Esotericism, the Völkisch Movement and Fischbach’s Runic Theories

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 this branch in 1902.

Hartmann’s magazine seems to have motivated another German, Paul Zillmann, to found the Neve Metaphysische Rundschau [New Metaphysical Review ] in 1896. According to the Editors of ‘The International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals’ (IAPSOP), it was “The journal was a who’s who of German metaphysics and mysticism and of contemporary New Thought. It had very close relationships with the English-speaking world, especially with the Metaphysical Magazine…”, publishing articles from H.P. Blavatsky, Peryt Shou and Guido von List (whose books Zilllmann also published).

Zillmann was a leading German Theosophist and published translations of many English-language Theosophical texts in German (often translated by his wife). In this magazine, an article is published (in 1906) that becomes somewhat of a focal point for Runic studies in German speaking countries…

Summary of Timeline:
      1884 – First German Theosophical Society established by Wilhelm Hübbe-Schleiden
      1885 – German Theosophical Magazine “The Sphinx” is published (also by Hübbe-Schleiden) incorporating a Theosophical logo with a swastika
      1887 – Second German Theosophical Society is established (members include Franz Hartmann and Rudolf Steiner)
      1893 – Another German Theosophical Magazine “Lotus Blossoms” is published (by Hartmann) also incorporating a Theosophical logo with a swastika, this time more prominent
      1896 – A Third German Theosophical Magazine “New Metaphysical Review” is published (by Paul Zillmann) also incorporating a Theosophical logo with a swastika.
      1906 – “New Metaphysical Review” publishes Guido von List’s article “The Mystery/Secret of the Runes” [“Das Geheimnis der Runen” ]


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…


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