by Alexander Berzin
Many high-ranking members of the Nazi regime, including Hitler, held
convoluted occult beliefs. Prompted by those beliefs, the Germans
sent an official expedition to Tibet between 1938 and 1939 at the
invitation of the Tibetan Government to attend the Losar (New Year)
Tibet had suffered a long history of Chinese attempts to annex it
and British failure to prevent the aggression or to protect Tibet.
Under Stalin, the Soviet Union was severely persecuting Buddhism,
specifically the Tibetan form as practiced among the Mongols within
its borders and in its satellite, the People’s Republic of Mongolia
In contrast, Japan was upholding Tibetan Buddhism
in Inner Mongolia, which it had annexed as part of Manchukuo, its
puppet state in Manchuria. Claiming that Japan was Shambhala, the
Imperial Government was trying to win the support of the Mongols
under its rule for an invasion of Outer Mongolia and Siberia to
create a pan-Mongol confederation under Japanese protection.
The Tibetan Government was exploring the possibility of also gaining
protection from Japan in the face of the unstable situation. Japan
and Germany had signed an Anti-Commintern Pact in 1936, declaring
their mutual hostility toward the spread of international Communism.
The invitation for the visit of an official delegation from Nazi
Germany was extended in this context.
In August 1939, shortly after
the German expedition to Tibet, Hitler broke his pact with
signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. In September, the Soviets defeated the
Japanese who had invaded Outer Mongolia in May. Subsequently,
nothing ever materialized from the Japanese and German contacts with
the Tibetan Government.
The Role of the Shambhala Legend in Russian
and Japanese Involvement with Pre-Communist Tibet]
Several postwar writers on the Occult have asserted that Buddhism
and the legend of Shambhala played a role in the German-Tibetan
official contact. Let us examine the issue.
Myths of Thule and Vril
The first element of Nazi occult beliefs was in the mythic land of
Hyperborea-Thule. Just as Plato had cited the Egyptian legend of the
sunken island of Atlantis, Herodotus mentioned the Egyptian legend
of the continent of Hyperborea in the far north. When ice destroyed
this ancient land, its people migrated south. Writing in 1679, the
Swedish author Olaf Rudbeck identified the Atlanteans with the
Hyperboreans and located the latter at the North Pole. According to
several accounts, Hyperborea split into the islands of Thule and
Ultima Thule, which some people identified with Iceland and
The second ingredient was the idea of a
hollow earth. At the end of
the seventeenth century, the British astronomer Sir Edmund Halley
first suggested that the earth was hollow, consisting of four
concentric spheres. The hollow earth theory fired many people’s
imaginations, especially with the publication in 1864 of French
novelist Jules Verne’s Voyage to the Center of the Earth.
Soon, the concept of vril appeared. In 1871, British novelist
The Coming Race, described a superior race, the Vril-ya, who lived beneath the earth and planned to conquer the
world with vril, a psychokinetic energy. The French author Louis Jacolliot furthered the myth in
Les Fils de Dieu (The Sons of God)
(1873) and Les Traditions indo-européeenes (The Indo-European
Traditions) (1876). In these books, he linked vril with the
subterranean people of Thule. The Thuleans will harness the power of
vril to become supermen and rule the world.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) also
emphasized the concept of the Übermensch (superman) and began his
final work, Der Antichrist (The Antichrist) (1895) with the line,
“Let us see ourselves for what we are. We are
Hyperboreans. We know
well enough how we are living off that track.”
never mentioned vril, yet in his posthumously published collection
of aphorisms, Der Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power), he emphasized
the role of an internal force for superhuman development. He wrote
that “the herd,” meaning common persons, strives for security within
itself through creating morality and rules, whereas the supermen
have an internal vital force that drives them to go beyond the herd.
That force necessitates and drives them to lie to the herd in order
to remain independent and free from the “herd mentality.”
In The Arctic Home of the Vedas (1903), the early advocate of Indian
freedom, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, added a further touch by identifying
the southern migration of the Thuleans with the origin of the Aryan
Thus, many Germans in the early twentieth century believed
that they were the descendants of the Aryans who had migrated south
from Hyperborea-Thule and who were destined to become the master
race of supermen through the power of vril.
Hitler was among them.
Thule Society and the Founding of the Nazi Party
Felix Niedner, the German translator of the Old Norse Eddas, founded
the Thule Society in 1910. In 1918, Rudolf Freiherr von
Sebottendorff established its Munich branch. Sebottendorf had
previously lived for several years in Istanbul where, in 1910, he
had formed a secret society that combined esoteric Sufism and
Freemasonry. It believed in the creed of the assassins, deriving
from the Nazari sect of Ismaili Islam, which had flourished during
the Crusades. While in Istanbul, Sebottendorf was also undoubtedly
familiar with the pan-Turanian (pan-Turkic) movement of the Young
Turks, started in 1908, which was largely behind the Armenian
genocide of 1915-1916.
Turkey and Germany were allies during
the First World War. Back in Germany, Sebottendorff had also been a
member of the Germanen Order (Order of Teutons), founded in 1912 as
a right-wing society with a secret anti-Semitic Lodge. Through these
channels, assassination, genocide, and anti-Semitism became parts of
the Thule Society’s creed. Anti-Communism was added after the
Bavarian Communist Revolution later in 1918, when the Munich Thule
Society became the center of the counterrevolutionary movement.
In 1919, the Society spawned the German Workers Party. Starting
later that year, Dietrich Eckart, a member of the inner circle of
the Thule Society, initiated Hitler into the Society and began to
train him in its methods for harnessing vril to create a race of
Aryan supermen. Hitler had been mystic-minded from his youth, when
he had studied the Occult and Theosophy in Vienna. Later, Hilter
dedicated Mein Kampf to Eckart.
In 1920, Hitler became the head of
the German Workers Party, now renamed the National Socialist German
Worker (Nazi) Party.
Haushofer, the Vril Society, and Geopolitics
Another major influence on Hitler’s thinking was Karl Haushofer
(1869-1946), a German military advisor to the Japanese after the
Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Because he was extremely impressed
with Japanese culture, many believe that he was responsible for the
later German-Japanese alliance. He was also highly interested in
Indian and Tibetan culture, learned Sanskrit, and claimed that he
had visited Tibet.
After serving as a general in the First World War, Haushofer founded
the Vril Society in Berlin in 1918. It shared the same basic beliefs
as the Thule Society and some say that it was its inner circle. The
Society sought contact with supernatural beings beneath the earth to
gain from them the powers of vril. It also asserted a Central Asian
origin of the Aryan race. Haushofer developed the doctrine of
Geopolitics and, in the early 1920s, became the director of the
Institute for Geopolitics at Ludwig-Maximilians University in
Munich. Geopolitics advocated conquering territory to gain more
living space (Germ. Lebensraum) as a means of acquiring power.
Rudolf Hess was one of Haushofer’s closest students and introduced
him to Hitler in 1923, while Hitler was in prison for his failed
Putsch. Subsequently, Haushofer often visited the future Führer,
teaching him Geopolitics in association with the ideas of the
and Vril Societies. Thus, when Hitler became chancellor in 1933, he
adopted Geopolitics as his policy for the Aryan race to conquer
Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.
The key to success would
be finding the forefathers of the Aryan race in Central Asia, the
guardians of the secrets of vril.
The swastika is an ancient Indian symbol of immutable good luck.
“Swastika” is an Anglicization of the Sanskrit word svastika, which
means well-being or good luck. Used by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains
for thousands of years, it became widespread in Tibet as well.
The swastika has also appeared in most other ancient cultures of the
world. For example, the counterclockwise variant of it, adopted by
the Nazis, is also the letter “G” in the medieval Northern European
Runic Script. The Freemasons took the letter as an important symbol,
since “G” could stand for God, the Great Architect of the Universe,
The swastika is also a traditional symbol of the Old Norse God of
Thunder and Might (Scandinavian Thor, German Donner, Baltic
Because of this association with the God of Thunder, the Latvians
and Finnish both took the swastika as the insignia for their air
forces when they gained independence after the First World War.
In the late nineteenth century, Guido von List adopted the swastika
as an emblem for the Neo-Pagan movement in Germany. The Germans did
not use the Sanskrit word swastika, however, but called it instead “Hakenkreutz,”
meaning “hooked cross.” It would defeat and replace the cross, just
as Neo-Paganism would defeat and replace Christianity.
Sharing the anti-Christian sentiment of the Neo-Pagan movement, the
Thule Society also adopted the Hakenkreutz as part of its emblem,
placing it in a circle with a vertical German dagger superimposed on
it. In 1920, at the suggestion of Dr. Friedrich Krohn of the
Society, Hitler adopted the Hakenkreutz in a white circle for the
central design of the Nazi Party flag. Hitler chose red for the
background color to compete against the red flag of the rival
The French researchers Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, in
Le Matin des Magiciens (The Morning of the Magicians) (1962), wrote
that Haushofer convinced Hitler to use the Hakenkreuz as the symbol
for the Nazi Party. They postulate that this was due to Haushofer’s
interest in Indian and Tibetan culture. This conclusion is highly
unlikely, since Haushofer did not meet Hitler until 1923, whereas
the Nazi flag first appeared in 1920.
It is more likely that
Haushofer used the widespread presence of the swastika in India and
Tibet as evidence to convince Hitler of this region as the location
of the forefathers of the Aryan race.
Suppression of Rival Occult Groups
During the first half of the 1920s, a violent rivalry took place
among the Occult Societies and Secret Lodges in Germany. In 1925,
for example, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Anthroposophical
movement, was found murdered. Many suspected that the Thule Society
had ordered his assassination. In later years, Hitler continued the
persecution of Anthroposophists, Theosophists, Freemasons, and
Rosicrucians. Various scholars ascribe this policy to Hitler’s wish
to eliminate any occult rivals to his rule.
Influenced by Nietszche’s writings and Thule Society creeds,
believed that Christianity was a defective religion, infected by its
roots in Jewish thinking. He viewed its teachings of forgiveness,
the triumph of the weak, and self-abnegation as anti-evolutionary
and saw himself as a messiah replacing God and Christ.
used the image of the Antichrist and Lucifer as future spiritual
leaders who would regenerate Christianity in a new pure form. Hitler
went much further. He saw himself as ridding the world of a
degenerate system and bringing about a new step in evolution with
the Aryan master race.
He could tolerate no rival Antichrists,
either now or in the future. He was tolerant, however, of Buddhism.
Mistaken Foreign Myths about Shambhala]
in Nazi Germany
In 1924, Paul Dahlke founded the Buddhistischen Haus (House for
Buddhists) in Frohnau, Berlin. It was open to members of all
Buddhist traditions, but primarily catered to the Theravada and
Japanese forms, since they were the most widely known in the West at
that time. In 1933, it hosted the First European Buddhist Congress.
The Nazis allowed the House for Buddhists to remain open throughout
the war, but tightly controlled it. As some members knew Chinese and
Japanese, they acted as translators for the government in return for
tolerance of Buddhism.
Although the Nazi regime closed the Buddhistische Gemeinde (Buddhist
Society) in Berlin, which had been active from 1936, and briefly
arrested its founder Martin Steinke in 1941, they generally did not
persecute Buddhists. After his release, Steinke and several others
continued to lecture on Buddhism in Berlin. There is no evidence,
however, that teachers of Tibetan Buddhism were ever present in the
The Nazi policy of tolerance for Buddhism does not prove any
influence of Buddhist teachings on Hitler or Nazi ideology.
probable explanation is Germany’s wish not to damage relations with
its Buddhist ally, Japan.
Under the influence of Haushofer, Hitler authorized Frederick Hielscher, in 1935, to establish
the Ahnenerbe (Bureau for the Study
of Ancestral Heritage), with Colonel Wolfram von Sievers as its
head. Among other functions, Hitler charged it with researching
Germanic runes and the origins of the swastika, and locating the
source of the Aryan race. Tibet was the most promising candidate.
Alexander Csoma de Körös (Körösi Csoma Sandor) (1784-1842) was a
Hungarian scholar obsessed with the quest to find the origins of the
Hungarian people. Based on the linguistic affinities between
Hungarian and the Turkic languages, he felt that the origins of the
Hungarian people were in “the land of the Yugurs (Uighurs)” in East
Turkistan (Xinjiang, Sinkiang). He believed that if he could reach
Lhasa, he would find there the keys for locating his homeland.
Hungarian, Finnish, the Turkic languages, Mongolian, and Manchu
belong to the Ural-Altaic family of languages, also known as the
Turanian family, after the Persian word Turan for Turkestan. From
1909, the Turks had a pan-Turanian movement spearheaded by a society
known as the Young Turks. The Hungarian Turanian Society soon
followed in 1910 and the Turanian Alliance of Hungary in 1920. Some
scholars believe that the Japanese and Korean languages also belong
to the Turanian family.
Thus, the Turanian National Alliance was
founded in Japan in 1921 and the Japanese Turanian Society in the
early 1930s. Haushofer was undoubtedly aware of these movements,
which sought the origins of the Turanian race in Central Asia. It
fit in well with the Thule Society’s search for the origins of the
Aryan race there as well. His interest in Tibetan culture added
weight to the candidacy of Tibet as the key to finding a common
origin for the Aryan and Turanian races and for gaining the power of
vril that its spiritual leaders possessed.
Haushofer was not the only influence on the Ahnenerbe’s interest in
Tibet. Hielscher was a friend of Sven Hedin, the Swedish explorer
who had led expeditions to Tibet in 1893, 1899-1902, and 1905-1908,
and an expedition to Mongolia in 1927-1930. A favorite of the Nazis,
Hitler invited him to give the opening address at the Berlin
Olympics in 1936. Hedin engaged in pro-Nazi publishing activities in
Sweden and made numerous diplomatic missions to Germany between 1939
In 1937, Himmler made the Ahnenerbe an official organization
attached to the SS (Germ. Schutzstaffel, Protection Squad) and
appointed Professor Walther Wüst, chairman of the Sanskrit
Department at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, as its new
The Ahnenerbe had a Tibet Institut (Tibet Institute),
which was renamed the Sven Hedin Institut für Innerasien und
Expeditione (Sven Hedin Institute for Inner Asia and Expeditions) in
Expedition to Tibet
Ernst Schäffer, a German hunter and biologist, participated in two
expeditions to Tibet, in 1931–1932 and 1934–1936, for sport and
zoological research. The Ahnenerbe sponsored him to lead a third
expedition (1938-1939) at the official invitation of the Tibetan
The visit coincided with renewed Tibetan contacts with
Japan. A possible explanation for the invitation is that the Tibetan
Government wished to maintain cordial relations with the Japanese
and their German allies as a balance against the British and
Chinese. Thus, the Tibetan Government welcomed the German expedition
at the 1939 New Year (Losar) celebration in Lhasa.
The Role of the Shambhala Legend in Russian
and Japanese Involvement with Pre-Communist Tibet]
In Fest der weissen Schleier: Eine Forscherfahrt durch Tibet nach
Lhasa, der heiligen Stadt des Gottkönigtums (Festival of the White
Gauze Scarves: A Research Expedition through Tibet to Lhasa, the
Holy City of the God Realm) (1950), Ernst Schäffer described his
experiences during the expedition. During the festivities, he
Nechung Oracle warned that although the Germans
brought sweet presents and words, Tibet must be careful: Germany’s
leader is like a dragon.
Tsarong, the pro-Japanese former head of
the Tibetan military, tried to soften the prediction. He said that
the Regent had heard much more from the Oracle, but he himself was
unauthorized to divulge the details. The Regent prays daily for no
war between the British and the Germans, since this would have
terrible consequences for Tibet as well. Both countries must
understand that all good people must pray the same. During the rest
of his stay in Lhasa, Schäffer met often with the Regent and had a
The Germans were highly interested in establishing friendly
relations with Tibet. Their agenda, however, was slightly different
from that of the Tibetans. One of the members of the Schäffer
expedition was the anthropologist Bruno Beger, who was responsible
for racial research. Having worked with H. F. K. Günther on
Die nordische Rasse bei den Indogermanen Asiens (The Northern Race among
the Indo-Germans of Asia), Beger subscribed to Günther’s theory of a
“northern race” in Central Asia and Tibet. In 1937, he had proposed
a research project for Eastern Tibet and, with the Schäffer
expedition, planned to investigate scientifically the racial
characteristics of the Tibetan people.
While in Tibet and Sikkim on the way,
Beger measured the skulls of three hundred Tibetans and Sikkimese
and examined some of their other physical features and bodily marks.
He concluded that the Tibetans occupied an intermediary position
between the Mongol and European races, with the European racial
element showing itself most pronouncedly among the aristocracy.
According to Richard Greve, “Tibetforschung in SS-Ahnenerbe (Tibetan
Research in the SS- Ahnenerbe)” published in T. Hauschild (ed.)
“Lebenslust und Fremdenfurcht” – Ethnologie im Dritten Reich
(“Passion for Life and Xenophobia” – Ethnology in the Third Reich)
(1995), Beger recommended that the Tibetans could play an important
role after the final victory of the Third Reich. They could serve as
an allied race in a pan-Mongol confederation under the aegis of
Germany and Japan.
Although Beger also recommended further studies
to measure all the Tibetans, no further expeditions to Tibet were
Purported Occult Expeditions to Tibet
Several postwar studies on Nazism and the Occult, such as Trevor Ravenscroft in
The Spear of Destiny (1973), have asserted that under
the influence of Haushofer and the Thule Society, Germany sent
annual expeditions to Tibet from 1926 to 1943. Their mission was
first to find and then to maintain contact with the Aryan
forefathers in Shambhala and Agharti, hidden subterranean cities
beneath the Himalayas. Adepts there were the guardians of secret
occult powers, especially vril, and the missions sought their aid in
harnessing those powers for creating an Aryan master race.
According to these accounts, Shambhala
refused any assistance, but Agharti agreed. Subsequently, from 1929,
groups of Tibetans purportedly came to Germany and started lodges
known as the Society of Green Men. In connection with the Green
Dragon Society in Japan, through the intermediary of Haushofer, they
supposedly helped the Nazi cause with their occult powers. Himmler
was attracted to these groups of Tibetan-Agharti adepts and,
purportedly from their influence, established the Ahnenerbe in 1935.
Aside from the fact that Himmler did not establish the Ahnenerbe,
but rather incorporated it into the SS in 1937, Ravenscroft’s
account contains other dubious assertions. The main one is the
purported Agharti support of the Nazi cause. In 1922, the Polish
scientist Ferdinand Ossendowski published Beasts, Men and Gods
describing his travels through Mongolia. In it, he related hearing
of the subterranean land of Agharti beneath the Gobi Desert. In the
future, its powerful inhabitants would come to the surface to save
the world from disaster.
The German translation of Ossendowski’s
book, Tiere, Menschen und Götter, appeared in 1923 and became quite
popular. Sven Hedin, however, published in 1925 Ossendowski und die
Wahrheit (Ossendowski and the Truth), in which he debunked the
Polish scientist’s claims. He pointed out that Ossendowski had
lifted the idea of Agharti from Saint-Yves d’Alveidre’s 1886 novel
Mission de l’Inde en Europe (Mission of India in Europe) to make his
story more appealing to the German public.
Since Hedin had a strong
influence on the Ahnenerbe, it is unlikely that this bureau would
have sent an expedition specifically to find Shambhala and Agharti
and, subsequently, would have received assistance from the latter.
Mistaken Foreign Myths about Shambhala]