When I check the keywords people have used to end up on my blog one of the most common ones is "thule". Hardly strange considering that I use the word as my name - and in fact it nearly is my name. I've just left out a letter. As a kid I was even told that Thule was an older form of my surname. Don't know if that's true, but still it sounds cool that way. Sort of black metal industrial something-ish. And indeed Thule has been used in various conjunctions in different band names. It's a magical word I guess, and one with exciting connotations.
(Ultima) Thule is an ancient greek word, with a slightly mysterious origin and meaning. Literally it means "the farthest north", and was used as a geographical term to describe some northern region. Exactly which one is debatable. Some claim Norway, others Iceland and others Greenland - as evidenced by the Thule military base on the latter. Of course I am a historian, and this fact combined with the possible connection with my family name should tickle my curiousity and in a way it has. However, my interest for antique history is passing at best, so I don't really know so much about greek texts and trade routes or whatever. I do know a great deal about another subject with more ominous links to Thule though: national socialism. Nazism in more coloquial terms. And as you can see from the picture above, this is the connection I am going to explore in this post.
The most obvious link between National Socialsm and Thule lies in the Thule Gesellschaft (1918-1920), with its organizational, economic and ideological ties to Hitler's party NSDAP. While this society was a latecomer on the mystic nationalist scene, and far from the largest or even very long lasting, it certainly secured its place as more than a footnote in history thanks to these ties. In fact even the Swastika was adopted by the NSDAP as a sort of inheritance from the Thule Gesellschaft. This secret society is well known because of this link, and many have seen them as evidence that Hitler was an occultist and so forth. Perhaps even in touch with (possibly) green people from outer space. While the Thule Gesellschaft was quite evidently an occult group, inspired by rosicrucianism and theosophy - and even cabbala, their exploits have been widely exaggerated by rumors, just like the connotations of the NSDAP and Hitler's link to this group. Just to set things straight immediatly, and probably lose half of the readers at this point: Hitler was not the least bit concerned with the occult. Many high ranking nazis were (most notably Himmler), but not Hitler. Nor was he ever in touch with Crowley.
So why did the Thule Gesellschaft pick this name for themselves? An obscure referance from old greek texts describing a mythical and strange land to the north should be of little interest to modern educated germans? To find the answer we have to look briefly at a rather strange russian woman named Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891). She is famous for quite a few things, such as founding the Theosophical Society, inspiring Rudolph Steiner and Jiddu Krishnamurti among others, and making preposterous claims about lemurians living in California and Tibet and other such things. She was a nuclear reactor of occult power, in terms of creating and popularizing theories, and one of these was the theory of root races. In her view humanity had (d)evolved through a series of cataclysmic events, such as the sinking of Atlantis in ancient times. We were descendants of earlier more spiritually apt beings, and after these events we mated with various forms of apes to become the humans we are today. One of these root races was named "the aryans", whose symbol was the swastika...
Let's leave Blavatsky as she travels through India and other places looking for evidence of the secret masters and Lemuria, and travel to München in Germany in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Germany had recently been united into a single political unity (excluding Austria and Switzerland though) and national pride was at its apex, as was the interest in mysticism and theosophy. Thousands of germans were involved in what has been called the Völkisch movement, and many of these were members of secret societies dedicated to unveiling the german people's secret past. This is the historical context we have to see this interest in Thule in. Mystics searching for a proud past for germany, by way of root races and lost continents, and this is where it starts to get real hairy.
The Thule Gesellschaft, and several similar groups, was founded on the idea that a grand aryan civilization had once existed in the north, probably in the regions around the baltic sea or Iceland. They had ruled over a large area and their culture was in fact the cradle of civilizations all around the world. They saw evidence of this in Vedic scriptures, where a nation of white people called aryans invaded India from the north, bringing culture and technology with them, and establishing themselves as rulers. They saw evidence in the depictions of ancient egyptians as mainly white people, and furthermore they saw evidence of this in the repetition of certain architectural forms in different cultures spread around the globe: pyramids and of course the proliferation of the swastika around the world. But their culture waned for some obscure reason, and their civilization fell. The aryans were left copulating with animals of various sorts and lost their spiritual and cultural powers over time. Their heirs in various parts of the world were left in different states of purity, with tibetans and germanic/nordic peoples being the purest. According to Guido von List survivors of the cataclysmic events had settled Iceland as refugees - which was the historical Ultima Thule of the Greek texts. These survivors' descendants had in turn spread to northern europe at some point.
To more modern minds this all sounds intensely outdated and quite simply wrong, and it is. However, in the latter half of the nineteenth century this was a rather common idea, known as a theory of cultural dissemination. The idea was that civilization had originated in a single area, and been disseminated, spread, to the rest of the world. This kind of thinking has been thoroughly discredited since, and only the most reactionary laymen still profess to this form of theory. Such as our very own Thor Heyerdahl here in Norway.
Anyway, back to Germanic occult nationalism. Thule and the civilization it represented was the aryan Atlantis, and their society was a golden age of magic and racial superiority. In other words the various Völkisch groups coupled their romantic mysticism with racist ideas, and antisemitism and nationalism, but it took someone else to propel these ideas into the rabidly frothing genocidal mania of the SS and Heinrich Himmler.
When Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in Landsberg prison several of these mystic historical ideas found their way into his book. Despite the fact that he personally ridiculed Himmler's obsession with a germanic past he divides the various peoples of the world into three categories based on their ability to create culture. On top were the germans, which he claims founded all the high cultures of the world, while the jews were on the bottom. The jews had no ability to create nor sustain, they could only steal and destroy, and were in fact responsible for the loss of the aryan magical abilities. They were in the way of a new aryan world empire. We all know the outcome of that line of thought, but not all people are aware of the fact that Himmler's SS funded a great deal of historical research via the SS Ahnenerbe institute meant to provide a scientific basis for these ideas. The institute sent expeditions around the world to search for evidence of the lost Thule and the aryan tribes. While some of this research was legitimate, a great deal of it was also pseudo science and even genocidal.
But as we all know, Hitler shot himself and Himmler swallowed a capsule of cyanide after being arrested by the americans. Himmler's obsession seemed lost as his organization was dismantled, his ritual room in Wewelsburg castle (pictured above) was closed and his allies executed or sentenced to long prison terms. But not entirely. The National socialists were masters of branding, and the swastika, the aryans, the runic logo of the SS and other such originally mystic symbols would be connected with genocide and evil for generations to come. Still, the deeper meaning of these symbols would surface from time to time, and a new form of mysticism would arise. Just as Himmler lay rotting beneath the Lüneburger Heide the texts he had studied were exhumed - metaphorically speaking. Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, Guido von List, Karl Maria Wiligut and finally Rudolf von Seebottendorf and Walter Nauhaus - founders of the Thule Gesellschaft had found a new underground and vey eclectic audience. Some of their ideas are even strangely widespread today, such as the notion that the runes had some sort of magical deeper meaning, and could be used for scrying.
While the Thule Gesellschaft and its likes have been gone for nearly a century now their ideas have entered pop culture via the tyrants it inspired. Thule is perhaps not as linked to evil as the Swastika, but it certainly does have an ominous ring to it, and some of the modern ideas this society has fostered are certainly entertaining: vril power used as fuel for secret nazi UFOs, currently being used as material in a film depicting nazis on the moon in 2018. And that's just the tip of the ice berg...