Hitler’s Knights: A Brief History of Nazi Mythology

How did Germany collapse into WW2? Thanks to meticulous historians’ investigations, the genesis of the conflict is now widely understood: economic stagnation, combined with revanchist ambitions and heinous propaganda shaped the springboard from which Hitler rose to power. But other factors contributed to spread the Aryan myth and legitimate Nazi authority, some of which involve occultism and ancient mythology.

Most of the concepts, symbols and ideas that National Socialism (later to be called Nazism) introduced find their origins in the late-19th century. Germany had been parceled out for a long time, but following its victory during the Franco-Prussian war, it started to bring the pieces together. Its identity reborn, a new intellectual current emerged: the völkisch movement (from the word ‘Volk’, people), stressing the importance of Germanic roots – and boasting about some sort of inherited superiority and purity.

Ancient Germans were glorified: the Goths, who triggered the fall of Rome, as well as the Teutonic Knights, who conquered Slav countries during medieval times, were to become role models as Germany entered the 20th century. A belligerent temperament illustrated by the words of Adolf Hitler himself, who stated in Mein Kampf: “the new Reich must again set itself on the march along the road of the Teutonic Knights, to obtain by the German sword sod for the German plow and daily bread for the nation.” A foretaste of the Führer’s ambitions towards the East…

Hitler knights
To complete the picture, Nazi propaganda often featured knights. (Source: bc.edu and Olive Drab)

In addition were designed the future ‘standards of Nazism’. The swastika, a thousand-year-old symbol of peace across civilizations, became in 1912 the insignia of the Germanenorden, a secret society whose racist ideology later inspired Nazi doctrines. That symbol, to this day banned from public life, used to decorate cathedrals and synagogues – it was even handed out as a lucky charm prior to the war! The same political group also edited an Anti-Semitic newspaper, Der Hammer, in reference to the powerful weapon of Thor, one of the main characters of Norse mythology. That tool was also sewed onto the flag of Hitler Youth – a brigade of young boys and girls learning the Nazi way from age 10.

Rooted in legends and wrapped up with mysticism, those elements of German identity hid a devastating goal: that the so-called Aryan ‘master race’ exerted domination over others. Even the emblem of the Waffen-SS, which at first glance looks like the thunderbolt-shaped initials of the squad, actually displays Siegel runes, from an ancient Germanic alphabet shrouded in mystery and magic. Yes, in its early days, the Nazi Party pretty much walked in the footsteps of a fantasy author. Under the pretext of resurrecting old customs and bringing Germany back to its traditions, the whole process aimed at ‘Nazifying’ society – through a very propaganda-backed marketing strategy – and eventually handing Hitler the world on a silver platter.

Nordic mythology and nazi propaganda
Swords, vikings and Norse mythology: the magic bullet for Nazi recruitment posters in Scandinavian countries. (Source: WorldWarEra)

To further legitimate Nazi authority, science had to come into play. In 1935, a research group known as Ahnenerbe (‘ancestral heritage’) was founded in Germany, gathering experts from various expertise fields. Hence the involvement of biologists, archeologists, astronomers, zoologists, runologists, and other scientists into the birth of the Third Reich. The think tank was led by Heinrich Himmler (also head of the Waffen-SS, a shadowy character fascinated by occultism) and it was tasked with ‘scientifically’ proving the Aryan race’s supremacy over other people.

It may sound crazy, but Himmler actually went on scientific trips across Europe and Asia to locate vestiges of a mythical Aryan civilization, and trace back its origins. Did the Ahnenerbe scientists find anything? Indeed. Were their scientific methods flawed? Obviously. Most of the ‘discoveries’ were intended to match Hitler’s radical political strategy, and it featured pseudoscience methods such as anthropometry. Compared to their findings, the whole Indiana Jones franchise looks like a documentary.

Bruno Beger nazi anthropometrics
Anthropometry involved taking body measurements to result in ‘races hierachization’. As exemplified here by Bruno Beger in the 1938 Tibet expedition. (Photo: Bundesarchiv via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

However, the marvelous fortune said to await the Aryans’ descendants slowly faded away as WW2 came to its end. In a hurry to delete all traces of their propaganda activities, members of the Ahnenerbe (as well as several other secret societies which had flourished throughout the 1930s) burned most of the supposed scientific documents they had flooded Hitler with. Hence the lack of information we currently have at our disposal related to Germany’s nationalist outburst prior to the war, and the occult traditions it promoted.

With the benefit of hindsight, let us be careful before we judge the Germans’ sudden surge of mysticism in the immediate aftermath of WW1 too harshly. At the time, the New Age movement was on the rise, bringing about Hinduist and Buddhist spirituality as well as many mystical practices and beliefs – cartomancy and astrology, for instance – which blurred the frontier between hard sciences and occult rituals. A vulnerability that the architects of National-Socialism did not fail to exploit, promoting racial doctrines, rewriting history, resurrecting forgotten myths, ancient symbols and Germanic pagan cults to their own advantage.

Petra Indiana Jones nazi esoterism
“Archeology is the search for fact, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s Philosophy class is right down the hall. So forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever marks the spot.” – Indiana Jones

However this hazy body of mysticism concealed a cold, calculated project: the Holocaust. The knights of Hitler did not walk into the footsteps of their Teutonic ancestors driven by some indistinct sense of belonging, some altruistic wish to resurrect German prestige. And apart from Himmler who appeared to be an enthusiastic disciple of occultism – he owned stacks of books covering witches and magic rituals – none of the high-ranking Nazis have ever been ‘possessed’ by those exotic spiritualties. As for the secret societies of Thule or the Germanenorden, often brought about to mix Nazism and occultism together, they were as much racist, Anti-Semitic and Pan-Germanic political entities as they were groups shrouded in mystery. The answer to Nazi cruelty cannot be found lurking in the shadows, but in plain sight of everybody.




Author: Nicolas

Ingrédients : 33% d'anecdotes insolites, 19% de livres poussiéreux, le reste de curiosité névrosée. Auteur du Petit dictionnaire des sales boulots (Vendémiaire, 2022). Chroniqueur chez Slate et RetroNews.

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