Have you ever noticed how fascinated Speculative, SciFi/Fantasy, and Thriller writers are about Nazis?
From Marvel’s Hydra to PKD’s The Man in the High Castle, from Indiana Jones to Wolfenstein, from The Boys from Brazil to Arrowverse’s Earth X to…you get the idea.
You could spend years working through that reading list.
And to be honest, I have.
FROM NEUSCHWANSTEIN TO WAGNER TO NAZI OCCULTISM BY WAY OF WALTER JOHANNES STEIN
Recently, while researching my own W.I.P. (which, yes, involves Nazis) I came across a cool article titled Real places that look like they belong in fairy tales. Of the places listed, the only one I’ve actually been to is Neuschwanstein Castle in Alpine Bavaria, built by Ludwig II (“Crazy Ludwig”) in the late nineteenth century. Ludwig intended the place as a sort of “Grail Castle” in honor of Germany’s leading musical interpreter of Arthurian and Norse myths, Richard Wagner, so famously beloved of Hitler.
WAGNER → PARZIVAL
Musing on this, I began to proceed down one of those familiar intellectual rabbit-holes that have marked so much of my W.I.P.’s research.
“Grail Castle” instantly made me think of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, Wagner’s take on the Grail Quest, coupled with the legend of the Spear of Destiny, the spear thrust into Christ’s side on the Cross. (Arrowverse, anyone?)
An aside: I’ve had a hard time warming up to—nay, tolerating—Wagner, at least when not performed by Bugs Bunny, but this Met Opera production starring Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal and René Pape as Gurnemanz really helped.
Back to the Grail and the Spear:
Like the Grail, the Spear is another powerful “magical talisman” for those so inclined.) Hitler actually possessed the Spear after the annexation of Austria in 1938, where he took it from the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. But I digress.
Anyway, that reminded me that Wagner’s opera was largely built on the version of the Percival/Grail stories served up by Wolfram von Eschenbach in his High Medieval romance (we would now call it “fantasy”) Parzival (another affiliate link), published in the first quarter of the 13th century. This was a generation after Chrétien de Troyes got the whole Grail thing rolling in France with his medieval romances/fantasies. It was Chrétien, in fact, who attached the Grail to the Arthur legend, while Wolfram added the bit with the Spear.
The Arthur/Grail/Spear legendarium was symbolically exploited, many centuries later, by Nazi propaganda in its ceaseless effort to elevate Hitler’s regime to quasi-mythical status.
But I digress again. Which is easy enough to do when one starts pondering these impenetrables.
PARZIVAL → DR. WALTER JOHANNES STEIN
Wolfram’s Parzival, it falls out, was also the subject of Dr. Walter Johannes Stein’s The Ninth Century and the Holy Grail. (And another affiliate link. Sorry.) Published in 1928 in German as Weltgeschichte im Lichte des Heiligen Gral. Das Neunte Jahrhundert, Stein’s book was intended as the first in a series on world history in the light of the Holy Grail, but Herr Dr. Stein never got beyond the first book. Possibly because, as a Jew, he was soon too busy trying to stay alive in the midst of Nazi genocide.
A student of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy and a teacher at one of Steiner’s Waldorf schools, Dr. Stein examines Wolfram’s work through an overtly esoteric (Steinerian) lens. As I read him, Stein sees the Percival/Grail story as something of an allegory, if that’s not too strong a word, for the soul’s journey towards initiation and spiritual enlightenment—a popular notion to this day, and one later picked up by the likes of Carl Jung, his wife Emma, and Joseph Campbell. I myself got almost three-quarters of the way through The Ninth Century before I decided I’d best first go brush up on my Steinerian Anthroposophy if I ever hoped to understand it. Having done some of that, I’ll be heading again into the ninth century anon.
But I digress again.
DR. STEIN → NAZI OCCULTISM
Anyhow, it turns out that Dr. Stein played a pivotal, if unwitting, role in turning the subject of Occult influence on Nazism into a cottage industry and popular trope.
In 1973, Stein’s fellow Anthroposophist, Trevor Ravenscroft, published The Spear of Destiny.
Based in large measure on Dr. Stein’s alleged reportage to Ravenscroft of his encounters with a young penurious street artist and wannabe Dark Wizard in post-WWI Vienna, the book was a rousing success. To this day, it is likely the first book the unwary reader comes across on the subject of Nazis and the Occult.
Oh, and if it wasn’t obvious, that penurious street artist in Vienna that Stein supposedly encountered? His name was Adolf Hitler.
And that’s probably the last thing I can report about the whole business with any confidence of factuality. Ravenscroft’s reportage is incredibly controversial, not the least because Dr. Stein’s papers, if they ever existed, are nowhere to be found, and Ravenscroft, according to investigative reporter Eric Wynants, later admitted that his “contact” with Stein was purely psychic in nature.
Such are the bunny trails one follows when one takes up this subject. It’s rather like being a character in an Umberto Eco novel.
Be all that as it may—back to Neuschwanstein—here’s a wonderful BBC documentary entitled, Fairytale Castles of Ludwig II:
Whew…stranger than fiction! I wonder what a good “starting” read on Anthroposophy would be?
Anthroposophy is an offshoot of Mme. Blavatsky’s Theosophy, and another rabbit hole all its own. For starters, I’d go to my go-to historian of the modern occult, Gary Lachman. His book on Steiner’s life and work is short but excellent introduction.
Here’s a link: https://bookshop.org/a/14690/9781585425433
After that, I suppose Steiner’s foundational work is How to Know Higher Worlds. It’s available as a free .pdf here: https://quotebanq.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/how_to_know_higher_worlds.pdf
My personal caveat: Steiner is keen on having folks experience “higher” worlds on one’s lonesome, like a scientific explorer mapping unknown territory. But there’s dangerous terrain and scary critters out there. Hic sunt dragones. I shudder to think of venturing out without a Gandalf on one’s left and an Aragorn on one’s right.
I love the image of Gandalf on one side and Aragorn on the other. And, perhaps a legion of good angels!!!
Fascinating! I love the comparison to being in an Umberto Eco novel… I was definitely getting “Foucault’s Pendulum” vibes from this post!
Haha, I just started listening to the Tim Curry audiobook again.
This is a great unpacking of a very strange and troubling “rabbit hole”: the occult and the Nazi preoccupation with it.
You have the capacity to “stomach” the bizarre personalities and notions that you share with a wonderful dose of humor!
I gain much from your distillation, as a highly trusted “secondary source”!
Keep highlighting the weirdness of conspiracy theories and various forms of the will to power. We all need to know about them, and have their deceptions exposed.
And yes indeed, we have our own new Big Lie to deal with right now, and are pummeled on a daily basis with a plethora of conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies, each loonier than the last. This is truly one area in which our present moment echoes the 1920s and 1930s.
Thanks for drawing the parallel between the rise of Nazism and our “present moment.” It’s a time for keen vigilance and prudent action (e.g., communicating with legislators). Democracy is a verb, as the late and great Congressman John Lewis observed. It has to be enacted constantly.
The interrelationships between Nazism, the occult, mythology, and Steinerian philosophy are truly fascinating. Here’s another great documentary on (part of) this subject. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ieXR3L_DLHk
Thanks for the blog!
Ah yes, the Cauldron of Chiemsee and Wewelsburg! Man, that’s another whole set of warrens in the rabbit hole! Thanks for reminding me of that vid, I must watch it again.