The Thule Society (//; German: Thule-Gesellschaft), originally the Studiengruppe für germanisches Altertum ("Study Group for Germanic Antiquity"), was a German occultist and völkisch group in Munich right after World War I, named after a mythical northern country from Greek legend. The Society is notable chiefly as the organization that sponsored the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP; German Workers' Party), which was later reorganized by Adolf Hitler into the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP or Nazi Party). According to Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw, the organization's "membership list... reads like a Who's Who of early Nazi sympathizers and leading figures in Munich", including Rudolf Hess, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Julius Lehmann, Gottfried Feder, Dietrich Eckart, and Karl Harrer.
However, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke contends that Hans Frank and Rudolf Hess had been Thule members, but other leading Nazis had only been invited to speak at Thule meetings or were entirely unconnected with it. According to Johannes Hering, "There is no evidence that Hitler ever attended the Thule Society."
The Thule Society was originally a "German study group" headed by Walter Nauhaus, a wounded World War I veteran turned art student from Berlin who had become a keeper of pedigrees for the Germanenorden (or "Order of Teutons"), a secret society founded in 1911 and formally named in the following year. In 1917, Nauhaus moved to Munich; his Thule Society was to be a cover-name for the Munich branch of the Germanenorden, but events developed differently as a result of a schism in the Order. In 1918, Nauhaus was contacted in Munich by Rudolf von Sebottendorf (or von Sebottendorff), an occultist and newly elected head of the Bavarian province of the schismatic offshoot known as the Germanenorden Walvater of the Holy Grail. The two men became associates in a recruitment campaign, and Sebottendorff adopted Nauhaus's Thule Society as a cover-name for his Munich lodge of the Germanenorden Walvater at its formal dedication on 18 August 1918.
A primary focus of the Thule Society was a claim concerning the origins of the Aryan race. In 1917, people who wanted to join the "Germanic Order", out of which the Thule Society developed in 1918, had to sign a special "blood declaration of faith" concerning their lineage:
- "The signer hereby swears to the best of his knowledge and belief that no Jewish or coloured blood flows in either his or in his wife's veins, and that among their ancestors are no members of the coloured races."
"Thule" (Greek: Θούλη) was a land located by Greco-Roman geographers in the farthest north (often displayed as Iceland). The Latin term "Ultima Thule" (English: most distant Thule) is also mentioned by Roman poet Virgil in his pastoral poems called the Georgics. Thule originally was probably the name for Scandinavia, although Virgil simply uses it as a proverbial expression for the edge of the known world, and his mention should not be taken as a substantial reference to Scandinavia.
The Thule Society identified Ultima Thule as a lost ancient landmass in the extreme north, near Greenland or Iceland, said by Nazi mystics to be the capital of ancient Hyperborea. These ideas were derived from earlier speculation by Ignatius L. Donnelly that a lost landmass had once existed in the Atlantic, and that it was the home of the Aryan race, a theory which he supported by reference to the distribution of swastika motifs. He identified this with Plato's Atlantis, a theory further developed by Helena Blavatsky, an occultist during the second part of the 19th century.
The Thule Society attracted about 250 followers in Munich and about 1,500 elsewhere in Bavaria. Its meetings were often held in the luxury Hotel Vierjahreszeiten (English: Four Seasons Hotel) in Munich.
The followers of the Thule Society were very interested in racial theory and, in particular, in combating Jews and Communists. Sebottendorff planned but failed to kidnap Bavarian socialist prime minister Kurt Eisner in December 1918. During the Bavarian revolution of April 1919, Thulists were accused of trying to infiltrate its government and of attempting a coup. On 26 April, the Communist government in Munich raided the Society's premises and took seven of its members into custody, executing them on 30 April. Amongst them were Walter Nauhaus and four well-known aristocrats, including Countess Heila von Westarp who functioned as the group's secretary, and Prince Gustav of Thurn and Taxis who was related to several European royal families. In response, the Thule organised a citizens' uprising as White troops entered the city on 1 May.
Münchener Beobachter newspaper
In 1918, the Thule Society bought a local weekly newspaper, the Münchener Beobachter (Munich Observer), and changed its name to Münchener Beobachter und Sportblatt (Munich Observer and Sports Paper) in an attempt to improve its circulation. The Münchener Beobachter later became the Völkischer Beobachter (English: People's Observer), the main Nazi newspaper. It was edited by Karl Harrer.
Anton Drexler had developed links between the Thule Society and various extreme right workers' organizations in Munich. He established the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP; German Workers' Party) on 5 January 1919, together with the Thule Society's Karl Harrer. Adolf Hitler joined this party in September the same year. By the end of February 1920, the DAP had been reconstituted as the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP; National Socialist German Workers' Party), often referred to as the Nazi Party.
Sebottendorff by then had left the Thule Society, and never joined the DAP or the Nazi Party. Dietrich Bronder (Bevor Hitler kam, 1964) alleged that other members of the Thule Society were later prominent in Nazi Germany: the list includes Dietrich Eckart (who coached Hitler on his public speaking skills, along with Erik Jan Hanussen, and had Mein Kampf dedicated to him), as well as Gottfried Feder, Hans Frank, Hermann Göring, Karl Haushofer, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler, and Alfred Rosenberg. Historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke has described this membership roll and similar claims as "spurious" and "fanciful", noting that Feder, Eckart, and Rosenberg were never more than guests to whom the Thule Society extended hospitality during the Bavarian revolution of 1918, although he has more recently acknowledged that Hess and Frank were members of the Society before they came to prominence in the Nazi Party. It has also been claimed that Adolf Hitler himself was a member. Evidence on the contrary shows that he never attended a meeting, as attested to by Johannes Hering's diary of Society meetings. It is quite clear that Hitler himself had little interest in, and made little time for, "esoteric" matters. (See also Hitler's Nuremberg speech of 6 September 1938 on his disapproval of occultism.)
Early in 1920, Karl Harrer was forced out of the DAP as Hitler moved to sever the party's link with the Thule Society, which subsequently fell into decline and was dissolved about five years later, well before Hitler came to power.
Rudolf von Sebottendorff had withdrawn from the Thule Society in 1919, but he returned to Germany in 1933 in the hope of reviving it. In that year, he published a book entitled Bevor Hitler kam ((German): Before Hitler Came), in which he claimed that the Thule Society had paved the way for the Führer: "Thulers were the ones to whom Hitler first came, and Thulers were the first to unite themselves with Hitler." This claim was not favourably received by the Nazi authorities: after 1933, esoteric organisations were suppressed (including völkisch occultists), many closed down by anti-Masonic legislation in 1935. Sebottendorff's book was prohibited and he himself was arrested and imprisoned for a short period in 1934, afterwards departing into exile in Turkey.
Nonetheless, it has been argued that some Thule members and their ideas were incorporated into the Third Reich. Some of the Thule Society's teachings were expressed in the books of Alfred Rosenberg. Many occult ideas found favour with Heinrich Himmler, who had a great interest in mysticism, unlike Hitler, but the Schutzstaffel (SS) under Himmler emulated the structure of Ignatius Loyola's Jesuit order rather than the Thule Society, according to Hohne.
The Thule Society has become the center of many conspiracy theories concerning Nazi Germany, due to its occult background (like the Ahnenerbe section of the SS). Such theories include the creation of vril-powered Nazi UFOs.
In popular culture, references to the Thule Society have included the 2013 season 8 episode "Everybody Hates Hitler" of The CW series Supernatural, in which a group of Society members seek out a lost ledger containing information about their experiments with necromancy. In the 2016 season 11 episode "The Vessel", a leading member of the Thule Society vies against Dean to find the Ark of the Covenant during World War II. In the season 12 episode "The One You've Been Waiting For", the Thule leadership endeavors to resurrect Adolf Hitler, resulting in the death of both the leadership of the Thule Society and the resurrected Hitler.
The Thule Society play a major role in the Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa, a movie set after the ending of the 2003 anime of the same name.
In the film Hellboy, Professor Bruttenholm refers to Adolf Hitler having joined the Thule Society in 1937, describing them as "a group of German aristocrats obsessed with the occult." In the film, the Thule Society, along with Grigori Rasputin, were responsible for opening the portal which allowed the titular Hellboy into our world.
The Thule Society is referenced in several of Charles Stross's Laundry Files novels and short stories.
In the Area 51 novels, the Society is mentioned as being the occult force behind the Nazi Party.
The Thule plays a part in the Wolfenstein video game series.
The Thule Society also feature in the video game Clive Barker's Jericho.
The fictional "Brotherhood of Thule" is featured as the American branch of the Thule Society in the 1998 video game Black Dahlia.
The Thule Society plays a role in the Marvel Comics series, "Fear Itself". In the story, the Thule Society are under the guidance and leadership of the Red Skull, which he uses to protect the Hammer of Skadi when it is summoned to the earth.
- Phelps 1963
- Kershaw, Ian, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris, p. 138-139, W. W. Norton & Company, 2000
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, pp. 149, 221
- Goodrick-Clarke 2003, p. 114
- Johannes Hering, "Beiträge zur Geschichte der Thule-Gesellschaft", typescript dated 21 June 1939, Bundesarchiv Koblenz, NS26/865, cited in Goodrick-Clarke (1985: 201), who concludes: "There is no evidence that Hitler ever attended the Thule Society" (ibid., 201).
- Phelps 1963
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, pp. 127–28, 143
- Phelps 1963, n.31.
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, pp. 131, 142–43
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, p. 144
- Rudolf von Sebottendorff, Bevor Hitler kam, 1933, page 42 (original: "Blutbekenntnis": "Unterzeichner versichert nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen, daß in seinen und seiner Frau Adern kein jüdisches oder farbiges Blut fließe und daß sich unter den Vorfahren auch keine Angehörigen der farbigen Rassen befinden.")
- "Perseus Digital Library", citing "Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography"
- Vergil, Georgics, 1.30
- Oxford Classical Dictionary 2003
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, p. 143
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, p. 147
- Timebase 1919. Timebase Multimedia Chronography. Accessed April 18, 2008.
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, p. 148.
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, p. 149.
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, p. 150
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, p. 221
- Goodrick-Clarke 1985, pp. 149, 217–225
- Angebert 1974, p. 9
- Skorzeny 1995
- See, for example, Alfred Rosenberg, Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts: Eine Wertung der seelischgeistigen Gestaltungskämpfe unserer Zeit, München: Hoheneichen, 1930.
- Höhne 1969, pp. 138, 143–145
- Goodrick-Clarke 2003: 166–169.
- "The Secret World Chronicle". The Secret World Chronicle. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
- "The Thule Society". The Secret World Chronicle. 2004-02-15. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
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Republished 1992 as The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany, 1890–1935 (New York University Press, ISBN 0-8147-3060-4)
and in 2003 as The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology (Gardners Books, ISBN 1-86064-973-4).
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