Guido von List

The millennia-old swastika symbol was popularised in esoteric circles throughout Austria and Germany by the Austrian writer Guido von List (1848–1919). List called the swastika Hakenkreuz (literally ‘hook cross’), a term later used by the Nazis.1 However, List’s significance in the story of Hitler is not limited to his role as the ‘Father of the Swastika’. Through his writings, List prepared the ground for the belief in a pan-German world Reich, a racially pure utopia, and most importantly, a German saviour, the ‘Strong One from Above’, who would make this utopia a reality.2 The views of this völkisch occultist influenced Hitler’s early devotees, and very probably also Hitler himself. In Hitler’s Wien (Hitler’s Vienna, 1996) Brigitte Hamann stated that ‘during Hitler’s period in Vienna, List’s main works appeared in rapid succession. They were covered so extensively in the pan-German newspapers [which Hitler read] readers could inform themselves thoroughly without ever having to buy one of his books.’3 There are also indications in the memoirs of Hitler’s friend Kubizek that young Hitler not only studied von List’s works in the papers, but owned at least one of Guido von List’s books personally.4

List book Secret of the Runes

List book, Secret of the Runes

List was born in 1848. At the age of fourteen, he had a vision in a church. This experience shaped the rest of his life, as he subsequently became involved with the Ario-Germanen, a passion that stayed with him until his death. The Ario-Germanen, a term List coined, are the blond, blue-eyed Aryans whom List also called ‘people of light’ or ‘homo europaeus’.5 He believed that these were the genetically preordained rulers of the world. As a sign of his Aryan ‘racial nobility’, middle-class List gave himself the surname prefix ‘von’ and began to perform eccentric ‘research’: he described the religion and society of the prehistoric Aryan culture on the basis of intuitive insight. The findings of archaeological research were acknowledged by List only if they confirmed what he had ‘intuitively observed’.6

The fact that the Viennese Academy of Sciences refused to recognise List’s ‘research’ did not prevent his supporters from revering him as a prophet. Throughout Austria (and later also in Germany), groups emerged that were devoted to the ‘Wisdom of the Aryans’ or Ariosophy – another term coined by List. In 1907, List’s supporters (which included wealthy industrialists and Lueger, the Mayor of Vienna) established the Guido von List Society, which published List’s writings. List claimed that he had rediscovered the old knowledge of the Armanen, who had been priests, judges and teachers in ancient Ario-German times. He believed that this rediscovery was a sign that a new phase in the development of mankind was at hand, and wrote: ‘But it is set down in the original law of nature, of becoming, transforming and passing into new existence, that [...] the Ario-Germanic Armanen-ship will be reborn – even if in another form – awakening from apparent death and in a renewed brilliant existence as a mentor of deliverance show future ages the paths to sun redemption.’7 List prophesied that the coming of a redeemer, who would proclaim the ‘ancient wisdom in new vestments’, was imminent, and wrote: ‘ But although Armanen-ship as the body or the form of its teaching, died away, the spirit, the Armanen doctrine, lived on eternally, outside reality, improving, deepening, and is now pressing with fortified strength for another rebirth and is currently creating a new body, that is, a new physical form, which is the very same Starke von Oben of whom Völuspa sings and says: ‘And he comes to the ring of the chieftains the Starke von Oben to settle the dispute. He decides all with simple conclusions. That which he builds will last eternally.’8

The Völuspa Prophecy to which List refers is part of the old Nordic Edda myth. Like John in Christianity, List saw himself as the herald of a new era, a new religion and a (German) saviour. The fact that the expectation of a ‘German messiah’ was part of the creed of the Ariosophic Thule Society in Munich, and consequently helped Hitler at the beginning of his career, is explained in more detail in Appendix 35, The Expected Saviour.9 The Völuspa Prophecy of the ‘Strong One from Above’ who was to come to ‘settle the dispute’ was repeatedly referenced in List’s books. When Hitler appeared, the prophecy suddenly seemed to make sense. Hitler did in fact settle the differences between quarrelling right-wing groups and parties, and united them under his leadership. The voices that had been calling for the separation of the Catholic south from the Protestant north of Germany had also been silenced, and Hitler had managed to gain both separatists and communists for his party. When elected Chancellor of the Reich in 1933, he presented himself as the man who had ‘settled differences’ and who had succeeded in unifying a Germany at risk of disintegration. His religious affiliation, which meant nothing to him personally, had an important symbolic power in this respect. Hitler, the Catholic, governed the Reich from Protestant Berlin. He appeared to be above not just political parties, but religious faiths. For the occultists within the Nazi movement and in the party elite (Himmler, Rosenberg, Hess), his ascension to power must have been the final proof that Hitler truly was the prophesied redeemer.

As the reawakening of Aryan culture was imminent, according to List, the past he ‘sensed’ was of the utmost importance for the future of homo europaeus. List claimed that the culture of the old Ario-Germanen had been far more advanced than the culture of twentieth-century homo europeaus. He claimed the former, advanced civilisation had declined because the Ario-Germanen had mixed with foreign ‘races and mixed races’ that had immigrated to Europe from Asia and Africa. As a result, the Aryan intellect had been ‘more or less depreciated [...] in the ratios of blood mixing’.10 At the same time, the Aryans’ genetic legacy had improved the quality of foreign races and enabled them to found cultures.

During the age of their advanced civilisation, said List, the Ario- Germanen had ensured that their own blood remained pure. Everything had been subordinated to this ‘holy’ purpose, including religion.11 However, knowledge of the importance of maintaining racial purity had supposedly been lost over time. List was convinced that the predicted dawning of Wodanism in a ‘contemporary form’ would result in the Aryan mixed races that had developed in Europe being bred back into the original ‘noble race’.12 He writes: ‘The half-blood Ario-German, whose perception is clouded by his bastardised blood, requires guidance by an Ario- Germanic racial law – German law – that will rise again, because it must rise again!’13 Contempt for the ‘foreign nation’ (the Jews) can also be inferred from List’s writings, although List’s anti-Semitism was quite restrained compared with prevailing sentiment in Vienna at the time.14

List founded a secret society which he called Armanenschaft in 1907. With the aid of the secret Armanen knowledge, Armanenschaft was to be the spearhead in the race war to establish a new spiritual Germany. The symbol used by Armanenschaft members for identification was the swastika. In 1911, List created the High Armanen Order (HAO), which had similar aims to Armanenschaft. List’s secret societies had links with the Ordo Novi Templi of Lanz von Liebenfels, the Artamanen; the Bayreuth Ring and other völkisch groups and lodges in the German Reich such as the Deutsch-Nationale Handlungsgehilfenverband, the Reichshammerbund, the Germanenorden and the Thule Society.15

In 1932, one year before Hitler came to power, Lanz von Liebenfels, an Ariosophe and member of the Guido von List Society, boasted that Hitler was ‘one of our disciples’.16 As many of Guido von List’s views also occur in national socialism, one might assume that the roots of Hitler’s world view can be found in the occult setting of the Ariosophes; in other words, that national socialism represents the political realisation of Guido von List’s race mysticism. This would be an oversimplification, however. As stated above, the young Hitler would undoubtedly have encountered List’s ideas in Vienna. Later, as Führer, he shared List’s vision of a ‘worldly religiousness’, a religiousness that ‘paid homage’ to ‘realism’.17 However, it is highly unlikely that Hitler was enthusiastic about the esoteric and old- Germanic speculations of the Ariosophes. The revival of the ancient Germanic cult was just as alien to Hitler as the aversion to modernity and technology prevalent in Ariosophic circles. In fact, Hitler scoffed at ‘völkisch travelling scholars’ who ‘daydream about old-Germanic heroism, of grey antiquity, stone axes, spear and shield’ in Mein Kampf.18 But this does not preclude the possibility that the eclectically-minded Hitler incorporated various set pieces from List’s ideas into his world view, thereby basing it on a pseudo-rational foundation. List’s concept of the degeneration of the prehistoric Aryans through the mixing of races is found in Mein Kampf, as is the claim that only Aryans are able to found cultures.19 List’s visions of a ‘race state’ and ‘race laws’, the emphasis on equal training of physical and mental abilities in the young and the importance of marriage as a means to breed the ‘highest quality offspring possible’20 also reappear in national socialism.21 The division of a future Aryan state into ‘Gaue’, as proposed by List, was carried out by the Nazis, and the farming industry was officially named Reichsnährstand in the Third Reich, a term coined by List for agriculture. The Marshall, who according to List was ‘directly beneath the king’22 in Wodanism, became Reichsmarschall Göring under the Nazis, a previously non-existent position in Germany.

List’s ideas seem to have shaped Hitler’s self-image as well. At public rallies, Hitler repeatedly referred to himself as a ‘tool of destiny’ and also said in his speeches that he attributed his power to the fact that he acted ‘in the spirit of Providence’, and therefore embodied ‘Divine will’.23 List characterises the Armanen, the leaders of the Ario-Germanen, in much the same way. He writes that the Armane who knows and embodies the universal knowledge ‘ascends in it’, so that the Armane ‘risking his own human life, his own material advantages, draws his followers with him rapturously, not veering left or right, charging straight towards his sun goal.’24 The following passage from List also exhibits striking similarities with Hitler’s self-image: ‘The feeling of inwardness, the awareness of carrying his God with all of His traits enclosed within him, created that elevated self-confidence in the strength of one’s own spirit, which grants miraculous power, miraculous power that lives within all people strong of spirit who believe utterly without doubt in this force.’25 According to List, the Armane comes to the realisation ‘of his own immortality through oneness with God’26 which is the key to absolute, godlike power: ‘The more man is aware of his godliness, he gains power in equal measure over everything and raises himself up ever more to God himself.’27 Compare this to Hitler’s declaration on 27 June 1937: ‘As weak as the individual is in his entire being and actions in the end compared with almighty Providence and its will, so immeasurably strong is he at the moment when he acts in the spirit of this Providence! Then that power flows down upon him that has distinguished all great phenomena in the world.’29

A note written in a book from Hitler’s library currently stored in the Library of Congress in Washington suggests that the correlation between List’s and Hitler’s world views could be more than coincidental. The book, by the Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, contains the following handwritten dedication from 1921: ‘To Mr Adolf Hitler, my dear Armanen brother, B. Steininger’.29

1 See: Appendix 39, The Swastika
2 See: Appendix 35, The Expected Saviour
3 B. Hamann, op. cit., p.294
4 See: B. Hamann, ibid., p.299
5 See: Guido von List, Urgrund, Berlin, undated, p.3
6 'The intuitive perception of the organic being of the universe and therefore the laws of nature forms the unshakeable foundation for the Aryan doctrine of redemption or "Wihinei",' quoted from: Guido von List, Das Geheimnis der Runen, Vienna 1907, p.17
7 Guido von List, Die Armanenschaft der Ario-Germanen, Vol. I, Berlin 1922 (3rd edition), p.46
8 Guido von List, ibid., p.47
9 Ariosophes founded the Reichshammerbund and the Germanenordenr. The Ariosophic Germanenorden is directly linked with the Thule Society in Munich. In his book Bevor Hitler kam (Before Hitler Came), Rudolf von Sebottendorff, the Grandmaster of the Thule Society, names Guido von List and his disciple Lanz von Liebenfels as sources of his lodge, in addition to the Ariosophes Baron Wittgenberg and Theodor Fritsch. See: R. Sebottendorff, op. cit., p.31-33
10 Guido von List, Die Armanenschaft der Ario-Germanen, vol. I, Berlin 1922, p.4ff
11 Guido von List, Das Geheimnis der Runen, Vienna 1907, p.54. 'The high significance of this custom [of the Ario-Germanen] lay in the aim of systematically breeding a "noble race" which would then remain racially pure through strict sexual laws,' quoted from: Guido von List, Die Armanenschaft der Ario-Germanen, vol. I, Berlin 1922 (3rd edition), p.31
12 See: Guido von List, Das Geheimnis der Runen, Vienna 1907, p.53; Guido von List, Der Übergang vom Wuotanismus zum Christentum, Leipzig 1911, p.31
13 Guido von List, Die Armanenschaft der Ario-Germanen, vol. I, Berlin 1922, p.86
14 Some authors assume that List copied parts of the doctrine of the English-Russian mystic H.P. Blavatsky. Jews had already been described by H.P. Blavatsky as ‘misguided’, and she had referred to the Jewish religion as ‘decadent’. See: H.P. Blavatsky: Die Geheimlehre, 4 volumes, reprinted from the 1899 edition, Den Haag O.J., vol. II, p.491ff
15 See: B. Hamann, op. cit., p.294
16 Lanz an Frater Aemilius, Brief, datiert 22.2.1932 in Wilfried Daim, Der Mann, der Hitler die Ideen gab, München 1958, p.12
17 See: Appendix 38, Hitler’s Ideology
18 A. Hitler, op. cit., p.396
19 A. Hitler, ibid., p.323
20 See: Guido von List, Das Geheimnis der Runen, Vienna 1907, p.20
21 Racism, which was at the core of both List’s and Hitler’s world views, was not exclusive to Ariosophic circles in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hitler could also have been inspired by the race ideologies of Gobineau and Chamberlain or other Social Darwinists. See: Appendix 12, Racism in Vienna 1900
22 Guido von List, Die Armanenschaft der Ario-Germanen, vol. I, Berlin 1922, p.33
23 See also: Appendices 44, The Psychotic Redeemer; 17, Hitler and the Occult
24 Guido von List, Die Armanenschaft der Ario-Germanen, vol. I, Berlin 1922 (3rd edition), pp.15, 16. According to List, the Armanen alone possessed the ‘secret of power’. The Armanen, who had been forced underground by Christianization, had passed down the ‘secret of power’ to the present day through secret brotherhoods. This ‘original knowledge’ or ‘universal knowledge’ of the Armanen had been retained in the secret societies of the Templers, Johanniter Order, Rosicrucians and Freemasons. (See: Guido von List, Die Armanenschaft der Ario-Germanen, vol. I, Berlin 1922, (3rd edition), pp.53, 68, 77.) According to List, even the Jewish cabbala was nothing more than ‘Wudonistic-Armanic traditions in Hebrew vestments’. (See: Guido von List, Die Armanenschaft der Ario-Germanen, vol. I, Berlin 1922, (3rd edition), p.77ff.) However, with a few exceptions, those instructed in the various secret doctrines were no longer aware of the true meaning of their knowledge
25 Guido von List, Das Geheimnis der Runen, Vienna 1907, p.12
26 Guido von List, Die Armanenschaft der Ario-Germanen, vol. I, Berlin 1922 (3rd edition), pp.16, 17
27 GGuido von List, ibid., p.94
28 M. Domarus (ed.), op. cit., speech on 27.6.1937, p.704
29 R.H. Phelps ‘Die Hitler Bibliothek’, in: Deutsche Rundschau 80, July 1954, p.925. According to N. Goodrick-Clarke, Dr Babette Steiniger was an early member of the NSDAP. See also: N. Goodrick-Clarke, op. cit., p.199