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German mysticism has its roots in Germanic culture.


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German mysticism is a development of late 19th and early 20th century German romanticism. German mysticism was loosely inspired by historical Germanic paganism and traditional concepts of occultism. German mysticism was pioneered by Guido von List from the 1870s, and gaining notability from the 1910s involving authors such as Peryt Shou, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, Rudolf John Gorsleben, Rudolf von Sebottendorff, Friedrich Bernhard Marby and A. Frank Glahn. German mysticism evolved into a variety of organizations as surveyed below.

German mysticism.
Armanenschaft jewellery and ritual items from England, including the Armanen runes, ring and stick; Fyrfos pin; Schwarze Sonne ear-rings and pin (and Zierscheiben necklace); Mjollnir ear-rings and necklace; Wolfsangel pin; Unicursal Hexagram necklace; and Sidereal Pendulum.

The connection of Germanic mysticism with historical Germanic culture is tenuous, and mostly evident in the mystics' infatuation with runes, in the form of List's Armanen Runes.

German mysticism following World War 1.

Following World War I, Germanic mysticism (together with, and influenced by, Theosophy) contributed significantly to an occult counterculture in the 1920s and 1930s. This counterculture has sometimes been deemed a predecessor to Nazi ideology. However, the historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke finds little evidence of direct influence, except in the case of the highly idiosyncratic ancient-German mythos elaborated by the 'clairvoyant' (but in fact schizophrenic) SS-Brigadeführer Karl Maria Wiligut, the practical consequence of which was to persuade Heinrich Himmler to order the internment of those occultists and runic magicians whom Wiligut stigmatised as heretics. The most notable other case is Himmler's Ahnenerbe. (For the debate on the direct relations to Nazi ideology see the article on Nazi occultism.)

Ideas regarding the Aryan race (in the sense of Indo-Europeans, though with Germanic peoples being viewed as their purest representatives) and the swastika symbol are important elements in both Germanic mysticism and Nazi ideology. Hence Goodrick-Clarke's study, still the most comprehensive on the field, is titled The Occult Roots of Nazism. Goodrick-Clarke (1985: 192-202) examines what evidence there is for influences on Hitler and on other Nazis, but he concludes that "Ariosophy [i.e. Germanic mysticism] is a symptom rather than an influence in the way that it anticipated Nazism" (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 202).

In the later 20th century, Germanic neopagan movements oriented themselves more towards polytheistic reconstructionism, turning away from theosophic and occult elements, but elements of Germanic mysticism continue to play a role in some white supremacist organizations. Alleged mystical or shamanic aspects of historical pre-Christian Germanic culture, summarized as seidr are also practiced in Odinism (Freya Aswynn, Nigel Pennick, Karl Spiesberger, see also Germanic Runic Astrology, The Book of Blotar).

German mysticism and armanism.

Guido von List.
Guido von List in 1910 from the book Guido v. List: Der Wiederentdecker Uralter Arischer Weisheit by Johannes Balzli, published in 1917.

Guido von List elaborated a racial religion premissed on the concept of renouncing the imposed foreign creed of Christianity and returning to the pagan religions of the ancient Indo-Europeans (List preferred the equivalent term Ario-Germanen, or 'Aryo-Germans'). In this, he became strongly influenced by the Theosophical thought of Madame Blavatsky, which he blended however with his own highly original beliefs, founded upon Germanic paganism.

List called his doctrine Armanism (after the Armanen, supposedly the heirs of the sun-king, a body of priest-kings in the ancient Ario-Germanic nation). Armanism was concerned with the esoteric doctrines of the gnosis (distinct from the exoteric doctrine intended for the lower social classes, Wotanism).

List claimed that the tribal name Herminones mentioned in Tacitus was a Latinized version of the German Armanen, and named his religion the Armanenschaft, which he claimed to be the original religion of the Germanic tribes. His conception of that religion was a form of sun worship, with its priest-kings (similar to the Icelandic goði) as legendary rulers of ancient Germany.

List claimed that the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in Austria-Hungary constituted a continuing occupation of the Germanic tribes by the Roman empire, albeit now in a religious form, and a continuing persecution of the ancient religion of the Germanic peoples and Celts.

He also believed in the magical powers of the old runes. From 1891 onwards he claimed that heraldry was based on a system of encoded runes, so that heraldic devices conveyed a secret heritage in cryptic form. In April 1903, he submitted an article concerning the alleged Aryan proto-language to the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna. Its highlight was a mystical and occult interpretation of the runic alphabet, which became the cornerstone of his ideology. Although the article was rejected by the academy, it would later be expanded by List and grew into his final masterpiece, a comprehensive treatment of his linguistic and historical theories published in 1914 as Die Ursprache der Ario-Germanen und ihre Mysteriensprache (The Proto-Language of the Aryo-Germans and their Mystery Language).

In 1908 the Guido von List Society (Guido-von-List-Gesellschaft) was founded primarily by the Wannieck family (see Friedrich Wannieck) as an occult völkisch organisation in honour of the teachings of Guido von List. It published his works under the series Guido-List-Bücherei and was supported by many leading figures in Austrian and German politics, publishing, and occultism.

List had established exoteric and esoteric circles in his organisation. The High Armanen Order (Hoher Armanen Orden) was the inner circle of the Guido von List Society. Founded in midsummer 1911, it was set up as a magical order or lodge to support List's deeper and more practical work. The HAO conducted pilgrimages to what its members considered "holy Armanic sites", Stephansdom in Vienna, Carnuntum etc. They also had occasional meetings between 1911 and 1918, but the exact nature of these remains unknown. In his introduction to List's The Secret of the Runes, Stephen E. Flowers (1988: 11) notes: "The HAO never really crystallized in List's lifetime – although it seems possible that he developed a theoretical body of unpublished documents and rituals relevant to the HAO which have only been put into full practice in more recent years".

List died on 17 May 1919, a few months before Adolf Hitler joined a minor Bavarian political party and formed it into the NSDAP. After the Nazis had come to power, some members of Guido von List's Armanenschaft were deported to Nazi concentration camps (see also Persecution of Heathens). The main reason for the persecution of occultists was the Nazi policy of systematically closing down esoteric organisations (although Germanic paganism was still practised by some Nazis on an individual basis), but the instigator in certain cases was Himmler's personal occultist, Karl Maria Wiligut. Wiligut identified the monotheistic religion of Irminism as the true ancestral belief, claiming that Guido von List's Wotanism and runic row constituted a schismatic false religion. Flowers (1988: 35) writes: "The establishment of [an] 'official NS runology' under Himmler, Wiligut, and others led directly to the need to suppress the rune-magical 'free agents'".

Theozoology.

Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels.
Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels.

In 1903-1904 a Viennese ex-Cistercian monk, Bible scholar and inventor named Jörg Lanz-Liebenfels (subsequently, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels) published a lengthy article under the Latin title 'Anthropozoon Biblicum' (The Biblical Man-Animal) in a journal for Biblical studies, edited by a Jewish admirer of Guido von List. The author undertook a comparative survey of ancient Near Eastern cultures, in which he detected evidence from iconography and literature which seemed to point to the continued survival, into early historical times, of hominid ape-men similar to the dwarfish Neanderthal men known from fossil remains in Europe, or the Pithecanthropus (now called Homo erectus) from Java (Lanz-Liebenfels 1903: 337-39). Furthermore, Lanz systematically analysed the Old Testament in the light of his hypothesis, identifying and interpreting coded references to the ape-men which substantiated an illicit practice of interbreeding between humans and "lower" species in antiquity.

In 1905 he expanded these researches into a fundamental statement of doctrine titled Theozoologie oder die Kunde von den Sodoms-Äfflingen und dem Götter-Elektron (Theozoology or the Science of the Sodomite-Apelings and the Divine Electron). He claimed that "Aryan" peoples originated from interstellar deities (termed Theozoa) who bred by electricity, while "lower" races were a result of interbreeding between humans and ape-men (or Anthropozoa). The effects of racial crossing caused the atrophy of paranormal powers inherited from the gods, but these could be restored by the selective breeding of pure Aryan lineages. The book relied on somewhat lurid sexual imagery, decrying the abuse of white women by ethnically inferior but sexually active men. Thus, Lanz advocated mass castration of racially "apelike" or otherwise "inferior" males (Lanz von Liebenfels, republished 2002).

In the same year, Lanz commenced publication of the journal Ostara (named after the pagan Germanic goddess of spring) to promote his vision of racial purity. On December 25, 1907 he founded the Order of the New Templars (Ordo Novi Templi, or ONT), a mystical association with its headquarters at Burg Werfenstein, a castle in Upper Austria overlooking the river Danube. Its declared aim was to harmonise science, art and religion on a basis of racial consciousness. Rituals were designed to beautify life in accordance with Aryan aesthetics, and to express the Order's theological system which Lanz called Ario-Christianity. The Order was the first to use the swastika in an "Aryan" meaning, displaying on its flag the device of a red swastika facing right, on a yellow-orange field and surrounded by four blue fleurs-de-lys above, below, to the right and to the left.

The ONT declined from the mid-1930s and was suppressed by the Gestapo in 1942. By this time it had established seven utopian communities in Austria, Germany and Hungary. Though suspending its activities in the Greater German Reich, the ONT survived in Hungary until around the end of World War II (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 119, 122). It went underground in Vienna after 1945, but was contacted in 1958 by a former Waffen-SS lieutenant, Rudolf Mund, who became Prior of the Order in 1979 (Goodrick-Clarke 2003: 135). Mund also wrote biographies of Lanz and Wiligut.

Ariosophy.

The term Ariosophy (occult wisdom concerning the Aryans) was coined by Lanz von Liebenfels in 1915, and replaced "Theozoology" and "Ario-Christianity" as the label for his doctrine in the 1920s.

This terminology was taken up by a group of occultists, formed in Berlin around 1920 and referred to by one of its main figures, Ernst Issberner-Haldane, as the 'Swastika-Circle'. Lanz's publisher, Herbert Reichstein, made contact with the group in 1925 and formed it into an institute with himself as director. This association was named the Ariosophical Society in 1926, renamed the Neue Kalandsgesellschaft (from Kaland, Guido von List's term for a secret lodge or conventicle) in 1928, and renamed again as the Ariosophische Kulturzentrale in 1931, the year in which it opened an Ariosophical School at Pressbaum that offered courses and lectures in runic lore, biorhythms, yoga and Qabalah.

The institute maintained a friendly collaboration with Lanz, its guiding intellect and inspiration, but also acknowledged an indebtedness to List, declaring itself as the successor to the Armanen priest-kings and their hierophantic tradition. Reichstein's circle therefore establishes the historical precedent for a broad conception that was followed by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke in 1985 when he redefined Ariosophy as a general term to describe Aryan-centric occult theories and hermetic practices, including both Lanz's Ario-Christianity and the earlier Armanism of List, as well as later derivatives of either or both systems. If the term is employed in this extended sense, then Guido von List, and not Lanz von Liebenfels, was the founder of Ariosophy.

The justification for the broad definition is that List and Lanz were mutually influencing. The two men joined one another's societies; List figures in Lanz's pedigree of initiated predecessors; and Lanz is cited several times by List in The Religion of the Aryo-Germanic Folk: Esoteric and Exoteric (1910).

Germanenorden.

Rudolf von Sebottendorff
Rudolf von Sebottendorff: bust by German sculptor Hanns Goebl.

The List-inspired Germanenorden (Germanic or Teutonic Order, not to be confused with the medieval German order of the Teutonic Knights) was a völkisch secret society in early 20th century Germany. It was founded in Berlin in 1912 by several prominent German occultists including Theodor Fritsch, Philipp Stauff and Hermann Pohl, its first leader, as a splinter group formed from the neopagan Germanische Glaubens-Gemeinschaft (Community for Germanic Beliefs), which was founded in 1907 by Professor Ludwig Fahrenkrog of Bremen.

The order, whose symbol was a swastika, had a hierarchical fraternal structure similar to Freemasonry. Local groups of the sect met to celebrate the summer solstice, an important neopagan festivity in völkisch circles (and later in Nazi Germany), and more regularly to read the Eddas as well as some of the German mystics .

In addition to occult and magical philosophies, it taught to its initiates nationalist ideologies of Nordic racial superiority and anti-semitism, then rising throughout the Western world. As was becoming increasingly typical of völkisch organisations, it required its candidates to prove that they had no non-Aryan bloodlines and required from each a promise to maintain purity of his stock in marriage.

In 1916 during World War I, the Germanenorden split into two parts. Eberhard von Brockhusen became the Grand Master of the "loyalist" Germanenorden. Pohl, previously the order's Chancellor, founded a schismatic offshoot: the Germanenorden Walvater of the Holy Grail (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 131-32; Thomas 2005). He was joined in the same year by Rudolf von Sebottendorff (formerly Rudolf Glauer), a wealthy adventurer with wide-ranging occult and mystical interests. A Freemason and a practitioner of sufism and astrology, Sebottendorff was also an admirer of Guido von List and Lanz von Liebenfels. Convinced that the Islamic and Germanic mystical systems shared a common Aryan root, he was attracted by Pohl's runic lore and became the Master of the Walvater's Bavarian province late in 1917. Charged with reviving the province's fortunes, Sebottendorff increased membership from about a hundred in 1917 to 1500 by the autumn of the following year (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 142-43).

German mysticism and the Thule Society.

Thule Society emblem.
Thule Society emblem.

In 1918 Sebottendorff made contact with Walter Nauhaus, a member of the Germanenorden who headed a study group called the Thule Gesellschaft (or Thule Society). This original Thule Society was adopted as a cover-name for Sebottendorff's Munich lodge of the Germanenorden Walvater when it was formally dedicated on August 18, 1918, with Pohl’s assistance and approval (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 144). Sebottendorff states that the group was run jointly by himself and Nauhaus.

Deriving elements of its ideology and membership from earlier occult groups founded by List (Guido von List Society, established 1908) and Lanz von Liebenfels (the Order of the New Templars, established 1907), the Thule Society was dedicated to the triune god Walvater, identified with Wotan in triple form. For the Society's emblem Sebottendorff selected the oak leaves, dagger and swastika (Thomas 2005). The name Thule (an island located by Greek geographers at the northernmost extremity of the world) was chosen for its significance in the works of Guido von List. According to Thule Society mythology, Thule was the capital of Hyperborea, a legendary country supposedly in the far North polar regions, originally mentioned by Herodotus from Egyptian sources. In 1679, Olaf Rudbeck equated the Hyperboreans with the survivors of Atlantis, who were first mentioned by Plato, again following Egyptian sources. Supposedly, Hyperborea split into two islands, Thule and Ultima Thule, which were considered to be the center of an advanced, lost civilization. Interestingly enough, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) began his work Der Antichrist (The Antichrist) in 1895 with, "Let us see ourselves for what we are. We are Hyperboreans."

From a historian's perspective, the importance of the Thule Society lies in its organising the discussion circle which led to the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei, or DAP), founded in January 1919. The Thule Society's Karl Harrer was a co-founder, along with Anton Drexler (the party's first chairman). Later the same year, Adolf Hitler joined the DAP, which was renamed as the NSDAP (or Nazi party) on April 1, 1920. Some conspiracy theorists argue that the NSDAP, when under Hitler's leadership, was a political front for the Thule Society. However, against this theory stands Harrer's and Drexler's resistance to Hitler. After unsuccessful challenges to his growing power, both men resigned from the party, Harrer in 1920 and Drexler in 1923.

Speculative authors assert that a number of high Nazi Party officials had been members of the Thule Society (including such prominent figures as Max Amann, Dietrich Eckart, Rudolf Hess, Alfred Rosenberg and Gottfried Feder). Eckart, the wealthy publisher of the newspaper Auf gut Deutsch (In Plain German), has been represented as a committed occultist and the most significant Thule influence on Hitler. He is believed to have taught Hitler a number of persuasive techniques, and so profound was his influence that Hitler’s book Mein Kampf was dedicated to him. However, although Eckart attended Thule Society meetings, he was not a member and there is nothing to indicate that he trained Hitler in techniques of a mystical nature. Examining the membership lists, Goodrick-Clarke (1985: 149, 221) notes that Hess, Rosenberg and Feder were - like Eckart - guests of the Thule Society in 1918 but not actual members. He also describes a Thule Society membership roll including Hans Frank and Heinrich Himmler as "spurious". There is no evidence that Hitler himself had any connection with the Society, even as an associate or visitor. However, a member of the Thule Society, dentist Dr. Friedrich Krohn, did choose the swastika symbol for the Nazi party (although the design was revised at Hitler's insistence).

In 1923, Sebottendorff was expelled from Germany as an undesirable alien; around 1925, the Thule Society disbanded. In 1933, Sebottendorff returned to Germany and published Bevor Hitler kam: Urkundliches aus der Frühzeit der nationalsozialistischen Bewegung von Rudolf von Sebottendorff (see Phelps 1963). The book was banned by the Bavarian political police on March 1, 1934; Sebottendorff was arrested by the Gestapo, interned in a concentration camp, then expelled to Turkey yet again, where he committed suicide by drowning in the Bosphorus on May 9, 1945, as the Nazis surrendered to the Allies.

German mysticism and the Edda Society.

Rudolf John Gorsleben.
Rudolf John Gorsleben.

Rudolf John Gorsleben was associated with the Thule Society during the Bavarian Soviet Republic of 1919 and, along with Dietrich Eckart, he was taken prisoner by the Communists, narrowly escaping execution. He threw himself into the ferment of Bavaria's völkisch politics and formed a close working relationship with the local Germanenorden before devoting himself to literary pursuits (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 156).

On 29 November 1925, Gorsleben founded the Edda Society (Edda-Gesellschaft), a mystic study group, at Dinkelsbühl in Franconia. He himself was Chancellor of the Society and published its periodical Deutsche Freiheit (German Freedom), later renamed Arische Freiheit (Aryan Freedom). Assisted by learned contributors to his study-group, Gorsleben developed an original and eclectic mystery religion founded in part upon the Armanism of List, whom he quoted with approval (ibid., 156-159).

Grand Master of the Society was Werner von Bülow. The treasurer was Friedrich Schaefer from Mühlhausen, whose wife, Käthe, kept open house for another occult-völkisch circle (the 'Free Sons of the North and Baltic Seas') which gathered around Karl Maria Wiligut in the early 1930s.

Mathilde von Kemnitz, a prolific völkisch writer who married General Erich Ludendorff in 1926, was an active member of the Edda Society.

German mysticism: Modern organisations: Armanen-Orden.

Circular arrangement of the Armanen Futharkh.
Circular arrangement of the Armanen Futharkh.

The Guido von List Society was renewed in 1969 through contacts between Adolf Schleipfer and the still living last president of the Society, Hanns Bierbach (Flowers 1988: 36). Schleipfer revived this organisation after finding some of List's works in an antique bookstore in the mid-sixties, and was inspired to found the Armanist magazine Irminsul in hopes of attracting suitable people for a revived Listian order. He was appointed the new president and continued to publish Irminsul as the "Voice of the Guido von List Society."

Schleipfer founded the Armanen-Orden (or Armanen Order) as the reorganised Guido von List Society in 1976 with his then wife Sigrun Schleipfer (nee Hammerbacher), daughter of völkisch writer Dr. Hans Wilhelm Hammerbacher. Since then, Adolf and Sigrun (who now refers to herself as Sigrun von Schlichting or Sigrun Freifrau von Schlichting) have served as the "Grandmasters" of the order. Adolf also revived the High Armanen Order (HAO). For many years they have been reprinting List's works.

The Armanen-Orden is a neopagan esoteric society and religious order reviving the occult teachings of Guido von List. Its internal structure is organized in nine grades, inspired by Freemasonry. The order is modelled on, but not limited to, the precepts of List, and its principles as formulated in its brochures are as follows:

"The Armanen Order embodies the entire Germanic and Celtic peoples in their mental, spiritual and physical uniqueness.

The Armanen Order embodies the true realisation of the divine world order based on Germanic and Celtic wisdom, whose religious and cultic aspect is formed by the native myths of the gods.

The Awakening of the Armanen Order is a rebirth of life based on its natural foundations of the Germanic and Celtic people."

The Armanen-Orden celebrates seasonal festivities in a similar fashion as Odinist groups do and invites interested people to these events. The highlights are three 'Things' at Ostara (Easter), Midsummer and Fall (Wotan's sacrificial death), which are mostly celebrated at castles close to sacred places, such as the Externsteine. The author Stefanie von Schnurbein attended a Fall Thing in 1990 and gives the following report in Religion als Kulturkritik (Religion and Cultural Criticism):

"...the participants meet in a room decorated with hand-woven wall hangings and pictures of Germanic gods, Odin and Frigga in this case...At one end of the room is a tablecovered with black cloth. On this a 4 ft. high wooden Irminsul, a spear, a sword, a replica of a sun disc chariot, a leather-bound copy of The Edda as well as ritual bowls and candles are placed. The participants are seated in a semi-circle in front of the table, the front row being occupied by Order members clothed in their ritual garb (black shirts for the men and long white dresses for the women; both have the AO emblem sewn on them)....after several invocations the 'spirit flame', symbolising Odin in the spirit world, is lit in a bowl filled with lamp oil. The purpose of this cultic celebration is the portrayel of Odin's concentration from spirit into matter. After a recital of the first part of Odin's rune poem () from The Edda, the "blood sacrifice" commences, in which a bowl with animal blood is raised to the beat of a gong and an invocation of sacrifice. Then Odin is called into the realm by the participants who assume the Odal rune stance, whisper 'W-O-D-A-N' nine times and finally sing an ode to Odin with the following words: 'Odin-Wodan come to us, od-uod, uod'. Wodan's sacrifice to himself is symbolised by extinguishing the flame."

Germanic mysticism and the Nazis.

The Thule society, from which the NSDAP originated was one of the ariosophic groups of the 1920s. Thule Gesellschaft had initially been the name of the Munich lodge of the Germanenorden. It took it's name from an alleged lost continent Thule, which was assumed to be the mythical homeland from which the Aryan race had originated. (Atlantis at least, and most likely also Hyperborea, were taken to be identical with Thule.) The superiority of Aryans over all other races was a key concept and the members of various Germanenorden-lodges saw themselves (as Teutons or Germanic peoples) as the 'purest' branch of the Aryan race.

Defenders of List and Lanz claim that the anti-semitism that drove Nazi policies was much older and more deeply rooted among the peoples of central Europe than can be credited to the "fringe works" of mystics and rune magicians. It has been alleged, for example, that the roots of Nazi anti-semitism can be traced to the Lutheran and Catholic churches as it was the Catholic Church Fathers who first invented ideas about the Jews being an inferior "race", and who drove anti-semitic policies right up to and all during the Second World War (Kertzer 2001).

Some of Lanz's proposals for racial purification anticipate the Nazis. The sterilisation of those deemed to be genetically "unfit" was in fact implemented under the Nazi eugenics policies, but its basis lay in the theories of scientific racial hygienists. The Nazi eugenics programme has no proven connection with Lanz's mystical rationale. Eugenic ideas were widespread in his lifetime, whereas he himself was banned from publishing in the Third Reich and his writings were suppressed.

Following Goodrick-Clarke's caution in assessing the relation between the two, Adolf Hitler cannot be considered a pupil of Lanz von Liebenfels, as Lanz himself had claimed (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 192). However, it has been suggested with some evidential basis that the young Hitler did read and collect Lanz's Ostara magazine while living in Vienna:

"In view of the similarity of their ideas relating to the glorification and preservation of the endangered Aryan race, the suppression and ultimate extermination of the non-Aryans, and the establishment of a fabulous Aryan-German millennial empire, the link between the two men looks highly probable." (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 194)

Nevertheless: "It also remains a fact that Hitler never mentioned the name of Lanz in any recorded conversation, speech, or document. If Hitler had been importantly influenced by [Lanz], he cannot be said to have ever acknowledged this debt" (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 198).


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