The Return to Paganism in 19th and 20th Century Germany - A Documentary on the Origin of Nazi Belief

Nazi Religion

This post looks at the first part of a documentary series which documents the role of belief and religion in the late 1800's and early 1900's Germany through the Nazi reign. Interestingly, it makes clear that Nazism was inextricably tied up with a return to pagan Nordic imagery, and a "recovery" of the history of humanity. This recovered history is primarily a history of the ancient god-like "Aryan" race, and how the Third Reich was going to fulfill the prophecies of the past regarding its restoration and 1000 year reign. This was not only a set of beliefs, but the Christian culture and religious rituals of Germany were replaced by pagan ones. Sacraments, priests, relics, consecrations, and rituals all remained, they just became pagan versions. 

Please note that this post is in no way an endorsement of any of the ideas presented below from the documentary. I am doing research regarding the role of worldviews and beliefs in societies, especially at turn of the 20th Century, and how they can influence the actions of a population. This post is thus trying to present how Nazism influenced control over the German population by supplanting a Christian worldview with a pagan one.  

A Return to Paganism

The Hitler Youth used to sing: "No evil priest can prevent us from feeling that we are the children of Hitler. Away with incense and holy water. The swastika brings salvation on earth." In this song, we can clearly see in early 20th Century Germany that there was an attempt to supplant the imagery of Christianity with a new religious sense, a Germanic one represented in the swastika. The swastika was adopted by the Nazi party in 1920, but as a symbol had been spreading through Germany since late 1800's in connection to a deepening fascination with the pagan occult around Europe. Why was there an interest in the pagan origins of Europe? Well, the industrial revolution had changed life. Cities had become industrial slums which attracted thousands from the countryside to a new mode of living. "Progress" was the keyword of the day, one which would bring about a new world which promised a cure for the sufferings of the past through science, technology, and democracy. The businessman grew in power through the emergence of Capitalism, while traditional land owners, Church hierarchy, and state hierarchy were waning in their power and influence. Religion seemed to be in mortal danger as its beliefs were being questioned by the emergence of new science. 

Many people had become disillusioned by all of it. The end of Christian influence, the changing of the social and economic fabric, and the rising influence of science, and so they left to seek out a more ancient explanation for things. Of all places, many were going to Tibet in order to seek out a heritage of their past, paganism. There was one Russian adventurist (self proclaimed telepath) Madame Helena Potrovna Blavatsky who in 1888 wrote the book Secret Doctrine. She claimed that at a Himalayan monastery she had seen an ancient occult text which informed her of the secrets of the universe, as well as the future of humanity. The universe, she said, "has fallen from pure spirit into base matter, darkness, and chaos, but soon it will rise once more to reach the pinnacle of spirituality." 1 

The Aryan Root Race and Its Religious Runes

Blavatsky claimed that she learned this knowledge through initiation into the seven esoteric and primordial symbols of the universe, symbols which represented the seven stages of human history. The most important and strongest of these symbols was the swastika. In Tibetan mythology, the swastika is the sign of "Agni," the "god of the sun, fire, and creation." It is also considered to be the symbol of good fortune. Each cycle of creation in the universe has seven stages of human evolution to it which are called the "root races." Of course, the race that will bring humanity from dark to light was the "Aryan" race, represented by the swastika. The Aryans were the people of "light, order, and spirit." The documentary points out that at a Nuremburg rally in 1934 there was a mystical and "religious" theme to it, "the Triumph of the Will." "Pure will, the expression of the soul of the race will overcome the forces of darkness and chaos." 

Blavatsky became the founder of the "American Occult Society." She was published in a German periodical decades before the 1920's, and was the first publication to display the swastika on its cover. The Occult Society strove to introduce to Germany and Austria the occult doctrine of the Aryan. This worked with surprising effect as there were many Germans who had become trapped in Austria due to the Franco-Prussian war. Austria, at that point, had a larger Slav influence and culture which many of those of German origin found repulsive. In order to preserve their heritage, hundreds of "German-Austrian" societies are founded with the expressed mission of reviving ancient Germanic mythology. They hold pagan festivals, ancient rituals, follow a Germanic calendar, and most importantly firmly held to a belief that they belonged to Germany and should be reunited. One of these groups, called "Germanenbond," had over 100,000 members. 

That particular group was inspired by a man named Guido Von Listz who was born in 1848 in Austria. He was a proclaimed "mystic" who was said to have had visions into the past where he experienced initiation into the rites of the ancient German Teutons. There he learned of the old Norse religions and the worship of the god "Wotan," a god-magician and leader of the old heroes of Walhalla. Listz wanted to resurrect the cultic priesthood of Wotan by also recovering the understanding of "runes." Wotan had suffered in order to unlock the secret knowledge of the meaning of the primordial language of the runes. They were the ancient alphabet which had a magical symbolism for the Germanic people from the 2nd Century through the Middle Ages. The "Fa" rune was the rune of "wealth, wandering, and destruction." The "Uh" rune was that of "wild oxen, regeneration, and sacrifice." The "Noth" rune was the "compulsion of fate." The "Sig" rune was about the "rule of the sun and victory." 

Later on, the Nazis would adopt these symbols from Listz as their party and religious symbolism. The Sig rune was used for the Hitler Youth. The double Sig rune was the symbol for the SS. An "Apple" rune of inheritance was used to represent German soil and agriculture. The "Man" rune was used to represent death and replaced the Christian imagery of the cross. The most powerful of all the runes, though, was, of course, the swastika. Listz called the swastika, the "twice high holy secret of constant generation," as it helped whisk the cosmos into being through its fire, according to the Nordic tale of "mundelfiore." The SS soldiers were required to study and know the meaning of the runes. Consider this Nazi hymn: "The time of the cross is gone now, the sun whisk shall arise, and so with god we shall be free at last and gift our people back their honor." 

Guido Von Listz

By 1909 Listz was famous. Through his "research" he claimed that he saw evidence in the culture and architecture of Austria that it was clearly originally part of the German Aryans. In its nature could be seen signs of all the Germanic gods. And so these symbols begin to be produced. During World War I, many soldiers wore these amulets into battle, including swastika amulets. In Vienna a group forms dedicated to Listz which mass produces swastikas, known as the "Listz Society." Later, of course, this becomes, through Hitler, the official symbol of German Nationalism. 2

The Aryan Ideology Grows in Germany

Listz eventually united Maria Blavansky's teachings and terminology into his own. He replaces he use of the term "Teuton" with "Aryan." It is the German Aryan which is the recovery of the ancient race and the progress of humanity. They then must struggle to impose their higher race upon the lower ones in order to help humanity in its evolution. Listz: "The great war is the conflict that will purge the world of evil and herald the new age. ... Democracy and materialism will be destroyed on the battlefields of Europe. Victory will usher in a Aryo-German empire." 

By 1911, Listz had already described his future state. "A strict hierarchy in which leaders will be obeyed without question. It will be patriarchal, with full rights only for the male heads of families. Only Aryans will be entitled to citizenship. There will be strict laws to ensure the purity of the race. Every family will keep a record of its ancestry as proof of its Aryan blood." He also called WWI, "The holiest war." After the German loss at WWI, the banishment of the Kaiser, the harsh Treaty of Versailles, the constant fighting within the Wiemar Republic, and the collapse of the German economy, left them ripe for a new explanation of things. The population began to be possessed by this new Aryan ideology. A group forms called the "Secret German Order" in 1912. To become a part of this group one must prove their Aryan heritage and blood. They are physically examined for their Aryan characteristics. Later in 1918, the same group becomes the "Thule Society" which seeks to discuss and build this Nationalist ideology. They are dedicated to the teachings of Listz and their leader, Rudolf Von Sebottondorf, is quoted as saying, "Our god is Valvatta. He rune is the "R" rune. The R rune signifies Aryan. Primal fire, the sun, and the eagle. Thule will fight until the swastika victoriously out of the icy darkness." When the Nationalist rebellions break out in the next coming years, it will be the swastika that can be seen on their Helmets. In 1919 the Thule Society is officially formed as the "German Worker's Party" ... ten months later a man joins by the name of Adolf Hitler. 3

Formation of the NAZI Party 

Within four months after Hitler joins, it becomes the National Socialist German Workers Party and the swastika was adopted as its official symbol, representing the destiny of the Aryan race in creating and elevating the human race. By the 1920's the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin have also seeped into the Nazi consciousness. His explanations for the development of the human species also explained how the Aryan man had evolved higher than other men. The Aryan was the epitome of culture, courage, and spirituality. Race and inheritance are the explanatory laws of history. As the Nazis come into power they create new laws about citizenship. There are pure blooded Aryan citizens and non Aryans who weren't citizens, but subjects of state rule. There is not to be any intermarrying between Aryans and non Aryans in 1930's Germany in order to prevent Aryan blood from being diluted and corrupted. In fact, in 1935 Hitler established a foundation dedicated to the ancient heritage of Germany. They sought to find the origins of the "Nordic Indo-Germanic" race, and the extent to which the ancient Aryans had formed culture around the world. They traveled to South America, Tibet, Greece, Rome, and other places, concluding that all civilization was from the Aryans. They were the creators of it all, others only maintained that ancient culture, or were beast-like destroyers of civilized culture. 4

The Pagan Rites in Nazi Society 

In 1937, Alfred Rosenburg, the official ideologist of the Nazi party (and former Thule member) arranged a sacramental like ritual called the "sacred mystery of the swastika and Aryan heritage." "A new mythos is dawning. A mythos of the blood. The belief that the godly essence of man himself is to be defended through the blood. The Nordic race represents the mysterium which has overthrown and replaced the old sacraments." Instead of the Christian Gospels being taught and read to the youth, it was replaced by readings from Hitler's Mein Kampf. A mandatory youth organization for girls is created called the "League of German Neighbors." There, girls were taught mythical rites, as well as reenacted them. In 1939, even the word "Christmas" is banned. There is allowed no reference for children to angels, Christ, or shepherds. Rather, Christmas is turned into a "festival of light" in which the sun was worshiped. The solstices became holy days in the Nazi calendar. "We do not want to have any other god, only Germany.", said Hitler. In night-time rituals there are ceremonial fires lit and incantations recited by the population celebrating the symbol of fire and sun represented by the swastika. 

In reality, all swastika flags had to be "consecrated." In 1923, when the Nazis tried to overthrow the Bavarian government, 16 members were killed and a swastika flag was knocked down on the ground and soaked in their blood. This flag became the sacred relic of the SS, and all Nazi flags had to be touched to the "blood flag" in order to be consecrated for use by it. 

The Aryan Priesthood

As the Nazis begin to purify the human race, there must emerge a sacred priesthood to be an exemplar of the perfect Aryan. This is the SS, a mystical brotherhood. Each member must prove his German blood going back hundreds of years, as well as be in perfect physical condition, not even having a tooth filled. The new priests must be educated in racial biology, the mysticism of the Aryan ideology, and take a vow of obedience unto death. They are the guardians of the race, and will lead the development of humanity as the purest of the breed in the evolutionary process. 

All in all, the basic message of the Nazi party is that Hitler has been sent by providence to lay the foundations for the coming Aryan 1000 year Reich, the restoration of humanity. This can be seen in the Ancient Nordic prophecy according to Listz, "The strong one from above ends the faction. He settles everything with fair decisions. Whatever he ordains shall live forever." 5
1 - The Occult History of the Third Reich - Season 1 (1992)  Episode 1 - Film Rise Studios - Directors (Tracy Atkinson, Joan Baran, Dave Flitton) Staring (Patrick Allen) Amazon Prime - The Enigma of the Swastika. Minutes 1-10
2 - 11 - 20
3 - 21 - 30
4 - 31 - 40
5 - 41- 48