Earlier this year, America Unearthed host Scott F. Wolter went in search of the Holy Grail, and he suggested that a Nazi collaborator had access to secret knowledge about lost white colonists of the pre-Columbian Americas. Earlier this month, Ancient Aliens told us that the Holy Grail was an emerald that had fallen from Lucifer’s crown, and last year they also speculated about the Nazis’ connection to space aliens, UFOs, and ancient astronauts. Therefore, I read today with interest that the British TV network Channel 5 broadcasted last night a new documentary exploring Heinrich Himmler’s search for Atlantis and his efforts to secure the Holy Grail.
The Nazis’ interest in Atlantis stemmed, of course, from Aryan race theory. While Helena Blavatsky had claimed that Atlantis was the homeland of a dark-skinned “root race” who eventually became the American Indians and the Mongolians, in Atlantis: The Antediluvian World Ignatius Donnelly proposed a white-ruled Atlantis where the ancestors of the world’s white people once lived and reigned over the others. According to Donnelly, basing his ideas on the racial theories of the Assyriologist François Lenormant, the Flood of Noah was flood that destroyed only the white people of the world, the non-white people having been excluded from the Bible. Therefore, the “Antediluvian World was none other than Atlantis.” To this end, Donnelly cataloged from myth as many instances as he could find of “white” gods escaping Atlantis—“that bridge of land where the white, dark, and red races met”—to civilize the non-white peoples of the world.
Donnelly supported his inference about the existence of Atlantis through appeal to similarities in symbolism, myth, and language on both sides of the Atlantis. The Nazis, too, borrowed this same idea. Herman Wirth, a scholar specializing in ancient religions, told the Ahnernebe, the “Ancestral Heritage” unit of the SS (which he helped found), that similar symbols in the Old and New Worlds meant that they had once been joined by Atlantis, that the destruction of Atlantis was the Noachian Flood, and that the survivors of Atlantis had fled to the highest parts of the world, notably Tibet, the Andes, and other elevations. Here he was merely following Donnelly, whose bizarre Atlantis theories were the impetus behind the occult revival that led directly to Nazi ideas about lost civilizations and white-ruled ancient super-cultures. Donnelly, in turn, was simply taking to its logical extreme the myth of white-dominated ancient civilization promulgated by the Mound Builder school of archaeology, which held that Native Americans deserved to be driven from their lands and deprived of their cultures because they had killed off an ancient white race who owned America first. Donnelly explicitly cites the Mound Builder myth as proof of Atlantis.
Wirth maintained the reality of an ancient pure culture down to his death, and in the 1970s his ideas were revived as part of the alternative history movement as, oddly enough, Native groups saw his views as support for the idea that pre-Conquest Native cultures enjoyed a primitive purity in harmony with nature.
In his 2004 book about race and archaeological interpretation, Charles Orser noted that David Childress draws upon the same source material as the Nazis and advocated a similar race-based vision of Atlantis in which a white, ethnically-pure ruling class exercised power over non-white subject peoples. Orser connects these ideas directly to Nazi archaeology, and through them back to Ignatius Donnelly and his white kings of Atlantis.
Himmler sent an expedition to Tibet in 1938 in search of Aryan survivors, and that story was told in Christopher Hale’s book Himmler’s Crusade back in 2003. One result of the Atlantis-Tibet theory was the selection of “Asiatic”-looking Jews from Auschwitz for special measuring and photographing. They were then gassed, their bodies preserved in ethanol for future comparison to Tibetans. Buoyed by the “success” of the Tibet expedition, as the Nazis entered the Soviet Union in 1941, Himmler sent in archaeologists to find evidence of ancient “German superior race-colonies” to justify German annexation of large chunks of territory.
Himmler concluded from the Tibetan expedition that the Aryan race had originated in Atlantis, that race-mixing with the Tibetans had weakened them, and that the current sorry state of Tibet proved that the Holocaust was a necessary step in securing racial purity for the remaining pure Aryans. Some scholars claim that Himmler’s Atlantis-Aryan beliefs helped propel him toward the Final Solution by providing a historical-ethnic rationale for racial cleansing.
Better known is Himmler’s employ of Otto Rahn to seek out the Holy Grail, which Himmler thought would give him and the Nazis superhuman powers. This story was told in the 2001 documentary The Secret Glory and in several books, and many believe he inspired Indiana Jones, the archaeologist movie character on whom many fringe writers base their public personas. Rahn studied Arthurian romances, particularly Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parsifal, and medieval history to conclude that the Cathars had taken the Holy Grail and hidden it in a cave. Some of Rahn’s work informs the fictional Templar-Cathar connection that underlies the “Sacred Feminine” school of Holy Grail theorists, whose representatives we still find offering the same ideas on TV today. Rahn seized upon the made-up thirteenth-century German legend that the Grail was the stone from Lucifer’s crown (which did not exist before (c. 1250) and in so doing titled his description of the Grail quest Lucifer’s Court—this would be the same myth that was on Ancient Aliens.
From Himmler’s twisting of archaeology and history, the Nazi collaborator Jacques de Mahieu developed his idea of a global conquest of Aryan supermen, a collaboration of Vikings and Germans, who reigned over the Native Americans down to the Spanish Conquest as “white” gods, complete with swastika emblems.
Modern proponents of these Nazi-era ideas aren’t always aware of the connections. Childress, in particular, seems notably ignorant of the history of the material he recycles in his books. Others, like Scott Wolter, are not just aware of the Nazi connections but actually claim that the Nazis’ science was superior to our own because their violence gave them access to otherwise restricted papal archives. Wolter, in particular, cites Mahieu’s work as essential for understanding the subject of European conquest of the Americas prior to 1000 CE. Most, unlike Wolter, do not explicitly cite Nazis or their sympathizers; instead, they draw from the same earlier wellspring from which Himmler took his ideas, particularly Donnelly’s Atlantis, whose racial claims are repeated uncritically down to the present. Graham Hancock, in particular, not only repeated Donnelly’s citations of various “white” gods—even quoting material directly from Donnelly in Fingerprints of the Gods (1995) as though he were a scholarly source—but even interpolates extra “white” adjectives into myths cited in Fingerprints of the Gods where they otherwise do not appear in the primary sources.
Let me be clear: Modern fringe archaeology is not a direct successor to Nazi archaeology, but it is a cousin, from the same grandparents. Just as the Nazis saw British colonial concentration camps and American eugenics and amplified them into the Holocaust, they saw British and American race-based historical revisionism and amplified it into Nazi archaeology. Both modern fringe history and Nazi archaeology trace their origins to American efforts (aided by groundwork done by the post-Conquest European colonial powers) to create a fictional white prehistory for the United States and to eradicate the Native Americans by asserting that only white supermen could make giant piles of dirt. All of these concepts are related, and they remain disturbing, even when presented on TV by happy-go-lucky goofballs.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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