Welcome to the fourth installment in my examination of the legendary Thule Society and the bizarre personalities, organizations and events surrounding it. In all honesty, the first three installments of this series have not had an awful lot to do with Thule, so complex are its origins. In the first part I attempted to dispel several popular misconceptions concerning Thule that have appeared frequently in psuedo-histories, conspiracy theories and popular culture alike.
With the second installment I briefly examined the individuals, groups and ideologies that inspired Thule. For our purposes here, the key point one will wish to keep in mind from part two is the Germanenorden organization detailed therein. The Germanenorden was a secret society that spread throughout Germany and Austria in the years leading up to World War I and would remain active during the conflict. It was based upon ideas drawn from the Volkisch movement as well as rituals and an organizational structure liberally borrowed from Freemasonry (despite the fact that the Germanenorden was fanatically opposed to Freemasonry, viewing it as a once noble Aryan institution that had been "corrupted" by a Jewsish influence, or something along those lines). The Thule Society would begin as the Munich lodge of the Germanenorden and would maintain ties to the society and affiliated organizations such as the Reichshammerbund and the more secretive Deutschvölkischer Schutz und Trutzbund.
At some point during his two extended stays in Turkey von Sebottendorff became acquainted with extreme forms of Turkish nationalism such as Pan-Turkism and Pan-Turanism. This may have been due to von Sebottendorff's contacts in the Young Turks movement and possibly even the militant Grey Wolves paramilitary organization that would later become heavily involved in Turkey's Gladio network. Von Sebottendorff's exposure to Turkish nationalism, which was heavily influenced by the German Volkisch movement and vice versa, may have laid the foundation for von Sebottendorff's later racism after a rather cosmopolitan existence in the Near East the included numerous Turkish and Jewish acquaintances (the Baron was even initiated into his Masonic lodge by a Jew).
"... His activities and movements during the first half of the Great War are rather obscure. He claimed that he was at Breslau in 1913, where he financed the Gobel tank. Since this machine was a failure, his enterprise cannot have been rewarded. Besides frequent visits to Siegmund von Sebottendorff at Wiesbaden, several accounts link him with Dresden at this time. When Siegmund died in October 1915 Sebottendorff was living at Kleinzschachwitz, a fashionable suburb lying on the banks of the River Elbe. Here he built a large villa in spacious grounds (now Meusslitzer Strasse 41) for 50,000 gold marks. Sebottendorff then became the subject of unfavorable rumors and he suddenly left. He later claimed that he had been the victim of the slanderous campaign concerning the fortune of his second wife. One 15 July 1915 at Vienna, Sebottendorff had married a divorcee, Berta Anna Iffland. As the daughter of the late Frederick Wilhelm Müller, a wealthy Berlin merchant, she possessed significant funds in trust. Sebottendorff stated that Max Alsberg, the Berlin lawyer responsible for her estate, became hostile when relieved of his lucrative appointment following the marriage. Alsberg allegedly incited Heindl, a senior Dresden police officer, to defame Sebottendorff as a fortune-hunter. Sebottendorff also had trouble with the Berlin authorities on account of his Turkish nationality, which prevented his conscription into the German army.
"After a succession of moves to Frankfurt and Berlin, Sebottendorff and his wife settled in 1916 at Bad Aibling, an elegant Bavarian spa. From here Sebottendorff consulted Georg Gaubatz, his Munich lawyer, in order to secure the police files relating to his contested Turkish nationality. Gaubatz happened to show him a newspaper advertisement for the Germanenorden which summoned fair-haired and blue-eyed German men and women of pure Aryan descent to join the Order. Three cryptic runes stood beneath this message. Sebottendorff was intrigued and acquired membership. In September 1916 Sebottendorff decided to visit a chief of the mysterious Germanenorden at Berlin. This individual turned out to be Hermann Pohl. Pohl and Sebottendorff talked about the runes, the esoteric meaning of which seems to have interested the latter in the Order. Pohl explained that he had come to a study of the runes through Guido von List, and that he was convinced that racial miscegenation, especially with Jews, was responsible for obscuring the Aryans' knowledge of the magical powers of the runes. He believed that this gnosis could be revived once the race had been purified of foreign contamination."
(The Occult Roots of Nazism, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, pgs. 141-142)
After his exposure to Turkish nationalism and his ongoing conflict with the Jewish lawyer Alsberg, it would seem that Sebottendorff was especially respective to Pohl's message at this point in his life. After their meeting he became a dedicated prompter of the Germanenorden.
"... Sebottendorff became more than a member; Pohl entrusted him with an address list of some one hundred volkisch radicals in Bavaria and the task of contacting each of them in hopes of reviving the Orden's dormant Bavarian Province. He may also have furnished Sebottendorff with one thousand marks, and additional sums later, to establish a newsletter and to circulate propaganda by whatever means.
"Sebottendorff worked tirelessly throughout 1917 from his home at Bad Aibling, corresponding with and meeting many of the people on the list. Eventually he gave lectures to small groups of perspective Orden members. By October, Sebottendorff moved to Munich and took a secretary, Anni Molz, who would become a member of the Thule Society. During ceremonies at the winter solstice, December 21, 1917, the Bavarian Province was officially rededicated. Sebottendorff was made master of the province, the nucleus of what soon became the Thule Society."
(Hammer of the Gods, David Luhrssen, pg. 69)
The notorious German state of Bavaria proved to be an especially apt location to form a reactionary, far right-wing occult secret society during this era.
"Precedents for volkisch militancy were present in Bavaria well before Sebottendorff began his membership drive. In 1892, the Pan-German League established a branch in Munich. Among its leaders was Julius Lehmann (1864-1935), the proprietor of a prominent medical textbook publishing house called J. F. Lehmanns Verlag. He was 'perhaps the most significant personality of the volkisch movement in Munich' and official publisher of the league's pamphlets and printed material. In the years before World War I, Lehmanns Verlag became 'one of the leading producers of books on racial hygiene in Germany.' Lehmann would become a prominent associate of the Thule Society, and from there would attach himself to the Nazi Party, which viewed him as a distinguished member. During Hitler's unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch on November 1923, it was to Lehmann's villa that another Thule alumnus, Rudolf Hess, brought members of the captive Bavarian cabinet.
"Munich also possessed a chapter of the Orden's public sister organization, the Reichshammerbund, under Franz Dannehl. Dannehl would later join one of Thule's paramilitary groups, the Thule Combat League (Kampfbund), and become master of the Society in the early 1930s. The attorney Dr. Hans Dahn led the local branch of the National Liberal Party (German People's Party), which received nine seats in the Bavarian Diet (Landtag) in the election of January, 12, 1919. Dahn became 'a leader of Thule.'
"One of Sebottendorff's closest associates, the young sculptor Walter Nauhaus (1892-1919), already belong to the Orden at the time of their meeting. Nauhaus was the son of a German missionary, born in the Boer republic of Transvaal and South Africa. Following his father's death, he returned to Germany in 1906 and settled in Berlin. As a teenager, Nauhaus took up woodcarving and rambled through the countryside of Prussia and Thuringia with a volkisch youth group. He was discharged from the army for serious wounds in hand-two-hand combat on the western front during the early months of the war, and became a student of Guido von List's writings. In April 1917 Nauhaus accompanied his art teacher, Dr. Wackerle, from Berlin to Munich, where he soon opened his own studio.
"Sebottendorff became aware of Nauhaus through the list of volkisch activists handed him by Orden chancellor Pohl. Before long the freiherr and the artist collaborated on the Orden's recruiting campaign; Nauhaus sought members of his own generation, while Sebottendorff concentrated on older prospects. Among the earliest recruits who joined the Thule Society by the end of January 1918 were Dr. Georg Gaubatz, attorney for the Bavarian equivalent of the Audubon Society; Schulrat Wilhelm Rohmeder, chairman of the German School Association; and Johannes Hering of the Reichshammerbund. In the spring of 1918 the Society numbered only two hundred member; by the fall the number had swelled to 1,500.
"By the time he met Sebottendorff, Nauhaus had already organized a group called the Thule Society, whose members met to discuss the Edda and Nordic mythology. The group was an informal affair, unregistered with the authorities and numbering among its participants Nauhaus's friend, the graphic designer Walter Deicke, who would be executed along with fellow Thulists at the Luitpold Gymnasium. Sebottendorff only offered, 'A cover name for the society was proposed by Mr. Nauhaus, which was Thule.' Pleased by its Listian connotations, Sebottendorff accepted the suggestion, 'for not only was the name somewhat esoteric sounding, but an informed person knew immediately what it referred to.'
"Thule became a prominent word in the era's popular culture through the exploits of Danish polar explorer Knud Rasmussen, who launched several 'Thule Expeditions' before and during World War I from base camp Thule at the rim of Greenland. As an adventurer from a neutral nation engaged in one of the age's great heroic exploits, arctic exploration, Rasmussen earned great acclaim across Europe and the world. Opponents of the Thule Society not immersed in esoteric Nordic lore may have been lulled into a false security by associating the Society's name with the Thule Expeditions."
(ibid, pgs. 72-74)
|members of the fifth Thule Expedition; Knud Rasmussen is on the bottom row, second from the right|
"... For centuries, mainly on the authority of Plato, Atlantis was believed to have risen in the middle of what is now the Atlantic Ocean. It was Olaus Rudbeck, in the late seventeenth century, who first dissented from this common view, and identified the lost domain with his native Sweden. Rudbeck's assiduous reader Jean-Sylvian Bailly... had a correspondence with Voltaire in which he persuaded himself, if not his correspondent, that Atlantis had indeed been in the far North, probably on the islands of Spitzbergen, Greenland, and Nova Zemlya. When the earth was younger, Bailly says, its interior heat was greater, and life in the Arctic may well have been more tolerable than elsewhere; besides, the earth's movements being less rapid near the poles, the atmosphere was probably less turbid, and so the legend of a perpetual spring may well have been true. Bailly's 'Atlanteans' were thus the same as the 'Hyperboreans' of classical legend, having originated in the 'Garden of the Hesperides' near the Pole, and left evidence of their once happy climate in the fossil flora and fauna of the Arctic Circle.
"The oceanographic explorations of the nineteenth century and the laying of transatlantic telegraph cables from 1858 onwards failed to produce any evidence for a lost continent having existed in the mid-Atlantic Ocean at any time within reasonable human memory. Perhaps this is one reason why those still drawn to Plato's legend lean towards the idea of an Atlantis in the far North. Could it have been the same as the mysterious land of Thule, first charted by Pytheas of Massilia?... At sometime between 340 and 285 BCE, Pytheas made an adventurous voyage to the North, which took him to Scotland and for six days' sailing beyond. He observed that the longest day in northern Britain was nineteen hours, which shows that he must have reached the North Shetland Islands. His additional trip to 'Thule' is less easily mapped: it may have been to Iceland, or else in the opposite direction, to Norway. In any case, Pytheas reported that one day north of Thule, he reached a frozen sea.
"Classical writers tended to disbelieve Pytheas because of their own ignorance of the geography and conditions of the North. Tacitus, for example, could scarcely believe that people would live, from choice, in the rigorous climate of Germany. Yet there was a persistent tradition of a warm and open polar sea, and of a clement and habitable Hyperborean climate with warm summers: a tradition which, as the Arctic expert Vilhjalmur Stefansson says, has always been believed by explorers, and always doubted by stay-at-home experts. Christopher Columbus himself knew of such traditions, and claimed to have sailed three hundred miles north of Iceland, which very few people were willing to credit, the northern zone being deemed impenetrable. For centuries after, the history of Arctic exploration is the chronicle of Columbus' successors in the search for a westward passage to the Orient."
(Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival, Joscelyn Godwin, pgs. 47-48)
Thus, the mythological Thule was adopted as an Aryan Atlantis. Volkisch and Pan-German activists would use it to attribute a divine calling to the Germanic peoples, implying that they were the keepers of an ancient tradition derived from a civilization far more advanced than anything in the ancient and modern world alike. This notion would be further elaborated upon in he interwar years by individuals such as Herman Wirth, Alfred Rosenberg (who has long been linked to the Thule Society) and the Baron Julius Evola (who would have an enormous influence on post-WWII esoteric Nazism as well as playing a role in Operation Gladio, as noted before here and here). In the post-WWII years the Aryan Thule would continue to hailed by neo-Nazi activists. But such a topic is far beyond the scope of this series.
The Thule Society would maintain strict secrecy from the time of its early inception, in keeping with the principles of the Germanenorden from which it derived, and would become a force in Munich by 1918.
"The Thule Society did not register with the municipal authorities until March 21, 1919. In keeping with its covert structure as a branch of the Germanenorden, Sebottendorff was not included in the municipal registry as an officer. The railroad official Friedrich Knauff was listed as chairman and Heinrich Meyer, a legal officer with the city of Munich, as deputy chairman. Thule registered a second time that year, after the liberation of Munich, on June 20. Despite the Thule's leading role in the recent counterrevolution against the Reds, the papers filed in June maintained the cover story that it had existed since January 1, 1918 as an 'order for research into German history and the development of the German sensibility.' What is true is that during 1918 and 1919 the Thule Society posed a harmless literary and scholarly circle, while 'in reality it served as camouflage for the Germanenorden.' The disguise was necessary originally because political meetings fell under Germany's wartime state-of-siege regulations. Secrecy was redoubled after war's end for fear of arousing the ire of successive Bavarian leftist regimes. The maintenance of the cover story after a center-right regime took control of Munich with Thule's aid indicates that the Society took seriously its identity as a secret society.
"The Sebottendorffs and their house servants were established by early 1918 in an apartment on Munich's Zweigstrasse, in the city center near the Deutsches Theater and the government district. The apartment became a gathering place for the growing Society. 'As a stone thrown into water causes ripples, so came additions in membership.' Sebottendorff presented himself as a man of mystery, speaking little of his past but able to peer into the future. 'Because he was a first-class psychologist he often succeeded in making predictions which were actually fulfilled.' By the coming of summer, when Thule had outgrown Sebottendorff's home, the freiherr rented a suite of five rooms for the Society in the former quarters of an athletic club. The suite had two separate exits (which would provide escape routes during police raids) and a capacity for three hundred guests. It was located on an upper floor of one of Europe's grand hotels, the posh Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten (Four Seasons) on Maximilianstrasse. Its owners, the brothers Walterspeil, were Germanenorden sympathizers. For reasons of secrecy, members of the Thule Society entered the Four Seasons through a servants' door off Marstallstrasse.
"Thule's quarters were dedicated on August 17, 1918. Orden grandmaster Pohl, along with his associate, G. W. Freese and a certain Mr. Hommel, attended the ceremony. Pohl invested Sebottendorff as Logenkopf (lodge head). On August 18, thirty men and women 'were accepted ceremoniously' into the Society's first grade. Sebottendorff also reported the dedication of a 'Nauhaus Lodge' (August 30), which presumably was the sculptor's study group on Nordic history within the Thule Society. Pohl remained on hand to address initiates on the esoteric significance of the 'sun castles' of the Bavarian town of Bad Aibling, and Johannes Hering spoke of German poetry.
"Each of the Society's rooms in the Four Seasons was decorated with swastikas by the Thule member Arthur Griehl. At ceremonies held every third Saturday, a choir performed under the direction of the Society's voice teacher Gertrude Riemann-Bucherer. Her husband was Studienrat Hans Riemann, an education official who did not join Thule until October 1919 and later became a prominent Nazi agitator in the Saxon city of Mittweida. Accompaniment on harmonium was provided by Hering or Friedrich-Wilhelm Freiherr von Seidlitz. Politics frequently took a backseat to occultism at the meetings. On one occasion, Sebottendorff lectured the Society on the psyche properties of pendulums. During the autumn of 1918, Thulists went on excursions to the 'sun castles' near Bad Aibling and the rustic locations said to have mystical significance and held at least one joint meeting with Julius Lehmann's Pan-German League. Male members of the Thule Society, called 'brothers,' sported a bronze pin of a swastika on a shield crossed by two spears. 'Sisters' wore a plain swastika of gold. All members receive copies of Runen and the Beobachter."
(Hammer of the Gods, David Luhrssen, pgs. 74-76)
|the famed Four Seasons hotel where Thule met during their heyday|
"... While the founder of the Thule Society, Rudolf von Sebottendorff, was certainly interested in the occult, a detailed diary of its regular meetings from 1918 to 1925 maintained private secretary, Johannes Hering, mentions only two lectures on such topics. One 31 August 1918, Sebottendorff gave a talk on dowsing, of which Hering disapprove, commenting that occultism brought dubious members into the Thule from time to time; and on 23 February 1919 a certain Wilde lectured on occultism. All other lectures and excursions were devoted to such themes as megalithic culture, the original homeland of the Teutons, Germanic myths and poetry, the Thule legend, the Jews and Zionism, and current political issues..."
(Black Sun, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, pgs. 116-117)
|the great Goodrick-Clarke|
"The inner campaign revolved around a number of study circles, 'the rings of Thule' as Sebottendorff called them. Inspired by lectures delivered at the Society by the economic theorist Gottfried Feder, who scorned international capitalism and the role played in it by the Jews, Sebottendorff 'wanted to win over the workers' and chose Karl Harrer to organize the Political Workers' Circle. From the onset, Feder offered to edify the circle with his talks. Although his ideas were later embedded in the Nazi Party's economic platform, Feder served the Third Reich only in a secondary capacity as undersecretary of state. The sometimes pragmatic Hitler, who sought to use the resources of German industry to wage a war of conquest, was loath to dismantle Germany's capitalist economy.
"Walter Nauhaus led a discussion group concerned with Nordic culture. Anton Daumenlang's circle examined the esoteric implications of heraldry and the racial significance of genealogy. Johannes Hering's ring studied proposals to replace Germany's Roman-derived civil code with the imagined laws of ancient Northern Europe. One of the law ring's members was a young student, Hans Frank. Frank later shaped Nazi jurisprudence in his capacity as president of the Association of German National Socialist Jurists..."
(Hammer of the Gods, David Luhrssen, pgs. 79-80)
|a depiction of the Medieval Vehm court|
While there are fundamental differences between Roman and Nordic legal systems, far right wing groups have long used these differences in the modern era as a rationalization for what amounts to vigilante justice. As we shall see in a future installment, there are remarkable similarities between the "justice" post-WWI German Vehmic courts attempted to impose and the stated aims of William Potter Gale's the Committee of the States. Gale (as noted before here) was the founder the Posse Comitatus, the movement from which the modern day militia and sovereign citizens groups derive, and its quite possible he was aware of these modern day Vehmic courts when he began to proclaiming the common law.
But its time to wrap things up for now. In the next installment we shall began to examine Thule's ties to the Freecorp movement and its role in the suppression of the Bavarian revolution. Stay tuned.