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from issue no. 10 - 2004

Germany the great,an esoteric dream

An interview with Giorgio Galli on the occult roots of Nazism, from which also arose the idea that the “living space” of the Third Reich should stretch to the Urals. An aspect little studied by historians, but which has re-emerged since the fall of the Berlin Wall

by Paolo Mattei

Above, a poster of the SS (Schutz-Staffeln, “Security-squads”) with the runic stylization of the initials. Runic symbols were the object of study 
of Guido von List, an esoterist known to Adolf Hitler (below) during the years when his mind was forming

Above, a poster of the SS (Schutz-Staffeln, “Security-squads”) with the runic stylization of the initials. Runic symbols were the object of study of Guido von List, an esoterist known to Adolf Hitler (below) during the years when his mind was forming

Professor Giorgio Galli does not feel competent to appraise the esoteric “from the inside”, but he is an acknowledged scholar of it. His stance «is that», as he puts it, «of a historian and political scientist who believes that esoteric culture is more interwoven with the disciplines he practices than has been so far judged by historiography and political science».
It has been from that viewpoint that he has also studied the history of the Third Reich, publishing the result of his work in 1989 in a widely known book: Hitler and magical Nazism. The esoteric components of the millennial Reich (Rizzoli, Milan). The year 1989 is one for which Galli points out significant coincidences: the centenary of the birth of Hitler and the bicentenary of the French Revolution. «The year 1989», he explains in the preface to the second edition of his book, «was to enter history because of the revolution in the East: exactly a century after the birth of the Führer the wall of Berlin fell, premise of a Germany united again, the hegemonic power in Europe».
Fifteen years on from that year, after so many happenings, after the tragedy of 11 September 2001 that gave rise to the on-going wars, the history of violence and death in which Hitler and Nazism figured so largely continues to stir troubling questions and to stand as measure for the violence and death that rain down each day in the places round the world martyred by conflicts. And the possible occult, magical, esoteric substratum of that phenomenon stirs the interest of many. The television has often dealt with it and in the last year at least two books have had a certain success in Italy (Marco Dolcetta, Esoteric Nazionalsocialism, Cooper Castelvecchi, Rome 2003; Mel Gordon, Hitler’s magus. Eric Jan Hanussen: a Jew at the Führer’s court, Mondadori, Milan 2004).
We put some questions to Giorgio Galli (author of many essays some of which deal with the esoteric and politics such as Politics and the magicians, Rizzoli, Milan 1995; Politics and the esoteric on the threshold of 2000, Rizzoli, Milan 1992; Notes on the New Age, Milan 2003, in which he analyses that cultural movement, making use also of papal documents).

In your essay Magical Nazism you point to an “esoteric bridge” between England and Germany, between theories and esoteric and occult societies present in the two countries in the 19th and the 20th centuries. A bridge that stretched to the founders of Nazism also. What was that so exactly?
GIORGIO GALLI: Between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth the esoteric tradition in both Germany and England gained new strength. An “esoteric bridge” between the two countries, the Rosicrucian one, goes back in fact to the 17th century, in the framework of an occult culture not extraneous to the Thirty Years War that devastated Germany. In the last decades of the 19th century relations between English and Germans esoteric groups took on new force, and close links were forged among influential people – on the basis of a “magical” conception of reality - that were passed on for a couple of generations following. There were also troubling elements in the reconstitution. One of these consisted of so-called “sexual magic”, that is to say the attainment of “special” powers deriving from sexual practices: in 1888, the year after the foundation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, London was shaken by a series of sexual crimes, those of Jack the Ripper. The mystery has never been solved. Some figures and some relations significantly mark this resurfacing of the esoteric culture in Europe, such as the meeting in London between the French occultist Eliphas Levi, biblical pseudonym of Alphonse-Louis Constant, a former seminarian who became a revolutionary in Paris in 1848, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who was to have a crucial role in the evolution of the Rosicrucian society into the hermetic Golden Dawn. After various excursions into political and occult activities, Levi was to write a book, The coming race : in it he speaks of a form of energy, the “Vril” that is to give its name to a society, which, along with the work of the founder of the Institute of Geopolitics of Berlin, Karl Haushofer, was to furnish a fundamental contribution to the elaboration of Nazi ideology in relation to the idea of the Aryan race and of “living space”, Lebensraum.
What was the cultural background and theories common to these groups?
GALLI: First of all a conception according to which the history we know is only one part of the history of mankind. Only some elites of initiates know “all” history. The ancient history of pure and incorrupt civilizations. This lore and knowledge, which one can gain through occult practices and rites, transmit particular power to the initiates who must also perform a political role so as to administer the future of a decadent mankind to which the gifts and the characteristics lost over time must be restored. The members of these societies believed, in short, that they were the depositories of an ancient primordial learning that often manifested itself in particular rites. An interesting fact is that some followers of esoteric groups performed roles in the secret services of their own countries. A key figure in this sense is the German Theodor Reuss, of the occult Ordo templi orientis society, teacher of the Englishman Aleister Crowley. Crowley, also a master of the occult and agent of the British services at the same time, at the end of the nineteenth century joined the celebrated Golden Dawn – a derivation, as has been said, of the Rosicrucian Society – and then founded an English offshoot of the Ordo templi orientis. The Golden Dawn was in its turn linked with German associations connected to the secret doctrine of the Russian Madame Elena Blavatsky – founder in New York, in 1875, of the Theosophical Society –and to the anthroposophy of Rudolph Steiner.
But the business of Hitler and Nazism occurred after those episodes...
GALLI: My hypothesis is that the “bridge”, which, as I’ve explained, united English and German esoteric cultures, hermetic orders and secret services between the 19th and 20th centuries, continued to exist in the period immediately following, so that the intellectual baggage of Hitler and of part of the Nazi executive group came from this type of occult culture. I have gathered data that enables me even to say that this group, having reached power in the Third Reich, debated within that ambit on how to implement a strategy deriving from that culture, that is to say the resurgence of “Aryan wisdom”. As I can also affirm that Hitler’s decision to enter war in the conviction that England would not intervene can be understood in the light of the esoteric culture, of which leading circles in English politic life were also aware. The whole history of Nazism should, in my view, be read keeping this factor in mind as well.
Above, Hitler reconstituting the Nazionalsocialist Party (outlawed after the putsch of 1923), Munich 1925; first from the left is Alfred Rosenberg; first from the right is Heinrich Himmler, from 1929 head of the SS, conceiver and organizer of the extermination camps; below, the occultist Aleister Crowley, British secret service agent and member of the Golden Dawn

Above, Hitler reconstituting the Nazionalsocialist Party (outlawed after the putsch of 1923), Munich 1925; first from the left is Alfred Rosenberg; first from the right is Heinrich Himmler, from 1929 head of the SS, conceiver and organizer of the extermination camps; below, the occultist Aleister Crowley, British secret service agent and member of the Golden Dawn

How did Hitler come into contact with the esoteric? Who were his mentors?
GALLI: The starting point can be found in the magazine Ostara, of which Hitler in his Vienna years was an avid reader. The publication - which takes its name from an ancient Germanic goddess of the spring and that hence denotes a connection with the Nordic tradition and with the old pagan deities antecedent to the spread of Christianity in Germany – was founded in 1905 by a former monk, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels who, among other things, founded a place in Werfenstein, the “Castle of Order”, where, probably, with financial support from business, began to advocate an organization founded on the theory of the superiority of the Aryan race. Another point of reference for the esoteric interests of the future Führer is Rudolf von Sebottendorff, a student of the Cabal, of alchemical and Rosicrucian works, of the occult practices of the dervishes, and promoter, in 1918 in Munich, of the Thule Gesellschaft, an offshoot association of the Germanorden, a society set up early in the second decade that was strongly marked by elements of anti-semitism and racism. Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Karl Haushofer and Hans Frank, the future governor general of Poland all gravitated round the Thule. It was an association dominated by occult culture and the secret doctrines worked out in the preceding decades. Thule – the mythical Atlantis, country of the Hyperboreans – was thus the mould of the group of intellectuals at the origin of Nazism. Among other things, in 1933 Von Sebottendorff published a book, Before Hitler came, in which, meaning to rekindle the debate about the esoteric origins of Nazism, he speaks of having been the Führer’s teacher in the occult. But that group of intellectuals, by then in power, had for some time decided that it was better to keep hidden the esoteric and occult elements they believed in so as to give emphasis to political organization. And for that matter, in the year von Sebottendorff’s book was published, Hitler was already Chancellor of the Reich. The book was thus withdrawn from the shops.
What are the basic features of the esoteric group Hitler centered on?
GALLI: I have to say beforehand that one of the difficulties working in this field is the fact that official, academic historiography doesn’t much engage with these things. Work in the area of esoteric culture is sometimes left to minority scholars or even to very eccentric characters, who in any case often work on marginal affairs. The fact that official historiography doesn’t do much in this direction makes it more difficult to find certified documentation. I’m convicted that if there were more interest, something would be found. But let me answer your question. I’ve mentioned very ancient civilization and legacies of knowledge – Atlantis is the most important reference – in short to a cultural element based on fantasy history, on fantasy geography, on fantasy cosmogony and on the hidden laws that are alleged to guide it. Hitler believed that the founding reasons of his political action lay in that distant past, in a magical wisdom to be retrieved and in which lay the tool for forging the luminous future. The group of Thule intellectuals who in the ’twenties decided the transformation of an occult sect into a mass political party, were convinced believers in these things. There were thus two dynamics at work: the profound conviction of the initiates who operated in these groups and, at the same time, a certain influence that they, for reasons amply gone into by the scholars, exerted in some historic moments on political movements. Hitler, Himmler, Hess, Rosenberg, Frank: they believed themselves the heirs to an ancient lore that would enable them to build a new civilization. It should be said that a renowned and “traditional” historian has identified and assessed some of these esoteric threads: I speak of George Mosse who in the Cultural origins of the Third Reich explicitly points to the esoterist Guido von List and his runic symbology as one of Hitler’s points of reference. The initials of the SS, the militias that Himmler was to use to implement projects worked out in the occult milieu, come from the runes studied by von List.
Above, Adolf Hitler with Rudolf Hess in a photo 
of 1939; below, British soldiers removing the wreckage of the plane in which Hess flew to Great Britain in May 1941 in hope of an agreement shortly before the German invasion of Russia

Above, Adolf Hitler with Rudolf Hess in a photo of 1939; below, British soldiers removing the wreckage of the plane in which Hess flew to Great Britain in May 1941 in hope of an agreement shortly before the German invasion of Russia

Hitler often gets described as an ignorant man, a man without qualities. How did he manage to impose himself on the esoteric group he belonged to?
GALLI: There’s a widespread tendency to describe him as an ignorant person and it’s shared by the work of Joachim Fest, the Führer’s biographer, who acted as consultant on the recent film on Hitler that has come out in Germany, Der Untergang (The fall). Fest has written an excellent biography of Hitler but he tends to present him as a barn-storming leader and as a man of skimpy reading, and that only of anti-semitic propaganda. That’s not true. Hitler had read Nietzsche and Schopenauer. He stood out in the group of Rosenberg, Hess, Himmler, Frank because he possessed two qualities that have nothing to do with esoteric culture. He was a most effective speaker and a clever organizer. Maybe he learned the first quality from the magus Hanussen, that almost hypnotic way of communicating with his listeners. We know with certainty that Hitler took lessons in diction from Hanussen. But he learned something else from the magus. Hanussen had the gift of hypnotism and Mel Gordon’s book reconstructs the matter fairly well. In Mein Kampf Hitler proposes, apart from an esoteric ideology, precise organizational programs as well. That give the idea they were worked out by a good politician. Himmler, the bureaucrat of extermination, had similar organizational talent, but was not at all a good communicator. And neither was Hess. Rosenberg is only very effective as a writer... Of this group bound up with esoteric culture nobody had, in short, the two specific gifts which Hitler possessed.
Mein Kampf indicates the goals Hitler set himself: the creation of a Eurasia with undefined eastern frontiers, world “co-dominion” with England...
GALLI: Yes, it’s an esoteric strategy in which the occult and geopolitics are interwoven. It was Haushofer who worked out the theories relating to “living space”. On the basis of mystical and spiritual considerations that identified the center of the world in the German nation, but also making reference to other theoreticians of geopolitics such as the Englishman Halford John Mackinder, who had identified the “heart of the earth” as being in eastern Europe and in European Russia, Haushofer was convinced that a huge area going from western Europe to the Urals was necessary for the rebuilding of the Aryan civilization. The living space – Lebensraum – of the new Aryan civilization. Germany was the foundation stone of a geopolitical arrangement as prelude to the creation of a new civilization and of a new man who would recover the ancient lost virtues. The Jews, who have an opposing hegemonic world dream, were to be set aside and then eliminated. Thus the Drang nach Osten arose out of a project of an esoteric nature.
But the leadership of the Third Reich included men who didn’t share the same culture as Hitler and his allies...
GALLI: That’s true, but even they were influenced by the occult: pragmatic Göring was interested in the theory of the “hollow earth”, Goebbels was intrigued by Nostradamus... And in any case Goebbels and Göring shared Hitler’s project precisely because they were overawed by his esoteric convictions.
Let’s come to Hess’s journey to Scotland in May 1941. That flight also took place under an esoteric sign...
GALLI: The project for co-dominion with England on the basis of Lebensraum as prelude to the construction of a new mankind never faded, not even after the start of the war, when it became evident that Great Britain’s hoped-for neutrality hadn’t come true. The “bridge” still existed. And for that matter the episode of the halting of the German tanks at Dunkerque in 1940 that allowed the French and English to get away can be read in that key: an attempt to come to an agreement with esoteric interlocutors living in England. On 10 May 1941 Hess flew to Scotland to try to persuade such people not to intervene at the moment of the invasion of the USSR. He probably wanted to meet the heirs of societies of the type of the Golden Dawn that had relations with the Royal family and with whom he could talk. It was however without doubt the Duke of Hamilton that Hess was looking for. He was a confidant of the king of England. He was pro-Nazi and had had contacts with Hess and the leaders of the Reich for some time. The decision to make the journey probably followed debate among the esoteric Nazi leaders, hence it’s plausible that Hitler was aware of it. The operation was covered by massive disinformation. But Hess and the National Socialists were deluding themselves: the “bridge” was still there but by then it was too flimsy to allow for an agreement between Germany and England on the Drang nach Osten. In May 1941 even the English aristocracy was “resigned” to making war on Germany.
Hans Frank, governor general of Poland in the period of the Third Reich, was one of the group that gravitated around to the Thule Gesellschaft esoteric association, the mould of the group of intellectuals who founded Nazism

Hans Frank, governor general of Poland in the period of the Third Reich, was one of the group that gravitated around to the Thule Gesellschaft esoteric association, the mould of the group of intellectuals who founded Nazism

You explain in your book that Hitler was trying to come to an agreement with England right up to the end.
GALLI: Yes. After the defeat in Russia, instead of trying to block the Russian counterattack, Hitler moved his armoured divisions from the eastern to the western front. The tactic was always the same: «Constrain England to make peace by force», as he himself seems to have said. Right up to the end he believed that the esoteric “bridge” could be rebuilt.
How is it possible that the enormous power Hitler and his allies gained in Germany came out of esoteric experiences?
GALLI: I’ve always tried to avoid insisting the esoteric is the exclusive interpretative key for explaining certain facts. Certainly, as I’ve already said, it is an important and neglected aspect. But Hitler gained consensus for reasons that historiography has studied abundantly already and I don’t question them: German humiliation after World War I, the frustrations consequent on defeat and the Treaty of Versailles, the economic crisis of 1929 that caused 6,000,000 jobless, the Weimar policies that were incapable of providing an effective answer to the problems. Those were the chief reasons that enabled Hitler to take power. Hitler dealt with unemployment even before rearmament by means of great public works, taking the advice of the financier and politician Hjalmar Schacht, who was a Keynesian. And in Mein Kampf, for that matter, he presented a political program that had normal aspect, such as, in fact, the battle against unemployment.
August von Galen, bishop of Münster during the Nazi period, described by the New York Times as «the most obstinate opponent of the Nationalsocialist antichristian program», spoke of Nazism as «religious trickery»...
GALLI: In a certain way it is. And Pius XI also showed strong concern with the publication of Mit Brennender Sorge. He spoke about neo-paganism. In reality one can speak of something more than neo-paganism. All the Nazionalsocialist ceremonies were patterned on a religious model: the lights, the Führer appearing like a magical apparition. They all had the quality of a magical liturgy.
It seems that even Churchill, the great opponent of the Führer’s esoteric programs, didn’t scorn the company of occultists...
GALLI: In my book Politics and the magicians I explain how even Churchill put trust in clairvoyants. Churchill was an absolute conservative and an absolute anti-communist. Don’t lets forget that he wrote for Mussolini’s newspaper Popolo d’Italia. In his vision of the world only English-speaking peoples are up to democracy. For other peoples any form of regime is ok. For him the history of the West coincides with the history of the English-speaking people. So Hitler might have been able to please him, as he pleased various conservative sectors of English society. But, according to me, he had contacts with English esoteric societies that had provided him with a certain amount of information on the “contra-initiation of the Führer”.
Karl Haushofer, founder of the Institute of Geopolitics of Berlin and principal conceiver of the Nazi theory 
of Lebensraum, the “living space”

Karl Haushofer, founder of the Institute of Geopolitics of Berlin and principal conceiver of the Nazi theory of Lebensraum, the “living space”

GALLI: In esoteric culture there is a fundamental difference between “initiation” and “contra-initiation”. Initiation – that of the Masons, to make myself clear – is held to be positive. Contra-initiation instead is thought to have something diabolic about it: Churchill had found out that Hitler was a “contra-initiate”. Churchill, then, knowing of the “esoteric-diabolic” background to Hitler’s contra-initiation, was afraid that behind the negotiable objectives – a free hand in Europe and in the East for Germany and guarantee of the continuity of the British Empire – that were probably acceptable to him, there were non-negotiable objectives: the empire of evil. Hitler didn’t want only an empire of a geopolitical sort. He wanted an empire over minds, based on a series of values that even the conservative anti-communist Churchill saw as negative and unwarrantable. It’s a fact, however, that Hitler’s prophecy of the end of the British Empire has in substance come true. Hitler prophesied that Churchill would destroy the English Empire and hand over the imperial sceptre to the United States.
One last question, Professor. René Girard said in a recent interview that «the Nazi contempt for Christian tenderness toward the victims has not gone out of history». The French professor also said he was afraid that «in future somebody will try to reformulate the principle in more politically correct fashion, maybe by draping it in Christianity». What do you say?
GALLI: Girard is a great scholar, thoroughly documented and rich in insights. I think that it is possible to conceive of a Nazism “draped in Christianity”, not least because Nazism with its specific characteristics is unrepeatable. And I don’t believe that the representative democracy can be put into crisis by authoritarian movements like those of the ’twenties and ’thirties. There is however the danger that in the western democracies the forms of democracy are kept up without the substance. Political parties won’t be banned any longer, civil liberties will be guaranteed to a certain extent but, at the same time, there could be the danger that only the formulas of democracy remain and the substance disappears. There could be a non-democracy disguised as democracy. Likewise, Girard’s insight is plausible: just as it’s possible that an anti-democracy presents itself with apparently democratic features, so it’s possible that an anti-Christianity that despises victims as did Nazism, can actually operate by draping itself in Christian forms. I wouldn’t want to hazard myself in a field I don’t know, but I know that there are - and are ever more widespread - publications that express tendencies that I think can be described as “apocalyptic fundamentalist”. These tendencies might in some way prefigure a danger like the one Girard mentions. Some isolate features that came together in the spread of Nazism could reappear in that context.

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