3 - A hideous strength -
The Vril Society
We have now reached the point in our survey of Nazi involvement with the
occult where we must depart from what is historically verifiable and enter
an altogether more obscure and murky realm, a place that Pauwels and
call the 'Absolute Elsewhere'. (1)
Serious historians (at least, those who
deign to comment on the subject at all) regard the material we shall be
examining for the rest of this book with contempt - and, it must be said,
not without good reason. Much of what follows may well strike the reader as
bizarre and absurd in equal measure; and yet, as we shall see, amongst the
notions we are about to address (products, apparently, of fevered
imaginations) will be found unsettling hints of a thread running through the
collective mind of humanity in the late twentieth century - ominous,
dangerous and, by the majority, unseen.
As we shall see, the 'twilight zone between fact and fiction' can produce
significant shifts in our collective awareness of the world, our place in it
and the unstated intentions of those who rule us. The world view of those
who subscribe to the idea of genuine Nazi occult power includes a number of
outrageous conspiracy theories that revolve around the claim that many
leading Nazis (including, according to some, Hitler himself) escaped from
the ruins of Berlin and continue with their plans for world domination from
some hidden headquarters.
At first sight, these theories can surely have
little to do with known reality. And yet, the idea that the American Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) could have smuggled many personnel from Nazi
intelligence and the German secret weapons program into the United States
in the post-war years might likewise seem outlandish - until we remember
that this, too, is a documented historical fact.
Project PAPERCLIP proves
that some senior elements of the Third Reich did indeed survive in this way,
their lives bought with scientific and military knowledge that the American
government desperately wanted.
So, for the rest of this book, we shall concentrate on the elements of Nazi
occultism that find no home in orthodox history but that nevertheless
stretch their pernicious tentacles through modern popular and fringe culture
and refuse to vanish in the glare of the light of reason.
The Vril Society,
our departure point into the Absolute Elsewhere, might seem to have been
better placed in the first chapter, were it not that there is so little
evidence for its influence over the activities of the Third Reich. In spite
of this, it has come to occupy a central position in the dubious study of
Nazi occult power and so demands a chapter of its own.
But what was the
The first hint of the Vril Society's existence was discovered in a scene
that would not have been out of place in one of Dennis Wheatley's occult
On 25 April 1945, so the story goes, a group of battle-weary
Russian soldiers were making their cautious way through the shattered
remnants of Berlin, mopping up the isolated pockets of German resistance
that remained in the heart of the Third Reich. The soldiers moved carefully
from one wrecked building to another, in a state of constant readiness
against the threat of ambush.
In a ground-floor room of one blasted building, the soldiers made a
surprising discovery. Lying in a circle on the floor were the bodies of six
men, with a seventh corpse in the centre. All were dressed in German
military uniforms, and the dead man in the centre of the group was wearing a
pair of bright green gloves. The Russians' assumption that the bodies were
those of soldiers was quickly dispelled when they realized that the dead men
were all Orientals. One of the Russians, who was from Mongolia, identified
the men as Tibetans. It was also evident to the Russian soldiers that the
men had not died in battle but seemed to have committed suicide.
following week, hundreds more Tibetans were discovered in Berlin: some of
them had clearly died in battle, while others had committed ritual suicide,
like the ones discovered by the Russian unit. (2)
What were Tibetans doing in Nazi Germany towards the end of the Second World
The answer to this question may be found in a curious novel entitled
The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), first Baron Lytton. A
prolific and very successful writer (his output included novels, plays,
essays and poetry) Bulwer-Lytton was considered in his lifetime to be one of
the greatest writers in the English language.
Unfortunately, his reputation
for vanity, ostentation and eccentricity attracted a good deal of hostility
from the press and this has damaged his subsequent literary reputation to a
disproportionate extent, with the result that today his books are extremely
hard to find and his work is seldom - if at all - taught in universities in
the English-speaking world. (3)
Throughout his career, Bulwer-Lytton wrote on many themes, including
romance, politics, history, social satire, melodrama and the occult. It is
perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that he should have turned to the subject
of Utopian science fiction with The Coming Race, published in 1871. In this
novel, the narrator, a traveler and adventurer of independent means,
explores a mine in an unnamed location and discovers a vast subterranean
world, inhabited by a superior race of humans called the Vril-ya.
tenants of the Earth's outer surface, the Vril-ya were forced to retreat
underground by a natural catastrophe similar to the biblical Flood many
thousands of years ago. Their technology is far in advance of anything to be
found in the world of ordinary humanity, and is based on the application of
a force known as 'vril'. Befriended by a young female Vril-ya named Zee, the
narrator asks about the nature of the vril force.
Therewith Zee began to enter into an explanation of which I understood very
little, for there is no word in any language I know which is an exact
synonym for vril. I should call it electricity, except that it comprehends
in its manifold branches other forces of nature, to which, in our scientific
nomenclature, differing names are assigned, such as magnetism, galvanism,
These people consider that in vril they have arrived at the unity in
natural energetic agencies, which has been conjectured by many philosophers
above ground, and which Faraday thus intimates under the more cautious term
'I have long held an opinion,' says that illustrious experimentalist,
'almost amounting to a conviction, in common, I believe, with many other
lovers of natural knowledge, that the various forms under which the forces
of matter are made manifest have one common origin; or, in other words, are
so directly related and mutually dependent, that they are convertible, as it
were, into one another, and possess equivalents of power in their action.'
According to Zee, all Vril-ya are trained in the application of vril, which
can be used to control the physical world, including the minds and bodies of
others, as well as to enhance the telepathic and telekinetic potentials of
the human mind. The vril force is most often applied through the use of a
device known as the Vril Staff which, like the vril force itself, requires
many years to master.
(The narrator is not allowed to hold one, 'for fear of
some terrible accident occasioned by my ignorance of its use'.)
'is hollow, and has in the handle several stops, keys, or springs by
which its force can be altered, modified, or directed - so that by one
process it destroys, by another it heals - by one it can rend the rock, by
another disperse the vapor - by one it affects bodies, by another it can
exercise a certain influence over minds'. (5)
During his protracted stay in the subterranean realm, the narrator learns of
the system of government by which the Vril-ya live. They are ruled by a
single supreme magistrate who abdicates the position at the first sign of
Although their society is entirely free of crime or strife of any kind, they
consider strength and force to be among the finest virtues, and the triumph
of the strong over the weak to be in perfect accordance with Nature.
Democracy and free institutions are, to them, merely the crude experiments
of an immature culture.
The government of the tribe of Vril-ya ... was apparently very complicated,
really very simple. It was based upon a principle recognized in theory,
though little carried out in practice, above ground - viz., that the object
of all systems of philosophical thought tends to the attainment of unity, or
the ascent through all intervening labyrinths to the simplicity of a single
first cause or principle.
Thus in politics, even republican writers have
agreed that a benevolent autocracy would insure the best administration, if
there were any guarantees for its continuance, or against its gradual abuse
of the powers accorded to it. There was ... in this society nothing to
induce any of its members to covet the cares of office. No honors, no
insignia of higher rank were assigned to it. The supreme magistrate was not
distinguished from the rest by superior habitation or revenue.
On the other
hand, the duties awarded to him were marvelously light and easy, requiring
no preponderant degree of energy or intelligence. (6)
After a number of adventures in the subterranean world - and a great many
conversations with its denizens - the narrator comes to the following
conclusion regarding the ultimate origins of the fantastic Vril-ya race:
[T]his people - though originally not only of our human race, but, as seems
to me clear by the roots of their language, descended from the same
ancestors as the great Aryan family, from which in varied streams has flowed
the dominant civilization of the world; and having, according to their myths
and their history, passed through phases of society familiar to ourselves, -
had yet now developed into a distinct species with which it was impossible
that any community in the upper world could amalgamate: And that if they
ever emerged from these nether recesses into the light of day, they would,
according to their own traditional persuasions of their ultimate destiny,
destroy and replace our existent varieties of man. (7)
Although greatly impressed with the knowledge and accomplishments of the
Vril-ya, the narrator is nevertheless terrified by their power and the ease
with which they wield it, implying at one point that, should he have angered
them at any time, they would have had no compunction in turning their Vril
Staffs on him and reducing him to cinders.
This uneasiness, coupled with his
natural desire to return to the upper world and the life with which he is
familiar, prompts the narrator to begin seeking a means of escape from the
subterranean world of the Vril-ya. Aid comes in the unlikely form of Zee,
who has fallen in love with him and has attempted to persuade him to stay,
but who nevertheless understands that an unrequited love cannot result in
happiness for either of them. It is she who leads him back to the mine shaft
through which he first entered the realm of the Vrilya.
Upon his return home, the narrator begins to ponder the wonders he has
beheld far below the surface of the Earth, and once again hints at the
possible dreadful fate awaiting a blissfully unaware humanity at the hands
of the 'Coming Race'.
In the final chapter, we read:
[T]he more I think of a people calmly developing, in regions excluded from
our sight and deemed uninhabitable by our sages, powers surpassing our most
disciplined modes offeree, and virtues to which our life, social and
political, becomes antagonistic in proportion as our civilization advances,
- the more devoutly I pray that ages may yet elapse before there emerge into
sunlight our inevitable destroyers. (8)
It is an assumption of many occultists that The Coming Race is fact
disguised as fiction: that Bulwer-Lytton based his engaging novel on a
genuine body of esoteric knowledge. He was greatly interested in the Rosicrucians, the powerful occult society which arose in the sixteenth
century and which claimed to possess ancient wisdom, discovered in a secret
underground chamber, regarding the ultimate secrets of the Universe.
is some evidence that Bulwer-Lytton believed in the possibility of a
subterranean world, for he wrote to his friend Hargrave Jennings in 1854:
Rosenkreuz [the founder of the Rosicrucians] found his wisdom in a
secret chamber. So will we all. There is much to be learned from the
substrata of our planet.' (9)
Some writers, including Alec Maclellan, author of the fascinating book
Lost World of Agharti (1996), have suggested that The Coming Race revealed
too much of the subterranean world, and was as a result suppressed in the
years following Bulwer-Lytton's death in 1873. Indeed, he describes the book
as 'one of the hardest to find of all books of mysticism', (10) and informs
us of his own search for a copy, which for some years met with no success.
While doubtless an intriguing piece of stage-setting on Maclellan's part,
the rarity of the book can surely be accounted for by the unjust waning of
Bulwer-Lytton's posthumous literary reputation (mentioned earlier). The
present author searched for some months for a copy of The Coming Race,
before finding an extremely affordable paperback edition in a high-street
What is the connection between Bulwer-Lytton's strange novel and Nazi
If there really was a large colony of Tibetan monks in Berlin in
the 1940s, what were they doing there?
It seems that the connection was none
other than the Bavarian Karl Haushofer (1869-1946) whose theories of
Geopolitics gave rise to the concept of Lebensraum (living space), which
Hitler maintained would be necessary to the continued dominance of the
superior Aryan race and which he intended to take, primarily, from the
Haushofer, along with Dietrich Eckart (1868-1923) - an
anti-Semitic journalist and playwright who influenced Hitler's racial
attitudes and introduced him to influential social circles after the First
World War - is frequently described by believers in genuine Nazi occult
power as a practicing black magician, and the 'Master Magician of the Nazi
Haushofer excelled at Munich University, where he began to develop his
lifelong interest in the Far East. After leaving university, he entered the
German army, where his great intelligence ensured a rapid rise through the
ranks. His knowledge of the Far East earned him a posting as military
attaché in Japan.
The idea that Haushofer was an occult adept, with secret
knowledge of powerful trans-human entities, was first suggested by Louis Pauwels and
Jacques Bergier in their fascinating but historically unreliable
book The Morning of the Magicians (which served as the model for a number of
subsequent treatments of Nazi occultism in the 1960s and early 1970s).
According to Pauwels and Bergier:
[Haushofer] believed that the German people originated in Central Asia, and
that it was the Indo-Germanic race which guaranteed the permanence, nobility
and greatness of the world. While in Japan, Haushofer is said to have been
initiated into one of the most important secret Buddhist societies and to
have sworn, if he failed in his 'mission', to commit suicide in accordance
with the time-honored ceremonial. (12)
Haushofer was also apparently a firm believer in the legend of Thule, the
lost Aryan homeland in the far north, which had once been the centre of an
advanced civilization possessed of magical powers.
Connecting this legend
the Thule Society, Pauwels and Bergier have this to say:
Beings intermediate between Man and other intelligent beings from Beyond
would place at the disposal of the [Thule Society] Initiates a reservoir of
forces which could be drawn on to enable Germany to dominate the world again
and be the cradle of the coming race of Supermen which would result from the
mutations of the human species.
One day her legions would set out to
annihilate everything that had stood in the way of the spiritual destiny of
the Earth, and their leaders would be men who knew everything, deriving
strength from the very fountain-head of energy and guided by the Great Ones
of the Ancient World ... It would seem that it was under the influence of
Karl Haushofer that [the Thule Society] took on its true character of a
society of Initiates in communion with the Invisible, and became the magic
centre of the Nazi movement. (13)
Serious historians such as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke take issue with the
claims of Pauwels and Bergier and the later writers who reiterated them.
Goodrick-Clarke, who has perhaps conducted more research into primary German
sources than any other writer in this curious field, states that the claims
regarding the secret guiding power of the Thule Society are 'entirely
The Thule Society was dissolved in 1925 when support had
'He goes on to assure us that 'there is no evidence at all to link
Haushofer to the group.' (14)
Nevertheless, Haushofer's alleged skill in the
Black Arts has become an important link in the Nazi occult chain as
described by writers on such fringe subjects.
After the end of the First World War, Haushofer returned to Munich, where he
gained a doctorate from the university. He divided his time between teaching
and writing and founded the Geopolitical Review in which he published his
ideas on Lebensraum, which could 'both justify territorial conquest by
evoking the colonizing of Slav lands by Teutonic knights in the Middle Ages
and, emotively, conjure up notions of uniting in the Reich what came to be
described as Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) scattered throughout eastern
While incarcerated in the fortress of Landsberg am Lech following the
failure of the Munich Putsch in 1924, Adolf Hitler read and was influenced
by Haushofer's books on geopolitics (he had already been introduced to
Haushofer by the professor's student assistant, Rudolf Hess). There is no
doubt that Hitler occupied his time in Landsberg judiciously, reading widely
in several fields, though not for the sake of education so much as to
confirm and clarify his own preconceptions. (He later said that Landsberg
was his 'university paid for by the state'). (16)
According to Pauwels and Bergier and other fringe writers, Haushofer visited
Hitler every day in Landsberg, where he explained his geopolitical theories
and described his travels through India in the early years of the century.
While in India, he had heard stories of a powerful civilization living
beneath the Himalayas:
Thirty or forty centuries ago in the region of Gobi there was a highly
developed civilization. As the result of a catastrophe, possibly of an
atomic nature, Gobi was transformed into a desert, and the survivors
emigrated, some going to the extreme North of Europe, and others towards the
Caucasus. The Scandinavian god Thor is supposed to have been one of the
heroes of this migration.
... Haushofer proclaimed the necessity of 'a return to the sources' of the
human race - in other words, that it was necessary to conquer the whole of
Eastern Europe, Turkestan, Pamir, Gobi and Thibet. These countries
constituted, in his opinion, the central core, and whoever had control of
them controlled the whole world. (17)
After the cataclysm that destroyed the
Gobi civilization, the survivors migrated to a vast cavern system beneath
the Himalayas where they split into two groups, one of which followed the
path of spirituality, enlightenment and meditation while the other followed
the path of violence and materialistic power. The first of these centers was
called Agartha, the other
Shambhala. (These names have many different
spellings: for Agartha, I use the simplest; for Shambhala, the spelling
favored by Orientalists.)
We shall return for a closer look to the realms
of Agartha and Shambhala in the next chapter.
According to Alec Maclellan, among the many books Hitler read while
languishing in Landsberg was Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race, which,
Haushofer informed him, was an essentially correct description of the race
of Supermen living far beneath the surface of the Earth and corroborated
much of what the professor had himself learned while travelling in Asia.
Bulwer-Lytton's novel apparently galvanized Hitler's imagination, and he,
'began to yearn for the day when he might establish for himself the
actuality of the secret civilization beneath the snows of Tibet ...' (18)
In the following year, 1925, the Vril Society (also known as the
Lodge) was formed by a group of Berlin Rosicrucians including Karl
As Joscelyn Godwin informs us, there is only one primary source
of information on the Vril Society: Willy Ley, a German rocket engineer who
fled to the United States in 1933 and followed a successful career writing
popular science books. In 1947, Ley published an article entitled
'Pseudoscience in Naziland'.
Following a description of Ariosophy, Ley
The next group was literally founded upon a novel. That group which I think
called itself Wahrheitsgesellschaft -Society for Truth - and which was more
or less localized in Berlin, devoted its spare time looking for Vril. Yes,
their convictions were founded upon BulwerLytton's 'The Coming Race'. They
knew that the book was fiction, Bulwer-Lytton had used that device in order
to be able to tell the truth about this 'power'. The subterranean humanity
was nonsense, Vril was not.
Possibly it had enabled the British, who kept it
as a State secret, to amass their colonial empire. Surely the Romans had had
it, inclosed [sic] in small metal balls, which guarded their homes and were
referred to as lares. For reasons which I failed to penetrate, the secret of
Vril could be found by contemplating the structure of an apple, sliced in
halves. No, I am not joking, that is what I was told with great solemnity
and secrecy. Such a group actually existed, they even got out the first
issue of a magazine which was to proclaim their credo. (19)
Although they apparently interviewed Ley, Pauwels and Bergier could learn
nothing more from him about this mysterious society; however, they later
discovered that the group actually called itself the Vril Society, and that
Karl Haushofer was intimately connected with it. (Joscelyn Godwin kindly
reminds us of the unreliability of the splendid Pauwels and Bergier:
although they cite Jack Fishman's The Seven Men of Spandau with regard to
Haushofer's connection to the Vril Society, Fishman actually makes no such
Pauwels and Bergier go on to inform us that, having failed in his mission,
Haushofer committed suicide on 14 March 1946, in accordance with his pledge
to his masters in the secret Japanese society into which he had been
initiated. Once again, the truth is somewhat different: Haushofer did not
commit ham kin but died from arsenic poisoning on 10 March.
In addition, Ley's reference to 'contemplating the structure of an apple, sliced in
halves' (thus revealing the five-pointed star at its centre) echoes Rudolf
Steiner's suggestion in Knowledge of Higher Worlds and Its Attainment.
Indeed, as Godwin reminds us, (21) the Theosophists were themselves
interested in the concept of the vril force, which bears some resemblance to
Reichenbach's Odic force, and to the Astral Light, also known as the
Records: a subtle form of energy said to surround the Earth, in which is
preserved a record of every thought and action that has ever occurred.
In spite of the sober research of writers like Goodrick-Clarke and Godwin,
the idea of an immensely sinister and powerful Vril Society secretly
controlling the Third Reich has lost nothing of its ability to fascinate.
Many still maintain that Haushofer introduced Hitler to the leader of the
group of Tibetan high lamas living in Berlin, a man known only as 'The Man
with the Green Gloves', and that this man knew the locations of the hidden
entrances to the subterranean realms of Agartha and Shambhala. (22)
These rumors doubtless gave rise to the famous legends about Hitler's
obsessive search for the entrances to the inner world.
According to Maclellan:
'The first expeditions were dispatched purely under the auspices
of the Luminous Lodge, beginning in 1926, but later, after coming to power,
Hitler took a more direct interest, overseeing the organization of the
searches himself.' (23)
Maclellan also states that Hitler believed
unequivocally that 'certain representatives of the underground super-race
were already abroad in the world', (24) citing Hermann Rauschning's famous
book Hitler Speaks - A Senes of Political Conversations with Adolf Hitler on
his Real Aims (1939). The conversations recorded by Rauschning have served
as source material for many writers on the Third Reich, including serious
Proponents of genuine Nazi occult power have repeatedly pointed to the
mystical elements in Hitler's conversations as relayed by Rauschning, who
says that he repeatedly had the feeling that Hitler was a medium, possessed
of supernatural powers. It seems that on one occasion, Hitler actually met
one of the subterranean Supermen.
Rauschning claims that Hitler confided to
The new man is among us. He is here! Now are you satisfied? I will tell
you a secret. I have seen the vision of the new man - fearless and
formidable. I shrank from him.' (25)
To his credit, Maclellan states that this was more than likely a deranged
fantasy on Hitler's part. However, Rauschning's very description should be
treated with extreme caution: it should be noted that, in spite of the
widespread interest it stimulated, Hitler Speaks has not stood the test of
time as an accurate historical document.
In fact, Ian Kershaw, one of the
foremost authorities on Hitler and the author of Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris
(1998), does not cite Rauschning's book anywhere in his monumental study,
and states that it is 'a work now regarded to have so little authenticity
that it is best to disregard it altogether'. (26)
As the story goes, Hitler ordered a number of expeditions into German, Swiss
and Italian mines to search for the entrances to the cavern cities of the
Supermen. He is even said to have ordered research to be conducted into the
life of Bulwer-Lytton, in an effort to determine whether the author himself
had visited the realm of the Vril-ya. While serious writers ignore these
rumors, there is an interesting event on record that Maclellan quotes in
his The Lost World of Agharti and that illustrates the frustrating nature of
the 'twilight zone between fact and fiction' in which we find ourselves when
discussing Nazi occultism.
Maclellan cites the testimony of one Antonin Horak, an expert speleologist
and member of the Slovak Uprising, who accidentally discovered a strange
tunnel in Czechoslovakia in October 1944.
Dr Horak kept quiet about the
discovery until 1965, when he published an account in the National
Speleological Society News. In his article, Dr Horak stated that he and two
other Resistance fighters found the tunnel near the villages of Plavince and
Lubocna (he is quite specific about the location: 49.2 degrees north, 20.7
degrees east). Having just survived a skirmish with the Germans, the three
men (one of whom was badly injured) asked a local peasant for help.
them to an underground grotto where they could hide and rest.
told the Resistance men that the cave contained pits, pockets of poison gas,
and was also haunted, and warned them against venturing too far inside. This
they had no intention of doing, such was their weariness. They attended to
the wounds of their comrade and fell asleep.
The following day, Horak's curiosity got the better of him and, while he
waited for the injured man to recover enough strength to travel again, he
decided to do a little exploring inside the cave.
Presently, he came to a
section that was completely different from the rest of the cave.
some torches, I saw that I was in a spacious, curved, black shaft formed by
cliff-like walls. The floor in the incline was a solid lime pavement.' (27)
The tunnel stretched interminably into the distance. Dr Horak decided to
take a sample of the wall, but was unable to make any impression with his
pickaxe. He took his pistol and fired at the wall (surely an unwise thing to
do, given the risk of a ricochet and with German soldiers possibly still in
'The bullet slammed into the substance of the walls with a deafening, fiery
impact,' he wrote. 'Sparks flashed, there was a roaring sound, but not so
much as a splinter fell from the substance. Only a small welt appeared,
about the length of half my finger, which gave off a pungent smell.'
Dr Horak then returned to his comrades and told them about the apparently
'I sat there by the fire speculating. How far did it reach
into the rocks? I wondered.
Who, or what, put it into the mountain? Was it man-made? And was it at last
proof of the truth in legends - like Plato's - of long-lost civilizations
with magic technologies which our rationale cannot grasp or believe?' (28)
No one else, apparently, has explored this tunnel since Dr Horak in 1944.
The peasants who lived in the region obviously knew of its existence, but
kept well away.
In addition to the stories of Nazi mine expeditions in Central and Eastern
Europe during the Second World War, occult writers have frequently made
reference to the Nazi Tibet Expeditions, allegedly an attempt to locate and
make contact with a group of high lamas with access to fantastic power. Once
again, Pauwels and Bergier have plenty to say on this subject, which is in
itself enough to give pause to the cautious.
The American researcher Peter Levenda experienced a similar skepticism with
regard to the supposed Nazi-Tibet connection, until he began to search for
references in the microfilmed records in the Captured German Documents
Section of the National Archives in Washington, DC. He discovered a wealth
of material, running to many hundreds of pages, dealing with the work of Dr
Ernst Schafer of the Ahnenerbe.
These documents included Dr Schafer's
personal notebooks, his correspondence, clippings from several German
newspapers, and his SS file, which describes an expedition to East and
Central Tibet from 1934-1936, and the official SS-Tibet Expedition of
1938-1939 under his leadership. (29)
As Levenda demonstrates, the expedition was not so much concerned with
contacting Tibetan representatives of the subterranean super-race as with
cataloguing the flora and fauna of the region (an activity of little
military value to the Third Reich, which accounts for the difficulty Schafer
occasionally had in securing funding for his trips).
Born in Cologne on 14 March 1910 into a wealthy industrialist family, Ernst
Schafer attended school in Heidelberg and Gottingen, and embarked on his
first expedition to Tibet in 1930 under the auspices of the Academy of
Natural Sciences in Philadelphia when he was only twenty years old. The
following year, he joined the American Brooke Dolan expedition to Siberia,
China and Tibet. He became a member of the SS in mid 1933, finally reaching
the rank of Sturmbannfuhrer in 1942.
In addition to being an SS officer,
Schafer was also a respected scientist who published papers in various
journals, such as the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences,
Philadelphia. As Levenda wryly notes, Schafer was 'a man of many parts: one
part SS officer and one part scholar, one part explorer and one part
scientist: a Nazi Indiana Jones'. (30)
Schafer was also deeply interested in
the religious and cultural practices of the Tibetans, including their
sexuality. (Indeed, the members of the 1938-1939 expedition displayed a
somewhat prurient fascination with intimate practices: the film-maker Ernst
Krause, for instance, took great care to record his observation of a
fifteen-year-old Lanchung girl masturbating on a bridge beam.) (31)
When not cataloguing flora and fauna (and spying on teenage girls), the
members of the expedition managed to conduct other research, which included
an exhaustive study of the physical attributes of the Tibetan people.
Schafer noted height and weight, the shape of hands and feet, the color and
shape of eyes, and even took plaster casts of Tibetans' faces.
On 21 July
1939, Der Neue Tag published the following article:
SACRED TIBETAN SCRIPTURE ACQUIRED BY THE DR SCHAFER-EXPEDITION ON NINE
ANIMAL LOADS ACROSS THE HIGH-COUNTRY
The Tibet Expedition of Dr Ernst Schafer,
which during its expedition through Tibet stayed a long time in Lhasa and in
the capital of the Panchen Lama, Shigatse, is presently on its return trip
to Germany. Since the monsoons began unusually early, the return march of
the expedition was hastened in order to secure the shipment of the precious
collections. The expedition has singularly valuable scientific research
results to inventory. In addition to outstanding accomplishments in the
areas of geophysical and earth-magnetic research they succeeded in obtaining
an extra-rich ethnological collection including, along with cult objects,
many articles and tools of daily life.
With the help of the regent of Lhasa it was Dr Schafer who also succeeded in
obtaining the Kangschur, the extensive, 108-volume sacred script of the
Tibetans, which required nine animal loads to transport. Also especially
extensive are the zoological and botanical collections that the expedition
has already shipped, in part, to Germany, the remainder of which they will
bring themselves. The zoological collection includes the total bird-fauna of
the research area.
Dr Schafer was also able, for the first time, to bag a Schapi, a hitherto unknown wild goat. About 50 live animals are on the way
to Germany, while numerous other live animals are still with the expedition.
An extensive herbarium of all existing plants is also on its way.
Furthermore, valuable geographical and earth-historical accomplishments were
Difficulties encountered due to political tensions with the English
authorities were eliminated due to personal contact between Dr Schafer and
members of the British authorities in Shangtse, so that the unimpeded return
of the expedition out of Tibet with its valuable collections was guaranteed.
Levenda informs us that he was unable to discover the fate of the
the 'core document' of Tibetan Buddhism, although he suspects that it was
taken to Vienna.
With regard to the expedition itself, while it must be
conceded that it had very little to do with the occult or magical ambitions
of the Third Reich, it is possible that the 'earth-magnetic' and
'geophysical' experiments had a firm foundation in a very shaky theory.
Levenda suggests that the Tibet Expedition of 1938-1939 attempted to prove
the pseudo-scientific World Ice Theory of
Hans Horbiger. This bizarre theory
will be discussed in detail in Chapter Seven. But for now, let us return to
the concept embodied in the rumors about the Vril Society, with its alleged
attempts to contact (and enlist the aid of) a mysterious group of vastly
powerful Eastern adepts.
To examine the origins of this idea, we must
ourselves embark on a journey to Tibet, known in some quarters as 'the
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