The Myth of Nazi Occultism
Academia and social media abound with claims of Nazism’s “occult” and “green” roots — the reality is more complex
In late 2020, I was invited to sit in on a Zoom call of scholars, curators, and historians who were planning a Holocaust memorial monument in Ukraine. The session occurred just over a year before Putin’s invasion; in the time since, I’ve often wondered about the fate of some of those on the call that day.
I was invited by a friend, a distinguished curator, who was delivering a presentation to the committee. He spoke on primeval funerary traditions to examine how the ancients abided death, memory, and interment rites and whether such practices held ideas for the nature and design of the planned memorial. He discussed burial mounds, markers, and pyres, as well as numeric, calendric, and astronomical formulas used to calculate their direction and placement. The presentation was, in my estimation, thorough and brilliant.
When the floor opened, an eminent professor, from whom others seemed to be waiting to hear, spoke up in a rather dramatic way. “It is particularly ironic that you’re giving this presentation,” he told my friend, “because the Nazis were an occult and green movement. In fact, if Heinrich Himmler himself had been on this call he would have liked your presentation very much.”
Personally, I detected both extravagance and reductionism in his remarks. As a guest on the call, I didn’t feel it my place to enter a debate. My friend took the comments in great spirits. The following day he asked me, “Now that I’ve been named Heinrich Himmler’s favorite intellectual, what did you think of the talk?”
I thought highly of it, I said. But, I added, there exists today, in both academia and on social media, willful overestimation of the extent to which occult themes were present or doted upon within Nazi circles. In general, I believe we overdetermine the sources of Nazism. There existed little constancy, aside from nationalism and race hatred, within Nazi ideology; wide-ranging symbolic and historical material was embraced, copied, discarded, and contradicted.
Indeed, over-reading occult themes into Nazism is an easy trap to fall into because the Nazis, as with nearly…