Esotericism, the Völkisch Movement and Guido Von List

German Theosophy and the Völkisch Movement

The first German Theosophical Society was established in July of 1884 by Wilhelm Hübbe-Schleiden. Between 1886 and 1895 he published the monthly periodical Die Sphinx [The Sphinx ]. This had a small version of the Theosophical logo (which included a swastika) under the Sphinx’s face, but was hard to see.

Soon thereafter, in Vienna, a theosophical society was founded in 1887, who’s members included Franz Hartmann and a young Rudolf Steiner. In 1893, Hartmann began a periodical of his own, which was the first German publication to clearly use the Theosophical swastika on its cover.

Hartmann’s periodical Lotusblüten [Lotus Blossoms ] and was published for seven years. During this time, Hartmann became president of another German Theosophical Society (which was a branch of the International Theosophical Brotherhood) when it was established in 1896, while American theosophists (including William Q. Judge) traveled through Europe. Rudolf Steiner was made general secretary of the German Theosophical Society in 1902.

Hartmann’s magazine seems to have motivated another German, Paul Zillmann, to found the Neve Metaphysische Rundschau [New Metaphysical Review ] in 1896. The journal was a who’s who of German metaphysics and mysticism and of contemporary “New Thought”, publishing articles from H.P. Blavatsky, “Peryt Schou” (Albert Schultz) and Guido von List (whose books Zilllmann also published).

The magazine had very close relationships with the English-speaking world, especially with the Metaphysical Magazine. Zillmann was a leading German Theosophist and published translations of many English-language Theosophical texts in German (often translated by his wife). It was in this magazine that an article would be published, in 1906, that would become the focal point of runic studies in German speaking countries.

 

The Völkisch Movement and Fascism

As it evolved, the Völkisch Movement sometimes combined the esoteric aspects of folkloric occultism with “racial adoration”. During the 1900s, we see, in some circles, a type of “anti-Semitism linked to exclusionary ethnic nationalism” emphasized as well. Now we start seeing different organizations using the term völk or völkisch h that emphasize ideas including anti-communist, anti-immigration, anti-capitalist and anti-Parliamentarian ideas.

Although the primary interest of the Germanic Mystical Movement was the revival of native pagan traditions and customs (often set in the context of a semi-Theosophical esotericism), a preoccupation with racial or ethnic purity came to motivate its more politically oriented offshoots. In the 1910s, Germanic Mystical Movement groups met in order to celebrate the summer solstice (which was also an important festivity in völkisch circles) and more regularly to read the Eddas as well as some other authors considered Germanic mystics.

As time progressed, this same word völkisch came to emphasize “ethno-nationalistic” and racial themes more and more. Scholars see völkisch ideologies as influential in the development and popularity of Nazism. In Mein Kampf [My Struggle] (1925), Adolf Hitler wrote: “the basic ideas of the National-Socialist movement are populist [völkisch ] and the populist [völkisch ] ideas are National-Socialist.” Thus, Nazi racial understanding leveraged völkisch terminology. Now the “folk” were specifically Germanic, Nordic or “Aryan” peoples, and others were seen as a threat…

 

Guido Von List, Völkisch Ideas, Wotanism, Armanism, and Runology

Guido Von List (1848-1919) is one of the most well known figures who promoted Germanic or Runic Occultism. From an early period in his life, he claims to have given up Roman Catholicism in favor of worshiping the Germanic Wotan. He apparently spent a lot of time in the countryside of Austria as a youth, hiking and enjoying nature. From the 1870s to the 1890s, he began to write articles and novels placing a völkisch emphasis on the folk culture and customs of rural people, believing that many of them survived from the pre-Christian native Germanic religion.

During an 11-month period of blindness (after a cataract operation) in 1902, List became increasingly interested in occultism, in particular coming under the influence of the Theosophical Society. During this period of temporary blindness, he contemplated questions surrounding the origins of the German language and the use of the runes. His first Occult booklet The Mystery/Secret of the Runes was originally published in an abridged form in a German Theosophical magazine called the New Metaphysical Review in 1906.

The popularity of his work among the völkisch and nationalist communities resulted in the establishment of a “List Society” in 1908. The Edda Society led by Rudolf Gorsleben and the Germanen Order founded by Hermann Pohl were inspired by List. Many of these societies became increasingly political and were partly involved in the creation of the Nazi party NSDAP.

The List Society produced six booklets authored by List himself between 1908 and 1911. Entitled “Aryo-Germanic research reports”, they covered List’s opinions on the meaning and magical power of runes, the ancient Germanic priesthood, Austrian folklore and place-names, and the secret messages within Shields, Coats of Arms, Family Crests, etc.

List claimed (like Johannus Bureus 200 year before) that there are hidden meanings in the runes, emphasizing that they had three different levels. The first level is the outer exoteric level. The second is the inner esoteric and the third is the most secret, called the “Armanen” level. The Armanen level was, according to List, only for the initiated runic priests (those who had been initiated by Odin or ‘Wotan’).

He promoted a spiritual system which he called “Wotanism”, which he saw as the exoteric or outer form of pre-Christian Germanic religion, while “Armanism” was the term he applied to the more secret teachings of this ancient belief system. He claimed that while Wotanism taught polytheism for the wider population, those who were members of the Armanist elite (or Armanenschaft) were aware of the reality of monotheism.

It has been suggested that List’s spiritual system consisted of “an original synthesis of his reading of Germanic mythology combined with Theosophy”. List’s early Theosophical influence came largely from the writings of German Theosophist Max Ferdinand Sebaldt von Werth, who had combined Theosophical ideas with his own interpretations of Germanic mythology and emphasis on racial doctrines. In his later works, the Theosophical influence over List’s thinking grew, and he began referencing Helena Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine and even expressed the view that Norse mythology agreed with the cosmological teachings of Theosophy.

List’s spiritual system was constructed largely on the Havamal, the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda (old Norse texts which appear to have been composed in Iceland during the late Middle Ages). He interpreted them as accurately reflecting the belief systems of the Germanic refugees fleeing Christian persecution. He believed that prior to the spread of Christianity into Northern Europe, there had once been a culturally unified Germanic civilization that had been spread across much of Europe, which came to be degraded and divided under the impact of Christianity.

He initially emphasized the idea that ancient German society had been led by the hierarchical system of initiates: the Armanist elite (or Armanenschaft), who acted as teachers, priests, and judges. He claimed that the ancient Armanist brotherhood had consisted of three degrees (each with their own secret signs, grips, and passwords), similar to the ‘Blue Lodge’ of Freemasonry. In List’s interpretation of history, the Christian missionaries persecuted the Armanists, resulting in many fleeing northward into Scandinavia and Iceland. He believed that they developed a secretive language for transmitting their teachings, known as “Kala”.

List claimed that after the Christianization of Northern Europe, the Armanist teachings were passed down in secret, thus resulting in their transmission through later esoteric traditions such as Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism. In addition, List claimed that in the eighth century, Armanists had imparted their secret teachings to the Jewish rabbis of Cologne in the hope of preserving them from Christian persecution. He believed that these teachings became the Kabbalah, which he therefore reasoned was an ancient German and not Jewish innovation, thus legitimizing its usage in his own teachings and this was used to support List’s anti-semitic agenda.

List believed that the basic teachings of the original Germanic religion were found in the runic alphabet, and that they could be deciphered by linking these letters with particular ‘runic spells’ which appear in the Havamal Poem. He claimed to have deciphered these secret meanings himself, translating them into statements such as “Know yourself, then you know all”, “Fear not death, it cannot kill you”, “Marriage is the root of the Aryans!”, and “Man is one with God!”

List emphasized the importance of a mystical union between humans and the universe, viewing divinity as being immanent in nature, with all life being an emanation of it. Connected to this, he believed in a close identification between the racial group (the volk or folk) and the natural world. He believed that human beings had an immortal soul, and that it would be reincarnated according to the laws of karma until eventually uniting with divinity.

 

A Note About “Race”

The Gnostic Movement’s Position on Race

The following is from Igneous Rose by Samael Aun Weor:

“In his course of Runic Magic, the Master HUIRACOCHA teaches all these things [referring to certain Runic Exercises]; however, the sacred Runes are not the property of Master HUIRACOCHA, because this knowledge is as ancient as the world and belongs to the great Schools of Internal Mysteries.

We do not accept the statement of the Master Huiracocha which states that black and yellow skinned people cannot belong to the WHITE LODGE because it is only for people who belong to the white race. We cannot accept this type of racial prejudice, because the WHITE LODGE is universal. Masters from all races exist within our venerable WHITE LODGE. We must not forget that the Masters MORIA and K-H (Kout Humi) belong to the yellow race. The white race is not superior nor inferior than another race; simply, it is different, that is all…

We also disagree with Master Huiracocha’s despise for Oriental wisdom. Christ taught three ways in order to reach the union with the Intimate (the INTIMUS or Inner Being).

[1] When he was preaching to the multitudes, when he was mystically exalted, he showed us the way of Ramakrishna, Kempis, and Francis of Assisi. This is the path of Anthony of Padua and Theresa of Jesus. This is the Mystical Path.
[2] When Christ was walking with Magdalene, the repented prostitute, when he was among publicans and sinners, fishermen and wine drinkers, he showed us the Gnostic path.
[3] When he retired to the solitude of the desert for forty days and forty nights, he then taught the way of oriental Yoga.

The seven rays of cosmic evolution are synthesized in these three ways that the Nazarene showed. Therefore, we cannot despise Oriental wisdom.

All human Intimates (or Inner Beings) who are fastened to the wheel of births and deaths belong to these three ways. With all this, we sustain that sexual magic between husband and wife is the way in order to reach Nirvana. Therefore, we cannot accept the racial prejudice of Master Huiracocha for any reason. God has no preference for anyone. All human beings without distinction of sex, race, creed or color are beloved children of the FATHER and have the same rights.

We also cannot accept the absurd thesis of Huiracocha, who stated that it is a sin for a man of one race to become married with a woman of another race, and that the bastard children of such marriages are children of the devil.

We recognize that the Master Huiracocha is a GURU of the Universal White Fraternity and it is evident for me that he is an Archbishop of the Gnostic Church; yet, he committed a lamentable mistake when he made these statements in his Course of Runic-Magic. There is no doubt that if the Guru Huiracocha had a physical body he would rectify those errors, because humans commit errors, however, only those who are stubborn remain in the error.

…All human beings, white, black, yellow, red and brown, have the right to speak the verb of light and to form part of the Great Universal White Fraternity, because everyone is a beloved child of the Father. God has no preference for anyone, he cares equally for humans and ants, birds and reptiles.

God has no racial prejudice and loves all his children with infinite love, without distinction of sex, race, creed or color. We must love all human beings; we must give even the last drop of our blood for all our brothers and sisters who belong to this great human family.

Evil ones criticize me because I teach the secret doctrine of the Gnostics to humanity. I diffuse all the esoteric teachings in order to save all my brothers and sisters of this humanity. Everything that I know is for my brothers and sisters. Therefore, I have decided to teach them the most sacred things of the universe, so that they may enter Eden, as I have entered.”

-Paraphrase from Ch. 31 of Igneous Rose [Rosa Ignea] (1952)
by Samael Aun Weor

 

 

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