Eva Kingsepp – The Power of the Black Sun: (Oc)cultural Perspectives on Nazi/SS Esotericism

(Please note: This is the revised version of a paper presented at the 1st intl. conference on Contemporary Esotericism, Stockholm University, August 27-29, 2012. Copyright belongs to the author. Do not quote or distribute without the author’s explicit permission.) 

The Power of the Black Sun: (oc)cultural perspectives on Nazi/SS esotericism

By Eva Kingsepp

This paper discusses some of the different meanings appointed to the spiritual centre of Heinrich Himmler’s SS in Wewelsburg, including the Black Sun symbol, a floor mosaic in the North Tower of the castle. Wewelsburg castle and more recently the Black Sun have during the last decades become established as a token of Nazi esotericism – or occultism, the term I will use here – both in popular culture and in parts of the western esoteric underground as well as in more or less pro-Nazi circles.[1]

The aim of this paper is twofold, both related to the uses of history. The first concerns the basic assumptions about Nazi occultism as a phenomenon in itself. -What are the discursive relations between official memory culture and popular culture regarding Nazi occultism? The second is to look at the Temple of Set, more specifically its Order of the Trapezoid, as an example of how an esoteric group relates to Nazi occultism and puts this, as it is being conceived by leading members of the Order, into magical use. -From where do practicing occultists working with elements from National Socialism get the theoretical basis for what might be called their magical ideology?

1. Background: History as myth and ideology

History has always been mediated in one form or another. The transformation of past events, and the characters taking part in these, into a narrative can either result in written as well as visual representations, but also in oral transmission, traditionally often taking the form of myths and legends. The mythical aspect is also a dominant characteristic of much, or even most, of today’s mediated popular history, not the least the history of Nazi Germany and the Second World War (Kingsepp 2008, 2010). Myth can in this respect be seen either in a traditional, religiously tainted manner, where the world is governed by higher forces, or in a secular understanding as naturalized ideology, a political statement. In many popular representations of Nazi Germany and World War II the two modes of myth are in fact blended into one, in which the contents provided within the authoritative narrative framework can be interpreted in either way, according to individual beliefs and preferences in the audience. The myth is in this case clearly based upon a dualist, black-and-white worldview and the Second World War as an apocalyptic battle between the forces of Good and Evil. These topoi are frequently found in occulture, “a resource on which people draw, a reservoir of ideas, beliefs, practices, and symbols”, usually provided by popular culture and connected to a spiritual conception of the world (Partridge 2004:84). This opens up a legitimate space in an otherwise largely rational, factual discourse – in this case on Nazi Germany and the Second World War – for the irrational, the fantastic, the supernatural and the occult (Kingsepp 2008, 2010).

2. Nazi occultism in popular culture

Nazi occultism has since decades been recurrent as a theme in post-war popular culture, and is found not only in fiction but also in documentaries and other popular factual media. Ever since the era of the Third Reich occasional authors have argued that Hitler and the Nazis were in fact (black) magicians or otherwise dealing with supernatural forces (for example Heiden 1944; Rauschning 1939; Spence 1944). This has resulted in a genre that is best described as cryptohistory, closely related to conspiracy theories, as its authors claim to present a hidden/forgotten/repressed account of what took place in Nazi Germany. In Goodrick-Clarke’s words, most works are characterized by “inaccuracies and wild claims” as well as “[a] complete ignorance of the primary sources” (1995:225). Due to its sensationalistic appeal it has become rather successful as a kind of “Nazi exploitation” – there are in fact intertextual relations to popular b-movies of this kind (cf Stiglegger 1999; 2011) – and some titles have even become international bestsellers. The two most influential are Louis Pauwels & Jacques Bergier’s The Morning of the Magicians (1960) and Trevor Ravenscroft´s The Spear of Destiny (1973), the latter inspiring a number of successors. Most cryptohistory build on two, often interconnected, themes: Nazi occultism and Nazi science. These are also characteristic for many purely fictional texts, and due to the many parallels to fantasy and science fiction it is relevant to speak of a broader genre in which fact and fiction meet: the Nazi fantastic (Kingsepp 2008:158-199; Kingsepp 2010:35-37; cf Jackson 1981). The Nazi fantastic, with an emphasis on Nazi occultism, was firmly established in mainstream popular culture by Steven Spielberg and the Indiana Jones movies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989). It has since then been elaborated upon in different works of fiction and also transferred to digital games, with the Wolfenstein theme and Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001) as the probably most influential example (Goodrick-Clarke 2002:120-121; Kingsepp 2008:162-163). The Wewelsburg Black Sun has in the last decades become a popular symbol not only in parts of the right-wing movement but also more generally in occulture, where it signifies Nazi occultism (Siepe 2009:488-489; for an updated account of examples, see also Wikipedia: “Black Sun [occult symbol]”).

The mythical component is largely prevalent in popular history discourse on Nazi Germany, leading to important implications for the construction, as well as the understanding, of the dominant Western collective memory of this era. This is not surprising when considering the importance of myth, ritual and other elements from religion in the National Socialist worldview. However, the clear division into Good and Evil, the naturalized use of biblical language (Apocalypse etc.), the depiction of Hitler as the modern equivalent of the Devil, and the highlighting of what is conceived as pagan and other esoteric elements, result in a discourse in which not only the presence but also the practical use of ritual and magic is perceived as “natural” characteristics of the Third Reich. This is especially evident in those representations of Himmler and the SS in which their supposed preoccupation with the occult is being highlighted, as occultural elements are being presented as normal components of their historical lifeworld. This “insight” has in fact become so naturalized in mainstream culture that it is, as we will see, often not being questioned even in scholarly discourse (cf Kingsepp 2008:167-168).

There is a post-war standard image of Himmler and the SS as the Nazi version of King Arthur and his twelve Knights of the Round Table, in which the Wewelsburg is their Grail castle. Obviously a more familiar point of reference than the Teutonic Order – especially for an Anglo-Saxon audience – the projection of the King Arthur theme has had an immense impact on the popular understanding of the Wewelsburg. This is in itself rather interesting, as it combines a very romantic and Christian topos with, basically, the heart of darkness. However, the narrative itself is rather shallow. A comparative analysis of nine cryptohistory books on Nazi occultism[2], in which the castle and what happened there are described, shows the following basic elements:

–       There is/was a great dining/banquet hall with

–       a large, round oak table

–       surrounded by (13) (high-back or otherwise large-sized) chairs made of wood/oak tree/pigskin [sic!] (or upholstered with pigskin),

–       each with the name of its “owner knight” engraved (on a silver plate).

–       In this hall/in the castle Himmler and his knights/closest associates would perform occult/mystical/telepathic/spiritualistic practices.

–       Beneath the great hall/the castle [sic!] is/was a crypt, in which

–       the coat of arms of deceased SS officers/the deceased officers themselves were/would be burned and

–       the ashes were/would be put in urns, placed on the pedestals in the crypt.

Although most of the authors don’t mention their sources, the basic theme in the above description of Wewelsburg is taken from Heinz Höhne’s 1966 volume The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS (1966/2000:151-153), with some additions from the memoirs of SS-Brigadeführer Walter Schellenberg (1956/2006:32-34).[3] The different choices of tempus indicate different interpretations of the presumed historical narrative. For example, either the coats of arms (or the dead “knights” themselves) were in fact incinerated in the crypt, were supposed to have been, or were supposed to be, in Himmler’s view of the future. Each author adds creatively from their own imagination to the basic theme, and while some of them are thriving in fantastic and horrific elaborations, including rumours about human sacrifices (Sklar 1977/1989, also cited in Yenne 2010), others are using a more down-to-earth, pseudo-scientific mode of discourse.[4] This includes lots of footnotes, references and quotations from official memory culture, especially Höhne and Schellenberg, but also historian Peter Padfield (1990), to whom I will return later. By imitating this academic style of writing a high intellectual status connected to official memory culture is being indicated, and thereby a higher claim for validity. However, that few (or even none) of the authors have themselves actually visited the castle is made obvious especially through the consistent, erroneously given location of the crypt beneath the great dining hall. For some reason its imposant square dimensions are frequently being meticulously defined,[5] thus eliminating the possible mix-up with the correct room, the circular and comparably much smaller Obergruppenführersaal in the North Tower.

The constant repetition of this theme not only in best-selling printed media but also documentary films has established it as the popular conception of the Wewelsburg during the Third Reich.[6] So, how do academic historians and other instances within official memory culture handle the topic?

3. Official memory culture

Official memory culture includes accounts about history that are widely acknowledged in society as respectable, thus reliable, sources. Works published within this field almost automatically get a status of validity and reliability, due to their character of academic research and/or official presentations in museums, etc. Official memory culture also includes elements of popular history (cf Jordanova 2006:126-130), and there are non-scholarly works that also enjoy a certain status, especially if they have been used as references by established historians and/or well-known intellectuals. In fact, as there has not been much scholarly interest specifically focusing on the esoteric aspects of Nazi Germany, most research dealing with the topic has been conducted outside academia.[7] However, as we will see, concerning this topic it is possible to trace an “occultural flow” between official memory culture and popular culture, going in both directions. This suggests that the mythification described above is not a phenomenon confined to the popular parts of the discourse, but is in fact also prevalent within academia as well.

Official memory culture might sound like something static, but there is a lot of dynamic in the discourse. The idea of the Wewelsburg as a place of cultic worship for the SS – an SS monastery, an Order/Grail Castle etc. – was early established through books like Austrian journalist Willi Frischauer’s 1953 Himmler: The Evil Genius of the Third Reich, which for a long time set the standards for both popular and academic discourse (Hüser 1982/1987:5-8; cf Siepe 2009:488-490). As concepts like “Kult”, “Orden” and “Ordensburg” were frequently used in official discourse in the Third Reich, it is not surprising that they continue to occur long after its fall. However, what is often overseen is that their meanings are – and in fact were already then – open to different interpretations, thus easily leading to misunderstandings and anachronisms (cf. Ackerman 1970:103; Dülffer 2010:12-14; Vondung 1971:8). As Professor Karl Hüser notes in the introduction to his seminal Wewelsburg 1934-1945: Kult- und Terrorstätte der SS (1982/1987), connotations of the mystical have basically been haunting accounts of the Wewelsburg ever since the actual days of the SS (Hüser 1982/1987:5). Hüser’s work was the companion to the first permanent SS exhibition at the Kreismuseum Wewelsburg, and can be regarded as a catalyst for change at least in parts of official memory culture towards a more down-to-earth interpretation of the SS as an Order. Despite the somewhat “promising” title of the book, Hüser is in fact very clear in stating that there were no cultic actions performed in the Wewelsburg by the SS. However, he does imply that a cultic use of the castle was included in Himmler’s plans, and other parts of the text can easily be interpreted as a confirmation of the cultic aspects.[8] Thus, the cult theme remains, although changed into an intention. It is also present in a small brochure published as a resource for local memory culture in Westfalen: Wewelsburg 1933-45: Kultstätte des SS-Ordens (1988), by Hüser and Wulff E. Brebeck. There are frequent references to Pseudoreligion, Germanenmystik, Irminen-Glaube and even Runenverehrung, the worship of runes. Of the twelve photos in the brochure, three have an obvious esoteric theme: an SS “pseudo-religious” wedding ritual, the plans for the North Tower as the Centre of the World, and the Totenkopfring (ibid. 12, 18, 22). Accentuated by the somewhat surprising inclusion of Sklar’s Gods and Beasts: The Nazis and the Occult in the reading list (ibid. 32), this suggests that the popular idea of an SS cult was still influential even for those working with the history of the Wewelsburg on a daily basis.

This seems to be the case as late as 2002, when a report from a research project on memory culture in Ostwestfalen-Lippe was published (Kerzel 2002). Here historian Jan-Erik Schulte refers to Hüser in claiming that which makes the Wewelsburg so special is its esoteric meaning established by Himmler as the centre of the SS cult and of the world alike (Schulte 2002:214).[9] But Schulte goes somewhat further than Hüser in stating that “Über den von Himmler vertretenen und auch in Wewelsburg praktizierten Okkultismus ist bislang wenig bekannt“ (ibid. 217). Here there is an implication that at least Himmler himself did actually perform some kind of occult workings in the castle. Although not much is known about this, at least there seems to have been something happening – but this is not further elaborated upon.

However, in 2009 – twenty years after Hüser – the image has changed completely. In her chapter in the today most comprehensive and updated academic work available on the topic, Die SS, Himmler, und die Wewelsburg (2009), Daniela Siepe writes about the role of the castle and the Black Sun symbol in contemporary esoteric and rightwing circles. She states that the latest research shows that except from oath-taking ceremonies, there were no plans for any ritual actions by the SS at the Wewelsburg. The conception of the castle as a place of worship (“Kultstätte”) of the SS has thus been replaced by that of a central meeting-place for SS generals (“zentralen Versammlungsort der SS-Gruppenführer”) (Siepe 2009:490). The articles in the volume show how official memory culture has changed concerning the idea of an SS cult. From having been not very different from the dominant representation in popular culture, the image presented today is much less spectacular. It is not implausible that the scholarship of especially Goodrick-Clarke and Siepe has contributed to this process, indicating that contemporary ideas about Nazi/SS occultism can in fact be a respectable and even important field of research.[10]

This change is also visible in the new and considerably larger SS exhibition opened at Kreismuseum Wewelsburg in 2010, even by comparing the official names of the exhibitions, the former being “Wewelsburg 1933-1945: Kult- und Terrorstätte der SS”, and the new “Ideologie und Terror der SS”. Today, the cult is gone. Although the exhibition contains large parts that are in fact dealing with the esoteric aspects of the SS worldview, there is not much mystification left. The title of the extensive accompanying volume (Brebeck et al. 2011) suggests the theme now replacing the cultic as a motto for understanding the SS: “Endzeitkämpfer”, which could be translated as “Apocalyptic warriors”. The mythical is still there, but now referring to the self-image of the SS, not our own post-war conception of them.

4. Occulture in academia

As already said, official memory is not homogenous, and there are even several examples of how academic works have been influenced by the author’s own preferences towards an interpretation in which the esoteric plays an important role. In a short paragraph Hüser corrects his colleague , the well-known historian Joachim C. Fest, who in Das Gesicht des Dritten Reiches (1963) forwards the idea that there were certain “celebrations” (“Feierstunden”) at the Wewelsburg, and also refers to a sinister cult having taken place there (in Hüser 1982/1987:72).[11] Fest is by all means not unique in echoing fables familiar within popular culture. For example, when Peter Padfield in his biography on Himmler (1990:248) presents the Wewelsburg, the description is obviously taken more or less straight from Höhne (1966), although no formal reference to this is made. In a presentation at a seminar at Wewelsburg held in connection to the release of the 2009 anthology, its editor Jan-Erik Schulte offered an interesting, critical view of how the scholarly conception of the SS has indeed for decades largely been shaped by the popular image created by Höhne, despite the amount of dubious sources, pure speculations, and untruths in his book. An explanation, Schulte proposed, might be that the 1966 book in fact functioned as a catalyst for a major shift of paradigm concerning the view of the SS in official memory culture. In contrast to the demonic image of the SS as a monolithic, impersonal entity – “the SS State”[12] – established immediately after the war, Höhne offered a new, more differentiated perspective in which the individuals became more visible. The Order of the Death’s Head was first published as a series of articles in the magazine Der Spiegel, which is also important for explaining its impact. As scholars we are of course part of the rest of society, and it would be highly mistaken to believe that we are immune to all kinds of influences, including those that we later might rather wish we had been able to avoid.

The most extreme example of non-critical academic appropriation of popular myths about Nazi occultism I have found is an article in Journal of Popular Culture by a historian, Professor Raymond L Sickinger, called “Hitler and the Occult: The Magical Thinking of Adolf Hitler” (2000). Although he is not concerned with the SS, the text still deserves to mentioned, as it shows how occultural elements enter academic discourse even in a peer-review journal. In short, the author argues that Hitler’s personality and actions are to be explained through his personal obsession with magic and Norse mythology. Although there is a consensus in most scholarly research that this is an entirely false assumption – especially as it is well documented that Hitler looked upon Norse religion with a certain contempt – this does not seem to bother Sickinger, who instead uses a good number of rather dubious sources to confirm his ideas. These include the aforementioned cryptohistorical “classics” of Rauschning, Sklar, and Pauwels and Bergier (who, just to give an impression of their mode of writing, describes Himmler as a warrior monk from space [!]; 1960/1969:276).

There are certain media products that belong to popular history in that they are not officially sanctioned by academia or institutions such as museums, but still express a strong claim for authenticity and accuracy by using an authoritative mode of communication. They also frequently use references from historians and other authorities, be it academics or laymen that are well known within the field, in order to further establish an image of seriosity. This might be the explanation to phenomena like Sickinger’s article: if he had been familiar with the research field (or at least looked for other sources) the text would probably have been quite different. I have already mentioned some authors in the cryptohistory genre, but it is also noteworthy that this is an area where two discourse strands meet and create discursive bridges between them. Thus, a tv documentary like Nazis: The Occult Conspiracy (1998) made by Discovery Channel can include renowned historians like George L Mosse among its interviewed experts and still be highly speculative and sensationalistic. This means that those who are seriously interested in the esoteric aspects of Nazi Germany are faced with a huge amount of work, including reading and critically evaluating everything they can find on the topic. Although this kind of media criticism is by no means confined only to those with an academic training, such a background is certainly an asset. This becomes visible in the next part, when we go to the Temple of Set.

3. The Temple of Set / The Order of the Trapezoid

For the part of this paper dealing with the esoteric underground and how the idea about Nazi/SS occultism connected to the Wewelsburg is being put into practice I have chosen to focus on the Order of the Trapezoid, a part of the US-based Temple of Set, and a number of writings by Michael A. Aquino and Stephen E. Flowers, two leading members of the Order. Although the texts only represent the personal viewpoints of their authors,[13] they do form a coherent whole that – especially considered the positions of the authors within the Order – could be regarded as an expression of a “magical ideology”.[14]

The Temple of Set was founded in 1975 by Aquino, a former leading member of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. LaVey was fascinated by Nazi Germany, especially the idea of Nazi occultism and its potential for magical work, which led to rumours connecting the COS to Nazism. In both organizations there is/was certainly an appreciation of some elements in Nazi Germany, most notably concerning leadership, control of the masses and human social organization, interpreted as practices of both Lesser and Greater Black Magic (cf. Aquino 1975-2010; Flowers 1997). However, there is also a renouncement regarding racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Flowers states, “Interest in this phenomenon [National Socialism] is entirely theoretical and structural – and Magical – and has nothing whatsoever to do with the racial dogmas of the Nazis” (1995:18). The following excerpt from the document “Order of the Trapezoid – Statement” explains:

Just as the Third Reich’s dynamism got out of hand, leading it to embark on irrational and destructive foreign invasions, so its life-worship – which could have been a truly evolutionary synthesis of the most sublime concepts of Hegel and Nietzsche – became perverted into crude xenophobia, hatreds built upon superficial notions of “race”, and ultimately a maddened stampede towards a Wagnerian _Goetterdaemmerung_ in defiance of a return to rationalism. Said Heinrich Himmler on April 21, 1945:

“We have made serious mistakes. If I could have a fresh start, I would do many things differently now. But it is too late. We wanted greatness and security for Germany, and we are leaving behind us a pile of ruins, a fallen world …”

The Order of the Trapezoid (O.Tr.) extracts the positive, the constructive, the exalted, and the Romantic from the Germanic magical tradition – and just as carefully avoids and rejects those excesses, distortions, and cruelties which have made this tradition an object of the most extraordinary fear, condemnation, and suppression in the postwar period. The Germanic tradition is also part of the legacy of the Prince of Darkness, hence is appropriate to an Order within the Temple of Set, which embraces all manifestations of the Powers of Darkness in the world. (Aquino 1990)

The Order of the Trapezoid has its origins in the Church of Satan, although it was reconstituted under the authority of the Temple of Set by Aquino in Wewelsburg as “an Order of knighthood characterized by strict personal honor and faithfulness to the quest for the Grail” (Aquino 1990). His visit to the Wewelsburg, including that which became known as his Wewelsburg Working on 19th October 1982, is not only (in)famous (see for example Goodrick-Clarke 2002:215; Levenda 2002:340) but also well documented. Detailed descriptions of the working and of its purposes are in fact found in all three parts of the discourse studied here: available through the Temple of Set itself, as a more general occultural resource on the web, and in official memory culture through the aforementioned article by Siepe (2009).

Aquino enjoys a high-status background in “normal” society with a PhD in political science, in which he has lectured at the Golden Gate University in San Francisco. He has also worked for the US Army with the rank of Lt Colonel and received a number of military decorations and awards (Aquino CV 2012). All this was most helpful when he in connection to a duty travel in Europe had the opportunity to take a trip to Wewelsburg. The staff at the museum did not suspect that he was anything but a “normally” interested visitor, and even allowed him to spend an hour and a half alone in the crypt (Siepe 2009:498-499; cf Aquino 1982). Like his former associate LaVey, Aquino had for a long time been very interested in the occult aspects of Nazi Germany, and, as he describes in the same letter, the visit to Wewelsburg was a “long-awaited personal quest” (ibid.; also in Siepe 2009:498). As he writes in a letter to the Priesthood of Set shortly after the working, “[a]s the Wewelsburg was conceived by Heinrich Himmler to be the ‘Mittelpunkt der Welt’, and as the focus of the Hall of the Dead was to be the Gate of that Center, [the aim was] to summon the Powers of Darkness at their most powerful locus”. Through this, the Gate of the Wewelsburg, “the Great Gate of the Powers of Darkness in our Time”, was opened (Aquino 1982).

So, why the Wewelsburg, and why the SS? Aquino poses the second question himself in his 1972 article “That Other Black Order”, published in the Church of Satan’s journal The Cloven Hoof. The SS, he says, “embodied a living blueprint for the ideal National Socialist state”, which was governed ”according to irrational principles”. Aesthetic and design are considered important: the leaders of the SS ”both followed and encouraged practices that, in the context of our Satanic ritual, included specific design for both operative and illustrative effect” (Aquino 1972). Wewelsburg is described through a quotation in which Himmler and his generals are likened to King Arthur and his knights of the round table, including an account of the crypt as the castle’s “holy of holies” (an expression also found for example in Höhne’s book) (Aquino 1972).[15] Thus, the chivalric aspect of the SS and references to the Grail are recurrent tropes in both popular culture, scholarly accounts of the Wewelsburg, and in the foundation principles of the Order.[16]

Both Aquino and Flowers – who also holds a PhD – express a highly sceptical attitude to most “mumbo-jumbo /…/ about ‘occult Nazism’” (Flowers 1987b:57), and encourage the members of the Order to study books on the topic that are recommended in the Temple of Set Reading List (Aquino 1976-2003). Its Category 14, “Fascism, Totalitarianism, and Magic”, contains a number of both literary works and movies, including documentaries. However, it is a mixture of both scholarly work and cryptohistory, which is of course most informative had it not been for a certain lack of critical distance to some of the titles. For example, while Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny is commented with “read critically but thoughtfully”, nothing similar is said about Hermann Rauschning’s The Voice of Destruction (1940), a work generally considered to be bogus (for example Kershaw 1998:xiv) In fact, Rauschning is being referred to by both Aquino and Flowers (Aquino 1975-2010:102; Aquino 2009:611; Flowers 1997:120)

That historical accuracy is considered to be of fundamental significance is, however, personally confirmed by Aquino in an e-mail in which he kindly responds to my questions, stating that this is

 [a]bsolutely important from the standpoint of the historical record. However this does not mean that present/future development of and experimentation with such principles need to be locked to the Nazis’ 1930s-40s knowledge and future ambitions or expectations. We should take interesting and stimulating ideas and go forward with them, not backward. (Aquino, e-mail, 2012-06-22)

He also says that the Black Sun symbol “has been rather over-sensationalized” and is of no special magical importance as compared to other National Socialist/SS designs (ibid.). This could of course be discussed further, considering the different possible non-Nazi meanings that can be attached to a Black Sun, not the least connected to alchemy. However, what is interesting in the present context is the distancing from the “vulgar” use of this particular symbol. Through this it is also emphasized that although the Order apparently considers itself as a kind of spiritual inheritor of the same Germanic tradition that inspired the SS, there is a distancing from similar post-war groups in Germany/Austria (cf Mund & von Werfenstein 2004; Siepe 2009).

A good example of the quest for accuracy is found in Aquino’s lengthy work about the history of the Church of Satan when he discusses the ritual “Die Elektrischen Vorspiele” published in LaVey’s Satanic Rituals (1972). Here he not only corrects errors in language and mistaken presumptions about occult aspects of the SS and SD (Sicherheitsdienst), but also traces the origins of the ritual not back to the SS – as claimed by LaVey – but more probably to German expressionist cinema of the 1920’s (Aquino 2009:241-242; cf Flowers 1987a). Answering my question about his most important sources concerning Nazi occultism, Aquino refers to “[t]he complete archæological, magical, and administrative records of the Ahnenerbe /…/ in the National Archives Building of the United States, Washington, D.C.” (Aquino, e-mail, 2012-06-22). The scholarly attitude is also prevalent in the writings of Flowers. In Lords of the Left Hand Path, the section on “Sources for the Study of the Nazis and Magic” states that

The major primary sources for the study of the magical or religious aspects of the National Socialist movement in Germany would be the Ahnenerbe archives, as well as the many official publications of the SS, the Rosenberg Office and other branches of the NSDAP. The most valuable secondary studies have been provided by Klaus Vondung (1971), Michael Kater (1974) and Ulrich Hunger (1984) (Flowers 1997:123).

The three studies mentioned are all PhD dissertations and would certainly be obligatory reading if there were ever to be a basic course in Nazi occultism. To those unfamiliar with the works of Aquino and Flowers it might be something of a surprise to learn that their knowledge about the esoteric aspects of Nazi Germany is in fact much more well founded than some authors within official memory culture. However, as in the case of Sickinger’s article, it seems that despite their critically reflective attitude, Aquino and Flowers fall into similar traps concerning the evaluation of their sources, at least when these show a significant resonance with their magical ideology.

4. Discussion

I will not discuss the relations between the magical ideology of the Order and the Third Reich, or the SS, from a historical point of view, as that is not within the scope of this paper. What interests me here is rather the power of myth in contemporary society. It is very tempting to use Bruce Lincoln’s concept of myth as ideology in narrative form, and scholarship as myth with footnotes (Lincoln 1999:209) on this material. It is hard to dispute that there is in fact a dominant myth about Nazi Germany and WWII within today’s western society, with the Nazis as the bad guys and the (western) Allies as the good. This is also visible in some scholarly work, especially when elements from occulture enter the discourse.

Several of the cryptohistorical works that most obviously are carriers of this myth would, according to Lincoln’s proposition, in principle be able to count as a kind of scholarship (and they indeed do present themselves in that way), as they are full of references and footnotes. Through the shared form of scholarly acknowledged communication the boundaries between the genres get blurred, sometimes resulting in hybrid texts that really are myths with footnotes. They also – especially King 1976 and Sklar 1977 – have an obvious ideological agenda, besides acknowledging the “common sense knowledge” that the Nazis were evil, which is to raise the warning flag about cultic movements in today’s society that are, or are considered to be, Satanic. This follows a discursive topos also visible in other works dealing with the fascination for Nazi Germany in popular culture, most notably Susan Sontag’s classic essay “Fascinating Fascism” (1974/1980), but also for example the study on WWII re-enactors in Ronald M. Smelser’s & Edward J. Davies II’s The Myth of the Eastern Front (2008), and even to some extent (concerning the musical subcultures) Goodrick-Clarke’s Black Sun (2002). There are also connections to a more general discourse on deviance, including a relation to moral panics (Cohen 1972/2002; cf Hultin 2012).

So, what can we learn from this? First, that official memory culture, including academia, is certainly not immune to occultural influences from popular media. Another, rather obvious lesson goes along with Lincoln’s argument that “it is often the researcher’s desires that determine the principles of selection. When neither the data nor the criticism of one’s colleagues inhibits desire-driven invention, the situation is ripe for scholarship as myth” (1999:215). It is interesting that although myth and fantasy are common modes of thinking in occulture, the “real” occultists Aquino and Flowers share an academic drive towards historical accuracy concerning the theoretical foundations of their magical ideology. On the other hand, scholars like professors Sickinger and Padfield seem to embrace that kind of elements – perhaps we could label them occultural mythemes – that are in fact rejected in the cultic group as sensationalistic and without value. Again Lincoln provides interesting food for thought: it might also be a question of searching for cognitive control over something that is in this case experienced as partly incomprehensive, “a relatively blank screen onto which scholars can project their fears and desires” (Lincoln 1999:211, cf also 214-215).

To conclude: the myth of Nazi occultism as a phenomenon institutionalized and practiced in the Third Reich is today firmly established in our society. It is being put to use in a variety of ways – commercially, ideologically, artistically, in contexts of fantasy and science-fiction, scholarly, and magically. Although the Black Sun in Wewelsburg was never a symbol in use by the SS, and is not considered to be of any special importance for practical magical use in a cultic group that is otherwise working specifically with elements from the Third Reich, especially the Wewelsburg, it has become a very potent factor in today’s occulture. The Black Sun is the present-day symbol of Nazi occultism. Its rays even find their way into parts of academic discourse, this in its turn resulting in an “official affirmation” and further legitimization of popular myths. It certainly seems like its power is invincible.

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Visual media
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[1] Concerning the latter, see Siepe 2009; also for example Mund & von Werfenstein 2004. The Wewelsburg mosaic was in fact connected to the esoteric concept of a Black Sun as late as in the early 1990’s, introduced in the novel Die schwarze Sonne von Tashi Lhunpo (McCloud 1991; see Siepe 2002:286-287; Siepe 2009:488; Sünner 2009:112-113). There is no historical evidence whatsoever of a Black Sun symbolism in the SS. An interesting discussion on the topic is found in Sünner 2009:81.

[2] Baker 2000:154-155; Carmin 1994/2010:137-138; King 1976:15, 174-175; Levenda 2002:175-176; Moon 1997:68: Pennick 1981:104-106, 160; Roland 2007:179-181; Sklar 1977/1989:99; Yenne 2010:113-115.

[3] In some of the descriptions there are also topoi originally from Felix Kersten’s memoirs (German edition 1952); cf also Ackerman 1970:105, note 46.

[4] Especially Baker, Carmin, Levenda, Pennick and Roland.

[5] The preoccupation with measures, which in itself could be the topic of an interesting analysis, is a striking feature in several of these books. So for example are the dimensions of the Great Hall said to be ”145 by 100 feet” (Pennick 1981:159), ”45×30 m” (Roland 2007:180), ”100-by-145-foot” (Sklar 1977/1989:99), ”14,500 square foot” (Yenne 2010:113), and 35 x 15 meter (Carmin 1994/2010:137); to be compared with Höhne’s account ”100-foot by 145-foot” (1966/2000:152).

[6] The intertextuality and transmediality between different genres and media forms in popular culture is described in Kingsepp 2008 and Kingsepp 2010. For an extensive account of films on the topic, see Kingsepp 2008.

[7] The most notable scholarly works in later years are the books by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (1985, 2002) and two articles by Daniela Siepe about the Black Sun and the Wewelsburg (2002, 2009). Although the first editions of independent scholar Rüdiger Sünner’s Schwarze Sonne lacked footnotes, the present is thoroughly revised and completed (1999/2009). Other works that are less well known but still deserve to be mentioned are especially Hans-Jürgen Lange’s books on Otto Rahn (1999) and Karl-Maria Wiligut/Weisthor (1998, 2010), Joscelyn Godwin’s Arktos (1996) and Detlef Rose’s study of the Thule Society (1994). A book frequently mentioned in the English-language underground discourse on Nazi occultism is Steven Cook’s and Stuart Russell’s largely pictorial documentation of the Wewelsburg as Himmler’s Camelot (1999). A similar edition in German is Russell & Schneider 2010; see also Rudolf J. Mund’s account of Wiligut (1982/2011).

[8] Immer wieder stoßen wir beim Verfolgen der von Himmler in Wewelsburg hinterlassenen Spuren auf den von Joachim C. Fest eindrucksvoll beschriebenen „Doppelcharakter von unwirklicher Phantastik und planender Rationalität“, der Himmlers Wesen zutiefst bestimmte. Ohne Zweifel sah Himmler in der Wewelsburg viel mehr als nur die künftige Stätte der Spitzenrepräsentation seines SS-Ordens, und die Ergebnisse dieser Untersuchung bestätigen die Feststellung der Herausgeber der „Geheimreden“; dass Himmler auf der Burg eine „neu-germanische“ Tradition schaffen und sie selbst zum Mittelpunkt einer pseudo-religiösen „nationalsozialistischen Glaubenspflege“ machen wollte /…/ Mit Recht spricht Fest vom „Ordinationscharacter“ der auf der Wewelsburg vorgesehenen Feiern, von einem „für die Beteiligten immer wiederholten Akt der Weihe und Berufung in eine alle herkömmlichen Bindungen übersteigende totale Verpflichtungsgemeinschaft“. (In Hüser 1982/1987:71-72)

[9] Die historische Einzigartigkeit Wewelsburgs liegt in der kultischen Bedeutung. Wewelsburg sollte gemäß des Willens Heinrich Himmlers zur zentralen SS-Kultstätte ausgebaut werden und – wie Mitte des Zweiten Weltkrieges postuliert – den ”Mittelpunkt der Welt” bilden.

[10] The impact of popular culture should also be considered, as this is something that especially museums need to take into consideration and relate to (cf Jordanova 2006:126 ff).

[11] Wir haben Fest allerdings an einer entscheidenden Stelle berichtigt; denn die von ihm als Realität ausgegebenen „Feierstunden“ hat es nie gegeben. Auch hat Himmler auf der Wewelsburg niemals „die“ von Fest offensichtlich als bekannt vorausgesetzen „kultischen Bräuche … mit düsterem Gepränge“ inszenieren lassen.

[12] Cf Kogon 1946.

[13] E-mail from Dr Aquino to this author, 2012-06-22.

[14] I will not go into the internal relations between the Temple of Set and the Order of the Trapezoid, as that falls outside the scope of this paper.

[15] In a footnote of a much later date Aquino states that ”The Walhalla and indeed the rest of the Wewelsburg are erroneously described in virtually all popular accounts”, recommending Hüser’s book and the anthology edited by Schulte (2009), especially Siepe’s article (Aquino 1972, note 835).

[16] See also Flowers 1995:19.

1 Response to Eva Kingsepp – The Power of the Black Sun: (Oc)cultural Perspectives on Nazi/SS Esotericism

  1. Pingback: Nazi-occultism on the ContERN website « Heterodoxology

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