The strange ideas of Ariosophy were a mix of racist “Volkisch” ideas and Madame Blavatsky’s ideas about theosophy. (Like Nietszche’s ideas, Blavatsky’s were taken over and twisted by German occultists.) However, neither Nietszche nor Blavatsky would have supported the violence and suffering that the Nazis would later cause. In fact, Nietszche was against anti-Semitism and called German nationalism a “abyss of stupidity.”
Guido von List (1848–1919) and Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels (1874–1954) were the two main people behind Ariosophy. Both of them added the undeserved nobility-signifying “von” to the end of their names. List was born into a wealthy middle-class family in Vienna. He wanted Austria and Germany to be united again, and he hated both Jews and Christians because he thought they hurt German culture, spirituality, and territorial rights. List was a journalist by trade, but he also wrote novels about the ancient Teutons and the cult of Wotan. He came to call the Wotan cult’s hierarchy the Armanenschaft, which was based on his mistaken understanding of a Teutonic myth. In his book Germania, the Roman author Tacitus says that the Teutons thought they were related to the god Tuisco and his son Mannus. Mannus had three sons: Ingaevones, Hermiones, and Istaevones. The ancient German tribes were named after these three sons. List thought that these names were about the agricultural, intellectual, and military estates in the Germanic nation, even though he had no proof from scholars. The word “Armanenschaft” comes from the German word “Armanen,” which List used to translate the word “Hermiones,” which meant the intellectual or priestly estate. List said that the ancient society was run by the Armanenschaft, which was made up of very wise people.
List’s attempt to write down what he thought about the ancient and racially pure Teutons led to a deep interest in the symbolism of heraldry and the secrets said to be in the runic alphabet. This interest included the mystical meaning of the swastika, which he connected (at least in terms of its power and meaning) to the Christian Cross and the Jewish Star of David. By 1902, List had given a lot of thought to the nature of the proto-Aryan language he thought was written in the ancient runes. This was because he had to be inactive for eleven months after a cataract operation left him blind.
His occult, racist, and mystical ideas, such as an explanation of the Aryan proto-language, did not go over well with the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna, which sent back his thesis without comment. Still, anti-Semitic people in Germany and Austria started to pay attention, and in 1907, a group called the List Society was formed to help pay for his research. List’s fake history and archaeology gave racism and extreme nationalism a pseudo-scientific basis and let the German Volk trace their ancestry back to the splendor and racial purity of the ancient Teutons and their Wotanism religion.
Most of the cult of Wotan came from List’s ideas about the ancient Teutons’ religious practices. He thought that Christians in early medieval Germany had persecuted the Teutons because of their religion. List thought that the Eddas, which are poems written in Old Norse and are found in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, were really just records of the myths of the ancient Germans. The Eddas were made up of songs, poetry books, and historical works that told the story of the ancient Teutonic pantheon of gods and the many other gods who helped them. In fact, we know very little about the myths and beliefs of the German and Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Conventional studies of mythology say that there aren’t many written sources about the Germanic tribes of the West, who were the ancestors of the Germans and the Anglo-Saxons. Latin historians like Caesar and Tacitus only had second-hand information, so they tried to explain the religion of the Teutons in terms of the religion of the Romans. For example, Donar, the god of thunder, became Jupiter to them. Woden was called Mercury, and Tiw, who was a sky god, was called Mars. From the eighth century on, missionaries, monks, and clerks worked to convert people to Christianity. At the same time, they were the first people to write the German language. If they had wanted to, they could have told us everything we need to know about early German mythology. But the most important thing for them was to save souls. So, they didn’t talk much about pagan myths unless they were bad. We wouldn’t know much about old German beliefs if “popular” stories and epics hadn’t kept alive a lot of what they said about secondary gods, demons, giants, and all kinds of spirits.
In the Eddas, Wotan was the god of war. His name comes from a word in all Germanic languages that means “to be angry,” which is what the word “wuten” means in modern German. Wotan learned about the runes after he was hurt by a spear and hung from a tree for nine nights. He told the other gods about the 18 runic spells that held the secrets to being immortal, unbeatable in battle, able to heal, and in charge of the elements.
In Norse mythology, the runes are not just a way to write, but they also have magical power. Goodrick-Clarke calls List “the pioneer of volkisch rune occultism” because he was the first person to connect the runes of a certain written series to Wotan’s runic spells. List gave each of Wotan’s verses a specific rune, along with occult meanings and a short summary of the spell. The rediscovered religion of Wotanism was supposed to be based on these occult meanings and mottoes, which were supposed to represent its beliefs and rules. “Know yourself, then you know everything!” and “Man is one with God” were common sayings. ‘
The main idea of Wotanism was that the Universe was cyclical and went through a series of changes: “birth,” “being,” “death,” and “rebirth.” This cyclical view of the universe was a basic rule and showed that God was present in nature. Since people were a part of the universe, they had to follow its rules and live in harmony with nature. It was thought that being close to nature would lead to a strong sense of identity with one’s people and race.
List also used ideas from Theosophy to make Wotanism, especially those of Max Ferdinand Sebaldt von Werth, who wrote a lot about the sexuality of Aryans and the purity of their race. Sebaldt thought that the god Mundelfori created the Universe and that its basic nature was the interaction of opposites, like matter and spirit, male and female, etc. Because of this, Aryan superiority could only be achieved by marrying two people of different races. In September 1903, List wrote an article for the Viennese occult magazine Die Gnosis that drew heavily on this idea and talked about the ancient Aryan view of the universe and sexuality. The different parts of this worldview were shown by different versions of the swastika, which is the Hindu symbol for the Sun. List took this symbol and changed it to represent the unbeatable and racially pure Germanic hero.
List was also influenced a lot by stories about lost civilizations and continents that sank, such as the stories of Atlantis and Lemuria, and by Madame Blavatsky’s theosophical writings. He even said that Wotanist priests were like the hierophants in Blavatsky’s book The Secret Doctrine. Theosophical ideas were also the basis of his 1910 book Die Religion der Aryo-Germanen. In this book, he spent a lot of time talking about the Hindu cosmic cycles that had inspired Blavatsky’s idea of “cosmological rounds.” List linked the four rounds of fire, air, water, and earth to “the mythological Teutonic realms of Muspilheim, Asgard, Wanenheim, and Midgard, which were inhabited by fire dragons, air gods, water giants, and humans, respectively.”
In the Nordic story of how the world was made, these realms are at the center. At the beginning of time, there was only a huge, gaping void. The land of clouds and shadows, Niflheim, formed to the north of the abyss, while the land of fire, Muspilheim, formed to the south. When Ymir, the first living thing and the father of all the giants, died in battle, his body rose from the sea and became Midgard, the earth. List says that the ArioGermans were the fifth race in this round. The four races before them were the legendary Teutonic giants.
Wotanist doctrine said that the Universe naturally evolved from one thing to many things and back to one thing. The first stage of this change, from one thing to many, was symbolized by triskelions, swastikas, and inverted triangles that moved counterclockwise.
The second stage was when the godhead went from being made up of many people to being just one person. In this system, the Ario-German was thought to be the highest form of life because he was at the “zenith of multiplicity at the end of the cycle.”
List was a strong believer in the lost civilizations of Atlantis and Lemuria. He said that the prehistoric megaliths of Lower Austria were actually Atlantean artifacts.
In his book Die Ursprache der Ario-Germanen (The Proto-Language of the Ario-Germans) from 1914, he included a chart that compared the geological periods of Earth to a Hindu kalpa (4,320,000,000 years), which was also the same as a single theosophical round. Later in this chapter and in the next, we’ll talk more about the Ariosophist belief in lost civilizations.
For now, let’s talk about the other important person in Ariosophy, List’s young follower Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels. In 1907, he started the Order of the New Templars and published the anti-Semitic hate paper Ostara. Liebenfels grew up in the middle class in Vienna, like his mentor List. Later, he would lie about his background and say he was from the upper class.
Liebenfels chose Burg Werfenstein, a ruin on a cliff on the Danube River between Linz and Vienna, as the headquarters for the Order of the New Templars. He was obsessed with the idea of a Manichaean war between the “blond” race, which was creative and brave, and the “beast-men,” who were dark and lusted after “blond” women and wanted to ruin human culture. Liebenfels started the racist magazine Ostara (named after the pagan goddess of spring) two years earlier. In it, he often called for the “blond race” to become the dominant force in the world again. This could only be done through racial purity, forcing inferior races to have babies or kill them, and destroying socialism, democracy, and feminism.
Because of these racist worries, Liebenfels came up with the strange idea of starting a knightly order based on the religious and military orders of the Crusades. Goodrick-Clarke says that Liebenfels has been interested in the Middle Ages and its parade of knights, noblemen, and monks since he was a child. Much of his decision to join the Cistercian noviciate came from these feelings, and it’s likely that his desire as an adult to feel like a member of the upper class came from similar fantasies. Liebenfels’s fantasies also involved holy orders, so it’s not surprising that he was very interested in the Order of the Knights Templar. The medieval Grail Romances, which were very popular at the time because Richard Wagner used them in his operas, helped to spark this interest. Liebenfels and many of his contemporaries thought that these romances were important because they showed the Grail Knights as people who were looking for high and eternal values. This view was a powerful antidote to the modern world, which Liebenfels and his contemporaries hated because of its rampant industrialization and materialism.
During the Crusades, the Knights Templar were the most famous and admired order in Christendom. Liebenfels made up a story in which these knights became the leaders of a racist fight for a Germanic order that would rule over the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Goodrick-Clarke says that in 1913, he published a short study in which the grail was seen as an electrical symbol related to the “panpsychic” powers of the pure-blooded Aryan race. The “Templeisensearch “‘s for the Grail was a metaphor for the Templar knights’ strict eugenic practices, which were meant to make god-men. Before 1914, the Templars had become the most important part of sexo-racist gnosis.
Lanz von Liebenfels thought that the brutal destruction of the Knights Templar and the taking of their money and property showed that people of a lower race had won against a group of brave men. The result was chaos between different races, the corruption of “Judeo-Christian” civilization, and the chaos of the modern world. Because of this, Liebenfels decided to bring the Order back to life by making his Ordo Novi Templi (ONT). He said that the Order was a “Aryan mutual-aid organization” that was set up to promote racial awareness through genealogical and heraldic research, beauty contests, and the creation of racist utopias in poor parts of the world.
In the beginning, the ONT was mostly used for festivals and concerts. Hundreds of people came from Vienna by steamer to take part. They were often written about in the news, which gave Liebenfels and the racist ideas in Ostara a bigger audience. People could only join the ONT if they could prove they were of pure Aryan blood and if they swore to look out for the interests of their (racial) brothers.
Two years before he started the ONT, Liebenfels wrote a very strange book called Theozoologie oder die Kunder von den Sodoms-Afflingen und dem Gotter-Elektron. The word “theo-zoology” came about when Judaeo-Christian beliefs and the principles of the then-growing field of life sciences were put together. Liebenfels divided his book into two parts based on the Old and New Testaments. The first part is about how Adam created a race of “beast-men” (Anthropozoa) that gave rise to humans. Liebenfels’s twisted and strange view of ancient times was based on new scientific discoveries like radio communication and radiation, which at the time had a strong hold on people’s imaginations.
Liebenfels used these discoveries to write about the gods. He said that they were not gods at all, but rather higher forms of life (called Theozoa) with amazing mental abilities, such as telepathy (which was actually the transfer of electrical signals between the Theozoa’s brains). Through mixing with the beast-men of Adam, these god-men slowly lost their telepathic abilities over the course of thousands of years, until their pineal and pituitary glands shrank to the size of those of modern humans. Goodrick-Clarke points out that Liebenfels’s statement was partly based on the work of the zoologist Wilhelm Bolsche (1861–1939), who seems to have been influenced by Theosophy. In any case, Liebenfels thought that the only way for Germans to get back to being gods was to force “inferior races” to get sterilized or castrated so that their blood wouldn’t mix with pure Aryan blood.
The second part of Liebenfels’s book was about the life of Christ, whose powers were once again electrical, and the redemption of the Aryan people, who had been corrupted by the sexual activities of the other races of Earth. The traditional Judeo-Christian idea of the struggle between good and evil was replaced by the idea that the Aryans had to fight against the bad habits of other races. Liebenfels argued for the most extreme ways to re-deify the Aryans. He said that the poor and less fortunate people in society were the children of the inferior races, so they should be killed (by burning them as a sacrifice to God), sent away, or made to work as slaves. This was the opposite of the traditional Jewish and Christian compassion for the poor, weak, and disabled. It was a new form of Social Darwinism, based on the idea that the strongest survive at the expense of the weakest. Liebenfels suggested these horrible ways to make sure only pure-blooded Aryans lived.
Of course, the Third Reich would make these horrible ideas a horrible reality.
List’s and Liebenfels’s ideas were inherently violent and hateful, but they were still just ideas. Many of their followers became more and more restless and unhappy with their lack of action against what they saw as a threat to the Aryan race from inferior beings with whom they had to share their country, especially the Jews, who were blamed for the evils of urbanization, industrialization, and the threat to the traditional rural way of life of the Aryan peasant-hero. Many people came to think that the time for academic theories was over and that it was now time for direct action.