INTRODUCTION TO PART I
Historical events of massive proportions have deep and vast root systems. The ideas of National Socialism and its occult dimensions have not only deep roots, but often obscure ones as well. The most common error made by those who represent themselves as doing research into these ideas is that they view the data through a distorted lens shaped by popular slogans. They take their direction from propagandistic phrases such as “Nazism was really a pagan movement,” or “Hitler was a Satanist.” These misdirecting slogans must be put into firm focus and subjected to much more rigorous historical examination.
All of the ideas made manifest in National Socialism have roots in the nineteenth century. The years between 18 and 19 were especially eventful and dynamic for the German-speaking Central European states, most of which would be politically forged together into the Second German Reich by the “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck, in 1871. In the broader Western world, the whole century was filled with remarkable ideas and towering figures who vigorously professed them. In the realms of the understanding and implementation of myth and symbol, such figures as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, J. J. Bachofen, Wilhelm Mannhardt, and Max Müller leap from the pages of history. In the scientific world, men such as Carl Friedrich Gauss, Robert Koch, and Alexander von Humboldt left their indelible marks. The occult world of the nineteenth century offers its own foundational figures, such as Franz Anton Mesmer, Éliphas Lévi, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (née Hahn), and Karl Friedrich Zöllner.
Some of the major ideas that dominated nineteenth-century thought, and which often cooperated or conflicted with one another, were German idealism, biology, evolutionary theories, nationalism, romanticism, social Darwinism, Marxism, and positivism. It is therefore little wonder that the most radical and impetuous children of that century would establish institutions flowing from a heady brew concocted from these ideas.
In order to explain the radical events and historical upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century, we have to understand the effects of intellectual movements beginning a century earlier. Although elite thinkers had held many radically divergent thoughts for a long time in Europe, due to limitations in publishing, education, and economic development this radicalism remained contained. This changed in the nineteenth century. Rational idealism, practiced by Kant and Hegel, was turned into a materialistic economic political philosophy by Karl Marx. Traditional Christian theology was subjected to widespread rationalistic attacks by the new biblical criticism. At the same time, there was an influx of exciting and apparently effective religio-philosophical conceptions from the East. Ideas imported from the Buddhistic and Brahmanic religions, especially as embodied in the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, all led to a new way of thinking that was ready to wipe away the old established philosophies and theologies. One of the most important figures in popularizing the new revolutionary way of thinking was the artist Richard Wagner followed by his former acolyte, Friedrich Nietzsche. This package of ideas was a potent mix for cultural change.
We will observe that a new symbolic culture grew from the seeds of the volkist ideology that were planted and cultivated throughout the course of the nineteenth century. Scientific theories—many of them later discredited, or shown to have been misapplied to cultural issues—grew abundantly throughout the century as well. Occultism as such was an abiding interest of Romantics of the early 18s and over the following decades it became steadily refocused from a center in religious myth into an increasingly “scientific” mode of expression.
In order to see the development of the nineteenth century in a clear context, a short overview of this period in German history is necessary.
GERMAN-SPEAKING CENTRAL EUROPE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Germany had never been a nation-state in the same way France or England had been since the end of the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, there was a nascent collective cultural identity among all German-speaking peoples of Central Europe. These include inhabitants of present-day Germany, Austria, and the northern cantons of Switzerland. Over the course of the nineteenth century, a number of German-speaking political entities—kingdoms, principalities, free cities, and other political corporations in the western part of the German-speaking area—were unified by Bismarck into a state ruled by the Prussian king and now kaiser, Wilhelm I. The century saw Germany go from a collection of independent, almost tribal, kingdoms to a new empire.
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, all of Europe was involved in a cultural debate between Enlightenment thinking couched in Neo-Classical aesthetics and the new approach proposed by the Romantics. Germany was no exception. The Enlightenment valued the rational mind above all else; Enlightenment thinkers questioned received traditions and extolled the virtues of simplicity, precision, and clarity. Enlightenment aesthetics revolved around mechanistic models—the whole world was seen as a great machine or clockwork with the Creator as the great clockmaker. Politically, the Enlightenment favored the development of international institutions and interconnections.
It was in the name of the Enlightenment that Napoleon conquered much of Europe in wars lasting from 1803 to 1815. Romanticism, on the other hand, criticized the arrogant naiveté of the Enlightenment and insisted on the primacy of emotion for human happiness. Romantics turned to the wildness of nature, extolled the “noble savage,” and delved into the night-side of life, into dreams and myths. In the Romantic introversion, the individual body was revalorized as was the collective organic body known as the nation (or Volk). The energy to throw off Napoleon, the foreign conqueror who had originally been welcomed to Germany as a liberator, came from that Romantic spirit.
German Enlightenment thinkers in particular tended to be conservative and optimistic—accepting the political status quo of the fragmented state of the German people. Romantics yearned for a political reality in which the nation and the state would be integrated into an organic whole. Germany, according to Romantic philosophers such as Hegel and Fichte, should be a state made up of German people who speak the German language. This stance was revolutionary and opposed to the conservative position, which favored retaining all of the various political bodies—some two hundred in number.
Romantic revolutionary fervor boiled over in a variety of states in Europe in the year 1848. (Coincidentally, this was the same year that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels issued The Communist Manifesto.) These uprisings were turned back by the conservative forces of many state authorities. This moment also marked the end of those unified cultural movements in which politics, religion, art, and literature could all be seen as exponents of a single philosophical position. After this time, culture began to become fragmented into the compartmentalized aspects of the now familiar modern world. At this point artists, mystics, poets, and writers tended to go underground to pursue their dreams.
Nevertheless, the next generation saw a steady movement toward the unification of various German states under the leadership of Prussia, the most powerful single German state of the time. Wars with Austria (the Seven Weeks’ War of 1866) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) resulted in the consolidation of Prussian power among the western German states. The Franco-Prussian War ended with the victorious Germans occupying Paris and declaring the establishment of the Second German Empire on January 18, 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors in the palace of Versailles.
Austrian cultural history in the last half of the nineteenth century was marked by increasing demands made by ethnic minorities in the Austrian Empire—especially Hungarians and Czechs—upon the central German-speaking authority in Vienna. This pressure helped to promote ideas of a Großdeutschland, a greater unification between the Germanspeaking Austrians and the burgeoning German Reich to the west.
The last quarter of the century witnessed the growth of the German Reich as a world power with the development of advanced technology, overseas colonies, and a modern military.
Additionally, Germany continued to pioneer policies of public welfare, such as health insurance and benefits for disabled and elderly citizens. By the turn of the century, Germany was the most technologically advanced, highly educated, and industrialized country in the world. The expected national ambitions commensurate with these accomplishments in a world that had little room for an upstart major player in geopolitics, could only lead to disaster.
Throughout the nineteenth century the symbolic world of volkism, the realm of scientific research, and the occult subculture were fermenting toward the eventual outpouring of an intoxicating brew in the twentieth century. But it must be remembered that all and everything the twentieth century manifested—the entire spectrum of activity—had roots in what went before it in time. There is nothing “inevitable” or “natural” about how any of these older ideas were used by later artists, scientists, or politicians. Each remains responsible for his own actions. We shall now explore in more detail the foundations of the folkish, scientific, and occult realms of the nineteenth century.