Welcome to the fifth installment in my examination of the notorious Thule Society, the World War I-era German secret society long linked to the Nazi Party and more recently a pop culture staple. Due to the latter, I dedicated much of part one to dispelling some of the common misconceptions concerning Thule (especially in relation the Vril Society and like associations).
Part two briefly considered the ideological origins of Thule, addressing personalities and organizations that helped shape such things. With the third installment I outlined the background of Baron Rudolf von Sebottendorff, the founder of Thule, which featured ample time spent in the Near East immersed in occult studies. With part four I finally began to examine Thule in earnest, mainly focusing on the beliefs, structure and early days of the Society.
|a bust of von Sebottendorff|
To say that the nation was devastated would be an understatement. The physical destruction and psychological shock the defeat brought to Germany was profound. This, combined with the specter of the Russian Revolution, spurred German workers and soldiers to start their own revolution. Despite much fear mongering over the prospect of Germany going red both before and after the German Revolution, said event never posed a serious threat of establishing communism in Germany and thus the revolution is now widely forgotten.
"That the revolution failed to take hold... is one reason for its obscurity. Also, the turmoil of late 1918 and early 1919 might better be called the German Revolutions. They were a series of localized uprisings, owing to the federal constitution of Germany and the mixed causes of the upheavals. It was not a centrally directed effort of the sort mythologized by the Russian Bolsheviks with their seizure of the Winter Palace, despite the best efforts of German Communists and Spartacists to run the movement. In its earliest phase the German Revolution was a 'spontaneous, popular upheaval in which exasperation, war-weariness and genuine revolutionary enthusiasm all played a part.'
"Although workers carrying red flags massed outside the Reichstag as early as October 26, 1918, the German Revolution began with the mutiny at Kiel of the High Seas Fleet on October 28 and ended with the crushing of the Bavarian Soviet Socialist Republic on May Day 1919 by paramilitaries, including units raised by the Thule Society.
"The German Revolution shared several common characteristics across its man local manifestations. It began with mutinous sailors, soldiers, and workers informally and hastily elected their own soviets or councils in imitation of the Russian model. At first these soviets were generally Independent Socialists in orientation, although they may have included individuals who could be termed 'nonpartisan.' In many areas the soviets enjoyed the reluctant but active participation of the majority Social Democrats, 'who were not prepared to abandon their traditional belief in parliamentary democracy,' and although they regarded the revolution as a deviation, 'sought to contain it and control it.' In the revolution's later stages, including Bavaria by April 1919, the soviets were often dominated by Communist hard-liners. Some soviets actually ran cities and districts for short periods; more often they coexisted uncomfortably alongside Germany's traditional governing institutions as they tried to find their compass after the empire played out its abrupt final act. The government ministries were usually dominated by Social Democrats, whose Reichstag delegate Philipp Scheidemann reluctantly proclaimed on November 9, with as much informality and haste as a mutinous sailor, the German Republic. He did so only to forestall Liebknecht from gaining the advantage should a power vacuum open up with the kaiser's abdication and flight to neutral Netherlands (which finally occurred November 10). Like the Labour Party in Great Britain, the Social Democrats would have been pleased to pursue a gradual program of democratization and socialization under the orderly auspices of a constitutional monarchy.
"From the day the largely unwanted republic was born, the Social Democrats found themselves keeping odd company to prevent it from being smothered by the far left, bent on erecting a dictatorship of the proletariat. Germany's first Reich president, the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert, received a surprise phone call from imperial headquarters at Spa on November 9. It was Gen. Wilhelm Groener, offering a deal on behalf of the army to support the Social Democrats in their fight against Bolshevism in exchange for the new government's promise to preserve the integrity of the officers corps.
"However, this was not the end of the Social Democrats' need for military muscle. Most of the army's rank and file had little stomach for further service after the November 11 Armistice with the Allies. Many units simply evaporated upon reaching their home depots. Filing the vacuum left by the old imperial army in the troubled months to come were paramilitary units called Freikorps, often led by recently discharged officers and filled in part with soldiers who continued to savor combat or who feared the triumph of Bolshevism..."
(Hammer of the Gods, David Luhrssen, pgs. 92-93)
|a scene from the German Revolution|
"After the defeats of November, and the recent humiliating dissolution following the Marstall fiasco, who were these men... who had risen, seemingly like phantoms, from the ruins of chaos and disaster? Maercker was a Prussian of the old school who had spent most of the war on the Eastern Front, ending up as the relatively lowly commander of the 214th Infantry Division. But unlike most of his fellow officers, he had grasped at an early stage that the miseries of defeat offered the opportunity for a wholly new type of soldiering: 'A vast militia of bourgeoisie and peasants, grouped around the flag for the re-establishment of order.' The implied message was that this coalition of the middle-class and the rural worker would be set against the industrial working classes of the city, with their dangerous notions of democracy and socialism. As his own division began to melt away, Maercker seized the chance of preserving its loyalist kernel as the basis of a new corps of volunteers able to carry out the twin tasks of combating the Bolshevik enemy at home and defending Germany's crumbling borders from the rapacious grasp of the foreigner."
(A Brief History of the Birth of the Nazis, Nigel Jones, pgs. 50-51)
The bulk of the Freecorps officers were drawn from the ranks of the original Storm Troopers, WWI era infantry who were something of precursor to modern day special forces. These heavily armed units were often used as shock troops to break Allied ranks, clearing the way for conventional forces. Because of this they were afforded special status within the German Imperial Army, which included the best rations, new uniforms, state-of-the-art weapons such as flame throwers, etc. As a result, these forces were far more loyal than the regular army and provided an idea backbone for the Freecorps.
|WWI-era Storm Trops|
Conspiracy culture has spilled much ink over the years concerning the significance of the death's head (which is also the symbol of the notorious Yale secret society commonly referred to as Skull and Bones as well as the SS itself), so I will not address it here. Whether there was some type of occult association meant by the use of the totenkopf by the Freecorps is highly debatable. I am on a bit firmer footing in this regard when it comes to another symbol adopted by the Freecorps: the swastika. Many researchers have attributed the use of the swastika by the Freecorps to Ariosophy's occult underground.
"Most authorities say that Hitler first picked up the idea of using the swastika from the Ehrhardt Brigade in 1920... But two organizations that were Hitler's immediate predecessors in spreading the doctrine of Aryan supremacy, the Thule Society and the S-u-T, had popularized its use as a racist symbol in 1919. And before them, the racist Reichshammer Bundes had used it as its 'battle sign' as early as 1912... The Nazis did not like to be reminded that they had precursors. The memoirs of the founders of both the S-u-T and the Thule Gesellschaft... were placed in the closed archives of the NSDAP and stamped with the 'V' sign. Ehrhardt himself says that in January 1920 his men began to bear the swastika for the first time and comments, 'I cannot determine how this happened...'"
(Vanguard of Nazism, Robert G.L. Waite, pg. 207, n. 90)
S-u-T refers to Deutschvolkischer Schultz-und-Trutzbund, a far right wing organization linked to both the Freecorps movement and Ariosophy. S-u-T, Thule and the Reichshammerbund all had ties to the Germanenorden, the secret society that Thule derived from. These ties were all addressed in part two of this series.
While the Freecorp known as the Ehrhardt Brigade is generally considered the first such unit to display the swastika, some researchers have suggested that the Freecorp may have adopted it after serving with several Bavarian Freecorps affiliated with Thule during the Battle of Munich. But I've found nothing to confirm that these Thule-backed Freecorps actually used the swastika as an emblem at this point (though Thule itself certainly did). In some accounts I've read, the swastika was said to have first been employed by Freecorps participating in the notorious Baltic Campaign, which slightly predated the Battle of Munich. This is a highly intriguing possibility for reasons that will be explored in a future installment.
The occult nature of the Freecorps movement became more pronounced after the disastrous Kapp Putsch, the most well known attempt by the Freecorps to overthrow the Weimer Republic. It failed and the government made a half-hearted attempt to suppress the movement. This drove many of the Freecorps into secretive organizations.
"We can divide the rightist and racist groupings broadly into the open, legal, or semi-legal, such as the Organisation Escherich (Orgesch), the Organisation Kanzler (Orka), the Stahlhelm (Steel Helmet), and the Jungdeutscher (Jungdo); and the secret, illegal, underground or outright terrorist, like the Thule Society, the Deutscher Trutz and Schultz Bund (The German Offensive and Defensive League), and the Ehrhardt and Rossbach Freikorps with their myriad offshoots and successor organisations. An added complication is that some of the illegal groups which were banned by the Berlin government government were tolerated and even openly encouraged by the Bavarian authorities --particularly the Police. The open organisations tended to be marginally more moderate in their aims and methods than the terrorist groups..."
(A Brief History of the Birth of the Nazis, Nigel Jones, pg. 206)First let us consider some of these "overworld" organizations. More than a few of them have striking similarities to the modern day militia movement and other such paramilitary right wing groups.
"Free Corps commanders, wanting to keep the nucleus of their Corps intact, covered up their activity by organizing business concerns the operation of which required large groups of strong young men --trucking companies, bicycle renting agencies, road gangs, private detective bureaus, and traveling circuses. But the most popular subterfuge was to disguise their men as members of larger labor camps. Here the Free Corps reverted to the experience of their youth in the Wandervogel and the labor camps it had established. More important, they set the precedent for the future: the so-called Arbeitskommando of the Black Reichsehr period and the Arbeitsdienst of the National Socialists were both patterned directly on the Free Corps labor camps...
"During the early twenties, similar Arbeitslager or Arbeitsgemeinschaften were established in various places throughout the Reich. They were most prevalent in eastern Germany, especially in Pomerania and Brandenburg, where they were sponsored by the Pomeranian Landbund and located on the estates belonging to its conservative members. Here they formed the type of half-military, half-agricultural communities that General von der Goltz had hoped to establish in the Baltic.
"Peter von Heydebreck, for example, took his Wehrwolfe to Count Bruhl's estate and established his headquarters in an old castle. His men interspersed their work in the fields with military drill and maneuvers. At night they sat about the great fire in the hall of the castle and discussed ways and means of overthrowing the Republic..."
(Vanguard of Nazism, Robert G.L. Waite, pgs. 189-191)
|a Freecorp "labor camp"|
Many of these Freecorps organizations would also take to raising funds via the arms trade as well.
"Actually, there was nothing particularly mysterious about the sources of their financial support. We have already seen that the Landbund sponsored them. Heavy industry also made generous contributions. Then, too, there was considerable profit in stealing and selling contraband arms. The government itself had inadvertently provided the Freebooters with this source of revenue. In order to meet the demands of the Allied Commission of Control, the Republic passed a law which dissolved the Free Corps and provided that 'compensation will be made for the surrender of all arms which had been legitimately acquired.' Since the officials did not tend to investigate the legitimacy of the acquisitions, the Free Corps were able to steal arms from the government and surrender them for a profit. Arms were also sold to the enemies of the Republic. Rossbach's biographer, for example, describes what he considers a 'somewhat humorous but nevertheless effective means' of raising money. Rossbach would sell German machine guns to the Poles, then a section of his Storm Troops would 'liberate' the arms and resell them to other Polish groups. The process was then repeated. 'They did a booming business.'"
(Vanguard of Nazism, Robert G.L. Waite, pg. 195)
|General Gerhard Rossbach, one of the most notorious Freecorp commanders who was also accused of "debauching" his youthful charges a time or two; his most famous conquest was a young Ernst Rohm|
"Since the great many, perhaps a majority, of all the judgments of the Femgericht were rendered against people who disclosed, or threatened to disclose, the existence of illegal arms, it is worth noting the reason for hiding and guarding arms so sedulously. It was not so much that the arms themselves had any real military value --most of them were in a bad state of disrepair. It was rather for a psychological reason. Arms are a symbol of power and, lacking power themselves, the men of the post-Free Corps groups clung all the more tenaciously to that symbol. The men expressed the idea differently. To them, weapons were 'sacred things,' or, more commonly, 'honor.' Thus Heinz ends his discussion of a typical Feme murder by writing a paragraph which contains the single sentence, 'Arms are honor.' And again: 'Arms are an indispensable condition of national honor... Colonial people are disarmed and therefore dishonorable.' The National Socialists used the same terminology. In the official secret handbook of the NSDAP, the side arms of the political leaders are not called automatics, they are invariably referred to as 'Ehrenwaffe.'
"The Feme was often directed against former comrades of post-Free Corps organizations. The very multiplicity of Bunds and secret societies led to competition, quarreling, and death. Since each society tried to grow at the expense of others, there were constant brawls over recruits and periodic purges of traitors who had deserted and disclosed the secrets and the arms depots to their new formations. Competition and conflict was intensified by the fact that many of the Freebooters were homosexuals and hence prone to jealousy and 'lover's quarrels...'
(ibid, pgs. 222-223)
I daresay the psychological function firearms served for the Freecorps is probably not unlike the dynamic between the modern patriot movement and their firearms as well. As for the rampant homosexuality amongst the men of the Freecorps (as well as the numerous hints of pedophilia), this is a topic that is unfortunately beyond the scope of this series. I felt it was worth mentioning here as it shows, if nothing else, that there was certainly a tolerance for ideas and lifestyles outside the mainstream within the Freecorps so long as the individual in question possessed the mythical "Freebooter spirit." But moving along.
While many of these "overworld" Freecorps organizations displayed traces of Volkisch influence there is little evidence of Ariosophy or other occult strands among such organizations. The same can not be said, however, for the underground organizations, which is hardly surprising. While the "overworld" Freecorps groups were largely designed to keep together the rank-and-file soldiers until they were again needed, the underground organizations were mostly comprised of Freecorp officers engaged in assassinations and other acts of terrorism. Thus, they were a much smaller, secretive and far more exclusive groups than their public counterparts. As such, they provided a more fertile ground for the esoteric aspects of the Volkisch movement.
As noted above, both Thule and another prominent organization linked to this militant network, the S-u-T, had direct ties to the occult secret society known as the Germanenorden. Then there was the Organization Council (O.C.), a network created by officers of the Ehrhardt Brigade, and later renamed the Viking Bund. The O.C. would certainly display more than a few traces of esoteric Volkisch tendencies, most notably in its attempt to recreate the Medieval Vehmic (sometimes spelled as "Feme" rather "Vehm") courts. Of them Wikipedia states:
"The sessions were often held in secret, whence the names of 'secret court' (German: heimliches Gericht), 'silent court' (German: Stillgericht), etc. Attendance of secret sessions was forbidden to the uninitiated, on pain of death, which led to the designation forbidden courts' (German: verbotene Gerichte). A chairman (German: Stuhlherr) presided over the court, and lay judges (German: Freischöffen) passed judgment. The court also constituted a Holy Order.
"Any free man 'of pure bred German stock' and of good character could become a judge. The new candidate was given secret information and identification symbols. The 'knowing one' (German: Wissende) had to keep his knowledge secret, even from his closest family (;vor Weib und Kind, vor Sand und Wind'). Lay judges had to give formal warnings to known troublemakers, issue warrants, and take part in executions.
"The organization of the Fehme was elaborate. The centre of each jurisdiction was referred to as a 'free seat' (German: Freistuhl), and its head or chairman (German: Stuhlherr) was often a secular or spiritual prince, sometimes a civic community, the archbishop of Cologne being supreme over all (German: Oberststuhlherren). The actual president of the court was the 'free count' (German: Freigraf, chosen for life by the Stuhlherr from among the Freischöffen, who formed the great body of the initiated. Of these the lowest rank were the Fronboten or Freifronen, charged with the maintenance of order in the courts and the duty of carrying out the commands of the Freigraf. The immense development of the Fehme is explained by the privileges of the Freischöffen; for they were subject to no jurisdiction but those of the Westphalian courts: whether as accused or accuser they had access to the secret sessions, and they shared in the discussions of the general chapter as to the policy of the society. At their initiation these swore to support the Fehme with all their powers, to guard its secrets, and to bring before its tribunal anything within its competence that they might discover. They were then initiated into the secret signs by which members recognized each other, and were presented with a rope and with a knife on which were engraved the mystic letters S.S.G.G., supposed to mean Stein, Strick, Gras, grün(stone, rope, grass, green).
"The Freistuhl was the place of session, and was usually a hillock, or some other well-known and accessible spot. The Freigraf and the Schöffen (judges) occupied the bench, before which a table, with a sword and rope upon it, was placed. The court was held by day and, unless the session was declared secret, all freemen, whether initiated or not, were admitted. The accusation was in the old German form; but only a Freischöffe could act as accuser. If the offence came under the competence of the court, meaning it was punishable by death, a summons to the accused was issued under the seal of the Freigraf. This was not usually served on him personally, but was nailed to his door, or to some convenient place where he was certain to pass. Six weeks and three days' grace were allowed, according to the old Saxon law, and the summons was thrice repeated. If the accused appeared, the accuser stated the case, and the investigation proceeded by the examination of witnesses as in an ordinary court of law. The judgment was put into execution on the spot if that was possible."
|a depiction of a Medieval Vehm court|
"The original Femgericht (or Vehmgericht), readers of historical romances will recall, had been established in medieval Germany as a kind of vigilante society which dispensed crude but effective justice at a time when there was no efficient judicial system. During the period of their dissolution, the Freebooters revived the idea of the Feme and in its name meted out their 'folkish justice' to all those people they loosely classified as traitors. The chief resemblance between the medieval Femgericht and its twentieth century namesake was this: the only sentence handed down by the 'court' was death.
"While the Feme was used by virtually all the post-Free Corps organizations, it is chiefly associated with Captain Hermann Ehrhardt's mysterious 'O.C.' --the Organization Consul, of which Ehrhardt was the 'Consul' --for it was the former commander of the Second Marine Brigade who organized the Feme into a system dispensing death. In the days following the Kapp Putsch. Ehrhardt and a group of his most trusted lieutenants fled to Bavaria and established themselves as agricultural laborers on the great estates in the vicinity of Munich. Here, in the spring of 1921, the O.C. was formed. Pohner, the chief of the Bavarian police, was the chief patron of the organization. In addition to channeling police funds into Ehrhardt's coffers, he supplied false passports to members who had committed murders (that is, those who had 'carried out the stern justice of the Femgericht'). Such people, understandably, found it advisable to leave the country for a few weeks."
(Vanguard of Nazism, Robert G.L. Waite, pgs. 212-213)
As was noted in part four, Thule also had an interest in ancient German legal traditions and likely would have studied the Vehmic courts at length. And finally, individuals linked to Thule's parent organization, the Germanenorden, were used as assassins of the O.C. in at least one prominent incident, as noted in part two. All of this would seem to indicate that there was overlap between Thule and Ehrhardt's people, at the very least. That Thule's esoteric doctrines influenced Ehrhardt and the O.C. is hardly beyond the realm of possibility.
|Captain Hermann Ehrhardt|
In Gale's ideology, America's historic common law system had been usurped by Admiralty law, which some conspiracy theorists have described as a modern successor to the Roman civil law (of which Thulists believed had replaced German's historic Aryan legal codes, as noted in part four). Gale envisioned the Committee of the States at a citizen's council designed to reclaim common law rights and remove government officials who did not recognize this legal code.
"Though Gale denied he played a prominent role in the Committee of the States, he invented it and inspired its members to plot violence. Gale inaugurated the Committee on September 6, 1982, with a sermon from the pulpit of the Ministry of Christ Church, explaining how and why patriots should take control of the federal government. Like his original Posse manifesto, The cornerstone of Gale's plan was an 'indictment' charging that Congress had 'unlawfully' delegated power to the Federal Reserve; 'treasonously' appropriated money 'towards the support of alien and foreign governments'; and unconstitutionally ordered American troops into battle on behalf of the 'International Jewish Banking Conspiracy.' After detailing these and other transgressions, Gale presented his solution:
"'[Members of Congress] are employees on the public payroll... therefore they are subject to dismissal and removal from offices and replacement by a Committee of the States as provided for in Article Five of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union... This removal from office and replacement by a Committee of the States is hereby recommended and authorized!'
"The reasoning was sophomoric, but Gale's belligerent charisma and his pretended rank of full colonel in the U.S. Army made his assertions appear credible --at least to those Patriots who wanted to believe anything he said. Gale correctly assumed that the government would take notice of the committee's threats and he instructed his followers to form a citizen's posse in every county. 'Anybody who tries to interfere with the lawful operations of the Committee of the States should be faced by that armed posse and be declared outlaws and be apprehended upon sight.' Later versions of this advise instructed that the death penalty be imposed. Like the Posse Comitatus he announced in 1971, Gale manufactured the Committee of the States using equal parts vigilantism, historical misinterpretation, and outright fiction --all papered over by meaningless legalistic gloss."
(The Terrorist Next Door, Daniel Levitas, pg. 286)
|William Potter Gale|
Before wrapping up, I would like to point out a post-World War II manifestation of a Freecorp. This paramilitary organization, based upon its post-WWI predecessors, also displayed trappings of an occult nature. The Freecorp was closely linked to the Socialist Reich Party (SRP), an openly neo-Nazi political party founded in 1949 and banned by West German authorities (with ample prodding from the Allies) by 1952.
"... Freikorps Deutschland (FD). The FD was formed at a secret meeting in Hamburg on 17 August 1951 by the Bruderschaft, the SRP, an SS fraternal association, and other like-minded groups. Recruits went through a heavily ritualistic initiation ceremony as well as a tough physical course that included forced marches with 50-pound packs. The FD had one or two thousand members divided into Freischaren (volunteer companies) of 113 members each. Its public leaders were two ex-SS men, Hermann Lamp and Colonel Eberhard Hawranke, and a naval officer named Heinz Naumann. Behind them stood the former Vienna Gauleiter A.E. Frauenfeld, his friend and Naumann Circle-member Gustav Adolf Scheel, and Beck-Broichsitter. All swore allegiance to imprisoned Grand Admiral Karl Donitz as legal head of Germany."
(Dreamer of the Day, Kevin Coogan, pg. 401)
|the banner of the Socialist Reich Party|
And it is here that I shall wrap things up for now. In the next installment we shall continue with the saga of the Thule Society and the order's involvement in the Battle of Munich. Stay tuned.