Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels was the creator of the doctrine of Ariosophy and founder of the Ordo Novi Templi (ONT), a Christian gnostic order based on the concept of the Aryan race. Lanz had been a patron of Guido von List, having met him in 1893. He shared von List’s fascination for the forgotten ancient history of the Aryan race, but deviated from List’s völkisch romanticism of the land and culture. Instead, Lanz went on to develop Ariosophy, a racial-esoteric doctrine and re-interpreted Christian theology through his doctrine of “theo-zoology.” This interpretation had its own version of the Christian “fall,” as well as a proposed way of salvation based around the restoration of the “purity” of the Aryan race. Von Liebenfels claimed this racially-based soteriology was Christ’s central doctrine (Christ himself being an Aryan god-man).
Inspired by nationalist Pan-Germans, Helena Blavatsky’s concept of “Root Races,” as well as Social Darwinists, Lanz promoted eugenics, genocide, and segregation as the means of restoring the divine Aryan race to their rightful status as god-men.
Adolf Josef was born on July 19, 1874, in Vienna-Penzing, the son of middle-class parents. This is contrary to the aristocratic origin story that he promoted about himself, which states that he was born Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, the son of Baron Johann Lanz de Liebenfels (his autobiographical accounts are notoriously unreliable). It seems that he developed an interest in the Templar Knights at an early age and dedicated himself to studying their legend. Perhaps his fascination with religious orders was what motivated Lanz to enter the Cistercian novitiate 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 and became a seminary teacher the very next year. Lanz was given the opportunity to receive an elite education in the Old Testament as well as in Eastern languages and traditions. He later published a number of articles on the history of the abbey and the Cistercian order between 1894 and 1899.
Early evidence of Lanz’ heretical views can be found in a commentary upon a tombstone relief 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 (including 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, which, according to the abbey register, was due to his “surrender to the lies of the world and carnal love.” The basis for the accusation of “carnal love” remains a mystery, although it may have been a reference to Lanz getting married upon leaving the order.
Lanz remained unrepentant in his decision to leave and believed that it was the abbey that had abandoned their original teachings, which he was now rediscovering. Lanz went on to publish three anti-clerical books to demonstrate his point soon after leaving.
Lanz was now free from the constraints of his vows and began to develop his own doctrines. He joined two scholarly societies where he was able to associate with leading historians and scientists. These relationships enabled 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, demonstrating his fascination with science as well as mythology.
By this stage of his life, he had assumed a doctoral title and took on the name “Liebenfels”.
Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels: Development of Theo-Zoology
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 theorized 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. This also marked 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, 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” and thus salvage it from the corruption that had infected it. His esoteric racial ideology borrowed heavily from The Secret Doctrine of Helena Blavatsky, which he incorporated into his dualistic biblical hermeneutic.
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 to their original god-man stature.
Lanz founded the magazine Ostara (1905-1918), a “racial-economic” publication designed to champion the European race.
Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels: The Founding oft he Ordo Novi Templi (ONT)
Lanz founded his own order, the Ordo Novi Templi (ONT), in order to promote his religion. Drawing from his previous experience as a monk, he incorporated elements of the Cistercian liturgy, dress and government. Members needed to be able to demonstrate their Aryan credentials in order to join the order. The purpose of the ONT was to promote a sense of Aryan pride as well as to inculcate colonial ambitions. Lanz was able to found further ONT houses as he attracted wealthy followers. Eventually, he developed a fully-functioning order of service, complete with hymns and prayers for his religion. By 1914, Lanz founded a second priory at Hollenberg, having already acquired a castle on the Danube River as the arch-priory in 1907. The property acquisitions continued during the next few decades as the religion expanded throughout Hungary and Germany.
Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels: Ariosophy and Later Life
By 1915, Lanz coined the term Ariosophy to refer to his doctrine and began to make predictions about the future based on astrology. Lanz believed that human history was headed toward the coming of a global Aryan state, governed by an enlightened priesthood from its headquarters in Vienna.
Lanz later summarized Ariosophy as a doctrine of “pan-psychic” energy (which he identified with God), flowing through the universe. This energy manifested in various forms, the highest of which was the blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan. Lanz continued to contrast this ‘superior race’ with the “darks.”
Lanz also incorporated some of the ideas of Guido von List into his Aryan historical timeline, interpreting names and coats of arms as symbols of Aryan family karma. He was able to popularize Ariosophy as a form of personal divination by partnering with publisher Herbert Reichstein (1892-1944). This publicity was further supported by summer schools and lectures and the re-issue of Ostara magazine from 1927 to 1931.
Lanz had initially shown enthusiasm for Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, even claiming to have been the inspiration for National Socialist doctrine. However, he became disillusioned with the populist tendencies of Nazism, accusing Hitler of corrupting his ideas.
Lanz von Liebenfels died in 1954.
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Hanegraaf, Wouter J (2006). “Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism”