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The Sorcerer's Realm

3: Lucifer's Unholy Grail: Adolf Hitler and the Reign of the Occult

by Sophie Masson

Adolf Hitler is like no other sorcerer-dictator in the metaphysical history of tyranny. In a secular age which rejected the ancient images of Satan, he became, in the modern imagination, not just a master sorcerer, but the source of black magic itself. He became the Devil. Horns and tail were replaced by cold, glittering eyes, a tiny black moustache and a mesmerising voice. If you think that's overstated, consider how even now, people are made uncomfortable, even scared, by attempts to portray him as just a man. And it's not just in Germany where superstitious terror and awe seem still to surround his name and memory. International reaction to such recent films as Max or The Downfall show that clearly.

Hitler was fascinated by the occult and the magical all his life. His personal library, part of which was preserved after the war and which is held in the Library of Congress in Washington, contains many books on myths, magic, esoteric metaphysics, and so on. A voracious, idiosyncratic reader, he was also ruthlessly selective in what he took from occult 'thinkers' and was arrogantly convinced of his own superior insights; there was never any question of Hitler's becoming anybody's disciple. He was always going to be the Master. And, as a man of action, he was not at all content with sitting in dingy rooms in black robes, long-windedly expounding about Wotan, or chanting silly invocations to demonic spirits: no, he was actually going to do what others only talked about. He was going to impose his version of the metaphysical battle of the universe on the whole world; the occult would no longer be symbol, wish, dream and nightmare, but actual, lived and living reality; a reality he was prepared to murder millions for, to bring hideous damnation down on his supposedly beloved Germany; and to die for himself, in a manner of his own choosing. That he succeeded beyond measure in his aim of making the occult into reality rather than vision is evident in his image as the Devil of the modern world.

The Nazi leader's interest in the occult went back a long way. One of his earliest extant writings is a 1915 poem, written while he was still in the trenches, which rambles on about Wotan, (the Germanic All-Father god, known to the Norse as Odin), magic spells, runes, and the like. He was very interested in pagan religion, most especially the Germanic, Norse and Celtic ones - and if he knew of psychologist CG Jung's identification of him as actually representing Wotan, the dark, cruel force of the German unconscious, he was probably pleased by it. But though Nazi philosophy and practice was at root anti-Christian, Hitler was not like SS founder Heinrich Himmler who proposed to completely de-Christianise Germany, and indeed went a long way to making his feared SS into reverse-image pagan Grail Knights. Born to a devout Catholic mother, Hitler was never comfortable with the underlying meaning of the Christian religion, considering it the 'faith of slaves', but he plundered it shamelessly for images, ideas and archetypes. Instinctively, he knew that a combination of folk Christianity and resurrected paganism would best suit his purposes. Instinctively, too, he knew he had an extraordinary kind of occult, or psychic power; a thaumaturgic ability to inspire terror and loyalty in almost equal measure, and he used it to the full.

The occult roots and branches of Nazism are extensive, and would fill many books (and indeed have - one of the most comprehensive being Peter Levenda's Unholy Alliance - a History of Nazi Involvement with the Occult). There is no doubt that Hitler and his cronies were greatly influenced by magicians, fortune-tellers, esoteric mish-mash philosophers, occult leaders, quack anthropologists, and popular mythologists. Some of the stories and themes they were fascinated by have uncomfortably New Age echoes today, such as the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati; or a veneration for trees and forests, and a conviction that Christianity is anti-the natural world; or that Jesus did not die on the cross but went off with Mary Magdalen; or that the lost treasure of the Cathar heretics in the South of France was actually the Holy Grail of medieval legend. In a bizarre touch which shows that Indiana Jones films are not actually quite as far-fetched as one might think, Himmler actually sent SS troops to ruined Cathar strongholds such as Montsegur to search for the Grail -which he was convinced was not a Christian object at all but a magically potent relic of some ancient solar cult, Aryan of course, which had been passed down through ranks of initiates over the centuries.

His boss, in 1944 when Germany was staring down the barrel of total defeat, actually diverted much-needed SS troops in Italy to search for yet another occultly significant object - the manuscript of Tacitus' Germania, which details the exploits of the turncoat Germanic chieftain, Arminius who inflicted a terrible, gruesome defeat on the Romans in the Teutoburger Forest. Years before, Hitler had tried to cajole Mussolini into giving him this manuscript, which he was obsessed with as a manifestation of the German soul and which he thought would function as a talisman of protection. But Il Duce, mindful of Italian pride in the Romans, had stalled his brother tyrant's demand; then prudently had the Germania manuscript hidden. Tear apart Italy though the SS might, they never found the manuscript, which reappeared shortly after the war.

Sophie Masson's latest novel is Snow, Fire, Sword (Random House Australia).

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