Raymond L Sickinger. Journal of Popular Culture. Volume 34, Issue 2. Fall 2000.
Because the name Adolf Hitler evokes so many images and provokes so many responses, it is difficult, if not impossible, to sort through them and arrive at the real Hitler. Hitler’s character and career, however, have remained consistently popular subjects.’ Many people have tried to give insights into his character and personality. But some of the most controversial have been those writers who have claimed a strong connection between Hitler and occult practices. In fact, over the past thirty years two radically different positions on the subject have formed. The first group of writers generally ignored, rejected, or downplayed the relationship of Hitler and occult knowledge, while the second argued that such a connection was the only way to understand the true power of Hitler.
The first group includes some of the major biographers of Hitler: Bullock, Toland, and Fest. Alan Bullock rejected any suggestions that Hitler was fascinated with occult knowledge and practices. He maintained that there was no “evidence to substantiate the once popular belief that he resorted to astrology. His secretary says categorically that he had nothing but contempt for such practices, although faith in the stars was certainly common among some of his followers like Himmler.” According to Bullock, “Hitler was a rationalist and materialist … What interested Hitler was power, and his belief in Providence or Destiny was only a projection of his own sense of power” (389-90). Yet he still made references to Hitler’s “magic” and to his “magic circle” (563, 722, 776), suggesting that even Bullock may have perceived an inexplicable side of Hitler.
Unlike Bullock, John Toland documented some of Hitler’s superstitious beliefs and practices. Laying the cornerstone of a modern art museum in Munich during the fall of 1933, Hitler broke a silver hammer when he struck the cornerstone with it. According to Toland, “There was an awkward silence because of a superstition that the architect would die if the hammer broke. Goebbels tried to make light of it … But it was no joke to Hitler, who was convinced that it was a bad omen.” Interestingly, the architect, Troost, was hospitalized a few days later and died within a few months (Toland 296, 384, 565). Toland also recounted a Teutonic Divination Ceremony which took place early in the morning of January 1, 1939, and which involved the pouring of molten lead in water to determine the future. In his view, “Hitler did not seem satisfied with his results, for afterwards he sat down in an armchair, gazing dejectedly at the fire, and hardly spoke for the rest of the evening” (695).
Although Toland revealed a superstitious side of Hitler, he did not support claims of any greater occult interests or powers. For example, after describing Hitler’s body language lessons provided by Erik Jan Hanussen, “one of the most renowned seers and astrologists in Europe,” Toland reported that Hitler asked Hanussen to cast his horoscope. The horoscope indicated certain “hindrances to his rise to power” that could be removed only by “a mandrake (a root in the shape of a man) found in a butcher’s yard in the town of Hitler’s birthplace by the light of the full moon.” But whether or not Hitler gave any credence to what Hanussen said was openly questioned by Toland. H. R. Knickerbockers interview with Dr. Carl Gustav Jung was also treated in Toland’s work. Jung expressed his conviction that Hitler was like a shaman; his power was magic. Toland, however, made no comment about whether or not he accepted Jung’s thesis. As regards matters of astrology, Toland was clear that “astrological speculation concerning the Fuhrer was verboten.” Moreover, although Hess and Himmler experimented with a variety of esoteric, occult practices, Toland argued that Hitler did not approve of such things (384-85, 682, 806,909, 1047).
The third biographer, Joachim Fest, rejected “that school of thought which attributes superhuman abilities to Hitler.” According to Fest, Hitler’s “career depended not so much on demonic traits as on his typical, ‘normal’ characteristics. The course of his life reveals the weaknesses and ideological bias of all the theories that represent Hitler as a fundamental antithesis to the age and its people. He was not so much the great contradiction of the age as its mirror” (Fest 7). To be sure, Fest made references to Hitler’s “demagogic magic,” his “mediumistic powers,” his “magical self-reassurance,” and his “phrases from the realm of magic” (149, 367, 646), but these Fest used primarily for emphasis and dramatic effect; they were not to be taken literally.
Unlike the first group, the second group of writers posited the undeniable connection between Hitler and the occult. Included in this latter group are Louis Pauwels, Jacques Bergier, Jean-Michel Angebert, Dusty Sklar, and Trevor Ravenscroft. In the mystical, and sometimes esoteric, work entitled The Morning of the Magicians, Pauwels and Bergier chastised historians for reducing “one of the most fantastic episodes of contemporary history to the level of an elementary history lesson on evil instincts.” To understand fully Hitler and the Nazi Movement, both argued that historians must decide “to abandon our positive way of looking at things and try to enter a Universe where Cartesian reason and reality are no longer valid” (133, 139). Claiming that Hitler believed in “a magic relationship between Man and the Universe,’” Pauwels and Bergier contended that Hitler wanted “to bring about, by scientific or pseudo-scientific means, a return to the beliefs of a bygone age according to which Man, society and the Universe all obey the same Laws, and there is a close connection between soul-states and the movements of the stars” (209, 172).
In The Occult and the Third Reich: The Mystical Origins of Nazism and the Search for the Holy Grail, Jean-Michel Angebert’ described the roots of the Nazi Movement:
It is, therefore, an analysis of National Socialist thought by way of the labyrinth of esoteric tradition that we propose to the reader. The central theme being Gnosis, with its most significant thrust represented by the prophet Mani, its evolution necessarily brings us to Catharism, a neo-Gnostic sect of the Middle Ages, and thence to Templarism. Subsequently, Gnosis goes underground, degenerating with the Rosicrucians and the Illuminati of Bavaria, and finally culminates, after many detours, in the mysterious Thule Society.
Portraying Hitler as an initiate of the Thule Society, this work maintained that Hitler eventually became the “new imperial Messiah” and “the master of the Third Reich, an adept in that black magic in which he had been initiated.” Hitler’s mesmerizing powers did not surprise Angebert, because the Fihrer “doubtless owes it to his Bavarian origins. Southern Germany is a hotbed of mediums…and other occultists…born, like Adolf Hitler, in the little town of Branau-am-Inn” (53, 160, 232).
In the hands of Dusty Sklar, Hitler emerged as a person with a “penchant for the occult.” Maintaining that the Viennese bookseller Ernst Pretzsche “introduced Hitler to consciousness-expanding drugs, as well as to astrological and alchemical symbolism,” Sklar emphasized that “[b]y daring to break taboos against acts which would disgust other people, one might gain powers of which ordinary men did not dream.” She concluded that “Hitler’s later reputation for unnatural practices…may well have been deserved.” Hitler’s will to power, according to Sklar, “has not been given its proper due…But this early will to power betrays the interests of a potential occultist.” After examining Hitler’s youth and career, she was convinced that Hermann Rauschning’s memorable assessment of Hitler was accurate:
Black magic, white magic-Hitler is the typical person with no firm foundation, with all the shortcomings of the superficial, of the man without reverence, quick to judge and quick to condemn. He is one of those with no spiritual tradition, who, being caught by the first substitute for it that they meet, hold tenaciously to that, lest they fall back into Nothingness… For all those who have been unsuccessful in the battle of life National Socialism is the great worker of magic. And Hitler himself is the first of these; thus he has become the master—enchanter and the high priest of the religious mysteries of Nazidom.
For Sklar there was no doubt that Hitler was the “supreme magician” (16,23-24,49, 125).
Of all the writers in this second group, the most controversial was Trevor Ravenscroft. In his highly popular work, The Spear of Destiny, Ravenscroft contended that the Holy Lance which pierced Christ’s side was the “talisman of power” and “was to become the central pivot in the life of Adolf Hitler and the very source of his ambitions to conquer the world.” According to this account, when, as a young man, Hitler first saw the lance, he thought it was “some sort of magical medium of revelation … ‘I felt as though I myself had held it in my hands before in some earlier century of history-that I myself had once claimed it as my talisman of power and held the destiny of the world in my hands.’” While viewing the lance in the Hapsburg museum, the young Hitler had a vision of his future role in service to the Superman. The person to whom Hitler confided this story was an associate of Ravenscroft, Dr. Walter Stein, who insisted that he had numerous conversations with Hitler and who in turn reported them to Ravenscroft. The latter, however, made no formal notes of these talks. Moreover, Ravenscroft asserted that Hitler entered into an occult world of magic which was the key to his power. In his view, Dietrich Eckart introduced Hitler to a “world of cosmology and magic” in the Thule Society, recognizing Hitler as the Anti-Christ who would eventually control the power of the lance. During the Anschluss in 1938, Hitler seized the lance and its powers for his own and transported it and other treasures to Nuremberg. In fact, Ravenscroft clearly believed that Hitler wanted magical power and that “monstrous sexual perversion was the very core of his whole existence, the source of his mediumistic and clairvoyant powers and the motivation behind every act through which he reaped a sadistic vengeance on humanity” (xx-xxi, 8-9, 60-61, 92, 155,160, 315-16, 330).
Most of the claims of the second group of authors are intriguing, but generally unsubstantiated. In fact, a recent work by an Australian journalist, Ken Anderson, ripped apart the claims of Ravenscroft and other occult historians. In Anderson’s view, it is necessary “to reject claims that Hitler had supernatural powers of his own… The occult influences he is said to have been open to…are unproven…and he remains an enigma! However, allowing false and fanciful claims about Hitler to go unchallenged will not help to unwrap that enigma” (233-36).
There is, however, a third position that needs to be considered. Must we either accept completely or reject completely the thesis that Hitler had supernatural powers? Can we instead suggest that Hitler thought and acted in a magical way and that he found a magical approach to difficult problems to be efficacious rather than insist that Hitler really had supernatural powers? It is this latter thesis that needs to be explored further, because one of the best ways to gain insight into Hitler and to interpret his actions both before and during the war is to understand that he thought and acted in a magical way.
It has already been indicated by one biographer that Hitler had a superstitious nature (Toland 565, 695), and there is little doubt that Hitler’s personality was one prone to “believing in magic” (Vyse 25-57). In his youth, Hitler lived in a fantasy world. For example, Hitler had a fantasy relationship with a young girl named Stephanie Jansten. Although Hitler never directly communicated with her, he believed in their common destiny. In Toland’s words, Hitler “was immersed…in Norse and German mythology where the women were anything but ordinary, and he probably had a romanticized, knightly concept of all things sexual. No prosaic introduction for this young Siegfried! Fantasy built on fantasy” (30-31). As Hitler’s friend, August Kubizek, stated in his recollections: “For such exceptional human beings as himself and Stephanie, he said, there was no need for the usual communication by word of mouth; extraordinary human beings would understand each other by intuition … This mixing of dream and reality is characteristic of the young Hitler” (58-69). Such “intuition” would later become a hallmark of Hitler’s thinking and the inspiration for many of his decisions.
Although Kubizek commented that Hitler “was absolutely sceptical about occultism and more than rational in these matters,” he also gave further insights into the development of magical thinking in his friend. Hitler convinced Kubizek to join him in the purchase of a lottery ticket. He was certain that they would win: “Never did it occur to Adolf to reproach himself for having taken for granted that the first prize belonged to him by right.” In another recollection, Kubizek shared his belief that Hitler would “prefer to stick to his wishful thinking rather than unbosom himself with real people.” Neither did Hitler have an open mind nor did he engage in critical reflection: “I never felt…that he was seeking anything concrete in his piles of books, such as principles and ideas for his own conduct; on the contrary, he was looking only for confirmation of those principles and ideas he already had.” While listening to Wagner, Adolf willingly “let himself be carried away into the mystical universe which was more real to him than the actual workaday world” (93-95, 129, 184, 191-92). These descriptions are not just those of an aimless young dreamer; they represent a form of magical thinking in which the world is thought to be manipulated by will.
A wartime report developed for the Allies during World War II includes information which not only corroborates Kubizek’s statement about Hitler’s lack of critical reflection but which also reinforces this point about magical thinking:
[Hitler] does not think out in a logical and consistent fashion, gathering all available information pertinent to the problem, mapping out alternative courses of action, and then weighing the evidence pro and con for each of them before reaching a decision. His mental processes operate in reverse. Instead of studying the problem as an intellectual would do, he avoids it and occupies himself with other things until unconscious processes furnish him with a solution. Having the solution he then begins to look for facts that will prove that it is correct …. [But he] becomes dependent on his inner guide, which makes for unpredictability on the one hand and rigidity on the other. (longer 74-75)
His wartime experiences from 1914 to 1918 had reinforced these magical elements in his personality. Hitler saw front-line action and frequently volunteered for dangerous duty. Saved at least once, if not more times, by his “inner voice” or intuition, Hitler came to believe that he was blessed, that he was earmarked by Providence for a special mission. There was some kind of magical destiny for him (Toland 79-97).
In his early life, Hitler indeed thought and acted in a magical way and his experiences taught him to trust, rather than to discredit, this magical approach to life. For many people, however, the word “magic” unfortunately raises images of Houdini and other illusionists. Although Hitler was certainly a master of illusion, that is not the meaning intended here. The magical tradition has very deep roots in the human past. Magic was once an essential part of life and certainly an essential part of political life, because its primary purpose was to give human beings power: “As a belief, [magic] is the recognition of the existence of occult power, impersonal or only vaguely personal, mystically dangerous and not lightly to be approached, but capable of being channeled, controlled, and directed by man. As a practice, magic is the utilization of this power for public or private ends.” In the magical tradition, the role of the person who practices magic or acts magically is clearly defined. That designated person identifies or predicts “what is otherwise hidden in time or in space from human eyes; he influences and manipulates the objects and phenomena of nature and all creatures so that they may satisfy actual or assumed needs; and, finally, he combats, neutralizes, and remedies the onslaught of evils, real or imaginary, afflicting mankind.” The extent of magic is “almost as wide as the life of man. All things under heaven, and even the inhabitants of heaven, become the subject of its sway” (Webster 55).
This description perfectly fits the role of Der FUhrer. He claimed to know what is otherwise hidden. According to Werner Maser, “Hitler…was convinced that he had discovered and grasped what historians and philosophers had sought for millennia-the ‘eternal course of history’…. [E]arty on he came to see himself as a political genius, as someone who had lifted the veil of history and discovered the final truth” (280). Mein Kampf was just one of the ways Hitler revealed what was hidden; his speeches were another. As Fest indicated, “Significantly, he trusted inspiration more than he did thought and genius more than diligence…. ‘Geniuses of the extraordinary type,’ he remarked, with a side glance at himself, ‘can show no consideration for normal humanity”’ (531). Ernst Roehm was also quick to recognize this magical trait in Hitler “What he wants is to sit on the hilltop and pretend he’s God…. He wants to let things run their course. He expects a miracle” (Rauschning 153-54). Although highly critical of Hitler, Hermann Rauschning gave witness to Hitler’s tendency to act as if he were providing profound revelations into mysteries: “Pronounced with the authority of the recognized leader…, such dicta..gave the impression of deep revelations…. He regarded it as belittling of his stature if we mentioned similar opinions…[and] was unaware that the ideas that seemed to him to be mysterious inspirations were the product of the general intellectual outlook.” According to Rauschning, Hitler believed that a “new age of magic interpretation of the world is coming, of interpretation in terms of the will and not of the intelligence.” Hitler was the voice of that new age (223-25).
Hitler claimed to be able to manipulate the objects and phenomena of nature and all creatures in order to satisfy needs. His twenty-five-point program for the Nazi Party in 1920 and his Mein Kampf in 1923 constituted his magic formula for the ills and the needs of his Germany. Throughout his career he remained faithful to most of these original principles, because a true magician never deviates from the formula or the precise set of rituals needed to achieve the desired result In fact, Hitler was quite adamant about fidelity to the formula:
Therefore, the program of the new movement was summed up in a few guiding principles, twenty-five in all…. [T]he so-called program of the movement is absolutely correct in its ultimate aims,…but in the course of time the conviction may well arise that in individual instances certain of the guiding principles ought perhaps to be framed differently …. Every attempt to do this, however, usually works out catastrophically. For in this way something which should be unshakeable is submitted to discussion. (Hitler, Mein Kampf 458)
Hitler finally claimed that he was the person who combats, neutralizes, and remedies the onslaught of evils, real or imaginary, afflicting mankind. The Jews in particular became the chief scapegoat (Webster 54) for all of Germany’s problems-past, present, and future. They were the most significant “taboo.” In a magical world, “Crises are generally engendered by breaches of taboo” (Balikci 199). As Robert Waite remarks, “‘The Jew’ was the single, simple answer to all problems. Who had stabbed Germany in the back during the war and caused disastrous defeat? Who had signed the armistice?… Who had accepted the ‘Treaty of Shame’? Who were the profiteers and exploiters who caused the inflation and the Great Depression? The answer was clear and compelling; ‘always and only the Jew!”’ (368). In a speech in Munich on July 28, 1922, Hitler contended that “[t]he Jew has never founded any civilization, though he has destroyed hundreds…. In the last resort it is the Aryan alone who can form States and set them on their path to future greatness…. [T]he Jew…with his envious instinct for destruction.. seeks to disintegrate the national spirit of the Germans and to pollute their blood.” Hitler believed that he was “called” and that he was the only one to save Germany from this evil threat (Toland 197).
The famous Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung recognized that Hitler thought and acted magically. As indicated earlier, Toland’s biography included Jung’s insights. But the actual interview was conducted by an American journalist named H. R. Knickerbocker in 1941. In this interview, Jung defined the nature of Hitler’s power:
There were two types of strong men in primitive society. One was the chief who was physically powerful,…and another was the medicine man who was not strong in himself but was strong by reason of the power which the people projected into him… Hitler belongs in the category of the truly mystic medicine man. His body does not suggest strength. The outstanding characteristic of his physiognomy is its dreamy look. I was especially struck by that when I saw pictures taken of him in the Czechoslovakian crisis; there was in his eyes the look of a seer.
Knickerbocker further questioned Jung about Hitler’s powerful effect upon Germans and his inability to impress many foreigners in the same way. Jung was quick to respond:
It is because Hitler is the mirror of every German’s unconscious. But of course he mirrors nothing from a non-German… Hitler’s power is not political; it is magic. To understand magic you must understand what the unconscious is. It is that part of our mental constitution over which we have little control and which is stored with all sorts of impressions and sensations; …Now the secret of Hitler’s power is…twofold; first, that his unconscious has exceptional access to his consciousness, and second, that he allows himself to be moved by it. He is like a man who listens intently to a stream of suggestions in a whispered voice from a mysterious source, and then acts upon them. In our case,…we have too much rationality,…to obey it-but Hitler listens and obeys. (Knickerbocker 45-47)
In the ancient world, the medicine man or the shaman served a political function by advising political leaders. In fact, in the shamanistic, magical tradition, the shaman is said to possess special insights and mystical visions, but is too unstable to be handed the reins of power (Cavendish 1: 63). As described by Richard Cavendish,
The shaman or sorcerer-priest…is frequently classed as a psychopath. In spirit he flies up to heaven, descends to hell, and dives to the nethermost regions of the sea. He receives messages from the dead, communes with spirits. But his mental balance is insecure and he is easily “unhinged.” If suddenly angered or startled he loses his self-control completely. His eyes redden and bulge out, his face goes through the most hideous contortions, and unless restrained he will not hesitate to maim or to murder the person who provoked him.
Such a person is believed to be touched by the divine and to have special insights and magical powers which can be very valuable to the community in which he lives. Considered holy, he brings healing to those who are sick and protects the whole community from evil (12: 1765, 1678).
Does Jung’s description of Hitler have any merit? There are indeed similarities between Hitler and the medicine man/shaman of magical lore. Rauschning attested that Hitler “is simply a sort of great medicine-man. He is literally that, in the full sense of the term. We have gone back so far toward the savage state that the medicine-man has become king among us.” He further observed that “it is the Shaman’s drum that beats round Hitler. Asiatic, African cults and bewitchments are the true element of his spell, and furious dances to the point of exhaustion. The primitive world has invaded the West” (Rauschning 259). There were others who attested to this shaman-like quality: “For us this man was a whirling dervish. But he knew how to fire up the people, not with arguments,…but with the fanaticism of his whole manner, screaming and yelling, and above all by his deafening repetition, and a certain contagious rhythm. This he has learned to do and it has a fearfully exciting and barbaric effect” (Zuckmayer 384). Kubizek once referred to Hitler as a person of “ecstatic creativeness” (200). Apparently some German people saw what Jung had seen.
As Rauschning pointed out, what is peculiar is that Hitler seemed to combine the role of political leader and shaman. The Fuhrer, a title which is vague in definition, mystical in quality, and magical in its powers, highlights this very point. No one questioned the insight of a shaman. No one questioned Der Fuhrer. Hitler’s anger, like the anger of the magical shaman, was notorious. He would lash out, sometimes verbally, sometimes physically, against those who questioned his insights, insights often derived from no official sources of authority (Waite 8-10). His fluctuation between laziness and bursts of energy were also shamanlike (Waite 42; Fest 535). In earlier periods of time, a shaman could be ignored or appeased by a leader, but his words were never absolute commands. With Hitler, however, the visions and magic formulae of the shaman become absolute commands. The shaman was now the leader who divined the future.
Essential to magic is the power of words. In magical theory, just as someone of strong personality can use words to control other people, “so the magician armed with the lightning of concentrated will-power and the thunder of overwhelming language can dominate anything in the universe…. ‘In magic,’ according to the French magician Eliphas Levi, ‘…to affirm and will what ought to be is to create; to affirm and will what ought not to be is to destroy.”‘ The person who utters the words must have a very strong will and the words that he utters must be valid by virtue of being revered as sacred by time and tradition (Cavendish 11: 1418). There is no doubt that Adolf Hitler believed in the magic power of words. As he said in Mein Kampf, “But the power which has always started the greatest religious and political avalanches in history rolling has from time immemorial been the magic power of the spoken word, and that alone” (107). He believed that if he uttered the same message over and over that it would become reality. His speeches were like incantations. A magician delivering an incantation does so with a rising intensity as he proceeds: “This contributes to a rising state of intoxication, in which the magician convinces himself that the words he utters are charged with invincible power and are actually taking effect… [T]he words are put together deliberately…and are rhythmical… IT]heir impressive sound and beat influence the supernatural forces which he attempts to control” (Cavendish 11: 1419-20). Hitler’s speeches exhibited this same quality. Heinz Haushofer recalled: “It was terrible…shouting and arm waving. He was not interrupted. He just spoke and spoke, like a record in a groove, for an hour or an hour and a half until he became absolutely exhausted…and when he was finished and breathless, he just sat down once more a simple and nice man” (Toland 284). Hitler’s speeches repeated the same themes again and again. And his voice would rise with excitement, sweeping his audience along with him. The businessman Kurt Ludecke described his response to a speech by Hitler: “Presently my critical faculty was swept away…. The intense will of the man, the passion of his sincerity seemed to flow from him into me. I experienced an exaltation that could be likened only to a religious conversion. I felt sure that no one who had heard Hitler that afternoon could doubt that he was a man of destiny, the vitalizing force in the future of Germany” (Ludecke 13-14; Fest 323-24). The power of Hitler’s words was indeed magical.
Ritual is still another important dimension of the magical tradition. Doing things in a precise way is an essential part of successful magic. By nature Hitler was a man of ritual. According to Robert Waite, “Intimates all agreed that Hitler’s daily routine was followed to the smallest detail. As chancellor, when taking his dog for a walk, Hitler went through the same field every time, and each time he threw a piece of wood from exactly the same spot in exactly the same direction. Any attempt to persuade him to deviate from the pattern would result in considerable agitation and anger on his part” (15). Hitler wanted to maintain control; ritual gives a person a sense of control, while magic ritual promises actual control. The yearly Nuremburg rallies provide an excellent example of ritual which was intended to produce magical results. The use of special symbols, fire, incense, repetition of phrases and words were all intended to do just what magic ritual intends to do: to control nature, humans, even the divine forces, and ultimately to give Hitler power (Toland 492-97).
The presence of Hitler and his personal will was essential to the whole ritual process. As one historian of the supernatural notes, “If the magician is not present (and not only physically but emotionally present) he can achieve nothing. For this reason, spells and incantations tend to look inert and meaningless when printed, like a cross between a cookbook and the jottings of a madman” (Hill and Williams 138-39). Hitler was fanatical about his role. Everything was orchestrated carefully; no detail was left to chance. The 1938 rally captured on film by Leni Riefenstahl gives ample evidence of the power of ritual and the importance of Hitler’s role. It is indeed a magical ceremony at which Hitler presides and to which he brings the full force of his will and emotions (Bullock 379; Toland 492-97). Without the presence of Hitler, there would be no future for Germany. In fact, there would simply be no Germany. As Hitler once remarked, “I must in all modesty say that my own person is indispensable. Neither a military nor a civilian personality could replace me … I am convinced of the strength of my brain and my resolution…. The fate of the Reich is dependent entirely upon me” (Waite 46).
For magic to work, it needs a receptive audience whose members -believe in its efficacy. There is evidence that Hitler’s Germany provided him with such an audience. As H. G. Baynes pointed out in 1941, Hitler’s “apparent belief in his own divine gift lends him an arrogant air of certainty which had a paralyzing effect upon the suggestible minds of the Germans” (Baynes 16). Otto Strasser remarked on Hitler’s uncanny ability to connect with his audience: “A clairvoyant, face-to-face with his public, goes into a trance. That is his moment of real greatness… He believes what he says; carried away by a mystic force, he cannot doubt the genuineness of his mission.” Strasser likened Hitler to a wireless receiving set which enabled him, “with a certainty with which no conscious gift would endow him, to act as a loudspeaker, proclaiming the most secret desires, the least admissible instincts, the sufferings and personal revolts of a whole nation” (Strasser 62-66). Konrad Heiden in his introduction to The Memoirs of Felix Kersten (Heinrich Himmler’s masseur) declared that in Germany between the wars, there were “so many ‘miracles’ performed, so many ghosts conjured, so many illnesses cured by magnetism, so many horoscopes read” that it seemed like a 46 veritable mania of superstition had seized the country, and all those who made a living by exploiting human stupidity thought the millennium had come.” Germany was ripe for such a person, because it was ripe for magical thinking.
Hitler not only had an audience open to his magical thinking, but his magical solutions also seemed to be successful in practice. Success confirmed to him the genuineness of his approach. As a result, Hitler learned not to question his way of thinking, but rather to blame those who were unfaithful to following it precisely.” And his success was based in part on his magical belief that he could divine the future.” Believing that he knew the future of Germany, Hitler thought that he could lead the German people into the future, if they would only listen to and obey him. In fact, it was this confidence about knowing the future that created tensions with the German military. For example, Hitler’s attempt to remilitarize the Rhineland was opposed by the military. The military feared that the army was not ready for any retaliation from the French and British. Hitler, however, believed that success comes to the daring and he proved to himself that his instincts were superior. This incident convinced Hitler that his insight into the future outcome of present actions was sound: “You can serve God only as a hero… I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleepwalker” (Toland 525-31). Hitler moved his foreign policy forward with intensity. By March of 1939, Hitler had obtained many of the foreign policy objectives he had proposed as early as the 1920s for the regeneration of Germany. This repeated success reinforced Hitler’s belief that he had a special “intuition” and could predict the future: “I am convinced that the secret of the greatest successes in history was that based, not on human logic, but on inspirations of the moment… [I]ntuition… plays a major part…[in] politics, statecraft, and military strategy.” Yet Hitler could still be apprehensive under the right set of circumstances. On August 24, 1939, Hitler met with a group of trusted people at Eagles Nest above Berchtesgaden. While watching a display of northern lights that night, Hitler saw an omen in the predominantly red light cast on him and his friends. He indicated to an aide that the omen clearly meant that without force, Germany would not make it this time (Toland 752). Within a few short days, the invasion of Poland occurred and World War II had begun.
By the time war broke out in 1939, Hitler was firmly in control of the army, because he trusted only his own insights. In February of 1938, Hitler became the official supreme commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He created the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), which served as his military staff under his direct command. The air force and the navy were already subject to him. By December of 1941, Hitler assumed control of the army as commander-in-chief and imposed strategy on the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), the Army High Command. Hitler had virtually complete control of military affairs and he was in large part responsible for the successes of 1939 and 1940 (Fest 625-34). Most historians concede that he had some military talents. But his successes in 1939 and 1940 were his undoing. He believed that his willpower was sufficient; he merely had to will what he wanted to happen and it would happen (Spielvogel 222; Toland 762; Wagener 150154). By 1941, according to Fest, Hitler was “sustained by the certainty…that Providence presided over all his decisions. This growing effort to invoke irrational support strikingly reflected his state of uneasiness. Quite often his gestures of magical self-assurance occurred as abrupt interjections in matter-of-fact conversations” (647). By 1942 Hitler even turned his thoughts to India and had already planned a vast naval base at Trondheim to serve future needs (Lewin 34; Toland 891). This is clearly a magical, not a rational, approach to wartime operations.
This approach became even more pronounced after 1942. Hitler would not allow retreat, because retreat would indicate that his insights and his magic formula for Germany were not infallible. Any deviation from his plans, like the deviation from a precise set of magic rituals, would spell disaster, he thought. As the military historian, Ronald Lewin, argued, from June of 1943, “in the conduct of military operations [Hitler’s] procedure was…irrational, holding-out-to-the-last, flawed conceptually and in execution because its pattern was shaped by the flaws in his own personality” (151).
There were numerous attempts to end Hitler’s reign of power from 1938 to 1944, but all ended in failure. The last and, perhaps, most famous plot occurred during the end stages of the war in July of 1944. A huge explosion in the staff meeting room at Wolfschanze bruised and shook Hitler, but it did not kill him. His vengeance against the military personnel who were implicated was swift and brutal. The effect of each of these successful escapes from death only served to confirm Hitler’s belief that he was a special person with magical power to control his fate and that of Germany. It also brought him sympathy from many Germans who did not support the resistance (Fest 707-15; Toland 1092-1127; Bullock 743-52).
Hitler ended his career in a grand magical gesture, remaining consistent to the last. Hitler was fascinated with the theories of Dr. Horbiger, who talked of the universe as the creation of the conflict between fire and ice (Hitler, Secret Conversations 263). Perhaps he was attracted to this theory because it was so closely related to the Norse myth of creation (Hamilton 312-13). But the myth also promised a day of doom (Ragnarok), when the world and the gods would be destroyed by “Armaggedon, the destroying fire followed by the renewal of life.” According to the myth,
First will come…winters…accompanied by great wars throughout the whole world. Brothers will kill each other for the sake of gain, and no one will spare father or son in manslaughter or in incest… The stars will disappear from heaven… [T]he whole surface of the earth and the mountains will tremble so…that the trees will be uprooted from the ground, mountains will crash down, and all fetters and bonds will be snapped and severed… The wolf Fenfir will advance with wide open mouth…and his eyes and nostrils will blaze with fire… [F]ire will [be flung] over the earth and burn up the whole world.
Out of this universal destruction, however, will come new life and rebirth (Leeming 85-88). Hitler, the “fortunate wolf’ (Toland 130-31),13 knew the legends of German mythology, reading about them often in his early years (Kubizek 182; Waite 102) and was fascinated by the “interplay of destruction and creativity.” Moreover, Hitter was “fascinated by fire… He worked himself into a frenzy of delight over the pictures of great capitals of Europe in flames” (Waite 34). His insistence on a scorched-earth policy and on his own immolation represented a magical fulfillment of both the destruction and the hope of Gotterdammerung, “The Twilight of the Gods.” As Robert Waite has suggested, “in ordering the Gotterdammerung for his world,… Hitler envisaged himself as a Teutonic god fulfilling ancient myth” (425). In fact, a recent psychological study of suicide described it as a “magical act, actuated to achieve irrational, illusional ends” (Wahl 23). Whatever way you look at it, Hitler’s last act was indeed a magical one.
In conclusion, the opposing claims of the two different camps of writers explored in this paper can be reconciled. We neither have to accept fully that Hitler had supernatural, occult powers, nor do we have to reject totally his connection with occult matters. Instead, we can view Hitler as a person who developed a pattern of magical thinking and who was confirmed in this kind of thinking by the successes which he was convinced were caused by it. As one scholar has noted of magical thinking, “Thus the belief in magic, far from appearing unreasonable and illogical to those who hold it, seems to be confirmed over and over again by the experiences of daily life” (Webster 489). Confident in his own ability to divine the future direction of Germany, Hitler had no need of astrologers and others who claimed special insights. In fact, such people were a genuine threat to his own power. Moreover, interpretations of Hitler’s foreign policy movements as a death wish and as a need to destroy (Waite 386-411) overlook the genuinely hopeful attitude of Hitler that his magical formula and his magical intuition would surmount all obstacles. As Fest noted, “We might say: only unreality made him real. In his comments to his entourage, even in those weary, toneless monologues in the last phase of the war, his voice became animated only when he spoke of the ‘gigantic tasks,’ the ‘enormous plans’ for the future. Those were his real reality” (677).
In 1942, Hitler remarked that if the German people lost faith in him, “if the German people were no longer inclined to give itself body and soul in order to survive-then the German people would have nothing to do but disappear” (Secret Conversations 210)! Less than one year before his suicide, Hitler expressed his faith that the “gods love those whom they ask the impossible and who ask the impossible of them.” Such delusions were fatal:
Magic must rank among the greatest of man’s delusions. In the presence of the unknown and the disconcerting the magician does not investigate critically, but is content with an explanation that appeals to imagination. He builds an airy fabric of fancy and discovers in the external world sequences of cause and effect which are nonexistent. He thinks that he understands them and, selfreliant and imperturbable, would turn them to his own benefit … [M]agical beliefs and practices have operated to discourage intellectual acquisitiveness, to nourish vain hopes that can never be realized, and to substitute unreal for real achievement. (Webster 506-7)