Ariosophy was a dualistic-gnostic racial religion which developed a following among Austrians and Germans during the first half of the 20th century, founded by Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels. Lanz (von Liebenfels) had earlier referred to his religion as “Theo-zoology” and Ario-Christianity” before coining the term “Ariosophy” (meaning esoteric wisdom of the Aryan race) in 1915. Lanz went on to found the Ordo Novi Temple (ONT), as a gnostic order to promote his Aryan race cult at Vienna in 1900. Ariosophy was inspired by the earlier work of Guido von List.
Ariosophy began as a gnostic heresy which interpreted Christianity as the revelation of the struggle between the divine race of blond-haired, blue-eyed god-men (the Aryans) and the darker inferior races (with bestial origins). Its doctrine was built upon ideas taken from the Theosophical teachings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Von Liebenfels combined them with the anthropology, archeology and zoology of the 19th century.
Ariosophy: Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels
The founder of the doctrine of Ariosophy was Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels. Lanz developed an interest in the Templar Knights at an early age and dedicated himself to studying their legend. Lanz decided to join the Cistercian noviciate at Heilgenkreuz Abbey near Vienna as Frater Georg on July 31, 1893. The romantic medieval atmosphere of the abbey inspired Lanz, and he went on to take the solemn vows on September 12, 1897. He became a seminary teacher the very next year.
Early evidence of Lanz’ heretical views can be found in a commentary upon a tombstone relief which was excavated in 1894. The relief portrayed a nobleman treading upon a beast, which Lanz interpreted to be an allegory of the eternal struggle between good and evil with the animal representative of the bestial origins of evil. He began to assimilate modern elements of zoology, archeology and anthropology into a dualistic religion. Social Darwinists of his day (such as Carl Penka and Ludwig Wilser) had posited the historical existence of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan race. Lanz identified this Aryan man as the good principle, and the darker races as the evil principle. His assimilation of racist scientific ideas and gnosticism created a cosmic paradigm within which the blond and dark races represented the forces of order and chaos in the cosmos.
Lanz went on to renounce his vows on April 27, 1899 and began to develop his own doctrines. He joined two scholarly societies where he was able to associate with leading historians and scientists, inspiring him to extend his studies to new areas such as anthropology and paleontology. Lanz began writing scholarly articles for völkisch and Social Darwinist publications in 1902, one of which contained over a hundred references to scholarly texts. This demonstrated his fascination with science as well as mythology.
In 1903, Lanz further developed his previous theological and scientific ideas about the bestial origins of evil. Archeological findings which had been excavated at Nimrud in 1848, by the British orientalist Sir Austen Henry Layard, depicted Assyrians alongside strange beasts for pets. The reliefs were accompanied by inscriptions in cuneiform which described these beasts as having been sent as tribute to King Ashurnasirpal II from various foreign kings. Lanz’s interpretation of these reliefs, combined with his understanding of current anthropology and ethnology, led him to postulate a hypothesis to account for the corruption of the Aryan race. He believed that they had committed bestiality with pygmies, a lower species which had evolved from a distinct branch of animal. He saw evidence of this through the ancient texts as well as the discoveries of modern science. By 1905, Lanz had fully synthesized his theology with the fledgling scientific fields of anthropology and archeology to produce his neo-gnostic doctrine of “Theo-zoology”.
In summary, Lanz taught that the progenitors of the Aryan race were divine (Theozoa) and the chosen people of the Old Testament. These god-men were a separate race from the pygmy beast-men (Anthropozoa), which had descended from Adam. The Fall was the mixing of these two distinct species, which was the origin of the various human races as well as the beginning of the degradation of the Aryan race’s powers. For Lanz, all sin and evil in the world could be traced back to this interbreeding. Lanz claimed that Christ came to restore racial purity again, being a pure Aryan god-man himself. Christ’s opponents were racial inferiors who feared the revival of the religion of racial purity. Lanz believed that he was reviving a classic struggle within Christianity to reform it back to “Ario-Christianity” from the corruption that had befallen it.
His esoteric racial ideology borrowed heavily from The Secret Doctrine of Helena Blavatsky, which he incorporated into his dualistic biblical hermeneutic. In his Bibel-dokumente series (1907-1908), Lanz cited modern findings in the fields of paleontology as evidence for Blavatsky’s occult origins of humanity. Lanz validated Blavatsky’s scheme of “Root Races” and even assimilated the antediluvian continents of Atlantis and Lemuria into his own historical timeline. Lanz concluded that the fifth Root-Race of the Aryans had interbred with the descendants of a corrupted ape-like sub-species of the fourth Root-Race of the Atlanteans.
His solution to the problem of evil, as he understood it, was a program of segregation, eugenics and genocide in order to restore the Aryan race back to its original god-man stature. Lanz subsequently founded the magazine Ostara (1905-1918), a “racial-economic” publication designed to champion the European race.
Ariosophy: The Thule Society
The influence of Ariosophy on National Socialism can be traced back through the ancestry of the Nazi party. The Germanenorden was a völkisch secret society founded in 1912 founded by members of the List Society. Philipp Stauff (1876-1923), a völkisch journalist and close friend of Guido von List and Lanz von Liebenfels, was among the founders of the Germanenorden. The organization was founded to counter what was perceived as a Jewish secret conspiracy in Germany and its lodges were established throughout Northern and Eastern Germany within months. These lodges were used to disseminate anti-Semitic articles and the influence of Ariosophy could be seen in their recruitment policy (applicants had to demonstrate an unbroken Germanic ancestry in order to qualify).
Further evidence of the influence of Ariosophy on the Germanenorden could be seen in their emblem, which was a swastika superimposed upon a cross (first displayed on its official newsletter Allgemeine Ordens-Nachrichten in 1916). The organization went on to promote völkisch symbolism (based around runes and the swastika) to be worn in the form of jewelry, pendants and tie-pins, all designed by members of the List Society. As the Germanenorden was eventually succeeded by the Thule Society in post-war Munich, they went on to found the German Workers’ Party (DAP) in 1919. The DAP was renamed the German National Socialist Workers’ Party (NSDAP) in February 1920. As a product of the Thule Society and the Germanenorden, the National Socialists adopted their most prominent symbol, the swastika.
Ariosophy: Influence on Hitler and the Third Reich
The political aspirations of the Ariosophists paralleled those of National Socialism in many ways. The Aryan occultists were (at least initially) enthused by the prospect of a Nazi future, with Lanz von Liebenfels writing in 1932: “Hitler is one of our pupils.” Similarly, Werner von Bülow and Herbert Reichstein also lauded this new dawn in their publications.
In order to determine how much of an influence Ariosophy had on the beliefs of Austrian-born Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), we need to begin with his encounter with the nationalistic Pan-German movement during his time in Linz (1900-1905). Hitler was introduced to a völkisch perspective of the past by his history teacher, Dr Leopold Pötsch. Hitler began to develop an obsession with the neighboring motherland of Germany which he saw as the symbol of the völkisch identity, drawing similarities between the writings of Guido von List and Lanz von Liebenfels.
Hitler (at this stage a young aspiring artist) then moved to Vienna, but was refused a place at the Academy of Arts. This rejection had a profound effect on him, and his refusal to engage in other work would lead to poverty and a decline in living conditions. His experience of slums and soup-kitchens, which were populated largely by immigrants, began to foster in Hitler a perspective on Vienna as the antithesis of racial purity and the völkisch idealism of mother Germany. Certainly the dualistic paradigm of the pure, divine Aryans and the dark, sub-humans as portrayed by Lanz von Liebenefels would have been an appealing concept to Hitler during this period. According to Mein Kampf (1924), Hitler had been exposed to racist pamphlets during his time in Vienna. Some scholars suggest that these pamphlets would have been Ostara, published by Lanz von Liebenfels. This is based on evidence of a meeting between Hitler and Lanz in 1909, where Hitler had expressed interest in the racial theories Lanz had proposed in Ostara. He expressed a wish to procure copies of some back issues, which Lanz provided free of charge. There is further evidence to suggest that by the time Hitler left for Munich in May 1913, he had amassed an Ostara collection numbering upwards of 50 copies.
The dualism of Nazi racial ideas clearly overlaps with those of Lanz von Liebenfels, with the world being divided into the struggle between the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Aryans and the darker, “demonic” races. These two races literally personified good and evil. As the Third Reich came to power, we see the banning of interracial marriage, extermination programs of ‘inferior’ races and initiatives to promote increased birth-rates of pure-blood Germans through programs such as Lebensborn.
Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas (2003). “Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the politics of Identity”.
Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas (2004). “The Occult Roots of Nazism”.
Hanegraaf, Wouter J (2006). “Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism”.