The Roots of Nazism

The Roots of Nazism

by Rud Kjems

National Socialism started as a movement, when different extremist groups joined together in 1919. It took place in Munich, and a political party, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, was formed the year after, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. Among the core issues was the creation of a Great Germany, cleansed of all non-Germanic elements, Jews in particular, the nullification of the Treaty of Versailles, re-formation of the German military, and re-acquisition of the German colonies.

It has been postulated in many pseudoscientific works published after World War II, that the Nazi movement didn’t just originate from right-wing political extremist groups, but also had roots in secret, occult societies and orders. It is true that many of the occult societies in those days had quite a number of the same themes as the Nazis, e.g. the dream of a racially pure Germany. The dreams of the occultists of the future Great Germany were woven into a number of absurd, bizarre fantasies of a Germanic Golden Age Reich reaching far back in history. The fantasies were only sporadically supported by historical and archeaological findings, but were first and foremost based on claims from theosophs, astrologers, psychics and other “seers”.

The logo of the Thule-Gesellschaft with the Swastika, later used as the symbol for Nazism. The common use of the swastika and coinciding political ideas in certain areas have connected the Nazi movement and the organization closer together than the sources warrant.

Some have even claimed that the so-called Germanenorder and its cover organization Thule-Gesellschaft were the cradle of Nazism, but neither Hitler or other leading Nazis were registered members of the order or the society. But there were some contacts: It is known that four persons, later to achieve high positions in the Nazi hierarchy, were guests of the Thule-Gesellschaft: Gottfried Feder, Alfred Rosenberg, Dietrich Eckart and Rudolf Hess, although the circumstances of their visits are not known. We don’t have any written accounts of the four guests reactions to the visit.

There is no evidence that the leader of the Nazis, Adolf Hitler, were particularly interested in the occult movements of the time, although he undoubtedly has known persons from these circles, whose political ideas in many ways were similar to his. Neither in Hitler’s book collection or in his papers are traces of this. Furthermore, there is nothing that indicates that fantasies of a grandiose Germanic ancient kingdom have had any major place in his world view. On the contrary, we have clear evidence that he was not interested in archeaology, and that he viewed it as a waste of time, when romantic souls travelled around the world to track down glimpses of glory of yore. Hitler’s driving force was primarily personal ambitions and a disdain for the existing society and a hatred of those parts of the population which he blamed for the miserable conditions in the 1920’s in Germany. Romantic dreams were probably far from Hitler’s mind.

All in all, there seems to be only one in the Nazi top who were interested in the occult, namely Heinrich Himmler.

Himmler and his mentor

In 1929, Heinrich Himmler was named as the leader of the Nazi elite corps, the SS, and when the Nazi Party seized power four years later, Himmler was appointed SS-Reichsführer, becoming one of the most influential men in the country. Himmler and his feared organization created a terror of an unseen brutality and instigated murders of an hitherto unprecedented scale.

Hitler controlled his growing organization with meticulous care and an eye for minuscule detail. He must have faced an enormous workload, but he nevertheless found time to cultivate his interest in German pre-history. This interest probably originated from a normal curiosity of finding one’s roots, but developed into a mania which end goal was to document the early existence of a grandiose Germanic ancient kingdom. The rest of the Nazi elite were supportive of his ideas, although not nearly as enthusiastically with regards to the historical aspects. The idea of a former racially pure Great Germany was particularly effective propaganda, and meant that the Nazi expansion politics and racial laws were more palatable for the common German.

Karl Maria Wiligut, alias SS-Brigadeführer Weisthor, photographed in 1936. Wiligut suffered from mental problems and in his younger years was forcibly submitted to a mental institute in Saltzburg.

Himmler’s starting point were archeaological findings and historical sources. Well-chosen quotes from Tacitus’ Germania were published far and wide. But Himmler went further and brought in the 66-year old Austrian Karl Maria Wiligut to his staff, with the purpose of exploiting his psychic abilities. After a career in the Austrian army, Wiligut would function as an advisor regarding mythological issues and partake in archeaological investigations. He had achieved a certain position within occult circles with his claim to be the last survivor of an ancient Germanic family with roots reaching back to the oldest times. Because of this, and thanks to his spiritual abilities, Wiligut could, according to himself, recreate the glorious history of the Germanic people thousands of years back in time. The appointment was apparently a bit hush-hush, for Wiligut was hired as SS-Haupsturmführer under the pseudonym Karl Maria Weisthor. He was later promoted several times, and had the rank of SS-Brigadeführer, when he left the organization in 1939.

Wiligut’s version of the history of Germania was indeed interesting. His earliest vision stretched all the way back to 228,000 B.C.E., where there were three suns in the sky and the Earth was populated by giants, dwarfs and other mystical creatures. The Germanic history began in earnest around 78,000 B.C.E., where Wiligut’s ancestors, the Adler-Wiligots (The Eagle-Wiligots), were a strong influence on creating peace and prosperity after a long period of unrest and war. In the same period, the city of Arual-Jöruvallas (present day Goslar) was founded. About 12,500 B.C.E. the Irmnistic religion (freely invented by Wiligut) arose, quickly becoming the dominant religion in all of the Germanic area. Later, a competing religion appeared, the Wotanism (worshippers of Odin) and challenged the Irminists. A violent religious war ravaged Germania, with the crucifixion of Baldur-Chrestos, one of the most holy prophets of the Irmnists, by the Wotanists in Goslar in the year 9,600 B.C.E. Miraculously, the prophet managed to escape to Asia. The following many centuries, the war continued between the Wotanists and Irmnists. In 1,200 B.C.E., the Wotanists succeeded in destroying their enemies’ shrine, but not long after, the Irmnists founded a new temple at Externsteine near Detmold. The Wotanists were still on the warpath, however, and in 460 C.E., they conquored the this temple also. Here, they held out until the 9th century, when Charlemagne forceably christened the Germanic heathens.

It is not surprising that Externsteine, with its remarkable rock formations have caused quite a few fantastic speculations. The place almost radiates prehistoric times and mystery – when you are in the right state of mind.

I wonder if the Danish National
Museum has a “Wiligut” among its staff? In these cut-back times, it might not be a bad idea to have a “seer” of Wiligut’s caliber. Many expensive investigations and excavations could be avoided or at least be limited. Joke aside – but is it a joke? “Wiligut”s are far from an extinct species. There are many of them in present day Denmark. They pop up on your television screen, where they handle good and bad spirits, and their faces adorn the weeklies, where they tell their stories from the land of the dead. The Danish police has even used them on occasion in the hunt for missing persons. The real Wiligut also exists, though not alive, but on a large number of more or less obscure websites on the Internet. He has become one of the dishes on the sumptuous smorgasbord that the New Age movement has set. You get what you want, depending on what fits your dreams and fantasies – and leave the rest. The occult is accepted, while the natural sciences are seen with increasing distrust. Uncritically, one can create one’s own world view, regardless of what e.g. Himmler’s embrace of the occult led to of misery and catastrophes. No, I don’t think that the National Museum has a “Wiligut” on its staff, but they peek through many places in society.

Wiligut helped create many of the rituals that grew up along side of the SS-organization. E.g, heathen wedding ceremonies and big feasts at the Equinox and solstice. He also designed the SS Totenkopf-ring.

Ahnenerbe in a scientific framework

Deutsche Ahnenerbe was formed in 1935 by Heinrich Himmler and Reichsbauernfürer Richard Walther Darré. The latter was the leader of the institute Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamtes (RuSHA) and was one of the Third Reich’s top ideologists. Ahnenerbe was thought as an independent organization, where high-ranking white-collar workers within the SS could study the history and spirituality of the Germanic people. The status as an independent organization was maintained until 1940, when Ahnenerbe was fully integrated in the huge SS-organization.

Ahnenerbe was originally formed to support the Dutch pseudo-historian Herman Wirth’s “Nordisch-Volkskundlichen” research, whose starting-point was the idea of the inherent superiority of the Germanic race. Wirth, whose work was strongly influenced by occult elements, was in charge of management.

Darré, who didn’t get blood on his hands, got away with a relatively mild sentence at the Nürnberg process. He died in 1953.

In 1937, Ahnenerbe cut its ties to Darré and his institution RuSHA, and many of the employees were transferred to Ahnenerbe, which was now fully under Himmler’s command. From having been a rather unnoticed organization, Ahnenerbe was almost recognized as a public institution. The purpose was still the same: To document the superiority of the Germanic race through a series of research projects, and to promote the results of the research to the German people. The same year, Wirth had to leave the Ahnenerbe, because the academics couldn’t accept his preoccupation with the occult. This was somewhat ironic, since the same people didn’t mind cheating with the scientific results themselves. Ahnenerbe had grown big by then, and was comprised of about 50 independent institutes, each with its own research area. Almost all its scientific employees were members of the SS and quite a few had the rank of higher officers.

Darré developed several methods of measuring, designed to reveal deviations from the characteristica, which according to him, showed what a true Aryan looked like. Here, the proportions of the face is measured.

It might be surprising that a number of scientists – archaeologists, historians, doctors, anthropologists, linguists etc. agreed to do research based on ideological premises. Some were Nazis and had no troubles with the ideological foundation, and some accepted because Ahnenerbe offered quite unique reseach possibilities that wasn’t necessarily limited by the ethics that normally signifies science. Some probably accepted because the job opportunities in their own field were limited, or perhaps simply to avoid soldier duty at the front. Others joined in, because the work at Ahnenerbe was regarded as very prestigious in Nazi Germany. In non-Nazi academic circles, the view was different: Ahnenerbe’s employees were considered as “criminal intellectuals”.

Examples of Ahnenerbe Research

As indicated, research into the past played a very important role in Ahnenerbe’s activities, and the institutes that were occupied with archaeology and history were generally characterized by a large staff. The following examples are just some of the research areas that some of the institutes worked in:

  • Linguistic investigations had high priority, and the first project was dedicated to the study of Norse runes with Hermann Wirth in charge. In 1936, Professor Wüst started a project about sanskrit, which was his field of study. Wüst sought to document a connection between sanskrit and the old Germanic languages.
  • The institute for Germanic Archaeology was primarily occupied with investigations in North- and Middle Germany, which were regarded as the old Germanics’ homeland. Excavations were made in e.g. Paderhorn, Detmold, Haithabu and Externsteine. The latter was regarded as one of the most sacred places of the Germanic people.
  • During the war, expeditions were sent to a number of occupied countries, e.g. Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Poland, Romania, Russian and Northern Africa. Also the Far East, Tibet in particular, was investigated. The activities in Tibet were combined with the work of the famous Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin, who sympathized with the Nazis. The cooperation gave serious dents in an otherwise brilliant career. Some of the expeditions in Tibet were inspired by theosophical visions of the East. Hidden cities in central Himalaya were sought, where it would be possible to trace surviving fragments of ancient Germanic wisdom; compare with Wiligut’s tale of the crucified prophet, who escaped to Asia.
  • One institute focused on the Edda and Iceland, which was regarded as the original homeland for the pure Germanic race. Himmler regarded the Edda as sacred scripture containing secret messages from the old Germanic culture. The studies were followed by an expedition in 1938 with the purpose of tracing one of the heathen sacred places. For several reasons, the expedition turned into a farce, and no real results came of it.
  • One of the more weird institutes was working on the so-called “Welteislehre” (the theory of the World Ice), under Dr. Hans Robert Scultetus’ management. The theory, invented by Hans Hörbiger, can best be described as raving madness. E.g., it describes a phase where the Earth had several moons, but toppled, causing a pole-switch, which again caused an ice age of Armageddon-like dimensions, eradicating all life on Earth. The theory was strongly influenced by theosophic speculations. It wasn’t so much the occult elements that characterized Scultetus’ work, but rather an attempt to document the theory with meteorological and geological evidence.
  • The most dark chapter in the history of the Ahnenerbe is the horrible experiments with humans. They were ca
    rried out on the prisoners at Dachau and other concentration camps by the “Wehrwissenschaftliche Zweckforschung” institute (Scientific/military research). The experiments comprised of e.g. lowering of humans into ice water or boiling water to observe how the human body reacted to extreme conditions. Another experiment was to open the cranium (the subjects were fully conscious), to observe the living brain. These, and other similar horrendous Nazi crimes made many people realize the absurdity of dividing the world into civilized and primitive nations. To distinguish between the two became meaningless.

The psychic Karl Maria Wiligut, mentor of Heinrich Himmler, cooperated to a large degree with the scientists of the Ahnenerbe. The cooperation was ordered by Himmler and was far from idyllic, because the scientists regarded Wiligut as a “dreamer of the worst kind”. In time, the dreams became too much for even Himmler, who in 1939 removed Wiligut from the Ahnenerbe. The year after, Ahnenerbe became fully integrated in the huge SS apparatus.


Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas: The Occult Roots of Nazism. Secret Aryan Cults and their Influence on Nazi Ideology” (1992)