Nazi Archaeology Documentary Explores Himmler's Hunt for Atlantis, Holy Grail
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.
11/21/2013 09:14:58 am
Fringe history--only white supermen could make giant piles of dirt
11/21/2013 09:19:10 am
I am glad you mentioned Secret Glory, I really enjoyed that doc. not really for anything more than Richard Stanley's great style, I think he really was channeling Kenneth Anger's style of filmmaking. Secret Glory's companion piece White Darkness is also very interesting.
11/22/2013 03:59:21 am
Jason this may be of interest to you (it is a little bit off topic) I was doing some research on Richard Stanley's (HARDWARE, DUST DEVIL) lastest doc L'AUTRE MONDE and was inquiring with some friends to see if they saw it at is premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival. None of them did but my friend Doug Buck who had worked with Stanley on THEATER BIZARRE did give me a interesting tid bit about Stanley's next film project a big screen adaption of COLOR OF OUT OF SPACE.
11/22/2013 12:43:16 pm
That's extremely interesting, though I wonder how he will put on film a color that Lovecraft said wasn't in our spectrum. That will certainly be a challenge for the art direction.
While I agree that Donnelly's influence is great in the alternative archaeology scene, you give him too much credit by stating that his "bizarre Atlantis theories were the impetus behind the occult revival that led directly to Nazi ideas..." In Joscelyn Godwin's book Arktos, for instance, Donnelly is mentioned only once; and in Goodrick-Clarke's Occult Roots of Nazism he's not mentioned at all. Theosophy, "Ariosophy," Fabre d'Olivet and Saint-Yves d'Alveydre is covered quite a bit though.
11/23/2013 07:25:31 am
Donnelly was a major influence on Theosophy and therefore its offshoots. Blavatsky name-checks him repeatedly.
I'm aware of that. I still think you've overstated his influence. Theosophy and Blavatsky weren't the only game in town, no matter how much she may have cribbed from Donnelly. Godwin draws attention to Saint-Yves and d'Olivet (through their interpretors) as particularly influential.
11/23/2013 08:23:21 am
Of course there were many others operating in the same field. D'Olivet was certainly even more into the whole white-race thing than Donnelly, but D'Olivet didn't put white people in Atlantis.
If you haven't read Godwin's book it is highly recommended. I don't recall exactly who was the first to propose white people or aryans in Shambhala, Agartha or Atlantis but I'd be very surprised if it was Donnelly. Europe during its "occult-revival" had more immediate influences besides some guy on the other side of the Atlantic. It extends back to theorists during the Enlightenment (such as Gebelin, Bailly, and Buffon) and picks up steam with Romanticism, continuing unabated until the so-called "occult revival."
11/23/2013 08:41:50 am
Donnelly wasn't really the first to do anything. He was merely copying and synthesizing a variety of sources, mostly European. But he's an important figure because he returned Atlantis to the center of occult speculation (thanks in large measure to Theosophy), a position it hadn't had since the time of John Dee.
He's responsible for much of the Atlantis craze in modern times - esoteric or otherwise - sure, but being the "impetus behind the occult revival"? No, I can't swallow that. Specialist scholars who have meticulously studied the "occult revival" wouldn't agree either.
11/23/2013 08:59:09 am
Sorry, I should have added the words "in Atlantis," which I thought were implied by Atlantis being in the first clause and lost civilizations in the final clause.
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