to a crawl and became unusable for a time. This has happened repeatedly in civil emergency and bad weather. I thought the point of the Internet was to be a communication system that would keep working even during a nuclear war.

Maybe it will, if the weather's fine.

* * *

The first mention I saw of the Virginia Tech Massacre characterized it as an assault on our Second Amendment right to own guns. Other variations on this offensive-defense include this surreal column: Virginia Tech's Gun-Free Zone Left Cho Seung-Hui's Victims Defenseless. Actually, if you are a Second Amendment buff, the massacre should cause you no concern. The new Democratic majority in Congress, NPR noted this morning, is based on representatives from rural districts who won election largely by adopting the National Rifle Association's position on gun rights. As we have noted before, the high strategy on the Left is to trade guns rights to the western states in order to secure their support for the Darwin Award Agenda on reproductive and marriage issues.

It could work.

I suspect that, even in Thomas Jefferson's day, students were not expected to come armed to the lecture halls.

* * *

We should compare this latest incident with the murder-suicide at Harvard in 1995. Cho Seung-Hui produced disturbing writings and otherwise gave signs of mental deterioration. So did the Harvard student in her diaries, as well as in letters to perfect strangers asking for help. In both cases, the students absented themselves for a long time from their classes before taking violent action. Perhaps steps should be taken to ensure that faculty note such absences and that the school administration investigate them. That would be more practical than requiring faculty to carry guns, even stun-guns.

The Harvard student was clearly depressed, and was even getting some futile counseling from the school medical service, but did not seem to be dangerous; at least, not to people other than herself. The Virginia Tech student, we are now told, frightened his teachers and fellow students. I wonder how seriously to take that: he was scary, we learn, because he was so, well, so quiet. Even in retrospect, I would not read too much into the violent themes he chose for his class assignments. This is evidence not that he was homicidally insane, but that he had been seeing the films created for his cohort.

* * *

Speaking of violent films, I recently ordered a set of DVDs from Amazon Canada of the films of documentarian and horror-director Richard Stanley. The one item that interests me is his documentary, The Secret Glory, about the life and alleged Grail Quest of Otto Rahn. I got started on this because I just reviewed Rahn's book, Crusade against the Grail. After I finished the book, it occurred to me that Rahn would make a good subject for a documentary. Then I discovered it had already been done.

By the way, despite its vulnerability to inclement weather, the Internet has now advanced to the point of Rahn blogging, as we see at Arcadia, Andrew Gough's blog.

There would still be something to be said for a biopic of Otto Rahn, but it would be a mistake to view him as a hero. Esoteric fascism has never been a good thing.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Crusade Against the Grail

Otto Rahn is one of those characters who would have had to be invented, if he didn’t actually exist. And if that were the case, you might accuse the author of fantastical speculations far beyond reason.

This book review by John J. Reilly serves not only as a short biography of Rahn, but also a capsule history of the Albigensian crusade.

Crusade against the Grail
The Struggle between the Cathars, the Templars, and the Church of Rome

========= By Otto Rahn =========

German Original Kreuzzug gegen den Gral: 1933
Translation by Christopher Jones
Inner Traditions International, 2006
229 Pages, US$16.95
ISBN-10: 1-59477-135-9

Anyone who undertakes the study of the intellectual underpinnings of Nazi Germany (1933-1945) will soon notice that at least some members of the regime were doing things that are not covered by the typical survey course in political theory. Researchers who attempt to investigate these anomalies will dig through a swamp of popular and crank literature about the Third Reich’s connection to the occult underground, some of it coincident with conspiracy theory and some of it (often the most coherent works) purely fictional. Nonetheless, a sober study of primary sources will reveal that not all the fantastic rumors were made up out of whole cloth. When researchers strike bedrock, one of the things they find is this book by Otto Rahn, the Nazi who really was looking for the Holy Grail, or at least for traditions about what it was and what happened to it.

Otto Rahn (1904-1939) was an amateur German folklorist with a keen interest in speleology. In company with the Swiss mountaineer Paul-Aléxis Ladame and the folklorist Antonin Gadal, he explored the regions of southern France associated the with Cathar heresy and its suppression in a series of military and evangelical campaigns in the 13th century. The Cathars had made extensive use of the spectacular caves of the mountainous southeast of France as fortresses and refuges, and Rahn duly found new evidence of their occupation of those sites, as well as greater knowledge of the size and interconnection of the caves themselves. He also collected stories and traditions from the local people about the Cathars, the crusade against them, and about the region in general. Most of this book deals with what Rahn calls “Occitania.” The one map the book provides depicts part of the modern region of Languedoc-Rousillon, though the story extends across Alpine and Pyrenean France into Catalonia. Occitania is really a linguistic term, referring to the Romance language of that region, which French has still not wholly displaced. Occitan, better known as Languedoc (which is also a better known term for the region), was the language of the French troubadours, and once was a serious rival to the language of northern France that became modern French.

SS leader Heinrich Himmler might be supposed to have had more practical matters on his mind in 1933, but he found time to read Rahn’s book. Then he invited him to an interview and immediately offered him a job as a professional folklorist for the SS, of which Rahn eventually became a member. Rahn continued to pursue his researches and to write, but he does not seem to have been a happy Nazi. He died of exposure during a hike in 1939; his death was ruled a suicide. The sympathetic Translator’s Introduction notes briefly that there had been rumors about homosexuality and Jewish ancestry. We are not told that alternative (and admittedly unsupported) versions of his biography have him dying in a concentration camp in 1944.

Crusade against the Grail supports the thesis articulated by Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918) in a short work, The Secret of the Troubadours. Péladan, a novelist who favored occult themes, had argued that the legend of Montsalvat, the fortress of the Grail, and the Grail legend as a whole, were closely connected with Montségur, the last great Cathar stronghold, with the Cathar heresy, and (inevitably) with the Templar order of knights that was suppressed early in the 14th century. More particularly, Rahn tried to show that the people and places in the German version of the Grail story created by Wolfram von Eschenbach (1170-1220) are lightly allegorized renderings of real people and places in Occitania in the early 13th century, when Eschenbach composed his Grail epic, Parzival. The most important of these identifications was of the fortress of Montségur (which fell in 1244 to the forces of orthodoxy) with Montsalvat, also known as Muntsalvaesche, or Munsalvaesche, and other variants.

Trying to substantiate Eschenbach’s version of the story has some odd consequences. The original Grail story, composed by Chrétien de Troyes probably in the 1180s, was artfully unclear about the nature of the Grail, except that it was a sort of dish or table that carried the Eucharist and provided nourishment and healing. In the Anglo-French tradition, thanks to the romancer Robert de Boron who wrote a generation after Chrétien, the Grail became associated with the plate or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. In Eschenbach’s telling, however, the Grail became a Stone that conferred immortality. Moreover, according to Eschenbach, this Stone had been brought to Earth by angels of ambiguous allegiance during Lucifer’s rebellion against God. In later German tradition, this Stone was said to have broken off from the crown of Lucifer when he fell from Heaven. If we are to believe Rahn, the folk tradition of Occitania also took this view of things. A shepherd is quoted thus:

When the walls of Montségur were still standing, the Cathars, the Pure Ones, kept the Holy Grail inside them. Montségur was in danger; the armies of Lucifer were before its walls. They wanted to take the Grail to insert it again into the diadem of their Prince, from where it had broken off and fallen to Earth during the fall of the angels. At this most critical point, a white dove came from the sky and split the Tabor [the local peak] in two. Esclarmonde, the keeper of the Grail, threw the precious relic into the mountain, where it was hidden. So they saved the Grail. When the devils entered the castle, it was too late. Furious, they burned all the Pure Ones, not far from the rocky castle on the camp des cremats.

One of the interesting differences between a Stone and, say, a chalice (as the Grail was usually pictured in later years) is that the provenance of a chalice would be awfully hard to prove, but stones really do fall from the sky. It is also not unknown for meteoric rocks to become cult objects, as the Kaaba at Mecca exemplifies. So, it is not quite impossible that the Cathar treasure which Rahn frequently mentions could have included a sacred stone. It’s even possible that Rahn was looking for it; that’s part of Rahn’s legend. However, no such specific quest is apparent in Crusade against the Grail. Moreover, though the Translator’s Introduction mentions the meteorite possibility, Rahn, perhaps surprisingly, does not.

Be this as it may, it is very unlikely that Rahn’s thesis about the historicity of Parzival is correct. The fit between Eschenbach’s story and medieval Occitania just is not very close (or so we must judge from this account, which does not describe either systematically). Moreover, the thesis is based on Eschenbach’s claim to have found a more reliable version of the Grail legend than that of Chrétien de Troyes. There is no evidence at all for that. Chrétien’s modest romance was original, and Eschenbach was just exercising his poetic license to take the story in a grander direction.

Even if Rahn was wrong as a historian, his book is by no means without interest as a record of influential esoteric thought. He was not the only person in the first third of the 20th century who admired the Cathars. Another admirer, according to Otto Wagener, an aide to Adolf Hitler in the 1920s, was Hitler himself. Wagener, his book Memoirs of a Confidant (1978), quotes an apparent reference by Hitler to Catharism and its suppression:

During the Middle Ages, a new movement of inner liberation and the establishment of the natural link of man to his God began, which fell back on the true teachings of Christ and the instinctive apprehension of the truth. The reaction was not long in coming. The Inquisition and witch-hunts rooted out all aspects of the heresy, as the hypocritical priesthood called it...

That was, pretty much, Rahn’s understanding of the history, too. In large part, Crusade against the Grail is an anti-Catholic polemic, recounting history “in the tradition of the French Romantic historians,” such as Jules Michelet. This school saddled later generations with the myth that millions of people were executed during the witch-burnings of the late medieval and early modern periods, and that the Inquisition (usually depicted as a single institution, rather than a class of court) would torture thousands of people anywhere in Europe at the asking of an awkward question in a seminary class. The actual crusade against the south of France in the 13th century (yes, it was an official crusade, sanctioned by Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) in the same terms as an expedition to the Holy Land) did not lack for low motives and atrocity. As is usually noted, its chief supporters were the kings of France, whose control of the wealthy and culturally prestigious south traditionally had been nominal. It was also the campaign to which we owe the expression, “Kill them all; let God sort them out!” Nonetheless, Rahn’s account of the suppression of Catharism is simply uncritical popular history.

Who were these Cathars whom Rahn championed? The term “Cathar” is Greek for “pure.” Those who were fully initiated into the Cathar church were “Cathari,” that is to say, “Pure Ones.” (The German word for heretic, by the way, “Ketzer,” is derived from the term.) Catharism, sometimes called Albigensianism after a city in the region, was a form of Gnosticism, a cult of esoteric wisdom that purported to teach its adherents the way to salvation. It incorporated elements of Manicheanism, which held that the world is a duality of spirit and matter; the meaning of salvation was liberation of the spirit from an irredeemably corrupt physical world.

Rahn had a theory that Catharism was a refined resurgence of a form of Manicheanism called Priscillianism. This rather intellectual doctrine had become popular in northern Iberia and southern Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries. It was the first heresy to be violently suppressed by the secular government (in this case, the collapsing Roman government, which, like Himmler, might be thought to have had more practical things to worry about). Rahn somewhat fantasticates this hypothesis by arguing that Priscillianism worked on the pre-existing Druidism of the region, which already would have included ideas like metempsychosis. Thus, he tells us, the Manicheans converted the Druids to Christianity.

Be that as it may, the Cathar laity of the High Middle ages, called “the believers,” were of every class and way of life. They married and had children. They conducted business and politics in the ordinary way. (Indeed, the Catholic Church may have been so alarmed by Catharism because of its many followers among the aristocracy of Languedoc.) However, Catharism despised matter and even life; birth was a matter of regret. The fully initiated were those who had received the Cathar sacrament called the “consolamentum.” They were expected to be celibate and sterile for the rest of their lives. Similarly, the fully initiated would not kill, even for food, and so were vegetarians. Except for an elite who functioned as clergy, most Cathars took the consolamentum only on their death beds. This book does not mention the rumor that the Cathars encouraged sodomy because it was inherently nonreproductive. It does mention the less controversial point that the Cathari were permitted to take their own lives, preferably through starvation, provided they did not do so from boredom or to evade a duty.

The Cathars despised the physical world because, like most other Gnostics, they held that God had not made it. The world and its ways were the creation of the demiurge, the God of the Old Testament, who had entrapped the spirits of angels in the mechanisms of the world. This reviewer has seen accounts of Rahn’s later work which say that, for Rahn, the demiurge may be the devil, but Lucifer might not be. Rahn is sometimes characterized as a “Luciferian,” which is to say, one who regards Lucifer as the liberator of mankind, and the true object of Cathar devotion. However, that position is not even hinted at here.

In any case, the Cathars held that the demiurge kept the entrapped spirits in its prison universe. These spirits passed from incarnation to incarnation, deluded by the demiurge’s pretension to be the true God. Nonetheless, like Marcion, the 2nd-century heretic who had similarly rejected the Old Testament, the Cathars insisted they were Christians. They accepted parts of the New Testament, particularly John’s Gospel, and held Jesus for their savior. He was the emanation of the true God from beyond the world. However, they also held that Jesus had never had a physical body, but only pretended to be an incarnate being. (The term for that doctrine, incidentally, is “Docetism.”) Thus, Mary was not the Mother of God, and Jesus had never really been crucified. It may or may not be significant that this is also a Muslim doctrine. In any case, the Cathars distained the use of the cross.

They had other liturgical eccentricities, too. In the Lord’s Prayer, which they retained, they asked for “our supersubstantial bread” rather than “our daily bread,” thus perhaps referring to the bread used at the consolamentum and certainly expressing contempt for anything so material as the bread necessary for everyday life. In this they had the support of the Latin text of the Vulgate Bible, where Matthew’s Gospel has “panem...supersubstantialem.” Luke’s Gospel has “panem...cottidianam,” “daily bread,” but both phrases translate the same Greek term, “epiousios,” which means literally “above the substance.” The Greek Orthodox Churches in English-speaking countries today translate that “daily bread.” Go figure.

In any case, Rahn tells us that the Cathar church was also the Church of Amour, the Church of Love. The troubadours of southern France were the apostles of this doctrine, disguised as the cult of chivalric love. (The German troubadours were called “Minnesinger,” which is “love-singers”; “troubadour” means “inventor.”) The novelty is that this love of Languedoc was a cultural novelty: a practice intense personal devotion to some selected individual that systematically rejected sexual consummation. The doctrine of the troubadours was, in effect, a discipline by which human beings could cultivate among themselves the pure love of God, which generates nothing in this world.

Few of these ideas were altogether new even in Rahn’s day, and some may have merit. However, despite the fact the author was not attempting a full account of Grail scholarship, one wishes that he or his translator had addressed a few other issues. For instance, if you are looking for references to Cathars in the Grail stories, the most obvious place to start would be the great French synthesis of the Grail legend, the anonymous, The Lancelot-Grail. In the part of that romance that treated of the Grail Quest, it is precisely the failure to display the cross that excites the suspicion of the Grail knights about the orthodoxy of a monastery they later destroy. That looks more like Innocent III’s crusade than anything Wolfram von Eschenbach had to say.

One might be forgiven for suspecting that the point of Rahn’s hunt for the Grail had less to do with discovering an ancient secret than with divorcing Christianity from its Jewish roots: that would seem to be an implication of a theory that identifies Jehovah with the devil. However, the actual Cathars did not draw antisemitic implications from their doctrine, and neither did Rahn. Indeed, in his praise of Occitanian civilization, he cites the high positions of public service occupied by Jews, and compares it unfavorably with the condemnation of Jewish office-holding by the Church of Rome. Still, quite aside from what he has to say about the Cathars, Rahn tells us that Christianity was a deluded and resentful thing that, in the case of Catharism, happened to form the container in which something quite different appeared. There is demythologized Christianity for you.

Any defects in Rahn’s theological acumen are rarely made good by the translator, who restored Rahn’s citations and added some notes of his own. The text has some oddities. For instance, we are told that the penitential yellow crosses that former Cathars were forced to wear “measured five centimeters wide and ten high [two inches wide and ten high].” The brackets are presumably an editorial insertion, but even editors should be able to do better math. More seriously, there are what appear to be artifacts of translation. For instance, we learn that former Cathars were whipped at Sunday Mass between “the Epistle and the Evangelism.” The German word for “Gospel,” which is “Evangelium,” might also be rendered “Evangelism” in English, but to make that choice here suggests that the translator is not very clear about what happens at an ordinary Catholic liturgy. Aside from the whippings, I mean.

Finally, there is also this: in the long list of people whom the translator thanks for helping to see this book through to publication, we find Michael Moynihan and Alain de Benoist, both notable ornaments of today’s esoteric neo-fascism in its Traditional dimension. Despite Himmler’s patronage, people like Otto Rahn never got the opportunity to make their case freely during the Third Reich. Times change.

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Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: In the Presence of Mine Enemies

Here is a 2003 book review where John makes the point I highlighted yesterday; all the piss and vinegar has been taken out of the 20th century ideologies by now. In the early 21st century, we keep using the same slogans, but nobody means it.

I was also struck by John's off-hand comment that any serious history buff would have a mostly-unread copy of Mein Kampf sitting around. In the current craziness, books like Mein Kampf and Das Kapital are no longer doorstops for people with a book collecting problem, but have rather become props for people who LARP as political extremists. Last century, books like that actually changed the world. Now they are just part of the scenery.

In the Presence of Mine Enemies
By Harry Turtledove
New American Library, 2003
454 Pages, US$24.95
ISBN 0-451-52902-2


Strange as it may seem for someone who writes quite a lot about alternative history, this is the first book by Harry Turtledove I have ever read. That was partly because I did not want to take on yet another long series of novels. In the Presence of Mine Enemies is a stand-alone work, however, and the premise is obvious enough to warm the heart of any acquisitions editor. The Third Reich wins the Second and Third World Wars, but later undergoes the process of reform-reaction-collapse that ended the Soviet Union in the world we know. The characters through which we observe these events are secret Jews, living otherwise ordinary lives in and around Berlin. The title, incidentally, comes from Psalm 23:5. (A poetic rendering runs: "You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil: my cup overflows.")

In the Presence of Mine Enemies has many of the features common to Nazi-victory timelines. We learn once again how many St. Peter's basilicas (16) would fit into Albert Speer's Great Hall in Berlin. There are brief references to the nuclear standoff with the Japanese Empire. On the whole, however, the author is notably circumspect about filling in the details of world history to 2010, which is about when the story is set. We find out in passing that the US was neutral in the Second World War and on the losing end of the Third, which occurred around 1970. We also learn that the US capital has moved to Omaha. Similarly, though the Germanic Empire seems to be almost everywhere as an occupier, colonizer, or overbearing ally, we are spared lectures on geopolitics in a Nazi world. The author's chief conterfactual mischief concerns one Kurt Haldweim, the gerontocrat Führer whose death marks the start of the reform era, and whom we must in no way confuse with the factual Kurt Waldheim.

We do learn quite a lot about the life and ways of Heinrich Gimpel, a financial analyst at the Oberkommando Wehrmachts headquarters in Berlin and arguably the most prosaic protagonist in all possible worlds. By day he is a mild-mannered bureaucrat who fields diffident questions from Omaha about the annual financial assessment on the US; by night he is an equally mild-mannered father who instructs his eldest daughter in the rudiments of Judaism. (The children are let in on the secret when they are ten.)

Heinrich is not without passions, however. He and his hausfrau wife are fanatical bridge players. There are many pages of text like this:

"He pulled Willi's trumps, one by one; Willi couldn't make any of them good. And he made the contract-doubled.

"'A deep finesse,' Willi said mournfully, 'Who would have thought you would run a deep finesse? And who would have thought it would work?'

"'I had to,' Heinrich answered. 'It was the only way I even had a chance to make four. So I thought, why not?'"

Why not indeed? No doubt there are readers, more familiar with bridge than I, who will see ways in which these games comment on the story. Still, the ordinary amusements and vices of the characters do serve to normalize the Nazi world.

The Gimpels have a friend, another secret Jew named Susanna, who is rather more dramatic, or at least cranky. A professor of Middle English, she is a rarity as a female academic in the German higher education system. Early in the story, she goes to a conference in London of the Medieval English Association. However, she wanders across the street to the annual meeting of the British Union of Fascists, who, of course, are the ruling party of Great Britain. To her surprise, she becomes the belle of the ball.

The British fascists drink beer and favor heavy boots, but they appear here as populist good fellows, who enjoy the support of King Henry IX. They introduce her to a movement for democratic reform that seeks to use the resources of Nazi doctrine. The Eurocommunists of our own 1970s deployed Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts against Leninism. In this alternative world, reform Nazis cite a text from the first edition of Mein Kampf, which emphasizes the need for the Party leadership to be democratically responsible to the Party membership.

I suspect that every history buff on Earth has a largely unread copy of Mein Kampf on his bookshelves. My Sentry edition, the 11th printing of Ralph Manheim's translation, has the original passage at page 344. There is also a footnote containing the Second Edition version, which Hitler made after he suppressed his rivals and became keen on the Führerprinzip.

The concept of "reform Nazi" sounds no less odd to the principal characters in this story than it does to us. Even as Heinrich and Susanna root for well-meaning Heinz Buckliger, the unfortunately named new Führer, they realize that no one has said a word about rehabilitating the Jews. Indeed, though Jews in Germany are almost as rare as elves, the SS has not relaxed its hunt for them, and antisemitic propaganda continues to be an important feature of the school curriculum. It would be giving away too much of the story to relate just how these people come to the attention of the security services, but that aspect of the book does provide real suspense.

On the other hand, the parallel histories of the reform movements in the Germanic Empire and in our own Soviet Union are close enough to preclude much suspense. The similarities extend even to the publication of critical letters-to-the-editor, alleged to be from ordinary citizens opposed to reform, but actually planted by reactionary party bosses. There is nothing objectionable in an author's adhering to his story's premise: Tolkien says that hobbits like their books to be set out fair and square with no contradictions, and I am inclined to agree with them. However, the parallel to the Soviet Union does not give much guidance about the underlying causes for the crisis of the Germanic Empire. We are told that the budget is chronically in deficit, and that the Reich's software industry is falling behind its Japanese competitor's. (The Reich's standard operating-system is deplorably clunky, which suggests another real-world parallel we will not pursue.) The late Soviet Union, it has been argued, was in many ways just an oil-state that collapsed when commodity prices fell in the 1980s. Even if that assessment is too flippant (as it almost certainly is), some comparable mechanism would have made the premise of this book seem less arbitrary.

Stories based on greater success for the Nazi regime than occurred in the real world are not rare. Some of them are exercises in sado-masochism; some seek to show off a detailed knowledge of the Nazi era: I have run across only one that seemed intended as apologetics for the Nazis. In the Presence of Mine Enemies is proof that it is possible to write a novel with this premise that does not further strain credulity with a plot involving spies, Satanists, and interdimensional travel. Still, even the best of these stories ring hollow for me, in a way that goes beyond the inevitable implausibilities of alternative history.

The Nazis did not come to power with detailed plans to conquer the world. Hitler did suggest from time to time that the problem for his generation was Russia, and that the problem for the next would be America. This is the framework that Turtledove uses for his novel, and it's perfectly justifiable for fiction. The problem is that it ascribes to the Nazis a unique ability to shape the future according to their designs. History after the Second World War did not turn out quite how the victorious Soviet Union expected. The same was also true for the United States, even after the end of the Cold War. Technological progress had something to do with it, but the differences between one generation and the next were more important. More important still was the fact that styles of life and philosophy continued to change according to the rhythms of modernity, even in the isolated Soviet Union.

Oswald Spengler, to take my favorite macrohistorian, was often wrong, but about the Nazis he was mostly right. He understood that the movement was in many ways simply incompetent. He saw them as nothing more than an incident in the era of Western modernity, an era which he expected to last through the 21st century. The end of the story for the modern world might, he thought, be a new Roman Empire. If it materialized, the sun would set on the West in a kind of political and spiritual peace. The alternative, as he saw it, was mere collapse and barbarian chaos. In either case, he had a lively sense in the 1930s that the end of history was still many generations away, and that the Nazis were dangerously deluded about their own importance.

That, really, is the problem with most stories based on unbroken Nazi success. The premise takes the Nazis at their word about the importance of the movement, and credits them with the ability to make a peaceful desert of a world that should still have several generations of tumult remaining to it. This is anachronistic both forward and backward. It is unreasonable to expect to see Spengler's imperium mundi in any timeline much before the 22nd century. It is equally unreasonable to see the mesmerizing power that political ideology held in the 1920s and '30s transposed to the early 21st century. Even Philip Dick, in The Man in the High Castle, probably stretched a point when he put a world of fanatical Nazis in the 1960s. Certainly we know that, long before the Communist regime collapsed, there were few real Marxists in the Soviet Union.

Popular uprisings rarely overthrow ideologies; rather, even the secret police eventually lose interest.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Dark Imperium

Here is an old essay of John's on Satanic eschatology. I'm sure there must be all of 50 people in the world who are interested in this subject, but for the rest of you, this essay is also a window back into time, when the Internet was young. Using the Internet for serious research was a new idea in 1998, and here John gives an idea what that felt like at the time.

The Dark Imperium
Satanic Eschatology on the Internet
by John J. Reilly
The Biblical tradition is short on information about the motivations of the forces of evil in history. Revelation 12:12 explains the violence of the Evil One in the latter days with these words: "Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you in great wrath, knowing that he has but a short time." In Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," the tempter Mephistopheles explains that demons tempt men simply because they are themselves wretched and seek to make others wretched, too. Perhaps the most prosaic explanation for diabolical behavior, and the one best known to modern readers, is C.S. Lewis's hypothesis in "The Screwtape Letters" that demons are hungry and eat the human souls they catch.
Whatever the merits of these explanations, they shed no light on the motivations of the human agents of conscious evil. There is, of course, a long philosophical tradition, starting with Platonism and extending even through Utilitarianism, that there is no such thing as a conscious agent of evil. Since evil is simply the privation of something good, according to this view, it must be that those who seek to do evil are merely mistaken: they are in fact really trying to do good as it seems to them. Be this as it may, it cannot be denied that there is an ancient impulse, which has sometimes assumed concrete historical form, which seeks to overthrow the whole order of things, religious, ethical and social.
This impulse need not take the form of mysticism. Subversive art, like the plays and novels of the Marquis de Sade, can manifest this mood while denying the reality of the strictly supernatural. Still, a particularly dramatic manifestation of this spirit does seem to inform the division of the modern occult that styles itself "Satanic." Satanism is a large subject, and the term is often applied to types of occultists, notably wiccans, who for the most part deny any connection with it. For the purposes of this discussion, however, the general category of "Satanic" is limited by one major criterion: a systematic concern with universal eschatology, that is, with history's goal. It is hard to imagine a Satanist who accepted the Judeo-Christian model of history, since in that model Satan and all his followers are ultimately defeated and punished. What are the beliefs about the future, then, among that minority of Satanists who are interested in such questions?
This essay is actually an extension of the chapter entitled "The Coming Man," which appears in my forthcoming book, "The Perennial Apocalypse: How the End of the World Shapes History." In that chapter, I explore what turned out to be a surprisingly widespread modern myth. This myth says that the current age of the world is nearing its end, and that in the coming age mankind as it presently exists will be replaced by a new species. In some forms of this myth, the species already covertly exists, while other forms say that it will come into being in the future. A common motif in the forms of this myth is that many human beings will help the new species come into being. I argue in "The Coming Man" that this motif was part of the motivation of at least some Nazis during the Hitler regime.
Since the material in my book is largely historical, one evening in early 1998 I had an inspiration to update my research by asking the Infoseek search-engine the following question: "Is a new human species appearing?"
So it would seem. At any rate, the search results showed that there is a lot of chatter about the subject, mostly of a New Age variety. There is even a weekly science-fiction drama on American television (the ABC network) called "Prey" which is premised on the idea. However, in light of my earlier research into the connection between the Third Reich and the occult, what immediately caught my eye was the link:
Satanism--The Sinister Path
This essay is largely based on the links I found there, and at
The Internet Satanic Syndicate
There are also several related newsgroups, of which the one with the most predictable name is alt.satanism.
(The Internet Satanic Syndicate site, by the way, has a subpage entitled "Helvete." This deals with "Black Metal" rock music, a term I had not heretofore encountered. The subpage's name is the nickname of an apparently legendary distributor of this material in Norway, where I gather Satanism has a lively presence.)
Again, Satanism is a large subject, but all the Internet Satanists have a few things in common. None, as far as I could tell, think of Satan as a personal entity. Some think of him as an impersonal "force" of some kind, others as a psychological archetype. While all perform ritual magic, which may take the form of worship, they generally think of this as a psychological exercise. If they expect the magic to affect the real world, they say the power comes from their own wills. When they speak of Satan, they speak of him in the original Hebrew sense as the Adversary or the Accuser. They do not think that Satan accuses them. Rather, they themselves take on Satan's role. By calling themselves Satanists, they mean that they are the world's critics.
We may pass quickly over the well-known Church of Satan, founded by the late Anton Szandor LaVey (who died on October 29, 1997), as well as its offshoot, the Temple of Set (whose members are called "Setians"). These are the sort of groups that provide the stage properties for the popular "Gothic" subculture of would-be vampires and fans of heavy metal music. Taken at face value, they are more Gnostic than anything else. By their own account, they seek a form of subjective spiritual illumination. By reputation, the techniques they use to achieve this state include a fair amount of perversion, ritual suicide and unkindness to small animals. In reality, there are probably worse things in the world than the Gothic subculture, though some people may think that one Halloween per year is quite enough.
Indeed, what is most striking about the material by the popular Satanic groups on the Internet is their eagerness to appear respectable, or at least not criminally indictable. Thus, they deny that they sacrifice human beings, kill animals or promote pederasty. Despite the well-known associations between fascism and the occult, some are even at pains to distance themselves from Nazi politics. For instance, there is a group related to the Temple of Set called "The Order of the Trapezoid" that purports to be carrying on the ritual magical practices of the Nazis. The order was even initiated by a magical "working" at the SS site at Wewelsberg Castle. Still, they denounce what they call Nazi "excesses," and they deny that their beliefs require racism, antisemitism or militarism. One may wonder how seriously to take these protestations from people who think that Heinrich Himmler was a misguided genius, but there is unlikely to be much harm in such folk.
Harmlessness is not a self-evident quality of the literature of at least three Satanic groups with an Internet presence. All of them claim to be "traditional" Satanic groups, with doctrine and organizational ties extending into the misty past. Such claims might reasonably be taken with a grain of salt. One recalls Ambrose Bierce's remark in "The Devil's Dictionary": "[The emblems of the Freemasons] have been found in the Catacombs of Paris...on the Chinese Great Wall...and in the Egyptian Pyramids -- always by a Freemason." For that matter, since the sources in question here are Internet material, it is entirely possible that all of it was concocted by five guys with gross haircuts who work in mailrooms somewhere. Still, the groups in question here are related and they do have a coherent historical agenda. Whatever their actual antiquity or size, these groups therefore do afford us an example of a consciously diabolical model of history.
The oldest and most influential is The Order of the Nine Angles, or ONA. This group has its own website at Based in England, the ONA appears to act as a sort of "mother church" for Satanists who describe themselves as "traditional." (The more popular, "Gothic" types of Satanism are often disparaged as "American.")
The ONA's beliefs, and some of its documents, are mirrored in the Internet material relating to the Order of the Deorc Fyre, formerly known as the Order of the Left-Hand Path. This group is based in New Zealand, though contact information is provided on the Web for other places in the world. Its documents suggest that it is more interested in recruiting than are other groups of this type.
The White Order of Thule, formerly known as the Black Order, seems to be pan-European. The only contact information I found was a mailing address in the United States, where this kind of thing is constitutionally protected. It has by far the smallest amount of Internet material. It is also almost pedantically Nazi: its literature even reflects something of the style of German "völkisch" groups of the early 20th century. Such material as there is suggests an acquaintance with the academic literature on the subject, such as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's "The Occult Roots of Nazism."
All these groups are unconcerned with making themselves appear respectable. They insist that real Satanic groups do and must make human sacrifices, though they emphasize that this is never done at random and is never done to children. (It's not that they are sensitive to the welfare of children; it's just that they prefer killing people for character flaws that become apparent only in adults.) They emphasize how much more serious and dangerous their kind of Satanism is than that of the popular Gothic variety. Most important for the purposes of this discussion, they also insist that their goals are not just personal but historical. They seek to set the stage for a wholly new age and a new human species to live in it.
Before proceeding to quotations from documents posted either by these groups or in their name, it would be helpful to explain a few important assumptions that all these groups seem to share. Throughout the material that follows, I have provided links to material on my website that may help to illuminate some of these assumptions:
(1) The Doctrine of the Two Worlds. These Satanists hold that are two kind of reality, the "causal" world known to physics and the "acausal" world which sometimes intersects with it. The "acausal" seems to be related to the notion, familiar in esoteric circles, of the "causal plane." This is the world of the "forms," the Platonic Ideas, that provide what order there is in the world. Any organism, according to the ONA, is an intersection of the causal and the acausal. The notion is not quite gibberish, since the idea that the structures of biological organisms are governed by a small class of mathematical patterns is gaining adherence among some biologists. See my essay "After Darwin." The stretch is the assertion that cultures and civilizations are also organisms. An even greater stretch is that intersections of the causal and acausal can be influenced by ritual magic or by more prosaic means.
(2) Popular Spenglerism. All these groups have a grasp of the cyclical historical models of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Both these historians suggested that the West had exhausted its basic stock of ideas, and that politically it was headed toward the final stage of a civilization's evolution, what Toynbee called a "Universal State." What I find interesting about this is that my own book on these matters, "Spengler's Future," sketches a future that is not so different from that of the ONA, at least in the timescale. This is not really surprising, since Spengler's historical cycles are supposed to be fairly inflexible, but it is a bit disconcerting.
(3) Satanic Dispensationalism. The most popular form of Christian eschatology in the United States is known as "dispensationalism." This is the belief that salvation history is divided into ages, known as "dispensations," in which somewhat different divine ordinances apply. Much the same is true of Traditionalist Satanism, in which history is divided into Aeons, and the Aeons into civilizations. These Aeons, like the civilizations that occur within them, are organisms with their own lifecycles. By controlling the intersections of the causal and acausal planes, Satanists can influence the course of an existing Aeon and determine the nature of a future one. These manipulations are the stuff of what they call "Aeonic magick."
So, what exactly are these people up to?
The ultimate historical goals of Traditional Satanism are reasonably straightforward:
Satanism, Tradition and The Sinister Way
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1995ev
"The Order Of The Deorc Fyre sees these goals as being two-fold: the first is the creation of a new type of Human Being - Homo-Galactica, or to put it in Nietzschean terms, 'Higher-Man'. The second is the creation of a new reality born from this noble individual."
The endeavor of Satanists today should be to create the social and cultural context in which these developments can occur:
A Path of Fire
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1997ev
"For Satanists, the practical realization of an esoteric 'current' is through political means. For as much as Sinister tradition is a way of life, so to must it evolve progressively to its eventual and ideal manifestation of a 'Satanically' inspired state, or Imperium."
The "Decline of the West" (to use the English title of Spengler's book) does not mean the collapse of the West, but its final consolidation of the whole world into a Universal State. Before that can occur, however, the present Time of Troubles (to use another of Toynbee's expressions) must come to a climax. One of the Satanists' stated goals is: "To provoke or cause, through both practical and magickal means, the destruction, the Ragnorak, which is necessary now to build a New Order from the diseased society of the present, and regain the ethos, the Destiny, which is necessary to inspire the creation of such a New Order." Just such a revolution is described in the infamous "Turner Diaries," a detailed review of which is also provided on my website.
The point of this Dark Imperium is not power for its own sake. Even the empire of the world has an ulterior motive:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"The new Aeon [which is still to come] means a new, and higher, Galactic civilization - several centuries after the energies of the new Aeon first become manifest and are presenced, via new nexions [intersections between the causal and acausal worlds]. The decline and ending of the current Aeon means the establishment of a new and expanding physical Empire: a New Order which is the last and most glorious manifestation of the genuine spirit, or ethos, of the old [current] Aeon."
World-historical goals are not inconsistent with the hope of personal "salvation" in one's own lifetime. Eschatology is normally both universal and personal. Thus, Satanists can believe in this sort of thing in both a long-term and a short-term sense:
Culling - A Guide to Sacrifice II
ONA 1990eh (revised 1994eh)
"This essence [of true Satanism] is that it is a practical means, a practical way, to create a new, higher type of individual - and eventually a new human species."
As for the distant historical goals, the very act of working towards them necessarily creates a measure of personal liberation and power:
Aeonic Magick: A Basic Introduction
Anton Long ONA
"[F]or the majority of individuals, their Destiny is that of the civilization itself - they do not possess a unique Destiny of their own. Only those individuals who have achieved the stage of evolutionary development which individuation/Adeptship represents have a unique Destiny..."
The Satanic eschatology is, as we have noted, structurally similar to some Christian models of history. The Satanists look, in fact, to the coming end of the Christian era in a way analogous to that in which Christians look to the Second Coming:
The Black Order
"'Should the subduing talisman, the Cross, break, then will come the roaring forth of wild madness of the old champions... The talisman is brittle, and the day will come when it will pitifully break. The old stone gods will rise... and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes. And Thor, leaping forth with his giant hammer, will crush the Gothic Cathedrals!'..... So wrote the poet Heinrich Heine in 1834."
On the other hand, there is deep historical patience in some of these writings which echoes the long-term view of salvation history expressed by St. Augustine in "The City of God." In both cases, there is a sense that the coming kingdom has already arrived, but has not yet fully expressed itself:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"[T]his Being [Satan] is part of the present civilization, and its Aeon, which still exists, and which will exist for several more centuries, albeit toward its decline and end. . . .the acausal energies of the next Aeon, which will give rise to a new civilization centuries after, are already becoming manifest, partly through the work of esoteric groups. . ."
The actual timescales envisaged are not as astronomical as that those found in, say, Hindu mythology, but they are long enough:
Aeonic Magick: A Basic Introduction
Anton Long ONA
"An aeon lasts about 2,000 years of causal time - a civilization lasts around 1,500 years. That is, it takes several centuries for the energies of a particular aeon, already presencing or 'flowing' to Earth from the acausal, to produce practical, visible and significant changes: to re-order the causal in a specific geographical region."
The following table of Aeons, Archetypical Symbols and Civilizations actually gives us some rough dates:
[Three Aeons deleted]
Hellenic Eagle Hellenic 3,000-1,500BP [1000 BC - AD 500]
Thorian Swastika Western 1,000BP-500AP [AD 1000 - AD 2500]
Galactic -- Galactic >2,000eh [?]
References scattered about this material suggest the hope to establish the Dark Imperium within the next 50 to 100 years. Still, it should be emphasized that the Satanists do not claim to be causing the decline of the West, or even to be the fundamental cause of the Universal State that will mark its last phase. What they do claim to be able to do is channel these natural developments for their own ends:
A Path of Fire
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1997ev
"Civilisations can rise and fall in the period of time known esoterically as an Aeon. The 'end time' of a civilisation is known esoterically as the Winter phase or as the Hindu have named it the 'Time of Troubles'. The 'Winter phase' marks the disintegration, and eventual demise, of a civilisation which is then followed by the emergence of another. This process occurs over many thousands of years, but because it is a naturally occurring cycle it can be perceived and influenced by knowledgeable Adepts."
If you believe this variety of Satanists, the Adepts have been at it for some time. Another table, this one of civilizations, their ethos and homelands, illustrates their view of the centrality of mystical Nazism to the historical process:
II Basic Principles of Aeonic Magick (ONA):
Hellenic Iliad Greece
Western National-Socialism Third Reich
Galactic Galactic Empire Solar System and --
Traditional Satanists quite clearly embrace the Nazis as part of their own tradition:
The Occult--Fascist Axis
The Black Order
"It is not surprising then that the ground for Fascism was largely prepared by esoteric societies which arose in Europe. Among these were the New Templars of Von Liebenfels, the Runic order of Von List, and the German Order. The latter gave rise to the Thule Society, which was to establish the NSDAP as its political front."
"These `sinister' esoteric societies proclaim the `Daemonic revolution', to usher in the New Order on the collapse of the Old; a New Order that will reawaken the Dark soul of man, that he might live as a totality with the Light and the Dark returned to balance. These esoteric societies recognize Fascism (whether called by that name o[r] not) as the political expression of primal truths. They include The Black Order of Pan-Europa, Fraternity of Balder, Order of Nine Angles, Abraxas Foundation, Blood Axis..."
Of course, the Nazis having lost the Second World War, some people might suppose that history was not on the Nazis' side. This thought does not greatly commend itself in Satanic circles:
To Comrade T
The Black Order "Firstly, TBO [The Black Order] is not a National Socialist organization per se. The role of National Socialist philosophy and the Third Reich on the Aeonic destiny of the European is however very much a part of its terms of reference."
. . . .
National Socialism was the political form of an Esoteric Current in Europe which was then represented by The Thule Society. The Third Reich was a SEEDING of the future European Imperium. It created new archetypes and martyrs of the European folk with its BLOOD SACRIFICE and epic heroism in the service of that Destiny.
"Hitler was the central figure of that COSMIC DRAMA, but he did not seem to regard himself as the final embodiment of the Vindex/Kalki that was/is awaited by the European Esoteric Current. Rather he was something of a `John-the-Baptist' establishing the way (`seeding') for `the one that would come after', as he himself stated.
"Therefore the first experiment - The Third Reich - was not the final -aborted - form of the European Imperium, but the prelude to something greater to come: something nothing less than cosmic and starbound in scope."
These remarks about a "European Imperium" are particularly interesting in light of the supranational aspirations some forms of Neofascism are showing. As I note in my review of Roger Eatwell's "Fascism: A History," some fascists seem to be trying to fashion an ideology, not just for their own countries, but for the whole European Union.
In any case, it may be that Satanists are not much discouraged by historical setbacks because they do not regard history passively. They believe that it is an artifact, and that they are the artificers. The need is pressing:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"The Faustian/Promethean (or more correctly, the Satanic) Destiny of this current civilization must be returned, and the present cultural disease affecting this civilization cured, with the excision of the parasites sucking the life-blood of this civilization - for only this returning of Destiny will enable the Empire to be created, and only this Empire will breed in sufficient numbers the new type of individual required to create, build and expand the entirely new Galactic civilization and Galactic Empire which will arise from the eventual decline of the old Promethean/Faustian Empire."
There are various means to this end:
A Path of Fire
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1997ev
"Those Forms [of culture] of a more degenerate nature: that subvert a civilisation from its organic and desirable outcome, need to be used, or destroyed, for the benefit of those Forms that aid the Sinister Dialectic. Forms become degenerate when they cease to be a healthy and vital part of civilisation. These Forms express their identity by subverting both Life and Nature e.g.: The Magian ethos expressed magickally as the Cabala, or Political-economy expressed via Plutocracy. They have a pernicious, and inhibiting, effect on the nature of civilisation; while subverting the natural development of an Aeon."
["Magian," by the way, was Spengler's term for the civilization of the Near East, which was defined by Churches rather than nations in the Western sense. Magian societies include Islam, Judaism, Byzantine Christianity and Zoroastrianism.]
"For if there is to be a sustained flowering of higher-Human endeavour it must be predicated now, in the Winter phase of this Western Aeon. Thus it can be seen, that in its Winter phase, Western civilisation is actively seeding, or in a more strict sense, 'creating' the emerging 6th Aeon."
Direct methods can be used to promote the emergence of the coming Aeon:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"The change that is necessary means that there must be a culling, or many cullings, which remove the worthless and those detrimental to further evolution."
Individuals of no social value may be culled. So may persons who oppose the Sinister Path, or traitors to it. Before a Satanic groups culls a person or group, proper form requires a secret, quasi-judicial hearing on the matter. There should even be a "defense counsel" to argue for the life of the victim. Individuals selected for culling are to be subjected to tests to redeem themselves, of which the subject is not to be aware. Should they fail, the killing will be made to seem an accident. On the other hand, the Internet material does suggest that cullings may be made of whole populations:
Culling - A Guide to Sacrifice II
ONA 1990eh (revised 1994eh)
"[T]he correct choice of opfer [German for "victim"] means that with their elimination the sinister dialectic will be aided and thus the intrusion of the acausal into the causal speeded up. ( In non-esoteric terms read: `aid the dark forces to spread over Earth.') "
. . .
"IV) An Adept desires to practically and effectively disrupt the status quo and encourage the breakdown of the present system, aiming also to bring about a revolutionary state of affairs in his country beneficial to those whose actions and policies (unknown to them) are aiding and will aid the dialectic and thus evolution. To do this, he aims to target a particular, distinct, group - considering them all as suitable potential opfers. That is, he considers this particular group - by its nature and by its collective presence and actions - has shown itself to be suitable: removal of as many of its members as possible will be conscious natural selection in action. In effect, he wished to create a particular type of 'tension' in society by eliminating members of this particular, distinct, group."
Evolution is more normally fostered by nonviolent means, such as political organization, ritual magic, even by art:
Basic Principles of Aeonic Magick (ONA)
[Acausal energy may be]:
"a) Directed into a specific already existing form (such as an individual) or some causal structure which is created for this purpose. This structure can be some political or religious or social organization, group or enterprise, or it can be some work or works of 'Art', music and so on.
"(b) Drawn forth and left to disperse naturally over Earth (from the site of its presencing).
"(c) Shaped into some new psychic or magickal form or forms - such as an archetype or mythos."
. . . .
"The nature of such things should be akin to the type of changes desired. Each such creation should itself be represented by a unique symbol or sign; by a unique descriptive word, phrase or slogan; by a unique piece of sound [or 'music']; by particular collocations of colour, and so on - or by one particular individual who embodies that idea, ideal, mythos or whatever."
The notion of art as an upwelling of the folksoul is quite absent from these considerations. In the context of Aeonics, symbols are weapons:
Aeonic Magick: A Basic Introduction
Anton Long ONA
"A rudimentary and mostly unconscious numinous symbol is an archetype; another is a myth/mythos....Further, a conscious numinous symbol can be used by an individual to bring about controlled aeonic changes because such symbols, being understood, can be precisely controlled and directed.....A numinous symbol thus makes Aeonic magick feasible for really the first time."
All of this bears some resemblance, though admittedly not much, to Georges Sorel's ideas about the use of myth as a revolutionary weapon. The matter is discussed in Eatwell's "Fascism: A History."
Finally, one may note that Traditional Satanism has taken to justifying its traditionalism precisely in terms of its eschatology:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"Thus to scorn and reject what now is, presenced as the Satanic, is to reject what is yet to be - and thus it is to reject that which alone ensures the creation of the next civilization, its Galactic Empire and the new higher race of human beings we through our lives, our magick and our deeds, desire to create."
As is often the case in small religious groups, the Traditional Satanists seem less annoyed by the non-Satanic majority than by innovators and apostates who claim to follow the Left-Hand Way:
Satanism, Tradition and The Sinister Way
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1995ev
"Of course there are other occult Traditions: The Golden Dawn and its heir the OTO, or Ordo Templi Orientis; and the relatively new trend of Chaoism, as expounded by the IOT, or Illuminati of Thanatos. Not one of these Traditions reflect the Promethean vision of Western civilisation; instead their teachings are derived from the messianic Cabala. At its heart the Cabala is the magickal expression of Judeo-Christianity - or more precisely the cult of the Magi."
This is not to say that Traditional Satanists are blind to the need to concentrate on their real enemies:
To Comrade T
The Black Order
"Today, we of TBO think it more fitting that the adversity and accusation be directed against plutocracy, whether in its Puritan, Jewish, or Vatican forms, which seek to LEVEL all under the doctrines of Universalism and cosmopolitism, euphemistically called the `New World Order'."
"The New World Order." Most millenarian Christians think that the Satanists are the New World Order. I guess the New World Order just can't win. In any case, people interested in following that particular line of thought are invited to look at my World Government subpage. As for this discussion, however, I think that I have already given the Devil more than his due.
Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View 2002-05-14: Thanks & Goldhagen

I used to support John by buying on Amazon through his site. All of his Amazon links and such have been stripped away, although you can still buy his books. If you still want to do something for him, pray for him. It is what he would have wanted.

For a while, he was an independent scholar, and he updated his blog frequently. After a few years, he got a regular job, and only updated on the weekend, but I found that I enjoyed what he had to say even more when I had to wait for it.

Thanks & Goldhagen


Before I forget again, I would like to thank those of you who have been chipping money into the Amazon Honor System boxes on this site. The system does not tell me who you are, which is probably just as well. I hope you are getting notes of gratitude. These are sincere, even if they are sent automatically. Thanks to the rest of you, too. Feedback and visit-counter clicks are not quite the same as wire transfers, but they are very much better than nothing.

Thanks are also in order to Ronald J. Rychlak, for his rejoinder in the June/July issue of First Things to Daniel Goldhagen's notorious piece in the New Republic, "What Would Jesus Have Done?" In that article, Goldhagen accuses Pius XII of silence and inaction with regard to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. In fact, he repeats just about every claim ever made against Eugenio Pacelli, regarding his career before and after he became pope. Some of his accusations are even posthumous. My reaction was that Goldhagen's article was a poor interpretation of the historical record, but I did not quarrel with most of Goldhagen's facts. Rychlak has gone a long step further. He shows that Goldhagen systematically misstated the record, suppressing information contrary to his thesis and distorting the information he does cite.

It is hard to know where to start. Contrary to what Goldhagen says, the Vatican protested early and often about the deportation of Jews from the occupied nations of Europe. The list of protests includes diplomatic representations to the governments of France, Slovakia and Croatia. The protests to the Vichy government were met with threats. Nonetheless, when the French bishops publicly protested, Vatican Radio broadcast the text for days. Goldhagen, of course, tells us specifically that the Vatican was silent about that protest.

Goldhagen says that the Nazis did not actually carry out repraisals for protests to their Jewish policy or the euthanasia program. This is simply wrong. When Cardinal Galen protested the killing of the handicapped, the German government did not arrest him, but it did arrest dozens of clergy from his diocese. This kind of thing happened routinely whenever the government was criticized. Also, contrary to some accounts, the euthanasia killings did not stop, though they were no longer done publicly.

Frankly, in the controversy about the attitude of the Vatican toward the Jews during the Nazi era, I never thought the Concordat with Hitler's new government was particularly significant; treaties like that are too routine to signify anything. Be that as it may, Rychlak points out that the Concordat was not the first treaty the Nazis signed, as Goldhagen said. He misstated a secondary source. The Concordat was the first bilateral treaty the Nazi government concluded, but that government had already signed some important multilateral agreements.

It might be said in Goldhagen's behalf that the piece in the New Republic was at least nominally a long review article of secondary sources, on which he was dependent. Maybe when his own book on the subject comes out later this year, he will have done his homework. Well, maybe he will, but he seems to be doing now what he did with his sources in Hitler's Willing Executioners, which also rested on tendentious use of secondary sources.

Goldhagen must have the opportunity to defend himself. However, as things stand now, we have to ask whether his behavior goes beyond mere mistake. Can Goldhagen's work in this be compared to that of Michael Bellesiles's book, Arming America?

As every history buff in America knows, that book argued that the widespread use and ownership of guns is a fairly late development in American life. The author based his argument on statistics found in old records from local court houses. The problem was that, since his thesis touched on how we should interpret the Second Amendment today, several historians took the trouble to check his primary sources. They found that he seems to have routinely mischaracterized the sources the other historians could find. The really disturbing element, however, was that they could not find much of the material he claimed to have used, even though it was supposed to be on the public record.

Goldhagen has not quite reached that point, if only because he has yet to publish original research on Pius XII and the Holocaust. Should he proceed with his plans to publish, we may be sure that his work will receive the closest attention.


* * *

Speaking of unscrupulous authors, I should mention that I have an article in the June/July First Things, too, a review of Robert Kaplan's Warrior Politics. As per FT's eminently reasonable author's contract, I will be able to put the review on my website after 90 days.

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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The Long View: Werwolf!

Werwolf wasn't the only partisan organization organized in post-WWII Germany. However, Werwolf was probably the best known. Here, John imagines what might have been if the remaining Nazis in 1945 hadn't been too otherwordly to be effective.

The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944-1946
by Perry Biddiscombe
University of Toronto Press, 1998
455 Pages, US$ 39.95
ISBN: 0-8020-0862-3


Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and Gauleiter of Berlin, showed no signs of slacking in the months before he killed himself in Hitler's bunker on May 1, 1945. According to the selections from his diary edited by Hugh Trevor-Roper and published as "Final Entries 1945," he not only attended to his ordinary duties regarding national editorial policy and the defense of the city, but also found time to do things like review the new tax code and to arrange for an annoying colleague to be drafted. Of all these activities, however, perhaps the most surreal was his enthusiastic support for the "Werwolf" movement.

Goebbels spoke of the Werwolf almost as if it were an electoral campaign. Despite the other things he had on his mind, he exerted himself to create a new Werwolf radio station, and even tried to found a newspaper. (The radio station actually operated for a few weeks.) Propaganda for and about the Werwolf were among the last products of the regime. In retrospect, some commentators have tended to dismiss the Werwolf as something of a Nazi hoax, one whose primary effect was to induce the western Allies to invade Germany on a broad front, rather than go directly for Berlin. Still, I for one have sometimes wondered just what this "Werwolf" effort was, and how seriously the Nazis took it.

Perry Biddiscombe, an assistant professor of history at the University of Victoria, answers in "Werwolf!" all the questions you are likely to have about the movement, and in a very readable form. (Don't be intimidated by the apparent size of the book, by the way: the text ends at page 285, followed by notes and appendices.) "Werwolf!" provides valuable insights into the "polyarchic" nature of the Nazi regime, both in its salad days and in its dissolution, as well as a general overview of the last few months of the war in Europe. Finally, though the author does not address this matter, the book may provide some useful ideas for counterfactual speculation about the possible evolution of National Socialist society, had it survived the war.

The term "Werwolf" is the equivalent of the English "werewolf," meaning "man-wolf" or "lycanthrope." There is, however, another term, "Wehrwolf," which is pronounced about the same as "Werwolf," but which means "defense wolf." "Wehrwolf" actually has a long association with irregular warfare in Germany. A famous novel by that title, written by one Hermann Loens and published in 1910, was a romantic treatment of peasant guerrillas in northern Germany during the 17th century. Though this novel was in fact promoted by the Nazi government, particularly the Hitler Youth, the spelling "Werwolf" was favored when the Germans began planning for partisan warfare, because the Nazis had had a competitor on the Right in the 1920s called the "Wehrwolf Bund." Besides, "Werwolf" sounded more feral.

As with so much else the Nazi government did, the Werwolf initiative was something of a pillow fight, with different actors competing for control of Werwolf organizations and with different ideas for what the Werwolf was supposed to do. The original concept was clear enough, however.

"Clausewitzian partisans" are part of orthodox military doctrine. They are militia who operate behind the lines in territory occupied by the enemy. Their function is to cut supply lines and generally cause confusion, but their operation presupposes the continued existence of a national government and a conventional army. The Germans had experience fielding irregular forces of this nature, both against Napoleon and in the form of the independent "Freikorps" units that operated in eastern Germany during the chaotic period just after the First World War. The Germans started thinking about them again as soon as the situation on the Russian front began to deteriorate, and in fact anti-Communist partisans did the Red Army appreciable damage. It was only in the last half of 1944, however, that the Germans began to focus on the possibility that the Allies might have to be resisted within Germany itself.

This was a job that no major player in the German government or the military wanted to be associated with until the last moment. Thinking about the penetration of Germany, even the extended Germany of Hitler's annexations, implied a fair amount of defeatism. Additionally, the military was not keen on sharing its dwindling resources for training and material with civilian stay-behind groups. In principle, the Werwolf was commanded by SS Chief Heinrich Himmler, through a back channel consisting of local chiefs of police. These middle-aged men tended to regard partisan activity as somewhat disreputable, and in any case had no idea how to go about it. Far more dynamic, and only nominally under SS command, was the Werwolf program operated by the Hitler Youth. The story of the Werwolf proper, in fact, is largely a cautionary tale about what happens when you give teenagers a license to kill.

Despite all obstacles, training programs were improvised for youths and adults, though the courses sometimes lasted just days. Underground bunkers were prepared in isolated areas, from which the Werwolf were supposed to emerge to strike terror into the enemy. Werwolf was supposed to mesh into the larger project of establishing an "Alpine Redoubt," a base in Austria and mountainous southern Germany to which conventional forces might retreat. Certainly the major Werwolf training bases were located in that area. The last-minute attempt to build underground facilities in the Alps were too little, too late, and the armies ordered to go there never arrived, for the most part. In the final few days, Hitler decided to stay in Berlin, rather than go south and try to organize the Redoubt from Berchtesgaden. Still, it was not quite just a propaganda ploy.

What did the Werwolf do? They sniped. They mined roads. They poured sand into the gas tanks of jeeps. (Sugar was in short supply, no doubt.) They were especially feared for the "decapitation wires" they strung across roads. They poisoned food stocks and liquor. (The Russians had the biggest problem with this.) They committed arson, though perhaps less than they are credited with: every unexplained fire or explosion associated with a military installation tended to be blamed on the Werwolf. These activities slackened off within a few months of the capitulation on May 7, though incidents were reported as late as 1947.

The problem with assessing the extent of Werwolf activity is that not only official Werwolf personnel committed partisan acts. Much of the regular German fighting forces disarticulated into isolated units that sometimes kept fighting, even after the high command surrendered.. In the east, units that had been bypassed by the Red Army tried to fight their way west, so they could surrender to the Anglo-Americans. In the west, the final "strategy" of the high command was to stop even trying to halt the Allied armored penetrations of Germany, but to hit these units from behind and cut off their supplies. Perhaps the most harrowing accounts in the book are those relating to the expulsion of the ethnic German populations from the Sudetenland and the areas annexed by Poland. The latter theater in particular seems to have been the only point in the European war in which a civilian population was keen about a "scorched earth" strategy.

Very little Werwolf activity was directed with an eye toward political survival after the complete occupation of Germany. The Nazi leadership could not bring themselves to think about the matter. Certainly Himmler could not. In the last days before his own suicide, he tried to close the Werwolf down, the better to curry favor with the western Allies. Still, elements of the movement did make some plans for after the war. The Hitler Youth branch devised a political platform for a peaceful, postwar, Werwolf political organization. They also took steps toward ensuring financing for these efforts. In the last days of the war, forward-looking Nazis scurried about Germany with funds taken from the Party or the national treasury, buying up businesses "at fire-sale prices," as Biddiscombe dryly puts it. These enterprises prospered slightly in the months following the end of the fighting, but were wrapped up by the occupation authorities by the end of 1945.

This brings us to the role of the Nazi Party in the Werwolf movement. An aspect of the Third Reich on which Biddiscombe lays great stress is the surprisingly derelict state of the Party itself. When the Party was new, it was in many ways a youth movement, or perhaps a brilliant propaganda machine that mobilized a youth movement. Even before the war began, however, it had become little more than a patronage organization, notable mostly for its corruption. The old guard, who had come to power with Hitler, had no new ideas themselves and stubbornly refused to make way for new blood. The Gauleiter, or district leaders, were not an elite, and the organizations they commanded did not attract persons of the first quality.

This situation particularly frustrated the "old fighters" like Goebbels and Robert Ley, the labor chief, and Martin Bormann, Hitler's party secretary. Though they continued to have considerable influence on policy because of their strong personal relationships with Hitler, nevertheless they had long been losing institutional power as the Party was eclipsed by the SS. That organization could make some claim to being an elite. At the very least, it was still more feared than despised. Thus, in the closing months of the regime, some of the Party leaders saw the Werwolf as an opportunity to wrest power back from the Reich's decaying institutions.

Goebbels especially grasped the possibility that guerrilla war could be a political process as well as a military strategy. It was largely through his influence that the Werwolf assumed something of the aspect of a terrorist organization. Where it could, it tried to prevent individuals and communities from surrendering, and it assassinated civil officials who cooperated with the Allies. Few Germans welcomed these activities, but something else that Goebbels grasped was that terror might serve where popularity was absent. By his estimate, only 10% to 15% of the German population were potential supporters for a truly revolutionary movement. His goal was to use the Werwolf to activate that potential. With the help of the radical elite, the occupiers could be provoked into savage reprisals that would win over the mass of the people to Neo-Nazism, a term that came into use in April 1945.

Bizarre as it may seem, Goebbels saw the collapse of the Reich as the opportunity to put through a social revolution, particularly a social revolution manned by radicalized youth. Always on the left-wing of the Party, Goebbels felt that Hitler had been mislead by the Junkers and the traditional military into bourgeois policies that had corrupted the whole movement. With Germany's cities in ruins and its institutions no longer functioning, the possibility had arisen to start again from scratch. Biddiscombe notes that Hermann Rauschning , a former Nazi official who defected to the West before the war, called Nazism a "revolution of nihilism." Biddiscombe suggests that the radical wing of the Party, freed by defeat from the responsibility for actual government and the constraints of a conventional war, reverted in the final days to the nihilistic essence of Nazism.

In some ways, Goebbels' policy resembled what Mao Zedong did in China. Even the plans for the Alpine Redoubt are reminiscent of the Long March to the base at Yennan. Before the Long March, the Chinese Communist Party was a fairly conventional Stalinist organization. It presupposed the facilities of civilization for its operation. When it descended from the mountains after the war with Japan ended, however, the Communist Party was something like a new society in itself. Goebbels hoped for something similar in Europe, counting on the sudden outbreak of a war between the western and eastern Allies to provide the strategic breathing room for a renewed regime to coalesce. When no such war broke out, and the Alpine Redoubt proved to be just another Nazi pipe dream, the Werwolf simply evaporated.

While perhaps one should not press the Chinese comparison too far, still it is probably significant that the most radical manifestations of Chinese Communism appeared a good 15 or 20 years after the Party came to power. They appeared in time of peace, as old party hands tried to retake control from the conventional organs of government. If the Nazi state had won its war with the Soviet Union and fended off invasion from the West, might something similar have happened? The early Nazi enthusiasm for socialism and social solidarity had become largely rhetorical by 1939, but the ideas always remained, ready to the hand of bold Party officials who might someday find the arrogance of the SS too threatening.

Perhaps the Werwolf is the dim reflection in our world of another future. In that world, the 1960s see Brown Guards take over the streets of Germania, the new Nazi capital. Egged on by Old Fighters behind the scenes, they demand that the aristocrats of the SS get off their high horses and learn from the Volk. Ancient universities are closed down or turned into schools of indoctrination. Elderly scholars are sent to country districts to raise pigs. Gullible journalists arrive from abroad, and send home admiring articles about how the Germans must be understood on their own terms.

Any scenario in which the Third Reich lasts longer than it did is unpleasant to think about. In this one, however, there is at least a built-in consolation. The Nazi empire, held together by coercion, would probably have blown up as soon as the effectiveness of its military was degraded by revolutionary fervor.


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