Nazism and Religion
Summary and Keywords
The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) always had a complicated relationship with religion, emblematic of the diverse völkisch movement out of which the NSDAP emerged. This relationship became even more complicated during the later years of the Weimar Republic as the party grew larger and attracted millions of new supporters from Protestant as well as Catholic regions. The NSDAP’s attitude toward the Christian churches was nonetheless ambivalent, swinging from co-optation to outright hostility. This ambivalence was founded in part on a pragmatic recognition of Church power and the influence of Christianity across the German population, but it simultaneously reflected an ideological rejection of Judeo-Christian values that a number of Nazi leaders saw as antithetical to National Socialism. Many Nazis therefore sought religious alternatives, from Nordic paganism and a “religion of nature” to a German Christianity led by a blond, blue-eyed Aryan Jesus. This complex mélange of Christian and alternative faiths included an abiding interest in “Indo-Aryan” (Eastern) religion, tied to broader ideological assumptions regarding the origins of the Aryan race in South Asia. Ultimately, there was no such thing as an official “Nazi religion.” To the contrary, the regime explored, embraced, and exploited diverse elements of (Germanic) Christianity, Ario-Germanic paganism, and Indo-Aryan religions endemic to the völkisch movement and broader supernatural imaginary of the Wilhelmine and Weimar period.
The Nazi Party always had a complicated relationship with religion. Historically, most German parties had clear affiliations with a particular socioreligious milieu. National Liberals and Conservatives tended to be associated with Protestantism; Left Liberals with liberal Protestantism and reform Judaism; the Center Party with Catholicism; the Socialists and Communists with atheism and secular humanism. One can make no such broad generalization when it comes to Nazism.1 Although Nazi voters were disproportionately Protestant by 1932, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) was founded in Bavaria, and many of its early leaders were raised Catholic. Complicating matters further was the reticence of the Nazis to commit theologically to any particular confession. As Christopher Dawson has put it, Nazi religiosity was a “fluid and incoherent thing which expresses itself in several different forms.” There was the “neo-paganism of the extreme pan-German element,” the “Aryanized and nationalized Christianity of the German Christians,” and “the racial and nationalistic idealism which is characteristic of the movement as a whole.”2
No wonder that historical interpretations of Nazism and religion are diverse. Some scholars have argued, for example, that the Nazis disdained Judaism, Christianity, and any other form of organized religion, wanting instead to create a “political religion” of their own based on a shared faith in racial community.3 Others have suggested that the Nazis were pagans who preached, in the words of Richard Evans, a “religion founded on mythical gods of the Germanic Middle Ages, on Thor and Wodan and their ilk.”4 Somewhere between these two interpretations, but informing both, is the idea that Nazism was a “religion of nature” grounded in blood, soil, and a highly selective understanding of Darwinism.5 Finally, scholars also argue that the Nazis were in fact Christians, who sought to build a “Holy Reich” informed by German Protestant and, to a lesser extent, Catholic religious traditions.6 There are elements of truth to all four of these interpretations, supplemented by a growing body of research that emphasizes a Nazi fascination with esotericism and Eastern religions.7
This essay proceeds first by examining Nazi attitudes toward religion before the seizure of power. Nazi attitudes were eclectic, emblematic of the late Wilhelmine and early Weimar völkisch movement out of which the Nazi Party emerged. Not surprisingly, these views shifted during the Weimar Republic as the party grew larger and attracted a diverse group of supporters from Protestant as well as Catholic regions. This first section will survey official party statements on religion as well as examples of public religious devotion, such as solstice celebrations. It will also incorporate a brief survey of the private beliefs of Nazi leaders, including Hitler, in order to understand better the relationship between faith and politics within the NSDAP before 1933.
The second section will turn to Nazi attitudes toward Christianity and the churches during the twelve years of the Third Reich. The NSDAP’s relationship with the Christian churches was ambivalent, swinging from co-optation to outright hostility. This ambivalence was founded in part on a pragmatic recognition of the Church’s power, but also an ideological rejection of Judeo-Christian values that many Nazis saw as ethically and epistemologically antithetical to their racial and spatial ethos of blood and soil. The third section will look at the first prong of the “final form of belief” that some Nazis believed the Third Reich may eventually achieve, namely a substitute Ario-Germanic religion.8 This Ario-Germanic religiosity included elements of German Christianity and a religion of nature, not to mention outright Nordic paganism, völkisch-esotericism, medieval Gnosticism, and even Luciferianism.
This complex mélange of religious and spiritual ideas, as the final section suggests, included a broader interest in “Indo-Aryan” (Eastern) religions—Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, even Islam. A fascination with Eastern spirituality was of course tied to broader ideological assumptions regarding the origins of the Aryan race in South Asia, but it had just as much to do with many Nazis’ theological preference for a “this-worldly” religion grounded in ancestor worship, blood, and kinship. The essay concludes by affirming that there was no such thing as an official Nazi religion. Ultimately the regime investigated, embraced, and exploited diverse elements of (Germanic) Christianity, Ario-Germanic paganism, and Indo-Aryan religions endemic to the völkisch movements and broader German intellectual life in the Wilhelmine and Weimar period.
Nazi Attitudes Toward Religion Before 1933
The National Socialist German Workers’ Party did not appear out of the ether. It was the byproduct of a much larger völkisch milieu that emerged in the last decades of the Wilhelmine Empire, radicalized during the First World War, and expanded in scope and diversity during the Weimar Republic. This völkisch milieu was never indifferent to religion. It possessed an important strain of “German Christianity,” alongside more overtly pagan-, Ario-Germanic-, and Indo-Aryan-oriented religious and spiritual elements. These Ario-Germanic and Indo-Aryan religious elements were especially strong among völkisch thinkers who resented both the “Jewish” foundations of Christianity and the “un-German” aspects of Christian theology, which appeared to preach universal love and acceptance toward the ethnoreligious other.9
Indeed, during the second half of the 19th century, Germany and Austria witnessed a renaissance of interest in Germanic folklore, Nordic mythology, and Eastern religions.10 Between the 1880s and the First World War, a number of völkisch thinkers drew these inchoate strains together into concrete religious and spiritual doctrines, ranging from outright paganism and “new heathenism” to the German Faith Movement and German Christianity.11 Alongside these völkisch religious movements there emerged a parallel interest in occult philosophies that combined Darwinist musings about race with esoteric religious teachings. These included Helena Blavatsky’s doctrine of theosophy, Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, and, most redolent of Nazi attitudes toward religion, Ariosophy.
Ariosophy was developed by two Austrian intellectuals at the turn of the 20th century, Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels. By following arcane religious and eugenical practices, which List called “Armanism” and Lanz “Ariosophy,” the two Austrian occultists believed they may inspire a reawakening of Aryan civilization.12 Ariosophists embraced theories about the lost civilization of Atlantis (or Thule), magic and witchcraft, Germanic runes, and astrology. They created secret masonic societies founded on strict racial criteria and flocked to pagan Germanic “holy” sites such as the Brocken Mountains, the site of Walpurgis Night in Faust, and the Externsteine near Detmold, the site of later SS archaeological projects.13
Alongside Ariosophy a number of völkisch thinkers, such as Paul de Lagarde and Adolf Bartels, popularized esoteric conceptions of Aryan spirituality, Manicheanism, Atlanteanism, and blood and soil religiosity. These völkisch intellectuals tended to contrast Judaism and Christianity unfavorably with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, producing elaborate arguments about the foundations of German culture and spirituality in the Indo-Aryan religious traditions of the East.14 Some made explicit comparisons between Indian religious texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, and Nordic mythology, like the Nibelungenlied, arguing that they emerged from the same Indo-Aryan civilization.15 This tradition helps explain why an entire generation of Nazi Indologists and Japanologists, individuals such as J. W. Hauer, Walter Wüst, and Karl Haushofer, would promote Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Shinto as religious alternatives, or, at the very least, healthy admixtures to Christianity.
The Ariosophic German Order provides the most direct ideological and organizational bridge between the völkisch religiosity of the late Imperial epoch and the early Weimar völkisch milieu whence Nazism emerged. Founded in 1912 by the notorious anti-Semite Theodor Fritsch, the German Order was organized along Ariosophic lines. Its members shared a mutual fascination in both Germanic paganism and Indo-Aryan religion, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and the mystical symbol of the swastika. It was the head of the German Order’s Munich Chapter, the Ariosophist and astrologer Rudolf von Sebottendorff, who cofounded the proto-Nazi Thule Society in the waning months of the First World War.16
A number of future Nazis gravitated to Sebottendorff’s Thule Society meetings. These early Thule associates included the party’s cofounder, Anton Drexler; Hitler’s deputy führer, Rudolf Hess; the future governor general of Poland, Hans Frank; and Hitler’s most important early mentor, Dietrich Eckart.17 In conversations with Hitler in the early 1920s, Eckart articulated a Manichean view of religion, which envisioned a battle between a German-Christian God and (Jewish) devil. Diametrically opposed to Christianity, Eckart argued, was “the wisdom of India,” which moved beyond nature to recognize the connectivity of everything to the “world soul.” Another associate of the Thule Society and important influence on Hitler was Alfred Rosenberg, who helped translate Eckart’s “völkisch-redemptive views” into a more digestible form. Nazi religiosity should be based on “the myth of the blood,” Rosenberg argued, “which under the sign of the Swastika, released the world revolution. It is the awakening of the soul of the race.”18
By the early 1920s, Hitler had certainly imbibed much of Eckart and Rosenberg’s fascination with völkisch religious beliefs.19 His library also included numerous books on popular medicine, natural healing, Nordic mythology, and the occult. Among these volumes were Lanz von Liebenfels’s The Book of German Psalms: The Prayerbook of Arios-Racial Mystics and Anti-Semites and the parapsychologist Ernst Schertel’s tome on Magic: History, Theory, and Practice.20 In handwritten annotations, Hitler appeared to pick up on Schertel’s assertion in Magic that every “demonic-magical world is centered towards the great individuals, from whom basic creative conceptions spring.” God or his vessel on earth, according to Schertel, could govern in “utterly autocratic” fashion, “giving orders at his discretion” and demanding “blood and destruction.” Pagan morality, grounded in magic, had “nothing to do with ‘humaneness,’ ‘brotherly love,’ or an abstract ‘good,’” Schertel averred, but the power of will, blood, and nature.21
Despite carefully managing his public image, removing overt references to Indo-Aryan religion from later editions of Mein Kampf, Hitler did not hide these influences.22 In February 1920 he gave a speech that cited the Ariosophists List and Fritsch, arguing that the “Aryan, during the ice age, engaged in building his spiritual and bodily strength in the hard fight with nature, arising quite differently than other races who lived without struggle in the midst of a bountiful world.”23 “We do not judge by merely artistic or military standards or even by purely scientific ones,” Hitler explained in a conversation more than a decade later. “We judge by the spiritual energy which a people is capable of putting forth . . . I intend to set up a thousand-year Reich and anyone who supports me in battle is a fellow-fighter for a unique spiritual—I would almost say divine—creation. . . . the decisive factor is not the ratio of strength, but the spiritual force employed.”24
This redemptive vision of blood and soil, of tapping into the spiritual energies of the Indo-Aryan race, was popular across the völkisch milieu. In the Weimar Republic völkisch groups created “shrines of honor [Ehrenhaine]” dedicated to war dead, men who were “not really dead . . . but climb out of their graves at night and visit us in our dreams.”25 The virulently anti-Christian head of the Nazi Party organization, Robert Ley, claimed that National Socialism helped dead comrades “[find] the road to eternity.”26 German soil, according to many Nazis, was “soaked in the unforgettable, heroic blood of the martyrs.”27 If dead Aryan soldiers were heroic religious martyrs in this Nazi cosmology, Jews, communists, and other enemies became monsters—“veritable devils,” “desert demons,” “vampires,” or the spawn of Beelzebub.28
Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess embraced these völkisch religious views early on, seeking spiritual alternatives grounded in Ario-Germanic paganism and Indo-Aryan religion. Himmler’s anti-Christianity was profoundly influenced by his reading of Fritsch. In addition to the Norse Edda and Nibelungenlied recommended by Fritsch, Himmler became fascinated by Eastern religion and esotericism, carrying around the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, and speeches of Buddha. Born in Egypt and fascinated by Eastern religions, Rudolf Hess likewise studied Buddhism, Hinduism, and Tibetan mysticism.29
The progenitor of Nazi “blood and soil [Blut und Boden]” ideology, Walther Darré, was positively inclined toward Ariosophic “Irminglauben” and Eastern religions as well. In lieu of Christianity, Darré argued, Germans should adopt only Germanic “folk tales and myths, seldom written down, but passed from the wise to the faithful,” who “kept the Ur-faith in the Ur-mother awake.” Through a religion of blood and soil, Darré insisted, the Nordic idea would become “a light in the darkness of the epoch,” a recognition of the “divine law of preserving and propagating the race.”30
These ideological proclivities help explain why Himmler, Darré, and other Nazis chose to join the völkisch-esoteric Artaman movement in the mid-1920s, which employed Germanic runes, organized pagan solstice festivals, and idealized the swastika as the “symbol of the sun . . . German divinity, blood purity and spirit.”31 On December 22, 1920, the NSDAP sponsored a winter solstice festival, which, according to the main Nazi paper, the Racial Observer (Völkischer Beobachter or VB), would help restore völkisch-spiritual unity in the aftermath of war and revolution. “All this the Edda and the teachings of the Armanen had already prophesied in ancient times,” one speaker proclaimed, auguring “happy times . . . for the Aryan race.”32 The “National Socialist solstice,” according to Anton Drexler, cofounder of the NSDAP, was a “visible sign of the return to German thought.” Another speaker talked of Baldur, pagan gods, and the Nordic mythological hero Siegfried, whose “birth in us . . . is our solstice prayer.”33
The Racial Observer also featured articles by Ariosophists such as Johannes Dingfelder and Franz Schrönghamer-Heimdal (who fashioned himself as a descendant of the Norse god Heimdal).34 In their contributions to the NSDAP’s main newspaper, Dingfelder and Schrönghammer-Heimdal made references to the Aryan “racial soul” and “Tschandalen,” a Hindu word for lesser races popular among Ariosophists. They invoked the “Halgadome,” a pagan term indicating a Germanic holy site. In promoting the “church of Wotan or the Armanen” as “Aryan religions of light,” they likewise insisted that the Christian cross was really “an ancient Aryan sacred symbol that derives its origin directly from the swastika.” In this hybrid, pagan-Christian religion, Jesus was merely a stand-in for the god “Frauja” or “Froh” of Norse mythology, the antithesis of the “degeneration and bestialization” that characterized Jewish Christianity.35
Not all Nazis or Nazi publications made equal use of such themes. The early Nazi Party emerged in a Bavarian Catholic milieu in which conservative Christians held considerable influence. Hitler and Drexler, despite the latter’s endorsement of pagan ideas, made sure to invoke the concept of “positive Christianity” in their 1920 party platform and employed Christian tropes in their propaganda. Many Nazis, including Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, made biblical allusions and talked frequently of God and the Devil, good and evil, providence and fate. Certainly, Nazi ideology incorporated Christian ideas of millennialism, messianism, and apocalypticism, drawing on both traditional Christianity and heretical (Gnostic) traditions.36
For most Nazis, however, there was nothing incompatible between appropriating elements of Christian liturgy as well as völkisch paganism. Even after Hitler’s accession as party leader, the NSDAP “publicly proclaimed its link to the völkisch ideas of Guido von List” and insisted that the chaos that defined the early Weimar Republic had been “prophesied” in “the Edda and the teachings of [List’s] Armanen.”37 The Nazi “Yule festival” of December 22, 1922 occurred two years after Hitler became party leader and was accompanied by a very positive appraisal from Rosenberg. Other Nazi intellectuals alluded to Thor’s battles with ice giants and the mythical spirits of the Wild Hunt who “ride through the storms at the head of a ghostly army during the Twelve Nights of Yuletide.”38
As late as November 9, 1923, the day of the Hitler putsch, the Racial Observer printed a call to arms featuring religious “concepts derived from Madame Blavatsky and popularized by Theodor Fritsch.” If the Nazi Revolution was successful, the VB argued, the “horrific Marxist episode, this devilish product, the result of the crossing of Talmudic spirit and materialistic insanity” would vanish “before the Christian-Germanic worldview, which, in one quick movement, breaks the chains that had been forged when darkness ruled.” With the Hitler putsch, the eternal struggle between “light and darkness,” “between Ormuzd and Ahriman” (divine Zoroastrian spirits in pre-Islamic Persian) would end in the “victory of the sun, whose symbol is the ancient Aryan sign of salvation: the swastika!”39
After the failure of the putsch, Hitler, Goebbels, and other Nazi propagandists made a concerted effort to downplay the völkisch-esoteric elements in the NSDAP, reorganizing the party in the interest of gaining mass support and becoming a true Volkspartei.40 More than 90 percent of Germans in 1930 claimed to be at least nominally Christian. Thus, as the party grew in size and diversity, so too did the Nazi constituency become more Christian.41 Whether scholars rely on Derek Hastings’s analysis of the Nazi Party’s relationship to Bavarian Catholicism in the 1920s or Richard Steigmann-Gall’s study of Nazism and German national Protestantism after 1933, there is evidence of strong links, at different times and among various strata, between Nazism and Christianity.42 Hitler and Goebbels’s desire to create a true Volkspartei, supported by millions of German Catholics and Protestants, explains in part the NSDAP’s explicit distancing in the mid-1920s from the party’s earlier connections to, in Hitler’s words, “[völkisch] wandering scholars” who “rave about old Germanic heroism.”43
Despite these important sociopolitical transformations, however, the NSDAP never abandoned its religio-ideological roots in the late Wilhelmine and early Weimar völkisch milieu. That is, the majority of Nazi leaders continued to entertain views that “ranged from paganism to some kind of Aryan Christian belief,” where the “concept of an Aryan Jesus intermingled with the ideas of Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, Theodor Fritsch, and Artur Dinter.”44 Before 1933 such ideas were able to coexist alongside “positive Christianity,” helping reconcile the diverse views that separated many Nazi “old fighters” and intellectuals from the hundreds of thousands of new party members and millions of new constituents. With the Nazi seizure of power, the party now had the opportunity—but also the burden—of sorting out this complex mélange of religious attitudes while simultaneously working out a modus vivendi with the Christian churches.
Nazism and Christianity
Initially, the Nazi Party made considerable effort to accommodate the churches. Part of this strategy was pragmatic, as Hitler and Goering needed the support of conservative elites and traditional institutions during the early phase of “coordination” (Gleichschaltung).45 The first wave of interventions in terms of church policy occurred in this period, culminating in Hitler’s consolidation of the regime in August 1934, when he united in his person the offices of Reich chancellor, Reich president, Nazi führer, and chief of the armed forces. One sees a similar eighteen-month flurry of legal activity between 1936 and 1938, beginning with Himmler’s reorganization of all Reich police under his purview and Goering’s Four-Year Plan in summer 1936 and culminating in the reorganization of the military and diplomatic corps in January and February 1938. Finally, the period after September 1939 constitutes its own phase, as the war unleashed many pent-up energies in terms of foreign and domestic policy.
One of the first prominent decisions Hitler made during the first phase of “coordination” was to sign a concordat with the Vatican in July 1933. In exchange for retaining nominal independence in matters of religious liturgy and church governance, German priests had to take an oath to the regime and stay out of politics, dissolving the Catholic Center Party and Catholic youth organizations.46 To be sure, the Third Reich frequently found itself in conflict with the Church over everyday religious questions. Most famously, a number of regional Nazi officials attempted to replace the crucifixes in Catholic schools with pictures of Hitler. Although Hitler ordered the party to pull back from this grass-roots policy of “dechristianization,” the tensions between Catholicism and Nazism did not disappear. During the war, many Catholic priests and bishops, most famously Cardinal August Count von Galen, openly repudiated Nazi policies of euthanasia; some even criticized the “Final Solution,” albeit obliquely. While Catholic grumbling was persistent, the Nazis could ultimately rely on the fact that most Catholic officials and the vast majority of German Catholics were willing to compromise with the regime on matters of domestic and foreign policy.47
If the relationship between Catholicism and Nazism was highly ambivalent from the beginning, the relationship between the Nazi state and Protestantism, particularly the dominant tradition of Lutheranism, was initially less contentious. Most evidence suggests that German Protestants welcomed the Third Reich with less consternation than Catholics. The Nazis, in turn, saw Protestantism as a more palatable version of Christianity, reliably nationalist and less reticent to accept Nazi theories of race, blood, and soil.48 Some Protestants, led by the Nazi bishop Ludwig Müller, even supported the openly völkisch, pro-Nazi “German Church.” The German Church, whose supporters were known as “German Christians,” wanted to institutionalize a völkisch, anti-Semitic branch of Protestantism that eliminated the Old Testament, excluded non-Aryans, and incorporated pagan Nordic elements.49 German Christianity was nonetheless more popular among völkisch nationalists than it was among mainstream Lutherans and practicing Catholics, for whom the idea of abandoning the Old Testament appeared nonsensical.50
Challenging the authority of the German Church was the Confessing Church of Martin Niemoeller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Karl Barth, which worked to preserve mainstream Protestant theological and ecclesiastical traditions. In order to defend the use of the Old Testament and the right of Jewish converts to remain members of the Church, Niemoeller formed the Pastor’s Emergency League in fall 1933. Barth’s Barmen declaration of June 1934 went further, publicly proclaiming that Jesus, not Hitler, was the head of the Church.51 Many members of the Confessing Church, including Niemoeller, were nationalists who initially supported the Third Reich’s anti-communism and revisionist foreign policy. Barth and Bonhoeffer, however, soon extended their criticisms beyond the narrow bonds of Protestant theology, attacking both Nazi euthanasia policies and anti-Semitism. And yet, reflecting Nazi fears of public controversy, few of the Confessing Church leaders were openly persecuted; even the vocally critical Bonhoeffer managed to preach relatively freely until the outbreak of the war. When he was arrested and executed, it was due to his connections with the German resistance that attempted to assassinate Hitler, not primarily his dissenting religious views.52
In addition to various iterations of Protestantism and Catholicism, the Third Reich tolerated a range of more pagan and/or anti-Christian sects. These included Field Marshall Erich and Mathilde von Ludendorff’s Society for the Knowledge of [a German] God. The Ludendorff circle rejected Christianity and promoted an Ario-Germanic paganism that overlapped quite well with Nazi blood and soil ideology.53 So did the German Faith Movement (Deutsche Glaubensbewegung), led by Nazis such as J. W. Hauer, Ernst Reventlow, and Herbert Grabert.54 Hauer and company “wanted to shape the cultural milieu of politics, religion, theology, Indo-Aryan metaphysics, literature and Darwinian science into a new genuinely German faith-based political community.”55 Although their doctrine was never embraced officially, the German Faith Movement was protected by Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, while Himmler intermittently sponsored Hauer’s research and religious speculations.56 If none of these alternatives to Christianity gained official support, they shared with the Nazi rank and file an interest in exploring Ario-Germanic or Indo-Aryan alternatives to traditional Christianity.57
This explains why, ultimately, it is difficult to argue that the NSDAP was a Christian party.58 To be sure, the Nazis made every effort to attract Christian voters in the 1920s, whether Bavarian Catholics or Saxon Lutherans. Frequent references to “positive Christianity,” God, providence, and occasional biblical illusions worked to reassure Christians that the Nazis would support their institutions. Research by Steigmann-Gall, Susanna Heschel, Robert Ericksen, and Sarah Thieme, among others, has likewise indicated how Nazi Party members, especially at the regional level, often retained close ties to Christianity.59 But as Thieme herself notes, cooperation between the NSDAP and the churches before 1933, such as jointly organizing burials of party members and funeral processions, became circumscribed and eventually forbidden after the Nazi seizure of power.60 Indeed, the higher one moves up the party apparatus, the more one finds open hostility toward Christianity and its institutions.
This hostility was exemplified by the SS “Special Task Force on Witches” (Hexen-Sonderauftrages), which collected tens of thousands of documents analyzing early modern witchcraft trials.61 Under the purview of Reinhard Heydrich’s Security Service (SD), Himmler charged the Witch Division with investigating how the “dominant Aryan-Germanic religion of Nature could be defeated by the decadent Jewish-Christian religion?”62 “So-called witches,” Himmler observed, were in reality the leaders “of a pre-Christian Celtic-Germanic community of faith against which the Catholic Church practiced genocide.”63 By accusing “witches” of consorting with the Devil, the Jewish-run Vatican might criminalize the practice of German religion and justify the murder of its spiritual leaders.64 This delusion, according to Himmler, had “cost the hereditary blood of hundreds of thousands“ of “witches and wizards of the early modern period.”65
For many Nazis, early modern witchcraft trials therefore represented a “capital crime against the German people,” instigated by the Jews and presided over by the Catholic Church.66 Alfred Rosenberg agreed that the Church’s efforts to wipe out paganism were directed at the biological “roots of healthy racial stock,” resulting in the murder of thousands of innocent German women and men.67 Darré believed the number of “Fighters for justice, champions of the faith, heretics, and witches who had been murdered, tortured to death, and burnt” may be as high as nine million.68
Such theories about the Church’s attempts to exterminate German “witches” reflected broader antipathies to Christianity across the Nazi Party.69 Martin Bormann, Himmler, Darré, Rosenberg, and Heydrich’s hatred of Christianity is well documented. But Goering; Goebbels; the Hitler Youth leader, Baldur von Schirach; and the head of the Nazi Party Organization and German Labor Front, Robert Ley, were only slightly less radical in their antipathies to Christianity, repeatedly questioning the role of the Christian churches in culture, society, and education. Representing most of his colleagues, Ley insisted that “the rejection of Christianity” would lead to a “stronger commitment to the ideology of National Socialism” and a “sharper rejection of Jewish influence in society.”70
Hitler shared many of these views.71 According to Rosenberg, Hitler agreed that the “Indo-European peoples’ aristocratic view of the world” had been “torn apart by the intrusion of the Old Testament, brought in by the Jewish desert spirit” that continued to “chain and undermine the Christian churches.”72 Christianity itself was “universally destructive,” Hitler argued elsewhere, akin to “naked Bolshevism.”73 By introducing “that mad conception of life that continues into the alleged Beyond” and regards “life [as] negligible here below,” Christianity had crippled “humanity’s natural search for meaning.”74 “Priests of both confessions represented the greatest public danger,” Hitler reasoned, and he looked forward to a time when he could settle accounts without “juridical niceties.”75
Given these and other statements, historians have rightly queried why the Nazis did not move more aggressively against Christianity after 1933. Much of this was due to pragmatism—a recognition that the majority of Germans were still Christian and that any open attacks on the churches, at least early on, would deprive the party of political support.76 Another reason had to do with the Nazi view of human nature. People needed faith, Hitler observed, “since the notion of divinity gives most men the opportunity to concretize the feeling they have [of] supernatural realities.”77 Religion and superstition were necessary, Hitler added, in order for people to explain “unexpected events which they cannot possibly foresee and with which they cannot cope.”78 Until Nazism had firmly replaced Christianity with some viable alternative, attacking the dominant German religion was politically unwise.
A third reason for not moving more aggressively against the churches was ideological, linked to the same fantastical theories about international Judeo-Christian conspiracies that inspired Himmler’s Witch Division. Jews, Christians, and Masons constituted a kind of unholy trinity in the Nazi mind, of which Judeo-Bolshevism was the most radical manifestation. As such, one needed to be careful about moving against the churches too early, at least before Nazism had eliminated Judeo-Bolshevism and consolidated its racial empire. For these three reasons, many Nazi leaders, including Hitler, discussed settling scores with the churches only after a successful war against the Soviet Union.79
If the Third Reich was willing to mollify the churches in the short and medium term, most Nazi leaders were unwilling to tolerate any religion “which transcended the Third Reich,” not least of which was Christianity.80 In the long term, National Socialism could never leave “the important realm of spiritual leadership” to the churches, Rosenberg explained. “For it has not been lost on the churches,” Rosenberg continued, “that with control over the soul” one gains “the power to shape imagination,” thought, and action—and Christianity was antithetical to Nazism.81 Himmler, too, emphasized the need “to discover a partial substitute for the Christianity we plan to transcend.”82 It may take time, Darré averred, but the “age of the fish, which is the symbol of Christ, is coming to the end.”83
What might that “substitute religion” look like? One element was a belief in a religion of “this world (Diesseit)” instead of the Christian “thereafter (Jenseit).”84 Symptomatic of Nazi “discomfiture with the Judaeo-Christian tradition,” in the words of Robert Pois, is that Christianity sought to “despiritualise nature, removing divinity from it through the establishment of a transcendental God.”85 Instead of believing “in some sort of deity above nature,” the Nazis favored “a religion of nature” that was “heavily mystical in content.”86 This “inner-worldly (innerweltliche)” substitute for “trans-worldly (überweltliche)” Christianity found “the divine in the sub-contents of the world,” in blood and soil mysticism and the völkisch community.87
Nazi religiosity was very clearly based on “romantic notions of an organic and harmonious union between humans and nature, and the powerful symbolic legacy of sacred blood.”88 Underneath their veneer of Christianity, Hitler opined, Germans maintained “an authentic faith that is rooted in nature and the blood.” Ley, too, insisted on finding an alternative to Christianity that focused on spiritual experiences that “make life worth living for this world, no empty promises on a beyond.” Rosenberg agreed, noting that “to prepare for the beyond,” as Christianity instructed, “is fundamentally false and short-sighted.”89 A “cult of mother earth,” Darré explained, is more authentic “than a divinely-ordained” faith. This “Ur-faith,” Darré continued, “viewed the apparition of the mother in the earth, the effect of the father in the sun, and the forces bringing both together in the moon.” “Anyone who feels himself to be a creature of this life,” Bormann added, “in other words, by the will of All-Highest, of Omnipotence, of Nature,” anyone who “feels himself to be merely one of the countless meshes of the web we call a people” will never fear death. For “we are woven into the eternal pattern of all life, the cycle of Nature.”90
Closely related to the emphasis of nature, blood, and soil was the Nazi belief in a cult of sacrifice and rebirth, of “earthly immortality.”91 Hitler referred to those who had fallen during the time of struggle as “my apostles” who, with the Third Reich, had “risen from the dead.” In perishing for the fatherland, Ley added, dead soldiers “found the road to eternity.”92 Rosenberg suggested that millions who had died in the First World War “had entered into the Valhalla of the race-soul.” And according to Bormann, there was “no such thing as death” in the Christian sense, since “every human being lives on forever.” “A man’s physical extinction denotes neither death nor parting,” but “lives in the other’s consciousness after the separation more intensely than ever before.”93 Nazi leaders portrayed the soul in terms of a Buddhist-like “consubstantiality, a state in which the individual considers himself part of an overreaching, godly essence that is seeking to unfold itself.”94 These preoccupations with rebirth and reincarnation explain in part the broader Nazi fascination with Eastern religions.
Nazi religiosity likewise promoted a relativistic view of good and evil, which privileged the morality of one’s own race over universal morality.95 For “millions who were unbound and searching for ‘new world view commitments’” after the First World War, notes the historian Irving Hexham, Nazism “offered a new faith based on a new mythology that would create a new type of human being.”96 As Rosenberg put it, “what we denote as good, others see as evil, what we call God, appears to others as the Devil.”97 In order to compete with the Judeo-Christian God, Nazism required a “this-worldly” prophet who embodied this new morality, a “sacred king incapable of wrongdoing.”98 This prophet was Hitler.99
Even if the exact contours of Nazi religiosity remained unclear in 1933, virtually all leaders agreed on the need to find “a new syncretism that would bridge Germany’s confessional divide.”100 Central elements in this “new syncretism” included a non-transcendental, this-worldly emphasis on blood and soil mysticism; a metaphysical preoccupation with death, rebirth, and reincarnation; and a moral revolution based on power, race, and loyalty to the führer.101 It was traditional Christianity’s fundamental incompatibility with these principles that encouraged many Nazis to explore alternative spiritual traditions.
Nazism and Ario-Germanic Religious Alternatives
A fascination with Germanic folklore and Nordic mythology, pre-Christian paganism, and witchcraft is hardly unique to Nazism. Many heretical Christian traditions, including the Albigensian (Cathar) heresy, incorporated elements of folk religion and paganism. It was the Cathars who ostensibly hid the Holy Grail in Montségur in the French Pyrenees. Both the Knights Templar and the Cathars supposedly propagated a Gnostic theology, which insisted on the intrinsic connection between spiritual and material, good and evil, God and the Devil, that bound all living things. This is why they were deemed “Luciferians” by some members of the Church and tried before the Inquisition.102
By the early 20th century, many esoteric thinkers, völkisch and otherwise, had elaborated upon aspects of this mythos, including the link between the Cathars, Luciferianism, and the Grail. One such scholar was the young German philologist Otto Rahn. In the late 1920s, Rahn collaborated with French esotericists who studied a “Cathar-Grail-Shambala [northern Indian]” tradition linked to an Ur-Aryan civilization known as Atlantis or Thule.103 This research culminated in Rahn’s 1933 monograph, Crusade Against the Grail, which argued that the Albigensian heresy, Buddhist religion, and Holy Grail were interconnected by an Indo-European Gnostic tradition (“Luciferianism”) brought to the Germans via the Celts, who had earlier appropriated the religious traditions of northwest India and ancient Persia. The Grail, according to Rahn, came from the Indian mani, the symbol for a stone fallen from heaven, brought to Europe from the Himalayas.104
Many Nazis, led by Himmler, found Rahn’s work compelling. The Reichsführer hired Rahn and urged him to continue his research on the Grail and its links to the origins of Ario-German religion.105 These efforts produced Rahn’s second book, Lucifer’s Court, which “speculated that the Grail lay at the center of a Cathar cult of Luciferians—literally devil worshippers—who practiced an Ur-Aryan religion drawn from Tibet and Northern India, via Persia, in pre-modern times.” After being accused of heresy and witchcraft, these “last representatives of the Indo-Aryan civilization of Thule were eradicated by the Catholic Church,” but their teachings were “preserved by the Knights Templar and Tibetan monks.”106
Immersed as they were in Ariosophic and völkisch-esoteric religious traditions, some Nazis found compelling the idea that the Cathars were Luciferians (“light bearers”), who represented the Indo-Aryan religion of the Thule.107 For Himmler’s religious adviser, the SS Brigadeführer and Ariosophist Karl Maria Wiligut, Rahn’s theories confirmed that German-speaking central Europe was a “geomantic center” of “Irminist religion” and that Jesus Christ was a blond Aryan related to the Baldur of Norse mythology. Rahn’s work likewise buttressed the idea, shared by many Nazis, that a Judeified Vatican had attempted to eliminate the Indo-Aryan religion (“Catharism”) that survived the collapse of Atlantis.108
The SS consequently sponsored Rahn’s lectures explaining Lucifer’s role as bringer of enlightenment and enemy of the Jewish God. Himmler also financed a number of expeditions to Paleolithic sites across northern Europe to help prove the connections between Rahn’s Luciferian thesis and the Thule (Atlantean) civilization. Even after Rahn’s death by apparent suicide, the SS continued to sponsor Grail research, collaborating with the Italian fascist Julius Evola, who wrote an essay titled “Grail Mystery and Conceptions of Empire.”109
Rahn’s mentor in the SS, Wiligut (or “Wise-Thor,” as he liked to be called), was central to the project of resuscitating a pre- (quasi) Christian Ario-Germanic religion. Irminist religion, according to Wiligut, emerged millennia before recorded history, when giants, dwarves, and mythical creatures roamed the world. Wiligut believed that four classes of Irminist gods (“Asen”)—Odinist, Baldurist, Thorist, and Lokiist—could “control the thoughts of one thousand human beings.” As descendants of Asen, Aryans (“light children”) were superior to lower racial forms (i.e., Neanderthals, blacks, and Jews). Unfortunately, millennia of race-mixing and “demonism” had led to internecine conflicts between “Irminists” and “Wotanists” over the divinity of a Germanic god (“Krist”). After these battles, all that remained were ancient ruins, such as the Irminist temple at the Externsteine, and symbols, such as the “black sun,” which represented geomantic energy that might be accessed through yoga and other Indo-Aryan rituals.110
Wiligut’s Irminist theories, like Rahn’s research on the Holy Grail, were taken seriously by some leading Nazis. Himmler and the first director of the SS Institute for Ancestral Research (Ahnenerbe), Hermann Wirth, consulted Wiligut on virtually all religious matters. Wiligut enjoyed wide authority in designing SS birth, marriage, and burial ceremonies as well as the “death’s head ring” given to new SS initiates. He also directed massive archaeological projects in search of religious relics. This “research” included ancient Germanic rituals based on the enigmatic Halgarita Charms, Irminist mantras intended to enhance ancestral memory and facilitate the re-emergence of the Ario-Germanic faith.111
Wirth himself made a career investigating Aryan “Ureligion” through runic and symbological studies.112 Wirth envisioned the Ahnenerbe’s mission as the “renewal and strengthening of German spirituality,” including research on the Irminist civilization of Atlantis or Thule, whose history he believed had been preserved in ancient Germanic runes.113 Sponsored by Himmler, Wirth and Wiligut spearheaded massive excavations and renovations of ancient Germanic “holy places,” included the Quedlinburg castle in the Harz Mountains, the Externsteine near Detmold, and the Wewelsburg castle near Buren in Westphalia.114
It was Wiligut who presided over the conversion of the Wewelsburg into a kind of holy center of the Irminist faith. In redesigning the castle, he incorporated numerous allusions to the Holy Grail and other “geomantic” features, including a “black sun” emblem in the crypt and a “Grail Salon,” meant as a ritual space for SS ceremonies and heathen wedding services. Wiligut and Wirth also reclaimed the Externsteine as a pagan Saxon religious center, home of the “Irminsul,” ostensibly destroyed by Charlemagne.115 Indeed, despite their ongoing rivalry with Alfred Rosenberg’s massive research apparatus (Amt Rosenberg), Wirth, Wiligut, and other members of Himmler’s Ahnenerbe were willing to collaborate with Rosenberg in building the Externsteine “into a Neo-Germanic holy place” and inaugurating a “Saxon’s grove [Sachsenhain]” to commemorate the supposed execution of 4,500 pagan Saxons by the Christian Franks.116
Wiligut and Wirth both lost influence after 1938, due to a variety of scandals. But their efforts to (re)construct an Ario-Germanic religion were enthusiastically embraced by many Nazi and SS leaders, including Darré, Rosenberg, and Himmler himself. As the doyen of Nazi blood and soil ideology, Darré endorsed much of Wiligut’s Irminist eschatology, in particular his belief in an Ario-Germanic “religion of the blood,” Jesus’ Nordic roots, and the Aryan race’s origins in Atlantis. Darré furthermore agreed with Wiligut that the Catholic Church had adopted the teachings of the Aryan Christ (Krist), but then distorted them from God’s true racial mission, which lay in blood and soil. Darré likewise investigated runic signs, including those ostensibly adorning Thor’s hammer, and propagated a “new heathen” religion based on Ario-Germanic paganism.117
Rosenberg shared similar goals. His concept of a “racial soul” complemented Darré’s emphasis on “blood and soil,” blending pagan Germanic ideas with the Ariosophic mythology of an Ur-Aryan religion of Thule or Atlantis.118 Like Himmler and Darré, Rosenberg advocated ancestor worship, a cult of the dead, and pagan Germanic rituals. He also believed that research in the field of “Nordic religious history” would “form the yeast that will permeate the former Catholic and former Lutheran components of the German Church. Then the Nordic sagas and fairy tales will take the place of the Old Testament stories of pimps and cattle dealers.”119 With this mission in mind, Rosenberg sponsored hundreds of festivals, archaeological excavations, and publications extolling Germanic paganism.120
Himmler lacked Darré and Rosenberg’s penchant for systematic thinking and never came up with a quasi-religious catechism like the “racial soul” or “blood and soil.” And yet, Himmler’s religious and ideological picture was clear. He wanted the “restoration of a de-Christianized, Germanic environment, which with the help of the myths of Atlantis and Tibet was to be linked to long-lost examples of sophisticated cultures and via the Cosmic Ice Theory/astrology/astronomy to the history of the cosmos,” according to Peter Longerich. “Through the mixture of history, historical myth, Teutonic cult, astrology and astronomy, theories of how the earth came to be and how reincarnation is possible, a real substitute religion was created, possibly interwoven with notions of a primitive Germanic religion.”121 Because “the sun played a central part for the primordial religion of the Nordic race,” per Himmler, “he wanted to create an SS summer solstice festival to celebrate life and the winter solstice festival to remember the dead and honor ancestors.”122
Himmler was intent on recovering the truth about Germanic deities like Wotan and Thor. He asked the director of the Ahnenerbe to “research where in all of North-Germanic Aryan culture the concept of the lightning flash, the thunderbolt, Thor’s hammer, or the hammer thrown or flying through the air appears” and “where there are sculptures of a god holding an axe and appearing in a flash of lightning.” All such evidence, “whether in pictures, sculptures, writing, or legend,” Himmler suggested, could be used to distinguish between “natural thunder and lightning” and “earlier, highly developed” weapons “possessed by only a few, namely by the Aesir, the gods, and presuming an extraordinary knowledge of electricity.”123
Himmler made rune studies virtually obligatory for SS officers and placed “protective runes” on uniforms and buildings. He also sent an Ahnenerbe expedition to Karelia in Finland (“the land of witches and sorcerers”) to recover the Ur-Germanic religion drawn from the Edda.124 Himmler gave SS men and women yule lights, death’s head rings, and runic brooches designed by Wiligut, seeking to reinstitute the “Odal” law he believed had been practiced by ancient Nordic peoples.125 Because of his massive power and influence, Himmler therefore managed to privilege the SS “as keeper of the Holy Grail of Nazism,” doing more than Hess, Rosenberg, and Darré to spread “symbols, insignias, myths and shrines, festivals and rituals,” which gave “sensuous expression” to Ario-Germanic religiosity.126
Hitler was less preoccupied with spiritual matters than Hess, Darré, Rosenberg, or Himmler. His inchoate religious sentiments nonetheless incorporated many Ario-Germanic elements. Hitler appeared to accept that the Externsteine were important to ancient Germanic tribes and expressed interest in the SS’s symbol research.127 He tacitly approved Germanic solstice celebrations. And he believed Nordic mythology could be used to bring German youth to nature, “to show them the powerful workings of divine creation . . . keeping youth out of salons and ‘airless dives.’”128
Like the Armanists/Irminists, Hitler asserted that the historical Jesus was blond with blue eyes, likely a renegade from a lost Aryan tribe. He even proclaimed in an early speech that the Aryans “held one sign in common: the symbol of the sun. All of their cults were built on light, and you can find this symbol, the means of the generation of fire, the Quirl, the cross. You can find this cross as a swastika not only here [in Germany], but also exactly the same [symbol] carved into temple posts in India and Japan. It is the swastika of the community (Gemeinwesen) once founded by Aryan culture (Kultur).”129
Hence many, perhaps most, Nazi leaders shared a fascination with Ario-Germanic religion and mythology. By invoking such practices, Nazi leaders were continuing neopagan religious traditions that had percolated through the völkisch and radical nationalist right since the late 19th century. None of these ideas became official doctrine during the twelve short years of the Third Reich. But the depth and breadth of interest in Luciferianism, Irminism, Nordic mythology, and Germanic paganism indicates the ambitious nature of Nazi attempts to replace—or at least transmogrify—Christianity, a project that may have found its fullest expression in Indo-Aryan spirituality.130
Nazism and Indo-Aryan Spirituality
Alongside these heterogeneous Nazi efforts to exploit, resuscitate, or reconstruct an Ario-Germanic religion, there is a parallel fascination with the “Indo-Aryan” religions of the East. The sources of this fascination were many, from the occult doctrines of theosophy, anthroposophy, and Ariosophy to more general völkisch traditions which held that “Tibet was a refuge, in which important elements of an ‘Aryan-Nordic-Atlantean Ur-culture’ had survived.” By the 1930s, many Nazis embraced “Buddhist-lamaist elements of faith with supposedly ‘Ur-Aryan’ or ‘Ur-Germanic’ roots (such as the doctrines of reincarnation and karma),” which might be incorporated into “a Nazi substitute religion.”131 Whether one believed that the Aryan race originated in northern India or that Tibet may have been the last refuge of the Aryans who fled Atlantis (Thule) after a great flood, the area of northern India and Tibet became, with Germany and Scandinavia, the site of Ur-Aryan religiosity.132
The influential Nazi race theorist H. K. Günther argued, for example, that Nordic tribes swept into East and South Asia, inspiring Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shinto, effectively creating the ruling Brahmin caste and ancient Japanese samurai. The German Faith leader Hauer, a scholar of Indian religion, made similar arguments connecting the religions of Nordic and South Asian peoples and defining the sacral practices of Eastern Yogis as “Aryan-Nordic teachings.” When Himmler decided to replace Wirth as head of the Ahnenerbe, he chose none other than Walter Wüst, a well-respected Indologist who believed that Germans were descendants of an ancient Indo-Aryan Atlantean empire whose religious teachings were preserved by the monks of Tibet. Wüst famously compared Hitler to Buddha and claimed that the führer had inherited Buddha’s holy mission to preserve the Indo-Aryan race and religion. From the practices of Hinduism, Buddhism, yoga, and other South Asian spiritual traditions, Wüst argued, one could (re)construct a religion that combined Nordic and Hindu-Buddhist traditions.133
As becomes clear from this brief survey, there was considerable overlap between Nazi intellectuals who privileged Nordic or Ario-Germanic religious thinking, like Wirth and Wiligut, and those who focused on the Indo-Aryan provenance of Germanic religion, such as Günther, Hauer, and Wüst. The Grail researcher Rahn had always insisted that Germanic Luciferianism was a version of the Tibetan-Buddhist religion originally invented in Nordic Atlantis and then practiced in Tibet before returning to the Germanic peoples via northern India and Persia. Despite the fact that Wirth’s empirical “research” focused on medieval Dutch and Scandinavian runes, the first Ahnenerbe director nonetheless emphasized the religious commonalities between Nordic “Hyperboreans” who lived in the city state Ultima Thule and the Indo-Aryan peoples of the Veda, Brahmana, and Mahabharata. Wiligut, too, despite his preoccupations with Nordic mythology, studied Tibetan legends, practiced yoga, and claimed that German runes derived from the same roots as Tibetan and Chinese script.134
No wonder that Himmler recruited the French esotericist Gaston de Mengel, one of Rahn’s colleagues, to help decipher the connections between Nordic and pre-Christian Indian, Persian, and Chinese holy texts. The SS-Obersturmführer Frenzolf Schmid likewise propagated the idea of a common Indo-Aryan religion, including strands of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Employing de Mengel’s research, Schmid theorized the existence of an “Atlantean-Aryan” spiritual triangle or “geomantic axis” that connected the Nordic countries with France, South Asia, and Tibet. The SS researcher Günther Kirchhoff added that the geomantic points of Urga (Ulan Bator) and Lhasa were the “two important Lama-centers,” with Ulan Bator representing the “Mongol Church.”135
Inspired by such theories, Himmler speculated that “in the mountains of Tibet an advanced civilization had once existed, possibly the product of an original, sophisticated race that had sought refuge there from a global catastrophe.” The “civilization in question must have been connected to the legend of ‘Atlantis,’” Himmler reasoned, before “the stranded ruling class of Atlantis . . . spread out from there to Europe and East Asia.”136 According to the leader of the SS Tibet expedition, Ernst Schäfer, Himmler cited the Japanese general Oshima in arguing “that the Nordic race did not evolve but came directly down from heaven to settle on the Atlantic continent” and create “the noble castes in Japan.”137
In sponsoring the SS Tibet expedition, Himmler charged Schäfer and his associates with collecting archaeological and anthropological evidence that Tibet was the mystic refuge of the Aryans. Schäfer himself referred to the expedition as a “meeting between western and eastern swastika,” researching the parallels between the Germanic and “Tibetan racial soul (Volksseele).” Schäfer’s research provided ample material for Nazi leaders intent on propagating the idea that Tibetan priests had preserved an Ur-Aryan religion for millennia. He produced a live-action documentary titled Secret Tibet, part of a long line of interwar Himalayan films celebrating Tibetan religion and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. On the occasion of the movie’s premiere, Schäfer presented a “piece of clothing from the last Dalai Lama” to Hitler.138
Hitler’s interest in Tibet and Eastern religions was seemingly authentic. In his table talk, Hitler noted that “fasting and many teachings of natural healing are useful . . . It is no accident that the Egyptian priesthood was simultaneously the medical profession . . . if modern science does nothing more than to eliminate [these ancient teachings] then it causes damage.”139 Hitler complemented aspects of Hinduism, from vegetarianism to a shared belief in racial purity. Hitler expressed admiration for Japanese Shinto as well, declaring that God had reserved his “mercies for the heroes of Japan . . . for the religion of Japanese is above all a cult of heroism, and its heroes are those who do not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for the glory and safety of their country.” “The Japanese religion,” Hitler continued, “rouses men to enthusiasm by the promise it holds of the rewards in the Hereafter, while the unfortunate Christian has no prospect before him but the torments of Hell.”140 Hitler also deemed Islam a “superior religion.”141 As in Shinto, Hitler stated, “there is no kind of terrorism [in] Islam” but “a promise of happiness.”142
Rosenberg embraced similar ideas. He suggested that an ancient race of Ario-Atlanteans created a religion of castes and blood purity (Brahmanism) prevalent in South Asia. Following Lanz, Wiligut, and other Ariosophists, Rosenberg seemed to believe that some of these ancient Aryans immigrated to Persia, where they developed a Gnostic version of the same religion based on the struggle between light and darkness. For Rosenberg, like Himmler and Darré, the Indian caste system and Asian concepts of self-sacrifice and spirituality justified National Socialist visions of religious and racial community.143
Even the normally skeptical Bormann—vociferous in his attacks on Christianity and sectarianism—shared a fascination with Eastern religions. Bormann apparently agreed with his wife, Gerda, regarding the virtues of Japanese Shinto and the genius of Muhammad. “Mohammedans,” Gerda wrote her husband, “put the whole Roman Church to shame with their astronomy and geometry.” “For Mahomet . . . let his faith be spread by fire and the sword” in contrast to the “miserable pettiness of both the Christian churches,” examples of the “utmost backwardness and barbarism.”144
Given his childhood in Egypt and classes with the Munich Japanologist Karl Haushofer, Rudolf Hess’s interest in Indo-Aryan religions is unsurprising. Hess studied the Koran as well as practices drawn from Hinduism and Buddhism.145 Hess even appointed the Nazi esotericist Edgar Dacqué to the Ministry of Education due in part to his extensive knowledge of “Indian philosophy and eastern ideas” derived from “theosophy and anthroposophy.” Hess believed, following his mentor Haushofer, that Germany might emulate Shinto religion’s “mystical unity with nature, ancestors and rulers, surrounded by a reverence for the divine and unconditional obedience” toward the emperor.146
Darré was equally invested in East Asian religion. He lauded Eastern ideas of reincarnation and ancestor worship, citing Confucius and his favourite interlocutor between East and West, the anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner, who recognized the importance of “oriental wisdom.”147 Obtaining spiritual harmony with the “divine world,” while impossible through Christianity, could be achieved through Eastern religions. Darré also admired what he called the “holy trinity” of Chinese spirituality, “the peasantry, the cult of ancestor, and the duty to produce masculine progeny that at some point are supposed to serve at the gravesite of the ancestors . . . preserving the long-lasting, völkisch life of the Chinese people in this world.”148 The “noble class of the Japanese [were of] Aryan origin,” Darré asserted in his diary, which is why the “Shinto Religion is likely the still authentic old heathen religion of the Germans. Remarkable similarities for example between the Japanese pagoda and a traditional Norwegian church.”149
Himmler, in particular, was fascinated by Eastern religions. The Reichsführer carried around a prized copy of the Bhagavad Gita, lecturing anyone who would listen on the parallels between Hitler and Krishna. Himmler argued that Hinduism was instructive in learning to balance pleasure (kama) with moral (dharma) and practical (artha) aspects of life, citing the Hindu Arthasastra (Manual of politics). According to Himmler, the traditions of the Edda and Nibelungenlied derived from the same common source as the heroic racial consciousness of the Aryan-Hindu and Kshatriya warrior caste in the Gita and Mahabharata.150 He even believed that “he could penetrate directly to the world of the Germanic ancestors” and “be ‘reincarnated.’”151
Himmler’s superficial studies of Buddhism reinforced his vegetarianism as well as his desire to create an SS cult of ancestor worship. The teachings of Zarathustra and Confucius have “a big plus,” Himmler observed, because “a nation that has this belief in reincarnation, and reveres its ancestors and thus itself, always has children, and such a nation has eternal life.”152 Such musings help explain Himmler’s instructions to his Tibet specialists to investigate the lost civilization of Shamballa and later orders to export Buddhism to occupied territories.153
Finally, Himmler admired Shinto and Islam as noble Indo-Aryan religions that shared Germanic peoples’ martial values and a belief in racial and spiritual community. In a foreword to Heinz Corazza’s book The Samurai: Honorable and Loyal Imperial Knights, Himmler wrote that in “distant times the people in the Far East had the same code of honor as our fathers had long ago in a past all too soon destroyed.” It is “frequently minorities of the highest caliber [such as the SS and samurai] who give a nation eternal life in earthly terms.”154 He charged the SS with researching the parallels between ancient Germanic texts and the Koran, claiming that Germans, Persians, and Arabs had the same religio-racial roots. In a speech to an SS division of Islamic volunteers, Himmler announced that Germans “were friends of Islam on the basis of convictions . . . you Muslims share the feeling of thankfulness to destiny that almighty God—you say Allah, it is of course the same thing—sent the Führer to the tortured and suffering people of Europe.”155
Himmler was hardly unique among his colleagues. National Socialist religion was “nearest Mohammedanism,” observed Carl Jung, because it was “realistic, earthy, promising the maximum of rewards in this life, but with a Moslem-like Valhalla into which worthy Germans may enter and continue to enjoy themselves. Like Mohammedanism, it teaches the virtue of the sword.”156 From the early Ariosophic speculations of Johannes Dingfelder and Franz Schrönghamer-Heimdal to the arcane speculations put forward by Rosenberg, Darré, and Himmler, a fascination with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Japanese Shinto was ubiquitous among Nazi leaders. Esoteric racial ideas played a role in such speculations, to be sure, but so did a pragmatic desire to create an Indo-Aryan alternative to Judeo-Christian ethics.
Nazi Religious Pluralism and the Search for Alternatives
Many scholars have emphasized new forms of spirituality that emerged across Germany and Austria in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Whether discussing the renaissance in German occultism or the proliferation of German Indology as an academic field, an impressive array of monographs and articles attest to the depth and breadth of the Germans’ longing for myth and search for alternative religion.157 This desire for religious alternatives to mainstream Christianity was expressed by many members of the völkisch milieu whence Nazism emerged in the early Weimar period.
Given the NSDAP’s roots in this broader völkisch movement, scholars should hardly be surprised that most Nazi political leaders and intellectuals were skeptical of traditional Christianity or fascinated by Ario-Germanic and Indo-Aryan alternatives. To be sure, most European fascist movements were at least nominally Christian, especially in Catholic countries with one dominant religion. This was true of Benito Mussolini’s black shirts, the Action Française, and Francisco Franco’s Falange. Even the Third Reich attempted to make their peace with Christianity, whether through the concordat with the Catholic Church or by sponsoring the Protestant German Church.158
And yet, most Nazis were, at best, only grudgingly tolerant of Christian institutions and broadly skeptical of Christian theology; at worst, they were actively hostile. This hostility went beyond the perception that Christianity was yet another “sectarian” rival to Nazi “political religion.” It had concrete roots in völkisch perceptions that traditional Christianity—Christianity that had yet to be Aryanized and denuded of the Old Testament—was both a product of Jewish thinking and theologically bankrupt in its un-German focus on the afterlife and acceptance of the weak.
Recognizing the fact that many leading Nazis rejected Christianity and sought an Ario-Germanic or Indo-Aryan alternative is not to suggest that the Nazis had a coherent religious vision. Nor does it constitute evidence of a conscious effort to institutionalize a state religion along German Christian or German Faith lines. To the contrary, these efforts are symptomatic of the authentic but wholly uncoordinated effort to revive and exploit existing Ario-Germanic and Indo-Aryan traditions embedded in the wider völkisch movement in which Nazism operated.
According to Alfred Rosenberg, probably the most systematic religious thinker among all Nazi leaders, “National Socialism is above all denominations and encompasses them all through co-opting them into the essence of Germanness.”159 That is why neither Hitler nor Himmler nor any other Nazi leader attempted to create a state religion. All that mattered was that the range of acceptable religious and spiritual alternatives, including a more Germanized version of Christianity, might “guarantee the stability of German will formation and therefore political leadership.”160
For these reasons, scholars should hardly be surprised that the Third Reich failed, in its twelve short years, to displace Christianity. In 1933, the vast majority of Germans remained at least nominally Protestant or Catholic; certainly fewer than 10 percent adhered to the Ario-Germanic or Indo-Aryan alternatives discussed in this essay, with the possible exception of “German Christianity.”161 Even Nazis who proclaimed a desire gradually to replace Christianity after a victorious war could never agree on the precise admixture of elements, whether Irminism or Luciferianism; German Christianity or German Faith; anthroposophy-inspired Hinduism, Shinto, or Tibetan Buddhism. If it appears all these “religious and mythological movements seemed to be going in different directions,” however, they “all served the purpose,” as George Williamson states, “of forging a national religiosity that the Nazi regime wanted.”162
Review of the Literature
The historiography on Nazism and religion is diverse. Already during the Third Reich many historians maintained that Nazism was a largely pagan, anti-Christian movement.163 In more recent decades such arguments have been extended and nuanced by historians working on völkisch religious traditions and German Christianity, including Uwe Puschner and Clemens Volnhals’s Die völkisch-religiöse Bewegung im Nationalsozialismus: eine Beziehungs- und Konfliktgeschichte, Doris Bergen’s Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich, and Samuel Koehne’s many articles on the relationship between the völkisch religious movement and the early Nazi Party.164 Indeed, whether discussing the renaissance in völkisch-esotericism or the proliferation of “Aryan”-obsessed German Christianity, an impressive array of monographs and articles attest to the depth and breadth of Germans’ search for Ario-Germanic or Indo-Aryan alternatives to traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs.165
An equally long tradition in the historiography views Nazism as a “political religion.” As Erich Voegelin argued already in 1938 in The Political Religions, Nazism appropriated religious symbols and ritual forms in order to produce a sense of political and racial community (Volksgemeinschaft) in a superficially religious manner.166 Since the 1970s and 1980s, these arguments have been nuanced theoretically and buttressed empirically by the work of Klaus Vondung (Magie und Manipulation: Ideologischer Kult und politische Religion des Nationalsozialismus), Emilio Gentile, Hans Maier, and Claus Ekkehard Bärsch (Die Politische Religion des Nationalsozialismus). Such works have emphasized that the “articles of faith” that were presented in the Nazi cult can be understood as the manifestation of an existential core of religious character, including “holy texts” such as Mein Kampf and “rites of purgation, penitence and renewal, cultic patterns behavior, and heresy.”167
A variation on the idea of Nazism as a (secular) political religion is the claim that Nazism represents a pantheistic “religion of nature” grounded in blood, soil, and a highly selective understanding of Darwinism.168 National Socialists did not reject “mysticism,” Robert Pois argues in his monograph National Socialism and the Religion of Nature, “but the literal belief in some sort of deity above nature, as is characteristic of Judaeo-Christian thought—they were strong believers in a religion of nature heavily mystical in content [mystical being defined as ‘any religious practice or doctrine that asserts the ultimate unity of man and the divine’].”169 In a series of books on Nazi ideology, including Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress and Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich, Richard Weikart likewise suggests that Hitler and by extension many Nazis may not have been strictly secular, but rather pantheistic in constructing a religion of nature that held absolute faith in Darwinian biology.170 Complementing these arguments are the observations by a number of Hitler biographers, including Alan Bullock, Richard Overy, Ian Kershaw, and Richard Evans, who suggest that Hitler and other Nazis disliked Christianity, which they hoped might be replaced by a faith in modern racial science.171
In contrast some scholars argue that the Nazis were in fact Christians, who sought to build a “Holy Reich” informed by German Protestant and, to a lesser extent, Catholic religious traditions.172 Such arguments have their roots in an earlier literature emphasizing the complicity of Catholics and Protestants in Nazism, from Gunther Lewy’s 1964 The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany and John Conway’s Nazi Persecution of the Churches (1968) to Kevin Spicer’s Resisting the Third Reich: The Catholic Clergy in Hitler’s Berlin (2004), Susanna Heschel’s Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Germany (2008), and Robert Ericksen’s 2012 Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany.173
Some scholars have gone one step further, contending not only that many Christians and Christian institutions succumbed to Nazi ideology but that the Nazis were themselves devoutly Christian.174 Richard Steigmann-Gall’s seminal 2003 work, The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945 has since been supplemented by Derek Hastings’s 2009 Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism, which examines the Nazi Party’s relationship to Bavarian Catholicism in the 1920s. Other regional case studies, such as Sarah Thieme’s Nationalsozialistischer Märtyererkult: Sakralisierte Politik und Christentum im westfälischen Ruhrgebiet (1929–1939), reinforce the idea that Nazi Party members often retained close ties to the Catholic and particularly the Protestant churches, at least before the Nazi seizure of power.175 As this brief overview suggests, the literature on Nazism and religion is disparate and growing, certain to move in new directions over the coming decades as it has in previous decades.
On the one hand, nearly every major publication by the Nazi Party or its acolytes includes ample reflections on religion. From Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1925) and Goebbels’s Diaries (1923–1945) to major party speeches, rallies, and editorials covered in Nazi papers such as the central party paper, Der Völkischer Beobachter (1920–1945); the SS Schwarze Korps (1935–1945), Goebbels’s Der Angriff (1927–1945); and Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer (1923–1945), religion and the churches surface repeatedly. Equally interesting are the 1920s publications of Hitler’s two most influential mentors, Dietrich Eckart (his paper Auf Gut Deutsch and collections such as Der Bolschewismus von Moses bis Lenin: Zwiegespräch zwischen Adolf Hitler und mir) and Alfred Rosenberg (Myth of the Twentieth Century and his Diaries, 1936–1944). Additional sources that contain numerous reflections on religion include Henry Picker’s transcripts of meetings with Hitler, Hitler’s Tischgespräche. The Nazi Party files and personal papers in the German Federal Archives are also rich in commentary on religion, especially the files of Himmler’s Ahnenerbe and Heydrich’s SD, which together include scores of files and hundreds of documents devoted to research on and surveillance of Christian, pagan, Ario-Germanic, and Indo-Aryan religions.
I would like to thank the two anonymous OUP reviewers as well as the editors for their helpful comments. I would also like to thank our departmental administrative assistant, Mary Bernard, for her keen eye and editorial support in reviewing a draft of the manuscript.
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(1.) Doris L. Bergen, “Nazism and Christianity: Partners and Rivals? A Response to Richard Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich. Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945,” Journal of Contemporary History 42 (January 2007): 25–33; Stanley Sowers, “The Concepts of ‘Religion’, ‘Political Religion’ and the Study of Nazism,” Journal of Contemporary History 42, no. 1 (January 2007): 9–24; Uwe Puschner, “Weltanschauung und Religion, Religion und Weltanschauung: Ideologie und Formen völkischer Religion,” Zeitenblicke 5, no. 1 (2006); George S. Williamson, “A Religious Sonderweg? Reflections on the Sacred and the Secular in the Historiography of Modern Germany,” Church History 75, no. 1 (2006): 139–156; George Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany, from the Napoleonic Wars Through the Thrird Reich (New York: H. Fertig, 2001), 202–205; and Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich (London: Hill and Wang, 2001), 261–265.
(2.) Eric Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018), 163.
(3.) Michael Burleigh, “National Socialism as a Political Religion,” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 1, no. 2 (Autumn 2000): 4–5; Klaus Vondung, “National Socialism as a Political Religion: Potentials and Limits of an Analytical Concept,” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 6, no. 1 (June 2005): 87–90; and also see Klaus Vondung, Deutsche Wege zur Erlösung: Formen des Religiösen im Nationalsozialismus (Munich: Fink, 2013), 24–28.
(5.) Robert Pois, National Socialism and the Religion of Nature (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), 3; and also see Richard Weikart, Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich (Washington, DC: Regnery History, 2016).
(6.) Richard Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Derek Hastings, Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Richard Steigmann-Gall, “Rethinking Nazism and Religion: How Anti-Christian Were the ‘Pagans’?,” Central European History 36, no. 1 (2003); and Derek Hastings, “How ‘Catholic’ Was the Early Nazi Movement? Religion, Race and Culture in Munich, 1919–1923,” Central European History 36, no. 3 (2003).
(7.) Wolfgang Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet (Ludwigsfeld, Germany: Ludwigsfelder, 2009); and Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters.
(8.) Felix Kersten, The Kersten Memoirs: 1940–1945 (New York: Howard Fertig, 1994), 149.
(12.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 4–5, 20–22.
(13.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 8–9, 18–21, 36–37.
(14.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 10–12; Nicholas Germana, The Orient of Europe: The Mythical Image of India and Competing Images of German National Identity (Newcastle, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars, 2009); and Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Hitler’s Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism (New York: New York University Press, 1998).
(15.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 9–10; and Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee, The Nay Science: A History of German Indology (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 26–27, 72–73.
(16.) His partner in creating the Thule Society, Walter Nauhaus, was likewise interested in Ariosophy and had explored “the esoteric side of the Cabala” as well as studying Egyptian and Hindu religious beliefs. See Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 35–39.
(17.) Alan Bullock, Hitler (New York: Harper, 1962), 78–79.
(18.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 51–52.
(19.) See Thomas Weber, Becoming Hitler (London: Basic Books, 2017).
(20.) Robert Waite, Psychopathic God (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 62; and Timothy W. Ryback, Hitler’s Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life (New York: Knopf, 2008), 136.
(21.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 58–59.
(22.) Bernard Mees, “Hitler and Germanentum,” Journal of Contemporary History 39 (2004): 267–268.
(23.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 773–774.
(25.) George Mosse, Masses and Man: Nationalist and Fascist Perceptions of Reality (New York: H. Fertig, 1980), 71–73.
(26.) Mosse, Masses and Man, 167.
(27.) Monica Black, Death in Berlin (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 76.
(28.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 52.
(29.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 53–54.
(30.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 55–56.
(31.) Michael Kater, “Die Artamanen–Volkische Jugend in der Weimarer Republik,” Historische Zeitschrift 213 (1971): 603.
(32.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 777–778.
(33.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 782–783.
(34.) Ian Kershaw, Hitler: Hubris, 1889–1936 (London: Allen Lane, 1998), 142–144; Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 766–768; and Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 170.
(35.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 778–780.
(36.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 168–169. Also see Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich, 261; David Redles, Hitler’s Millennial Reich: Apocalyptic Belief and the Search for Salvation (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 8–9; Hans Maier, “Political Religion: A Concept and Its Limitations,” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 1, no. 2 (Autumn 2000): 12; and Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism (Wellingborough, U.K.: Aquarian Press, 1985), 192–193.
(37.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 777–778; and also see Samuel Koehne, “The Racial Yardstick: ‘Ethnotheism’ and Official Nazi Views on Religion,” German Studies Review 37, no. 3 (October 2014): 587–588; and Michael Kater, Das “Ahnenerbe” der SS: 1935–1945 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1974), 35–37, 320–325.
(38.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 781–786.
(39.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 786–787. Also see Vondung, “National Socialism,” 94; and Horst Junginger and Andreas Ackerlund, eds., Nordic Ideology Between Religion and Scholarship (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2013), 44–52.
(40.) See, among others, Jürgen Falter, Hitler’s Wähler (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1991); Thomas Childers, The Nazi Voter: The Social Foundations of Fascism in Germany, 1918–1933 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983); and Norbert Frei, ed., Wie Bürgerlich war Nationalsozialismus? (Berlin: Wallstein, 2018).
(41.) John S. Conway; The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933–1945 (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1997), 232–233. Also see Robert Ericksen, Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012); and Thomas Brodie, German Catholicism at War, 1939–1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
(42.) Hastings, Catholicism; and Steigmann-Gall, Holy Reich. Also see Guenter Lewy, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany (New York: Da Capo, 2000); Georg Denzler, Die Kirchen im Dritten Reich (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1984); Shelley Baranowski, The Confessing Church, Conservative Elites, and the Nazi State (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1986); Ian Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Kevin P. Spicer, Resisting the Third Reich: The Catholic Clergy in Hitler’s Berlin (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2004); Evans, “Nazism, Christianity and Political Religion,” 5–7; and Maria Anna Zumholz, Volksfrömmigkeit und Katholisches Milieu: Marienerscheinungen in Heede 1937–1940 (Cloppenburg, Germany: Runge, 2004).
(43.) See Eric Kurlander, “Hitler’s Monsters,” German History 30, no. 4 (2012): 528–529.
(44.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 786–789.
(45.) Conway, The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 232–237; and Nathan Stoltzfus, Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), 52–79
(46.) See Lewy, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, 57–93.
(47.) See, among others, Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, 185–205; and Stoltzfus, Hitler’s Compromises, 80–108.
(48.) See, among others, Steigmann-Gall, Holy Reich; and Doris Bergen, Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
(49.) Bergen, Twisted Cross.
(50.) Susanna Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 68–88; and Conway, The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 232–235.
(51.) Victoria Barnett, For the Soul of the People (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 25–54; and Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, 156–184.
(52.) Barnett, For the Soul of the People, 19–23.
(53.) Karla Poewe, New Religions and the Nazis (New York: Routledge, 2006), 8–19.
(54.) Horst Junginger, “Nordic Ideology in the SS and Ahnenerbe,” in Horst Junginger and Andreas Ackerlund, eds. Nordic Ideology Between Religion and Scholarship (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2013), 43–46; Ulrich Nanko, Die Deutsche Glaubensbewegung: Eine historische und soziologische Untersuchung (Marburg, Germany: Diagonal, 1993); and Schaul Baumann, Die Deutsche Glaubensbewegung und ihr Gründer Jakob Wilhelm Hauer (1881–1962) (Marburg, Germany: Diagonal, 2005).
(55.) Karla Poewe, New Religions and the Nazis (New York: Routledge, 2006), 10–14, 57–65. Also see Horst Junginger, “Die Deutsche Glaubensbewegung als ideologisches Zentrum der völkisch-religiösen Bewegung,” in Die völkisch-religiöse Bewegung im Nationalsozialismus: Eine Beziehungs- und Konfliktgeschichte, ed. Uwe Puschner and Clemens Vollnhals (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 65–102.
(56.) Junginger, “Die Deutsche Glaubensbewegung,” 83–85; Junginger, “Nordic Ideology,” 40–43; and Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 176.
(57.) Junginger, “Nordic Ideology,” 43–44; and Manfred Gailus, “A Strange Obsession with Nazi Christianity: A Critical Comment on Richard Steigmann-Gall’s The Holy Reich,” Journal of Contemporary History 42 (January 2007): 35–46.
(58.) Manfred Gailus, “A Strange Obsession with Nazi Christianity: A Critical Comment on Richard Steigmann-Gall’s The Holy Reich,” Journal of Contemporary History 42 (January 2007): 35–46; Ernst Piper, “Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich,” Journal of Contemporary History 42 (January 2007): 47–57; Irving Hexham, “Inventing ‘Paganists’: A Close Reading of Richard Steigmann-Gall’s the Holy Reich,” Journal of Contemporary History 42 (January 2007): 59–78; Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 165; and Treitel, A Science for the Soul, 199–200.
(59.) Sarah Thieme, Nationalsozialistischer Märtyererkult: Sakralisierte Politik und Christentum im westfälischen Ruhrgebiet (1929–1939) (Frankfurt: Campus, 2017); Heschel, The Aryan Jesus; and Ericksen, Complicity in the Holocaust.
(60.) Already on January 12, 1934, for example, Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess sent an order to all Reich officials, “I forbid that in the future any party offices approach the Catholic or Protestant Church to perform special [religious] services” (Thieme, Nationalsozialistischer Märtyererkult, 436).
(61.) Gerhard Schormann, “Wie entstand die Karthotek, und wem war sie bekannt?,” in Himmlers Hexenkartothek: Das Interesse des Nationalsozialismus an der Hexenverfolgung, ed. Dietrich R. Bauer et al. (Bielefeld, Germany: Verlag für Regionalgeschichte, 1999), 135–142; and Jörg Rudolph, “Geheime Reichskommando-Sache! Hexenjäger im Schwarzen Orden. Der H-Sonderauftrag des Reichsführers-SS, 1935–1944'’” in Himmlers Hexenkartothek: Das Interesse des Nationalsozialismus an der Hexenverfolgung, ed. Dietrich R. Bauer (Bielefeld, Germany: Verlag für Regionalgeschichte, 1999), 86–94.
(62.) Schormann, “Wie entstand die Karthotek,” 135–142; and Rudolph, “Geheime Reichskommando-Sache!,’” 58–68, 70–79.
(63.) Schormann, “Wie entstand die Karthotek,” 177–178.
(64.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 165.
(65.) Rudolph, “Geheime Reichskommando-Sache!,’” 53–54.
(66.) Rudolph, “Geheime Reichskommando-Sache!,’” 51; Walther Wüst, Indogermanische Bekenntnisse (Berlin: Ahnenerbe-Stiftung, 1942); and Claus Ekkehard Bärsch, Die politische Religion des Nationalsozialismus (Munich: Fink, 1998), 333.
(67.) Rudolph, “Geheime Reichskommando-Sache!,’” 53–54.
(69.) Longerich, Himmler, 219–221, 271–272. See Bettina Amm, “Die Ludendorff-Bewegung im Nationalsozialismus,” in Die völkisch-religiöse Bewegung im Nationalsozialismus: Eine Beziehungs- und Konfliktgeschichte, ed. Uwe Puschner and Clemens Vollnhals (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 127–148; and Bettina Amm, Die Ludendorff-Bewegung: Vom nationalistischen Kampfbund zur völkischen Weltanschauungssekt (Hamburg, Germany: Ad Fontes, 2006).
(70.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 166–167.
(71.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 166–167.
(72.) Alfred Rosenberg, ed., Dietrich Eckart: Ein Vermächtnis (Munich: F. Eher Nachf., 1935), 23–24.
(73.) Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 165.
(74.) Hugh Trevor-Roper, ed., Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 1941–1944 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Young, 1953), 255; and cf. Henry Picker, ed., Hitlers Tischgespräche im Führerhauptquartier (Munich: Propyläen, 2003), 106, 305.
(75.) Picker, Hitlers Tischgespräche, 104; and Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 166–167.
(76.) See Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich at War (New York: Penguin, 2009), 546; and Stoltzfus, Hitler’s Compromises.
(77.) Trevor-Roper, Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 49–51, 473; and Picker, Hitlers Tischgespräche, 444–445.
(78.) Trevor-Roper, Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 473; and Picker, Hitlers Tischgespräche, 444–445.
(79.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 167–168; and also see Paul Hanebrink, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018).
(80.) Piper, “Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich,” 56. Also see Maier, “Political Religion,” 14; and Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich, 261–262.
(81.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 169.
(82.) Longerich, Himmler, 281.
(83.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 168.
(84.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 785–786.
(85.) Pois, National Socialism, 3. For more on the Nazi “pantheistic religion of nature,” see Weikart, Hitler’s Religion.
(86.) Pois, National Socialism, 10–11.
(87.) Vondung, “National Socialism,” 90.
(88.) Black, Death in Berlin, 75. Also see Gailus, “A Strange Obsession with Nazi Christianity,” 41–42; Vondung, “National Socialism,” 91.
(89.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 169–170.
(90.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 171–172.
(91.) Black, Death in Berlin, 71, 75.
(92.) Mosse, Masses and Man, 71–72.
(93.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 52–53, 171–172.
(94.) Peter S. Fisher, Fantasy and Politics: Visions of the Future in the Weimar Republic (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), 3.
(95.) Koehne, “The Racial Yardstick,” 585–586; Gailus, “A Strange Obsession with Nazi Christianity,” 46; and Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich, 112–113, 261–262.
(96.) Hexham, “Inventing ‘Paganists,’” 75. Also see Thomas Kühne, Belonging and Genocide: Hitler’s Community, 1918–1945 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 5; BAB: R 58/6217: SD Report on Hauer, 6.05.39; Longerich, Himmler, 265–267; Kersten, The Kersten Memoirs, 148–150; Evans, “Nazism, Christianity and Political Religion,” 5; Manfred Ach, Hitlers Religion: Pseudoreligiose Elemente im nationalsozialistischen Sprachgerbrauch (Munich: ARW, 1977), 66–72, 96–97, 103, 122; Rosenberg Denkschrift on BAB NS 15/447, p. 13; and Rausching, Voices of Destruction, 248–251.
(97.) Koehne, “The Racial Yardstick,” 586.
(98.) Michael Burleigh, “National Socialism as a Political Religion,” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 1, no. 2 (Autumn 2000): 8–9.
(99.) Angela Kurtz, “God, Not Caesar: Revisiting National Socialism as ‘Political Religion,’” History of European Ideas 35, no. 2 (June 2009): 236–252.
(100.) Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich, 14.
(101.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 172.
(102.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 173–174.
(103.) Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 173–174; and Hans-Jürgen Lange, ed., Otto Rahn: Leben & Werk (Engerda, Germany: Arun, 1995), 18–21, 39–42.
(104.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 174–175.
(105.) Lange, Otto Rahn, 23–28, 48–54; Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 175; Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots, 189; Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2002), 134–135; and Lange, Otto Rahn, 27.
(106.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 162–163.
(107.) Otto Rahn, Luzifers Hofgesind (Dresden, Germany: Zeitwende, 2006), 9; Joscelyn Godwin, Arktos: Der polare Mythos zwischen NS-Okkultismus und moderner Esoterik (Graz, Austria: Ares Verlag, 2007), 110–111; and Lange, Otto Rahn, 21–22, 26, 42.
(108.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 175.
(109.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 176; Goodrick Clarke, The Occult Roots, 189; Horst Junginger, “From Buddha to Adolf Hitler: Walther Wüst and the Aryan Tradition,” in The Study of Religion under the Impact of Fascism, ed. Horst Junginger (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007), 127–128; and Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 349–350.
(110.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 177. Also see Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots, 177–191; Longerich, Himmler, 284–286; Treitel, A Science for the Soul, 214; and Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 124–126.
(111.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 178.
(112.) Junginger, “From Buddha to Adolf Hitler,” 116–118; and also see Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 127–128, 173–174.
(113.) Kater, Das “Ahnenerbe” der SS, 12–13.
(114.) Longerich, Himmler, 293–295.
(115.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 178–179.
(116.) Lawrence Hare, Excavating Nations: Archaeology, Museums, and the German-Danish Borderlands (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015), 146–147; and Longerich, Himmler, 298.
(117.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 180–181; Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots, 188–190; Treitel, A Science for the Soul, 214–215; and Longerich, Himmler, 284–287.
(118.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 788–789.
(119.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 181.
(120.) Mees, “Hitler and Germanentum,” 263–265.
(121.) Longerich, Himmler, 285.
(122.) Pringle, Plan, 84.
(123.) Longerich, Himmler, 266–267.
(124.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 145–146, 181–182.
(125.) Longerich, Himmler, 287; and Junginger, “From Buddha to Adolf Hitler,” 122.
(126.) Longerich, Himmler, 742–743.
(127.) Mees, “Hitler and Germanentum,” 267–269; Klaus Vondung, Deutsche Wege zur Erlosung: Formen des Religiösen im Nationalsozialismus (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2013), 82–86; and Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 772–773.
(128.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 182.
(129.) Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party?,” 773–774.
(130.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 173.
(131.) Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 754.
(132.) Junginger, “From Buddha to Adolf Hitler,” 143; Longerich, Himmler, 281–282; and Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 130–139, 392–394.
(133.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 185–186.
(134.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 186; and also see Rolf Wilhelm Brednich, “The Weigel Symbol Archive and the Ideology of National Socialist Folklore,” in The Nazification of an Academic Discipline: Folklore in the Third Reich, ed. and trans. James R. Dow and Hannjost Lixfeld (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 97–111.
(135.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 186–187.
(136.) Longerich, Himmler, 280–281; and Kaufmann, Das Dritte Reich und Tibet, 172–174.
(137.) Pringle, Plan, 150.
(138.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 188–189; and Junginger, “Nordic Ideology.”
(139.) Picker, Hitlers Tischgespräche, 74, 94.
(140.) Trevor-Roper, Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 339–340; Picker, Hitlers Tischgespräche, 209–211, 267, 355; and Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 189.
(141.) David Motadel, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), 65; Jeffrey Herf, “Nazi Germany’s Propaganda Aimed at Arabs and Muslims during World War II and the Holocaust: Old Themes, New Archival Findings,” Central European History 42 (2009): 709–736; and Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 199–202.
(142.) Trevor-Roper, Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 319; and Picker, Hitlers Tischgespräche, 184.
(143.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 190.
(144.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 190.
(145.) Motadel, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, 62; and Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1999), 74–94.
(146.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 191.
(147.) Rheden bio in NL Darré, BAK: N 1094I-77, pp. 62, 86; and Steiner, “Westliche und östliche Weltgegensätzlichkeit,” in Darré, BAK: N 1094I-33, pp. 1–4.
(148.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 192.
(149.) Diary in NL Darré, BAK: N 1094I-65a, p. 43.
(150.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 191–192.
(151.) Longerich, Himmler, 285.
(152.) Longerich, Himmler, 269–270.
(153.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 192.
(154.) Longerich, Himmler, 281–282.
(155.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 192–193.
(156.) R. F. C Hull, ed., C.G. Jung Speaking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977), 122–123.
(157.) Suzanne L. Marchand, German Orientalism in the Age of Empire: Religion, Race, and Scholarship, Publications of the German Historical Institute (Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 2009).
(158.) Robert Soucy, “Fascism in France,” in France in the Era of Fascism: Essays on the French Authoritarian Right, ed. Brian Jenkins (New York: Berghahn Books, 2005), 60–70.
(159.) Piper, “Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich,” 56.
(160.) Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, 194.
(161.) Junginger, “Nordic Ideology,” 58–64.
(162.) Williamson, The Longing for Myth, 291–296.
(163.) Evans, “Nazism, Christianity and Political Religion,” 5; and see the essays in Uwe Puschner and Clemens Vollnhals, eds., Die völkisch-religiöse Bewegung im Nationalsozialismus: Eine Beziehungs- und Konfliktgeschichte (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012).
(164.) Puschner and Vollnhals, Die völkisch-religiöse Bewegung; Bergen, Twisted Cross; Samuel Koehne, “Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party? Paganism, Christianity and the Nazi Christmas.” Central European History 47 (2014): 760–790); Koehne, “The Racial Yardstick: ‘Ethnotheism’ and Official Nazi Views on Religion,” German Studies Review 37, no. 3 (October 2014): 575–596.
(165.) Marchand, German Orientalism in the Age of Empire.
(166.) Michael Burleigh, “National Socialism as a Political Religion,” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 1, no. 2 (Autumn 2000): 4–5; and Klaus Vondung, “National Socialism as a Political Religion: Potentials and Limits of an Analytical Concept,” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 6, no. 1 (June 2005): 87–95. Also see Klaus Vondung, Deutsche Wege zur Erlösung: Formen des Religiösen im Nationalsozialismus (Munich: Fink, 2013), 24–28; Hans Maier, “Political Religion: A Concept and Its Limitations”; and Bärsch, Die Politische Religion des Nationalsozialismus, 39; Erich Voegelin. Die Politische Religionen (Stockholm: Fischer, 1938).
(167.) Vondung, “National Socialism,” 87–88. Also see Vondung, Deutsche Wege zur Erlösung, 24–28; and Maier, “Political Religion: A Concept and Its Limitations.” Claus Bärsch points out, “as long as human beings interpret their existence in religious terms, one cannot separate religion and politics. For people of faith is the sphere of politics infused by the sphere of religion if only due to the faith in the existence of a higher power” (Bärsch, Die Politische Religion des Nationalsozialismus, 39); Emilio Gentile, Politics as Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).
(168.) Pois, National Socialism, 3. Also see Weikart, Hitler’s Religion; and Anna Bramwell, Blood and Soil: Richard Walther Darré and Hitler’s “Green Party” (Abbotsbrook, U.K.: Kensal, 1985).
(169.) Pois, National Socialism, 10–11.
(170.) Weikart, Hitler’s Religion; Richard Weikart, Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (London: Palgrave, 2009).
(171.) Evans, “Nazism, Christianity and Political Religion,” 5; Evans, The Third Reich at War, 547; Ian Kershaw, Hitler: A Biography (New York: Norton, 2008), 295–297; Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (New York: Harper, 1991), 219; and Richard Overy, The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia (London: Allen Lane, 2004), 280–281.
(172.) Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich; Hastings, Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism; Steigmann-Gall, “Rethinking Nazism and Religion”; and Hastings, “How ‘Catholic’ Was the Early Nazi Movement?”
(173.) Lewy, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany; Heschel, The Aryan Jesus; Ericksen, Complicity in the Holocaust; Conway, The Nazi Persecution of the Churches; and Spicer, Resisting the Third Reich. Also see Christopher J. Probst, Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012); and Lauren Faulkner Rossi, Wehrmacht Priests: Catholicism and the Nazi War of Annihilation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).
(174.) Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich, 259; Gailus, “A Strange Obsession with Nazi Christianity,” 35–46; Piper, “Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich,” 47–57; Hexham “Inventing ‘Paganists’”; Steigmann-Gall, “Rethinking Nazism and Religion,” 104; Hastings, “How ‘Catholic’ Was the Early Nazi Movement?,” 383–387; Junginger, “Nordic Ideology,” 39–40; and also see the essays in Manfred Gailus and Armin Nolzen, eds., Zerstrittene “Volksgemeinschaft”: Glaube, Konfession und Religion im Nationalsozialismus (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).
(175.) Hastings, Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism; and Thieme, Nationalsozialistischer Märtyererkult.