A Desire for a Primitive Age - Gods and Beasts, The Nazis and the Occult - Ch. 2 by Dusty Sklar
Giants in the Earth
Chapter two of Dusty Sklar's work gives more background into 19th Century Germany and why the occult grew in popularity. Fundamentally, her claim is that the German identity was being lost with the collapse of the aristocracy, the industrialization an influx to the cities, the abandonment of the old ways of life, the influx of immigrant Jews, and the sweeping power of the Materialist science of the time. Thus, people longed for a return to a previous age, a golden age, and therefore became interested in the German past. Now combine that with electric personalities who claim to have secret knowledge that explains everyone's problems, the whole history of the universe, and simultaneously elevates the German lineage above others, you have an a proposition that enticed a lot of people.
A quick note, I do not support any of the ideas below. I am simply doing research for my master's thesis on the role of worldviews and beliefs in society.
The Rapid Industrialization of Germany
"German occult groups did not appear out of nowhere. They had historical antecedents. The new Aryan hero trumpeted by List and Lanz owed his birth to the unholy marriage of the early Hindu ideas of racial purity and Darwin's concept of evolution, which was consummated in the nineteenth century Europe where German romantics, in particular, were fascinated with racial theories."
Germany was one of the few countries in Western Europe which had one foot still in the Middle Ages when the Industrial Revolution took hold. Much of their agriculture and production was still of the past era, though much of the farming lands had since the 17th Century been consolidated into fewer hands, leaving many people in poverty. Thus, when industry took over in the cities, there were many free hands who could get up and the leave the countryside and come live in the cities and work in the factories. As is the case with this type of population shift towards cities, many of the traditions and values of the past were left behind as well. Add to that the rapid development of the physical sciences in the 19th Century and a movement to explain all realities with the scientific method, religious values were also beginning to wane. "The industrial revolution happened more rapidly in Germany than anywhere else. It went from mining 1.5 million metric tons of coal in 1850, for instance, to 30 million in 1871. From a backward, predominantly agricultural country, it grew almost overnight into a modern industrial state ..." 1
Turning to the Far East
Given this rapidly changing landscape of values, the Romantic spirit of the 19th Century was open to influences. They turned toward the east. European rule and exploration into the far east provided an enchanting peace which griped many Germans. Interest in Egypt, Persia, India, and [Tibet] all grew during this time. Egyptian symbology, Persian love poems, and ancient Hindu texts all were signs of a previous age of wonder. "The romantics could not have been more pleased, longing as they were for just such a golden age. 'It is to the East,' wrote Friedrich Schlegel in 1800, 'that we must look for the supreme Romanticism." 2
This new hope for spirituality and the rebirth of a new age gave some hope to a people who were experiencing upheaval and rapid change. "The spiritual journey to the East, undertaken by many German scholars, philosophers, and men of letters, brought a new mythology to a politically, economically, and socially despairing country..." As many in the 19th Century did, they romanticized the Middle Ages, a time when God, man, art, and culture had been unified and embodied a cheerful innocence. Along with this hopeful vision of wisdom and peace from the far East came, though, many doctrines and ideas that were not so peaceful. One of the ideas that took hold in Germany was an ancient Hindu doctrine regarding racial purity of the aristocratic class. Some German scholars began to claim that their ancient ancestors had contact with the ancient Hindu people of the far East and thus these doctrines, gods, and mystical symbols were also their own. One such scholar regarding the East, though French, Arthur de Gobineau, claimed that racial interbreeding was the cause of the fall of civilizations in history. He speculated that it was outside peoples who must have corrupted their great ancient ancestors. He blamed the Semites and the blacks for the destruction of culture in the past.
Gobineau not only gave academic credibility, in their eyes, to these theories, but he also gave a justification for the failure of the current nobility for failing to purify their people from the racial staining that had occurred. "Even the caste system in India, he claimed, had not been sufficiently stringent to protect the ruling elite from the defiling blood of the dark-skinned races they had subjugated. His ideas penetrated throughout Germany. The German Romantics, given a shot in the arm by Gobineau, could now view themselves as a natural aristocracy replacing the older, outmoded feudal aristocracy, which no longer accorded well with the idea of progress. After all, the Teutons, whom Gobineau equated with the Aryans, were the superior race." 3
In the early 1800's the Jews received emancipation and equality in German, causing many of them to flee from other countries in Europe to Germany. But to a country with a struggling economy anyway, this also bred a type of resentment towards the Jews as they became successful at times when other Germans were not. 4 These lower class Germans could claim some worth in that by their birth they were of superior stock, even if they were not more successful than the Jewish immigrants. Gobineau gave them a "credible" reason to be upset with the Jews, as he purposed that the Jews were going to ruin the German bloodline.
The Pan-German Movement
Gobineau gave fuel to the Volkisch, or pan-German movement, with his racial theories, but he wasn't the only "academic" doing so at the time. There is the English writer, Houston Stewart Chamberlin, who, in love with German culture, also proposed a history for the German people. Not surprisingly, he claimed that the ancient German Teutons were the builders of culture and the mystics of the world. He also appealed to Darwin's theories as proof that the lower races should not corrupt the German blood. Another influential academic of the time was the Russian Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. She believed that she had the powers of a spiritual medium, and with her gift of languages wandered around Europe and the far East in search of ancient wisdom. Eventually she even came to New York to investigate and research "Spiritualism," founding the Theosophical Society in New York. 5 "Depleted of financial resources, if not of energy, she delivered up an unlikely package of Hinduism, Gnosticism, and pseudoscience which had a tremendous impact on the intelligentsia of the West. ... Her ideas, about ancient lost races with secret knowledge of the ultimate nature of reality, the immortal soul perfecting itself through endless rebirths, and mastery of superhuman powers which could unlock the secrets of the universe, if they had been presented by traditional organized religions, would not have been credited. But people were perfectly willing to suspend disbelief of a huge Russian countess with magnetic eyes who smoked cigars and used bawdy language." 6
Blavatsky's Cosmic Doctrines
Blavatsky used Darwin's Origin of Species as a foundation for her mystical occultism, creating a type of "spiritual evolutionary history." The evolutionary development of the spirit would result in the divinity of man, a process which she claimed had been going on since the beginning of the universe. There were different races who all took part in this process over time. She embraced the traditional Gnostic view that matter was evil and the spirit was good, thus the evolutionary process towards mysticism and spiritual divinity. It was matter that interrupted the evolutionary progress of the spirit, a "fall" type event which generated three classes of men, Spiritual, Psychic/Animal, and Carnal. The Carnal men were totally corrupted with no spark of the spirit or divinity in them, irredeemable ultimately.
Where did the "fall" come from? "Matter, according to the Gnostics, was not the creation of the supreme god but of a demiurge, an inferior divinity. A famous medieval Gnostic sect, the Cathars, came to identify the Old Testament God, Jehovah, with the demiurge, the creator of the material world, and therefore the equivalent of Satan. Within Gnosticism, then, existed the idea that the Jewish God was really the devil, responsible for all the evil in the world." Blavatsky claimed that the Jewish interpretation of God, being close to material human beings, was the opinion of a small tribe of the ancient world, but had taken over. The real truth was the universal paganism of the ancient world. Reflecting on ancient times, Blavatsky also held that there were races of giants from whom the Aryans had descended. 7 "She held that since the days of the giants, whose descendants the Aryans were, there had been an unbroken succession of semi-immortal 'adepts' living in secret cities in Tibetan mountains. It was they who had appointed her as their emissary." In a time when traditional religion was under attack from the Materialistic claims of the sciences, Blavatsky was able to recapture the desires of the people for something more. She made occultism respectable. Along with the occultism in Germany was a large devotion to Darwin's work. It was rapidly received in German society with praise, and became the groundwork for so many of their thoughts and productions in the sciences.
The Messianic Strong One
Since the Germans were the descendants of the higher race, it was up to them to continue to fight the battle of the purity of spiritual evolution. They were the fittest, and were the hope of mankind to restore true civilization and do away with the inferior races devolving human instead of evolving it. Guido Von List, familiar with Judaism, claimed an ancient prophecy which paralleled Judaic messianism. A resurrected soldier of the past would return and be the messiah of the German people, leading them into a new time period of purity once again. "His secular Messianic nationalism was taken seriously by many confused apostles. The German people were to take their place at the head of all nations, act as their leader, and move them toward civilization. They were the chosen people, and soon a Fuhrer would arise among them who, in turn, would lead the Messianic nation." 8
As part of the pan-German movement, there were many groups that felt called to return to the past. They idolized the Medieval German Teutons who were supposedly close to the land, free of corruption that the cities brought, filled with folks tales, songs, and poetry on their lips, giving heed to the imagination over reason. "Primitive German institutions and folklore were eagerly studied. Whereas, for primitive peoples, nature often represented primordial chaos, and therefore the enemy, these neo-primitives idealized nature and anathematized the city as profane, an aberrant discovery of modern man in his wickedness."
List also claimed that he special powers of communicating with ghosts on the ancient German land, as well as the power to understand the meaning of the past, giving a connection to this previous age. Both List and Lanz presented the Jews as the embodiment of the industrial age which subverted this previous golden age of Germany. Something had to be done with them! Their followers pushed to have Jews removed from different aspects of society, with some even claiming a need for a "final solution" in dealing with this problem. 9 While it may seem odd to marry German nationalism with occultism, it's not as strange as it might seem. "Each represents a nostalgia for a lost paradisical state, and a commitment to restoring that state in some millennial time. It is natural for people who feel uncertain about the future to look back sentimentally to a glorified past which they will try to relive."
To conclude chapter two, Sklar makes the point that the return to the spiritual occult makes sense given the domination of reason and Materialism in the 19th Century. Science alone is incomplete for the human person. "It is not at all unusual to find such feelings of Weltschmerz in those periods when reason seems to have failed us and death and disorder wait to swallow us up. At such times, an interest in the occult gains ground steadily and tries to reintegrate the shattered cosmos. This was the climate in Germany before World War I, and the war intensified it." 10
1 - Sklar, Dusty. Gods and Beasts, The Nazis & the Occult. Thomas Y. Crowell Company (New York, 1977). Pg. 7.
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