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The Magical World of Heinrich Himmler

by Liam Rogers
(Published at Lughnasa 2000)

Martin Bormann's fourteen-year-old son was a passionate young Nazi going into that day in 1944. He was staying up at the Nazi leaders' compound on Obersalzberg, whilst on holiday from his boarding school in Bavaria, when he saw something that brought the horrors of the National Socialist regime shockingly home to him. He, with his mother and younger sister, were invited by Himmler's mistress, Hedwig Potthast, to see the Reichsführer's special collection in the attic of his new house there. Martin Bormann Jr told this horrific story to a therapy group of the children of former high-ranking Nazis in 1990:

"When she opened the door and we flocked in, we didn't understand what the objects in the room were - until she explained ... It was tables and chairs made out of parts of human bodies. There was a chair ... the seat was a human pelvis, the legs human legs - on human feet. Then she picked up a copy of Mein Kampf ... she showed us the cover - made of human skin, she said - and explained that the Dachau prisoners who made it used the ... skin of the back to make it." [Sereny]

This, then, was the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler's collection of mementoes from the concentration camps and extermination centres that killed and tortured millions of innocent people - crimes for which he was directly responsible.

Himmler: the man behind the Holocaust

His gruesome collection sits rather oddly with the picture of the man we see from those who knew him. Many have described Himmler as coming across as a kindly, eccentric schoolmaster. Field Marshall von Blomberg's aide, Karl Boehm-Tettelbach, liked Himmler more than the other Nazis he met:

"He was a very nice and agreeable guest because he always involved younger people like me and would enquire about the air force, how I was getting along, how long I would be with Blomberg, if I liked it, what I had seen the last trip to Hungary and things like that." [Rees]

And whilst he ran the administrative side of the "final solution" with meticulous efficiency, he had literally no stomach for the reality of mass murder. His persistent stomach pains are thought to have been psychosomatic, caused by the suppressed guilt of the former Catholic about what his SS was doing in the name of the German people. Unfortunately fewer may have died if his doubts hadn't caused this stomach ailment, as in August 1941 he had an experience that may have speeded up the extermination programme. On that day, SS officer Erich von dem Bach Zewelski stood beside Himmler as he watched an Einsatzgruppe (SS extermination squad) shoot a hundred people, including women, in Minsk. He reports:

"When the first shots were heard and the victims collapsed, Himmler began to feel ill. He reeled, almost fell to the ground, then pulled himself together. Then he hurled abuse at the firing squad because of their poor marksmanship. Some of the women were still alive, for the bullets had simply wounded them." [Graber]

A residue of humanity, then, that made him ill, led Himmler to order soon afterwards that women and children should be killed in gas vans - a decision that led to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of which could hold up to three thousand victims at a time, and where Eichmann reckoned that two and a half million Jews alone were systematically murdered. [Hoess]

Why would such a mild-mannered bureaucrat as Himmler so ruthlessly attempt to destroy an entire race and subject Germany and the occupied territories to a reign of terror? Partly, I think, because of his own neo-pagan beliefs, and partly due to an unswerving loyalty to Adolf Hitler - whose rabid anti-Semitism Himmler sought to justify by researching proof for Aryan superiority in the Germans' pagan past.

The SS and neo-paganism

The Nazi Party was more a mass movement than a political party, it was also a pseudo-religious movement - even perhaps a cult. Aleister Crowley realised this, and spoke of Hitler thus:

"His magical technique was indescribably admirable; he adopted the swastika, the Hammer of Thor, the distinctive dress, the slogan, the gestures, the greeting; he even imposed a Sacred Book upon the people." [Crowley]

The Party also adopted a set of seasonal festivals. The cycle started with the Day of the Seizure of Power (30th of January), continuing with February the 24th's commemoration of the Party's foundation, the National Day of Mourning in March, Hitler's birthday on April the 20th, May Day (called the National Day of Labour), Mothering Sunday, the Summer Solstice, the Nuremberg Party Assembly, Harvest Thanksgiving Day, the anniversary of the attempted Munich Putsch on November the 9th, ending with the Winter Solstice. [Grunberger]

Much could be written on the subject of the pagan aura of the Nazi Party and its regime, but here I want to focus on the "high priest" of its "knightly Order" - Heinrich Himmler and his SS. The Nazi slogan "Blood and Soil", indicating its tying together of the destiny of the German people with the very earth of the Fatherland and its glorification of agriculture and those who worked on the land, would have appealed greatly to the young Himmler who joined the Party in 1923 in time to take part in the Munich putsch - Hitler's first attempt to snatch the reins of power.

Himmler had already been moving nationalist circles and was associated with the Germanenorden (a secret society which established lodges based on those of freemasonry) and its offshoot the Thule Society, which had also inspired the birth of the German Workers Party (which was to be hijacked by Hitler and become the National Socialist Workers Party). The Thule Society was named after the Ultima Thule, the alleged birthplace of the Germanic race - members had to prove racial purity for at least three generations.[Padfield]

Peter Padfield notes that from late 1923 to early 1924, Himmler's reading included books on spiritualism, second sight, astrology, telepathy and the like. Himmler was interested also in herbalism, rural life and agriculture [Graber] - he was rather a "back-to-nature", "New Age" sort of man. His activities and growing beliefs led him to renounce his once strong faith in the Catholic Church by the summer of 1924.[Padfield]

Eventually, in 1929, he became the head of the then small and rather unimportant Schutzstaffel - the nightmare SS of the impending Third Reich.

The SS was modeled on the Teutonic Knights, an offshoot of the Knights Templar who were thought to have custody of the Holy Grail (as well as the ancient Indian warrior caste of the Kshatriya). Therefore SS teams were sent in search of the Grail, as well as the Ark of the Covenant. At first it would seem a little strange that a man who had renounced Christianity and oversaw the systematic murder of millions of Jews should be interested in such relics but the theory was that Jesus was Aryan and his father a Roman. The Grail that held his blood could therefore add to SS research into Aryan bloodlines. Himmler also wanted the spear that wounded Christ on the cross - the Spear of Longinus - which Hitler nabbed from a Vienna museum following the annexation of Austria in 1938. Hitler, a fan of Wagner's Parsifal in which the Spear appears, insisted on keeping it for himself - the story that Hitler's copy of the opera had notes in it showing Hitler to be a skilled magician planning an evil ritual with the spear is not one I give any credence to! The spear in question is medieval anyway. [Dyson, Carroll, Rainey]

A speech Himmler made to senior SS men in 1942 reveals his attitude towards Christianity:

"This Christendom, this greatest pestilence which could have befallen us in history, which has weakened us for every conflict, we must finish with."[Padfield]

SS families received a "Yule-tide candleholder" copied from "an old specimen handed down from the early past of our Volk" instead of Christian Christmas gifts. In 1937 Himmler's personal staff began to plan a cultural framework designed to replace Christianity, a project that led to the opening of the Deutschrechtliche Institute at the University of Bonn the following year which researched into Germanic pre-history. Himmler also set himself to constantly improve the solstice celebrations that he felt had the deepest significance, and designed special SS wedding ceremonies. [Padfield]

It has been claimed (most speculatively) that Albrecht Haushofer (son of Karl, the geopolitician) who Hess knew from university had been a student of Gurdijeff and had set up the Vril Society (a lodge claiming contact with Shambhala, the Tibetan otherworld) and that Hitler and Himmler were members.

Himmler did know Haushofer (who knowingly or not seems to have been one of Himmler's spies in the resistance[Padfield]) but I seriously doubt that the Vril Society really existed. That said, Himmler did send SS research teams to Tibet, and Russian troops entering Berlin in 1945 found Tibetans who had committed ritual suicide wearing SS uniforms. [Dyson, Carroll] What it all adds up to is anyone's guess.

Many amongst the Nazi leadership found Himmler rather a figure of fun and would often take the mickey out of him and his mystification of the SS (only behind this very dangerous man's back, though!). Architect, construction supremo, and armaments minister Albert Speer reports Hitler as saying of Himmler:

"What nonsense! Here we have a last reached an age that has left all mysticism behind it, and now he wants to start all over again. We might just as well have stayed with the church ... To think that I may some day be turned into an SS saint! I would turn over in my grave..."[Speer]

Himmler's intense interest in Germanic paganism is illustrated well by a letter that he wrote to the head of the Ahnernebe (a historical and cultural research unit that Himmler had incorporated into the SS). He believed the ancient Germans enacted legal ordinances and marriages upon ancient stones at burial places of the clan (Sippe), and had come across the following custom that he claimed had survived up to 1930:

"If there was a girl in a village who had reached marriageable age and not found a man, the father went out on a moon-dark night, that is at new moon, with the girl and the villagers. The girl was placed on the dolmen or ancestral burial, the villagers stood in a wide circle around this stone, face outward. The father had spoken beforehand with a villager, thus with one of the blood-community. This man took himself from the ring to the ancestral burial and coupled with the girl. The love and sexual act took place on the ancestral burial ... What was done was no casual act, but took place in the sight of the ancestors and on the grave of the ancestors."[Padfield]

He goes on to suggest lines of research for after the war. That he still took time for such matters in August 1944 - with the Eastern Front collapsing, SS squads abusing and killing "partisans" and Germans who dared retreat, with the killing factories working overtime, and himself rooting out disloyal or troublesome factors in Germany (this was just after the bomb attack on Hitler) - says a lot about the man and his beliefs.

His own views about immortality owe something to Hinduism as well as Germanic beliefs in rebirth in the Sippe via the transmission of the bloodline
- not at all incongruous since both beliefs are linked via the spread of Indo-European, or "Aryan", culture (the word comes from the Sanskrit Aryas
- meaning "noble" or "freeman" - and Swastika is Sanskrit also). [Berresford Ellis] Speaking, in 1937, of the idea of rebirth in the Sippe, Himmler said:

"A Volk that has this belief in rebirth and that honours its ancestors, and in so doing honours itself, always has children, and this Volk has eternal life." [Padfield]

He even ordered 20,000 copies of Karl Eckhart's Earthly Immortality: German belief in reincarnation in the Sippe for the SS.

This belief, as well as that of the SS being the noble warrior caste of the Third Reich, is reflected in his instructions for a great triptych for the entrance hall of Wewelsberg Castle - the symbolic seat of SS power. Of the first painting he wanted a depiction of "the attack of an SS troop in war, in which I envisage the representation of a dead or mortally wounded SS man, who is married, to show that from death itself and despite it new life springs". The next panel would show SS men tilling the newly won land, and the final panel would show a new village full of families with many children. [Padfield]

This idea is also reflected in the rather macabre "death's head" insignia adopted by SS killing squads - death and killing were necessary and noble as they kept the folk community pure and vibrant. Himmler could use this same idea to purge whole families such as the von Stauffenbergs (the family of the July 20th 1944 bomber). Witness a speech Himmler made to district leaders:

"You only need to look up the Germanic Sagas. If they proscribed a family and outlawed them, or if there was a blood feud in the family, then they were drastically thorough ... they said, 'This man is a traitor, the blood is bad, there is bad blood in them, that will be eradicated'. And in the case of a blood feud it was eradicated down to the last member of the whole Sippe. The family of Graf Stauffenberg will be extinguished to the last member..." [Padfield]

He then mercilessly hunted down the family, even to distant relatives and had them executed or shipped to concentration camps. Similarly, the disabled or mentally ill were killed or sterilised so as not to pass on their "bad blood", and Germans who had intercourse with slave workers, Jews or other "inferiors" were harshly punished. On the other hand, the "elite" SS were rewarded for having children, and had special brothels - the children of which were supported by the state.

The SS and Earth Mysteries

Archaeology in the SS was mainly carried out by the Ahnernebe, whose "cultural research" also included devilish experiments on the inmates of the concentration camps. The idea of landscape alignments linking supposed sacred sites of the ancient Germanic people - that were being dubbed "leys" in Britain - appealed to Himmler, and many of the pioneers in this area were soon working for the Ahnernebe. "They looked for evidence of ancient landscape surveys in order to substantiate Germany's claims as the home of civilisation, and where proof of the primaeval skills of the race was lacking, it could be fabricated." [Harte]

Indeed, so sparse and unimpressive were the finds from some of the pivotal sites in these grand landscape schemes that the evidence had to be manipulated or just plain invented. Hitler was rather embarrassed by Himmler's obsession with the past:

"Why do we call the whole world's attention to the fact that we have no past? It isn't enough that the Romans were erecting great buildings when our forefathers were still living in mud huts; now Himmler is starting to dig up these villages of mud huts and enthusing over every potsherd and stone axe he finds. All we prove by that is that we were still throwing stone hatchets and crouching around open fires when Greece and Rome had already reached the highest stage of culture. We really should do our best to keep quiet about this past. Instead Himmler makes a great fuss about it all. The present-day Romans must be having a laugh at these relegations." [Speer]

The Ahnernebe, following the theories of Wilhelm Teudt, found ancient Germanic "star temples" where sightlines supposedly radiated out towards important positions of sun, moon, and stars. These calendrical centres tended to turn up near SS colleges, and were often just natural rock formations, medieval remains, and in one case an old farm refuse tip![Magin]

The most famous Nazi sacred centre was the Externsteine near Detmold, north-east of Dortmund. Here stand four spectacular columns of rock, one of which has a small chapel cut into it. The window of the chapel admits the rising sun at midsummer.

According to Teudt this was where the sacred pillar of the Saxons, Irminsul, stood until toppled by Charlemagne (it almost certainly didn't), and a carving of a "weeping Irminsul" is supposed to be on one of the pillars of rock. [Schmidt] The Externsteine was at the centre of alignments (never statistically tested by the Nazis) and was supposed to have been a sacred centre before Stonehenge. [Magin] Excavations in the 1930's found only pottery from the seventh century CE, and the majority from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries.[Schmidt] The chapel is actually Christian, not pagan, and probably medieval.[Devereux]

Still, none of this mattered too much in a totalitarian state with "Spin Doctors" better than Tony Blair's, and the Externsteine became a major Nazi cult centre. Even today thousands of pagans come to this Christian site for the summer solstice, and neo-Nazis still gather here on November the first. The two groups are not entirely separate.[Schmidt]

The Castle of Wewelsberg

Fascinated by tales of King Arthur and his knights, Himmler's "Camelot" for his own knightly Order was the castle of Wewelsberg near Paderborn in Westphalia. Having acquired it in 1934, Himmler had massive reconstruction work done (paid for by his company "The Society for the Protection and Maintenance of German Cultural Monuments") - the labour came, of course, from the concentration camps.

The focal point of the castle was a huge round oak table with seating for his twelve of his senior Gruppenführers:

"They sat in high-backed chairs made out of pigskin, on each of which was a silver disk on which the selected 'knight' had his name engraved. Here the chiefs of the SS were compelled to sit in the company of their Grand Master [Himmler] for hours of contemplation and meditation ... Each 'knight' had his own quarters in the castle..."[Graber]

Beneath this room was a crypt containing pedestals where should one of the "knights" die an urn containing his ashes [Graber] or his coat of arms [Padfield] would be burnt. Vents in the ceiling would allow those in the main hall to see the smoke rise or "the spirit ascend into a type of Valhalla". [Graber]

Himmler's own private rooms in the castle were dedicated to the tenth-century Saxon King Heinrich the first (also known as Henry the Fowler) decked out in period fashion. According to Himmler's masseur, Himmler believed he was the reincarnation of the king, although Padfield notes that this sits uneasily with Himmler's ideas of life after death (by physical transmission of blood in the clan). Himmler shared his Christian name with the king, and may have felt he was an honorary member of a royal clan. His father had been tutor to Prince Heinrich of Bavaria, and the young Himmler was not only named for him but was the Prince's godson.[Padfield] Whatever the case, at midnight each July 2nd (the anniversary of the Saxon king's death) he would apparently commune in silence with King Heinrich. [Graber]

Necromancy or imagination? I wouldn't like to say for sure, when would the chronically overworked Reichsführer find time to learn the art? Still, it is a tempting conclusion to jump to. Any necromancers out there fancy asking him?


Berresford Ellis, Peter, The Ancient World of the Celts, Constable, 1998

Carroll, Robert Todd, The Skeptic's Dictionary (Internet site found by a search for "Himmler Occult")

Crowley, Aleister, Magick Without Tears, Falcon Press, 1982

Devereux, Paul, Secrets of Ancient and Sacred Places, Cassell, 1992

Dyson, Lowell K., The Nazis and the Occult: A sceptical annotated bibliography (Internet site, as above)

Graber, G.S., History of the SS, Robert Hale, 1978

Grunberger, Richard, A Social History of the Third Reich, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971

Harte, Jeremy, "Taking Leave of Dod: Survey as metaphor", The Ley Hunter 126, 1997

Hoess, Rudolf, Commandant of Auschwitz, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1959

Magin, Ulrich, "An Assortment of Landscape Lines in Germany: Real and imagined", The Ley Hunter 133, 1999

Magin, Ulrich, "Heilige Linien: Wilhelm Teudt and his holy lines", The Ley Hunter 133, 1999

Padfield, Peter, Himmler: Reichsführer SS, Macmillan, 1990

Rees, Laurence, The Nazis: A warning from history, BBC, 1997

Schmidt, Martin, paper for the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference, 1996

Sereny, Gitta, Albert Speer: His battle with truth, Macmillan, 1995

Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970

Rainey, Richard, Phantom Forces, Berkley, 1990